CVIndependent

Wed11252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

There’s a lot of news on this Sept. 11, so let’s get right to it:

• The West Coast is on fire. The New York Times has started a live-updates page regarding the horrific blazes, the deadliest of which is near Portland, Ore., where dozens of people are either dead or missing, and half a million people face possible evacuation orders. Key quote: “‘We are preparing for a mass fatality incident based on what we know and the numbers of structures that have been lost,’ said Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.”

• Our friends at Willamette Week, the Pulitzer-winning alternative newsweekly in Portland, are also doing fantastic coverage of the fires up there. Check it out.

• In Northern California, at least 10 are dead, with 16 reported missing, due to the North Complex fire in Butte County. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The collective scale of the infernos that have scarred the state over the last month is staggering: at least 20 fatalities, tens of thousands of structures destroyed and more than 3.1 million acres burned—the most recorded in a single year.”

• Of course, no tragedy these days can take place without conspiracy theories and misinformation popping up. The New York Times, via SFGate, looked at the insane and baseless claims, making their way around social media, that some of the West Coast wildfires were started by Antifa. Key quote: “Several law enforcement agencies in Oregon said they had been flooded with inquiries about rumors that activists were responsible. On Thursday, several journalists reporting on fires near the city of Molalla, Oregon, said they had been confronted by a group of armed people who were worried about unverified reports of arsonists in the area.”

• All the fires have created poor air quality throughout much of the west—and in Los Angeles, the smoky air prompted the county to shut down COVID-19 testing sites. Yikes.

• Related to the fires, here’s a speck of good news: Gov. Gavin Newsom today signed a bill that will make it easier for former inmates who served as volunteer firefighters to become badly needed professional firefighters. “For decades, thousands of inmate firefighters have battled wildfires across the state, working alongside professional firefighters in the scorching heat and smoke,” reports NBC News. “Yet the men and women prisoners who throw themselves in danger to help save lives and property often find it impossible to put their firefighting skills to use after their release, even in a state desperate for such labor.

• Related to COVID-19 testing: Riverside County is asking people, whether they’re symptomatic or not, to go get tested for COVID-19. In recent weeks, the number of county residents getting tested has fallen—to the point that it’s messing up the county’s hopes of moving into the next reopening tier. According to a news release: “Riverside County reached the positivity rate that will allow it to move to the red tier (7.8 percent), but the case rate remains higher than the state’s requirement. This week, the state began adjusting the case rate higher for counties that are not meeting the state’s daily average testing volume, which brought Riverside County’s case rate from 7.4 to 8.6. While Riverside County has the volume to test 4,000 people a day, only half that number have been getting tested at county and state testing sites in recent weeks.”

The Associated Press, via SFGate, reports that the testing backlog that was a huge problem in the state a month ago is gone, as the state increases testing capacity and fewer people get tested. “California's typical turnaround time for coronavirus tests has dropped to less than two days, state health officials said Thursday, a mark that allows for effective isolation and quarantine of those who are infected to limit the spread. Test results now are available from laboratories within 1.3 days on average, down from the five- to seven business days that officials commonly reported last month.”

• Regular readers know the Daily Digest rule about studies—they usually need to be taken with a massive grain of figurative salt. Well, such is the case with a new CDC study, which led to this alarming CNN headline: “Adults with Covid-19 about 'twice as likely' to say they have dined at a restaurant, CDC study suggests.” However, the study, of 314 people who were tested in July at 11 facilities around the country, has a massive flaw or two: “The study comes with some limitations, including … the question assessing dining at a restaurant did not distinguish between indoor versus outdoor dining.” That seems like a big distinction, no?!

• Well here’s something weird: Some researchers think the coronavirus may have been spreading in Los Angeles in December—before China even announced the outbreak in Wuhan. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The researchers didn’t conduct any diagnostic tests, so they can’t say with certainty when doctors first encountered anyone infected with the virus that came to be known as SARS-CoV-2. But if the coronavirus had indeed been spreading under the radar since around Christmas, the pattern of patient visits to UCLA facilities would have looked a lot like what actually happened, they wrote in a study published Thursday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.”

• Related: A group of engineering professors, writing for The Conversation, take a look at the 6-foot coronavirus rule—and the limitations it has. They say to think about COVID-19 the way you’d think of cigarette smoke at a bar: “There is no safe distance in a poorly ventilated room, unfortunately. Good ventilation and filtration strategies that bring in fresh air are critical to reduce aerosol concentration levels, just as opening windows can clear out a smoke-filled room.”

• The New York Daily News reported today—on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks—this: “The Trump administration has secretly siphoned nearly $4 million away from a program that tracks and treats FDNY firefighters and medics suffering from 9/11 related illnesses.” Key quote: “Here we have sick World Trade Center-exposed firefighters and EMS workers, at a time when the city is having difficult financial circumstances due to COVID-19, and we’re not getting the money we need to be able to treat these heroes,” said (Dr. David) Prezant, the FDNY’s Chief Medical Officer. “And for years, they wouldn’t even tell us—we never ever received a letter telling us this.

• It’s come to this: The Washington Post has started tracking the number of teachers who have died of COVID-19 this fall across the country. So far, the tally is six.

• Health Net and Carol’s Kitchen are offering a free flu-shot clinic, open to all Riverside County residents, on Monday, Sept. 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the James A. Venable Community Center, at 50390 Carmen Ave., up in Cabazon. If interested, get there early, as the supply of shots is limited.

The city of Palm Springs really wants you to participate in the 2020 Census! From the city: “On Wednesday, Sept. 16 the five members of the City Council will kick off a friendly competition to see whose district can get the highest Census response rate by hosting drive-by caravans throughout their respective districts to urge residents to respond. The caravans will kick off at 5:30 p.m. from the parking lot of the Palm Springs Public Library, 300 S. Sunrise Way, with several representatives from city departments, business, nonprofit and neighborhood organizations on hand.” Get details on that and more here. (Full disclosure: The city has paid for Census-outreach advertising at CVIndependent.com and in the Daily Digest; however, this item is not related to that purchase.)

The much-ballyhooed Virgin Hotel will not be built in Palm Springs after all. Per KESQ: “(Developer) Grit and Virgin also agreed to use the hotel site to instead build a 62-unit condominium complex instead of a hotel.” Hmm.

• I took this week off from the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, but Shann, John, Brad and Dr. Laura were all there, as were The Standard’s Nino Eilets, event-producer Daniel Vaillancourt, and the fabulous Debra Ann Mumm, the founder of the Create Center for the Arts!

• And finally, after all of that, you may need a drink. Our beer writer, Brett Newton, thinks perhaps you should consider mead for that drink … even though mead isn’t a beer. Check out what he has to say.

Have a great weekend, everyone. If you haven’t yet voted in the first round of the Independent’s Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, please do so by clicking here—voting closes on Monday! And you appreciate this Daily Digest and the other local journalism produced by the Independent, please consider financially helping out by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Be safe; the Daily Digest will return on Monday.

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La Bonita’s Mexican Restaurant did a very stupid thing today—and I couldn’t be any sadder about it.

The owner of the small Palm Canyon Drive restaurant announced yesterday that, as a protest, La Bonita’s would open today for indoor dining, with masks and social distancing. Of course, indoor restaurant dining is not allowed; it will be, at limited capacity, whenever Riverside County graduates from the state’s “widespread” COVID-19 tier to the “substantial” tier. But we’re not there yet.

Walmart and other big corps can have 100’s of ppl inside but restaurants can’t? Enough is enough!!!” said the La Bonita’s social-media post.

La Bonita’s followed through with its plans—and the city promptly showed up and issued a $5,000 fine, according to The Desert Sun. Per the La Bonita’s Facebook page, the restaurant ended the protest after being “forced to comply.”

Again, this was a very stupid thing for La Bonita’s to do, and the comparison of indoor dining to shopping at Walmart is a red herring.

Now that we have that all established, I’d like to share this truly, truly sad quote from The Desert Sun story on the hubbub:

“‘I can’t survive with the current mandates,’ La Bonita's Palm Springs owner Alex Raei said, adding that he was visited by city code enforcement officers around lunch time and was informed of the fine. Raei, who spoke briefly with a Desert Sun reporter at his restaurant Wednesday, was overcome with emotion. In tears, he stopped the interview and walked into another part of his business.”

While I strongly disagree with Raei’s actions, I understand them. Trust me when I say that it sucks to have one’s business existentially threatened by this virus and the resulting restrictions. Most business owners sink blood, sweat, tears and incalculable amounts of time—not to mention retirement accounts and life savings—into their ventures, which are often culminations of lifelong dreams. Many owners also carry the burden of feeling responsible for their employees’ livelihoods.

Of course, all sorts of ignorant, un-empathetic and/or just-plain-terrible people took to social media to slam—not reasonably criticize, but slam and excoriate—Raei.

While I don’t condone it at all, I understand what Raei did. What I don’t understand is the lack of empathy so many people showed regarding Raei’s undeniably heartbreaking plight.

Before the news links: If you appreciate this Daily Digest and the other local journalism produced by the Independent, please consider financially helping out by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Oh, and if you haven’t yet voted in the first round of the Independent’s Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, please do so by clicking here!

Today’s news:

• Another day, another Trump bombshell: According to The Washington Post, Donald Trump privately told Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward in February that COVID-19 would have dire effects on the United States—while publicly claiming the disease was no worse than the flu. And then there’s this: “Trump admitted to Woodward on March 19 that he deliberately minimized the danger. ‘I wanted to always play it down,’ the president said. ‘I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.’” That and more horrifying revelations—which are on tape!—will be revealed in Rage, a new book by Woodward.

• These revelations lead to a big, honking question about Woodward: Why in the world did he keep quiet about these TAPED TERRIBLE THINGS said by the president for months and months—until they came out in this book? According to The Associated Press: “On Twitter and elsewhere online, commentators accused Woodward of valuing book sales over public health. ‘Nearly 200,000 Americans have died because neither Donald Trump nor Bob Woodward wanted to risk anything substantial to keep the country informed,’ wrote Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce.”

Clinical trials for one of the most promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates were halted after one of the participants developed—eek!—a spinal cord injury. It’s as of yet unknown whether the injury had to do with the vaccine. According to NBC News: “‘Our standard review process was triggered and we voluntarily paused vaccination to allow review of safety data by an independent committee,’ AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine in partnership with the U.K.'s University of Oxford, said in a statement. ‘This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials, while it is investigated, ensuring we maintain the integrity of the trials.’”

• Mother Jones reported that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally last month may have led to more than 250,000 coronavirus cases worldwide. Key quote: “According to a new study, which tracked anonymized cellphone data from the rally, over 250,000 coronavirus cases have now been tied to the 10-day event, one of the largest to be held since the start of the pandemic. It drew motorcycle enthusiasts from around the country, many of whom were seen without face coverings inside crowded bars, restaurants, and other indoor establishments. The explosion in cases, the study from the Germany-based IZA Institute of Labor Economics finds, is expected to reach $12 billion in public health costs.” Yeesh.

• In other mind-blowing national news, there’s this lede from The Washington Post: “A senior Department of Homeland Security official alleges that he was told to stop providing intelligence reports on the threat of Russian interference in the 2020 election, in part because it ‘made the President look bad,’ an instruction he believed would jeopardize national security.”

• And then there’s this: “The Justice Department on Tuesday intervened in the defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who says President Trump raped her years ago, moving the matter to federal court and signaling it wants to make the U.S. government—rather than Trump himself—the defendant in the case.” Just … wow.

• Now let’s move to some state-level idiocy, succinctly explained by this SFGate headline on a story originally reported by The Washington Post: “California's GOP Senate leader was under quarantine. She spoke with no mask at a huge prayer event anyway.”

• We don’t link to a lot of crime stories, as they tend to get a ton of coverage elsewhere, but this story seems to be flying under the radar, showing just how depressingly desensitized we’ve come to mass murders: Seven people were killed on Monday at an illegal marijuana-growing operation in Aguanga, which is an hour’s drive or so southwest of the Coachella Valley. The Riverside Press-Enterprise has the details on the murders and how they’ve completely rocked the small community.

• Another thing the damned virus may take away this year: Halloween trick-or-treating. Los Angeles County public-health officials yesterday said trick-or-treating would be banned there, before slightly changing their tune today to say it was “not recommended.”

• Meanwhile, in horrifying local news, a new UC Riverside study comes to this conclusion: “Climate change will decimate Palm Springs, Coachella Valley tourism.” Sigh.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to all six candidates running for City Council in Palm Desert. Read what the two candidates for the new District 1 seat had to say here, and check out what the four candidates for two District 2 seats had to say here.

• Here’s this week’s Riverside County COVID-19 District 4 report. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Our numbers are continuing to trend in the right direction, although the mysterious weekly positivity rate remains too high—although that’s finally coming down a bit, too.

• I’d never heard of Lewy body dementia before a couple of weeks ago. However, the disease is in the news all of a sudden following the death of baseball great Tom Seaver, and the release of a new documentary about the death of Robin Williams. It turns out the disease is quite common and often misdiagnosed; a professor of neurology, writing for The Conversation, explains what the disease is.

Also from The Conversation: A professor of engineering breaks down how ultraviolet light can—and can’t—be used to make indoor spaces safer from COVID-19.

I think that’s enough for today. Be safe. Wear a mask. Be empathetic. The Daily Digest will return Friday—and, as always, thanks for reading.

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On this week's mercifully gender-reveal-party-free weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles does some humble bragging about Keef's new Hulu series; This Modern World tries to explain 2020 to 2014; Jen Sorensen ponders the dangers of the suburbs; Apoca Clips features Li'l Trumpy's unfiltered opinions on the military; and Red Meat appreciates the splendor of hummingbirds.

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For the first time, Palm Desert residents in November will vote for their City Council representatives by district … sort of.

After two residents sued the city last year, alleging that the city’s at-large voting system violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, the council approved a new system: One large district, including the vast majority of the city, will be represented by four council members; it’s now called District 2. A second, smaller district, called District 1, will have one representative. You can view an interactive district map here.

In November, District 2 residents will choose between four candidates for two seats: Incumbents Kathleen Kelly and Gina Nestande, and challengers Evan Trubee and Steven Moyer. The Independent recently spoke to the candidates, asking them each the same set of questions, on topics ranging from the new district voting system to law enforcement in the city.

Here are their complete answers, edited only for style and clarity.

Kathleen Kelly

Incumbent, mayor pro tem

Should you be re-elected, what are your top three priorities for the City Council in 2021?

Some of that has been dictated for us. We positively, absolutely have to manage the COVID-19 pandemic well. That means, to my way of thinking, recognizing first and foremost that the community’s health interests and the business community’s financial interests are totally in sync. Commerce cannot thrive unless people feel safe using commerce. That really requires a broad-based community embrace of the recommended safeguards, such as facial coverings and social distancing. So, if I am re-elected, my top priority will be to try to offer unifying leadership around that issue, and to continue to be engaged with our excellent finance team at the city to shepherd our reserves well, to get us through this. Thankfully, prior councils have left our city on a solid financial footing, so that we are able to weather this without diminishing services—but the same kind of exacting care that they took has to be continued.

Moving past that, even though we are in a crisis, it’s critical to identify some issues where strategic investment has to be made for the future. I would put two (items) at the top of that list. The first is working to improve broadband width, not just for Palm Desert, but for the whole Coachella Valley. This pandemic has exposed our dependence on the internet, so that’s a topic for which we need regional effort. We also need regional effort around diversifying our economy, so that we’re not just hospitality-dependent. Again, this crisis has exposed the problems of being so dependent on the hospitality industry. That’s why I and others on the current council worked very hard to bring about the iHub, the innovation hub across from the CSU (Cal State University-San Bernardino satellite) campus to spark cyber-security startups. That could also be a source of other career options for CSU students. So we don’t just want to survive the pandemic; we want to come out of it stronger, and I would name those two fronts as the most important fronts.

Keeping El Paseo pleasurable has to be on the list, because it’s such a key part of driving the financial resources for the city and for our quality of life. Whether people choose to spend money on El Paseo or not, many people just enjoy walking there. So facilitating outdoor dining is a key priority.

I’m a consistent advocate for more housing choices. One of the great attributes of Palm Desert is that we are a diverse community, and many demographic categories including economic wherewithal are at play, so I do want to see more housing available at all price points.

Did the city of Palm Desert fulfill its obligation to encourage more diversity in political engagement with its two-district solution, or do you believe more districts should be formed?

Experience will answer that, as I expressed when we last spoke. I firmly believe that we should get experience with this new system and learn from that. There are upsides and downsides to a five-district system. I hope that a continuing conversation will inform more residents about both the upsides and the downsides.

In terms of deaths, Palm Desert has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the Coachella Valley by COVID-19. What can, or should, the city do to better deal with the pandemic?

On the topic of the deaths, it should be noted that two particular skilled-nursing facilities accounted for at least 12 of those (COVID-19 related deaths). So, in the early stage of reporting, it kind of skewed Palm Desert higher than our neighbor cities. Unfortunately, the numbers for our neighbor cities seem to be catching up and, in some cases, surpassing us.

I don’t feel there is, or ever will be, such a thing as (doing) enough on that front. This virus is exceedingly challenging, not just because of how highly contagious it is, but because of the range of long-lasting detrimental health effects that people of all ages suffer. So it’s a misconception to suppose that only those over 60 are hardest hit. When you dig into the stories, many younger people who no longer test positive are still dealing with really debilitating consequences. So I feel we have to pull together as a community, without cessation, until it is truly over and done with. That requires constant messaging so that people don’t let their guard down. In early summer, when businesses first started to re-open, some of the public took that as a signal to relax and start having backyard barbecues, and what we hear from county health is that those backyard barbecues became a real source of infection, which hampered the capacity of our businesses to stay open. So if we care about the economy, and if we care about public health, we just have to stay vigilant.

Should the city continue to contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for law enforcement services, given Sheriff Chad Bianco has stated publicly an unwillingness for citizen/community oversight, his refusal to meet with community stakeholders, and the high cost of his department’s services?

That’s a very packed question. It’s appropriate, all of the time, to continue to review that contractual arrangement. I don’t favor being reactive based on any single issue or decision, but it is appropriate to really be in a process of continual review. I would rather see us exert continuing influence on the sheriff than to turn our back and strive to create something from the ground up. Given Palm Desert’s size, there have been tremendous advantages to having public safety delivered from a source that has specialists and task forces that can be tapped for our needs. So I wouldn’t be quick to change the contractual arrangement, but it absolutely is appropriate for us to be, as I said, in a constant state of review.

The City Council originally proposed building an Interstate 10 interchange at the north end of Portola Avenue in 2008. Should the city reconsider moving forward with this plan in light of potential impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhoods, which have expanded notably since the plan was first considered? For instance, should a survey be initiated to gather input from residents most likely to be impacted?

We haven’t. The interchange was designed, in large part, to serve those neighborhoods, and it was put on the schedule in anticipation of that growth in the north part of Palm Desert. Because of the revenue impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing is going to happen there anytime soon. Your question helps me to appreciate that it has been on the drawing boards for so long that once we return to it as a viable possibility, it will be important to have community engagement to both inform and to listen.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity since the pandemic’s arrival?

This won’t necessarily get me any votes, but it’s been a blessing to spend more time with my mom, who is 95. We live together, but before the pandemic, we both had exceedingly busy lives that kept us outside the house all day. So it’s a pleasure just to have three meals together every day.


Steven Moyer

Lawyer

Should you be elected, what are your top three priorities for the City Council in 2021?

I think everyone is, or should be, concerned about two issues, which I really see as one, and that is public health and the economy. I think everyone wants to see the small businesses in Palm Desert re-open, but they’re not going to be able to do that if our residents and the people who work in those businesses aren’t healthy. As far as the public-health aspect of it, I’d like to see the city doing more. I respect everybody’s individual right not to wear a mask or to distance, but I’m suggesting to everyone that when they go out, they wear a mask and they distance, because that’s going to allow our small businesses to re-open. I would like to see the city do more about encouraging people to do that. I don’t think we’ve seen enough of that.

Secondly, we have the issue of the economy. In that regard, in order for the city council to help, there are a number of things it can do. One is to make the permitting of new businesses easier. I think we can continue the San Pablo makeover, although it may be necessary to revisit some of the segments of that project during this time of a recession. I think we should be giving El Paseo a facelift to help the small businesses there. By closing off a couple of blocks and making it into a walking mall, we could have outdoor dining and sales, which would require changing some of our ordinances on a temporary basis, at least. We could install some nice public restrooms for our Southern California visitors, not just our local visitors. Coming from Los Angeles or Orange County or San Diego, people are driving for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, and they usually like to visit a restroom after that kind of a drive. With the restaurants and other businesses that have restrooms being closed, there’s no place for them to go. Also, we need to make sure that we have adequate parking. But if closing off a number of blocks is not a direction that the City Council wants to go in, another approach might be something that I saw recently in Culver City. They closed lanes of traffic, and on the interior street side of the lanes closest to the sidewalks, they installed white plastic barriers and moved outside dining into that area. They put up some nice potted plants and umbrellas, and there were a lot of people sitting outside eating, and they were distanced. That’s something that could be done next week. For those restaurants or shops who have space behind their buildings in parking lots, (the City Council) could make accommodations for them as well.

For No. 2, I think we should extend the ban on short-term rentals into residential areas that currently aren’t covered. I’ve been contacted by a number of people living in Palm Desert who are dissatisfied by the fact that they were left out.

Third would be focusing on making the Cal State University-San Bernardino satellite (campus) into a four-year university so that we can have an educated workforce and provide more jobs. Any city of our size that can have a four-year university is going to provide themselves with a good economic boost.

Did the city of Palm Desert fulfill its obligation to encourage more diversity in political engagement with its two-district solution, or do you believe more districts should be formed?

I believe that we should have five-district voting. At this point in time, I believe that I’m the only candidate running in District 2 who advocates for that. I do not believe that the current settlement of what was essentially a civil rights lawsuit pursuant to the California Voter Rights Act satisfies that act, although I just saw recently something sent out from the city that says it does. Needless to say, as an attorney who represented cities and municipalities in those kinds of lawsuits, I disagree with that representation (on the part of the city). I don’t think it complies with the Voter Rights Act. The current situation provides for voting in District 1 (to elect) one representative who will represent about 20 percent of the city. The other 80 percent is voting at-large, and as a consequence, the way it’s worked out for the last 20 years, and the way it will apparently continue to work out in this 2020 election, is that you have five incumbents, three of which are currently running, and all of whom live in one of the wealthiest sections of the city and within walking distance of each other. The neighborhoods, in the rest of the city, don’t have representatives who share their interests, values and concerns. So I don’t think that’s equal and fair representation. It’s not representative government. It’s government by a few.

Recently, I had a conversation with an old friend who will remain nameless, who lives nearby. He said, ‘Don’t you think that people who live in one area of town might be more talented than the others?’ That’s elitism. We can do better than that in Palm Desert. I don’t think that anyone on the north side wants to be governed by a bunch of people who only live in a small area of south Palm Desert, and that’s the situation that we’ve got now.

If we get sued again, it’s going to cost the city a lot of money, and I think we’ll lose. This time, nobody’s going to settle for this flim-flam settlement. They’re not going to buy that. I’ve spoken to the plaintiffs (in the original Voter Rights Act lawsuit), and they feel that they weren’t given adequate disclosure. Now they’re thinking that if they had known before what they know now, they wouldn’t have entered into this settlement. Nobody else will do that (moving forward). They’ll either go to trial, or they’ll get a settlement for something like five districts. There are other ways to skin a cat, so it doesn’t have to be five districts. I think it should be. You could have four districts and a mayor who’s elected at-large, which would essentially be five districts. By the way, as best as I can tell, this is the only city in the state of California that has two districts.

In terms of deaths, Palm Desert has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the Coachella Valley by COVID-19. What can, or should, the city do to better deal with the pandemic?

The City Council, the city and other departments within City Hall need to do a much-better and more-aggressive job of communicating with our full-time, part-time and visiting residents about the necessity of wearing masks and distancing. As an example, if you go into Palm Springs and just take a drive down Palm Canyon, you see digital signs on wheels saying that you are required to wear a mask and distance. They have banners (hanging) above the street saying the same thing. We were just there recently, and there were a ton of people on both sides of the street walking. Lots of people were enjoying outdoor dining, and everybody was wearing a mask. Nobody was scared off. I think that a lot of folks are anxious to enjoy that kind of experience in Palm Desert, but there are a lot of people who are afraid right now to go into our shops or restaurants where people aren’t wearing masks. I think that the City Council and the departments within City Hall who are responsible for this issue need to take that into consideration, and also remember that there are many more residents in this city than in most in the desert who are over the age of 60. We need to protect them.

Should the city continue to contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for law enforcement services, given Sheriff Chad Bianco has stated publicly an unwillingness for citizen/community oversight, his refusal to meet with community stakeholders, and the high cost of his department’s services?

That’s a good question, and this is an issue that I’ve given a lot of thought to. I have no information that leads me to believe that, at this time, we’re paying too much for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. I have not seen the contract, so I don’t know what it provides for. I have been informed that we are paying $300 an hour for the services of a deputy sheriff. So since I have no other information, that (point) sitting in isolation doesn’t really help me very much. Some people might think that sounds like a lot of money for a police officer. We’re not hiring a high-priced lawyer. But we don’t know what goes into that figure, and we don’t know what other law-enforcement agencies in the valley are being paid. However, I have been informed that Coachella is moving away from the Sheriff’s Department and is going to form its own police department. I would like to get more information on that, and I’ve contacted one of the members of their City Council to find out why they’re going in that direction. It may or may not be applicable to Palm Desert. Coachella is a much larger city, and its demographic (makeup) is completely different than Palm Desert. It may be that many of our residents are satisfied with the Sheriff’s Department in Palm Desert. There may be others who aren’t. I think that, in these sensitive times, we should consider having some public hearings in order to get more information about the issues I just raised, as well as find out how the rest of the city feels about this. So I’m not saying that we shouldn’t continue the contract with the county sheriff; I’m just saying that we should get more information and see how that contract is working in comparison to other contracts of a similar nature throughout the desert, and perhaps elsewhere, to see if we’re paying too much, and to compare it to the cost of running your own police department, and to see how the rest of the city feels about it.

The City Council originally proposed building an Interstate 10 interchange at the north end of Portola Avenue in 2008. Should the city reconsider moving forward with this plan in light of potential impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhoods, which have expanded notably since the plan was first considered? For instance, should a survey be initiated to gather input from residents most likely to be impacted?

It should be looked at again. The City Council seems not to be fully aware of the fact that we are living in the worst pandemic in a century, and a very bad recession that could be worse than the one in 2008. During these unforeseen and unprecedented times you have to adjust, and they don’t seem like they’re adjusting. They’re just like, ‘Let’s talk about the golf-cart parade.’ OK, we can talk about the golf-cart parade while putting in an onramp and an offramp for Portola, but I think we should re-visit the issue and think about if this is the right time for something like that when we could be spending our dollars on things like helping small businesses throughout the city, and maybe hiring some more people at City Hall, so that the staffing is at 100 percent. According to what I’ve been informed since announcing my candidacy, they are understaffed, and, for example, as a result of being understaffed, they can’t do certain types of code enforcement in the manner in which they should be. So maybe we should be spending our dollars on things like that instead of an onramp and offramp that might be nice during flush times.

Also, that (logic) applies to what I believe is Phase 2 of San Pablo, which has a plan for two roundabouts, I think, which maybe we could be doing in flush times. But I’d have to look at how much it costs and how much we’ve got for it (to decide) whether or not that’s something we can afford to do now. Maybe we ought to put it off, and make our priority hiring more staff at City Hall, and paying them adequately and things like that.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity since the pandemic’s arrival?

This with the approval of my health-care providers. We had one standard poodle, and we decided to get her a companion. We got her a puppy, another standard poodle who is now 7 months old. So we’ve been training her and playing with the dogs out in the backyard, and just walking the dogs in our small development early in the morning, partly to get exercise for us as well. We’re appropriately masked and distanced from everybody who lives here right now in the summer.

And I’m taking ukulele lessons online from a very fine musician who, I think, is in Torrance. But he’s one of the premier ukulele players in the country, and I just recently picked up two of my instruments that were being worked on. There’s a luthier named Dey Martin in Palm Springs. Who knew? We have a luthier in Palm Springs. A luthier makes string instruments. He makes guitars, ukuleles and maybe violins, but I’m not sure. But he also does work on them and repairs them. So I asked him to do some work on a couple of my instruments so that it was easier for me to play them. And now they play great.


Gina Nestande

Mayor of Palm Desert; real estate agent

Should you be re-elected, what are your top three priorities for the City Council in 2021?

My No. 1 top priority is to continue to make sure that we’re doing everything possible as a city to keep our citizens safe in terms of COVID, and to help and support businesses by making sure that they have the supplies that they need. It would be wonderful if we get a vaccine or better medications to fight the COVID, but since right now we really don’t, that would be a top priority.

Following that, for the economic health of our Palm Desert businesses—especially the restaurants that have had to go through a second shutdown, and the hair and nail salons—I want to continue to spur economic development and make resources available for when they can re-open, which we hope is sooner rather than later.

We have some economic programs in place right now. We have an emergency loan program where we’re disbursing $1 million to our Palm Desert businesses. Also, we haven’t voted on it yet, but it’s a priority of mine to give $900,000 to our hotels like the J.W. Marriott (Desert Springs Resort and Spa). When people come to the desert, they typically stay for a couple of nights, say Friday and Saturday, and then they go back on Sunday. What we’re going to do is subsidize (a promotional offer) where if somebody comes for two nights, then they can get a third night free, paid for by the city, although they still will have to pay the (transient occupancy tax) on that free night. I serve on the marketing committee (for the city), and research shows that if people stay a third night, they are more likely to perhaps stay for the whole week. So what we want to do is be able to drive customers to our restaurants, to our nail salons and to all of our businesses. So we’re trying to do what we can to support businesses in Palm Desert.

My third priority is the California State University-San Bernardino satellite campus. I want to help nurture and support expanding the degree programs offered there. Just recently, they had a graduation of 400 students. That’s amazing, and we’re very proud of that. We’re adding a cyber-security program, for example, and we’re expanding hospitality (programs). We want to grow technology programs out of this university, and our city has donated money to help with this expansion. So that’s my third priority, and it’s one that is looking to build the future of Palm Desert. One day, we hope it will become a stand-alone campus and it will just be Cal State-Palm Desert. But we’ve got to grow the student body, and we’ve to grow the degree programs in order to make that happen.

Did the city of Palm Desert fulfill its obligation to encourage more diversity in political engagement with its two-district solution, or do you believe more districts should be formed?

I’m going to answer that this way: We have a population of about 50,000 in Palm Desert. I don’t feel we’re comparable to like a Los Angeles, where you’ve got millions of people. I’m not saying we’re homogeneous, but for me, I don’t like the idea of balkanizing, per se, Palm Desert. I believe that El Paseo, which would probably not be in my district, is near and dear to my heart, and I care about that area. Cal State’s in another area of Palm Desert, and I care about that area. So I want to be representing Palm Desert, and I believe that (a multiple-district approach) is actually dividing us. Reluctantly, I went along with the two districts. But the jury is out on it. I tend to agree that I don’t want (the current) District 2 to feel like it’s, how do I say, not as important, because there’s four districts versus one, is how I see it. So I don’t really like that either. But I just went along with what the majority of the council wanted to do on this issue.

I was born in ’63, and when I grew up as a child, Martin Luther King was a hero to me. He changed the United States with his quote about being judged by his character, not the color of his skin. But I feel that this Voter Rights Act is throwing that out the window.

In terms of deaths, Palm Desert has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the Coachella Valley by COVID-19. What can, or should, the city do to better deal with the pandemic?

I’ve been partnering with the Riverside County Department of Public Health to get a deeper dive into the (COVID-19) numbers. It takes them a long time to (research a request), because it’s such a huge county, and they can’t respond every week to every little mayor’s request. But the last time I got data, we found that about half of the deaths were occurring in nursing homes here in Palm Desert. We have several nursing homes here, and many of their patients already have underlying conditions. So I think we just need to continue to support our nursing homes and our nurses working there. I think when we go out and about, people should wear their masks. When we go into the grocery store people, should be social distancing. I think our citizens are doing a great job. We just need to make sure we continue to have enough hand sanitizer and face masks if a business is running short. We were given $700,000 in funds from FEMA to use for our (COVID-19 related) supplies. So we’re being very conscientious with those funds, and we’re using them appropriately where needed.

Should the city continue to contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for law enforcement services, given Sheriff Chad Bianco has stated publicly an unwillingness for citizen/community oversight, his refusal to meet with community stakeholders, and the high cost of his department’s services?

I will say that almost half of our budget goes to police and fire. I do support our police, though. I believe safety is a top priority, and that, first and foremost, we need a safe city. That needs to be the foundation. We need law and order. We can’t condone violence and anarchy. Also, when COVID hit, we had to start looking at our budget again to make up for the shortfalls, and I will say the Sheriff’s Department looked long and hard, and they found a way to cut back about $3.5 million for this year. So that was a big plus. And I do not support de-funding the police.

The City Council originally proposed building an Interstate 10 interchange at the north end of Portola Avenue in 2008. Should the city reconsider moving forward with this plan in light of potential impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhoods, which have expanded notably since the plan was first considered? For instance, should a survey be initiated to gather input from residents most likely to be impacted?

It was 12 years ago (when this plan was first initiated), and over time, the cost to do that interchange has gone up astronomically. Now there’s not enough money to do the project. It’s millions of dollars short, and that (projection) was made pre-pandemic. We greatly want that interchange, and we were partnering with (the Coachella Valley Association of Governments) on it. CVAG came back to us and said, ‘Sorry, city of Palm Desert. We’re several million dollars short. You can try to help us raise the money to find the funds.’ So, that’s where we are with it—and then the pandemic hit. So it’s on hold. But I do think it needs to be looked at again, and we’ll know more in the coming months.

Gosh, if we get a vaccine for COVID, I think it will be such an uplifting thing for the state of California and the whole United States that maybe the flood gate of funds will re-open. Another issue that sort of ties into this one is that we just got our sales-tax (report) from the county for the month of May. Typically, we get about $600,000 approximately, but this May, we got approximately $1 million. Our finance director, who couldn’t believe it, wanted to make sure there wasn’t a mistake, because we don’t want to spend money that we don’t have. But it’s been confirmed. We’re not sure if it’s coming from more online sales, but the economy seems to be firing up. So we’ll see if that trend continues.

We have $100 million in reserves. This is a very well-run and financially sound city. But we don’t have the money to fund this whole project. We have to get state credits, grants and find other monies. But, having said that, if the economy comes roaring back, it will make it easier.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity since the pandemic’s arrival?

Actually, my children and I have been playing board games, and that’s something that we didn’t do anymore. The game called Catan is a great game. It’s about trading, building and settling communities, and it can go on for hours.


Evan Trubee

Owner of Big Wheel Tours

Should you be elected, what are your top three priorities for the City Council in 2021?

Not necessarily in order, I would say the top three issues are making sure we preserve the short term rental rule, and maybe even look at—and this is a can of worms, and I don’t really want to go there—but maybe look at some of the loopholes that were created in the current ordinance, because it did not cover the planned residential communities. In other words, it restricted short-term rentals in R1 and R2, but planned residentials were left out of it, almost like HOAs, even though many of these planned residentials don’t have CCRs that prohibit short-term rentals. I’ve talked to several residents, and it’s becoming a bit of an issue. The current regulations need to be protected, and maybe enhanced. We’ll see. But the feedback that I’m getting is that there are some pretty unhappy residents in those PRs.

Second, I want to make sure we maintain our economic strength and foundation. We’re going to lose quite a bit of (transient occupancy tax) revenue, and we need to be judicious about keeping a balanced budget. This year turned out pretty well, but we’re going to have to be pretty disciplined on the budget so we don’t run into trouble. And we need to think about diversifying the economy away from tourism so much, and try to cultivate more local businesses that don’t necessarily have to do with tourism.

Third, I would say, is to make sure we keep the pressure on advocating for the four-year university, meaning that Priority One foundation that’s been set up and that the city’s giving $150,000 to. My point is that even if the state of California, which is looking at a budget deficit, put the building of another four-year university on the back burner, I think we should keep the pressure on our lobbying efforts in Sacramento to make sure we stay on their radar.

I just want to make sure to get this in: We can’t forget supporting the College of the Desert. Let’s keep the four-year university as an emphasis, but not at the expense of supporting College of the Desert.

Did the city of Palm Desert fulfill its obligation to encourage more diversity in political engagement with its two-district solution, or do you believe more districts should be formed?

I followed that process pretty closely. I did go to the redistricting meetings that were held just this past winter, and even before that, I was paying attention. I think they came up with a solution that is in compliance with the California Voting Rights Act. In other words, they created a district that was as close as you can get to a majority-minority composition. So in that regard, they achieved the objective of the CVRA. It was adjudicated, and both parties agreed to it. So you’ve got to trust the judicial system. It went through the process. I’m curious to see how it plays out in this 2020 election cycle. Now, going to five districts, if that’s what you want to consider, you couldn’t carve four districts out of what is now District 2 and come up with anything even close to a majority-minority district to help try to get Latinx representation on City Council. So then you’re talking about a different issue. You’re talking about Palm Desert being a city of a size where you can justify having five separate districts of roughly 10,000-15,000 people if we get to that point. So it becomes a different issue other than just complying with the CVRA in terms of ethnic composition.

I guess the short answer is that I’m willing to let this current cycle play out, (and) see how the residents respond. I believe they did achieve the goals of complying with the CVRA in this instance. But I’m flexible. I mean, if down the road, Palm Desert residents say, ‘Hey! We feel under-represented because we live in the northern sphere, and there’s nobody who lives in our district on council,’ well, then, shoot. I’m all ears. Let’s talk about that, and talk about maybe down the road dividing it up into five.

In terms of deaths, Palm Desert has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the Coachella Valley by COVID-19. What can, or should, the city do to better deal with the pandemic?

From what I understand, and I have not been able to verify this officially, there were one or two places, and I think they were assisted-living (facilities), where a big cluster of the deaths happened which spiked our numbers relative to other valley cities. That’s what I understand, and I’ll give my answer based on that understanding. So, that was unfortunate. That’s terrible. I don’t know how it happened, and I don’t know if the city could have prevented it. However, I do advocate wearing masks.

At first blush, when this thing happened in March and April, I said, ‘Oh I’m a believer in personal liberty and in an educated populace deciding whether or not they want to do it.’ And the question was, ‘Were (the masks) really effective?’ I’ve come to the conclusion, after doing research and studying, that masks are effective. So I’m all for mandating masks here in Palm Desert at businesses, and when people are in stores in close proximity to one another. Beyond that, I think the city has done a pretty good job with education programs. They were part of the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau campaign to promote mask-wearing, so I guess that’s my answer. I think the city has done a decent job so far. Like I said, I believe our numbers (of COVID-19 deaths) are higher just due to that one unfortunate outbreak that may, or may not, have been preventable by the city of Palm Desert.

Should the city continue to contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for law enforcement services, given Sheriff Chad Bianco has stated publicly an unwillingness for citizen/community oversight, his refusal to meet with community stakeholders, and the high cost of his department’s services?

You know, I’ve talked to city officials about this, because since I’m running for this office, I have to consider all of these issues. Palm Springs has their own police force. Desert Hot Springs has their own police force. There are pros and cons to each (type of) service. When you contract out with the Riverside sheriff, then you’re spreading out the liabilities. You know, I was told by an employee of the city of Palm Desert, ‘Look, each one of those police officers is a walking liability.’ So it creates a great risk for the city if, God forbid, there is some kind of lawsuit or issue. You spread that out when you contract with the sheriffs. I like that aspect of it. From what I understand, and the research that I’ve done, the three main things that are front and center nationally are addressed. The sheriffs use body cameras; they’re not allowed to do “no-knock” warrants; and they don’t use choke holds.

So I like what the Sheriff’s Department is doing in that regard. I’m not familiar with Bianco’s unwillingness (to cooperate with civilian review). Actually, I haven’t read anything about it, so I can’t really speak to any of Bianco’s actions. I’m just talking from my perspective, and from what I know about Riverside sheriffs, I would advocate for continuing the contract with the Sheriff’s Department moving forward, for sure. In my mind, it’s one less thing the city has to worry about or staff. I think they’re doing a good job so far here in Palm Desert. I’m happy with the job they’re doing as a citizen.

The City Council originally proposed building an Interstate 10 interchange at the north end of Portola Avenue in 2008. Should the city reconsider moving forward with this plan in light of potential impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhoods, which have expanded notably since the plan was first considered? For instance, should a survey be initiated to gather input from residents most likely to be impacted?

I’ve noticed it on the agenda for the past year or so as well. From one meeting to another, when the issue of the interchange is brought up, the projected costs seem to go up considerably. I know a lot of it is being borne by CVAG (Coachella Valley Association of Governments) and the county, but the costs to the city went up considerably. As with any construction project, over time, costs typically don’t go down; the estimates go up. That’s a concern. When you talk about moving forward with the Portola interchange, I do think we need to take into consideration the (opinions of) the residents in the northern part of the city. Also, you have to take into consideration the BlackRock housing development, which is projected to bring almost 1,000 homes into that part of the city. I feel that you want to get the infrastructure in place before you have the impact on that infrastructure. In other words, build the infrastructure first, and then the housing development. So, I think that’s something to consider as well. I would like to see it happen, as long as it doesn’t adversely impact our budget to the point where we’re digging into reserves.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity since the pandemic’s arrival?

Being able to spend time with the kids. My son, who’s 19, came home from college early, in March. And my two daughters are teenagers. So when you get to this point of parenthood, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel where they’re going to be out of the house. I’m going to be an “empty-nester” in five years. I’ve just really enjoyed spending time with them. We’ve been playing games, reading books and just being together. I know it’s going to end; we’ll go back to our busy lives and busy schedules where we’re going in 20 million directions. So being with them has been a treat, and we’re enjoying it. Luckily, I have a loving family and it’s just fun to spend time together.

Published in Politics

For the first time, Palm Desert residents in November will vote for their City Council representatives by district … sort of.

After two residents sued the city last year, alleging that the city’s at-large voting system violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, the council approved a new system: One large district, including the vast majority of the city, will be represented by four council members; it’s now called District 2. A second, smaller district, called District 1, will have one representative. You can view an interactive district map here.

In November, District 1 residents will choose between two candidates: Karina Quintanilla, one of the aforementioned plaintiffs in the Voting Rights Act lawsuit, and incumbent Susan Marie Weber. The Independent recently spoke to the candidates, asking them each the same set of questions, on topics ranging from the new district voting system to law enforcement in the city.

Here are their complete answers, edited only for style and clarity.

Karina Quintanilla

Site coordinator for Think Together

Should you be elected, what are your top three priorities for the City Council in 2021?

My priorities are districting, growing higher education and public health. Regarding districting, the importance of representation, and the equitable distribution of our votes across Palm Desert—that’s a conversation that’s been had many times now, I believe. A lot of the residents I met with while I was gathering petitions (to run for the City Council) had questions about the settlement and how we got to the two districts. Now, they understand that Lorraine (Salas, the second litigant in the case) and I settled because we knew there were going to be challenges with implementing the process, so we wanted (to create) a first opportunity for everybody to come, get the microscope out and look at the process and scrutinize to see how we could do it better the next time. We wanted everybody to have more of an even say.

Today, as we move forward on this pandemic, we need to be sure that we have equal representation. We keep saying that we’re all in this together. Yes, we’re in this together—but we are not in the same boat. My boat looks very different from somebody else’s, and we need all these communities with all of our little concerns to have an equal voice in what happens with the resources moving forward, and how we identify the priorities as a city.

Now, talking about growing higher education opportunities in Palm Desert: I worked at Cal State San Bernardino, and I remember hearing that the nursing program got off the ground years ahead of schedule because the community said they work looking ahead and could see that a nursing shortage was going to get critical. So they made sure that funds were available through philanthropists and commitments from the cities who felt they had to make that happen. So, the health sciences building wasn’t even complete—and there was already a cohort of nursing students. I had the privilege of working with those students who are now in the field themselves, saving lives. Some of them are doctors of nursing, as is my sister. She has worked in a couple of medical facilities here in the desert.

With higher education comes the ability to diversify our economy. Right now, we have so much tied up in hospitality and tourism, and everyone is taking losses. So, growing our higher education capabilities will mean that we have different fields available. Right now, some of the highest-paying jobs available in the region are in cannabis—but we don’t have the biologists, the chemists and others that are needed (by this new valley industry) growing in our own backyard. Instead, they often come from out of the area. They get their master’s degrees and acquire good jobs with good salaries, when we could grow this talent at home. We are letting our brightest students leave to pursue their higher education, while we have to pay high wages to attract people who have lived in other urban areas who relocate for jobs that we can’t fill here.

We know that Cal State right now has said that they are not ready to approve any (new four-year) programs—but when they say they’re ready, we have to put ourselves in the position of having addressed housing inequality. Right now, students can’t afford to live in Palm Desert, and we can’t give them the kind of housing that makes it easy for them to work a part-time job and focus on being a student. We can’t stick our heads in the sand. If we’re going to grow our university, we’re going to need faculty for it, and they will come with families, in many cases, and we’ll need places for them to live close by. So we need to be forward-thinking in how we allocate our physical resources and where we allot land, because we need housing to be accessible to Cal State. Also, I think that supporting the city’s infrastructure, to be sure we have more accessible public transportation, is very important.

Public health is another of those major priorities. Having experienced (COVID-19 infections) within my own family, I wonder how my neighbors are coping. People get fooled (into complacency) by the wealth of their zip code, but I believe that there are a lot of people struggling to get by everywhere. We have to be aware that our neighbors may be struggling, and not everybody knows how to get help. This may be the first time that somebody is experiencing this kind of financial distress. Maybe they made it OK through the last recession. You know, maybe they had two incomes before, and the spouse passed away, so this is their first time trying to make it on a single income. We have to be genuinely more compassionate, and I think that Palm Desert just needs to do more for her residents.

I’m very happy to see that some businesses are open around town, and have signage saying that masks are required and (they) have the right to refuse service. But there needs to be signage citywide. It is of great concern to me that we have access from Highway 74, from Interstate 10 and from Highway 111, and we don’t see anything that welcomes our visitors and says, ‘Please be careful, and wear a mask.’ It doesn’t have to be a political issue. It doesn’t have to be a freedom issue, as people are making it (out to be). It’s a public-health issue. It’s a compassion issue. It’s a ‘love thy neighbor’ issue. People who come from out of town may not know what our policies are. They may be here for business for the first time, so they don’t know what Riverside County’s policies are, let alone from one city to the other.

I grew up in Thousand Palms, and they have signs. That was wonderful for me to see. When you get off on Monterey (Avenue), and you head north, Thousand Palms has a sign that encourages people to wear a mask and to be distant. That helps protect a beautiful little community with a lot of essential workers, where I still have family. Palm Desert can clearly afford to put up these signs. But we don’t have that clear signage, and we’re one of the cities that’s been hit the hardest by COVID-19.

When I think of what will happen with the viral load that we have in the community if we open too soon, it concerns me very deeply. Eventually, we have to reopen completely, and that’s not a matter of if, but just when. What’s within all of our control is how we move forward as a unified community so that we can do this with fewer mortalities. We have to think of all of the kids, all of the teachers and all of the first responders. You know, if we really are going to glorify their profession, then let’s respect that they are on the front line and they are at the most risk. We’re not giving them the respect they deserve in any way, shape or form by replacing (the word) “essential” with “disposable” workers.

In terms of deaths, Palm Desert has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the Coachella Valley by COVID-19. What can, or should, the city do to better deal with the pandemic?

I think that Palm Desert residents, and the people who work here as well, deserve better. Not everybody is contained to their zip codes, and we’ve got people who live all across the valley and are in different industries who need to feel safe going to work.

Right at the start of the pandemic, I started a job working at a senior-living facility where I met some amazing residents. But just the idea of going to work every day, and loving the people that you work with, and then being afraid that any one of them could go, or that you could be taking virus home to your family, creates levels of stress that are toxic. When they closed down the dining room, there was this one woman who liked to take her time eating, so she was eating in a different area. She said to me, ‘I’m just a slow eater. When I grew up during the Depression, you never knew when you were going to get a next meal. So, we made time to eat slowly.’ That came full circle for me—thinking about how many kids now are dealing with this generational impact of the crisis mode that they see their parents in, and these hyper-stress levels. In education curriculums, you’ll see them talk about adverse childhood experiences. We are all being exposed to trauma, but I’m worried about the long-term effects of this stress on the little ones. And yes, they need to be out there. Yes, they need to play. Yes, they need to engage, but they need to feel safe. They need to know that when they go out, it’s going to be safe for them to do so, and that the adults have done their due diligence in making sure that they’re taken care of.

Should the city continue to contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for law enforcement services, given Sheriff Chad Bianco has stated publicly an unwillingness for citizen/community oversight, his refusal to meet with community stakeholders, and the high cost of his department’s services?

I felt disappointed upon having learned that there was no outreach (on the part of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department) to the organizers of the (George Floyd/Black Lives Matter) demonstration in Palm Desert. Having seen so many different people protest in the Coachella Valley, it seemed that the mindset was already one of response only, instead of it being an opportunity to engage, observe and keep the peace. So, it was very disappointing to me.

I would choose to believe that all stakeholders’ best interests (would be served) by coming together and making sure that the needs of the community are met. It makes it difficult to have the community fully support the needs of law-enforcement officers if we aren’t able to hear directly from (Sheriff Chad Bianco) his justifications as to why these expenses keep growing. And we need to have everybody come to the table to have these open conversations.

The City Council originally proposed building an Interstate 10 interchange at the north end of Portola Avenue in 2008. Should the city reconsider moving forward with this plan in light of potential impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhoods, which have expanded notably since the plan was first considered? For instance, should a survey be initiated to gather input from residents most likely to be impacted?

I think that this is the kind of (issue) that just needs to be put on hold. It needs to be tabled until we get (more) districts in the city. The people who live in that area are the ones who are going to be impacted the most, and we need to be sure that they have their voices heard loud and clear. The environmental impact of having that right in their neighborhood may not be something they anticipated (12 years ago). Maybe residents have a vision of something entirely different that they want to see go on there. I don’t see why this needs to be a top priority right now. That funding needs to be directed to public health right now.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity since the pandemic’s arrival?

Some of the things that I’ve done are things that I learned to enjoy when, for instance, I was out of work on disability. A lot of people think that it’s a time to rest and hangout, but sometimes, it’s just a time to recover. But, my personal favorite me-time (activity) continues to be going to the blood bank. It’s my time to unplug from everything, because you can’t quite be texting. You maybe watch a movie, but it gives you time to reflect that no matter what else is going on, I’m standing, and, I’m healthy enough to be able to give something that my body is just going to make more of. I truly believe in giving everything we have if we can make somebody else’s day and life better. Not only is that good for them, but it feels great inside. So I wish more people would take the opportunity to go down to LifeStream, where they take excellent care of you. I’ve built some long-term friendships with people who have been donating there since it was the Community Blood Bank back in the ’90s. That’s one of my favorite things to do.

I know it’s kind of weird, but everybody’s got their own (favorite activity). I can’t hike right now. It’s too hot. But if you go to donate, you do it in the AC. You get to lay down while you do it. They give you juice and cookies. You get T-shirts and gas cards, and you get to save lives—and, that’s a pretty good feeling, too. When we feel kind of helpless, like there’s nothing we can do because it feels like our hands are tied as we watch our national leadership scramble and try to figure things out, there are things we can do. …  And they are doing the antibody screening, so you may be able to come back and give plasma and save even more lives.

There are absolutely things that we can all do. We can all take the Census to make sure that, once this (pandemic) is all over, each community has a true representation and how much funding they deserve to receive to meet the individual needs of their community. And everyone can vote. Everyone can pay forward.


Susan Marie Weber

Palm Desert City Council incumbent; sole proprietor of an accounting business

Should you be re-elected, what are your top three priorities for the City Council in 2021?

Yes, I do think that I should be re-elected. I kind of look at things objectively. I’m an accountant, so I look at things (to see) are they in balance—debits and credits, and so forth. That’s always allowed me to look at things objectively to try to determine what’s best. I think that’s one of the things I bring to the council, while maybe other people on other councils might not have that capability. And I don’t take things personally.

So my top three priorities, and mostly what we’re working on right now, is pretty consistent with what’s going on in the city—and that is how we can work on housing. Housing seems to be an issue right now. So what can the city do to help facilitate more housing? Now, the state has stepped in and given us some directives. We call them “unfunded mandates,” because they tell us, “Here is what you will do as a city, but good luck on trying to figure out where the money comes from.” So, one of our issues is how to create what we all call “affordable housing,” so that people who are just working in our city can actually choose to live here and not have to drive back and forth. That’s probably one of my main objectives right now.

The other one (deals with the fact that) our city has an extraordinary amount of what we call committees and commissions. These are opportunities to participate in the city, and my goal is to get more people involved in that. So when I meet somebody, and they say they really like our city, I immediately (suggest) that they go to our website, click on the committees and commissions, and find out what makes you happy and participate in that. For example, you may have noticed the project going on around San Pablo Avenue. We have an Art in Public Places Commission that is very much involved in selecting the art that’s going to go there. Also, they select the art that goes all along El Paseo, for which our city has become rather famous. So, everybody has a passion, and serving on one of our committees or commissions is a way that they can have their passion and get involved in the city. I like people to be involved. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and saying that you don’t like what’s being done, come on over, and let’s get you to work and find out what you can do to contribute to make it better.

So, those are two things that I think are most important right now. We had 100 residents show up for Envision Palm Desert (a strategic-planning effort). Our city is comprised of community involvement, and that’s what I think makes our city as great as it is. Everybody asks me, and I do think that our city is the best in the valley. I’m not kidding. It’s the best financially run. It’s the best (in terms of) commitment from our community. It’s just the best all around.

Did the city of Palm Desert fulfill its obligation to encourage more diversity in political engagement with its two-district solution, or do you believe more districts should be formed?

It’s kind of hard thing to say, because so many people think that we didn’t fulfill it. I can only speak for myself, but I was not in favor of districting. I think it’s inappropriate for a city like ours. You have an opportunity in our city every two years to do away with three (city councilmembers) and replace them, and then in two years do away with (the other) two and replace them. Now, people are going to be confined to one representative—at least in my District 1: They’ll be confined to me for four solid years. Whereas before, (the voters) had more flexibility. … If you live in our city, you had five people you can go to with your comments, and everybody would be working to make everything better. Now, with districting, I’m not quite sure. I presume that most of us who are there will continue that practice, no matter which district we are assigned to, if I can use that phrase. But I don’t think it was the best thing for our city.

We are a unique city. We’ve worked all these years as a whole city—and now, to divide us, I don’t think was in our best interest. I’ve read a lot of comments by people who want to take it further and make it into five (districts). Frankly, I’m baffled by that, and can’t figure out how that would benefit (Palm Desert). When they talk about diversity, our diversity is all over our entire city. They had quite a challenge working on the demography (of new district creation) because we are a city where (different demographic groups) just live all over the place. Plus, I’m not quite sure what they mean when they say that they want more representation. It’s hard to answer a question when the question doesn’t make sense. How do you want more representation? What’s going wrong right now? Can you not show up at City Hall? I have regular office hours, and anybody could walk in on a Friday, and there I would be. They wouldn’t even need an appointment. With any of the council members, all you have to do is call and say that you want to talk to a council member right now, and somebody would be there. So I’m not quite sure what the people who disagree with (the results of) the districting want, exactly.

I don’t quite know how to answer that question. I thought we were doing really well. I felt represented, and I always participated, too. If I didn’t like what was going on, I showed up to say so.

In terms of deaths, Palm Desert has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the Coachella Valley by COVID-19. What can, or should, the city do to better deal with the pandemic?

Our city is on the record, and we (on the City Council) all voted to accept whatever instructions the county is putting out. For example, if the county says. ‘OK, you can all open up, and here are your guidelines,’ our goal is to comply with those.

Regarding the significant amount of deaths that appear to be in Palm Desert, I think that sometimes they leave out the rest of the story—and that is that we have a tremendous amount of nursing-care facilities. A lot of times, when they’re hit hard, a lot of deaths will come out of that area—not necessarily because of a lack of care or cleanliness or anything else; it’s just that those particular patients might have been susceptible. So it’s always important to look at the rest of the story before decisions are made.

Regarding our city, the minute that we had the information, we shut down our city (administration). Everybody started working from home. We got new computers and all sorts of systems set up so that people could assist the public immediately. So we did not drop the ball on that. When you call, you get help so that (obtaining) licenses and so forth can continue to take place. We figured out a way with our social distancing at City Hall to have the public make appointments to come in for one-on-one assistance. We’ve complied in every manner, and deep cleaning has been done. I was over there yesterday to do the online City Council meeting, so that I don’t have to worry about my computer shutting down. And while I was there, everyone was walking around with our masks on and following all those rules.

Should the city continue to contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for law enforcement services, given Sheriff Chad Bianco has stated publicly an unwillingness for citizen/community oversight, his refusal to meet with community stakeholders, and the high cost of his department’s services?

Well, we just changed our contract with them. But my concern about any of these organizations is that the people who are working in them aren’t necessarily running them. The unions are telling everybody what they have to do, and I’m not a fan of unions dictating what should be paid to different people, because I think the unions kind of all work for themselves after a while. That’s something that we’ve been facing, and you can’t just keep escalating costs, because pretty soon, 100 percent of the income that the city might get is going to be used for public safety. So we changed our (contract) so that we have more people who are working on paper work, you might say. So for example, you might call the sheriff’s department, because you’ve just been beaten up, and you would have a sheriff’s deputy go out there and take care of it. Then, I might call to say I just had a robbery, and they might take the report and then have somebody else out to follow up with all of the paperwork. So the deputies are now freed up to go out and do more of what we might call law-enforcement type work.

A lot of the (policing) issues we’re having, unfortunately, come from the homeless issue. Now, why would we want a deputy going out to take care of a homeless issue? So we’re hiring different people who can go out and handle that, as long as there’s no risk. As you understand, there’s a real fine line in public safety, where you don’t want anybody to get hurt. We’ve been looking at this now for the last two years, so I imagine that this is going on all over the place. Everybody’s trying to decide: What’s the better way?

Clearly, I’m not a fan of defunding. That’s not a good solution at all. It sounds like a great idea, but it’s not practical or common sense. If you’re going to get rid of something, you’ve got to be prepared to put something in its place. Also, we are working with Indian Wells and La Quinta to study the issue of changing the way we sub-contract out (our law-enforcement services). I’m a major fan of subcontracting, rather than having our own police force, (because) that’s a real expensive way to do it. For example, if we’re subcontracting out, and we all of a sudden need a whole lot more deputies, they can easily bring in the extra service to take care of our needs. That gives us a great amount of flexibility that we would not have if we just had our own police force. Of course, there’s good and bad on both sides. It’s kind of nice to know your own officers, so we try to make sure that we have the same ones for a period of time, like Lt. (Matthew) Martello right now, who we call our police chief, even though he’s with the sheriff’s department. He mostly works in Palm Desert, so we all have that comfort level of knowing him directly. So, all costs have to be analyzed, and the decision that’s made has to be focused on public safety and what’s best for our community.

There’s a matrix study that we’ve done (to analyze) how we could make police work more efficient, because if you keep doing things the same old way, you’re going to keep getting the same old results. If they’re not affordable results, then something has to change a little bit.

The City Council originally proposed building an Interstate 10 interchange at the north end of Portola Avenue in 2008. Should the city reconsider moving forward with this plan in light of potential impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhoods, which have expanded notably since the plan was first considered? For instance, should a survey be initiated to gather input from residents most likely to be impacted?

We’ve been working on this for ages. If it had been left up to the city of Palm Desert, we would have had an overpass in the blink of an eye. But we have to coordinate with everybody under the sun, beginning with CalTrans, the water district and anybody who touches that (project)—we have to negotiate with them to make sure that safety measures are in place for whatever they have (to do) in their underground or wherever. I’m not quite sure what you’re asking, because we’re trying to go ahead with it. That’s been our goal all along, to go ahead with it. We’re still being delayed because of the other organizations, not because of ours.

What I’m asking is: Since the project has now taken so long, do you think the plan should be re-visited with more community input from current neighboring residents, rather than going on what seemed like a great idea in 2008?

Well, the residents who I hear from and the community I hear from are very much in favor of having another access to Interstate-10. Our traffic clearly has increased quite a bit. So, if there are residents who don’t think it’s a good idea, of course, I would love to hear from them. But government takes a long time to do something. … The money is allocated. It’s sitting on the books allocated for this particular project. The design has been done, and the design has been approved by CalTrans and whatever agencies are involved in this. They’ve all taken the time to approve all those plans. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to start all over again.

When that overpass is finally completed, a lot of people are going to be quite happy. It’s going to relieve traffic on Monterey and Cook (Street) a little bit, since some of the traffic will be coming in via Portola. So my only concern is that if people are saying we should start all over, then they’re not understanding the reason it’s taking a long time. Our city is a fiduciary of the public money. So, when the public has decided, ‘Yes, we want to do that particular project,’ that money is set aside and designated for that particular project—and to change that would be quite an endeavor. Remember, these funds have been set aside for quite some time. I can’t even imagine how would we return them to whatever organization. So I don’t think it’s feasible, but I would invite anybody who thinks it’s a foolish idea to meet and talk. Right now, I thought we were pretty much on board with it.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity since the pandemic’s arrival?

I’m like a lot of people in that I like to watch these old PBS shows, and I watch a lot of movies and TV shows. They’re kind of nice, because they don’t use a lot of bad language in them, and PBS doesn’t use a whole lot of bad language. So they’re not so stressful, and you don’t have to cringe all the time. Of course, like everybody else, I talk to friends and send emails out to everybody to stay in touch and make sure everybody’s healthy.

Published in Politics

Now that Labor Day Weekend is in the figurative rearview mirror, a lot of people are starting to look toward the holidays—and with that, people will come to the realization that, as with everything else since February, things will be quite different this year.

My husband I have already started talking about our holiday plans. Our family gatherings are pretty small; most of our closest relatives have passed away, and the ones who are left are scattered across the country—except for my mom, and Garrett’s dad and stepmom, all of whom live in Reno. In recent years, we’ve spent Christmas with the three of them, either here or in Reno.

We’ve decided that we’ll likely do the same this year. We’ll probably all get COVID-19 tests before we get together to minimize the risk. There are only five of us, so it seems doable, if still perhaps a little scary.

Last year, the parents visited us in Palm Springs, and we all went to a large, chosen-family dinner on Christmas day at a friend’s house. There were 30 or so people there, and it was absolutely amazing. Such large family gatherings would be incredibly irresponsible this year—at least as things stand now.

Now, it is possible that there could be some sort of advancement between now and then; Christmas is still 3 1/2 months away, after all, and the arrival of inexpensive, speedy, no-lab-needed COVID-19 tests could make larger gatherings more feasible. Maybe.

Then again, there’s also talk of a fall-and-winter combination COVID and influenza surge.

Damn it, 2020.

Before we get to today’s news, two pleas. First: If you have the means, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can keep producing quality local journalism; click here to do so. Second: If you haven’t yet voted in the first round of the Independent’s Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, please do so by clicking here. Thanks!

Today’s news:

• You’ve probably heard this already, but just in case you haven’t, brace yourself for epic stupidity: The El Dorado Fire, which has burned 7,000 acres so far near Yucaipa and is responsible for the choking smoke in the valley today, was started by morons using a pyrotechnic device at a gender-reveal party.

• Related: Due to the dry, convection-oven-like conditions ’round these parts, the U.S. Forest Service is closing access to Southern California’s national forests, because you never know when cretins may show up, even though it’s 110 degrees and as dry as a popcorn fart, TO SET OFF INCENDIARY DEVICES TO ANNOUNCE THE GENITALIA OF A YET-TO-BE-BORN CHILD. Arrrgh!

• OK, it’s time for a drink! I’ve been enjoying the Boulevardier recently. Unfamiliar? It’s like a Negroni, but with whiskey instead of gin. Here’s a recipe. They’re quite lovely, even if the trademark bitterness from the Campari takes some getting used to. From the Independent archives: Cocktail scribe Kevin Carlow suggests adding walnut to things to make the drink even more festive—far more festive and infinitely less dangerous than a fire-tinged gender-reveal party!

• OK, whew. Now that we’ve calmed down a bit, let’s get back to the fire-related news: More than 2 million acres have burned this year so far in Californiaand that’s a new record.

• Related: The Los Angeles Times looks at the massive toll the August Dome Fire took on the Joshua tree forest. Key quote: “Preserve botanist Drew Kaiser estimated that about a quarter of the sprawling Cima Dome Joshua tree forest—which extends beyond the preserve boundaries north of Interstate 15—was destroyed. But that quarter is a place that some desert lovers call one of their favorite spots on the planet.

The Washington Post over the weekend broke this story: “Louis DeJoy’s prolific campaign fundraising, which helped position him as a top Republican power broker in North Carolina and ultimately as head of the U.S. Postal Service, was bolstered for more than a decade by a practice that left many employees feeling pressured to make political contributions to GOP candidates—money DeJoy later reimbursed through bonuses, former employees say.” That, of course, is quite illegal.

• Some sort-of good news: Some Californians on unemployment will soon be seeing an extra $900 show up, following President Trump’s executive order.

• Here’s some not-so-good and certainly more bonkers news related to Trump: In response to a tweet claiming California has implemented the use of the 1619 Project in schools (which hasn’t happened), the president threatened to withhold funding from schools that do so. What’s the 1619 Project? It “teaches American history beginning with the arrival of slaves to Virginia in the year 1619 and focuses on the contributions of Black Americans.” Sigh.

• Back to some good news: The Wall Street Journal looks at the fantastic success of an initiative to recruit poll workers, thanks to large companies giving employees paid time off to volunteer. Key quote: “Power the Polls, an initiative to recruit low-risk poll workers to staff in-person voting locations on Election Day and during early voting in October, has joined with more than 70 companies, including Starbucks Corp. and Patagonia, to connect people who want to volunteer during the election with counties that offer training. Last week the Civic Alliance, the group behind the campaign, said it surpassed its goal of recruiting 250,000 volunteer poll workers through its corporate partnerships and now has more than 350,000 people signed on to help with the election.”

A federal judge will hear arguments regarding the Trump administration’s plans to end U.S. Census work early. Key quote, from the San Francisco Chronicle: “(U.S. District Judge Lucy) Koh will hear arguments Sept. 17 on requests by the plaintiffs for an injunction that would reverse the one-month speedup. They sought an immediate restraining order after the Justice Department told Koh in a court filing that the Census Bureau ‘has already begun taking steps to conclude field operations,’ which ‘are scheduled to be wound down throughout September by geographic regions based on response rates within those regions.’”

• OK, I am just going to leave this New York Times headline right here, shake my head and walk away: “Trump Emerges as Inspiration for Germany’s Far Right: Among German conspiracy theorists, ultranationalists and neo-Nazis, the American president is surfacing as a rallying cry, or even as a potential ‘liberator.’

• While movie theaters aren’t yet open here, they’re open in about two-thirds of the country—and this weekend, Tenet became the first major release since … well, you know, to open only in theaters. The New York Times looks at how the film did at the box office—and what that means for other upcoming releases.

• Finally, as Labor Day 2020 comes to an end: A professor, writing for The Conversation, looks at the philosophy of Simone Weil, who helped change the way people look at work in the early 20th century. Key quote: “Work must be seen in its larger context, for if it isn’t, laborers may soon feel like cogs in a machine, winding a nut onto a bolt or moving papers from an inbox to an outbox. To do work well, people need to understand the context of work and how it makes a difference in the lives of others.

Be safe. Be kind. Wear a mask around others. Wash your hands. Thanks for reading; the Daily Digest will be back Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest

Hey, everyone. Let’s start off on a happy note from our friends at Eisenhower Health, posted earlier today on Facebook, and slightly edited to remove hashtags and whatnot: 

As of today, there are 12 COVID 19 patients in our hospital. The same number we had at the start of Memorial Day 2020.

At that time, California moved to an accelerated stage 2 opening—lifting mask requirements and allowing indoor dining, etc.

Within just three weeks, the number of our COVID-19 hospitalizations more than tripled. … Less than two months later, we reached a peak of nearly 90 COVID-19 patients hospitalized and a nearly full ICU.

So, please, for your health and the health of your loved ones … be safe this Labor Day Weekend.

Folks, we’re really making progress with this terrible disease—to repeat, there are 12 people hospitalized at EMC, where there were nearly 90 not long ago. That’s encouraging!

However, as the Eisenhower post mentions, those numbers spiked, in part, because people let their guard down on Memorial Day Weekend. People letting their guard down on Fourth of July made the spike even worse (spikier?).

So … this weekend, let’s not let our guard down.

Please, enjoy yourselves. But wear a mask. Wash your hands a lot. Keep gatherings outside (yes, I know it’s gonna be hot AF, but the coronavirus doesn’t care) and socially distanced and small.

OK? OK! Thank you.

And now, the news:

• The big news story of the week—and something that has the potential to become one of the biggest news stories of the year, depending on how things play out—was published yesterday by The Atlantic. The piece, by Jeffrey Goldberg, and based on interviews with numerous undisclosed sources, revealed that President Trump has repeatedly said horrible things about members of the U.S. military, calling them “suckers” and “losers.” The lead anecdote involves him cancelling a planned visit to honor American war dead at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018 because the cemetery was “filled with losers.” And that’s just the beginning.

• While Trump and many allies have issued full-throated denials, numerous news sources have confirmed parts of The Atlantic piece, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, and even, sort of, Fox News.

• Related-ish: USA Today broke the news today that Stars and Stripes, the military’s independent newspaper since the Civil War, was being shut down by Trump’s Department of Defense by end of the month. After a more-than-justified outcry, Trump tweeted this afternoon that the newspaper would continue to be funded. We’ve said it before, and we will say it again: Nothing makes sense anymore.

One of the big local-news items of the last couple days: Southwest Airlines has announced it intends to begin flying in and out of Palm Springs later this year.

• Dammit, September’s supposed to bring cooler temperatures! But that’s not happening yet—and in fact, Gov. Newsom has declared a state of emergency regarding the extreme heat California faces over the weekend. Everyone is being asked to conserve energy, and rolling blackouts are possible.

• MedPage Today looks at the ongoing discussions over which groups will get first access to a COVID-19 vaccine if/when it’s ready. Key quote: “In addition to race/ethnicity, experts advocated for priority vaccine access for a larger population of older people, other healthcare workers beyond the medical setting, such as pharmacists and dentists, and public service workers.

• Related: A group of scientists, writing for The Conversation, say they disagree with a lot of other experts in that they believe younger people should move toward the front of the vaccination line, only after essential workers. Why? Because they’re “superspreaders.”

• Also related: The co-chief of the Operation Warp Speed vaccine effort said yesterday that it was “possible but very unlikely” a vaccine would be ready to go before the election. Earlier this week, the CDC had told health officials nationwide to be ready to distribute a vaccine as early as Nov. 1, i.e. just before Election Day—raising concerns that such a move could be politically motivated. Key quote, from Moncef Slaoui: “I think it’s extremely unlikely but not impossible, and therefore it’s the right thing to do to be prepared, in case.

• As noted in this space, the CDC is banning some evictions through the end of the year, on public-health grounds. A professor from the University of Memphis explains via The Conversation what this will mean for tenants and landlords.

• This is horrifying: More than 410,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19 by the end of the year, if a new forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is correct. That’s more than double the current tally—and the numbers could be even worse if too many restrictions are eased. CNBC explains.

• Related: A Los Angeles Times investigation found that a lot more people are dying at home than normal—and COVID-19 is to blame, even if those deaths aren’t often attributed to the coronavirus.

• Our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent, explain how much extra money and effort California’s school districts are needing to spend to get ready for the return of students to in-person learning. Key quote, from San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten: “When the funding’s not there, we will have to stop (reopening). When you reopen and you can’t put the appropriate nursing and counseling and distancing in place, and physical changes that need to happen, you slow it down, or you don’t do it as safely.”

• Prisons are a deadly place when it comes to the coronavirus. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “The death rate nationwide from COVID-19 is higher inside prison walls than outside and more than twice as high in California prisons, according to a study released Wednesday. The study by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit with bipartisan leadership, comes while inmate advocates are calling for more releases from overcrowded prisons, where cleaning supplies and protective equipment are sometimes limited, and social distancing is nearly impossible.”

Here’s a CNBC headline: “As small U.S. farms face crisis, Trump’s trade aid flowed to corporations.” Sigh … 

• I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, joining hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr to discuss the news of the week—including, alas, Nancy Pelosi’s infamous salon visit. Check it out.

Have an amazing Labor Day Weekend, all! Please vote in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, if you haven’t already—and if you have voted, THANK YOU! Also, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, because it costs a lot to do this Daily Digest and the other journalism the Independent produces, and makes available free to all. Because the news never stops, the Daily Digest will be back on Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

An academic year in which public education will intersect with public health has created back-to-school shopping lists unlike any other for California’s schools as they attempt to transition toward in-person instruction—once they have the state’s blessing.

Bakersfield’s Panama-Buena Vista Union School District plans to hire a manager to handle contact tracing for a system of 19,000 students and 4,000 employees.

Anaheim Union High School District spent more than $500,000 this summer on additional band instruments so students won’t have to share clarinets, saxophones and flutes.

Among the few California schools to physically reopen, Yreka Union High School District near the Oregon border is spending about 10 percent more than it would in any given year to hire more maintenance staff to support exhaustive cleaning efforts.

While an overwhelming majority of students began the year in distance learning, schools are preparing for that moment when schools physically open—sourcing personal protective equipment for teachers and kids in a competitive market, figuring out how they will trace coronavirus cases and test employees, and wondering just how far their dollars will stretch this year.

The laundry list of safety measures schools are spending on is due to new state public-health requirements they will have to abide by for in-person learning, and mounting pressures to bring students back to campuses to help stop widespread learning loss and revive a sputtering state economy.

Doing that will require safety precautions to help prevent coronavirus outbreaks and give parents, students, teachers and staff enough confidence to return in person. The exact costs related to health and safety measures depend on how much of the year schools will offer in-person instruction. That amount of time is in turn tied to local health conditions and, school officials say, whether they will have enough money in their budgets to sustain it.

This summer, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Office of Emergency Services procured a 60-day supply of protective equipment for the state’s 1,037 school districts, anticipating that campuses were going to physically reopen to begin the new term. Order forms of the $53 million shipment, obtained through a public-records request, partially illustrate the scale and cost attached to reopening schools for the state’s 6.1 million K-12 students:

• $633,457.10 for more than 204,000 N95 respirators for school nurses.

• $2,732,978.56 for 55,912 no-touch thermometers.

• $6,729,690.24 for 154,068 gallons of hand sanitizer.

• $14,142,785,63 for almost 7.2 million cloth face coverings for elementary students.

The state and FEMA have helped with masks. In some counties, such as Kern, hospitals and businesses have chipped in with donations for personal protective equipment, or PPE. But high demand for supplies have driven up costs and attracted sketchy vendors looking to make money off districts in urgent need of supplies.

School leaders have called on the federal government to help with the extraordinary costs of doing distance learning and physically reopening schools. In fact, they sat financial challenges could threaten efforts to bring students back on campuses.

In San Diego Unified, superintendent Cindy Marten said a precarious budget situation will affect how quickly and to what extent the state’s second-largest school district will be able to offer in-person instruction this year. To date, the district has spent $11 million on personal protective equipment.

“When the funding’s not there, we will have to stop (reopening),” Marten said Thursday, calling on Congress to pass a financial relief package for schools. “When you reopen and you can’t put the appropriate nursing and counseling and distancing in place, and physical changes that need to happen, you slow it down, or you don’t do it as safely.”

The federal government’s lack of involvement in procuring protective gear for hospitals has meant state governments are competing with each other for supplies, driving up prices and putting individual school districts at a disadvantage, said Robert McEntire, director of management consulting services for School Services of California. For example, the cost of industrial-size Lysol disinfectant, about $6.50 in ordinary times, now costs as much as $19, McEntire said.

“When you get these small districts operating on their own for their own supplies, they’re struggling to compete, and often if they can even get stuff, they’re paying far more for it,” McEntire said.

That has helped create a “Wild West” of procurement, he said, that has drawn “fly-by-night people looking to profiteer” from schools that struggled to get protective gear and technology through their normal suppliers.

The Panama-Buena Vista district spent this summer buying electrostatic foggers for each of its 24 schools that custodial staff will use to deep clean classrooms, which will each have “sanitation stations” teachers and staff can use for minor disinfection. The district spent money on air purifiers to help dissolve aerosol particles indoors, as well as extra N95 masks for special-education teachers to wear when working with special-needs students who might not be able to wear their own face coverings.

“If you don’t feel safe, you’re not going to be able to learn. If you don’t feel safe, you’re not going to be able to teach,” said Jennifer Irvin, the district’s assistant superintendent for education services.

Though the distance-learning start has meant more time for schools to prepare for in-person learning, it’s unclear when that will happen for Kern County schools. As of Thursday, the county was still in the purple tier of the state’s new reopening guidelines, meaning schools can’t reopen. In July, before new state guidelines that almost entirely shut the door on campus reopenings, the Panama-Buena Vista school board planned on giving families the option of sending kids to school five days a week.

Maple Elementary, a district of 300 kids in Shafter, has spent about $225,000 on desk barriers, a mask stockpile, two student teachers to help with distance learning, and two portable classrooms to help expand the school’s indoor capacity, according to superintendent Julie Boesch.

Like the rest of the state’s school districts, Maple is affected by deferrals—delayed cash payments to schools that the state used to plug its $15 billion educationbudget shortfall. With about 30 percent of the state cash flow to districts not coming until next school year, many schools are borrowing money and repaying it with interest this year to get by.

Instead of borrowing money, though, Maple has sent layoff notices to its instructional aides. Layoff protections to teachers and some classified employees approved by Newsom and the Legislature were intended to prevent schools from cutting personnel essential for school reopenings, but have hamstrung some schools’ abilities to deal with volatile budgets.

That’s left Boesch, whose husband is a bus driver at a nearby school district, conflicted.

“As much as on a personal level I’m like, ‘OK, I’m glad (for my husband),’ on a professional level, that’s tying our hands with where we can cut expenses when we still have an enormous amount of costs,” Boesch said.

Some of the state’s classified employees—which include custodians, food service workers and instructional aides—have reported either not receiving enough supplies from their schools to their local unions, or not being notified when a colleague has tested positive.

The latter was the case recently when Ben Valdepeña, president of the California School Employees Association and a school custodian for 38 years, received an email from a local chapter. Several fellow custodians at a local school district were concerned about a colleague who’d been absent from work for two days with little explanation from their school leaders.

It was later found that the custodian, Valdapeña said, had tested positive for coronavirus.

“It’s scary to me. You have districts that do the exact right thing. They follow all the rules; they tell everybody what they need to know, and they may even send people home and quarantine them,” Valdepeña said. “And then you have other districts where it’s like they try to hide it.”

Valdepeña said schools should not underestimate the amount of cleaning supplies and gear it will take to sanitize schools on a routine basis, adding that custodial workers and employees “will need a ridiculous amount of PPE.”

At the global scale, many of the countries that have successfully reopened schools have done so with stellar hand hygiene, strict physical distancing and face-mask requirements, said Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical officer at the Bipartisan Policy Center, who is researching school reopenings worldwide. Some of the countries that opened schools without a face-covering mandate did so because they had reached very low transmission levels, Parekh said.

Nationwide, a safe reopening would cost schools $22 billion in just protective gear, cleaning supplies, and additional school nurses and custodial staff, according to an estimate from the American Federation of Teachers.

Children and teens will be encouraged to bring in their own cloth face coverings, but if they forget theirs or don’t have one, schools will need to provide that for them, said Sheri Coburn, a school nurse in San Joaquin County and past president of the California School Nurses Organization.

Although the state has already distributed millions of masks to schools, including child-size ones, there will likely be a need to resupply periodically. “So hopefully the state can continue to help,” Coburn said.

While most California students are doing distance learning, some teachers have returned to their classrooms to lead video instruction from there. Coburn said that in her district, this means a daily screening of staff, which entails a questionnaire and temperature checks.

That, however, is not feasible for students. “We have high schools of 4,000 to 5,000 students; we would be there all day,” Coburn said. That is why when students return to the classroom, it will be up to parents to monitor their child’s symptoms, she said.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

Really? We’re going to make a big deal out of the speaker of the House getting her hair done? This is where we’re at now?

Well, if this is indeed where we are at now, let’s break things down:

1. What Nancy Pelosi did was wrong, and insensitive; she should admit that and apologize. While salons in some parts of the state were indeed open for indoor business on Monday—the day when the Salon Visit That Will Live in Infamy took place—they weren’t open in San Francisco. They still aren’t, in fact. And this is something that a member of Congress should know about her district. For Pelosi to get an indoor salon service, in violation of San Francisco’s rules, is a slap in the face to both her constituents who can’t do so, and business owners who can’t allow in paying customers not named Nancy Pelosi. The fact that she is not recognizing this and apologizing is, well, not cool.

2. Pelosi claims she was set up. Given that the footage of Pelosi’s visit was promptly turned over to Fox News, she may be right.

3. You can pretty much throw Nos. 1 and 2 out the window, because this whole kerfuffle is a nit—a distraction from the real things that matter. Even if you assign the worst possible motives to Pelosi, it pales in comparison to the things the president, the Senate majority leader, the attorney general, etc. have done—and are doing.

Nancy Pelosi’s hair is nothing compared to the epically poor handling of a pandemic that has resulted in 185,000 deaths. Or a president disregarding a Black Lives Matter movement that is FINALLY drawing attention to the systemic racism in law enforcement and other institutions in our country. Or ignoring Russian bounties on American troops, or putting migrant kids in cages, or telling blatant lies about mail-in ballots and voter fraud. Or, as just happened today, the president actually encouraging North Carolina residents to vote twice in the November election.

It’s about where Nancy Pelosi got her damned hair done.

Today’s news links:

• From the Independent: Employees picketed at Tenet’s three local hospitals last week, demanding safer conditions for both themselves and the patients they’re treating. Key quote, from Gisella Thomas, a respiratory therapist at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs: “For 48 years, when I saw a patient where I needed protection—like gowns, gloves and a mask, a hat and shoe covers—I would put that stuff on before I went into the patient’s room. Then, when I finished doing what I had to with that patient, I’d come out of the room and take everything off. Then, for the next patient, I’d put on all fresh, clean, new PPE—gowns, gloves, the whole bit. Today, I’ll use the same N95 mask, with a surgical mask over it, for the 12 hours that I work.”

Here’s this week’s Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (District 4, I will remind y’all, is basically the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Same as the last few weeks: Cases are down; hospitalizations are at their lowest point since early in the summer; the positivity rate is still too freaking high.

• The COVID-19 picture from Eisenhower Health is much the same, albeit with a much lower positivity rate. This is encouraging.

• This lede from Politico? “As the presidential election fast approaches, the Department of Health and Human Services is bidding out a more than $250 million contract to a communications firm as it seeks to ‘defeat despair and inspire hope’ about the coronavirus pandemic, according to an internal HHS document.” There (*cough*) couldn’t POSSIBLY BE any political motivation behind this, right? (*Cough*)

• Meanwhile, at Los Angeles International Airport, a pilot on Sunday night reported flying past someone wearing a jet pack. The Los Angeles Times explains how this is even possible.

• This story broke today and has not gotten the attention it potentially deserves: The former boyfriend of Breonna Taylor—the EMT who was shot and killed by Louisville Police as she slept back in March—was offered a plea deal that would have made him say she was part of an “organized crime syndicate,” according to his attorney. NBC News explains: “The news of the plea offer raised the question of whether law enforcement officials were attempting to provide an incentive to (the former boyfriend) to help justify the raid that resulted in Taylor’s death.

• Related, sort of, alas: While a few notable reforms were passed, most police-reform efforts taken up by the California Legislature this year went nowhere. Our partners at CalMatters explain why.

• Meanwhile, in vaccine news from the hellscape that is 2020: The Trump administration refuses to join a worldwide effort to develop and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, in part because the World Health Organization is involved.

The CDC is telling public health officials nationwide to be ready to distribute a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine as early as late October. The potential pre-election timing is raising some eyebrows.

Related-ish, from MedPage Today: “The first available vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 should be reserved for frontline healthcare workers and first responders, according to draft recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released Tuesday.”

The Trump administration announced yesterday that, as CNBC reports, “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will invoke its authority to halt evictions through the end of the year in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.” However, it’s quite unclear how this will work—if it will work at all.

• Three new studies indicate that commonly used steroids can save the lives of a significant number of COVID-19 patients. Key quote, from NPR: “Taken together, the publication of these studies ‘represents an important step forward in the treatment of patients with COVID-19,’ Drs. Hallie Prescott and Todd Rice wrote in a JAMA editorial. The results not only provide further support for the use of dexamethasone, they also back the use of another widely used steroid, hydrocortisone.”

A University of Maryland professor, writing for The Conversation, breaks down the pros and cons regarding BinaxNOW, the inexpensive and fast COVID-19 test that recently received emergency use authorization. Spoiler alert: The pros far outweigh the cons.

Yet more encouraging news: A study out of Iceland (because why not Iceland?) indicates COVID-19 antibodies generally last at least four months.

The New York Times brings us this alarming scenario: “What if early results in swing states on Nov. 3 show President Trump ahead, and he declares victory before heavily Democratic mail-in votes, which he has falsely linked with fraud, are fully counted?” As the story explains, this is looking increasingly likely to happen.

If you see me shopping at Old Navy, here’s why: I want to support them for paying employees to serve as poll workers on Election Day, which is a very, very cool thing.

• Finally, something charming and interesting: Our friends at Willamette Week bring us the story of the Clinton Street Treater in Portland, Ore., where The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been screened every Saturday night since April 1978. While the pandemic has closed the theater, the screening streak continues.

That’s the news of the day, or at least some of it. Before we go, we 1) ask you to take the time to vote in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, if you haven’t already; and 2) ask you to please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, if you have the means to do so. Advertising revenue is still down around 50 percent due to the pandemic, but reader support has thus far allowed us to keep doing what we do—producing quality local journalism, made available for free to all. Thanks for your consideration—and, as always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

Members of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) picketed at each of the three Tenet-operated hospitals in the area last week—claiming that employees at the hospitals need to take life-threatening risks every day to care for local patients battling COVID-19.

The members formed picket lines at the Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree on Wednesday, Aug. 26, before moving to the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs on Thursday, followed by Indio’s JFK Memorial Hospital on Friday.

“The overlying reason is that we are in a contract negotiation right now, and at the same time, we are fighting to make sure that all of our workers are safe and have enough PPE, or personal protective equipment,” said union member Gisella Thomas via telephone before Friday’s picketing action in Indio. “Tenet is my employer. I’ve been a respiratory therapist for 48 years, and I’ve worked at Desert Regional for 10 years. I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I feel unsafe, not just for myself, but for my co-workers, too. If you have co-workers in other facilities who died because they didn’t have a face mask or other PPE, you want to make sure that doesn’t happen in our facilities here.

“We (at Desert Regional) have not had a death yet. We don’t want that to happen, and we want to make sure that we’re safe and protected.”

Tenet spokesman Todd Burke, in a statement issued on Thursday, Aug. 27, said: “While we value all of our employees who are represented by the SEIU-UHW, we are disappointed that the union is taking this approach. We have only been bargaining with the union on a successor contract since May and will continue to negotiate in good faith in hopes of reaching a successful resolution. We are proud of the professionalism and dedication demonstrated by our caregivers and staff during this unprecedented pandemic.”

Later in the statement, Burke noted: “Any employee, physician or vendor entering the hospital is required to wear a face mask. To prevent potential exposure, all physicians, nurses and staff who care for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are required to wear the appropriate PPE, including N95 face masks and face shields or goggles. Employees are provided a new N95 or face mask with each shift.”

That policy, as described by Burke, is part of the problem, as far as Thomas and her picketing co-workers are concerned.

“We’re asking that there be a pandemic/epidemic clause added to our contract that assures every worker that there are provisions so that we are safe, and there’s enough PPE for us at all times,” Thomas said. “For 48 years, when I saw a patient where I needed protection—like gowns, gloves and a mask, a hat and shoe covers—I would put that stuff on before I went into the patient’s room. Then, when I finished doing what I had to with that patient, I’d come out of the room and take everything off. Then, for the next patient, I’d put on all fresh, clean, new PPE—gowns, gloves, the whole bit.

“Today, I’ll use the same N95 mask, with a surgical mask over it, for the 12 hours that I work. Over my 48 years, if I would have done that, (hospital administration) would have fired me. Any hospital would have said, ‘You’re endangering the patients. This is not right. You cannot do this.’ Now, everybody goes from patient to patient and has the same PPE and the same N95 mask in front of their face for the entirety of their shift. Granted, all the federal agencies are saying that this is OK now—but why was it not OK for 48 years, and now it is OK? This is the question I ask as a health-care worker.”

Thomas said she’s concerned not just for herself, her co-workers and her patients; she’s also concerned for her friends and family away from work.

“When I come home (from work), I strip all of my clothes off in the garage,” she said. “I try not to touch anything and take a shower immediately. I’m trying to make sure that I don’t take anything home to my family, but also out into the community—and I’m not the only one. Everyone does this. So we want to make sure that the provisions in our pandemic/epidemic clause state that there has to be enough PPE to do what we were supposed to do for the last 48 years.

“There has to be enough PPE (on hand) for 45 days. If they’re stocking enough, then why is there not enough? Now we’re six months into a pandemic, and we’re still doing the same bullshit, excuse my language. It’s like, ‘Come on! Give us a break. Why can’t you guys pick it up here? How can you expect us to come to work and do our job? Why can’t you provide us with the safety we need to protect our lives?’”

According to Burke’s statement: “We can safely care for our patients with the supplies we currently have. Our team is actively sourcing around the world for additional supplies. We are committed to protecting the health and safety of our patients and staff.”

Thomas said that while she understands hospital administrators are dealing with an unprecedented pandemic, her frustration has grown over the last months—especially regarding a lack of transparency.

“I’m sure that (Tenet administrators) have their own frustrations and issues in terms of providing us with the PPE that we need,” she said. “But unfortunately, Tenet is not dealing with their health-care workers in a forthright manner. They don’t even let us know who among our co-workers have caught COVID-19. So, some of us have been exposed and had no idea until we get sick.”

One may assume that she and her co-workers get tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis, given they’re in close contact with infected patients, but Thomas said that’s not necessarily the practice at the local Tenet facilities.

“There is an option available for us to get tested, but they don’t really encourage us to get tested,” Thomas said. “Unfortunately, once you are tested, if you test negative, and then later on you have some symptoms, they don’t like to re-test. Or, if there’s somebody who tests positive and has been out, when they need to come back, there’s no more re-testing. After 10 days (of self-quarantining) it’s like, ‘OK, you should be good. Just come back to work.’”

Thomas voiced cautious optimism that the local recent picketing actions staged by both the SEIU-UHW hospital workers and members of the California Nurses Association would eventually result in improved working conditions.

“At the Desert Regional (picket on Thursday, Aug. 27), we were hoping to get a least 100 to 150 people out on the line,” Thomas said, “and we had over 200 union members come out, along with some doctors and nursing staff. We (in the SEIU-UHW) are all the other essential workers, like respiratory therapists, EMTs, lab techs, certified nursing assistants and the transporters.

“We will fight for our rights. At this particular time, I don’t know how that will work out, but we will continue to speak out and speak up, because that’s what we need to do. We can’t just sit back. Hopefully, we’ll come to a mutual agreement in the near future—and if we don’t, then we’ll have to go from there.”

Published in Local Issues