CVIndependent

Sun11292020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Gina Nestande is the mayor of Palm Desert. She wants Gov. Gavin Newsom to open things up and let us all get back to work. She expressed this opinion in a piece published online yesterday—a piece that has gotten a fair amount of attention since.

Sounds fairly straight forward, right? Nope. No no no no.

Let’s break things down a bit, shall we?

Before we get into the specifics of Ms. Nestande’s argument, I want to talk a little bit about the forum she used to make it. If you haven’t already, please, click on this link. Look around just a little. Take it all in.

I hadn’t heard much about FlashReport.org before this, and I must say, I have become an instant fan. I am not sure what my favorite part is. The the circa-2005 HTML design? The section unironically headlined “Oversight of Czar Newsom”? The tile ad toward the top left of the page for a state Assembly candidate … from 2016?

But I digress; let’s look at Nestande’s actual argument. In both the original piece and a subsequent TV interview, Nestande makes several fascinating points, including the fact that we could eliminate 40,000 car-accident deaths per year “if we mandated that cars be built with one-foot bumpers all around the outside and fitted with a roll bar cage on the inside, with a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour.”

And then there’s this: “We reacted to the ‘worst case” scenarios in which hospitals would run out of beds and ventilators, placing up to 2.2 million lives in jeopardy. In reality, as of April 18, there have been just over 38,000 deaths. The data is clear that this doomsday scenario is not taking place and it is time to pivot.” (Only one problem here: She fails to acknowledge the possibility that the doomsday scenario isn’t taking place because of shelter-in-place orders.)

The main crux of her argument, however, is that because of the Stanford study—the first one showing that, based on antibody tests, a lot more people may have already been infected with COVID-19 than initially believed—we now know the virus really is not that dangerous. You know, despite the overwhelmed hospitals in China and Italy and New York and etc.

“We now know that we can mitigate the disease by focusing on the elderly and those with obesity. Other populations can and should go back to work,” she writes, citing another study.

Ah, if only things were this simple.

First: Regular readers of this space know that all studies need to be taken, as the saying goes, with a gigantic grain of salt. That obesity study—while it is backed up by anecdotal evidence, and may very well be proven true—“is preliminary, and not peer reviewed,” according to The New York Times.

Second: That Stanford study Nestande speaks so glowingly about is also preliminary, and not peer reviewed—and so far, the reviews peers are giving it are NOT GOOD. A lot of stats nerds—I say that lovingly, being one (on an amateur basis) myself—are calling into question the figures and conclusions of the study.

Then there’s the interpretation of the results themselves, even if we assume they’re accurate. Check out this, from the San Jose Mercury News:

Santa Clara County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith remains steadfast in his interpretation of the study’s findings: It suggests that asymptomatic people spread the virus, and that more than 95% of the population remains susceptible to infection.

“That all means that there is more risk than we initially were aware of,” said Smith, lamenting how some are using the study to challenge Bay Area health officials’ unprecedented stay-home orders.

Look, I want things to be open again, safely, as much as anyone. But when Gina Nestande claims that we can open things back up again because, more or less, Stanford scientists said we could, she’s either being dumb, or she’s being disingenuous. You decide.

Today’s links:

The Los Angeles Times has done a fantastic yet sad piece on the conditions at the infamous Oasis Mobile Home Park in Thermal, where clean drinking water is hard to come by—and the farmworker residents are living in fear.

• The county has allowed golf courses to reopen for limited use. However, Palm Springs has not. The city will ponder the issue, and other issues involving outdoor activities, at a meeting on Thursday.

• I actually have mixed feelings about this one: Facebook has confirmed it is removing some posts regarding protests against stay-at-home orders.

• A new analysis shows that much of the loan money from the first stimulus bill went to publicly traded companies—NOT small businesses. Grrrrrr.

• This interesting opinion piece posted by NPR looks at the future of cities in a post-COVID-19 world.

The New York Times Magazine looks at efforts—past, present and future—to stop pandemics before they get started. One word on why we’re in the mess we’re in right now: Money.

• Local visual artists, take note: Desert X is offering grants of $1,000 to some Southern California artists in need.

• The city of La Quinta is offering $1.5 million in loans to small businesses.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has recommended against the drug combination—hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin—touted by the president.

• Please be careful when doing unusual things with bleach. Poison control calls are on the rise.

• And now for something completely different: The New York Post sets out to answer the question (via Australian doctors, because, why the hell not) that nobody was asking: Can the coronavirus be spread via farts?

• Enough of this nonsense. Let’s all go watch Stanley Tucci make a negroni.

That’s enough for today. If you want to take part in our Adopt a Small Business program, the deadline for our May print issue is Thursday morningOur Coloring Book is selling like (sanitarily packaged, takeout-ordered) hotcakes; get yours here. (We’ll be sending out the digital links tomorrow!) Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you absolutely must go out. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

As a teenager caddying at a restricted country club, I resented the bigotry, but accepted the tips. I learned to play golf myself and eventually got fairly good at it—but now I hate the game.

Let me tell you why.

The ecological and aesthetic harm caused by most of the world’s 34,000 golf courses—45 percent of them here in the United States—is widely acknowledged today. Natural habitats have been disfigured and destroyed to create highly organized, artificially watered and unarguably fake nature. Some people find golf courses calming and beautiful, but that beauty comes at a price.

Since 1982, the United States Golf Association has funded efforts to conserve water through improving irrigation technologies, planting grasses that require less irrigation, and using recycled water from sewage-treatment facilities. Despite these commendable efforts, precious water is still being squandered—including a lot of it right here in the Coachella Valley, where, despite a severe drought, golf courses continue to use about 37 million gallons of water a day. In drought-stricken Arizona, Phoenix-area courses routinely use more than 80 million gallons per day. The pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides and herbicides spread by irrigation water harm complex ecological systems on land and at sea.

So critics like me are happy that the game’s popularity is waning. According to the National Golf Foundation, a high of 30.6 million golfers in 2003 had been reduced to 24.7 million by 2014. The number of golfers between ages 18 and 34 has declined by 30 percent over the past 20 years. Kevin Fitzgerald covered this very topic in the Independent last December in a story called “Business Bogeys.”

One of the issues Fitzgerald covered: Millennials are apt to find the game far too slow—five hours or more to finish 18 holes—for their 21st century tastes.

The ultimate result is that more than 800 courses across America have closed in a decade. Some of these courses have become housing developments, others parks, while a few landowners have taken advantage of tax breaks by donating their properties to nature trusts.

One of the reasons for this change had been explained succinctly in Forbes Magazine: People simply can’t afford to play golf anymore. I find that easy to believe. In 1958, a friend named Bob and I, both of us college students, reserved a tee time and paid $8 apiece to play 18 holes at the famed Pebble Beach course on the Monterey Peninsula. (We talked about natural beauty during our round and agreed that the land, sea and sky we saw that day would have been far more beautiful without the intrusion of the golf course on which we played.) For a similar tee time today, however, Bob and I would be required to stay a minimum of two nights at the Pebble Beach Lodge or an affiliated property, and the 18 holes would cost us a minimum of $1,835 apiece—carts and caddies not included.

Mark Twain may or may not have said (the quotation’s origins remain murky): “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” But even that isn’t true anymore, because very few golfers still walk. Most climb in and out of motorized carts whose costs aren’t included in Pebble Beach’s exorbitant greens fees. The only virtue the game ever had—moderate exercise—is gone forever.

It would be impossible to pass legitimate judgment on golf without mentioning our current so-called president, who owns 37 courses worldwide. He also plays the game—though apparently not very well. Of course, former President Barack Obama and many others also played some golf, too. But Donald Trump is in a league of his own, as sportswriter Rick Reilly put it: “When it comes to cheating, he’s an 11 on a scale of one to 10.”

We assuredly have a right to ask for both better games and better presidents. I understand that a backpacker or cross-country skier might be too much to hope for, but we’re in desperate need of an authentic populist. When we get one, maybe she will bowl or shoot pool.

Michael Baughman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News, where a version of this piece first appeared. He is a writer in Oregon. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily the opinions of the Independent.

Published in Community Voices

If you’re a casual golfer like me, you have undoubtedly seen signals that seem to portend an uncertain future for public golf courses, private golf clubs and golf retail outlets here in Coachella Valley.

When booking a tee time online, you may see more available slots—and cheaper rates—than there used to be. You may hear conversations about a certain club that’s eliminating all ladies’ golf events this season because of the dearth of female members. Then you hear about another club where revenue has fallen so low that the owners are poised to close it down and sell to real estate developers.

In La Quinta, the citizens and their City Council are struggling to create a viable community development to support the beautiful SilverRock golf course. Earlier this year, Lumpy’s, which had been serving the local golfing community for some 30 years, closed both its outlets in Rancho Mirage and La Quinta.

Meanwhile, golf remains a vital part of our local economy. Organizations such as the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership point out frequently that the golf industry’s impact on the local economic balance sheet is sizable and therefore critical to our valley’s economic stability.

In an effort to find out what’s going on, the Independent recently sat down with Craig Kessler, the director of governmental affairs for the Southern California Golf Association; he’s the organization’s resident expert on all aspects of the golf industry’s longtime presence in our valley. We asked Kessler to evaluate the health of the golf industry in Coachella Valley.

“The golf industry is enormous in this valley,” Kessler said. “This is the greatest concentration of golf courses in the United States. The direct economic impact (of golf on local annual revenue) is over $1 billion. So for a population as small as this, that’s fairly substantial.”

A study using data collected in 2014 titled “The Economic Impact of the Coachella Valley Golf Industry,” completed by Tourism Economics, stated: “In 2014, the golf industry generated the following total economic impacts in the Coachella Valley region: a) Nearly $1.1 billion in total business sales; b) $413.3 million in labor income; c) More than 14,000 jobs. These regional economic impacts also generated significant fiscal (tax) impacts at the local, state and federal levels. In 2014, the Coachella Valley golf industry directly and indirectly generated approximately $83.3 million in local and state taxes and $90.5 million in federal taxes.”

Clearly, the game is integral to the area’s economy. Can the local population continue to count on it?

“I’ll say that we’re actually pleasantly surprised by the way our industry has withstood the recent challenges here in the valley—but also we’re watching it very carefully,” Kessler said. “Almost 27 percent of Southern California’s and about 14 percent of the whole state’s golf courses are right here in this desert. For example, the city of Los Angeles, with 4 million people, has 35 golf courses within its city limits, while you have 121 here. So the role that golf plays in the local economy here is phenomenal. I think it was Sonny Bono who said, ‘No golf. No Palm Springs.’ While that may not be quite true, certainly if you take out golf and agriculture, you don’t have much to drive revenue here.”

Kessler admitted the golf industry has seen some rough times in the last decade or so—rough times that he said need to be put in historical context.

“From 1946 to 2004, the game grew every year,” he said. “That spanned wars in Korea and Vietnam, urban riots, gas lines (due to shortages), recessions, double-dip recessions, etc. Some of those years were better than others, but even in the worst economic years, golf never suffered any declines. It continued to grow for 60 years. By 2004-2005, what I just described resulted in an industry ripe for an overdue correction—and that’s what hit the industry nationally, and here in California.”

Can the golf industry address the challenges it is facing?

“Over the last 10 years or so, the golf industry has learned that it can’t just sit and hope that (the players) will come,” Kessler said. “We have to become marketers, just like every other business in the United States. But I want to emphasize that when I read stories that talk about this game being passé, that it takes too long to play or is too difficult, and that people are no longer interested in it, I disagree. The facts that the base community of players has less money than they used to have, and the game has become more expensive than it used to be, are (the factors) driving the lack of participation. All the studies done about (consumer) interest in the game … show that the numbers are through the roof.”

Due to California’s record-breaking drought, golf courses have been subjected to unprecedented environmental and conservation pressures.

“One of the encouraging things is that as a result of recent conservation efforts, you’re seeing golf courses reduce substantially the amount of turf they irrigate, and maintenance expenses in general,” Kessler said. “By lowering those costs, we can reduce the cost of the game and put ourselves more in line with the market we’re trying to appeal to.”

Where should stewards of the golf industry be focusing their attention to encourage golf’s growth, longevity—and benefit to our valley?

“There’s no doubt that the lack of millennial interest in the game of golf is the greatest problem,” Kessler said. “In my opinion, I think that lack of interest results mostly from economic and financial factors, and not cultural or social factors. Honestly, I think it’s an insult to this particular generation to assume that somehow they are uniquely suffering from short attention spans and don’t like pursuits that are difficult. What they do have is extreme debt levels due to student loans. But if we don’t get them involved at a younger age, then they won’t be retiring to places like the Coachella Valley.”

In recognition of what some observers might call the anachronistic tendencies of golf and its culture, Kessler concluded: “There is something venerable about the historical traditions of the game of golf, but they need to be updated for each generation. Its values are timeless, but the forms of those values aren’t necessarily so. Now the private clubs are starting to incorporate families—and another encouraging sign about the demographics of golf is that Latinos, who are now a (plurality) of this state’s population and include many successful business people, are attracted to golf as a family activity. Golf was that way once—and it needs to regain that focus.”

Published in Local Issues

It isn't really my bag to write about bags, but it's not easy being green when you have to answer questions like, "Paper or plastic?"

The Palm Springs Sustainability Commission has been researching the idea of a plastic-bag ban in the city. Dozens of cities and counties across California have already adopted plastic-bag bans, and Palm Springs would be the first city in the desert to follow their lead.

In other cities where a plastic-bag ban is already in place, there is also fee of 10 to 25 cents per paper bag. The idea is that adding a charge for paper-bag use will also help encourage people to switch to reusable bags. The only drawback would be the tendency for reusable bags to harbor bacteria, so the public would have to get into the habit of washing them periodically.

There are a lot of things we can do here in the valley to help the environment, and our large population of senior citizens is just the group we need to help us accomplish this goal. Our country has a history of putting elderly people out to pasture, and this attitude cannot be tolerated. We need to give these seniors a feeling of usefulness so they can continue to contribute to society. The most efficient way to do this would be to replace all the plastic bags with our beloved old bags. There are plenty of old bags in the area who would be more than happy to assist in this effort. There could even be an organization dedicated to making these seniors available to the public called, "Bunch Of Old Bags Interested in Earth's Survival," or BOOBIES for short.

If someone needs to go shopping, they can enlist the help of one of these BOOBIES to carry the groceries for them. The BOOBIES would also have a reusable clause in their contract so they can be called upon again and again for their services. However, it would be the shopper's responsibility to wash these reusable old bags to prevent any bacteria from spreading.

Unfortunately, plastic bags aren't the only threat to the environment. We also have a severe water shortage here in the desert. There are 66 golf courses in Palm Springs. On average, each consumes more than a million gallons of water per day.

So what can we do about the situation besides asking our local Native Americans to perform a rain dance? The solution lies in raising money to build a reservoir, and there's no better way to do this than to have a benefit concert.

The Doobie Brothers could perform their hit song "Black Water" for the occasion. While the Doobies are singing, the BOOBIES could pass out bags for donations.

Let's not forget one of the most important ways to be green. Everyone needs to do their part to save electricity. The desert is the perfect place to utilize solar energy. Our never-ending supply of sunshine makes it a no-brainer. That's why famous no-brainer George W. Bush should be appointed to assemble a solar panel to study solar panels.

Can you imagine a world with no plastic bags, plenty of fresh water, and unlimited electricity? It may sound like a fairy tale, but as Frank Sinatra would say, "Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you're young at heart." That would include all of our young-at-heart old bags, of course.

Lights out.

Published in Humor