CVIndependent

Fri12042020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

We here at the Independent debated postponing our annual Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll this year.

Why? For one thing, the city magazine and the daily already do readers’ polls—and the timing of the daily’s poll overlaps with ours, which confuses the heck out of everyone.

For another thing … as you know, we’re in the middle of a raging pandemic, which has curtailed or shuttered many of the businesses and organizations that are featured in our poll.

However, upon further reflection, we decided not to postpone our poll … so here we go! First-round (nomination) voting will be open through Monday, Sept. 14. Go here to access the ballot, where you will fill in the blank in each category. (In other words, we have no pre-determined list of candidates.)

Why did we decide to press forward? Well, for one thing—and I say this with all due respect to the winners and everyone else otherwise involved—those other readers’ polls are kind of terrible.

For our Best of Coachella Valley poll, we ask each reader to vote only once per round, because our goal is to come up with a slate of truly excellent finalists and winners. The other polls have no such prohibition, because the goal of those polls is not to get a great slate of finalists and winners—the goal is for the publications to get as much web traffic as possible from readers visiting their websites over and over again to vote.

The other reason why we pressed forward: There’s never been a more important time to shine a light on the valley’s best businesses, individuals and organizations, because so many of us are struggling right now.

The top vote-getters in the first round of voting will advance to the final round, which will take place at CVIndependent.com starting Monday, Sept. 28. The Best of Coachella Valley results will be announced at CVIndependent.com on Monday, Nov. 23, and in our special December print edition.

Thanks in advance to all of you wonderful readers who take the time to vote!

Today’s news—and, boy oh boy, is there a lot of it:

Sigh. Here’s a lede from an NBC News story: “A Black man was shot in the back multiple times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday, a bystander's video showed, prompting community protests and widespread anger.” Thank god this time the victim lived: Jacob Blake, 29, is in serious but stable condition. Here’s what happened, according to Blake’s attorney: “Blake was helping to deescalate a domestic incident when police drew their weapons and tasered him. As he was walking away to check on his children, police fired their weapons several times into his back at point blank range. Blake’s three sons were only a few feet away and witnessed police shoot their father.”

This is why it’s not a good idea to have large gatherings of people, especially indoors, right now: “The number of COVID-19 cases connected to a wedding reception in Millinocket (Maine) continues to climb, with state health officials saying on Saturday that they could trace 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus to the reception. That’s up from 32 confirmed cases on Friday.”

• If you’ve ever doubted whether an absence of competent federal leadership can truly affect issues at the local level, this story will erase those dounts rather quickly: The Associated Press reports that distance-learning efforts are being hampered by a laptop shortage. Key quote: “The world’s three biggest computer companies, Lenovo, HP and Dell, have told school districts they have a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops, in some cases exacerbated by Trump administration sanctions on Chinese suppliers, according to interviews with over two dozen U.S. schools, districts in 15 states, suppliers, computer companies and industry analysts.”

• We’re only three stories in, and I need a drink. Or three. So here’s the Independent’s most recent cocktail column, in which Kevin Carlow offers guidance on how to make all the basic drinks. Cheers.

• Aaaand now back to the news, and this horrifying Business Insider headline: “Rats reported feeding on packages of rotted fruit and meat as postmaster general’s cutbacks unleash chaos at California's mail centers.” Sigh. And Ew.

• More bad news: It’s now been proven that a person can indeed get COVID-19 more than once. MedPage Today offers the damning details. But, no panicking! Key quote: “‘My hope is that while reinfection has been documented, it is a rare or uncommon occurrence,’ Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who was not involved in the research, told MedPage Today. ‘So far that seems to be the case, but we're still only a few months into this pandemic.’”

CBS News-YouGov just did a poll asking people about the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. … and sit down for this one: “57 percent of Republican respondents said the U.S. death toll for COVID-19 was ‘acceptable,’ while 43 percent said it was ‘unacceptable.’ Republicans were the only partisan group of which a majority of voters said the number of deaths was acceptable. Among Democrats, 10 percent said the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. was acceptable, while 90 percent said it was unacceptable. For independents, 33 percent labeled the death toll as acceptable, and 67 percent called it unacceptable.” For the record, that U.S. death toll is currently approaching 180,000.

The FDA on Sunday, after pressure and criticism from the president, decided to authorize the emergency use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients. The move has been criticized by many experts—including those from the WHO, Reuters reports.

• OK, here’s some actual good news: California has been approved for the extra $300 in weekly unemployment funds. BUT it’s going to take several weeks to actually start happening, and there are all sorts of exclusions. Bleh. The San Jose Mercury News explains.

• More good news: It appears the number of coronavirus infections nationwide is decreasing—and, according to The New York Times, experts say that’s because various restrictions, like mask ordinances, are having an effect.

The New York attorney general is looking into possible corruption in the Trump Organization. Key quote: “The attorney general’s office said it began investigating after Trump’s former lawyer and ‘fixer,’ Michael Cohen, told Congress in February 2019 that Trump had used these statements to inflate his net worth to lenders. The filing said that Eric Trump had been scheduled to be interviewed in the investigation in late July, but abruptly canceled that interview. The filing says that Eric Trump is now refusing to be interviewed, with Eric Trump’s lawyers saying, ‘We cannot allow the requested interview to go forward … pursuant to those rights afforded to every individual under the Constitution.’” Hmm.

Two political science professors, writing for The Conversation, examine a negative aspect to mail-in voting you may not have thought of: secrecy, or a lack thereof. Key quote: “Mail-in voting still requires an official ballot, and can still be validated and counted anonymously. That eliminates what’s commonly known as voter fraud—where someone casts a ballot on behalf of someone else. But it doesn’t address outside forces influencing the authentic voter at the moment they make their decision. The voter marks the ballot outside the supervision of election monitors – often at home. It’s possible to do so in secret. But secrecy is no longer guaranteed, and for some it may actually be impossible.”

The weather is finally giving overwhelmed and tired firefighters a break in Northern California. But dry and dangerous conditions remain.

Another county has been removed from the state’s COVID-19 watch list, meaning some businesses and schools may begin to reopen soon there. Congratulations to … (checks notes) … Orange County!?

• OK, this is genuinely a very cool thing, because it shows the technology exists, and could be more widespread soon: The San Francisco International Airport has set up rapid COVID-19 testing for employees and flight crews (but not, as of yet, passengers). Key quote: “Technicians use an Abbott Labs device, about the size of a toaster oven, to analyze samples obtained using a nasal swab. Abbott Labs said the device ‘amplifies the RNA hundreds of millions of times to make the virus detectable—returning test results in 13 minutes or less.’

• The city of Palm Springs will soon be closing down part of Palm Canyon Drive to allow restaurants to expand. “The pilot program, which is expected to kick off within the next two weeks, would allow for a full closure of Palm Canyon Drive between Baristo Road and Tahquitz Canyon Way,” says the news release.

• Also Palm Springs downtown-related, from the Independent: The PS City Council agreed to cut $3 million in funding from the under-construction downtown park when it passed the new budget several months ago. However, on Aug. 6, in a 3-2 vote, full funding for the park was restored—a move that infuriated many within the local business community. Kevin Fitzgerald talks to the City Council and breaks it all down.

• This damn pandemic has claimed another local restaurant: Zobo and Meester’s announced today it will close for good on Sept. 9.

• Alt-country great Justin Townes Earle died last week at his Nashville home, at the age of 38. You can read his New York Times obituary here. He appeared at Stagecoach several times, and spoke to the Independent in advance of the 2017 festival. “Nobody should ever expect me to make the same record twice, or (for the records to) even to be in line with each other,” he said. “I’m a whimsical motherfucker.” RIP, Justin.

• We’re now entering the “Let’s Get Weird!” section: Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned from Liberty University today after the news broke that his wife—with Falwell’s knowledge and occasional from-a-distance participation—apparently had a long affair with a younger man who was a “pool attendant” when they met. From NPR: “Falwell's departure comes on the heels of an investigation by Reuters on Monday in which Falwell's former business partner, Giancarlo Granda, claimed he had a multiyear sexual relationship with Falwell's wife, Becki, which involved Falwell looking on while the pair engaged in sex acts.

Or maybe he isn’t resigning. Hmm.

KFC has temporarily dropped its “finger lickin’ good” slogan, because, you know, WE CAN’T LICK OURSELVES ANYMORE BECAUSE OF COVID. Wait. That’s not exactly what I meant … oh, never mind.

That’s a LOT of news for today. Be safe. Be careful. Be happy. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, to help us keep doing quality local journalism. The Digest will return Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest

For more than five years, Palm Springs residents and business owners have waited for the arrival of a showplace downtown park. In 2018, the Palm Springs City Council approved plans to deliver the attraction by the fall of this year—plans which were derailed by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve taken a long time to get to this point,” councilmember Lisa Middleton told the Independent, “and I want to see a completed project there.”

Pretty much everyone agrees with that statement. However, there’s significant disagreement about how the project will be completed—which became apparent after a contentious 3-2 vote at the Aug. 6 Palm Springs City Council meeting.

The short version of the controversy is this: Councilmembers Grace Garner, Christy Holstege and Dennis Woods voted to proceed with the original, fully funded plans for the park—overturning a decision made two months prior to scale back those plans and save the city about $3 million. Middleton and Mayor Geoff Kors disagreed.

The longer version is much more nuanced and complicated.

“As a council, we recognize that we are in a fiscal emergency,” Kors told the Independent. “With the decision to reduce staffing dramatically by cutting 80 staff positions in fire, emergency medical, police, facilities, planning and permitting, there’s no department that didn’t have substantial cuts. I’ve been out there advocating for more funding (help) through communications with the White House, with our member of Congress and with our state elected officials. But at a time when we see businesses closing and people unemployed, we should not be spending money to the extent called for by the original downtown park design, when every other capital-improvement project has been stopped, including road re-paving and money for our community centers and our neighborhood parks. So I supported doing a modified park, as the majority of council did previously, rather than funding the entire park right now.”

Holstege—in the middle of a re-election campaign against two opponents—explained her vote to proceed with the fully funded park plan.

“In the budget discussions (in June), the majority of council had tried to defund $3 million from the existing park project, and save those funds for reserves, while building a temporary park in the meantime.

“I, along with a (different) majority of the City Council, decided that it would be more prudent to go forward with the initial park design, because the city has already spent $3 million in building the initial design. So if we were to pause or cancel or change the park, much of that $3 million would be wasted. There are $600,000 in parts that we’ve already purchased for the water feature that would have been wasted. Already, there’s been a lot of underground work for the water feature and other parts of the park. We have an active contract with the contractor, so we were looking at roughly $400,000 in delay and cancellation fees. That’s already $1 million in waste of taxpayer dollars.

“Then we were looking at probably $1 million in city funds just to put in grass and decomposed granite, which is basically dirt, and there would be very little shade. I think that’s an unusable park. And then one day, it would probably cost another $1 million to rip that grass out to put in the future park. Then we got an estimate that it might cost us double to build the rest of the originally designed park at a later date, as opposed to right now while it’s in construction.”

What caused the sudden shift in support for the park within the City Council? Most notably, city staff members shared news at the Aug. 6 meeting that a previously unexpected $3 million in Measure J sales taxes was projected to arrive during the 2020-2021 fiscal year—money that could offset the $3 million in costs planned to be returned to the city’s ledger.

Another contributing factor may have been the admirable salesmanship displayed by the park’s renowned architect, Mark Rios. As one can see in the video of the meeting on the city of Palm Springs website, Rios touted the benefits in store for tourists and residents thanks to the park’s ambiance and appearance, backing his belief that the City Council should stick with the original full park construction plan regardless of the widespread financial pain.

Middleton said her decision to vote on Aug. 6 against the fully funded original park plan was strictly budgetary.

“At this point, we do not know how long the COVID-19 crisis will continue,” Middleton said. “So I felt that the prudent thing for us to do was to wait and get some more months of revenue in to see where we’re going to be in terms of finances.”

Kors said he voted against the fully funded original park plan on Aug. 6 because of the process.

“Several months ago, we stated that we wanted the park to be reviewed and have alternatives for a reduced park brought back (for council consideration),” Kors said. “When the (2020-21 fiscal-year budget vote) came, the majority voted to reduce the park funding by $3 million and requested that different options to do that come back to council. So, on the (Aug. 6) agenda, there were six different options—and none of them was to overturn the prior vote and approve the original design. So, neither council nor the public had any indication that this was going to be brought up. Given the transparency and new rules that we’ve passed over the last few years, I thought if that discussion were to be had, it should have been properly noticed so that people were aware of it.

“The public had no idea that there was any extra money. It wasn’t on the agenda, and if we’re going to put more money back in the budget, then that needed to be noticed in the agenda, so that the public and the council were aware—and then we should have discussed what the top priority was for that funding. For me, I would have put it into public bathrooms at community centers and neighborhood parks. That was the unanimous recommendation of the Measure J Commission as to what we do with that money. So I thought that the vote was dismissive of the commissions. It was dismissive of community-member comments who were involved in the original park design. It was dismissive of what the downtown businesses said was best for downtown. And I think it was improper to delegate money that hasn’t been confirmed for certain, without the public even knowing that this was a possibility.”

On Aug. 13, the controversy received fuel in the form of an open letter from the directors of three Palm Springs business organizations—the Main Street Palm Springs Downtown and Uptown Business Association, the Palm Springs Hospitality Association, and P.S. Resorts—opposing the fully funded original park plan.

“What happened at last week’s City Council meeting was focused discussion on returning to the original $9.5 million park design,” said the letter, in part. “This was not the discussion noticed in the published agenda. The agenda detailed six less expensive park options. As such, it was questionable and non-transparent; it provided no opportunity for residents and stakeholders to express their opinions. … As community leaders, we call for an open and inclusive discussion on shared community priorities, with updated and accurate budget information. We call on the mayor and councilmembers to hold a special public meeting to discuss how the $3 million of newly available funds should be spent, and to pause any action on the downtown park.”

Holstege said everyone is not “sharing the same set of facts” about the park.

“I was a bit concerned to see some facts in that op-ed that were not true, and were different from the facts that were presented to council,” she said. “We’re in very difficult times as a city and a country, and we’re all facing difficult personal times. I think it’s important to come together as a community and work from the same set of facts, disagree with respect, and understand where each other is coming from. I think some of that is missing in our civil discourse right now because of where we are as a country. … I reached out already to the business community when I saw their op-ed. They want a private space for private events, and the Marilyn (Monroe) statue downtown in a location that’s visible. So I think we can keep working together to achieve everyone’s goals, and we don’t have to be opposed.”

Both Kors and Middleton said they hoped the matter would return to the City Council for another vote.

“Whether this could come back as a budget discussion, and if one of the people who voted for it think it’s appropriate to bring it back so the public can have more input, are questions the city attorney will have to answer,” Kors said.

Published in Local Issues