CVIndependent

Sun11292020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Indio calls itself as the “City of Festivals,” and is home to the Empire Polo Club, where every year since 2001—except this year—folks from around the world have flocked to the world-famous Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

However, Indio is much more than the home of Coachella. It’s the Coachella Valley’s largest city by population, and has some of the area’s highest COVID-19 rates. It’s in the midst of a redevelopment effort, led by a new College of the Desert campus—but those efforts are being challenged by the economic downturn.

In other words, the winner of this year’s two contested City Council races will have a lot on their plates.

In District 1, incumbent and current Mayor Glenn Miller is facing challenger Erin Teran. The Independent recently spoke with them and asked each of them the same set of questions, covering issues from how can the city better curb the spread of COVID-19, to what can be done to decrease violent crime in the city. What follows below are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

Glenn Miller, District 1 incumbent and current mayor; district director for State Sen. Melissa Melendez; landscape business owner

What is the No. 1 issue facing the city of Indio in 2021?

The No. 1 issue facing Indio now and in the coming year is how to come out of this COVID-19 pandemic with open businesses and an economic future for our community. Having a balanced budget for the city of Indio, with a healthy reserve that makes us able to continue with services, is the most vital issue facing the city in the coming years. We’re not exactly sure how the pandemic is going to affect us overall, but obviously it’s affected us with our concerts and our taxing base. But getting businesses back open, making sure that everybody’s back to work, and making sure, at the same time, that the city’s general fund is balanced and that our reserves are healthy, (will enable us to) continue to (provide) the quality of life and the services that residents expect.

The city of Indio has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other city in the Coachella Valley. What can the city do better to reduce the infection rates among its residents?

What we have been doing: communication—networking with our businesses, our chamber of commerce and our residents to continue to make sure that we’re following what I call the four basic guidelines: Make sure you’re masked up; make sure you’re washing your hands; deep cleaning areas where there are multiple touches; and, obviously, social distancing, especially if you’re inside. This will continue to limit the spread of COVID-19. Our residents have done a good job with this. Our city has provided PPE (personal protective equipment) to our businesses and residents. We were just recently doing this with our senior citizens (to whom) we gave care packages that contained all the essential sanitary items they need to continue to be safe, including masks. So the city needs to continue to open businesses efficiently and safely, and I think what will help us is getting our communication network out to residents and businesses. The more that we open up, and the more interaction we have, the more chance we have of spreading COVID-19. Making sure that we take personal responsibility, and at the same time making sure that our residents and businesses are following those guidelines, will limit the spread—and, particularly, as we continue with social distancing, we have to make sure that we are personally responsible about what we do.

During 2019, incidents of violent crime in Indio increased over 2018. What can the city do to decrease those numbers moving forward?

What we have done is invest in our police department. We continue to bring new police officers up through our academy, and at the same time, we’ve deployed our Quality of Life Team officers throughout the city of Indio, along with any other units that are a part of the task force for Coachella Valley. We are looking for ways to interact with the community through our faith-based organizations, our businesses and our community as a whole, with outreach from our police department’s chief, Michael Washburn. We have a top-notch police department, and (top-notch) code enforcement and public safety overall, including our fire department. President Obama recognized us as one of only 15 police departments in the United States to be honored as one of the 21st century policing agencies, out of 18,000 (overall). We can do a better job, always, of communicating and looking (to see) what we can do with any kind of crime, but right now, our focus is on communication with our faith-based organizations, our businesses and the community to continue to work with them to reduce any opportunity for crime to be instigated here in the city of Indio. And, we’re working with other regional agencies to stop any crimes, if we’re able to, before they even occur. So, we have a great support unit with the local agencies, and that’s going to be the key to allowing us to provide more services and better public safety for our residents and businesses. We’re always here to support our police officers, and we’re in the middle of investing in more officers, having just hired six brand-new recruits, and we have four more in the pipeline who are working their way through the academy. That’s being paid for by the city of Indio, so that we make sure that they are able to study and go through the academy when they weren’t (otherwise) financially able to because they had to work at another job. So we’ve already invested in another 10 police officers.

Back in June, when the Indio City Council passed a budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, some reserves were drawn upon to balance the budget. The new budget projects more than $135 million in revenues. Given the economic uncertainty, if those revenue numbers fall short, what cuts or new revenue opportunities would you propose that the city pursue?

Right now, we feel we have a balanced budget for the next two years, drawing either from our reserves, or our Measure X funding (a sales tax increase approved by voters in 2016), or from our revenue sources coming in. When I first got on City Council, we had a negative balance in our reserve fund. This is exactly what our reserve fund is for—to make sure that whenever we had any kind of uncertainty in our revenue sources and streams coming into the city, that we are able to utilize our reserve fund to make sure that services wouldn’t be cut.

I talked to the city manager, and his estimates on revenue coming in are a little higher. There’s quite a bit of sales tax (revenue) coming in, and our Auto Mall dealerships, which are our biggest source of revenue, are doing very well. So we’re going to get an update at our next meeting on Oct. 7 on exactly where we are, and where we’ll end up being. But in the last year or two, one of the great things that Indio has done is really push our economic development. We do it every year, but we actually doubled down with two new car dealerships coming in, and we also have a 37,000-square-foot Vallarta supermarket and a lot of other businesses opening. And we’re working with all of our existing businesses to get them open as well.

So, our revenue streams are a little better than we anticipated. If this pandemic continues, then we might have to make an adjustment, but we’ll do it wisely, and we’ll figure out where we can find savings now, and take it from the best opportunity that we have. But we won’t cut into any services or any protection that we have for our residents, to make sure that our quality of life stays like it is. We’re very confident we can do that.

What topic or issue impacting Indio should we have asked you about, and what are your thoughts on it?

I think the one thing you should have asked about is what else we’re doing to make our city’s quality of life better. It’s about working with our residents and our businesses to make sure that the quality of life in Indio is what they expect it to be. Over the last 12 years, that I’ve been on the council, we’ve worked very hard to continue to better the city with the new schools that we’ve brought in. Every one of our high schools is either brand new or has been rebuilt in the last 10 years. We have the new College of the Desert campus that is going to be expanded, and it was going ahead until COVID-19. Multiple businesses have come in, expanding economic opportunities. Obviously, the concerts which were cancelled this year, unfortunately, but we’re bringing in opportunities—not only to our downtown area and our new mall that’s going to be redeveloped, where the Indio Grand Marketplace is, but we now have every major homebuilder (working) in our city. So, the city of Indio is poised not only to be the City of Festivals, but also the City of Opportunity. We have a bright future in the city of Indio, and we’re looking forward to many years of efforts supported by the City Council and our residents, to make it the city that we all want it to be. We can always get better, but I can tell you that from talking to the residents on a continued basis, they are excited about where our future is going, from education up to business opportunities.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during the COVID-19 pandemic?

That’s tough. I’ve been dialing up our seniors and other individuals, just to have a chat and conversation to see how they are. The conversations that I’ve had with people, who I would never have met before or talked to before, have given people an opportunity to get off their devices and get on the phone, because they actually want to hear your voice. So it’s been a great opportunity to connect with some people who I probably would have never had the chance to.


Erin Teran, registered nurse

What is the No. 1 issue facing the city of Indio in 2021?

In 2021, I definitely think that unity is going to be very important. We’ve gone through some very difficult times, not only with this pandemic, but we’re seeing much of our country be so split and divided. So I think it’s going to be so important to take a stand in our own communities and be a voice of leadership to try to bring people together, to check on your neighbors and to take care of one another. As human beings, we’re all experiencing many of the same things. We have the same fears right now. We have this fear of getting sick, or getting our family members sick. The stress of having to go to work, and then not knowing if you might bring (the virus) home to your family, is so difficult for people. So many families are trying to do the new distance learning, and it’s so challenging. But I found that if we really work together, we can get through this and overcome it, and make things easier for each other.

The city of Indio has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other city in the Coachella Valley. What can the city do better to reduce the infection rates among its residents?

Well, we do know that the city of Indio has the largest population and the largest workforce (of any valley city), and quite frankly, we have the essential workers living on the east end of the valley. So, I think that, No. 1, we need to be out in front of this, and speaking about it daily. We should be talking about things we can do to keep our residents safe, and keep our employees safe. I’ve talked to so many different people who either haven’t had the PPE that they need, or they haven’t had the training (in how to use it properly). The city’s done an excellent job in getting the PPE out there to the businesses, but I think we could be doing more. I’d really like to utilize some of the committees that we have currently, in order to see if we can designate a group of volunteers—either furloughed or retired health-care workers—who want to volunteer their time to go out there and train some of (the workers at) these businesses. I’ve walked into so many stores where people were wearing their mask beneath their nose. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of education on how to use a mask correctly, and why we need to wear it a certain way, and take it off a certain way.

I think that we need to have real strong leadership, and not wait to see what other cities are doing. In the beginning of the pandemic, Indio took two weeks to put that mask ordinance in place. I think that when it comes to a pandemic, two weeks is really a lifetime. We need to be on top of that. We’re starting to see that we’re moving up into a new tier (of reduced state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions), so our main focus should be keeping everyone safe, and keeping our businesses open. We see so many businesses, especially small businesses, that are struggling right now, and we need to provide resources to those business owners. We could be meeting with them intermittently to see what challenges they’re facing, and to see how we can resolve those issues.

During 2019, incidents of violent crime in Indio increased over 2018. What can the city do to decrease those numbers moving forward?

I definitely think that many people are struggling. I know we’re talking about 2019 numbers, but again, we’re looking at the (valley’s) most populated city. So when you have people who are struggling and may not be receiving the resources that they need, or even understanding that there are resources available (for them), there may be some desperate measures that are taken. Also, I think we’ve seen nationwide this divide between law enforcement and communities. So this year, we formed a group called We Are Indio, and we held a vigil. The purpose of the vigil was to focus on prevention. Not only does that relate to any kind of police brutality, but it also relates to crime and other things happening in our communities. So when you’re able to provide social resources, and you’re able to bring the community together and form better relationships with public-safety officers, I think we will see a drop in those numbers. Chief Washburn has been very committed to working with us to form that bond with the community, and I’m really excited about that. Having these difficult conversations is not always a comfortable thing to do. For instance, when we were planning our vigil, I had officers call, and one was someone I went to school with (in Indio). He had some concerns, but when I was able to explain to him that our purpose and intent was to make things better for everyone, then he seemed to understand, and it calmed some of his nervousness. Obviously, we want to make sure that the officers are safe, but we want to make sure that we’re preventing any future issues, too.

Back in June, when the Indio City Council passed a budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, some reserves were drawn upon to balance the budget. The new budget projects more than $135 million in revenues. Given the economic uncertainty, if those revenue numbers fall short, what cuts or new revenue opportunities would you propose that the city pursue?

I was able to sit down with Mark Scott, our interim city manager, and he said we’re looking pretty good to get through the rest of this year. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next year. My understanding is that the festivals are planning to move forward next year, but it’s hard to say for sure. I always advocate that city reserves need to be utilized before we make any cuts that would affect any of our employees, because that’s their livelihood. I think it’s important to protect jobs. But we’re seeing so much growth in Indio that even through this pandemic, we’re building in Indio. I think we’ll be able to get through this by working together, but it will be very important for us to advocate strongly for additional funding. I looked at the numbers recently, and I think it was over 2,100 cities nationwide are facing budget shortfalls. So I think it’s time we start advocating to state and federal officials to bring more funds into our community.

What topic or issue impacting Indio should we have asked you about, and what are your thoughts on it?

One of the reasons why it was really important to me to run is that I’m a lifelong resident of Indio. I went to school here from kindergarten through 12th grade. My heart really is in Indio. I have a real passion, not only for what our city was, but for what it’s going to be, because I plan to live the rest of my life here. We’ve made a lot of changes, and obviously, we’ve had a lot of growth since I was a little girl. I just turned 40, and over the last 40 years, we’ve seen a lot of growth and change, but there are so many areas that have been left behind. So I feel a great connection to my community, but running for City Council has given me even more opportunities to speak with different community members and to understand the struggles that they face. For instance, I spoke with Pastor (Carl) McPeters recently. He has a church over in the John Nobles Ranch area, and for the Black community, it’s a very historic area. He was able to share how being displaced from that area (due) to expansion of the Indio mall affected his churchgoers. So I think it’s so important that we make sure our representatives are there to lead everyone, and to give equal access to all resources to every Indio resident.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Well, as a nurse, I didn’t have that much of an opportunity to shelter in place, because I was actually taking care of COVID-19 patients. But for me, it’s really been finding the silver linings in everything—and it’s really not one thing that I can say. Obviously, my daughter is disappointed that she has to be home from college, doing distance learning instead of living in her dorm, but the silver lining has been that I’ve had more time to spend with her. And while running this campaign, it’s been more challenging to actually meet with people. But the silver lining there is that when I got sick (with COVID-19), I was able to meet with people virtually, and I didn’t have to run all over town. So, I’d say it’s been finding the silver lining in so many things.

Published in Politics

A group of people—mostly born and raised in Indio—organized a rally on Tuesday, June 9, at Miles Park to fight for racial equality and urgently needed policing reforms.

The group called itself We Are Indio—and called the event #NoMoreHashtags.

One of the organizers was Erin Teran, a nurse at a local hospital.

“There were five of us,” Teran said about the organizing group. “Three of us have grown up together. (Indio City) Councilmember Waymond Fermon and I have been friends since kindergarten, and April Skinner and I have been friends since we were really young, too. Our parents were even friends. They’re both people I talk to all the time, and we always support each other.”

The other two members of the team are Maribel Pena Burke and Kimberly Barraza, Teran said.

“When the whole George Floyd incident happened, I was so upset and emotional about it, because one of the things that Waymond and I talk about all the time is (his fear) that it could have been him, and that could have been his fate,” Teran said. (Fermon is Black.) “I think people forget that, and I just felt so emotional and sad. We just really wanted to do something. I think part of it for me was that it’s important I acknowledge the privilege that I have because of my white skin and blond hair. So I think it’s important that I’m standing with my friends and my community to say, ‘This isn’t OK.’”

The rally was initially scheduled to take place on Monday, June 1—but just hours before the scheduled start time, Riverside County invoked a 6 p.m. countywide curfew.

“Part of the group felt that we should just do it and hold (the vigil) anyway,” Teran said. “But we also wanted to be respectful. We felt that we needed to respect the policy (decisions) even when we didn’t agree with them. We did feel that we should have the right to go out and peacefully assemble, but sometimes you just have to do the right thing, even when you feel like it’s wrong, so we decided to go ahead and reschedule it. It took a lot of work, so it was very frustrating—but there were some positive things that came out of having to postpone the event. There were people who couldn’t come on the original date, who we really wanted to have participate. Once it got rescheduled, we were able to get some of those people. We had more time to do some things, like go out and write the names in chalk of (victims of police brutality) who had passed over the last years. That was something small, but for us, it was meaningful.”

The We Are Indio team received some criticism after announcing the event.

“Originally, I think somebody put out a flier that matched ours, and it said people shouldn’t attend this vigil, because it was being organized by white people and the police,” Teran said. “It was obviously upsetting to see that. I’m actually a Latina, but I have blond hair, and I’m very fair-skinned. I felt that we were trying to say that it doesn’t matter who you are: Right now is the time to stand up and have a voice, and to say that Black Lives Matter. It’s just such a really important cause to me. I know a lot of the stories that my friends have experienced, and it’s very emotional to hear those things.

“I know some of the things that (Fermon) experienced as a young man. He’s been on the side of being in law enforcement, but he’s also been on the side of having the barrel of a gun pointed at him. When you hear those things, obviously, you want to stand up for your friends. But it’s more than just your friends. This is an issue nationwide, and it needs to be addressed. It’s been going on for far too long.”

Teran said she asked Fermon what they should do about the negative feedback.

“He said, ‘You know what? Just keep going. We know what we’re doing. We’re just going to focus on having a positive event in our community.’ And I think that’s what we did. I think we were able to accomplish that.”

Indeed, Teran said she was pleased at the turnout.

“Although I believe there were a couple of outsiders who did show up, we had a lot of people (attending) who grew up in Indio, and they knew that our intentions were to have a peaceful gathering and to really be able to come together as a community,” Teran said. “Something so different about Indio is that we all grew up with a very diverse mix of friends. Although we all know that we have different colors of skin, it’s just something that we didn’t pay attention to. There are people who grew up with us who are now part of the police department, but when we come together, we come together as one. So when those outsiders (who may have had ill intentions) showed up, there were (attendees) who made it clear that’s not what we were looking for. It was great to see people coming up to speak to the City Council members, and I even saw some people go to talk with the police chief (Mike Washburn, who attended) about some of the issues that they were facing. That’s what we were trying to do. We wanted to create a dialogue and have transparency and (talk about having) oversight over the policies taking place. We want to create an environment where we can see positive change and look forward to the future.”

As for that future: Teran said people need to stay engaged.

“We had several community members reach out to us to say, ‘We’ve got to keep this going. This was so wonderful,’” she said. “So one of the things we’ve discussed is trying to do some kind of community barbecue in the future. We definitely need to encourage members of our community to be out there and to have a voice.

“It’s more important than just one day of action. Going to a protest or a rally is so very important, because we have to be able to assemble and have a voice—but young people have to understand that you need to have a voice at City Council meetings and Board of Supervisors meetings, too. You need to call in and comment to make sure that you’re heard. It can become very important in the decision-making process. We did have voter registration out at our event, and we kept trying to impress the fact that it’s not just important to register to vote—but it’s so important to come out in November and actually vote. Work on a campaign; make some phone calls; help to mobilize and organize, because we have to get those people out of positions of authority who are not willing to be transparent and work with the community.”

Teran also emphasized how important social-distancing guidelines were at the vigil—and will continue to be moving forward.

“For us, it was really important to follow the social-distancing guidelines—and I’m a very big advocate of wearing facial masks,” Teran said. “We took a lot of precautions cleaning, and each speaker or performer had their own microphone cover. We designated places for people to sit, so we really did follow social guidelines. I think it’s important for people to know that (COVID-19) is a very real thing, and it’s very important to follow those guidelines.”

For more information on We Are Indio, visit www.facebook.com/groups/2656275024692257.

Published in Local Issues

Welcome to June! Things are a mess!

Here’s the latest:

All of Riverside County is under a curfew starting at 6 p.m. today. Yes, all of it—including the Coachella Valley. The curfew lasts through 6 a.m. tomorrow. But you probably already know this because of an alert screamed by your phone earlier this afternoon.

Some of the details, according to the county:

The curfew is in response to several areas of rioting and looting in Southern California over the weekend, as well as planned protests set to occur today in Riverside County.

“We want the community to be able to peacefully assemble and exercise their first amendment rights,” said (County Executive Officer and Director of Emergency Services George) Johnson. “We must also take action to protect our community from threats of rioting and chaos. If you plan to visit a protest today, we urge you to do so peacefully and return home at the time of the curfew.”

The curfew will expire Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. and will not apply to residents who must leave their homes to attend essential work or business after 6 p.m. The curfew is intended to prevent any potential acts of destruction and violence at protest sites. Law enforcement will continue to serve the community by conducting patrols and responding to calls for service.

Three protests motivated by the death of George Floyd were planned for the Coachella Valley today. The first one started at 10 a.m. in downtown Palm Springs, and, by accounts, has been calm and peaceful.

The other two were scheduled for tonight—and there are some key differences.

The first one that was announced was slated for 6 p.m. in Indio, at Miles Park. This was, in every way, a transparent and local effort: The organizers of #NoMoreHashtags said who they were, what their plans were, and emphasized safety—both in terms of being peaceful, and the need for social distancing and masks due to the pandemic.

However, that protest has been cancelled by organizers, in light of the county curfew. Organizer Erin Teran wrote on Facebook:

We the committee of the No More Hashtags Candlelight Vigil regret to inform you of the decision to postpone. The vigil scheduled for this evening, June 1st in Indio will be moved to a future date due to the notification of curfew put in place by Riverside County officials, which currently commenced at 6 p.m. this evening to tomorrow at 6 a.m.

We have made a group decision to postpone the vigil pending further notice in an effort to cooperate with our county and local officials.

We are upset and disappointed to have to postpone the vigil, as we feel it is important for us to assemble together as a community to grieve and express our emotions; however we also acknowledge the concerns of our community.

We ask the public to please respect the curfew. As we had planned a peaceful expression and Vigil, we also do not condone any negativity surrounding this tragedy.

This was and will be a peaceful candlelight vigil and we will see that it will proceed in the coming days.

• The other planned protest is, well, shrouded in mystery.

It was announced by an Instagram account that has no posts published before the protest announcement. At first, the “Coachella Valley Activists” account announced the protest would be starting in front of California Pizza Kitchen, on El Paseo in Palm Desert.

Then, earlier today, the account announced that due to fears over the location chose for the protest—why pick the ritzy shopping area?!—it was being moved to Palm Desert’s City Hall and Civic Center Park. After the curfew announcement, the account said the protest would start earlier than originally scheduled, and would go from 4 to 6 p.m.

There are several things worth pointing out about this announced protest. First: It’s odd to schedule a protest at the same time as another one just 10 miles down the road. Second: The organizers have refused to identify themselves. The Independent asked the organizers who they were, as did other media sources and all sorts of commenters on the Instagram page—but they have so far refused say.

“It’s been brought to our attention that people believe that the El Paseo protest is a setup,” posted the page. “We can assure you this is not. We’re a group of diverse friends (Black, Latino, White, etc.) who believe that our voices should be heard, and we’re locals but not residents of PD.”

Regardless of who is behind this protest, it scared the living hell out of people, given the violence and destruction that’s taken place over the weekend. At one point on Sunday night, the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce on Facebook announced that “busses are arriving already with people,” but soon after removed the post, because it wasn’t true. Meanwhile, much of El Paseo has been boarded up … just in case.

So … yeah, things are a mess.

Other news:

A Villanova University professor, writing for The Conversation, says research has shown “that officers with extensive complaint histories were disproportionately more likely to be named subjects in civil rights lawsuits with extensive claims and large settlement payouts.” Translation: The nation’s police departments are *BADLY* in need of reform, as these needless acts of violence, often racially tinged, show us over and over and over again.

• Frustratingly related: According to CNN, “under President Donald Trump, the Department of Justice has all but abandoned broad investigations into unconstitutional policing practices, a half-dozen former DOJ lawyers who worked on similar cases told CNN—essentially giving up on one of the federal government's most effective tools to fight police misconduct.”

• A tale of two presidents, presented without comment: Earlier today, former president Barack Obama issued a statement. A key quote: “So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”

• Also earlier today, President Trump lashed out at governors on a phone call with them. Key quote, according to Fox News (yes, Fox News):You have to dominate; if you don't dominate, you're wasting your time. They're going to run over you; you're going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate.”

• The more things change, the more things stay the same: Today’s the 99th anniversary of one of the most awful chapters in American history. If you don’t know about the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, please read up.

• These protests, while necessary, are coming in the middle of a pandemic that’s far from over—and it has medical professionals very worried that these mass gatherings will help the virus spread. Heed the warnings of Atlanta’s mayor: If you’ve been part of a mass protest, please go get tested for the virus.

• Late Friday night, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, affirmed California’s right to place restrictions on religious services during the pandemic. Fascinatingly, Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the liberal wing of the court.

• Showing, YET AGAIN, how little we know about this damned virus: There’s evidence that SARS-CoV-2 attacks blood vessels, meaning it’s not merely a respiratory disease.

• And finally, a teeny, tiny sliver of good news among all the chaos: Hey, the Palm Springs Air Museum is (responsibly) open again!

That’s enough for this odd and sad day. Please be safe. If you can afford it, please consider supporting ethical, honest local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back for what we’re hoping is a better day tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest