CVIndependent

Wed11252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Before we get to the complete mess that is … uh, everything, I’Il start off by sharing with you a news story from yesterday that caused me to nearly shoot coffee out my nose. I figure you could possibly use a laugh.

Here are the first three paragraphs of that story, compliments of CNN:

Five parrots have been removed from public view at a British wildlife park after they started swearing at customers.

The foul-mouthed birds were split up after they launched a number of different expletives at visitors and staff just days after being donated to Lincolnshire Wildlife Park in eastern England.

"It just went ballistic, they were all swearing," the venue's chief executive Steve Nichols told CNN Travel on Tuesday. "We were a little concerned about the children."

The paragraph that follows those three is what almost caused me to shoot coffee out my nose. It may be the single greatest 13 words in journalism thus far in 2020.

And with that, let’s get on with the shitshow:

• So, as you might have heard, the first presidential debate happened last night. As you might have also heard, it was appalling—so appalling, in fact, that the Commission on Presidential Debates is planning on making format changes moving forward. Key quote, from CNBC: “A source close to the Commission on Presidential Debates told NBC News that no final decisions have been made on the changes. But the source also said that the group is considering cutting off a candidate’s microphone if they violate the rules.” Yes, please.

• One of the many lies—verifiable, provable lies, no matter one’s politics—told by the incumbent last night was a claim that the sheriff in Portland, Ore., supported him. Nope: Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese took to Twitter shortly after Trump’s statement to say: “I have never supported Donald Trump and will never support him.” Then there’s this quote, which is good for an LOL: “Donald Trump has made my job a hell of a lot harder since he started talking about Portland, but I never thought he’d try to turn my wife against me!

• Related, sort of, comes this lede from The Conversation, on a piece penned by two experts: “Fox News is up to five times more likely to use the word ‘hate’ in its programming than its main competitors, according to our new study of how cable news channels use language.

• Investigators still don’t know what sparked the Glass Fire, which has devastated wine countryalthough they have figured out where it started. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Glass Fire so far has destroyed 80 homes, and is threatening 22,500 structures.

• On the local COVID-19 front: Riverside County Director of Public Health Kim Saruwatari, in a presentation to the Board of Supervisors yesterday, cited grocery stores as one of the biggest sources of local COVID-19 outbreaks. According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “There were 88 business outbreaks with at least four cases and 53 business outbreaks with at least five cases. … Grocery stores, she reported, led the way with 48 outbreaks between July and September, followed by retail settings, which had 31 outbreaks. Warehouses were third with 20 outbreaks, restaurant/food settings were fourth with 11 and health-care settings were fifth with eight outbreaks.” It’s not clear whether those outbreaks were among employees, or members of the public, or both.

• Here’s this week’s county District 4 COVID-19 report. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Case numbers and hospitalizations are holding steady; deaths and the weekly positivity rate are down—but still too high, at one and 9.5 percent, respectively. Let’s see how this all goes in the coming weeks, as we see how the latest round of reopenings is affecting things.

• The Washington Post is reporting: “The Trump administration is preparing an immigration enforcement blitz next month that would target arrests in U.S. cities and jurisdictions that have adopted ‘sanctuary’ policies, according to three U.S. officials who described a plan with public messaging that echoes the president’s law-and-order campaign rhetoric.” The raids are slated to begin right here in California.

COVID-19 has caused its first regular-season disruption in the NFL: The scheduled Sunday game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans has been postponed for at least a day or two after four Titans players and five team-personnel members tested positive. So far, no Minnesota Vikings—the team the Titans played last Sunday—have tested positive.

• The University of Hawaii football team became the latest college team to suspend activities after four players tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

Operation Warp Speed, the government effort to get a vaccine available ASAP, is using shenanigans to avoid public scrutiny, according to NPR: “Operation Warp Speed is issuing billions of dollars' worth of coronavirus vaccine contracts to companies through a nongovernment intermediary, bypassing the regulatory oversight and transparency of traditional federal contracting mechanisms, NPR has learned. Instead of entering into contracts directly with vaccine makers, more than $6 billion in Operation Warp Speed funding has been routed through a defense contract management firm called Advanced Technologies International, Inc. ATI then awarded contracts to companies working on COVID-19 vaccines.”

Homicides have increased in Los Angeles and other cities across the country in 2020. According to the Los Angeles Times: “A new national study shows that the number of killings, while still far lower than decades ago, climbed significantly in a summer that saw 20 cities’ homicide rates jump 53 percent compared with the three summer months in 2019.

• Juries may soon become more diverse in California, after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of Senate Bill 592, which will mandate that everyone who files income tax returns go into the jury pool. As of now, jury pools are made up of registered voters and people who have state IDs; according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “supporters of the bill say people of color and poorer residents are less likely to register to vote or drive a car, leaving the pool overstocked with white jurors who are better-off financially.

• Our Kevin Fitzgerald spoke to the five candidates for the two Indio City Council seats up for election this November, for the latest installment in our Candidate Q&A series. Learn what the two District 1 candidates had to say here, and what the three District 5 candidates said here.

• The next time a climate-change denier tells you that the planetary warming we’re enduring right now is merely a cyclic thing, you can share with them this piece from The Conversation with the headlineThe Arctic hasn’t been this warm for 3 million years—and that foreshadows big changes for the rest of the planet.”

The New York Times offers a primer on the latest science regarding the coronavirus and pets. The takeaways: Dogs don’t spread the virus, but cats do—although not necessarily to humans. Neither dogs nor cats are likely to get sick from SARS-CoV-2. And there’s this: “Cats … do develop a strong, protective immune response, which may make them worth studying when it comes to human vaccines.”

• Also from the NYT comes this exploration of the problems the U.S. government’s Indian Health Service is having in its battle against the coronavirus. As the subheadline says: “Few hospital beds, lack of equipment, a shipment of body bags in response to a request for coronavirus tests: The agency providing health care to tribal communities struggled to meet the challenge.”

• After all this crappy news, consider going outside and pondering the nighttime skies. Here’s our October astronomy guide to help you do just that.

Finally, we bring you this public service announcement: If you have any cause to visit Northern California, beware of horny elk.

Be safe, everyone. Please go vote in the final round of our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll if you haven’t done so already. And if you value these Daily Digests, our Candidate Q&As and the aforementioned astronomy column, please help us continue producing quality local journalism by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Digest will be back Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

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 5, incumbent and four-time Mayor Guadalupe Ramos Amith is facing challengers Frank Ruiz and Erick Lemus Nadurille. 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 lower violent crime in the city. What follows below are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

Erick Lemus Nadurille, community health organizer

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

Access to health care is going to be a very strong issue in 2021, and that (applies) to the re-opening, to keeping the residents safe and to keep businesses afloat. We are going to have to take precautions in terms of adding health modifications to small businesses, providing more PPE (personal protective equipment) for residents, and providing health and human resources to residents though city budget funding for both tenant and commercial rental assistance. We’re losing jobs; we’re losing hours at work, so the more we keep people less exposed to the pandemic, and keep them safe at work and staying indoors and less burdened by socio-economic factors, it’s going to make a big change in the way our city can continue to thrive in the future.

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?

I think a healthy community is a productive community. We have to keep rent and mortgages paid to prevent defaults. That will put people in a better situation to participate in the local economy. So, first, I think that we have to make sure that the local economy stays open. And we’ll have to look at the mental health of our residents and business (people). There’s just so much happening to everybody. Everyone has lost something. Everybody is passing through a grievance, or a situation that’s very hard. So we have to make sure that we’re investing in mental health and mental-health nourishment. Folks, at least, have to be able to take one step forward, and begin that mental healing process. That goes back to how the city of Indio prioritizes future budgeting of any CARES funding that we may get.

We’re continuing to put economic pressure on folks to keep working, or maybe to sell their house. But we know that the best prevention method is to keep folks indoors, or keep them social-distanced in public spaces. We know that folks are going out, so we have to make sure that our small businesses have the capacity to do these health modifications by offering PPE, or with expanded outside seating and providing PPE to (their employees) as well. Some of these small businesses are already being hit hard and are trying to stay afloat. But they have no money for all this extra equipment. So it really becomes a systemic issue with very little city funding support. There are a lot of great county programs and support from that end, but that’s the bigger picture of serving a broader population. If the city could say, ‘We are going to prioritize health in our city budget,’ then we could take preventive measures and not just leave it in the hands of the county. It’s really about the city not being a leader, right? We should be leading an innovative approach (as a model) to the rest of the Coachella Valley, because we are the city with one of the highest COVID rates in the entire valley.

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

Again, I think it goes back to the socioeconomic pressures. I’m an advocate for disadvantaged communities as well, and one of the factors we’re (aware of) is that disadvantaged communities look to crime to provide for their families (due) to desperation. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes, these families have nothing else to do. They’ve already maxed out their credit cards, and they’ve already lost their jobs. Indio is a tragically disadvantaged community. So if we look at how we can support, in terms of (crime) prevention, how available is the city support in these communities? How do these (residents) view the city’s support in terms of social services? That’s not very clear in the city of Indio. We definitely need to make sure that our public safety is present, but present in a way that they’re also expanding their services. I’ve already seen where they’re bringing social workers to some fights. I’m actually very proud of that, because it tells residents that we’re not here just to police you, but we’re here to support you. So, sometimes in these neighborhoods, there’s a stigma where, when people see police, they’re automatically scared or disturbed by the police presence.

Now, the city just got CARES funding to the tune of about $30 million to (allocate) to public safety. (Editor’s note: According to an Aug. 19 article in The Desert Sun, the total amount of CARES funding received by the city was $1.12 million.) That says that the city is investing in preventative measures. That’s a decision that I probably would have revisited in terms of (allocating) that much money. But if the city is investing that much money into the police, then it’s giving the message that the city needs this. So we should be able to see a difference (in crime levels) in our community if the city believes that investing in public safety is the way to stop crime.

Being a health and human services advocate, I’m more about prevention and making sure that there are community spaces where people are being heard on the issues that affect them the most. Sometimes, though, the city is not going to be the proper medium for people to talk about these spaces. We need culturally competent service providers and organizations to help facilitate these types of meetings about socioeconomic justice. Problems are happening, and again, it goes back to the residents not feeling supported, and that’s why they turn to crime. They don’t see opportunity in their city when there are no jobs, and no visible support. But I think if the socio-economic burdens were eased a bit through rental and utility assistance, then we would see folks be less willing to turn to crime.

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?

In the case of any shortfalls that may occur, I think we have to look at what makes sense specifically for our residents. For example, we shouldn’t stop fixing our streets, because they just get more expensive to fix over time. We may need to stay the course with our current pause on new hires. Also, if necessary, we may need our (city) staff members to take a (salary) hit, as have many of our residents. Overall, the city staff members are paid extremely well in comparison to the average resident in Indio. I think we may need to ask them to take a temporary pay cut, so that we can meet at least the basic needs of our residents. Everybody is going through some very hard times right now, and although we don’t want to make everybody take a hit, we have to level out the playing field better. Our residents are taking a hit, so we should consider making that sacrifice for our residents.

But we are in a very good position in the arts and entertainment culture. That encompasses a lot of what we can do to reposition ourselves with the music-festival industry. I don’t foresee us having a very long shutdown in the public arts. Obviously, we’re going to continue to have these big festivals happen, so we can pivot to continue a stream of revenue that’s city-based events (with) health modifications to the productions. I think that the city of Indio can uplift itself to be on the cutting edge of (finding ways) to improve its economy.

Also, I think Mark Scott (the interim Indio city manager) said it best at the last city council meeting: The city has yet to look at the cannabis industry and how that can play into the future of the city. This topic has been shelved for a long time, and I agree with Mark Scott that it’s about time they think about how these new businesses could help diversify the city economy and tax revenues. This industry could be deemed an essential health business and be included in the conversation of how it could supplement the health policy. Also, we should look at whether different types of cannabis businesses that aren’t just based on commercial product, but involve more of health and holistic approach, can be developed in Indio. So, if Indio focuses on cannabis businesses taking more of a health and holistic approach, it could be very different from what other cities in the valley are doing. And that increased tax revenue could be very significant for the city. That way, we would have more money to fill in the gaps where we’re currently losing revenue.

Certainly, one of the last things that I think residents would want is any new tax, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. So we need to think about what infrastructure we already have for cultural events, and always keep health a priority, and that should help us expand (our economy) into the future.

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

My main concern, and the reason I’m really running, is to give a voice and visibility to the youth, who are not traditionally heard. Being a millennial myself, I want to be a voice for future leaders. We’re privileged to have strong leaders here in Indio, and, we need to make sure that we have room to grow here in Indio. We have to do everything possible (to support) education. The city has provided (support) to the teen center, the Kennedy Elementary School and the COD expansion. That addresses high school age youth, young adults and college age youth. But for the future, if we want to continue to harbor our youth here in the city of Indio, we have to think about how to support that workforce. We need to provide more jobs that are acceptable to our youth, so that they can stay here, shop here and raise families here. In terms of those opportunities, they aren’t (here now). If youth is going to live here, the housing market is not designed (for them). Where I live in Indio, I’m paying $1,600 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. That’s not feasible for someone who is young and trying to grow here. So we need to look at housing options for people from different income brackets, and (provide) a pathway to home ownership. That’s not been the case with the traditional housing platform that (focuses) on bigger homes. We should really think about accessible dwelling units, which are little tiny homes, and begin to provide those solutions. And it’s not just for youth; it’s for families and veterans and the elderly. It’s becoming more expensive to live here in the city of Indio.

In order to retain our local economy and grow it, we have to make sure that our housing economy is suited to diverse types of folks, and not just specifically for people who live here three months out of each year. This is what’s hindering our youth from living here independently, and from developing their professional pathway. We won’t be able to grow our youth into potential civic leaders, because they won’t be able to afford to stay here.

Another example is: I’m running for the District 5 (seat), and there are really no parks (in my district) for families. We don’t have something as simple as having a place for youth to go and keep out of trouble. Recently, I went to a city parks meeting, where they discussed building one on Avenue 44 and Jackson (Street), I believe. Unfortunately, that location, which is close to the freeway, won’t help youth who don’t have transportation. This park is only going to serve folks who live around it. So the city needs to start thinking about transportation, housing and entertainment that’s geared to helping the youth thrive, and stay connected and feel like they’re supported by their city. Not to say that they’re not trying to do that, but there has to be more for diverse youth, not just high school and college youth.

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

Running for City Council. (Laughs.) Seriously, finding creative new ways to stay connected has been important for me. As a community organizer, I thrive at community events. I like being around people, and we don’t have that any more, right now. So I’ve had to find ways to let people know that I’m still in touch. We have all of these social-media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, and I’ve been someone who has kept it pretty simple. But I’ve had to expand my social-media-app collection to stay connected. Right now, it’s an issue for everybody that we’re isolated and can’t communicate how we’re feeling. We’re on our own, and this isolation is having a mental effect on us. So, any way that we can’t let people know that, ‘Hey! I’m here for you,’ and ask, ‘How are you?’ is something I’ve been trying to do. I’ve been wanting to make funny short (video) clips that get people laughing. And they know that we’re connected still, despite this pandemic.


Guadalupe Ramos Amith, incumbent and small-business consultant

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

In 2021, the No. 1 issue facing our city is the decline in revenue due to the global pandemic, and the shutting down of several businesses that have contributed historically to our sales-tax revenue. We believe strongly that we will have to be a part of that recovery with the small businesses, to make sure that they are able to come back online. Not only so they can provide revenue to the city, but also the products and the services that our residents desire. I suspect that this is something that we will not be able to accomplish in the first year; I believe it’s going to take us a number of years to rebuild the business base that we’ve lost. But, working together with our chambers and our business community, I feel that we can accomplish this.

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?

We have a public-outreach campaign, both in English and Spanish, through social media and literature, that we distribute. The City Council recently allocated several thousands of dollars to provide PPE at no cost to our businesses so that they can encourage individuals coming into their establishment to practice safe COVID-19 protocols. Most importantly, I think it’s about getting the word out. Certainly, having a testing site in our city has been convenient for the residents, and we promote that, so individuals understand that they can be tested regularly if they need to be. And it really just comes down to communication and making sure that everyone understands the magnitude of the pandemic and what we need to do to overcome it.

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

With the passage of Measure X (in 2016), we made a commitment to the community that we would enhance our public-safety resources, and we’ve been proactively recruiting and sending individuals to the police academy, so that we can hire them upon graduation. Those public-safety dollars that the taxpayers approved are being expended in that way. Also, through our community policing policy and the direction of police protocols, we’ve been able to separate the city into different zones. Now we have individual teams working with individual zones, because each zone has its own unique needs. These teams work together with nonprofits and county health officials, so it is a collaboration, of sorts. And I believe by continuing to enhance our public-safety human resources and infrastructure, we’ll be able to turn that around here rather quickly.

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?

We’re going to re-evaluate the budget here in October, because that estimation that we made at our mid-year budget passage was the best guesstimate we could do without having all of the data in from the previous two quarters. So we’ll have some more solid numbers here in October, and I suspect that (revenues) are going to be a little shorter than what we anticipated they would be. I do not expect to have any proposals move forward for additional taxes on the residents of Indio. I don’t believe that this is the right time (for that). Certainly, we can seek additional revenues, and I believe we’ll start seeing some of those (opportunities) come to fruition, as we have the new 40,000-square-foot supermarket coming online this month. We’ve seen two hotels come online in the last quarter, and those are at full capacity, so they’re going to start bringing in some transient occupancy tax. So, because we’ve made some smart decisions and smart moves prior to the pandemic, we’re going to start seeing a little bit of an increase in revenues from sources that we didn’t have previously. And we’re just now in the process of approving two new auto dealerships in the Auto Mall.

We have potential. It’s just a matter of finessing the budget balance with a little bit of the reserves so that we can get through this pandemic. We do have a freeze on any new hires at this point, until we can get a better handle on whether we’ll have any festival revenue in the coming year. But I don’t foresee any proposals on increased taxes. I think we’ll get by with our reserves and the increased revenues from the additional businesses that are coming in. 

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

At some point, I believe that the city of Indio needs to re-address the districting. I was not in support of separating the city into districts, and now we’re starting to see some of the defects of that. Community members feel that, because we are separated into districts, some council members don’t necessarily listen to, or are (not) concerned with, (the residents’) grievances. When it comes to project approvals, because it’s not an individual council member’s district, (the residents) don’t feel that they’re being heard. That’s kind of a sad situation when a community feels it is split up and no longer has the support of the full City Council to be heard and to make sure that the decisions being made are made in the best interests of the whole city. So, I really would like to address the re-districting. I know that we were in a position where we didn’t really have a choice because of the potential lawsuit if we didn’t go into districts. But I haven’t really seen any positives come out of being broken into districts. I feel that the community feels disconnected because of the districts. Eventually, we are going to have to sit back and evaluate (what) the districts have done for us over a 10-year period or such. Right now, It’s too soon.

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

I’ve become a lot more familiar with my home, which I’ve come to adore as my safe haven. I’ve become a lot more familiar with my pool. I think I spent more time in my pool this summer than I have in the five years that I’ve lived (at my current home). But the one biggest benefit has been that I’ve grown closer to my adult—I call them adults, because they’re 19 and 21—children, who still live with me, because they’re going to college. Before the pandemic, the hustle and bustle of them going to college and me working made it really hard for me to connect with them. But after that first month’s period of adjustment, they settled in and got into their routines. Now they come out and have lunch with me, and we have dinner together. So I’ve really enjoyed becoming re-acquainted with my home, and actually having the opportunity to get closer to my children.


Frank Ruiz, Audubon California director of the Salton Sea program

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

In 2021, we’ll still be dealing with COVID issues. In the wake of COVID-19, the economy, health and everything else (impacting) our communities will continue to be issues in 2021. I think that the economy of Indio will be stressed out in the wake of COVID-19. The concerts may not happen next year. So, I think it’s a reminder that we need to diversify the businesses that we attract to the community.

If there is a lesson we can learn from the last economic depression, it is that we need to be proactive and not reactive. So I hope that we do not have a budget shortfall. But, if that is the case, then I think we need to evaluate the status of our city budget. That will help us to provide current long-term budget projections. It is necessary to do this, because it will offer the City Council members critical information to assess the essential needs for services, staffing levels, business and residential needs. So, we need to make sure that we assess the whole situation in order for us to make sure that we plan well. And we shouldn’t be waiting until 202; we should actually be doing it right now. We should be proactive. In order to help the community and prevent the impacts that we experienced in the last recession, I think this assessment should prioritize and approve a city financial plan for the residents and the businesses, as much as assessing our financial future. This is based on the challenges of the federal, the state and the local levels. I think what happens at the federal and state levels will eventually end up affecting the local communities, so we need to pay attention to that. It isn’t going to be dialectic. I always say that we need to be looking at both sides, looking at both angles. The City Council needs to have input from the (Citizens’ Finance Advisory) Commission, and the businesses and residents in order to really assess the situation comprehensively.

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?

I think what’s occurring in Indio shouldn’t be isolated from (what’s happening) in the rest of the communities in the west end. There needs to be a collaborative effort, especially among the communities in the eastern Coachella Valley. I say this, because the east end communities tend to be more impacted at socioeconomic levels due to many other factors like health-care access, education and information. Sometimes multiple families occupy one house. So, I think we need to address (this issue) with the city of Indio and in conjunction with other local city governments.

First, I think that more information and education in our community is key. And making more information available in Spanish, and perhaps in other languages of ethnic groups that live within Indio, will improve the education, and that is a must. Second, I think we need to work in a very collaborative way with different clinics and hospitals to provide resources. There needs to be a close connection with the county Department of Health, so that the resources can be allocated to the eastern Coachella Valley and to make testing a lot easier, faster and more accessible to people. So, (by taking) those two actions, I think we can probably curb the number of infections that we are experiencing in the eastern valley. This isn’t only in Indio. According to the numbers from the Department of Public Health, the whole eastern Coachella Valley has been highly affected. But with these two approaches, I think we can improve on and curb the number of infections.

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

I have been a member of the Indio Police Department (as chaplain), and I’ve been responding to a lot of the family crises over the last 10 years—so, I know the community rather well. One, we have the largest community, and numbers-wise, we probably are as big as Coachella, La Quinta and Indian Wells all together. So, (that) will increase the number of cases in the city. Nonetheless, I think we need to allocate resources better. Our community is growing rapidly, and it’s projected to be one of the communities with the highest growth in the coming years. So this is one of the reasons why I am a proponent of not defunding the police, which is very popular in certain circles, but rather of finding a new way to allocate resources.

One of the initiatives that I would love to continue with the police department is creating forums with different leaders. We had an initiative (coupling) the police department with faith-based communities. There were quarterly meetings, and they were addressing homelessness issues, active shooting cases and all the concerns that both national and local leaders have. Now, I would love to expand that initiative in order to allow the community members to have better participation, and to develop relationships between residents and first responders. Lastly, I think that when there is mutual cooperation between leaders, different nonprofit organizations and the police department, it allows the police department to do much better work. Now it’s not the police versus another group, but it’s all about the community of people who live here. So, if I get elected, that’s an initiative that I’d love to continue expanding.

Let me give you an example: Indio is one of the police departments that has a clinician on staff. So whenever there is a case (involving) mental health, rather than dealing with that in the old traditional ways, now there is a clinician, and there are four different officers who are trained in how to handle (such situations). I think programs like this will continue to help us prepare to respond better, to use less force and implement better ways to promote improved public safety in this community.

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?

First we need to make an assessment of how bad the situation is. I am not a proponent of cutting services right away, if there are other ways to make (a balanced budget) happen. It is critical to make a really good assessment. We need to look at what the short- and long-term needs are. What are the capital improvement projects, the city services and the staffing levels? Maybe some people need to retire earlier rather than later. We need to look at the business and residential needs. Maybe we need to put a hold on some of the infrastructure developments until we are able to balance the books. So I feel that we do not need to react quickly, but rather do a thorough assessment of the situation. Maybe we need to cut services across the board, rather than cut programs that would definitely affect certain groups disproportionately. I would hate to see that happening, because we are a very diverse community, and I will fight to prevent any group (from being) disproportionately affected.

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

For me, one of the biggest concerns is public health. Indio is growing rapidly. But with that growth, there are going to be a lot challenges when it comes to the health of our local families. We are trying to accommodate a whole different generation that is coming behind us. And when I talk about health, I talk in a very comprehensive way, and in a very holistic manner. I talk about the physical, the emotional, spiritual and psychological aspects of good health. In Indio, we do not have good parks. I’m a longtime resident of this community, and it’s hard to say that. I have a family—my wife and two kids—and, if we want to go to the park, any park, we either go to La Quinta or to Coachella. Now, Indio is the second seat of the county (of Riverside), and we still don’t have quality parks for our rapidly growing families. So, part of my health initiative will be to make sure that we are part of a bigger (plan) to develop green and open areas so the families can spend time outdoors. Nationwide, we are having a huge health issue, and Indio is not the exception to the rule, and especially the Latino community, which tends to be more prone to health issues. I am a big environmentalist and a social activist, and I think we need to work with nonprofits, with churches and other groups that will allow us to develop programs and implement them in collaboration with the different segments of the community. If we don’t do this, then I think we are going to have a huge health crisis, sooner rather than later. The whole health question is a big umbrella for a lot of the initiatives and improvements we need to do in this community.

That brings us to the other problem of: How we accommodate the next generation that is coming behind us, which is (made up of) millennials and some of the younger Generation X-ers? We need to make sure that this community provides the appropriate atmosphere for these young families. Right now, it’s a very young community. I would love to see everything that we launch, whether businesses or infrastructure projects, be with the intentions of accommodating the young families. This will be my intention and something I will work hard on.

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

Honestly, it’s been really hard for me. I’m a big outdoor guy, and I love hiking. But, for me, being inside now has allowed me to catch up with so many of the books that I haven’t been able to read in the last three or four years. I’ve been forced to go back and return to my habit of reading. You know, it’s not my preferable (activity), although I love reading—just maybe not as extensively as I am right now. But, due to the current conditions, I’ll take this any given day.

Published in Politics

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

Happy Monday, everyone. We have more than 20 story links today, so let’s get right to ’em:

• It was a big news day for the U.S. Supreme Court. In a landmark 6-3 ruling, the court ruled that gay, lesbian and transgender workers are protected by federal civil-rights lawsand Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch (!) wrote the majority opinion. The court also more or less upheld California’s sanctuary law by declining to hear a challenge to it.

• This just in, from the city of Palm Springs: “In an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, continue to flatten the curve and keep residents and visitors safe, the city of Palm Springs would like to notify the community that this year’s Fourth of July fireworks spectacular has been CANCELLED. ‘Due to the fact that the state of California is prohibiting large gatherings there will be no fireworks this year,’ said Cynthia Alvarado-Crawford, director of Palm Springs Parks and Recreation. ‘We thank our Palm Springs residents for their understanding.’”

T-Mobile—and possibly other wireless services—suffered a major outage today. Details are unclear on what exactly happened as of this writing.

• OK, now this is weird: The mayor of Indio apparently told KESQ News Channel 3 that even though Coachella and Stagecoach have been cancelled, Goldenvoice is still considering putting on a large, Desert Trip-style festival in October. We have no idea how such a large gathering would be possible, but as we’ve repeatedly said in this space, nothing makes sense anymore, so who knows.

• Despite rising case numbers, California is still doing OK as a whole in terms of COVID-19 metrics, Gov. Newsom said today.

• Yet again, the president has made a baffling remark regarding COVID-19: “If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any.” Sigh …

• The Los Angeles Times takes a look at the reopening debate taking place in Imperial County, which borders Riverside County to the southeast, and has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the state. Despite the high rates, some people there want to start the reopening process anyway.

• Hmm. Three large California police unions announced a plan yesterday—via full-page advertisements in some large daily newspapers—to root out racists and reform police departments. While some will scoff at this, the fact that police unions are suggesting such reforms is nothing short of stunning.

• Also stunning: A major Federal Reserve official said yesterday that systemic racism is holding back the U.S. economy.

• Sign No. 435,045 that we know very little about the disease: At first, scientists feared common hypertension drugs could make COVID-19 worse in people who took them. Fortunately, now they’ve changed their minds.

• Sign No. 435,046 that we know very little about the disease: Scientists from UCSF and Stanford say that “super antibodies,” found in less than 5 percent of COVID-19 patients, could be used to treat others battling the disease—and may help in the development of a vaccine. That’s the good news. The bad news, according to Dr. George Rutherford, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle: “Between 10 percent and 20 percent of patients with COVID-19 show no antibodies in serological tests, Rutherford said. The remaining 75 percent or more of coronavirus patients develop antibodies, he said, but they aren’t the neutralizing kind, indicating immunity to the disease might not last long in most people.

• The FDA has revoked the emergency-use authorization for hydroxychloroquine, aka the president’s COVID-19 drug of choice.

Tesla—and other companies—refuse to disclose coronavirus stats at their workplaces. Neither will county health departments. Why? They’re citing federal health-privacy laws as a reason—even though that’s not necessarily how federal health-privacy laws work.

• Writing for The Conversation, a professor of music explains why for some churches, the inability to sing is a really big deal.

• Also from The Conversation, and also religion-related: Indian leaders are using Hindu goddesses in the fight against the coronavirusand it’s not the first time they’ve used deities to battle disease.

• The Riverside Press-Enterprise writes about local public-health officials, people who normally work fairly anonymously, but who have now been thrust into the limelight—and a large degree of public scrutiny, often undeserved—thanks to the pandemic.

• The Legislature is in the process of passing a budget today—even though they’re still negotiating things with Gov. Newsom. Why the urgency? Well, they have to pass a budget by today if they want to continue being paid. In any case, there’s disagreement on how to deal with a $54 billion deficit caused by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

The 2021 Academy Awards are being delayed two months due to the fact that most movie theaters remain closed, and most movie productions have been suspended because of, well, you know.

• This column from The Washington Post may leave you beating your head against the wall: “Are Americans hard-wired to spread the coronavirus?

• The pandemic has led some companies to institute the four-day work week. NBC News looks at the pluses and minuses—and finds mostly pluses.

China’s embassy and consulates have been engaging in displays of kindness—like free lunches and donations of medical supplies—in U.S. communities where they’re needed. NBC News looks into this interesting tidbit.

That’s the day’s news. Wash your hands. Please, please PLEASE wear a mask whenever you’re around other people. Fight injustice. Be kind. If you value honest, local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

The California State Auditor’s Office recently launched a new tool, available to anyone with an internet connection: an online dashboard that aggregates, compares and ranks the financial stability of more than 470 California cities, based on detailed and publicly available information.

“For the first time, Californians will be able to go online and see a fiscal-health ranking for more than 470 cities based across the state,” State Auditor Elaine Howle proclaimed in a news release announcing the launch. “This new transparent interface for the public, state and local policymakers, and other interested parties, is intended to identify cities that could be facing significant fiscal challenges.”

The most compelling feature of this new dashboard is the interactive map of California. To uncover relevant financial details, any user can run their cursor over the geographic area correlating to any one of the 470 cities whose financial data is included. When the cursor hovers over a given city, a box opens to show the name of the city and its rankings in the 11 different indicator categories: overall risk, liquidity, debt burden, general-fund reserves, revenue trends, pension obligations, pension funding, pension costs, future pension costs, OPEB (other post-employment benefits) obligations and OPEB funding. It quickly reveals information that, until now, was difficult to obtain.

The data, however, is a little outdated: The city evaluations and rankings are based on 2016-2017 fiscal-year numbers, the most-recent complete data set available for all the cities represented.

“We are in the process of getting the 2017-18 information, so we’ll be able to provide that information on our dashboard as well,” said Margarita Fernandez, chief of public affairs for the California State Auditor, in a recent phone interview. “The (dashboard) tool is now established, so we’ll be able to put up the information for 2017-18 as soon as it comes in. Eventually, you’ll be able to look at it yourself and see trending information like, ‘Here’s how they were doing in 2016-17, and now here they are in 2017-18, etc.,’ and whether things are improving, or they’re not improving.”

Despite Fernandez’s attempt to explain the older data, some city representatives see this as a serious defect in the state auditor’s effort at transparency.

“These numbers are two to three years old, and I think that our financial state today reflects that,” said Brooke Beare, the city of Indio’s director of communications and marketing, during a recent phone call.

The nine Coachella Valley cities are, in the category of overall risk, ranked as follows:

  • Palm Springs: No. 46 (moderate risk level)
  • Cathedral City: No. 105 (moderate)
  • Indio: No. 118 (moderate)
  • Coachella: No. 121 (moderate)
  • Desert Hot Springs: No. 308 (low)
  • La Quinta: No. 434 (low)
  • Palm Desert: No. 444 (low)
  • Rancho Mirage: No. 454 (low)
  • Indian Wells: No.  466 (low)

The good news is that none of the nine Coachella Valley cities were ranked in the “high risk” category. The bad news is the three worst-ranked—Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Indio—all were rated as “high risk” in four of the 11 indicator categories studied by the state auditor. It was on this basis that the Independent reached out to representatives of each of those three cities.

As of our deadline, only Indio representatives—Beare, and Assistant City Manager and Finance Director Rob Rockwell—responded. A city of Palm Springs finance executive did reply to an email requesting a phone interview, and asked that the Independent deliver its questions via email. The Independent complied, but received no response to those questions.

Rockwell, Indio’s finance director, applauded the state auditor’s dashboard.

“I think the reporting itself is good, and I appreciate it. I think it’s useful,” he said. “I don’t think it necessarily tells the whole financial story, but I think there are bits and pieces that will allow organizations or municipalities like Indio to go back and do some double-checking on some things, which is exactly what we did in Indio.”

He discussed various actions taken in the last two years by the Indio City Council. “Two of the four areas where Indio was considered ‘high-risk’ were pension funding set-aside, and OPEB (other post-employment benefits) set-aside,” Rockwell said. “In regards to the pension funding, just this year, the Indio City Council committed $1 million to setting up a pension trust … and that money is set aside and can only be used for pension obligations. So the issue of us not having money set aside has already been addressed.

“In regard to that OPEB funding set-aside, in February of 2014, the city created another … trust that in this case is basically for retiree medical costs. We’ve been committing money to that on an annual basis, and (as of Sept. 30), it totaled $1.77 million. So, the City Council recognizes the need—but it’s not been a super-high priority, in the sense that the City Council has been focused on capital infrastructure improvements in the city of Indio.”

Given the pension-funding liabilities currently shown on Indio’s balance sheet, the $1 million currently in the pension-funding trust wouldn’t make much of a dent. Rockwell told the Independent that the point of setting up the trust wasn’t to offset the entire debt amount.

“To think that we’re going to put $50-plus million aside (to cover the amount of unfunded liabilities)—that’s a striking number,” he said. “Really, the purpose of this trust is to set up some money so that, if a recession occurs, instead of having to make cuts to services to pay our pension costs, we can reach into this trust and pay our annual pension costs for a year, or maybe two, maybe three, maybe five, and not have to reduce services (to residents) in years where our revenues might be short due to economic impacts.”

Mounting pension obligations are a concern for all of our valley cities. It was a major topic of discussion in this past November’s Palm Springs City Council elections.

“I think that most California cities, including those here in the valley, are having a tough time dealing with these increasing pension costs,” Rockwell said. “I don’t think it’s a surprise that a lot of cities are even having to face some service reductions to fund their pension obligations. I think obviously that the return on investments that were originally expected did not come through. … The obligation is real, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Cities are just having to adjust, and there are various mechanisms to do that. A lot of cities have changed their retirement formulas. Clearly, the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act (which took effect in 2013; it includes compensation limits and establishes minimum contributions by employees) has changed pension funding. I have to say that for the city of Indio, the number of employees that we’ve hired under PEPRA is occurring at a faster rate than we expected. I don’t know how much that’s going to help the unfunded liability, but I can definitely say that there’s a change taking place.”

To view the State Auditor’s Local Government High-Risk Dashboard, visit www.auditor.ca.gov/bsa/cities_risk_index.

Published in Local Issues

The Grub Plug food truck was parked by the Oasis Street curb in front of the College of the Desert’s Indio campus late in the day on a Tuesday.

The city of Indio’s Community Development Department (ICD) was offering the first 120 visitors to their Indio Specific Plan open house—taking place in the college’s main-building lobby—a free food-truck meal, along with the chance to learn information on how to start a food-truck business of one’s own. All the ICD team wanted in return was for each visitor to walk through the display of a half-dozen white boards placed on easels, depicting photos and artist renderings of residential, entertainment-venue and business building options. Visitors were asked to place a colored dot on the images they most liked or disliked.

Judging from the lengthy lines both inside and next to the Grub Plug truck, the marketing strategy was a success, as Kevin Snyder—Indio’s recently hired community development director—and his team look to create a master plan that will guide the redevelopment of Indio’s struggling downtown area.

“In the planning profession, we do things more in a visual (context),” said Snyder, a veteran of similar challenges in cities across northern California, Washington, Oregon and Arizona. “At our first open house, we had a few pictures up, and we just talked to people who came in, and wrote down their comments. This time, we wanted to make (the experience) more interactive, so we produced these illustration boards.”

If you visit downtown Indio today, you’ll experience an often-attractive neighborhood with a traditional Southwest/midcentury-modern architectural look—and a sleepy, deserted feeling. Snyder and his team are planning to change that whole vibe.

“For many, many years, downtowns were the hearts of communities. But then, through changes in market forces and land use, particularly during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, a lot of that activity moved to other parts of communities like malls and shopping centers,” Snyder said. “It’s been a pretty common occurrence, not just in Indio, but across the Coachella Valley, California and the nation. In a lot of communities, there’s been a strong desire to bring downtown back to a place of prominence, where the community can engage with each other to shop, dine, recreate and come together in kind of an historic part of the community. This current Indio Downtown Specific Plan is really an attempt to take the focus to a different level on the key attributes that our city has: It’s walkable, and it’s a grid system.

“Most of the communities in the Coachella Valley have downtowns that are not grid systems, but because we are one of the oldest communities (in the valley), we have the opportunity to develop that grid system for our downtown. The plan envisions multiple activity areas where you can go and listen to music, or watch movies on an inflatable screen, or go grab a bite to eat, or shop in a small boutique retail outlet. There’s interest in having people live downtown. We have some interesting opportunities to look at multi-family apartments, perhaps in a mixed-use orientation where you have retail space on the ground floor with living (space) above. Because we are the eastern capital of Riverside County, we have county personnel here; we have the city work force; and we have the Indio branch of the College of the Desert—so we have roughly 6,000 employees in that immediate downtown area. We’ve talked to developers who do multi-family development. They’ve done some preliminary looks at market-rate rental numbers, and they think (the opportunity) is viable, that they could charge rents here and make money.”

Will downtown redevelopment include low-income housing units—which are sorely needed in the eastern end of the valley? Snyder’s answer was not exactly encouraging.

“In recent conversations with our City Council and the Planning Commission, that same question came up. Our interest right now is in getting market-rate rental units,” Snyder said. “We believe that’s going to be the first push into this marketplace. Now that doesn’t mean that potentially there couldn’t be affordable housing in the downtown area, but right now, we really want to focus on creating that market-rate opportunity so that the private sector sees value in investment. The first people who invest in revitalizing downtown areas are often pioneers who, by having made that investment and taken that risk, show others that it’s worth it, and that they can make money. I worked in a community where we had one party come in and build a 124-unit market-rate apartment complex, and five years later, there was over $100 million in investment money coming into that community.

“When we talked to the council and the commission, we said that these could be four- or five-story buildings, and they were comfortable with that. When you’re dealing with downtown areas, you’re dealing with different footprints. You can’t spread out like you can in other parts of the community. You have to build up.”

How long does Synder think it will take for this new Indio downtown to come to fruition?

“If I knew that, then I’d be playing the lottery all the time,” Snyder said with a laugh. “But I have said publicly that I think we’re probably looking at five to seven years. If you come back to downtown Indio then, I think it’s going to have a different vibe, a different feeling, a different physical presence. Right now, many communities have a goal of making an 18-hour downtown, where, from the morning until 9 or 10 at night, you get an opportunity to have multiple things going on.

“Indio is the place I want to be. I think it’s a great place, and it has lots of great opportunities to envision a different future—and I get the benefit of working with a great team.”

Published in Local Issues

A new grassroots community organization wants this to be the “Year of Indio”—and the first step the group is taking to make that happen is supporting a candidate running against controversial Indio Mayor Michael Wilson.

The group, calling itself Year of Indio, announced its formation and the candidacy of Waymond Fermon during an early January news conference.

“We (in the Year of Indio group) are a group of individuals who care for the city of Indio, and want to see it thrive,” said Tizoc DeAztlan during a recent interview. DeAztlan, an experienced political campaigner who has contributed to the successful election efforts of Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz and State Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, among others, is an adviser to Fermon’s campaign for the new Indio District 2 City Council seat.

Starting with this year’s election, the members of the Indio City Council will be elected by district, rather than city-wide. This means Fermon will go up against City Councilmember Michael Wilson, who recently rotated into the mayor’s chair. To date, no other candidates have announced an intention to run in this district.

“Recognizing that Indio is a critical cog in the Coachella Valley at large, we have to take ownership of its future and create change on our own,” DeAztlan said. “So, as a collective, knowing that Indio has a tremendous amount of strength if it’s utilized appropriately, we realize that the most impactful thing we can do right now is have Waymond on the council.

“That being said, Waymond is just one part of the puzzle. There are two other council positions up for grabs (in Indio this year), and if Waymond, as well as the other candidates supported by the Year of Indio collective are elected—that’s something that can dramatically change the landscape of Indio moving forward. Waymond is a natural fit, so he’s the first move, but there will be more moves.”

We asked Fermon what motivated him to jump into the District 2 race.

“I think it started when I was a kid,” Fermon said. “Growing up, I watched my mother give her last to help other people out, and as I got older, I started to see that all of our (Indio) residents were not being treated fairly. I think Indio is a thriving city, but I think some of the communities are thriving more than others, and I’d like to even that base out.”

Fermon, 38, is a father of three who works as a California Department of Corrections officer. He attended Indio public schools including Kennedy Elementary, Hoover Elementary, Jefferson Middle School and Indio High School, before attending College of the Desert. He said that if elected, he’d focus on certain community challenges he has long worked to overcome.

“One is our youth,” Fermon said. “You affect change with the youth. If they’re going to grow and raise children themselves here in Indio, you have to have something for them to do that keeps them away from crime, like working to gain a higher education. I’ve always had a passion for working with youth.

“Second is the homeless issue. You know, last night, I went out with a couple of folks just to talk to some of the homeless people in the city. I just wanted to listen to them. I believe that putting your feet on the ground and actually seeing it for what it is—you get a better perspective on it. You can’t just keep throwing money at situations. You have to fix some of the underlying issues.”

The fact that a new group including Democratic political operatives is backing a candidate against Wilson should come as no surprise, considering Wilson is a conservative who has spoken out to criticize Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren and the media, among others. However, Fermon insisted his campaign is more than just an attempt to unseat Wilson.

“As far as I go, I don’t worry about what anybody else is doing,” Fermon said. “I have my goals and my plans and my agenda that I’d like to bring to the table. I live by a mantra which is: ‘I focus 120 percent on greatness, because failure is not an option.’ So right now, I’m focused on having a successful campaign and getting there (to the Indio City Council).”

DeAztlan said he does see a need for change regarding the City Council’s makeup.

“What we see as a big contrast (between these two candidates) is how each reaches a decision on policy matters,” DeAztlan said. “What’s your value set? What are your concerns, and what are you thinking about when you make decisions? Whether it’s public safety, economic development, education or transportation, all these things affect people’s lives directly. You want somebody who is considering you and cares for you when they are considering all the decisions before them on the dais.

“What we have in Waymond is someone who’s a family guy, connected to the community, and whose value set is in step with yours, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, independent or just someone who doesn’t vote usually. He’s talking the talk, and walking the walk. He wants more for his community than what he sees now. People are frustrated. The incumbent on the board now (Wilson) is someone who recently did some infamous tweeting that showed his concern wasn’t for immigrant families and those who are suffering, but instead, his concern was that people were attacking a president that most people in his district do not believe in and do not support.”

While DeAztlan was willing to go on the offensive against Wilson, Fermon insisted that he was going to remain positive.

“I’m about positive vibes and a positive life,” Fermon said. “And if I can bring that positivity to the City Council, and to the city of Indio, that’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to the future, and I see some great things happening.”

Published in Politics

A recent review of the budgets of all nine Coachella Valley cities confirms what multiple sources have mentioned over the last several months: The costs of providing police and fire protection have been rising every year—and could soon become a worrisome financial burden.

“About 50 percent of our general-fund budget at this time goes specifically to public safety,” Coachella City Councilmember V. Manuel Perez told the Independent in a recent interview. “In the course of the last few years, public-safety expenses have increased between 5 and 7 percent every year.

“The passing of Measure U a couple of years ago, which was a 1 percent sales-tax increase, is the only reason why … we’ve been able to sustain ourselves—and we understand that these annual (public-safety cost) increases are going to continue.”

With 50 percent of the general fund being allocated to public safety, Coachella falls in the middle of the pack, as far as valley cities go. Given different accounting methods, a direct comparison is difficult to make. However, Indian Wells is at the low end, spending about 35 percent of its general fund on public safety, while Cathedral City is on the high end, around 65 percent.

This is not just a problem here in the Coachella Valley, and studies have been done across the country over the past decade in an effort to determine what’s driving the trend in rising public-safety costs, even when adjusted for inflation. But because there so many variables at play, these studies have not uncovered a single root cause.

In the Coachella Valley, five cities—Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Coachella and Indian Wells—contract out public-safety service to Riverside County and Cal Fire, while the other four cities—Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs and Indio—still maintain independent police departments. Only Palm Springs and Cathedral City have independent fire departments. Yet independence does not seem to be an indicator of how large a city’s budget allocation will be, since Palm Springs comes in on the low end at about a 45 percent budget allotment, with Cathedral City on the high end at 65 percent.

Back in 2013, Desert Hot Springs was in the midst of a financial crisis and explored outsourcing services to the county. “We were looking at our police force and what we could do either with the sheriff’s department or keeping our own police department,” said Mayor Scott Matas, who was a City Council member at the time. “When the sheriff’s department’s initial bid came in to us, it appeared that it was a couple of million dollars less. But after the interim police chief and his staff tore the bid apart and compared apples to apples, when the sheriff’s department came back for a second round, we found out it was actually going to cost us $1 million more, so it was pretty much a no-brainer for us to keep our own police department.”

Desert Hot Springs is now on better financial footing. “Recently, we actually gave a little bit back to the police department, which was cut by upwards of 22 percent when the fiscal crisis was going on,” Matas said. “It’s been nice to keep our own police force. It’s more personable when it comes to your community policing, because you have the same police officers there. When you contract out, you never know what that face is going to be. We have that issue with our county fire contract. We’re very fortunate that some of the firefighters who work in this community have been here a long time, but for the most part, they rotate in and out all the time, so you never have that same chief, or you never have the same firefighters.”

Indio City Council member Glenn Miller, who has also served as the city’s mayor, touted the benefits of Indio having its own police force.

“About 80 percent of the police officers working with us live in our city,” Miller said. “We have a large contingent that is home-grown, and then a lot of them have moved into the city, including our police chief, Michael Washburn, who came from Seattle. So they are vested in the city, and that does us a lot of good. … When they live in our neighborhoods, they get to know those communities.”

What solutions are mayors and city councilmembers looking at to keep public-safety spending in check?

“When it comes to county fire, they’ve just been given larger pay increases, which then trickles down to the people who contract with them,” said Matas, the DHS mayor. “We were hoping to open another fire station eventually, but now we’re looking at just trying to keep the staffing that we have. … It’s always a challenge with public safety. We’ve been very fortunate with our police services. Crime is down. We’ve got a great chief (Dale Mondary), and we’re working in a great direction, but with this fire budget coming up, I don’t know how we’re going to do that.”

Coachella’s V. Manuel Perez said there’s no way his city can keep pace with the public-safety cost increases as things stand now.

“We have to figure out how we can work with other valley contracting cities to come up with a long-term solution for this problem,” Perez said. “Maybe we can come up with some sort of (joint powers authority) between the cities to support an agreement to help pay for public safety.”

Newly elected La Quinta City Councilmember Steve Sanchez agreed that it’s worth exploring whether the valley’s cities should join forces … perhaps literally.

“I think that’s something we need to discuss amongst all our council members,” Sanchez said. “We need to look at all options, whether it’s (joining forces with) Indio or other cities, or if it’s just staying with the sheriff’s department—whichever makes the most sense.”

Miller said East Valley cities have already started talking about working together more.

“When I was serving as the mayor of Indio, up until the end of this last year, we discussed with (La Quinta Mayor) Linda Evans and (Coachella Mayor) Steve Hernandez the possibility of doing an East Valley coalition plan that would include combining police and parks, and … making a better community overall by working together as one. We could lower costs for each individual city by economies of scale. Also, we talked about economic development, youth programs and senior programs. Not that we were going to give up our autonomy, but we’re looking at ways we could partner up to get a bigger bang for our buck, and maybe do better for our residents by being able to provide additional services.

“With public safety, we’d look at what we could do, since we’re right next to each other, to institute a regional police force. It’s something that we’re open to. You never shut the door on any option.”

Published in Local Issues

Indio is the Coachella Valley’s largest city—and faces complex challenges due to the fact that it’s the home of Coachella, Stagecoach and Desert Trip.

In this year’s city election, seven people are running for two seats on the Indio City Council: Incumbents Glenn Miller and Lupe Ramos Watson, and challengers Joan Dzuro, Gina Chapa, Sam Torres, Jackie Lopez and Noe Gutierrez.

Joan Dzuro (right), a retired human resources consultant, cited a lack of both redevelopment funds and a concise plan for redevelopment as problems in Indio, due in large part to the state of California dissolving all redevelopment agencies back in 2012.

“One of the challenges that we have is the loss of the redevelopment funds,” Dzuro said. “… When those funds were removed by Sacramento, it became harder to find funding for that. I’m very encouraged by the hiring of (the city’s new director of economic development), Carl Morgan, because he’s able to come up with plans to talk to investors and businesses, and to try to work on options for some of that funding. You always need more funds when you have a fast-growing city. Public safety needs to be able to keep up with that, and it costs money.”

Dzuro said that her 35 years in corporate human resources give her much-needed experience.

“I’ve dealt with corporations from the business side and the employee side,” she said. “I think that’s the strength I can bring to the council, and bring in jobs and create businesses for the city, and have those businesses contribute new marketable skills to our unemployed and to the younger people graduating from college.”

Gina Chapa, a community organizer who worked for Congressman Raul Ruiz, said the lack of diverse commerce is a big issue.

“We’re struggling a lot with bringing in new businesses, supporting businesses, and actually having a thriving commercial area,” she said. “Also, I see that there’s a huge disparity between different populations in Indio. In order to feel like a complete city, we need to find a way to build bridges between the different communities in Indio. I feel that there’s a lack of ownership or participation. There’s a large population of disaffected or apathetic residents who feel disconnected to their local government.”

Chapa (right) said her roots are in Indio. “I’m a longtime community organizer and community resident. I was born in Indio and went to school in Indio. I’m raising my son in Indio, and I’m connected to various communities in Indio.”

Sam Torres, a former city councilman, said Indio’s slow economic recovery has caused problems.

“We’re starting to see some signs of (recovery in) the last few years, but we haven’t seen the robust economy we thought we were going to have,” he said. “I think that there’s another issue, and that’s the fact we’re starting to see two Indios. One is the north side and the far south side along the polo fields. The south side gets a lot of attention and is a new and dynamic community. But we’ve been leaving out the communities that have always been here. The residents in these communities are the ones who were building this economy. If you look in those neighborhoods, you can see the decay.”

Why should Indio voters put Torres back on the City Council, two years after he lost a re-election bid?

“I know the job. Now I really know this city,” he said. “I tell the truth and tell it like it is: ‘This is the problem, and this is what it takes to fix it.’ I do not bow to special interests, because the city residents elect me, and I don’t have a scheme to make money off this city.”

Jackie Lopez (right), who works as the district director for Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, said Indio’s largest challenge involves commerce.

“The No. 1 issue is places to shop,” Lopez said. “People spend their money outside of Indio. One of my main goals is better economic development. There are a lot of business owners struggling to make it. On the north side of Indio, we have a village market that could be a grocery store that’s sitting there. There are people who live across the street looking for places to shop that are walkable, and they’re getting to the point where they’re relying on their children and public transportation. Even though there are places to shop on the other side of the overpass, it’s too far for them. … I also feel that hotels are another concern with these festivals in our city; a lot of our tourists are staying outside of the area.”

Lopez said her work experience makes her a good fit for the City Council.

“I’m a lifelong resident here and have eight years working for the state Legislature,” she said. “I know how to get our money back from the state. I have worked on numerous pieces of legislation at the state level, (and worked) with our congressman to leverage funds for victims of the Salton Sea.” 

Noe Gutierrez—a behavioral health specialist, writer for CV Weekly and musician—said the city has not focused enough on small business.

“Downtown Indio hasn’t flourished like it should have,” he said. “I think smart growth is what we need—focusing on small-business owners and helping people get set up and started, as well as following them through. We all know the numbers of small businesses and when they open. Generally, they close within three years. We need to develop a plan we can follow.”

Gutierrez (right) said his experience in understanding people will serve him on the City Council.

“I grew up in Indio, and went to school in Indio, and I understand the backstreets, the different neighborhoods, the different types of people who live in those neighborhoods, and I understand their perception of things,” he said. “I have a huge amount of empathy given my background working as a social worker. My job is to put myself in other people’s shoes, so I feel I do a pretty good job doing that. … One thing I’m known for is gathering people together, getting them connected and establishing long-term relationships that are beneficial.”

The incumbents have had front-line experience dealing with Indio’s economic challenges in recent years. Glenn Miller said that while some newer areas of Indio—closer to Interstate 10—are fairly prosperous, the city’s downtown is suffering.

“Some of our older parts are taking a toll from the economic downturn,” he said. “It’s getting the actual funding availability, not only from the city of Indio, but also from our business community to invest into some of the areas that have been hit hardest due to the economic downturn, such as our downtown area.”

Miller, who has been on the council since 2008, has seen the city deal with hard financial times.

“When I first came on to the council, we had a structural $13 million deficit,” he said. “We burned through $35 million in reserves. Now we have a structurally balanced budget with over a half-million dollars in reserves, so financially, it is economically sound. But when you start talking about where you want the city to go when listening to our residents, one of the things they ask for is different kinds of shopping and business opportunities, education and investing in infrastructure.”

Miller said he should be re-elected because of his dedication to the city and the fact that he spends most of his free time working for a better Indio.

“I’m the most active and involved council member out of all the council members,” he said. “I’m very much engaged and spend all my free time working with our businesses, nonprofits and residents on what’s important to them.

“Indio will grow not only locally, but regionally. Not everyone who lives in Indio works in Indio. So the stronger the Coachella Valley is as a whole, and the more relationships we can build with College of the Desert and with our school district, it will be an advantage to the city of Indio, and I’m able to engage in those relationships.”

Councilmember Lupe Ramos Watson (right) said she’s concerned that Indio is losing out on sales-tax revenue.

“Our first and biggest challenge is to recapture some of the sales tax that is leaking out to other cities,” Watson said. “Several years ago, we conducted an economic-strategy analysis to figure out how much of our disposable income is being spent within the city boundaries to produce sales tax revenue, and how much was leaking out to other cities. We figured out that more than 50 percent of our potential sales tax revenue is leaking to other cities.”

Watson said she deserves to remain on the council due to the steps that she and her colleagues have taken regarding economic development.

“We just hired an economic development director a couple of months ago,” she said. “Because of the strategy we put together a couple of months ago, we have a plan for the downtown area that we’re completing to make sure the businesses that come into that area not only revitalize the downtown area, but add sales tax to our revenue and augment the opportunities as the ‘City of Festivals.’ With my background in planning in addition to development, I believe I’m a great asset to the city of Indio to help unfold these projects.”

We asked each of the candidates: What is the real identity of Indio?

“I believe Indio’s biggest attraction is that we’re a family-oriented city,” Dzuro said. “We emphasize our parks, the teen center and the Boys and Girls Club of America. We work together as a community with our festivals. The Tamale Festival and the Date Festival are family events. We really try to bring in the families to our community, and I think that’s what we emphasize more than anything.”

Chapa said that she feels the city government is not properly engaging with the older parts of the city.

“We know what it’s all called: ‘The City of Festivals,’” Chapa said. “That’s what it’s marketed as. It … doesn’t have just one identity. We know people understand Indio from the outside because of Coachella and the large snowbird community. As for the identity that it once had, there are many 40-plus-year residents living here who aren’t being included in the new face of Indio and the ‘City of Festivals.’ The identity is something we need to work on as a city, and (we need to) reach out to the community to build an identity so the people can feel like they’re part of the city, and that we can build our city together.”

Torres said Indio is not reaping the economic benefits it should be.

“The city of Indio is the ‘City of Festivals,’ but we used to be the second seat of the county, and we’re now in the backseat to Palm Springs,” Torres (right) said. “Any of the big events they have here, even at the casinos, they call it ‘Greater Palm Springs.’ We provide the neighbors and facilities, but the cash registers are ringing in the west valley. The local leaders have allowed that to happen and don’t have a plan to bring that identity back to Indio, and that’s where we made a huge mistake. It’s called the ‘’City of Festivals,’ but we’re really the ‘Greater Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce Backseaters.’”

Lopez said she wants Indio to once again be considered the hub of the Coachella Valley.

“We have so much potential, and we’re still growing,” she said. “On the other side of the freeway, I just found out we’re getting a Sonic and some other new places to shop and eat. The hope is to make sure we have a council member who will reinvest back into our community. We do pay taxes, and we’d like to see some of that money come back in infrastructure or attracting new places to shop and eat in downtown Indio—becoming the hub of the valley again.”

Gutierrez also said the city does not capitalize enough on the ‘City of Festivals’ label.

“There are some blinders on us,” he said. “We’re known for Coachella, but we don’t really expand on that. We’re just the site for Coachella. … We can’t rely on one-time events where people come, hang out and then leave, and probably never come back. We need a continuous inclusion of all age groups, ethnicities and everything.”

As for the identity of Indio, Miller (right) feels it has a lot to offer culturally.

“It’s the ‘City of Festivals’ and the city of culture. The city also has a bright future,” he said. “I think people see that in our rich history and being the largest city, but … multiple art developments and art pieces are going up throughout the city by world renowned artists who want to be part of the city of Indio and its culture.”

Watson said that she feels the city’s identity as the “City of Festivals” ties everything together.

“We’ve always celebrated our culture through the festivals,” she said. “It’s a community of celebration; Indio is full of hard-working individuals who work through our seasons to fulfill every need of their families, and when it’s time to celebrate, it’s done through our festivals. That is … a hard working community that understands that we need to work hard and work together to build a community that meets our needs.”

Published in Politics

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