CVIndependent

Wed10212020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Kevin Fitzgerald

In 2013, there were approximately 267,000 undocumented LGBT immigrants in the United States, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

We were unable to find more-recent data on this community—and were also unable to determine the number of LGBTQ detainees held currently in the 211 detention centers operating in the United States, privately owned or under the aegis of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. However, there is anecdotal evidence that sizeable numbers undocumented LGBT immigrants are, in fact, being held in abusive conditions throughout our country.

This reality first caught the attention of Ubaldo Boido and his partner, Craig Scott, when they were living comfortably in Los Angeles with their dog, Twink. They moved to Palm Springs in September of last year.

“We got involved with the Los Angeles chapter of Democratic Socialists of America,” Boido said during a recent phone interview. “They have an immigration-justice committee that wanted to go down to Tijuana to visit shelters because of the immigrant caravans at that time. So, I went along, (and while there), we visited an LGBTQ shelter I’d heard about in Tijuana. That’s when we realized that this was something that really hit close to home for us. This was our LGBTQ community coming to this border-crossing point seeking refuge from persecution. We met Jamaican women, people from Honduras and someone from Brazil. We listened to these horror stories about the violence that people go through in other countries just for being queer. It was something that lit a fire in both of us, and we said, ‘How can we help? We’ve got to help.’ So we did that for a year, and then we moved here and decided to continue doing the same work.”

So it was that Desert Support for Asylum Seekers (DSFAS) came to be.

“We wanted to help people understand the process (of seeking asylum) so that they could then figure out ways to support (these undocumented immigrants),” Boido said. “We discovered there was an immigration detention facility in Calexico (the Imperial Regional Detention Center), and we decided we would begin by supporting people there. Now that’s what Desert Support for Asylum Seekers does. It’s about pen pals, visitation coordination and then helping people when they get released with transportation, shelter and food. We’ve enrolled several people at College of the Desert for ESL (English as a second language) classes, and kind of helped them get acclimated to the community here.”

Other, more-established nonprofits like the TODEC Legal Center provide important assistance in our region, while DSFAS has focused attention on other real-world assistance. However, it didn’t take long for Boido and Scott to realize this challenge required more attention and outreach than just the two of them could manage.

“We wanted to create this volunteer group,” Boido said. “Let’s be honest: Most people are interested in helping children in these circumstances. Now, that’s not a bad thing, and I’m not suggesting it is. I’m simply saying that children light a fire under straight people. … But for us, it’s always been about this LGBTQ thing—but we didn’t want to limit (the reach) of DSFAS, because we wanted to see how big of a volunteer group we could create. Since then, the group has really championed people from all walks of life, and we love that. Still, Craig’s and my calling has been about helping LGBTQ migrants.”

Once volunteers began joining in, DSFAS started to fulfill its core missions more demonstrably.

“My partner, Craig, went down to Calexico with a group,” Boido said. “They scheduled a visitation, met several of the detainees there and started a pen-pal visitation coordinator group. Our name started to spread like wildfire (within the detention center), and word of our efforts spread. We started to get lots of pen pals, and we got a lot of people reaching out and asking how they could support us. So right now, we have a list of about 60 to 80 volunteers who are actively writing letters to people in Imperial Regional.”

Still, the most-challenging support scenarios had yet to surface.

“The detention center was dropping people at the downtown Calexico Greyhound station,” Boido said. “Even after the station was closed, (Border Patrol was) leaving them to fend for themselves. So we started this coordinator group to pick up people and get them on a bus, or get them here to Palm Springs where we could get them on a flight.

“One night, we got a call about a guy from Honduras who was gay and had just won the status called ‘withholding of removal.’ But he didn’t have anywhere to go to live. They asked us if we would be willing to house him, and we agreed to let him stay on our couch for a while. It was supposed to be for two weeks, but he stayed for almost seven months. It was both a challenging and an amazing experience. Since then, he’s moved to Los Angeles, gotten his work papers and has started his life. That experience changed our whole perspective. The truth is, when you’re LGBTQ, you come here with nobody, and you’re (often) actually fleeing your family, because they’re usually the ones persecuting you and helping the police come after you.”

Boido and Scott have realized they need to obtain a bigger home where they can house LGBTQ immigrants in need of assistance.

“Since the guy from Honduras, we’ve housed a transgender woman from Russia who moved to New York City, and another person who is still living in the Palm Springs area,” Boido said. “So this migrant home we want to create, that we call The House, is a safe space for our queer family coming from all over the world. We want to focus the energies that we’ve generated through DSFAS and create a little niche for the LGBTQ folks who we love and want to support on their journeys.

“We decided to launch this (GoFundMe) campaign. … We’ve had offers for homes, and we just want to push forward to raise more funds and create this space. Ideally, we’re interested in making it a safe house so that people can come, short-term or long-term, and have a place while they go through their immigration process. We’re just really excited about it.”

As the first year of DSFAS’ work draws to a close, how are the founders coping with the demands of dealing with the U.S. government while trying to help victims of persecution start new and happier lives?

“Being honest,” Boido said, “this is hard work, and it’s emotionally draining. There are days when I ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It’s not like there’s a huge payoff, and we’re getting a big check. But watching that transgender woman come here and seeing her try on a dress and wear makeup for the first time, and really own her transwoman self, it changes you. It really changes you—and I can’t go back. I can’t un-see how we helped somebody, and how we’ve listened to the stories of where they’ve come from and what they’ve been through.

“The GoFundMe campaign is about getting a bigger house, so that we can house more people,” Boido said. “And, hopefully, from there, we can form into a nonprofit officially. But the urgency is now. What we’ve noticed is that, yes, we can house somebody, but for that one person, there are 40 or 100 more still imprisoned in a horrible, horrible place. They’re treated like criminals, stripped of their belongings, and they have to wear a blue jumpsuit all the time. They eat rotten food. You can’t believe the horror stories that we’ve heard. They are unimaginable. You wouldn’t believe that this is what the ‘land of the free’ is doing to people who are trying to get here.”

For more information on Desert Support for Asylum Seekers, visit www.facebook.com/DSforAsylumSeekers. For more information on the GoFundMe campaign for The House, visit www.gofundme.com/f/247ckfculc.

Cathedral City will soon to become the site of the valley’s third Agua Caliente casino—giving a centerpiece to the “downtown” area city leaders have long been attempting to bolster.

However, the casino will open in the middle of a pandemic that has crippled many valley businesses—and sickened many Cathedral City residents. As of Oct. 11, 1,992 residents of Cathedral City have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2—the third-most among the valley’s nine cities—and 32 Cathedral City residents have died.

At this critical point in the history of this mid-valley community, residents will be voting to fill two City Council seats during the Tuesday, Nov. 3, election. In District 1, incumbent councilmember Rita Lamb is opposed by former Public Arts Commission leader Alan Carvalho.

The Independent spoke to all four candidates recently about issues impacting their neighborhoods, including short-term vacation rentals, pandemic safety concerns, and the need for civility in public discourse—which is particularly important in the District 1 election, given the history between Carvalho and Lamb. What follows are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

Alan Carvalho, semi-retired videographer/video editor

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City in 2021?

This is probably not what one would have expected to say last year, but no doubt (right now) it’s COVID-19 and public health and safety. Public safety has always been a priority for me, and I think for the city as well as the council. But, especially now, it’s important for all of us to take responsibility and not expect the county, or the state, or even the feds to tell us how to be safe.

I’m proud that our city mayor, John Aguilar took the initiative, in spite of the fact that it may be the county’s duty, to decide our safety measures. He took it upon himself to speak with Supervisor (V. Manuel) Perez and ask for special funding that he wanted to use for public-service announcements, advertisements and billboards to remind people to please be safe, use your masks and keep your social-distancing. Even though we can say it’s not our responsibility per se, keeping people safe, I think, is always everybody’s responsibility, and especially council members when they are elected.

Obviously, then you can tie it into the economics. I was proud that my husband, Shelley Kaplan, who was a councilmember from 2014-18, and myself were instrumental in making sure that cannabis was an option for our city. The conservative council at the time was definitely set against it. But once we threatened to petition the city to put it on the ballot, they realized that there are way too many benefits, especially economic benefits. As a result of bringing the cannabis industry in (to Cathedral City), we have accumulated $21 million in cash reserves, and $5 million of that was used recently for maintaining our public safety officers. So it’s important that we balance our economics with the public safety, but public safety must always be the priority. I don’t want to ignore the economic impacts, but it’s super-important that if we can be safe and really follow the rules, we may not have to wait more than a month or two before we are fully opened. The problem is that we all have to agree. That’s in the best interests of everyone.

The Cathedral City mission statement includes these two descriptors: “valuing fairness, balance and trust” and “honoring our similarities and differences.” However, relationships between some of this year's City Council candidates have been decidedly contentious and uncivil. What can you say to assure voters that, should you be elected, you will strive to demonstrate those laudable qualities while fulfilling your sworn responsibilities to residents and fellow councilmembers?

First of all, I’m proud to be a progressive Democrat, but this is a nonpartisan seat, and even though, hopefully, I will be elected this November to this district seat, once we’re in office, we are no longer a district representative solely. I think that the council needs to be reminded of that, because we represent the city, and it’s important that we don’t feel we’re dealing with issues only in our own districts. I want all of us to be able to share the responsibility, because my one vote isn’t going to matter unless I can get the cooperation of two more votes. So it is crucially important that we all learn to work well together.

I’m outspoken, and I defend the rights of those who don’t feel engaged in the city. I’m proud of that. But I know from being the chair of the Public Arts Commission for five out of the six years I served, that being in that space on the City Council room dais and being in the center seat, it really makes you realize how important it is to be super-fair-minded and to listen to all voices, and to encourage everybody to say what they feel, and to feel safe in doing that. So, that’s how I’ve conducted myself, and that’s how I will as a City Council member. If you have an opinion which is not City Council-related but personal—because we are all residents and citizens along with being on the council—I think that a council member should actually step off of the dais and speak in front of (the council) where members of the public speak from. That is an option that we obviously have, and again, I would remind our councilmembers that we are civil servants who are here to serve the needs of the public. It is not a position that is granted to us without the popular vote, so it is important that we respect those who voted, give them our ear, and pay attention to their needs. And when they write an email, or send a text, or make phone call, we should respond immediately. That’s how I am, and I’ve been that way since long before I ran for office.

The City Council recently voted unanimously to approve an ordinance phasing out short-term vacation rentals in much of Cathedral City. Since resident supporters of vacation rentals have issued threats of legal action against the city as a result, do you think the City Council should revisit this issue in the coming year?

That’s a great question, and I’m the only person running for office now who is in favor of the short-term vacation-rental option. I think that the council was rushed in their judgment. Our city manager, Charlie McClendon, did a phenomenal job of gathering a task force, as the City Council requested him to do. In the process, he had people in favor and against, and they discussed and met for hours at a time over a whole year. Then they came together and put together a 750-page document describing the good and the bad aspects. But when (the task force) voted, it was 7-6 in favor of short-term vacation rentals with strict guidelines, laws to follow and with strict penalties.

A friend of mine who lives in Palm Springs asked me to help him manage a visit by two guests coming to his vacation rental while he was gone visiting family this past June. I told him that I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never done it before, and I told him that I’m not personally in favor of vacation rentals. But he told me he didn’t have anyone else he could ask in the middle of the summer. So I said if I can be safe, and wear my mask and do all of my speaking at a distance, then I’d agree. He told me that all I had to do was let the renters know where things are in the house; what the code was to get into the house; let them know they can contact me if they need anything; and, most importantly, I had to get them to sign a required contract. This was the contract that requires them to follow the very strict rules put in place by the city of Palm Springs. That contract stated clearly that while they were guests in that neighborhood in Palm Springs, they could not play any music or make any noise out of the ordinary. And there could be no music played whatsoever in the outdoor space, except through headsets. The guests were told in advance that they had to follow the contract, or they could not stay.

Now, I was totally unaware of the strict codes that were given to guests (in Palm Springs). The last paragraph of that contract said that if anyone violated any ordinance regarding vacation rentals, the homeowner would not be responsible, but the renter at the time of the violation is the one who has to pay any fines. So, I thought that as successful as this Palm Springs policy has been, we should hire the same people that advised them on how to do it right, and get them to come to our city, and then we could revisit. I do fear a lawsuit, but more importantly, I think we can find a compromise. Obviously, as a homeowner in Cathedral City, I want to be sensitive to the needs of our residents and my neighbors. But the noise issues I’ve had in the past have not been from vacation rentals, but from residents. Seeing that there has been a history of noise problems in the Panorama Park section of town, I would suggest that we look at the possibility of regulating vacation rentals by district.

Now, I live in District 1, and I don’t have any issues, because people are following the rules. But if in a couple of months, we find out that they’re not following the rules, then we might want to go back to council and talk about putting a moratorium on it, because people aren’t following the rules. The same would hold true for the Panorama Park area. If they have serious issues, then I don’t think it’s fair for them to shut down vacation rentals for the whole city. I also think that we shouldn’t be willing to open up the whole city if they’re having problems that they would like to be addressed. That would be my compromise.

Also, I think that especially during this COVID-19 pandemic, when people may be struggling to pay their rent or their mortgage, if they had the option to rent their space, that would be something that we should not deny to property owners. Even if we decided to close down vacation rentals altogether, I think that during this time of COVID-19, we should have full enforcement, but we should move (the timeline) forward. They’re talking about closing down (vacation rentals) within the year. They’ve mentioned two years, but I think they’re destined to close it down sooner rather than later. The writing, to me, is on the wall. When we had to lay people off recently, of the five members of code enforcement, which is crucial to overseeing vacation rentals, three of them were laid off, which left two (employees), and one of them was on sick leave. Now we have one person to enforce all the rules on vacation rentals in our city?

As of this interview, Cathedral City ranks third in total COVID-19 cases out of the nine Coachella Valley cities, and fourth in deaths. Although the City Council extended its COVID-19 public-restrictions policy through the end of this year, do you think there is more that the city government should be doing in response to the health threats posed by this pandemic?

No matter what the City Council does, no matter what any government is going to do, there’s always more we can do. With this COVID-19, there was truly nothing that any of us could have seriously prepared for. There’s no way that, last year at this time, we would ever dream that this is where our lives would be this year. So we clearly need to be focused on keeping people alive, because dead people don’t shop. Dead people don’t go to the gym. Dead people don’t get haircuts, and don’t stimulate the economy. So it’s super important that those who are interested in maintaining economic development (understand) that if we don’t feel safe (as a community), and our county and our city have numbers that are alarming, or even disconcerting, we need to do whatever it takes to keep all of us safe.

Even though it’s the duty of the council to keep us safe, it’s also the duty of each of us. When we see someone who’s simply not following the rules, we have to kindly remind them that masks and social distancing don’t just keep them safe; they keep all of us safe. We have to really work cooperatively. It’s not a political issue. It’s a safety issue. And once it becomes a political issue, then it really distracts from it. You know, having a political point of view is a luxury. But again, you have to be alive to have an opinion. If you’re dead, or in a hospital, or you’re suffering, nothing political matters to you. You just want to survive.

So my focus is making sure that we do focus in on COVID, work on a vaccine, but please remind people every day that we have got to follow the rules. That means putting billboards up. The billboard out in front of City Hall—let’s use that regularly to remind people that we have ordinances in the city, and we need to follow them. Whether the city does a mailing, or they blast it on every page of the city webpages, I just want it to be that important (of an issue) and a very crucial priority for our city, and for the whole country.

What issue impacting Cathedral City should we have asked you about? What are your thoughts on how to address that issue?

As a proud member of the LGBTQ community, and having been together with Shelley for 48 years, I am obviously very sensitive to human rights. I am very sensitive to equal rights for women, for the Latino community, for the Black community, for the gay community, for the seniors, for the veterans. I’m for everybody being treated fairly. But, unfortunately, we can’t take those things for granted. So, just as Palm Springs has a human rights (commission), I would like to have that happen in our city. I think it’s important that we embrace our diversity. I’m proud to be part of such an incredibly diverse city. And yet, as I walk through my district, not everybody feels engaged. Not everybody feels that City Hall is really representing them. One proposal I would like to make, in alignment with my proposal for a human rights commission, is that we (utilize) these (events) we have now called “The City In Your Corner.” They provide an opportunity for two members of the council at a time to go to restaurants, or social gatherings, where they could meet on more casual basis with residents at various times of the day and on various days of the week. We’ve been doing that on Zoom lately.

I would recommend, when it’s safe, that we have block parties in areas and neighborhoods where the folks don’t know about City Hall, don’t know who their elected officials are, and may not even vote. We need them to understand their importance in our community. And the best way to do that, to me, is not going to this beautiful space called City Hall. How about City Hall not just going into their communities (via) restaurants or other businesses, but into the neighborhoods? So why not do a little block party in a neighborhood where we can get food, everybody brings potluck, where we can all share the experience of being with each other, and learn from each other? So instead of politicians getting on a stage with a megaphone, we can talk one on one with people, and engage with them. We’re not there to be presentational. We’re there to listen to the needs of the community.

When I lived in Cambridge (Mass.), we would have block parties. We’d get the required permit, and we’d block the street off. We would all bring potluck, and we all knew each other as neighbors, but we got to know each other even better. So, why not? If I’m going to have a block party in the north quadrant of my District 1, I’m going to invite all of the councilmembers, because again, all of the councilmembers represent the whole city. So I think if we can spread the news about having these types of block parties to engage our residents, then I think they’ll get a clue that we really are reaching out to them. And that’s how we’ll do it.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during this pandemic?

I always thought that if I had to be at home for an extended period of time, I would watch as many movies as I could, because I love movies. But, you know, there are only so many movies you can watch. So we’ve been finding that Zoom meetings are phenomenal. Even though you’re not meeting someone in person, you really get to stimulate your mind. You’re looking at a screen, but the screen talks back to you. When you’re watching a movie, you just sit back passively. But to be able to interact with people through Zoom, whether it’s at my Rotary meetings, or my historical preservation valley-wide meeting, or the City Council meetings that have been Zoomed sometimes, or the local Democratic meetings—whatever the meeting may be, I’ve been super-surprised at how much I enjoy those Zoom meetings. Of course, I would prefer that they were held in person. But I’m surprised at how much we’re all adjusting to this option. And we respectfully wait our turn (to speak on Zoom), unlike at the debates we’ve seen nationally. We raise our virtual hand, and we’re listening to each other and learning from each other, and we’re moving it forward. So I’m excited about this option.

I’m a social person. I like movies, but you’re not very social at a movie. So I do think it’s important that we can express our creativity and our opinions and our free speech through an outlet like Zoom. So that’s been one of my favorite things to do. And, of course, under the (current) circumstances that I’m personally involved in as a candidate, I’m talking to folks, which I actually enjoy. I really like this, because it gives me an opportunity to share my feelings and my passions for the city. You know, we moved from Cambridge some eight or nine years ago to live here full time. If you told me either Shelley or I would run for office or get as seriously involved in the city as we’ve both become, I would have told you that there was no way. We came here to retire. But when we finally moved here full time, we met Greg Pettis; we met council members; we attended virtually every meeting, (except) for two, since 2012. As a result, I’ve gathered a lot of experience, intuition and knowledge through watching these meetings. When Shelley ran for office, I was his campaign manager. I’d never run an election, and he’d never run for office. We did it. It was an at-large (election), and we won by 500 votes. This was an unknown person who had literally just moved here. So we just hit it out of the ballpark, and we felt very good.

Me, this year, I’m running. Shelley decided he didn’t want to. He’s concerned about the COVID, and he’s also 75 years old—and he’s starting to get used to enjoying his free time. In so much as he was one of the best council members that this city has ever seen—and that comes from the former mayors Stan Henry and Greg Pettis—I’ve been involved, too. When Shelley was first appointed to the Planning Commission in 2013, I was appointed to the Public Arts Commission. So we knew that we could be involved in the city, but I liked it, because he’d meet with the Planning Commission maybe twice a month, and I was meeting once a month, so we still had our free time.

But the more I got involved in public arts, the more excited I was about becoming the city’s most activist commission that the city has ever experienced. In the five to six years that I was on the commission, we put so much artwork and murals into the city—and we created the opportunity to engage in the community by providing what they call “live art.” We staged a competition at the Mary Pickford Theatre where the best digital artwork and movies could compete, and the best could be shown at the Pickford. We were very proud of that, and we were very proud of the programs at the Senior Center that public arts was able to provide (in conjunction with) the Boys and Girls Club. So we had an opportunity to do as much as we could really possibly do. And I’m proud of my involvement in every events committee that the city ever put together, including LGBTQ Days, the Taste of Jalisco celebrations, and the Balloon Festival, among others. Every opportunity offered, I wanted to be a part of it. And I’m proud to have worked so well with the city.

A couple of years ago, we did a thing called Santa’s Village. There used to be a parade to celebrate Christmas, but with concerns about terrorism, we decided we should beautify downtown at the holidays, and make these murals that looked like old big city department storefronts, like Filene’s in Boston, like a little winter wonderland. And we did 10 of them. It was such a great success and so well received that we decided to make 10 more. So we now have 20 storefronts decorated. And then the storefronts were offered to businesses (as marketing opportunities), so they could put their name on it for a fee. Now they get to be involved in the process. We get to raise some money, and everybody wins. Obviously, this year, all events have been put on hold. But everything is still in storage, and when it’s appropriate to bring (all the holiday artwork) back out, that will be another tradition


Rita Lamb, retired educator, incumbent City Council member

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City in 2021?

It’s the same issue facing all of the cities, and that is the fallout from the pandemic. It’s definitely a health crisis that’s created other crises that are looming in our particular city. Just one example: I was at the Agua Caliente Elementary School recently, and they were having a pop-up event that was called United Lift. It’s a program combining the resources of the United Way and Lift to Rise, which is a local nonprofit that provides rental assistance for qualifying folks, and it was very well attended. That’s just one of the issues that has really impacted Cathedral City, and I’m proud of the fact that, as part of the City Council, we had emergency orders in place very quickly regarding mask-wearing and social distancing. Also, we supported a huge communications campaign letting folks know that, in the absence of any national directive, it’s up to us to keep each other safe and help slow the spread (of the Covid-19 virus) and restore some sort of economic stability. I’m not a soothsayer, but I think that’s going to take us a while. So, that is definitely the No. 1 issue.

The Cathedral City mission statement includes these two descriptors: “valuing fairness, balance and trust” and “honoring our similarities and differences.” However, relationships between some of this year's City Council candidates have been decidedly contentious and uncivil. What can you say to assure voters that, should you be elected, you will strive to demonstrate those laudable qualities while fulfilling your sworn responsibilities to residents and fellow councilmembers?

As a person who has thrived, loved and been attracted to public service, I realize that the essential element in any type of public service is to focus on who your clients are. In my case, as an elementary school principal, it was definitely the children. And here (on the City Council), it’s the residents. I know I bring stability, sense and sincerity to this position.

I was elected last year in a special election that followed the passing of our mayor, Greg Pettis, who died unexpectedly. At that time, (any member of) the community was offered an opportunity to apply for the position, because the council at that time had considered appointing someone. So there were 16 of us who submitted applications, went through the process and came before the City Council. That council meeting was very contentious, and a decision was made by the council to put it up to a vote of the community. There were just two of us, Mr. Shelley Kaplan and myself (who would up running for the seat). This has been my first foray into the political arena, although I have been in public service for many years. I was a principal in the Desert Sands Unified School District. I retired from there, and then spent five years on the Public Arts Commission here. I read in the newspaper that they were offering this opportunity for commission spots, and I jumped at the chance, and I loved it. Then, after five years, I went back to work as a school principal in the Coachella Valley Unified School District. I retired from there, and then I was asked if I’d like to take a position on the Cathedral City Senior Center executive board, so I did that for three years.

Now, I am very proud to have been endorsed by our mayor and the rest of the city councilmembers, who’ve said that I’m a person of integrity and honesty, and that I come prepared. You know, just a little while ago, someone texted me to say that they disagreed with me on some question, and they thought I was supposed to represent (the interests) of District 1 voters. And I replied that I do—I absolutely do. But when we come to council, our decision-making is based on forward thinking and the best interests of all the residents. So, an essential part is that we each have the opportunity and the vision to look beyond, and see what we can bring to the Cathedral City community, to the residents and the businesses.

The City Council recently voted unanimously to approve an ordinance phasing out short-term vacation rentals in much of Cathedral City. Since resident supporters of vacation rentals have issued threats of legal action against the city as a result, do you think the City Council should revisit this issue in the coming year?

You know, I can’t speak for every member on the City Council, but first, I’d like to say how proud I am of the city staff, the city manager, our council liaison—who was Mayor John Aguilar—and all of the residents who were part of the task force and who willingly stepped up to the plate and advocated for their positions for over a year. Talk about doing the business of the public in public—this was a herculean effort, and I’m just so proud of everyone involved. Between all the City Council meetings and the time devoted to individual public comments, there were two large town halls (held as well). One was at the Cathedral City Library, and there was another one at City Hall. And then the task force met monthly in person until COVID hit. Still, there were at-length discussions about all the possibilities. Then, when recommendations came to us in July, we devoted a whole day to all of the materials, all of the documentation and more public comments. And we had a chance to review all of the recommendations from the task force, of which I think there were a little over 90. So, in the final analysis, the decision contained something for everybody. The residents wanted their neighborhoods to be preserved. That was the original issue—that neighborhoods were being compromised because of the activities around these short-term rentals. So now, the neighborhoods are restored. There is enough time for people to repurpose their property, if that needs to happen. Homeowner associations that have quality control and a service component as part of their CCRs stay the same. For those folks who have home-sharing, that’s fine. So I thought it was brilliant. I’m glad to be part of such a well-rounded and thought-out solution.

As of this interview, Cathedral City ranks third in total COVID-19 cases out of the nine Coachella Valley cities, and fourth in deaths. Although the City Council extended its COVID-19 public-restrictions policy through the end of this year, do you think there is more that the city government should be doing in response to the health threats posed by this pandemic?

I can’t say anything definitively, but our city has so many service workers (living here). My husband and I are retired, so it’s a luxury (for us) to be able to stay home and follow all the guidelines. But not everybody has that (opportunity).

Our director of economic development is Stone James, and he was at the forefront of making sure that our community got the monies it needed, and were entitled to, and he helped start our ‘Great Plates’ program. Many restaurants got involved in this program, and something like 270 qualifying seniors and families were given (food) assistance through it. So, what else we can do? I don’t know. That remains to be seen.

We’re advocating continually for more county, state and federal funding, and Stone James has been the point person in making sure that our city acts in a timely manner and gets right on it. We have two websites: CathedralCity.gov and DiscoverCathedralCity.com. Our marketing and communications director, Chris Parman, keeps them updated on a daily basis and communicates to the residents that there’s help out there and available, but they need to ask. And for us, it’s being active and getting out into the community to let them know we’re here for them. It’s a terrifying time. It’s a global emergency, and our economy is definitely uncertain.

What issue impacting Cathedral City should we have asked you about? What are your thoughts on how to address that issue?

Actually, one of the questions that I get asked frequently is: How will the city address issues related to the new (Agua Caliente) casino? No. 1, the casino is a great asset to our community, but it’s also going to bring in lots of traffic, so folks who are used to kind of the Mayberry perception of the Cathedral City Cove, that has not too much traffic, are concerned about how that’s going to be addressed, and what’s going to go into (adjacent) vacant lots. That area used to be called the pedestrian-friendly corridor when that stretch of Palm Canyon (Drive) was newly redone, and since I’ve lived in the desert for many, many years, I saw this happen. The road narrows right in front of City Hall, and it gets a little tight. So people were concerned about how to address that. They’re going to address it by waiting to see what happens, and then (initiating) a traffic-control study. Then if they need to, they’ll modify some of the streets around there. They’ve already widened Buddy Rogers (Avenue) from Date Palm (Drive), and it kind of serpentines through to just north of the casino, up on Palm Canyon. But residents are concerned about congestion in that area.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during this pandemic?

Oh! Binge-watching House of Cards. It’s a complete and total indulgence. My husband thinks I’m totally ridiculous, but it’s fun.

Cathedral City will soon to become the site of the valley’s third Agua Caliente casino—giving a centerpiece to the “downtown” area city leaders have long been attempting to bolster.

However, the casino will open in the middle of a pandemic that has crippled many valley businesses—and sickened many Cathedral City residents. As of Oct. 11, 1,992 residents of Cathedral City have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2—the third-most among the valley’s nine cities—and 32 Cathedral City residents have died.

At this critical point in the history of this mid-valley community, residents will be voting to fill two City Council seats during the Tuesday, Nov. 3, election. In District 2, a pair of new candidates, Nancy Ross and JR Corrales, are seeking a four-year term.

The Independent spoke to all both candidates recently about issues impacting their neighborhoods, including short-term vacation rentals, pandemic safety concerns, and the need for civility in public discourse. What follows are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

JR Corrales, business owner

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City in 2021?

The most important issue facing Cathedral City is how we can move forward with the pandemic and deal with the backlash of COVID-19. But another big challenge we face moving forward as a city is how to adapt to the new casino. How do we build around it and bring more businesses back to Cathedral City? We need to be more receptive to diversifying and to meeting the needs of our citizens to attract businesses.

The Cathedral City mission statement includes these two descriptors: “valuing fairness, balance and trust” and “honoring our similarities and differences.” However, relationships between some of this year's City Council candidates have been decidedly contentious and uncivil. What can you say to assure voters that, should you be elected, you will strive to demonstrate those laudable qualities while fulfilling your sworn responsibilities to residents and fellow councilmembers?

The whole reason why I’m running is to diversify our city, and by bringing diversity to the City Council, it gives us the ability to bridge the gap between our citizens and the City Council, and to form a more communicative state between those two. That’s huge in local politics. To be able to bring together people who normally wouldn’t talk is why I’m running, because it will bring a different perspective and a different point of view to our already amazing council. I’ve been endorsed by two of the current City Council members, Mark Carnevale and Ernesto Gutierrez. Former mayor Kathleen DeRosa and former mayor and police chief Stan Henry have also stood behind me. So that relationship is already there. It’s already established, and it will continue to grow when I get elected. I’m bridging the gap between past council members, or past mayors and police chiefs, to build a new generation of Cathedral City politics.

The City Council recently voted unanimously to approve an ordinance phasing out short-term vacation rentals in much of Cathedral City. Since resident supporters of vacation rentals have issued threats of legal action against the city as a result, do you think the City Council should revisit this issue in the coming year?

I think we have to let that play out. I believe that the citizens overall spoke up and (showed) what they thought was needed for our city, and the City Council did a great job of listening to their concerns. I stand 100 percent behind their process and what was agreed to.

As of this interview, Cathedral City ranks third in total COVID-19 cases out of the nine Coachella Valley cities, and fourth in deaths. Although the City Council extended its COVID-19 public-restrictions policy through the end of this year, do you think there is more that the city government should be doing in response to the health threats posed by this pandemic?

I think the city has done a great job in reacting to provide the best possible measures to help prevent this pandemic. Moving forward, I agree 100 percent with their extension of that ordinance. The only way to protect our citizens is by listening to our experts across the country, and I sincerely back what they’ve had to do.

What issue impacting Cathedral City should we have asked you about? What are your thoughts on how to address that issue?

I think that diversifying our City Council so that it represents the city as a whole is a very important issue. I’m 38 years old, and the average person’s age in Cathedral City is 38, with 1.5 children in their home. So, I am 38 years old, with three children, which puts me right in the middle of that curve. That gives me the ability to look at the city from a different perspective as to how we can improve our overall city by providing more programs to our youth, more programs to our senior citizens, and (addressing) the issue of closing the gap between the citizens and City Hall.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during this pandemic?

My favorite shelter-in-place activity has been bonding with my children. It’s been an amazing time. As a small-business owner, you get caught up in the everyday work of trying to build a better business. But with this pandemic, the best experience of this whole thing is being able to spend more quality time with my children. I think it’s important for all of us to see that one of the most important lessons of this whole thing is that sometimes it takes a pandemic to remind us of what our values should be—and taking care of our own and putting family above everything are most important.

We’ve brought back board games, and we’re having a lot of fun. It’s good-old-fashioned family fun. It got the kids away from their tablets and the internet, and it’s a special way to bond. It brought back my childhood memories, and at the same time introduced our children to them. Hopefully, in their future, they’ll be able to sit back and do the exact same thing with their kids. We’ve gotten really competitive (playing) Connect Four.


Nancy Ross, business owner

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City in 2021?

I think not just in 2021, but moving forward, (the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City is) to not allow COVID-19 to define us. We have to address the safety of the citizens. Everybody thinks that’s the No. 1 issue, and I agree wholeheartedly. We have to help our businesses that are still open to stay open, and search for all kinds of resources and grants and stimulus packages that we can to aid our struggling citizens. I think we can all agree that that is our top priority.

Along with those things, I am beginning to readily identify COVID-19 PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). We see people who are now afraid to go back into a restaurant, even though they’re only seating at 25 percent capacity. They’re unsure of whether or not they want to take the vaccine when it comes out. They feel unsure about where we’re headed as a nation. They’re nervous about schools reopening under any circumstances. So when I see people who feel paralyzed to move forward on issues that I knew they weren’t (intimidated by) before, I see that these aren’t just literal issues, but psychological issues as well. That probably shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us, but that’s also something we’re going to need to address, because not only have we been injured by COVID-19, and continue to be injured, but we need to make sure that it does not paralyze us moving forward. There’s just too much at stake in order to get our businesses back open, in order to get our children back to school, in order to get our government back functioning at a (productive) rate. Obviously, (since the city of Cathedral City) gets our money from sales taxes, at some point, we’re going to have to re-enter society. That will paramount to our recovery.

The Cathedral City mission statement includes these two descriptors: “valuing fairness, balance and trust” and “honoring our similarities and differences.” However, relationships between some of this year's City Council candidates have been decidedly contentious and uncivil. What can you say to assure voters that, should you be elected, you will strive to demonstrate those laudable qualities while fulfilling your sworn responsibilities to residents and fellow councilmembers?

For 30 years, I have worked in some kind of governance or another. And for those 30 years, I’ve stood for people. I spent six years as a director of the ACLU, where we did what I consider to be the most important work there is—and that is the work of the people in defending the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. I will always continue supporting those values of our country, of our state and, most importantly, of the citizens of Cathedral City.

Also, my experiences have allowed me to learn a great deal about people, about collaboration and the importance of unity. It’s something that we’ve seen a shortage of in our nation over the last several years, regardless of the (political) party you identify with. We have become a less-tolerant nation. We’re intolerant of our neighbors, our citizens and even of our friends. It is absolutely front and center that we need to become more empathetic of our friends, neighbors and citizens. I have participated in well more than 250 meetings with Cathedral City. I’ve heard the people speak, and I know what’s important to them. And I’ve watched our elected officials and how they govern. The reason I’m running for office is that, after hundreds of meetings, it was clear to me I have a voice that is different from the voices on the dais, and it will allow me to bring forward a collaborative voice that will help us move forward.

The City Council recently voted unanimously to approve an ordinance phasing out short-term vacation rentals in much of Cathedral City. Since resident supporters of vacation rentals have issued threats of legal action against the city as a result, do you think the City Council should revisit this issue in the coming year?

I do not. When we have citizens within our city who are being violated, who are being harmed and who are being treated inappropriately, we cannot cave to (those residents who state) that those people are not in the majority. I’ll give you that—they’re not the majority. But they are the ones being harmed, and how many people must be harmed before our entire city says, “No more”?

I have attended every meeting where this was discussed, including the neighborhood meetings at City Hall. I have listened to short-term vacation rental owners and supporters. I’ve been in private meetings with people positioned on both sides of the issue, and I have read significant amounts of documentation submitted by both (sides). It is extremely important to remember that (under the new ordinance), there is no limiting of short-term vacation rentals in resort areas like Desert Princess or Canyon Shores. Also, there is no limiting short-term vacation rentals in a home-share situation, which means anyone can rent out a spare room to visitors. And although I am convinced that short-term vacation rental owners don’t want to be bad neighbors and don’t want to cause trouble for the city, the very situation of random people—not personally known to the property owners or their neighbors—in unsupervised areas just brings problems that are predictable.

However, I would bring forward an idea that, so far, has been unique to me: I would suggest that short-term vacation rental owners meet with developers to look at the feasibility of building an entire HOA community that is strictly for the purpose of short-term vacation rental investment, and in an appropriate zone—not in R1 or R2 (residential zones), but in resort-style zones. That way, (people) can own the homes that they could later retire into if they want, or they can rent it out as a short-term vacation rental. And they could also share aggregate services by having onsite management, by sharing house cleaners, pool-service people and yard-service people, and (in this way) maybe even reduce their costs as opposed to (maintaining) a stand-alone home.

The city is not opposed to short-term vacation rentals. They are opposed to residential short-term vacation rentals that are much more like businesses with strangers coming and going, and no control over it.

Honestly, I’ve been approached by a signature collector (for a referendum), and they just aren’t telling the truth when they ask you to sign for the referendum, because (they say) Cathedral City has outlawed short-term vacation rentals. That’s just simply not true.

As of this interview, Cathedral City ranks third in total COVID-19 cases out of the nine Coachella Valley cities, and fourth in deaths. Although the City Council extended its COVID-19 public-restrictions policy through the end of this year, do you think there is more that the city government should be doing in response to the health threats posed by this pandemic?

I think the city has done a good job letting the citizens know what the restrictions are within Cathedral City, and encouraging all of our citizens to wear face coverings, to wash their hands and to stay socially-distanced.

But as (Cathedral City is) one of the youngest cities in the valley, with an average age of 38, our people are workers. They do not have the luxury of sheltering in place indefinitely, so they’ve had to go back to work—and with that comes a larger risk of infection. I believe they’ve all done their best to protect themselves, but going back into grocery stores, back into senior-living (facilities) or landscape work, just brings you into contact with other people who are, perhaps, not as careful as you are. It’s a societal conundrum. You have to feed your family, and you have to keep your family safe. You just balance those two the very best way that you can.

We, as a city, must encourage and support and protect our citizens in every possible way we can, and help ease those tough decisions to the best of our ability. We must continue to provide services to those facing food insecurity, (even though) so many of our pantries are not open, because they are indoor facilities. We need to reach out to people we know and help them in the ways that we can. … But at the same time, we must be understanding that people cannot just lock their doors and virtually starve to death. There’s a very difficult line that’s been drawn, and it’s one that our generation has never faced before. These are problems that are predictable, but just unfathomable. So we just can’t point fingers; we must work together to do the best that we can in our young city to get through this as quickly as possible.

What issue impacting Cathedral City should we have asked you about? What are your thoughts on how to address that issue?

It seems that all roads lead to COVID-19, and I believe the issue that needs to be addressed is food insecurity. We have had some wonderful programs brought forward like Great Plates, that allowed low-income people to utilize local restaurants for a meal. … And as I mentioned earlier, many of our pantries are not open or are not at full capacity, because many are indoor facilities that cannot function (under) social-distancing guidelines. What I believe needs to be addressed is how we can move these facilities outdoors, and how we can help all of our nonprofit organizations by seeking stimulus money, grant money and private donations to make sure that our people, who are struggling for food, have well rounded supplies available to them.

You can only take so many hits. You can lose your job, or your children can’t go to school. And even if you have a job, you can’t go to it if your children have to be educated at home or (you need) to pay for ridiculously expensive day care. And then (you may not) able to bring enough food home for your family to eat, and you’re worried about your health all at the same time. It is a mountain of rocks piled on our citizens’ backs, and we cannot solve all the problems. But food insecurity, in conjunction with health, must be the No. 1 priority. As a city, I believe that the residents, the nonprofits and the elected officials do have some (ability) to grant opportunities to facilitate a solution, or at least be the bridge to get us through these incredibly difficult times.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during this pandemic?

My husband, Bob, after his 22-year career in the military, became a general contractor. Throughout our marriage, he has spent his time making other people’s homes fabulous. Now, for the last six months, I’ve had nothing but opportunities for Bob and I to remodel our home. We’ve done a remodel on our guest bathroom and on our guest bedroom. We’ve installed solar in our home and a new air-conditioning system, and now we’re in the process of remodeling our master bathroom. We’re able to do these things, because I have my husband’s free labor, which makes it all manageable and doable, even during these difficult times. So it has been a delight to work together and to see happy things happen within our home, even though we know that so many tragic things are happening just outside our door.

More 40 years ago, Coachella resident Lee Espinoza started training local youngsters in the art of boxing—while also teaching the character traits required to form the foundation of a successful career, like discipline, determination, good health practices and mental focus.

For more than 20 years, the Coachella Valley Boxing Club building, on the north edge of the park on Douma Street, has served as Espinoza’s headquarters and schoolhouse. It’s where he has supervised or hosted the training of pugilistic luminaries including former pro world champions Pancho Segura, Julio Diaz, Sandra Yard and Randy Caballero.

But this past spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept into the Coachella Valley, Espinoza—who is slated to be inducted into the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame—reluctantly shuttered his boxing refuge.

“The governor told us that we had to close it, and so we did close it for a while,” Espinoza said during a recent phone interview. “We’ve just barely opened it back up again, and for now, it’s only (by appointment), so you can come and train at this time, or that time. They don’t want too many people inside at once.”

While the gym was closed, the aspiring champs of today were relegated to training outdoors in the summer heat of neighboring Bagdouma Park, or in the garages and backyards of their family homes. While Espinoza wasn’t involved in this day-to-day training, he made sure the equipment from his gym was available to anyone who needed it.

Among the young fighters who are now back at the gym and training are several men and women who have won national and world amateur championships under Espinoza’s mentoring. One such decorated amateur is 20-year-old Citlalli Ortiz of Coachella.

The Independent first met Ortiz back in 2016, as she was preparing to enter the Desert Showdown boxing tournament at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. In the four years since then, Ortiz—who already held titles as the 2016 Junior and Youth National Champion, the 2016 Junior Olympic Champion and winner of the 2016 WBC Belt at the Beautiful Brawlers Show—added the Gold Medal at the 2017 Women’s Youth World Championships and became the 2017 USA Youth National Champion and the 2017 Mexican National Champion in her 152-pound weight class.

But 2018 brought a host of unexpected obstacles. The notoriously chaotic influence of international boxing politics entered her life and career when Team USA Boxing inexplicably decided not to include her on their team competing at the 2018 Youth Olympic games, considered a necessary stop on the road to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Ortiz—who had established dual citizenship in both the United States and Mexico—went so far as to contact the International Boxing Association (AIBA) directly to ask what steps she could take to qualify for the 2018 Youth Olympics.

“They said that if Team USA let me,” Ortiz explained, “I could fight in the Continental Tournament (at 155), and if I won there, I could automatically go to the Youth Olympics. So I told Team USA what AIBA had said, but they still didn’t want to do it. I kept trying ways to convince them (to let me fight at 155 pounds in these two tournaments), but finally I told them that I wanted to go with Mexico, who keeps telling me they want me to fight for them. I told Team USA that I only had one chance to fight in these tournaments, because I’d only be 18 once.”

But Team USA had even more bad news for Ortiz. “They told me that I’d have to wait for two years before I could fight for another country.” Ortiz said. “But I said that Mexico told me that Team USA could make a deal with them if the USA would say that I wasn’t going to fight for them anymore, and sign an agreement. They told me they wouldn’t (give me permission). They said that they’d rather have me fighting for the USA then against it.”

At that point, Ortiz decided to link her fortunes to the Mexico national boxing team, and begin the two-year prohibition on her competing for Mexico internationally. But there was little competition to be found in Mexico for a woman boxer in 2018.

“That’s when I became a little inactive,” Ortiz said. “While I was waiting for those years, I started fighting a little in Mexico, and I kind of made a comeback in 2019. I ended up winning the nationals in Mexico, and I won the Olympic trials for Mexico. Then, in March of 2020, I was already on my way to Argentina to fight in the pre-Olympic trials when COVID-19 struck. I’d been living in Mexico for a few months, but when COVID happened, I just had to go home (to the U.S.). Now I’m stuck (deciding) whether to turn pro, or staying amateur and waiting for the Olympics.”

Is she ready to get back in the gym yet?

“Lee (Espinoza) told me that the gym had re-opened,” Ortiz said, “but I started working, so I couldn’t go yet. With my dad (her father, Alex Ortiz, is her manager and trainer), I’ve been training from like 6-10 a.m., and then I come home, eat and take a nap before I have to go to work. So there hasn’t been time for me to go to the gym. But I had a day off the other day, so I was able to go see Lee and find out how things are going. So now I’ll probably start training right in the boxing club, before I go to work.”

Espinoza will welcome her back to the fold, but Ortiz shouldn’t look for him at the gym come March 14, because—the pandemic permitting—he’ll be in Los Angeles enjoying the banquet and induction ceremony staged by the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame. The banquet was originally scheduled for Oct. 4, but was delayed until March.

Espinoza will join a group of inductees that includes world-class boxers Oscar de la Hoya, Michael Nunn, Gabriel Ruelas, Rafael Ruelas, Johnny Tapia, Robert Diaz and Sue “TL” (Tiger Lilly) Fox, as well as referee Richard Steele.

“A long time ago, I got a call and they said I was going to be inducted.” Espinoza said. “Then they sent me a flier. So that’s it. Oscar (de la Hoya) is going to be there and is getting inducted, and a lot of other people I know are going to be there, too. You know, they started selling tables (for the banquet), and we sold seven tables. And they said, ‘Oh my god, Oscar de la Hoya only sold five.’”

Back in the gym, although Espinoza is happy to see his boxers reconvening, he knows the championship-caliber women boxers who are coming back to train face even more challenges.

“Right now, they don’t have anything going on,” Espinoza said. “There are no shows, no nothing. You know the ladies have nothing. But they’re all still working.”

How does Ortiz feel about her boxing future?

“You know, most of the time, I just think I should stop,” Ortiz said. “But after all I’ve been through, I keep on it—you know, I keep going. I believe that some boxers who didn’t have that mentality would say, ‘I’ll just stop,’ after all these challenges. But I don’t want to be saying to myself, ‘I was so close, and I just let it go.’ I’ve been practicing for 12 years and competing for five. So sometimes I think I just want to hang up the gloves and let it go. But, I can’t do that.”

Her hopes of competing at the Olympics have not been extinguished, either.

“With the pandemic going on, no one is sure if the Olympics will even happen next year,” Ortiz said. “And if they don’t take place for another couple of years, then I feel like I still have a chance. So it’s kind of weird that I see the pandemic, in my boxing career, as having created a chance that I can still go to an Olympics, which I always wanted to do. But in my personal life, it’s been another obstacle. All those months, I couldn’t train or work—and things start catching up to you.”

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.

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.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in July ordered all of the state’s school campuses to remain closed in counties where COVID-19 case rates remained too high, according to the state’s criteria.

That list included Riverside County—and as of our press deadline, almost all local schools remained closed for in-person instruction.

“We fully anticipated re-opening in the first week of July at all of our facilities,” said Desert Recreation District General Manager Kevin Kalman during a recent phone interview. “Then Riverside County had its infection rates start rising again. So what we had geared up for, and had been prepping our team for, all changed overnight. This ED-REC/Connect (ERC) program became the best activity we could think of to be truly relevant and helpful in this time. This pandemic is everybody’s problem—and our goal is to be part of the solution.”

Since mid-August, the ERC has sponsored well-equipped, supervised distance-learning hubs at various locations, primarily in the eastern Coachella Valley, including sites in North Shore, Mecca, Thermal, Indio, Palm Desert, La Quinta and Bermuda Dunes. As of Sept. 15, 66 students were enrolled in the program, with a maximum capacity of 140. Then on Sept. 16, an additional location was opened at the Mecca Library, in order to help meet the serious needs of east valley working families and their student children—and the 10 students accepted at the Mecca location will have their tuition fees waived, due to the support of the Community Action Partnership of Riverside County, the Riverside County Library System, and the Desert Recreation Foundation/Desert Recreation District. At other locations, weekly resident tuition prices are $75.

“When we first rolled out the program, we didn’t have some of our funding partners on board yet,” Kalman said. “So, while the (registration fee) was very reasonable for a full day of childcare, we knew it was priced at a point where we weren’t going to be able to get some families into the program. But the Regional Access Project, which previously had given us a grant for certain communities to provide programming, authorized us to re-allocate that funding specifically to this program, because all our other programs are really not running (due to the pandemic). That was a huge help. Basically, it brought the fee down by half. Then, likewise, the county authorized us to re-allocate some Community Development Block Grant funding that was for youth programming in the unincorporated areas of the eastern Coachella Valley to this program. Then, our board further subsidized (tuition) for the rest of the valley to make it more reasonable.

“Now, the most anyone would pay is $75 per week, and along with that, our foundation offers a scholarship program which could bring it as low as $37.50 per week.”

Students in kindergarten through the sixth-grade can participate, and they can be registered by the week, or for extended periods. At all locations, the program begins at 7:30 a.m. each weekday and runs until 5:30 p.m. No class will contain more than 10 students, with two adult educator supervisors.

“The first half of the day is spent online in the classroom with their respective teachers,” Kalman said. “Each student brings their school-district-issued laptop, or iPad, or whatever it is that their particular school district is using. Our staff is there to assist the children in logging in, making sure that they’re connected when they’re supposed to be connected, and helping them with any technical issues they may have. Also, they assist the students with any questions or issues they have with their lessons that aren’t answered by the teacher online.

“Next, they have lunch,” Kalman continued, adding that students must bring their own lunch. “And then the afternoon program is like our typical afterschool program, where they participate in sports and enrichment, crafts and other activities.”

Safety is a top priority at each of the program’s distance-learning hubs.

“Only 10 students are in each class, because we have such great restrictions to make it a safe environment,” Kalman said. “It will be the same 10 kids every day in each of these different classrooms, and only those same 10 kids, along with the same two staff members. That way, there’s a reduced chance of any infection being brought in from outside.”

Each participant is given a temperature check before entering each day, and mask-wearing and social-distancing guidelines must be observed.

“Parents aren’t even allowed into the facility,” Kalman said. “Basically, it’s curbside drop-off and pickup.”

Still, even with all the planning and effort expended to run the program, Kalman said he looks forward to the day when it comes to an end.

“We hope this will be a short-lived program, and that the kids will be back in their classrooms sooner rather than later,” Kalman said.

When does Kalman think local students may return to their classrooms?

“I don’t see it happening before the holidays,” he said. “It could change, but what I’ve heard is that it’s not likely to happen before next spring. So everybody is kind of scrambling to adapt. Hopefully, as we move forward—and people realize that this isn’t just a short-term thing, but we’re going to have to cope with it for a while—it will get taken much more seriously by all families. I think there is so much beyond just the instruction that (students) get out of school, and that’s what they’re missing.”

Families who are interested should call 760-347-3484, or visit www.myrecreationdistrict.com.

Palm Springs residents in two of the city’s five newly created districts will select representatives in this November’s election—meaning the city will finally turn the page on its transition away from at-large elections, as mandated by the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.

In District 5, nobody filed to run against incumbent Lisa Middleton, meaning she will return to the City Council, barring any upstart write-in candidacy.

In the District 4 race, incumbent Christy Holstege is facing two challengers: Dian Torres, a local health care worker; and certified public accountant—and former Palm Springs City Councilmember—Mike McCulloch.

The Independent recently spoke to the three candidates running for the District 4 seat. We asked each of them the same set of questions, ranging from what future city budget cuts could await residents, to the health of the city’s relationships with small businesses. What follows below are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

Christy Holstege

Attorney, Palm Springs City Council incumbent

What is the most important single issue facing the city of Palm Springs in 2021?

The most important issue facing the city in 2021 is facing the global pandemic and keeping our residents safe, as well as ensuring our recovery from both the health crisis and the economic crisis that we’re facing as a city and as a community. We’ve been working for almost the last seven months on both these fronts, and I’m proud that we were the first city in Southern California to issue a shelter-in-place order. We did that before the state of California did, and that’s because our residents in Palm Springs are particularly at risk for COVID-19. I’ve worked on leading the task force for reopening and ensuring that we do that safely. I’ve worked directly with local businesses to ensure that they can keep their workers safe, keep their customers safe, and stay open, if possible. So we’ve worked to expand their footprint into parklets, parking lots and areas outside. We’ve closed a portion of Palm Canyon (Drive) to have a pedestrian experience so there can be more social distancing, and so that businesses can move outside.

Moving into 2021, we need to make sure that our residents stay safe and stay healthy. When a vaccine is released, we need to work in partnership with the county to make sure that our residents can get tested, get access to good medical care, and get access to the vaccine. We need to work to rebuild our economy after the hit that the economic crisis has caused.

Given the economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it’s possible the city may need to make further budget cuts in the future. If that became necessary, what cuts would you propose?

We’ve all been personally affected by the economic crisis, and the city is no different. Initially, we had projected over a $75 million deficit over the last fiscal year and this upcoming fiscal year. However, it’s very difficult to make projections during this time, and actually our (city income) numbers are much, much higher than we initially expected as our worst case scenario. We’ve worked really hard to build our reserves and have almost doubled them over the last few years to where we had over $40 million sitting in reserves for a rainy day like this. So I’m proud of the work that we’ve done in responding to this immediate economic crisis, while still retaining key services for our residents. We’ve retained city staff who provide services directly to residents, like parks and recreation services, public safety and all of the services that are important to our residents.

Looking forward, we’ve moved to a “rolling budget” model, since it really is impossible to predict a year out at this time, because no one knows what the economic situation will be a year from now. So I asked, and we successfully moved to a “rolling budget” model where the council will get an update each month at council meetings for the public. That way, we can assess where we are in terms of revenue and spending, and make quick changes if we need to. So my hope is that, in that way, we can plan accurately. If we do need to make further cuts, we’ll know that ahead of time, and we won’t need to do it in one sitting, in a way that might not be accurate six months from now.

So, regarding what we’d need to consider cutting, we’ve already made a lot of creative solutions instead of cutting staff. We issued an early retirement program to have city staff retire if they were able to. We froze positions instead of laying off people, and we actually moved to different models of providing services that have saved the city money. In the future, if we do have to make additional cuts, we will have to look at staffing levels for the city, but ensuring that we protect and preserve the most important services for our residents.

Some small businesses in town have complaints about uneven, unfair and harsh code enforcement. Are those complaints valid? Do you think the city is friendly to small business?

Serving on City Council for the last three years, I’ve worked really hard to make sure that the city is business-friendly, and that everyone knows that in Palm Springs, we are open for business. I have served o, and led our city’s subcommittee on economic development and business retention. We brought forward new business incentives like a façade-improvement program so that businesses can invest in the façades of their buildings to attract more customers. Also, we brought forward and successfully passed an incentive program for small hotels, so that small local boutique hotels could benefit from business incentives and invest in rehabilitating their properties. And we worked successfully to get consumer data directly to local businesses and startups to help them attract customers. So I’m really proud of my record of supporting local businesses. My husband’s family has owned two small local businesses here in Palm Springs for multiple generations. Some are on their third generation. That’s a key issue for my campaign, and also for my service as a City Council member.

So we work hard to support all of our local businesses, and as a council member for District 4—which has a different business district than just our city’s downtown—I have heard both residents and business owners say that we focus too much on just the downtown and that we need to invest (in) and encourage businesses and economic development throughout the city. In District 4, we have the Smoke Tree (area) and the whole corridor down Highway 111, and those are important businesses to support. We have vacant buildings throughout the district as well as through the city that need economic development.

In terms of code enforcement, we’ve really stepped up our code enforcement at the request of residents, because people were going downtown or into local businesses (while) not wearing masks. We’ve enforced social distancing. We passed a lot of legislation to make that required in the city of Palm Springs, and to support businesses so that they didn’t have to do the enforcement. Right now, code enforcement is going out to local businesses about 100 times a week or so. They’re not finding that many violations. Overall, people are really being compliant. So I think we’ve done a good job on code enforcement, but we can always do better, and we can always make sure that it addresses all businesses equally.

Palm Springs is considered a favorite getaway spot for more than 1.5 million tourists each normal year. However, should the city be backing a visitor-outreach effort right now, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19?

Palm Springs is a unique city, because we are so heavily reliant on tourism. I’ve participated in regional, statewide and national efforts around COVID-19 and the impacts to the city budget, and I have yet to find a city more impacted than ours, because we are so reliant on tourism. Since we issued the shelter-in-place order back in March, we’ve worked really hard to ensure that Palm Springs residents stayed safe, and that we didn’t have an influx of tourists who might be bringing the virus with them. Initially, the numbers that were reported showed that Palm Springs had higher numbers (of infections) than other Coachella Valley cities. At one point, in the first few days (of the pandemic), we had a third of the deaths in the state of California. So we worked really hard to issue a shelter-in-place order, and make sure we were on the forefront of keeping our residents safe and our businesses safe. And (we did that) because our economy can only thrive if we defeat this pandemic and if we keep our residents, businesses and workers safe. So we’ve been doing that really hard work of balancing our community’s health with all of the other impacts like loss of income, evictions, mental-health impacts and all the effects that we’re seeing. Also I led the reopening task force with the mayor (Geoff Kors), and we’ve also participated in a regional effort on tourism. We’re not initiating that right now, but we’re planning for when it will be safe to reopen tourism, and how we can do that safely and in a coordinated way.

We have to work regionally, because if Palm Springs does one thing, and Cathedral City or the county is doing something different, it is not effective from a public-health standpoint. So we’ve been working with other cities and the county directly to balance the needs for the economy with the public health. As of right now, our efforts have not been to attract a lot of tourists during this time, and we still have a lot of businesses closed. Riverside County is on the (state’s) watch list and in the worst possible category for the virus right now. So I think our plan is to reopen when we can safely, but also recognize that tourism is the lifeblood of our economy, as well as of our local businesses that support tourism.

One issue in my platform is diversifying our economy and making sure that we aren’t so reliant on tourism, so that in downfalls like this or others, we do have diverse revenue streams and businesses that are operating and aren’t completely shuttered by a stall in tourism.

Is there a topic or issue we should have asked you about?

One issue that I hear residents talk about again and again is homelessness and housing. When I first ran for City Council in 2017, that was the No. 1 issue for our voters. I’ve worked hard over the past three years to prioritize that issue and achieve real results. So in the last few years, we have spearheaded a new innovative program on homelessness for the city of Palm Springs. We found outside funding from the Desert Healthcare District to fund employment services for people who are homeless. We’ve funded crisis-response teams within our police department, so that behavioral-health workers are going out with our police to provide services to (homeless) people they encounter. Also, we’ve obtained $10 million from the state of California to address homelessness, specifically in Palm Springs. I’m really proud of our work on that with Assemblymember Chad Mayes. We went to Sacramento and talked to our representatives about how important homelessness is to our residents, and how much it impacts a small city like ours. Typically, only the 13 largest cities in our state get a direct allocation for homelessness, but because of our work, we were able to be the only small city in the state of California to get that direct allocation. Now we’re working in partnership with the county to turn that $10 million into tens of millions of dollars’ worth of investment to build housing. The solution to homelessness is building enough housing for all of our residents, and making sure that housing is affordable and attainable for everyone. So I care most about the homelessness issue, and questions about what the city had been doing. Right now, we’re working on a motel conversion by purchasing a property in order to convert a blighted hotel into permanent housing with services.

Currently, I chair the Coachella Valley Association of Governments’ regional committee on homelessness, since homelessness is a regional issue, not just a city issue, and I’m proud to work in partnership with all of our cities to make sure that we do have services in the west valley, and that we work as a region to truly solve homelessness once and for all.

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

My favorite shelter-in-place activity has been growing a baby. I’m eight months pregnant right now, and we’ll be having our first baby this fall. So we’re very excited. My husband is a third-generation Palm Springs resident, and actually he’s the third generation of his family to live in our house in Sonora Sunrise. So our son will be a fourth-generation resident, born at Desert Regional (Medical center), just like his dad, and he’ll be the fourth generation of our family to live in this home here, which is great Palm Springs history. It’s cool to have those roots here in Palm Springs. That’s primarily what I’ve been doing outside of serving on City Council, and running my re-election campaign.


Mike McCulloch

Certified public accountant

What is the most important single issue facing the city of Palm Springs in 2021?

The city is facing a $75 million budget deficit. In last year’s budget, the council transferred into the general fund from other funds, about $14 million. That money will not be available again this year, so it’s going to be even more difficult going forward to try to get a balanced budget. That’s the No. 1 issue, and what I bring to the table that I think is lacking with the current council members is that I’m a CPA with an economics degree from UCLA, a master’s in business administration from UCLA, and I’m a certified public accountant who’s been practicing in Palm Springs since 1987. That’s over 30 years that I’ve been a small-business owner in Palm Springs. With that background and experience, I’m an expert in financial matters, and I can bring that to the City Council, where it’s desperately needed.

Given the economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it's possible the city may need to make further budget cuts in the future. If that became necessary, what cuts would you propose?

Well, I think one of the things that we have to do is prioritize our spending. I’m a big supporter of public safety—the police and fire departments. Those (areas) need to be prioritized. Recently, one of the things the council did that I disagree with is that they spent $3 million to finish off the park downtown. While we all want to have the park built out according to its original design, now is not the time to make that expenditure. We currently have over a dozen unfilled police and fire department spots, where we had police and fire fighters before, and do not have them now. I would have spent that $3 million to keep the police and fire departments fully staffed, so that we will have someone to respond in an emergency.

We’re in the COVID-19 crisis, and in any crisis, there’s opportunity. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Winchester House, but that’s a house where the Winchester heir kept on adding rooms, because she thought it would keep the spirits away. So she ended up with this house having doorways that lead to nowhere, and stairwells where you step right off into space. I think that because the city government has been cobbled together over decades, it’s not as efficient as it could be. So I think we can start from the ground up to rebuild a modern City Hall, with a vision for 2020 and forward, where we can have much more efficiency, and remove redundancies in there which will save us money. We can re-think the entire structure of the city and create an efficient model that can operate with fewer personnel. I’m not talking about the physical plant—which I guess is a nightmare due to a lack of money for maintenance, which is kind of a problem for the people working there—but I’m talking about the whole city organization, and I think there are a lot of things that can be done to operate more efficiently within a budget. It’s not necessarily about cutting things, but I’m looking for a more efficient city government. We don’t have to fire people, because they’re already furloughed, or they’re going to leave by attribution. So we can re-organize (our operations) in a more efficient manner that will save us money.

Some small businesses in town have complaints about uneven, unfair and harsh code enforcement. Are those complaints valid? Do you think the city is friendly to small business?

I think the city is friendly to small business. I am not aware that there is uneven treatment, but no one on that council has any experience in running a business, as far as I can tell from looking at their resumes. I think that the $5,000 fine levied against the La Bonita’s restaurant recently was draconian. In fact, it’s a death penalty. Essentially, a struggling business downtown is still going to have to pay their rent, and still have to pay the incumbent charges and costs including their city license fees, so I would have looked for a way to scale back that $5,000 fine. For a struggling restaurateur downtown or uptown, that $5,000 fine is a death penalty. I don’t know how you survive that.

Palm Springs is considered a favorite getaway spot for more than 1.5 million tourists each normal year. However, should the city be backing a visitor-outreach effort right now, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19? 

I think we want to continue to attract tourism here, and part of that is an outreach. The expenditures are an investment in generating transit occupancy tax, or TOT, which the city is dependent upon. I think we can trust the businesses, the restaurants and the hoteliers to make sure that they have the proper COVID-19 procedures and policies in place, so that we can safely reopen our city to tourists. And, once again, it’s an opportunity, because people have been homebound for months now. They need to get out, and they need to get a little bit of a break. I think Palm Springs is a close destination to millions and millions of people in Southern California, and we should do everything we can to safely reopen. And I think it can be done.

Is there a topic or issue we should have asked you about?

We’ve got a real problem in Palm Springs with homelessness. It appears to me that Palm Springs and Indio seem to bear the burden of resolving the homeless issue. For instance, Riverside County had five locations chosen to spend money from the state to convert hotels into permanent housing for the homeless. One was in downtown Riverside, and three of the hotels were in Palm Springs. Now, we’re talking about (a program for) all of Riverside County. There needs to be a valley-wide solution to the homelessness issue. And with the hotel being proposed to be converted into permanent housing, there’s no guarantee that it will house people who currently are homeless in Palm Springs. The county can bus in homeless people from anywhere in Riverside County to live in this converted hotel. So we need to look at a valley-wide, regional solution to the homelessness issue.

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

I dusted off my guitar, which I’ve been playing off and on—mostly off—since I was 12 years old. And I’m taking guitar lessons on Zoom. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to (performing at) the open-mics, that I enjoyed singing and playing at before COVID shut everything down, with an improved level of guitar-playing skills.


Dian Torres

Health care worker

What is the most important single issue facing the city of Palm Springs in 2021?

I have to say it is more than just one. I have two: housing and the budget. Given where we are right now, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic that’s happening, it is very important that we take care of our community, as a lot of people are being displaced. In my opinion, this is really very important, because it’s the community here that really holds us up. I mean, we get tourism and all of that, but we can’t forget about the people who live here and make up this community.

Given the economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it's possible the city may need to make further budget cuts in the future. If that became necessary, what cuts would you propose?

This is going to be a pretty hard one, and not very well received or liked, but I’m going to say it anyway, because I’m a straight shooter: First off, I would ask the city leaders who are making an incredible amount of money—their salary is over $200,000—to take a pay cut. I think it would be a due diligence to the community to know that these people are in, and that they care about community. In the interim, it can be for a (specific) timeframe, but I think that until we can get settled, it makes absolutely no sense that these people are getting paid what they’re getting paid while other people are suffering. The inequities are just not right.

That should be first and foremost, because I think that by doing that, it would really mend a lot of what has happened in the community since 2014. That’s the elephant in the room. I believe that people are still very wounded by the deceit that went on, and I think that it has been really glossed over. And there’s leadership that’s still in (their positions) and being paid who were here when this whole thing came out. It’s beyond me how that could have been happening, and no one saw it. It took an outsider coming in to really recognize it. I mean, come on. Let’s have a little integrity. This is something that happened to our community. For leadership to not take responsibility and then continue to ask the people to sacrifice, it’s no wonder that we are in the dire straits that we’re in. Where and how do people feel really safe, and trust again? What is leadership really doing to indicate that they are, in fact, for the people and the community?

I’m not a politician. I’m just a citizen. I’ve never run for political office. I’ve only ever volunteered, and I’ve been on the periphery. I always did kind of the work that no one else wanted to do. I live here now full-time. Prior to this point in time, I’ve never really been able to (run for office) due to work, and then moving, but now that I’m here, I’m invested in our community. I hope to be the change that this city needs in leadership.

Some small businesses in town have complaints about uneven, unfair and harsh code enforcement. Are those complaints valid? Do you think the city is friendly to small business?

I saw an article this morning (about La Bonita’s restaurant being fined $5,000 for allowing customers to dine inside), but to be honest, I haven’t been able to read it yet. My understanding is that they got fined because they went inside. So, what would make somebody feel that they would have to break the rules, other than not feeling supported on some level? So there’s obviously some contention.

I went online and took a look at the codes, compliance complaints and so forth. Most of the compliance penalties were on vacation rentals. They showed inspections on restaurants, but there very few actual penalties or fines. So, honestly, I am not aware of what the inequities (in local code enforcement) are, other than whether every business is being treated the same. To me, it seems there’s partiality and a lack of consistency across the board that’s creating division among business owners, some of whom feel (they’re) treated unfairly.

We need a task force of code-compliance people. I think we could get volunteers and do a training. And I think if (code-enforcement personnel) had more visibility, then these businesses would really feel that they’re being protected, and it could make a big difference in enforcing COVID-19 regulations. People coming in from out of town leave their mess here, and we have to pick it up. That’s wrong. It’s just not the way it should be. From that perspective, I agree that (our businesses) need to have better support.

Palm Springs is considered a favorite getaway spot for more than 1.5 million tourists each normal year. However, should the city be backing a visitor-outreach effort right now, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19?

My immediate reaction is that we need to create a stronger infrastructure before we reopen. And again, it’s about having a task force in place for fines for people who may not be complying (with restrictions). Now that we have the color code (ratings for county COVID-19 statistics) that the state has issued, it’s very clear what we need to do. It’s a question of how, in fact, we are implementing. Fines are great, but who is enforcing these guidelines? Who is out there in community making sure that people are following the rules? To create this task force, let’s say that one person in each business for every shift has the opportunity to enforce (guidelines) as a representative of this code-compliance group. There’s a way to create this task force collectively, so that when (visitors) come in, they will visually see it. But I’m of the mindset that, until we are able to get our numbers down, we have absolutely no business bringing people in to infect the people here in our community if they’re being irresponsible. So it’s kind of like a domino effect. If we don’t have the infrastructure in place, and we’re not reinforcing it, then we’re just perpetuating the madness.

Is there a topic or issue we should have asked you about?

Not really. I think that due to the COVID-19 pandemic that’s happening, for our health and safety, we need to get an infrastructure in place. We need to bring our numbers down. This is the biggest and most important issue right now. Our numbers are not going down. I’ve been watching them in the newspaper, and it’s frightening. And it’s like, ‘Why?’ I mean, the writing is on the wall. We’re not doing enough. We’re not doing the right things. And if, in fact, there’s a larger entity of people from the CDC, the health industry, people who have worked in other cities, and given the technology, we should be able to create a plan. Why don’t we have an active plan? Again, we have fines, but there’s nothing posted on a weekly basis when these (infection-rate) numbers come out, other than in the newspapers. But they’re not (displayed) on billboards downtown. They’re not visible, so people don’t get that we are serious. They should be visible in our main downtown areas where people are traveling, so that they can be seen. And there should be notices. I mean, the notices about putting the masks on are fine, but if we’re not enforcing it, then thank you for sharing. And again, what numbers and statistics do we have to back up that even when these numbers come down, that we’ll be able to bring more people in safely? We want visitors to be able to buy into this (pandemic-prevention effort), and not be the place where, “We can go there because they’re not going to harass us.”

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

Well there are a couple. It’s been happening for so long that I’ve been reading a fair amount, and I got my sewing machine back out, and I’ve been making masks. And I am learning to play the keyboard. It’s just a little outlet. During all of this, I ordered an electric keyboard online, and I got it. I’ve never played, but I love singing and music, and I thought this will be a great therapeutic means for me.

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Kelly

Incumbent, mayor pro tem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Steven Moyer

Lawyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gina Nestande

Mayor of Palm Desert; real estate agent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Evan Trubee

Owner of Big Wheel Tours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karina Quintanilla

Site coordinator for Think Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Susan Marie Weber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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