CVIndependent

Fri11272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Friday, all. There’s a lot of news today, so let’s get right to it:

• The New York Times is reporting that President Trump will indeed nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. The announcement should come tomorrow. According to reporter Peter Baker: “The president met with Judge Barrett at the White House this week and came away impressed with a jurist that leading conservatives told him would be a female Antonin Scalia, referring to the justice who died in 2016 and for whom Judge Barrett clerked. As they often do, aides cautioned that Mr. Trump sometimes upends his own plans. But he is not known to have interviewed any other candidates for the post.”

• The Trump administration is fighting back against a federal court injunction that prohibits the feds from ending the Census tally a month early. According to NPR, “The preliminary injunction issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California requires the Census Bureau to keep trying to tally the country's residents through Oct. 31.

• Breonna Taylor’s family today expressed anger over the fact that none of the three Louisville police officers who killed her were charged for doing so. Key quote, from The Washington Post: “Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Taylor’s family, demanded the release of grand jury transcripts in the case, calling for (Kentucky Attorney General Daniel) Cameron to make plain what he did and did not present to them this week and leading the crowd in a chant echoing that plea.”

• Related: The Washington Post examines the tactics that police departments use to keep records from being released to the public. Sigh.

• Rio’s massive Carnival 2021 celebration has been indefinitely postponed, because, of, well, y’know. NPR explains.

Gov. Ron DeSantis pretty much opened the state of Florida sans restrictions today—and banned local governments from issuing further restrictions, for the most part. According to ABC News: “The governor’s announcement Friday allows restaurants across the state to immediately reopen at full capacity—and prevents cities and counties from ordering them to close or operate at less than half-capacity, unless they can justify a closure for economic or health reasons. ‘We’re not closing anything going forward,’ DeSantis said, while insisting that the state is prepared if infections increase again.

• State health officials are saying that California COVID-19 hospitalizations are expected to almost double in next month. Per the Los Angeles Times: “The proportion of Californians testing positive for the virus continues to remain low at 3 percent over the past two weeks, and the total number of COVID-19 patients in the state’s hospitals continues to decline, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services director. But he said that some other metrics are prompting concern that a feared uptick in the virus’ spread, which public health officials said was possible in the wake of the Labor Day holiday and more businesses reopening, may be materializing.”

Things could get scary in Portland tomorrow. Per Willamette Week: “Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday she's drawing on emergency authority to direct a coordinated response to tomorrow's planned rally by right-wing groups at Delta Park in North Portland. That event is likely to draw a strong counterprotest from the left—and conflict between the two groups could get violent. ‘We are aware that white supremacist groups from out of town, including the Proud Boys, are planning a rally,’ Brown said. ‘They are expecting a significant crowd—some people will be armed, with others ready to harass or intimidate Oregonians. Many are from out of state.’"

• In other news about scary things this weekend: A heat wave and dangerous fire conditions are arriving in parts of California. According to The Washington Post: “The National Weather Service has posted red flag warnings for ‘critical’ fire weather conditions for the East Bay and North Bay Hills near San Francisco from Saturday through Monday. Winds from the north will eventually come out of the east, blowing from land to sea, increasing temperatures and dropping humidity percentages into the teens and single digits.”

• Sort of related, alas, comes this headline from our partners at CalMatters: “California Exodus: An online industry seizes COVID-19 to sell the Red State Dream.” Key quote: “Unaffordable housing. High taxes. A Democratic stranglehold on state politics. The concerns driving transplants like Morris out of the country’s richest state during the COVID-19 era are not new. What is changing quickly is how disillusioned California residents are coming together by the tens of thousands on Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere online, fueling a cottage industry of real estate agents, mortgage lenders and political advocates stoking social division to compete for a piece of the much-discussed California Exodus.”

• On the vaccine front: The U.S. portion of the AstroZeneca trial remains on hold following the death of a British trial participant. Per Reuters: “A document posted online by Oxford University last week stated the illness in a British participant that triggered the pause on Sept. 6 may not have been associated with the vaccine.” Meanwhile, HHS Secretary Alex Azar says the pause proves the FDA is taking vaccine safety seriously.

• Here’s some good news: Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has entered the large Stage 3 trial. According to The New York Times: “Johnson & Johnson is a couple of months behind the leaders, but its advanced vaccine trial will be by far the largest, enrolling 60,000 participants. The company said it could know by the end of this year if its vaccine works. And its vaccine has potentially consequential advantages over some competitors. It uses a technology that has a long safety record in vaccines for other diseases. Its vaccine could require just one shot instead of two … and it does not have to be kept frozen.”

NBC News looks at the leading coronavirus models—and the discomfiting fact that their often grim projections have come true so far. “Many have watched with a mixture of horror and frustration as their projections of the pandemic's evolution, and its potential death toll, have come to fruition. Now, a widely cited model developed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington suggests that the U.S. could total more than 378,000 coronavirus deaths by January.”

• Even though the college football season so far has been a mess of postponements, COVID-19 cases and increasing concerns about the disease’s long-term effects on athletes, all of the conferences at the highest level of college football now intend to play this fall, including the Pac-12.

• We’ve previously mentioned in this space the possibility that dogs could be used to sniff out coronavirus cases, and now comes this, from The Associated Press: “Finland has deployed coronavirus-sniffing dogs at the Nordic country’s main international airport in a four-month trial of an alternative testing method that could become a cost-friendly and quick way to identify infected travelers.”

• A professor of psychology, writing for The Conversation, examines how this damned virus is changing the English language. Interestingly, the pandemic has only led to one new word, according to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary—COVID-19—which is actually an acronym. Instead: “Most of the coronavirus-related changes that the editors have noted have to do with older, more obscure words and phrases being catapulted into common usage, such as reproduction number and social distancing. They’ve also documented the creation of new word blends based on previously existing vocabulary.”

• I had to skip the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week due to a virtual journalism conference, but hosts Shann, John and Brad welcomed guests Dr. Laura Rush, Tim Vincent from Brothers of the Desert and Alexander Rodriguez from the On the Rocks Radio Show. Check it out.

• Finally, you have a reason to live until next week: the start of Fat Bear Week. This has nothing to do with the gents you’d find during a pre-COVID Friday evening at Hunters Palm Springs; instead, it’s an Alaska thing with which we’re fully on board.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. Wash your hands; wear a mask; support local businesses safely and responsibly—and if you’d like to include the Independent on the list of local businesses you’re financially supporting, find details here. The Daily Digest will return Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

On this week's filibuster-proof weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips listens in as two soul-sellers ponder a grave; Red Meat enjoys a liberating break from hygiene; This Modern World examines the Thing That Ate America's Brain; Jen Sorensen spins the Wheel of Dystopia regarding climate change; and The K Chronicles tells an anecdote from Keef's new Hulu series.

Published in Comics

La Bonita’s Mexican Restaurant did a very stupid thing today—and I couldn’t be any sadder about it.

The owner of the small Palm Canyon Drive restaurant announced yesterday that, as a protest, La Bonita’s would open today for indoor dining, with masks and social distancing. Of course, indoor restaurant dining is not allowed; it will be, at limited capacity, whenever Riverside County graduates from the state’s “widespread” COVID-19 tier to the “substantial” tier. But we’re not there yet.

Walmart and other big corps can have 100’s of ppl inside but restaurants can’t? Enough is enough!!!” said the La Bonita’s social-media post.

La Bonita’s followed through with its plans—and the city promptly showed up and issued a $5,000 fine, according to The Desert Sun. Per the La Bonita’s Facebook page, the restaurant ended the protest after being “forced to comply.”

Again, this was a very stupid thing for La Bonita’s to do, and the comparison of indoor dining to shopping at Walmart is a red herring.

Now that we have that all established, I’d like to share this truly, truly sad quote from The Desert Sun story on the hubbub:

“‘I can’t survive with the current mandates,’ La Bonita's Palm Springs owner Alex Raei said, adding that he was visited by city code enforcement officers around lunch time and was informed of the fine. Raei, who spoke briefly with a Desert Sun reporter at his restaurant Wednesday, was overcome with emotion. In tears, he stopped the interview and walked into another part of his business.”

While I strongly disagree with Raei’s actions, I understand them. Trust me when I say that it sucks to have one’s business existentially threatened by this virus and the resulting restrictions. Most business owners sink blood, sweat, tears and incalculable amounts of time—not to mention retirement accounts and life savings—into their ventures, which are often culminations of lifelong dreams. Many owners also carry the burden of feeling responsible for their employees’ livelihoods.

Of course, all sorts of ignorant, un-empathetic and/or just-plain-terrible people took to social media to slam—not reasonably criticize, but slam and excoriate—Raei.

While I don’t condone it at all, I understand what Raei did. What I don’t understand is the lack of empathy so many people showed regarding Raei’s undeniably heartbreaking plight.

Before the news links: If you appreciate this Daily Digest and the other local journalism produced by the Independent, please consider financially helping out by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Oh, and if you haven’t yet voted in the first round of the Independent’s Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, please do so by clicking here!

Today’s news:

• Another day, another Trump bombshell: According to The Washington Post, Donald Trump privately told Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward in February that COVID-19 would have dire effects on the United States—while publicly claiming the disease was no worse than the flu. And then there’s this: “Trump admitted to Woodward on March 19 that he deliberately minimized the danger. ‘I wanted to always play it down,’ the president said. ‘I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.’” That and more horrifying revelations—which are on tape!—will be revealed in Rage, a new book by Woodward.

• These revelations lead to a big, honking question about Woodward: Why in the world did he keep quiet about these TAPED TERRIBLE THINGS said by the president for months and months—until they came out in this book? According to The Associated Press: “On Twitter and elsewhere online, commentators accused Woodward of valuing book sales over public health. ‘Nearly 200,000 Americans have died because neither Donald Trump nor Bob Woodward wanted to risk anything substantial to keep the country informed,’ wrote Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce.”

Clinical trials for one of the most promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates were halted after one of the participants developed—eek!—a spinal cord injury. It’s as of yet unknown whether the injury had to do with the vaccine. According to NBC News: “‘Our standard review process was triggered and we voluntarily paused vaccination to allow review of safety data by an independent committee,’ AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine in partnership with the U.K.'s University of Oxford, said in a statement. ‘This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials, while it is investigated, ensuring we maintain the integrity of the trials.’”

• Mother Jones reported that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally last month may have led to more than 250,000 coronavirus cases worldwide. Key quote: “According to a new study, which tracked anonymized cellphone data from the rally, over 250,000 coronavirus cases have now been tied to the 10-day event, one of the largest to be held since the start of the pandemic. It drew motorcycle enthusiasts from around the country, many of whom were seen without face coverings inside crowded bars, restaurants, and other indoor establishments. The explosion in cases, the study from the Germany-based IZA Institute of Labor Economics finds, is expected to reach $12 billion in public health costs.” Yeesh.

• In other mind-blowing national news, there’s this lede from The Washington Post: “A senior Department of Homeland Security official alleges that he was told to stop providing intelligence reports on the threat of Russian interference in the 2020 election, in part because it ‘made the President look bad,’ an instruction he believed would jeopardize national security.”

• And then there’s this: “The Justice Department on Tuesday intervened in the defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who says President Trump raped her years ago, moving the matter to federal court and signaling it wants to make the U.S. government—rather than Trump himself—the defendant in the case.” Just … wow.

• Now let’s move to some state-level idiocy, succinctly explained by this SFGate headline on a story originally reported by The Washington Post: “California's GOP Senate leader was under quarantine. She spoke with no mask at a huge prayer event anyway.”

• We don’t link to a lot of crime stories, as they tend to get a ton of coverage elsewhere, but this story seems to be flying under the radar, showing just how depressingly desensitized we’ve come to mass murders: Seven people were killed on Monday at an illegal marijuana-growing operation in Aguanga, which is an hour’s drive or so southwest of the Coachella Valley. The Riverside Press-Enterprise has the details on the murders and how they’ve completely rocked the small community.

• Another thing the damned virus may take away this year: Halloween trick-or-treating. Los Angeles County public-health officials yesterday said trick-or-treating would be banned there, before slightly changing their tune today to say it was “not recommended.”

• Meanwhile, in horrifying local news, a new UC Riverside study comes to this conclusion: “Climate change will decimate Palm Springs, Coachella Valley tourism.” Sigh.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to all six candidates running for City Council in Palm Desert. Read what the two candidates for the new District 1 seat had to say here, and check out what the four candidates for two District 2 seats had to say here.

• Here’s this week’s Riverside County COVID-19 District 4 report. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Our numbers are continuing to trend in the right direction, although the mysterious weekly positivity rate remains too high—although that’s finally coming down a bit, too.

• I’d never heard of Lewy body dementia before a couple of weeks ago. However, the disease is in the news all of a sudden following the death of baseball great Tom Seaver, and the release of a new documentary about the death of Robin Williams. It turns out the disease is quite common and often misdiagnosed; a professor of neurology, writing for The Conversation, explains what the disease is.

Also from The Conversation: A professor of engineering breaks down how ultraviolet light can—and can’t—be used to make indoor spaces safer from COVID-19.

I think that’s enough for today. Be safe. Wear a mask. Be empathetic. The Daily Digest will return Friday—and, as always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

Man, you know it’s been a crappy week when you’re quoted not once, but twice in national stories about the sudden demise of your industry.

Bleh.

But you know what … screw the negativity. There’s enough of that going around. Let’s focus on the positive elements—or at least the potentially positive elements—of the havoc COVID-19 is wreaking worldwide.

Positives? you may reply. There are positives in all this awfulness?!

While I don’t want to diminish how bad things are for many people—and how truly awful they may get in the weeks ahead—yes, there are some small, tiny, slivers of silver linings here.

For starters:

• The pandemic is finally forcing the state to take immediate, drastic action on the homelessness problem. What if, just maybe, we come out of this having made some progress on the huge issue?

• The worldwide shutdown has already drastically lowered the amount of pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions on the planet. Maybe, just maybe, this is an opportunity?

• The efforts being made to fight the virus and adjust to our shelter-in-place reality may lead to scientific advancements, a decline in individualism, a return to a faith in true experts, and all sorts of other good things. Politico Magazine asked more than 30 brainy folks on how COVID-19 will change the world, and what they came up with was mostly positive.

• On clear nights, we can go outside and enjoy the universe. Yes, we’re allowed to go outside and look up at the heavens, and Independent astronomy columnist Robert Victor has some advice.

“In the southeast, about an hour and 15 minutes before sunrise on clear mornings, you’re sure to notice bright Jupiter with two companions nearby. The rest of March will be excellent for following Mars, as it passes Jupiter and Saturn. (You can really notice the reddish color of Mars, from oxidation of its iron-containing surface material!) From March 20 to 31, all three planets will fit within the field of view of low-power binoculars. After that, next chance to see all three in the same binocular field together won’t be until 2040!”

So … yeah. It’s not ALL bad. While we prepare for more horrible things, let’s all hold on to the hope that better times—truly better times—will follow.

Here are today’s updates … almost all of which are positive in some way or another:

• Around the time I hit send on yesterday’s Daily Digest, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he was extending the shelter-in-place order—already in place in Palm Springs, but not the rest of the Coachella Valley—to the rest of the state. And therefore the rest of the valley.

• I like this idea: The city of Rancho Mirage is giving some help to the city’s restaurants that stay open and offer delivery and takeout during the shelter-in-place order. 

• In a similar vein, the state is making it easier for those restaurants to sell liquor, too. Key quote: “Bona fide eating places (i.e., restaurants) selling beer, wine, and pre-mixed drinks or cocktails for consumption off the licensed premises may do so when sold in conjunction with meals prepared for pick-up or delivery.” Yes!

• First the feds moved the tax-payment date. Now the tax-filing deadline has been extended three months, too.

Netflix is setting up a $100 million fund to help the people who work on Hollywood productions. Awesome move.

• Computer owners: Your machine can help contribute to the fight against the coronavirus.

• Local drag star Anita Rose is doing online drag shows—and promoting others’ online drag shows, too!

• Late-night star Conan O’Brien—who should have never been fired from The Tonight Show—will resume doing full shows the week after next … using Skype and an iPhone.

• Finally … since I started off with the bad news about the continent’s alternative newspapers, I’ll end with the good: These papers are doing amazing work, even as the future looks dire. My friend Chris Faraone of Dig Boston did a roundup of how we’re covering this shit show.

That’s all for today. Just a heads-up: In order to save my sanity, and make my work better moving forward, we’ll probably take tomorrow off from the Daily Digest. But if we do, never fear: We’ll be back Sunday. Now, I have to go finish the April print edition and send it off to press. I’ll have more details on that later—but above is a sneak peak of the cover. I asked my amazing cover designer, Beth Allen, to find an image that sums up these … interesting times, and even though that was pretty much an impossible ask, I think she pulled it off.

Published in Daily Digest

To understand California’s climate-change challenge, look no further than its popular ride-hailing companies.

Uber, Lyft and other companies make up a tiny piece of the biggest greenhouse-gas polluter in the state: transportation. Yet their contribution to climate-warming emissions is outsized, drawing attention from researchers and lawmakers and raising an ambitious question: How can the state rein in emissions from gig economy companies built on drivers who own their vehicles?

The latest strike against Uber and Lyft comes from the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group that published a report in late February showing ride-hailing trips release 69 percent more climate-warming emissions than the walking, biking, transit and other car trips they displace. The findings support California’s own analysis, which concluded ride-hailing increases carbon dioxide pollution by 50 percent for every mile a passenger travels, compared to when they drive themselves.

The state took action in 2018, passing a first-of-its-kind law to curb that carbon pollution. It tasked the California Air Resources Board with setting targets to increase electric-vehicle miles within ride-hailing companies and to cut carbon dioxide for every mile a ride-hailing passenger travels. The California Public Utilities Commission must then enforce those rules when they take effect, which is slated for 2023.

California’s cars, trucks, planes and trains produce about 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Ride-hailing makes up a small fraction of that, accounting for 1.2 percent of the miles Californians travel by car. Still, the issue illustrates a much bigger challenge, said Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis and a member of California’s air board.

“In some cases, we’re picking on them, with laws and rules like this. But on the other hand, it’s kind of a first step towards doing good, sustainable transportation policy,” Sperling told CalMatters. “They’re the guinea pigs.”


Why Is California Regulating Ride-Hailing?

Ride-hailing vehicles don’t pollute more than the rest of the cars in the state, but the distance they travel between rides makes them a problem, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists and the air board.

In fact, the ride-hailing fleet is more fuel-efficient on average, since it tends to consist of newer cars, more hybrids and more passenger cars rather than light trucks, according to a December report from the Air Resources Board.

While travelers driving themselves tend to go directly to a location, those working for ride-hailing companies drive extra miles between ride requests, or on the way to pick up a passenger. Those extra miles—when the driver is alone in the car—are called “deadhead miles,” and they make up almost 40 percent of the distance driven by ride-hailing vehicles.

For some drivers, that number is even greater.

“I’m a part-time driver, and I only drive during high demand times, like Friday night, right? And still, I would say that I have about a 50 or 60 percent occupancy rate,” said Nicole Moore, a Lyft driver and organizer with Rideshare Drivers United. “On a Friday night in the middle of Hollywood, I’ll have an empty car for like half an hour. Then I’ll get a 10-minute ride, and that’s it.”

Though ride-hailing makes up a small fraction of all California car miles, its impact is visible. Ride-hailing alone is responsible for about half of San Francisco’s rise in traffic congestion from 2010 to 2016, according to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. And it’s growing—while rides with taxis, ride-hailing and car-sharing make up less than 5 percent of vehicle miles traveled globally today, that number could be 19 percent by 2040, a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance projected.

“We know that that sector is growing,” said Joshua Cunningham, branch chief of advanced clean cars at the Air Resources Board. “Putting in a regulation to start controlling those emissions is really important.”


Setting Statewide Goals

That’s where the law requiring the air board to set carbon dioxide and electrification standards for ride-hailing fleets comes in. Authored by Democratic state Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, it also tasks the California Public Utilities Commission with enforcing the rules and requires the ride-hailing companies to figure out how to meet them.

“We’re serious about our environmental impact,” Uber representative Austin Heyworth said at a recent air board meeting, where he expressed Uber’s support for the law and the air board’s efforts. Lyft, in a statement, said it is “striving to make every ride 100 percent electric over time.”

Others, however, are pushing a more ambitious strategy: electrify within the decade.

Environmental groups including the Union of Concerned Scientists and Sierra Club California urged the board at a January 23 meeting to evaluate what it would take to fully electrify ride-hailing fleets by 2030. The board directed staff to look into it.

Achieving zero-emission fleets, however, could be complicated in the gig economy. Because drivers typically own the vehicles they use, “fleet costsfall directly on the driver—gas, electricity, maintenance, everything and the cost of the vehicle,” said part-time Lyft driver Moore. Ride-hailing companies will have to curb emissions from cars they don’t even own.

It’s not the first time California’s heard this full-electrification idea. An early version of the 2018 bill included a requirement that ride-hailing companies shift to all zero-emission vehicles by 2030. Uber and Lyftlobbied successfully to remove it, citing concerns that low-income drivers would not be able to afford an electric vehicle, according to Streetsblog California.

Skinner said she wants to see the board take bold action in setting standards that will help clean California’s air and combat climate change.

“I want them to set the most ambitious goals possible and feasible,” Skinner said.

Still, air board staffer Cunningham called 100 percent electrification an “aggressive target.” While Cunningham was reluctant to speculate about the staff’s final assessment, he said in an email to CalMatters, “it is unlikely staff will determine that 100 percent electrification in 2030 is feasible.”


What’s Next?

Electrification is not the only way to decrease ride-hailing emissions. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ report also advocates for increasing shared rides and incentivizing trips that connect to public transit or bike or scooter shares.

Promoting connections to public transit is something the California Air Resources Board already is talking about. One idea is to reward ride-hailing companies for voluntarily connecting to transit or other low-carbon forms of transportation, like scooters or bikes, by giving them “regulatory credits” that count toward their emissions requirements, Cunningham said.

Gregory Erhardt, assistant professor at the University of Kentucky, said there are “a lot of good reasons to be skeptical” of the notion that ride-hailing benefits public transit, however. Erhardt, who has studied public transportation ridership, said ride-hailing discourages commuters from using public transit and fills the road with more cars.

After hitting a peak in 2014, transit ridership in the United States began to decline. “Now, that drop-off is strange, because this is during a period in which the economy is strong; there are more jobs; and it’s during a period in which transit agencies are really expanding their service,” Erhardt said. “We would expect ridership to be going up and not down.”

Ride-hailing may have played a part: Erhardt found that public-transit ridership decreased when ride-hailing was introduced to an area, according to a study published in 2019. (A recent uptick in national transit ridership can be attributed to isolated growth in the New York City and Washington, D.C., regions, but even there, the cities didn’t beat their record high numbers.)

While the Union of Concerned Scientists study concedes that “today, ride-hailing competes with and draws riders away from mass transit,” it argues that the companies could promote connections to it. In some areas, Lyft and Uber provide information in apps about public-transit options, and in Denver, travelers can pay for public-transit rides through the Uber app, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists report.

Erhardt said the new report offered “promising paths forward.” To make these happen, however, the companies likely will need a push. In California, as the Air Resources Board crafts its regulation, the coming year will determine just how far the state will go to address the climate impact of ride-hailing.

“There’s not an incentive, without that regulatory push,” Erhardt said. “That’s the sort of lever that we need to incentivize people to change their behavior, both the companies and the travelers.”


‘You Have to Pull Drivers Up’

Don Anair, research and deputy director of the clean vehicles program with the Union of Concerned Scientists and co-author of the recent report, said the responsibility to address ride-hailing emissions “squarely falls on the companies.” Even though they do not own the fleet vehicles, Uber and Lyft could incentivize drivers to buy or lease electric cars, he said. He also suggested the companies encourage pooled rides by adjusting prices so more passengers want to share a trip.

Some ride-hailing companies already are experimenting with initiatives to make zero-emission vehicles more available to drivers. Last year, Lyft launched an electric-vehicle rental program for drivers in Denver with a fleet of electric Kias. Rental prices increase with distance driven, starting at $230 a week.

Part-time Lyft driver Moore called these rental programs the “indentured servitude of the rideshare” because of how long it takes to earn enough money to pay off the rental fee. Representatives for Lyft and the Union of Concerned Scientists told CalMatters these rental programs could lower barriers to driving cleaner cars.

With time, the price of electric vehicles will go down, Anair said, and more used electric vehicles will enter the market. But right now, the steep up-front cost makes them unaffordable for some drivers, even though maintenance and fuel generally are cheaper than for gasoline vehicles.

That’s why Moore said that focusing solely on the cars won’t be enough. Moore drives a hybrid now, and it’s the first new car she’s ever bought. If she had to buy an electric vehicle, she “would have to quit driving and find another way to pay the bills,” Moore said. “You have to pull drivers up at the same time you pull standards up for their cars.”

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Environment

On this week's completely woke weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips talks to Li'l Trumpy about Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan's move to Canada; Red Meat watches as Milkman Dan tries to give Karen a gift; This Modern World returns to the Stupidverse for commentary on the Iran mess; Jen Sorensen ponders Rupert Murdoch's media take on the Australian wildfires; and The K Chronicles has mixed feelings about his son's sudden interest in his old music.

Published in Comics

On this week's record-breaking weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles takes a tongue-in-cheek look at Christmas in SoCal; This Modern World looks at GOP "reality"; Jen Sorensen waits for technology to solve climate change; Apoca Clips brings us the latest adventures of Captain Rudy; and Red Meat looks back fondly on school gymnastics.

Published in Comics

As world leaders—without President Donald Trump—gathered Monday for a United Nations summit on global warming, former Gov. Jerry Brown and China’s top climate official formally launched a California-China Climate Institute to research ways to combat climate change.

Brown, who was to speak by phone from California, announced the initiative with China’s Special Representative for Climate Change Affairs Xie Zhenhua in New York, where officials from some 60 countries were convened for a United Nations Climate Action Summit in advance of the U.N. General Assembly.

Brown, who made the fight against climate change a signature issue of his second stint as governor, will partner with Xie in overseeing the institute, which will be housed at UC Berkeley, his alma mater. The goal, he said, will be to encourage climate action through research, training and collaboration—a contrast to Trump, whose administration is engaged in a trade war with China and who last week referred to its government as “a threat to the world.”

In an interview with CalMatters, Brown said the research initiative was less about politics than about addressing a crisis he has repeatedly referred to as “existential.” However, he did note the president’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which was negotiated by President Barack Obama, and the increasingly fraught relations between the Trump administration and China.

“As storm clouds continue to darken relations between China and the United States, climate change is a way to keep the doors open,” Brown said. “We are going to do something important during this rather dismal state in our mutual relationship.”

Trump’s stand on climate change, Brown said, is “bordering not only malfeasance but is almost criminal behavior.” His decision to pull out of the Paris Accord is “worthy of condemnation by decent people everywhere.”

“I say that by way of emphasis on the seriousness of the issue,” Brown said.

Brown committed to establishing this institute after meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing and hosting a dialogue with Xie at Tsinghua University in 2017. 

The arrangement with China expands on Brown’s work as governor in signing up 188 subnational governments to agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and in hosting a climate summit in San Francisco last year that drew thousands of participants from around the world.

As China rises as an economic power, the former governor noted, there will be increased competition with the U.S. But without cooperation in confronting the shared danger of climate change, both nations and the whole world will suffer.

“I am not here to fan the flames of political controversy, but to tackle jointly a problem that confronts everyone in the world,” Brown said.

UC Berkeley’s School of Law will house the institute. The College of Natural Resources will help advance the research.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in a statement: “Our faculty and researchers each day take on the peril of our changing climate and seek to develop new technologies and policies that will reduce greenhouse gasses across continents. This institute will play a key role in spreading that work around the world.”

Research topics will include:

  • Low-carbon transportation and zero emission vehicles.
  • Carbon pricing.
  • Climate adaptation and resilience.
  • Sustainable land use and climate-smart agriculture.
  • Carbon capture and storage.
  • Long-term climate goal-setting and policy enforcement.

In a statement, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, said: “I am excited about this collaboration to tackle the world’s most urgent problem, climate change. … My hope is that this unique endeavor will make a real difference.” 

Brown envisions assistance from other UC campuses and various state entities, including the California Air Resources Board, the Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission, among others. Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols will serve on the board of directors.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry, writing in The Washington Post on Sunday, raised the central issue: Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Accord, and his view that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by China to hinder U.S. economic gains. 

“In the temporary absence of U.S. leadership,” Kerry wrote, “we need other major emitters to step up—not only to deliver the climate action we need, but also to build trust that international institutions are prepared to take on this global challenge until the United States is ready to rejoin the fight.”

He pointed to China and India, and argued that there is great economic opportunity in confronting climate change.

“The United States will be back at the table after 2020, but in this aberrational period of shortsightedness, now is the time for China, India and other countries to prove just what we are missing,” Kerry wrote.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Environment

Massive worldwide demonstrations took place yesterday, Sept. 20, to demand meaningful governmental responses to the climate crisis—including a rally in Palm Desert.

According to media reports, some 2,500 events were scheduled in more than 150 countries on all seven continents. In New York City alone, an estimated crowd of 250,000 gathered in protest.

Here in the Coachella Valley, the Climate Reality Project of Riverside County sponsored a rally and demonstration that began around 3:30 p.m. in the offices of U.S. Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz, near the intersection of Washington Street and Fred Waring Drive in Palm Desert. After a few short speeches, the crowd of around 150 people—many carrying signs—moved onto the sidewalks surrounding the intersection. The mood was one of determination—to bring real solutions to this existential threat, and celebration—of the diverse community of young students, adults and seniors that joined together to send this message.

Richard Noble, chair of the Climate Reality Project of Riverside County, welcomed the crowd.

“What an amazing day,” he said. “Globally, the kids are standing up, and the adults are meeting them halfway—and we are coming together to face the climate crisis.

“About six months ago, I spoke before the Sustainability Commission of the Palm Springs City Council after having been trained by Al Gore. What Vice President Al Gore had said was that we have the solutions (right here) in windmills, solar and hydropower. These are all renewable energies that are carbon-free. (As a result), the City Council of Palm Springs unanimously called for Palm Springs to go 100 percent carbon-free by 2020. That’s a huge deal. But, unfortunately, Palm Desert and Cathedral City backed out of the agreement. Now, some of (their reticence) might have to do with money. But we have to ask ourselves: Do we want our planet? Or, do we mind paying a few extra dollars on a renewable-energy utility bill? If it’s going to save our lives and our planet, I don’t mind paying a few extra dollars.”

“This is not a drill. We are in a climate emergency. I invited every member of the City Council of Palm Springs to come out and join us today. Are you here?”

A silence in the crowd turned to groans. “Get them out here!” Noble said.

Renaissance Alexandre, a student leader at the University of California, Riverside, spoke next.

“It is also important to hold the systems accountable for the damage that they’re doing, which makes up the majority of climate change,” Alexandre said. “Those are the military industrial complex, the corporations and the travel industry. … I’m a feminist. I’m here for my native sisters, my two-spirited siblings and everyone in between, because we are all on this planet together. The Amazon happens to be in Brazil, but it is all our air and all our responsibility to help each other.”

A more local view was expressed by Priscilla, mother to 4-month old Melanie.

“We came out today for my daughter’s future, and living out here in the Coachella Valley and feeling the temperature rising, and seeing all the devastation that’s going on around the world, it’s really scary,” Priscilla said. “We want her to have a good future, so I’ve got to do something about it. She obviously doesn’t have a voice, so I’ve got to be the one to do it.”

Scroll down to see some photos from the rally.

Published in Snapshot

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