CVIndependent

Fri09182020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

For more than a half-century, Lord Fletcher’s has stood as a landmark on Highway 111—so it was with great sadness that we learned in August that the restaurant would not reopen.

It was especially sad for me—because I worked there, and I had grown rather fond of the place.

Lord Fletcher’s had always closed for summer, but COVID-19 meant the closure happened extra-early this year, in March. The scheduled reopening in September seemed more and more unlikely the closer it got, but the expectation was still when rather than if.

Michael Fletcher, the owner, reached out to the staff a few days before the story hit the news. Around the restaurant, we’d heard quiet rumors that the family was open to offers. That made sense; Michael is in his 60s, and there was no apparent succession in place. He did mention a couple of factors privately, but I’ll just say that although the family could have weathered the financial effects of the pandemic, COVID-19 accelerated a decision which was likely imminent.

Opened by Michael’s father, Ron Fletcher, in 1966, the restaurant established itself as an intrinsic piece of local history. It was inspired by the countryside inns of his English homeland. At the time of its opening, it was a bold project, isolated and far from Palm Springs. However, it thrived, quickly attracting a wealthy and star-studded clientele.

The iconic exterior might seem a little dated, like a good, old English pub—and therein lies the charm. Inside, with its central fireplace, exposed brickwork, carpets and thick wooden tables, Lord Fletcher’s portrays warmth, comfort and authenticity. It is supplemented by a treasure trove of memorabilia that includes a grandfather clock, swords, lances, tapestries and centuries-old etchings. The expansive collections of Toby jugs and horse brass leave barely an inch of wall space uncovered. It’s a literal museum that brings a new discovery to even the most-frequent visitors.

Ironically, the portrait of Frank Sinatra, framed and mounted behind his favorite table, always attracted the most attention. Michael Fletcher has hundreds of stories to tell, but the most notable is about the night that Sinatra and Alan Shepard jumped behind the bar to perform a duet of “Fly Me to the Moon.” You get a sense of how deep the relationship ran when you learn that Ron and Michael were gifted front-row seats to a Sinatra show in London. Sinatra arrived onstage, halted the applause and then took a knee, telling the Fletchers that on this night, they were his guests. Frank was a regular for more than 30 years. Barbara Sinatra continued to return for many years with friends to reminisce.

Lord Fletcher’s golden era boasts an extensive list of celebrities. Lucille Ball had her own table, and other regulars included Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Kirk Douglas, Walter Annenberg, George Hamilton, Steve McQueen and Gerald Ford. More recently, Anthony Bourdain filmed an episode at the restaurant, accompanied by Josh Homme, of Queens of the Stine Age. We got the occasional celebrity in the restaurant during my time, but the golden era had faded to nostalgia.

While several remaining customers had been regulars since the opening, much of the clientele had passed away. There was revitalization and new life thanks to the modernism movement; as younger tourists flocked to the desert to witness its midcentury architecture, they also sought out the Sinatra experience. Therefore, the restaurant always remained profitable, but it wasn’t at the bustling levels of its heyday.

Just like the décor, the menu changed very little over the years. The salad, which was tossed tableside, got one small tweak about 40 years ago: The regular bacon bits were replaced by soy bacon bits. It was always amusing to hear newcomers convinced by their senior hosts when trying to modify the salad: “You take the salad the way it comes! It’s delicious!” There was Sinatra’s favorite, the delectable braised beef short ribs, as well as harder-to-find items like the chicken and dumplings, cooked in and served from the pot.

The main attraction, even more than Sinatra, was the prime rib. It was widely acknowledged as the best in the valley. I remember one party of late-night diners showing up unannounced. They’d told their cab driver they were going out for prime rib; the cab driver insisted on making a detour and brought them to Lord Fletcher’s. On another occasion, I waited on a couple in their 20s. They stood out, as it was rare that I had to ID someone for a drink. During our conversation, they informed me that they were prime rib afficionados. They made all their travel arrangements around prime rib restaurants, and they were in the Coachella Valley for the sole purpose of visiting Lord Fletcher’s. They left with the highest praise, putting Lord Fletcher’s ahead of renowned spots like Lawry’s and House of Prime Rib.

The bartender, “Sir” Andrew, had worked at Lord Fletcher’s for 17 years. He was only the third bartender in 54 years. He was noted for his skills and his ability to remember everyone’s regular libations. Such was the generosity of his pours that you never ordered a double, and rarely ordered a second. The signature Royal Brandy Ice had been the creation of the first bartender—a mixture of brandy, creme de cacao and praline ice cream. Sinatra had the recipe pinned on his fridge. If he couldn’t make it to the restaurant, his driver would swing by to pick up a tub of the ice-cream.

Andy’s longevity behind the bar was exceeded by Chef Terry, who had worked in the kitchen since 1977. I also had the pleasure of working with an English waitress, Sam, who’d been at Lord Fletcher’s since 1972. Although officially retired, Sam still came in to help during the busiest shifts. Sam sadly passed away in 2019, making Sonny the longest-serving waitress. Sam trained Sonny when she first started in 1983.

While we employees could share his generosity and hospitality, Michael’s stories and memories were the real soul of the restaurant. That’s something that could never be replaced.

Modernization is inevitable. We’ve seen it with the passing of ownership at places like Mr. Lyon’s. At Lord Fletcher’s, the building has its own quirks and limitations that will necessitate a little renovation. Regardless, I hope that it sees a swift resumption of affairs, with a respect for its history and endearing charm. I’m sure that the rest of the Coachella Valley wishes the same.

Published in Features & Profiles

Riverside County businesses may soon be allowed to further reopen—and San Diego County businesses may soon be forced to further close.

Those are some of the takeaways from yesterday’s weekly update of the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” statuses.

To recap: Every county in the state has been placed in one of four “county risk levels,” depending on the COVID-19 test-positivity rate, and the case rate per 100,000 residents. Riverside County is currently in the most-restrictive “Widespread” category, for counties that have a positivity rate higher than 8 percent, and more than 7 new daily cases per 100,000 people. The next less-restrictive category, “Substantial”—San Diego County’s current tier—requires a positivity rate between 5 and 8 percent, and between 4 and 7 new daily cases per 100,000.

As of this week’s update, Riverside County’s positivity rate is listed as 6.4 percent, with 6.7 daily cases per 100,000—which would put us in less-restrictive “Substantial” territory. However, per the state: “At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least 3 weeks before moving forward.” So … that means Riverside County could possibly move into the less-restrictive “Substantial” category as of Sept. 29.

San Diego County’s numbers, however, are moving in the opposite direction: As of yesterday’s update, the adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 was 8.1—higher than the “Substantial” threshold, even though the county’s positivity rate is a quite-good 4.5 percent. According to the state: “If a county’s metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, it will be assigned a more restrictive tier. Public health officials are constantly monitoring data and can step in if necessary.”

Got all that? Good.

The difference in the tiers is quite substantial. That’s why in San Diego County—which, again, remains in the less-restrictive “Substantial” category for now—personal-care services (waxing, nails, etc.) can currently operate indoors. Churches can be open for indoor service at 25 percent capacity. Gyms can open indoors at 10 percent capacity. Movie theaters can open indoors at 25 percent capacity.

None of that can happen in Riverside County yet.

Meanwhile, county leaders in both places aren’t happy with the state’s criteria. San Diego County officials say their spike in numbers has to do with San Diego State University, and asked the state to not count the college’s numbers in their county metrics. The state said no to that request.

Here, local business leaders are clamoring for Riverside County to open faster, no matter what the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” metrics say. The state is very likely to say no to this request, too.

Stay tuned, folks.

Today’s news links:

• The big local news today: The arena that had been planned for downtown Palm Springs will now instead be built near Cook Street and Interstate 10. The Agua Caliente tribe is no longer involved; instead, the Oak View Group will partner with The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation. From the news release: “The Seattle Kraken’s AHL Franchise, led by David Bonderman and OVG, will play in the new arena once construction is complete. Groundbreaking and construction are scheduled for 2021. The arena is expected to open in the last quarter of 2022.”

• It’s been a fascinating and completely insane couple of days for followers of college football. The Big 10 Conference today announced it would begin playing football this fall after all—as soon as Oct. 23. Then the Pac-12 Conference—the only remaining power conference not to announce plans to play in the fall—announced plans to play in the fall. All of this happened the day after LSU’s coach told the media that most of his team had contracted COVID-19 … amid increasing questions about the virus’ long-term effects on athletes. Repeat after me: Nothing makes sense anymore.

• In the aftermath of this week’s terrible shootings of two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, the actions of the department are raising a whole lot of concerns.

• Good lord, this is awful: A whistleblower has come forward with claims that detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody have been subjected to questionable hysterectomies. Key quote, from NPR: “The complaint says that several immigrant women expressed concerns to Project South about a high rate of hysterectomies and that (whistleblower Dawn) Wooten and other nurses at the facility questioned the number of women undergoing the procedure as well as their ability to fully understand and consent to it. According to the complaint, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five women at the facility who received hysterectomies between October and December 2019 and said they “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” ICE officials have denied wrongdoing.

A group of gym owners is suing the state over COVID-19-mandated closures. According to The Associated Press: “The suit accuses state and Los Angeles County officials of requiring gyms to close without providing evidence that they contribute to virus outbreaks and at a time when staying healthy is critical to California’s residents. The prolonged closure is depriving millions of people the ability to exercise as temperatures soar and smoky air from wildfires blankets much of the state, said Francesca Schuler, a founding partner of the (California Fitness Alliance).

• According to Yelp, 60 percent of pandemic-related business closures are now permanent closures. CNBC explains.

• Some people who have been jobless since the first stay-at-home order are about to exhaust their 26 weeks of state unemployment. What’s next for them? The San Francisco Chronicle explains.

Don’t expect a widespread SARS-CoV-2 vaccine until the middle of next year. So said the CDC director today.

• The Los Angeles Times recently decided to test the speed of first-class USPS mail delivery. The verdict? It’s definitely slower these days.

Both climate change and forest management are responsible for the hellfire blanketing the West these days. A professor of history from the University of Oregon, writing for The Conversation, says: “Management policies have created tinderboxes in Western forests, and climate change has made it much more likely that those tinderboxes will erupt into destructive fires. A third factor is that development has expanded into once-wild areas, putting more people and property in harm’s way.”

• From the Independent: When Palm Springs Pride announced tentative plans for a car caravan as part of an otherwise primarily online celebration in November, some people freaked out—unjustifiably, perhaps. I recently spoke to Pride president and CEO Ron deHarte about what Palm Springs Pride 2020 will look like. Key quote from deHarte, regarding that caravan: “We’re not creating assembly points. … This is being made for TV. The idea is to really show people who are at home, not participating; they can tune into YouTube or the livestream on Facebook. There are not going to be things for people to see—but if somebody was to go sit alongside the road, there are going to be at least 10 miles of roadway where anyone who is conscious of what’s going on in society today can social distance themselves. … But we just don’t see (people gathering) happening. It hasn’t happened in the 17 cities that we’ve been modeling from.”

• Take rising interest rates off your list of things to worry about. Per CNBC: “Projections from individual members (of the Federal Reserve) also indicated that rates could stay anchored near zero through 2023. All but four members indicated they see zero rates through then. This was the first time the committee forecast its outlook for 2023.”

• NBC News looks at the influence YouTube is having on the presidential election this year. Key quote: “YouTube, founded in 2005, has often been overshadowed by the likes of Facebook and Twitter as a place where political campaigning happens online, but this year is shaping up differently, and the fall promises to test YouTube’s capacity to serve as a political referee.”

• Finally … I know I could use a drink, and wine actually sounds quite lovely right now. Here are some fall wine suggestions from Independent wine columnist and resident sommelier Katie Finn.

Happy Wednesday, all! Thanks to everyone from reading. Please help the Independent continue producing quality local journalism—and making it free to everyone, without paywalls or fees—by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return on Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

On the weekend of Nov. 6-8, there will be no festival in downtown Palm Springs. There will be no parade. However, Greater Palm Springs Pride will go on—mostly online, like almost everything else has since COVID-19 reared its unbelievably ugly head in March.

However, there will be a few events with an in-person aspect … sort of. The Front Runners’ 5k run, a fundraiser for the LGBT Center of the Desert, will take place—but instead of everyone running together, the participants will pick their own time and route. Pride-themed movies will be screened at the Palm Springs Cultural Center—outside, on the newish drive-in screen, with attendees in their cars or socially distanced.

And then there’s the possible car caravan—which, when it was first announced, caused Palm Springs Pride president and CEO Ron deHarte no small amount of grief after certain locals, perhaps not understanding the concept, freaked out on social media.

We recently spoke to deHarte about the plans for 2020 Greater Palm Springs Pride.

Tell me a little bit about the re-imagined Pride this year.

So many cities have gone virtual for their pride events. What we’re trying to do is a combination of online activities that people can participate in from the comfort of their home, and true activities where you can be active, like the Front Runners’ 5k run, which is always very popular. But this year, instead of waking up on Saturday morning and joining 500 other people, you go and you do your 5k run or walk at your leisure, on your own. You’re still able to raise money; we can raise money for the Center. That’s one way where people are still able to get out of their house, and be a part of something bigger, but not have to sit and watch something that’s a livestream online.

The drive-in movie nights are another way where people can be safe and social distance, but come together and watch a couple of Pride-themed movies on Friday and Saturday night.

Then we have some more of the traditional things that people would see, but via livestream. The (Interfaith Pride Kabbalat) Shabbat will be livestreamed on Friday night. Our flag-raising ceremony—we traditionally have done a big media event as we unfurl the flag from the Stergios (building) tower (at Desert Regional Medical Center). Well, this year, we’re going to do a livestream so people can watch the flag unfurlings, not only at the Stergios tower, but downtown and at City Hall.

Let’s discuss the caravan, since that’s the thing everyone seems riled up about.

We have put forward an idea for the caravan. It’s not set in stone. We’ve watched what’s been done in 17 other cities; actually, Salt Lake City is organizing a really large one (on Oct. 11), so we’ll watch that very closely.

(The idea) is the old political protest—the caravan where people drive through the city and raise awareness and honk their horns and be visible, be heard and capture media attention. That’s the idea behind the car caravan: We could give people from the same household the opportunity to come out for a couple of hours; make a poster with their political statement on it, or a message of love; and they could maybe decorate their car a bit, and come and drive on our open roads. It would be a free event for people to participate in. We would do it during a scheduled time period and follow a scheduled route, giving people who don’t have a car or aren’t able to participate the ability to see what’s happening by staying home and watching a livestream. The idea is not in place for spectators. It’s on open roads. There’s no parade, no marching bands, no dancing queens—none of that. … It’s a solo experience, but at the end of the day, any caravan we organize in Palm Springs is going to get a lot of media attention—and that’s part of what this political protest caravan is all about. It’s raising awareness and getting attention.

What steps are you taking to make sure this doesn’t attract crowds?

First, I want to remind everyone that nothing is set in stone. This is still an idea that’s being worked on, and it’s not finalized that it’s going to happen. We will take it day by day, because if our COVID-positive numbers don’t get better, and the situation changes for us, we’re going to evaluate everything we’re doing. If there’s a slight chance that people are not going to be safe, then we will not go forward with whatever plan we’ve got in place.

We’ve been talking to the city, a special-event planning team, about the safety measures that need to be in place—like the possibility of not promoting the route. There are positives and negatives to that, but that’s definitely something that we’re looking at—to not promote it publicly, and only make it known when the participants arrive in the morning to get in their lineup. People have to register ahead of time, so they know that they’re not allowed to have party trucks, party buses or party limos. They’re agreeing that they are coming from the same households. They are agreeing that they will be wearing masks. They will agree that they’re not to come to the check-in, get out of their car and start to party. They’ll have an assigned parking space; they will go to their assigned parking space, and when it’s time to roll out at the step-off moment, cars will exit the parking-lot area in sequence.

On the route, there are no closed streets, with regular traffic signs and regular traffic signals; regular laws have to be followed along the route. We’ve asked for permission to end the route in front of City Hall. People will come in one entrance; they will hand off their poster or signs that they made. … That statement sign will be given to a team of three or four folks that are making a design that will be visible on the lawn of City Hall, all day Saturday and all day Sunday. This art installation (would be) a collected community statement. But once they hand off their poster, no one gets out of their cars. Again, there’s no speaking; there’s no entertainment. They just keep driving through and exit the other side of the parking lot at City Hall.

We’re not creating assembly points. … This is being made for TV. The idea is to really show people who are at home, not participating; they can tune into YouTube or the livestream on Facebook. There are not going to be things for people to see—but if somebody was to go sit alongside the road, there are going to be at least 10 miles of roadway where anyone who is conscious of what’s going on in society today can social distance themselves. … We’ve even proposed that we have additional police support that day to help discourage folks from gathering. But we just don’t see (people gathering) happening. It hasn’t happened in the 17 cities that we’ve been modeling from. It didn’t happen in Chula Vista, which is I think the closest model for us to follow.

Some people are concerned that because Palm Springs Pride is putting together a weekend slate of events, that will encourage people to come to Palm Springs and party—because, well, this is Palm Springs.

Well, there’s plenty that is happening in town today, where there are activities taking place. … I think other than the caravan, everything that we’re talking about is already happening right now in Palm Springs. We’re not proposing something that’s any different than what’s happening today in Palm Springs—and people are already coming to Palm Springs. Next weekend, they’re going to be here. The following weekend, they’re going to be here. We’re not promoting to Los Angeles, or San Diego, or Long Beach to come and celebrate Pride in Palm Springs, because we don’t have anything for them to come and physically celebrate. There are no parties. There are no pool events. Even our proposed tea dance is virtual—so you can go and dance in your home. … We just don’t see people driving here to participate in these virtual experiences.

For more information, visit apps.pspride.org.

Published in Features

Before we jump into the news links, I have two bits of Independent-related information I’d like to share:

1.If you see Kevin Fitzgerald out and about, I strongly encourage you to buy him a drink. (Not that he’ll be out and about, and not that you could buy him a drink unless he also got a meal, because, well, COVID-19. Bleh. But you get what I am saying.)

Why do we all owe Kevin a debt of gratitude? Because he has been, and will be, spending a lot of time interviewing local candidates for public office, and then transcribing those interviews, for our renowned Candidate Q&A series. And, well, let’s just say that some of these candidates are verbose.

The first three sets of interviews—with the candidates for the Palm Desert City Council’s two districts, and the contested Palm Springs City Council district—are now posted at CVIndependent.com. (That’s more than 16,000 words of interviews, by the way. So, yeah, make the imaginary drink for Kevin a double.)

Between now and Election Day, we’ll be talking to as many of the other candidates for the contested local city council races as we can. I’ll be honest: We may not get to all eight of the valley’s City Council contests taking place this November, but we’re going to do the best we can.

Maybe make that drink a triple?

2. If you have not yet voted in the first round of the Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, you only have a few hours left (presuming you’re reading this Monday evening)—because voting ends tonight! Click here for details.

After voting ends, we’ll count all the ballots, and then announce all of the finalists on Sept. 28—at which time the final round of balloting will start.

Thanks to all of you who’ve voted already!

Today’s links:

• The president today came to California to talk about the wildfires. As The New York Times put it: “At a briefing in California, Trump and Gov. Gavin Newsom disagree, as politely as possible, on climate change.” CNN was more, uh, blunt: “Trump baselessly questions climate science during California wildfire briefing.” Key takeaway: The leader of the free world said the fires aren’t the fault of climate change, but of poor forest management by the states. Even though the feds own and control most of the forest land.

• Meanwhile, at least two dozen people have died as a result of California’s wildfires, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• Two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were ambushed and shot in the head Saturday night—and amazingly, both are expected to survive. Thank goodness. The Los Angeles Times looks at the aftermath.

• Following the shooting, L.A. sheriff’s deputies shoved, arrested and then detained journalist Josie Huang, of NPR station KPCC, and charged her with obstructing justice. Per The Washington Post: “Police claimed Huang, who also reports for LAist, didn’t have credentials and ignored demands to leave the area. But those claims are contradicted by video Huang shared on Sunday showing her quickly backing away from police when ordered to do so and repeatedly identifying herself as a journalist. Huang said she also had a press badge around her neck.”

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria laid out a likely Election Day scenario for which we all must prepare: According to polling showing who’s likely to vote in person versus by mail, it’s quite likely Donald Trump will be ahead in many states as Election Night draws to a close—but that Biden will pull ahead as mail-in ballots are counted in subsequent days. The result of all of this could be a big, constitutional-crisis mess.

• Good news: The AstraZeneca vaccine trial has resumed. It had been paused for several days after a participant suffered a serious spinal ailment. As CNBC explains: “Illnesses often occur by chance in large trials but are investigated out of an abundance of caution.”

Here’s this week’s District 4 report of COVID-19 stats from the county. (District 4 includes the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but all the bad numbers continue to decline, which is good, but the weekly positivity rate (12.6 percent) remains too high.

• Yet more good news: The county has opened its business-assistance grants to yet another group of small businesses. During the first two rounds of grants, businesses that received PPP funding were ineligible—but during this third round, businesses that received $75,000 or less in PPP funds may apply. Get the details here.

• Could face masks possibly be helping with COVID-19 immunity? It’s possible, but it has not been proven. From The Telegraph: “The commentary, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, advances the unproven but promising theory that universal face mask wearing might be helping to reduce the severity of the virus and ensuring that a greater proportion of new infections are asymptomatic. If this hypothesis is borne out, the academics argue, then universal mask-wearing could become a form of variolation (inoculation) that would generate immunity and ‘thereby slow the spread of the virus in the United States and elsewhere’ as the world awaits a vaccine.”

• One of the biggest claims from people who try to minimize the health havoc from COVID-19 is that it isn’t killing young people. However, it is giving some of them heart issues. According to MedPage Today: “Of 26 competitive athletes at Ohio State University scanned with cardiac MRI (CMR) after asymptomatic or mild cases of COVID-19, four (15 percent) had findings suggestive of myocarditis. Two of these had pericardial effusion; two had shortness of breath, while the others had no symptoms of myocarditis.”

• Given what happened just down the road in Yucaipa, you completely understand why I felt the need to share with you this story, from The Conversation, with the headlineWhy gender reveals have spiraled out of control.”

There may be life on Venus. We know this, because scientists have detected phosphine molecules in the otherwise-nasty atmosphere. CBS News explains.

• Because of, well, 2020, it turns out a lot more of us our grinding our teeth. The Washington Post explains why, as if you didn’t know why already.

• Also from The Washington Post comes this comprehensive COVID-19 etiquette guide. It is surprisingly helpful, even answering the question: “How can I get off one of these never-ending (Zoom) calls?”

• And finally, because, well, again 2020, killer whales are all of a sudden “ramming and harassing sailboats traveling along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts,” and nobody knows why. According to Insider: “In one instance, a crew member on a 46-foot delivery boat described being surrounded by nine orcas off Cape Trafalgar in Spain. The crew member, Victoria Morris, said the whales, which can weigh up to 6 tons, rammed the boat continually for one hour, causing it to spin 180 degrees and the engine to shut down.” Yikes!

That’s enough for the day. If you like what the Independent does, please consider sending us a few bucks to support us. The Daily Digest will return on Wednesday. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

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.

Published in Politics

There’s a lot of news on this Sept. 11, so let’s get right to it:

• The West Coast is on fire. The New York Times has started a live-updates page regarding the horrific blazes, the deadliest of which is near Portland, Ore., where dozens of people are either dead or missing, and half a million people face possible evacuation orders. Key quote: “‘We are preparing for a mass fatality incident based on what we know and the numbers of structures that have been lost,’ said Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.”

• Our friends at Willamette Week, the Pulitzer-winning alternative newsweekly in Portland, are also doing fantastic coverage of the fires up there. Check it out.

• In Northern California, at least 10 are dead, with 16 reported missing, due to the North Complex fire in Butte County. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The collective scale of the infernos that have scarred the state over the last month is staggering: at least 20 fatalities, tens of thousands of structures destroyed and more than 3.1 million acres burned—the most recorded in a single year.”

• Of course, no tragedy these days can take place without conspiracy theories and misinformation popping up. The New York Times, via SFGate, looked at the insane and baseless claims, making their way around social media, that some of the West Coast wildfires were started by Antifa. Key quote: “Several law enforcement agencies in Oregon said they had been flooded with inquiries about rumors that activists were responsible. On Thursday, several journalists reporting on fires near the city of Molalla, Oregon, said they had been confronted by a group of armed people who were worried about unverified reports of arsonists in the area.”

• All the fires have created poor air quality throughout much of the west—and in Los Angeles, the smoky air prompted the county to shut down COVID-19 testing sites. Yikes.

• Related to the fires, here’s a speck of good news: Gov. Gavin Newsom today signed a bill that will make it easier for former inmates who served as volunteer firefighters to become badly needed professional firefighters. “For decades, thousands of inmate firefighters have battled wildfires across the state, working alongside professional firefighters in the scorching heat and smoke,” reports NBC News. “Yet the men and women prisoners who throw themselves in danger to help save lives and property often find it impossible to put their firefighting skills to use after their release, even in a state desperate for such labor.

• Related to COVID-19 testing: Riverside County is asking people, whether they’re symptomatic or not, to go get tested for COVID-19. In recent weeks, the number of county residents getting tested has fallen—to the point that it’s messing up the county’s hopes of moving into the next reopening tier. According to a news release: “Riverside County reached the positivity rate that will allow it to move to the red tier (7.8 percent), but the case rate remains higher than the state’s requirement. This week, the state began adjusting the case rate higher for counties that are not meeting the state’s daily average testing volume, which brought Riverside County’s case rate from 7.4 to 8.6. While Riverside County has the volume to test 4,000 people a day, only half that number have been getting tested at county and state testing sites in recent weeks.”

The Associated Press, via SFGate, reports that the testing backlog that was a huge problem in the state a month ago is gone, as the state increases testing capacity and fewer people get tested. “California's typical turnaround time for coronavirus tests has dropped to less than two days, state health officials said Thursday, a mark that allows for effective isolation and quarantine of those who are infected to limit the spread. Test results now are available from laboratories within 1.3 days on average, down from the five- to seven business days that officials commonly reported last month.”

• Regular readers know the Daily Digest rule about studies—they usually need to be taken with a massive grain of figurative salt. Well, such is the case with a new CDC study, which led to this alarming CNN headline: “Adults with Covid-19 about 'twice as likely' to say they have dined at a restaurant, CDC study suggests.” However, the study, of 314 people who were tested in July at 11 facilities around the country, has a massive flaw or two: “The study comes with some limitations, including … the question assessing dining at a restaurant did not distinguish between indoor versus outdoor dining.” That seems like a big distinction, no?!

• Well here’s something weird: Some researchers think the coronavirus may have been spreading in Los Angeles in December—before China even announced the outbreak in Wuhan. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The researchers didn’t conduct any diagnostic tests, so they can’t say with certainty when doctors first encountered anyone infected with the virus that came to be known as SARS-CoV-2. But if the coronavirus had indeed been spreading under the radar since around Christmas, the pattern of patient visits to UCLA facilities would have looked a lot like what actually happened, they wrote in a study published Thursday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.”

• Related: A group of engineering professors, writing for The Conversation, take a look at the 6-foot coronavirus rule—and the limitations it has. They say to think about COVID-19 the way you’d think of cigarette smoke at a bar: “There is no safe distance in a poorly ventilated room, unfortunately. Good ventilation and filtration strategies that bring in fresh air are critical to reduce aerosol concentration levels, just as opening windows can clear out a smoke-filled room.”

• The New York Daily News reported today—on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks—this: “The Trump administration has secretly siphoned nearly $4 million away from a program that tracks and treats FDNY firefighters and medics suffering from 9/11 related illnesses.” Key quote: “Here we have sick World Trade Center-exposed firefighters and EMS workers, at a time when the city is having difficult financial circumstances due to COVID-19, and we’re not getting the money we need to be able to treat these heroes,” said (Dr. David) Prezant, the FDNY’s Chief Medical Officer. “And for years, they wouldn’t even tell us—we never ever received a letter telling us this.

• It’s come to this: The Washington Post has started tracking the number of teachers who have died of COVID-19 this fall across the country. So far, the tally is six.

• Health Net and Carol’s Kitchen are offering a free flu-shot clinic, open to all Riverside County residents, on Monday, Sept. 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the James A. Venable Community Center, at 50390 Carmen Ave., up in Cabazon. If interested, get there early, as the supply of shots is limited.

The city of Palm Springs really wants you to participate in the 2020 Census! From the city: “On Wednesday, Sept. 16 the five members of the City Council will kick off a friendly competition to see whose district can get the highest Census response rate by hosting drive-by caravans throughout their respective districts to urge residents to respond. The caravans will kick off at 5:30 p.m. from the parking lot of the Palm Springs Public Library, 300 S. Sunrise Way, with several representatives from city departments, business, nonprofit and neighborhood organizations on hand.” Get details on that and more here. (Full disclosure: The city has paid for Census-outreach advertising at CVIndependent.com and in the Daily Digest; however, this item is not related to that purchase.)

The much-ballyhooed Virgin Hotel will not be built in Palm Springs after all. Per KESQ: “(Developer) Grit and Virgin also agreed to use the hotel site to instead build a 62-unit condominium complex instead of a hotel.” Hmm.

• I took this week off from the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, but Shann, John, Brad and Dr. Laura were all there, as were The Standard’s Nino Eilets, event-producer Daniel Vaillancourt, and the fabulous Debra Ann Mumm, the founder of the Create Center for the Arts!

• And finally, after all of that, you may need a drink. Our beer writer, Brett Newton, thinks perhaps you should consider mead for that drink … even though mead isn’t a beer. Check out what he has to say.

Have a great weekend, everyone. 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—voting closes on Monday! And 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. Be safe; the Daily Digest will return on Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

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

On this week's mercifully gender-reveal-party-free weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles does some humble bragging about Keef's new Hulu series; This Modern World tries to explain 2020 to 2014; Jen Sorensen ponders the dangers of the suburbs; Apoca Clips features Li'l Trumpy's unfiltered opinions on the military; and Red Meat appreciates the splendor of hummingbirds.

Published in Comics

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.

Published in Politics

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.

Published in Politics

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