CVIndependent

Tue10272020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Happy (?) Monday, everyone.

If you have not yet voted in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll … well, now’s your last chance. Voting is slated to end tonight (Monday night). However, I know a lot of you don’t read the Daily Digest until the morning after we send it—so we’re going to extend voting until noon on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

Unlike the other publications’ reader polls, we only ask each reader to vote once. That’s because unlike, say, that desperate daily’s poll, the goal of our Best of Coachella Valley poll is not to boost our web traffic; our goal is to get a strong, comprehensive slate of winners and finalists.

Thanks to all of you who already have voted! And for those of you who haven’t, click here!

Today’s news:

• The wind that’s wreaked minor havoc here in the last 24 hours is helping fuel a nasty wildfire in Orange County that, as of this writing, has forced 60,000 people to evacuate in Irvine. Two firefighters have also been badly injured, according to the Los Angeles Times: “The firefighters, 26 and 31, were both intubated after one of them suffered second and third degree burns over 65% of their body and the other suffered burns over 50% of their body.

The winds plus fire dangers have caused PG&E to cut power to 361,000 Northern Californians.

• By the time you read this, there’s a very good chance that Amy Coney Barrett will have been confirmed as the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

NASA announced today that there is now definitive evidence that there’s water on the moon. The Washington Post explains one reason why this matters: “Moon water has been eyed as a potential resource by NASA, which created a program named Artemis in 2019 to send American astronauts back to the moon this decade. Launching water to space costs thousands of dollars per gallon. Future explorers may be able to use lunar water not only to quench their own thirst but to refuel their rockets.”

I recently spoke with Mike Thompson, the CEO of the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert, about the construction currently under way at the Center’s building—which has been closed since March because of, well, you know. We also discussed what changes COVID-19 will lead to when the Center reopens—and Thompson teased possible expansion plans, but wouldn’t spill the beans. Key quote: “I was on (a virtual Center program) last week with a small group of people, and one of the gentlemen was older, and he said, ‘I’ve been able to do more since the pandemic than I was prior, because my physical condition just didn’t allow me to do so many things. Now, I feel more connected than I did before, because I can sit in on a new number of things virtually.’ So I think we have to be mindful that ‘connection’ means different things to different people.” 

• Now THIS is a 2020 news-story lede: “Eight days out from a presidential election, the president of Fox News and key members of the network’s election team have been told to quarantine after they were exposed to someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus. … The infected person was on a flight chartered to transport Fox News employees returning to New York from the Thursday night presidential debate in Nashville. The person tested negative before departing Nashville and positive after returning.

• We’ve linked to stories that basically say the same thing before, and I am pretty sure we’ll link to stories that basically say the same thing again … and if you want to be really horrified, read to the end of this quote, from MedPage Today: “If 95% of people in the U.S. wore masks, about 130,000 fewer Americans would die through February 2021 compared to current reference data, reported the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) COVID-19 Forecasting Team, based at the University of Washington in Seattle. At 85% adherence, almost 96,000 lives could be saved in the U.S., the authors wrote in Nature Medicine. Otherwise, the model projects a cumulative death toll of about 511,000 people in the U.S. by the end of February.” Sigh.

• The White House chief of staff made a remark over the weekend that raised a LOT of eyebrows—because it implied that the Trump administration is, more or less, conceding the battle against the virus’ spread. According to CNN: “White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Sunday that the US is ‘not going to control’ the coronavirus pandemic, as cases surge across the country and nearly 225,000 Americans have died from the virus. ‘We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas,’ Meadows told CNN's Jake Tapper on State of the Union.

• An immunologist, writing for The Conversation, explains one of the reasons why COVID-19 can be so deadly: It appears that in some people, the disease causes their immune systems to turn against them: “Of great concern has been the sporadic identification of so-called autoreactive antibodies that, instead of targeting disease causing microbes, target the tissues of individuals suffering from severe cases of COVID-19.

• Wait … COVID-19 causes HAIR LOSS in some people?! Yep, according to NBC News.

Our partners at CalMatters took a look at some of those glossy mailers we’re all being inundated with … and discovers, surprise surprise, that they’re often rather deceptive.

• The New York Times published a powerful piece on Charles Adams, a Black police officer and football coach in Minneapolis—who feared for both his life and the lives of his students when protests broke out there following the death of George Floyd. Key quote: “He was a 20-year veteran of the police force, an African-American officer who tried to effect change from the inside. He was also the coach of a state championship football team in a poor, Black neighborhood, and a steadfast shepherd for his players. As the sky darkened, he feared for them. Where were they? Were they safe? He feared for himself. His uniform made him a target. The face shield and gas mask hid his identity from the angry crowds, obscuring the beloved figure he has been across large swaths of the city.”

• Well, this is depressing: Buzzfeed talks to some health-care workers who were forced to turn to online sex work to make ends meet after SARS-CoV-2 arrived: “Stories of young women paying their way through school with sex work are nothing new, but in the seven months since the WHO declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic, online sex work—often left out of discussions of ride-hailing and food delivery apps—has become an increasingly mainstream facet of the gig economy, and people like Clara (who lost work at a university hospital as a patient care assistant) say the risks are worth it to keep themselves afloat.”

And finally … vandalism of campaign signs is a common occurrence across the country, alas. But Florida—of COURSE it’s Florida—takes things to a whole new level: NBC News reports that a man named James Blight decided to commandeer a backhoe to attack Biden-Harris signs. Key quote: “’Blight told police that he had been drinking whiskey all day and did not remember most of the day,’ (Haines City Police Public Information Officer Mike) Ferguson wrote. ‘He said that he couldn’t help but hit the Joe Biden signs and acknowledged to taking down a fence in the process. Blight said he did not know how to operate the equipment.’”

Try to have a good week, everyone—but expect craziness, because, well, it’s eight days before Election Day, and it’s 2020. The Daily Digest will be back Wednesday—and please help us out, if you can, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, because, well, we have bills to pay, and we give out our content for free, because that’s how we roll. As always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

In November 2016, Mike Thompson, the CEO of the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert, joined his staff and the organization’s board of directors to officially welcome the public to the Center’s new home—the McDonald/Wright Building, located at 1301 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs.

“The Center has a big vision to truly be a community center for LGBT people living in the Coachella Valley,” Thompson told the Independent in 2015, when the purchase of the building on behalf of the Center, by John McDonald and Rob Wright, was announced. “We’ve already outgrown the space we’re in.”

In the years that followed, the Center and its supporters spent millions of dollars turning the building into a true community hub for the Coachella Valley’s LGBTQ residents—so much so that the Center needed to recently embark on more construction, to expand the usable spaces within the building.

Then came COVID-19. Four years after that triumphant ribbon-cutting, the Center’s doors have now been closed to the public for more than seven months.

I recently spoke to Thompson about the sudden and shocking conversion he and his staff had to make from operating a physical community center, to running a largely virtual, online community center. We also talked about the building’s ongoing construction; preparations to eventually reopen; and the Center’s efforts to bolster its offerings to LGBTQ residents valley-wide—especially in the eastern Coachella Valley.

The LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert has put a lot of time and effort, justifiably so, into this big, beautiful building. However, since March, you’ve had this big, beautiful building that people can’t go into. Talk to me about the task of taking the Center from physical to virtual.

We like to say that while our doors are closed, our hearts are open. We understand that we have a responsibility in caring for our community, and we will be slow in reopening our physical doors. So we’re taking this time when our doors are closed to prepare the space for when it can be reopened.

What does that actually mean? We’re fitting all our community rooms to be able to accommodate both in-person participants and virtual participants. In every community room, there will be two monitors. One monitor is on the facilitator, and then other is projecting back the in-person participants. So anyone that joins remotely can feel that he, she or they is part of the physical space.

We’re reallocating how the space is used, because we are moving our Behavioral Health Clinic from 750 square feet to 2,800 square feet on our second floor. It’s going from four therapy offices to 10 therapy offices, plus two group-therapy spaces. That frees up a space on our third floor that will be a conference room. … We found ourselves competing with our own programming for space use, because everybody was using the Center—which is what it was designed for. … We’re making sure we’re able to accommodate people, both in person and virtually, because we know when we do reopen, there will be reduced capacity.

We’re undergoing an extensive construction project where people couldn’t even access the building if they wanted to. So, actually, if there’s any silver lining in this downtime, it’s that it has allowed us to really focus on all the construction without the interference of risking the safety of our staff or guests with our doors being open.

How much of this was planned before COVID, and how much of this has been planned since COVID?

The entire reconstruction was planned pre-COVID. In fact, we were beginning about the time that the shutdown began. Now, how we plan for the future—that’s all a result of COVID. We’re putting UV lighting in our (heating and cooling) system, to make sure the air that is circulated through the Center is as clean and healthy as possible, so that when people come here, their risk is mitigated. We’re trying to eliminate as many touchpoints as possible. Urinals and water fountains—all that stuff is going to be new and touchless. We’re even going to a QR code. … When you come in, you scan your QR code that lets us know that you’re here, but only after you’ve come up to a body-temperature kiosk.

So, let’s say you want to come to this Eisenhower presentation on a Wednesday night (after we reopen). We’re only going to let X number of people into the space, so we’ll ask you to go online and fill out a form; it will reserve your spot. Once we’ve identified that the physical spaces are allocated, we’ll then direct people to sign up for the virtual participation. … So, after people come in and use their QR code, if something were to happen during your time here, we can now track everybody that’s been here during a particular time of day.

So that could be used for COVID-19 contact tracing, for example?

Exactly.

When do you anticipate the construction being completed?

We’re saying the end of January, but actually, in the second-floor clinic, they’re painting the baseboards, so the second-floor project is almost done. … New elevators are going in at the beginning of the year as well.

Let’s say Feb. 1 is the date that construction is done. Do you anticipate being able to open your doors by then? I know I’m asking you to predict the future.

Given that the majority of our members and clients are in groups that are most vulnerable (to COVID-19), we want to make sure that we’re not too quick out of the gate. We’re going to follow our health-care professionals and city officials about when they believe it is safe to reopen. … We talk about how there’s our physical well-being that we need to care for—and follow protocols and precautions—and then there’s also our mental health and well-being. What’s the balance? How do we meaningfully create opportunities for people to connect?

Do you worry that the formalities—the temperature-check kiosk, the QR codes, the distancing, the fact that fewer people might be able to come to the Center for that Eisenhower lecture on a Wednesday night—could hinder the “community” part of the community center?

I hope not. I’m encouraged because on these virtual programs that we have going, people are able to join us from any number of places. We’ve got people from Seattle, and Chicago, and Wisconsin, and Northern California who are joining. I was on one last week with a small group of people, and one of the gentlemen was older, and he said, “I’ve been able to do more since the pandemic than I was prior, because my physical condition just didn’t allow me to do so many things. Now, I feel more connected than I did before, because I can sit in on a new number of things virtually.” So I think we have to be mindful that “connection” means different things to different people.

So how do we create the most meaningful opportunities possible? The thing that I’ve heard people miss the most is the monthly Center Social. … You can’t re-create that virtually. I don’t know that there is a replacement for that.

Let’s talk about the financial aspect of this. Your two big fundraising events this year, Red Dress/Dress Red and Center Stage, have been cancelled. First, are they going to come back? Are they going to be different? Second, talk about the financial impact the cancellations have had.

The only event that we are going to do virtually is our Wreath Auction. We didn’t want to do Center Stage in a virtual format, because we wanted to maintain the integrity of that event for when we bring it back. Certainly, we want to do the same with the Red Dress Party, because you can’t replicate that in a different format. … So rather than think about events in the short term, we’re focusing on individual philanthropy. We’ve got a broad and deep donor base, and the majority of our fundraising right now is all targeted individual fundraising. We’ve got our Ocotillo Club, which is our annual and monthly sustaining donor group. They have been consistently generous and faithful, which has been great. In fact, we’ve had a number of new Ocotillo Club donors step in. We’ve also had Ocotillo Club donors increase their level of giving because they had the capacity to do so.

As a community center, we wanted to be really careful. We’ve not publicly had our hand out since the pandemic, because we wanted to make sure that people feel safe and secure first. Now we will be asking for money at points along the way, but we’re going to be doing it differently. Certainly, programs like our Community Food Bank have gotten a big increase in support, (and we’ve gotten) gifts targeted or earmarked for our Behavioral Health Clinic, because those are two things that people know there’s a demand for during this time.

So financially, the Center is doing OK?

We’re in a good, stable place. Even with this construction project, it was paid for before we even started the project. I don’t feel vulnerable at this point. We don’t know what the future is going to hold, but today, I’m comfortable with the decisions that we’ve made, how we’re doing fundraising, and how the community responded.

Tell me about some of the lessons you’ve learned from this pandemic, and how those lessons might lead to better things in the future.

We have said all along that our work has to be relationship-focused … and we’re constantly reminding each other that nobody’s more important than the person in front of us right now. We made a format change in our weekly newsletter; we’re looking at that as an opportunity to engage people just by the questions that we’re asking. At one point early in the pandemic, we were asking people: Do they have access to food? If they said no, then we made sure that they became a client at our Food Bank if they could benefit from that. If they needed people to bring them food—if they couldn’t get to the grocery store for whatever reason—we would make sure that people could get it to them.

The one question that we asked that broke my heart was: Do you have somebody to talk to everyday? The people who responded “no”—that auto-generated an email that said, “Would you like somebody to call you?” So those people who then said “yes,” I personally called. My shortest phone call was probably 25 minutes. They averaged 40 to 45 minutes.

That’s awesome and heartbreaking at the same time.

It is. I still get emotional. … We already had this program ready to launch before the pandemic; we’d been kind of massaging it, but the pandemic accelerated our … buddy program.

That whole idea is: How do we get personal with people? These 7,000-plus people that get our newsletter every week—how do we talk to them in a way where it feels personal, that whatever their need is, they feel they can reach out to us and ask us for help? So that’s, I think, our biggest lesson here—not to get distracted by a building project. We need to be innovative in the way we do programs and to remember that, at the core, it is about relationships.

I know the Center in recent years has been making an effort to reach out further into the Coachella Valley’s LGBTQ community—especially in the east valley. What steps has the Center has made to keep reaching out to the east valley?

We’ll be making more announcements about that soon, but I can say this for now: We recently announced our domain name has changed to TheCenterCV.org to better represent the scope of our work across the Coachella Valley; before, it had been TheCenterPS.org. Not only is that representative of our current work, but our future work, because we’ve got our eye across the valley to make sure that queer people, wherever they are in the Coachella Valley, have access to our programs and services.

Published in Features

It’s Friday, Oct. 23. The election is 11 days away. COVID-19 is setting alarming records across the United States. Interesting times, these.

Let’s get right to the news:

• A new study out of Columbia University says that between 130,000 and 210,000 deaths from COVID-19 could have been prevented with a better response by the federal government. Key quote from the study, via CNN: “Even with the dramatic recent appearance of new COVID-19 waves globally, the abject failures of U.S. government policies and crisis messaging persist. U.S. fatalities have remained disproportionately high throughout the pandemic when compared to even other high-mortality countries.”

• Related: Today was the worst day of the pandemic in the U.S., as far as coronavirus cases are concerned, with nearly 80,000 new cases reported nationwide. The New York Times is calling it the third surge.

• However, California, thank goodness, is the exception to the rule, as cases in the state overall are NOT surging. As a result, as our partners at CalMatters point out, the state government is receiving praise for its handling of the epidemic: “California ‘holds a lesson for all of us,’ Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, recently tweeted, praising ‘strong leadership’ from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state’s health and human services chief, Dr. Mark Ghaly. Jha credited the state’s ‘huge boost’ in testing and county-by-county ‘micro-targeting’ as ‘smart policies’ that have helped control the virus. California has averaged nearly 124,000 COVID-19 tests each day for the past two weeks.”

The Palm Springs District 4 City Council race has gotten rather ugly, with some online trolls saying horribly sexist things about incumbent Christy Holstege—and accusing her of lying about her sexuality. As a result, three LGBTQ groups have issued a joint statement condemning the attacks. Read that statement here.

Our partners at CalMatters examine possible reasons why Proposition 16, the affirmative-action ballot measure, may go down in defeat, if recent polls are correct—despite a number of high-profile endorsements. Spoiler alert: Voters find the concept of affirmative action to be confusing, apparently.

Remdesivir has become the first COVID-19 treatment to receive full FDA approval. (It had previously received emergency authorization from the FDA for use.) Of course, because this is 2020, the approval came right as a new study showed that the drug does not seem effective at preventing deaths.

Uber and Lyft suffered a big loss in court yesterday. Per NBC News: “A California state appellate court on Thursday upheld a lower court’s ruling that there was an ‘overwhelming likelihood’ Uber and Lyft had misclassified their drivers as contractors rather than employees in violation of a landmark state law.” However, because of holds and likely appeals, nothing will change for now—and, of course, Prop 22 could REALLY change things.

The Washington Post offers up this update on the confirmation fight over Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Despite the squabbling, it’s likely she will be installed on the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as Monday.

An expert in nonverbal communication, writing for The Conversation, watched the presidential debate last night. Click here to read his rather fascinating observations.

The CDC is planning on using an app to keep tabs on the safety of people who receive COVID-19 vaccine(s), if and when it/they is/are ready. CNN Reports: “Through V-SAFE, which stands for ‘vaccine safety assessment for essential workers,’ health checks can be conducted via text messages and email daily in the first week after a person receives the vaccine and then weekly thereafter for six weeks, according to the CDC’s website.”

• The Washington Post delivers encouraging news about the Moderna vaccine trial: The full number of participants have enrolled, and those participants are fairly diverse: “The coronavirus vaccine trials have been closely watched to ensure they reflect the diversity of the U.S. population at a minimum, and Moderna’s enrollment was slowed in September to recruit more minorities. A fifth of the participants are Hispanic and 10 percent are Black, according to data released by the company. People over 65, a population also at high risk for coronavirus, make up 25 percent of the study population.” 

• Also from The Washington Post: The newspaper followed up a bit on The New York Times’ reporting on the president’s finances—specifically the fact that Trump has a LOT of debt coming due, which leads to a whole lot of conflict-of-interest and even national-security concerns: “In the next four years, Trump faces payment deadlines for more than $400 million in loans—just as the pandemic robs his businesses of customers and income, according to a Washington Post analysis of Trump’s finances. The bills coming due include loans on his Chicago hotel, his D.C. hotel and his Doral resort, all hit by a double whammy: Trump’s political career slowed their business, then the pandemic ground it down much further.” 

One more thing from the Post: Less than two weeks before Election Day, “President Trump this week fired his biggest broadside yet against the federal bureaucracy by issuing an executive order that would remove job security from an estimated tens of thousands of civil servants and dramatically remake the government.” Wow.

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: “A controversial new law that takes effect next year will dismantle the state’s current juvenile justice system and transfer responsibility for convicted youth back to counties.” Even advocates of the plan, which is being pushed by Gov. Newsom, admit it has problems.

Well this is a horrifying headline from NBC News: “Minnesota AG investigates company accused of recruiting armed guards for Election Day.”

• Finally, I returned as a guest to this week’s I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, where I chatted with hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr about drama in downtown Palm Springs, our November print edition, Taco Bell’s unforgivable elimination of the Mexican pizza, and more.

Have a safe, sane weekend, everyone. Please, if you can afford it, consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent; all the news we do is free—but it costs a lot of produce, publish and distribute. The Daily Digest will return next week.

Published in Daily Digest

I received some interesting reader responses to yesterday’s news that Riverside County was being demoted from the red, “Substantial” COVID-19 tier to the purple, “Widespread” tier. Here are three of those responses, slightly edited for style:


Gyms don’t make people sick; shitty food does, though. The fact that fast-food joints and cannabis shops are considered ESSENTIAL IS LUDICROUS. California invented the entire “fitness industry” and now they’re trying to destroy it. Why has no one in a position of leadership made any statement whatsoever about staying in shape and eating healthy—the most important things you can do?! Instead, people are told to stay home, order pizza and get fat.


I understand why you’re bummed about businesses closing—we all are. But you should point out there’s one person to blame for all of this: Trump. If he had properly led from the beginning and made sure everyone was on the same page with mask-wearing (after Fauci learned its importance), I believe most businesses would be open.

Business owners are venting at our responsible governor when he’s done everything he can to slow the spread. You can use this analogy with your readers: Trump is the divorced dad who has his kids on the weekend and never says no to them—including underage alcohol parties, wild sex and “screw the neighbors.” Newsom is the mom who has to be responsible in guiding her kids to make the right choices so they won’t harm themselves and succeed in life and don’t turn out to be delinquents.

“Dad” Trump will be gone after Jan. 21 while “mom” Newsom will be around at least until the next election, faced with cleaning up after the “dad’s” mess.


You said: “To those of you who look at this information and shout, ‘Lives are more important than businesses!’ You need to realize that lives and businesses are inextricably intertwined. Business are life-long dreams, sources of income, sanity-maintaining distractions and so much more, to so many people.” THANK YOU FOR UNDERSTANDING THIS! So many of us small business owners feel unheard and left behind.


If you value the journalism that the Independent provides—for free, both online and in print—please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Any amount of support helps us keep the figurative lights on; click here for more details. Thank you for reading.

News from the day:

• Example No. 244,851 of the importance of local journalism: The FBI raided the Borrego Community Healthcare Foundation as part of an investigation yesterday; you can read the San Diego Union-Tribune’s coverage of the raid here. The nonprofit medical provider—which has multiple locations in the Coachella Valley—started off in Borrego Springs, a small town in San Diego County south of Palm Desert and west of the Salton Sea, before expanding to become a behemoth provider in San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. So … what does this have to do with local journalism? The look into potential wrongdoing at Borrego appears to have started months ago, at the tiny Borrego Sun newspaper, which has a special page dedicated to its Borrego Community Healthcare Foundation coverage here. Props to the Borrego Sun for its work.

• An update on those shady ballot boxes put out by the California Republican Party, from the Los Angeles Times: “A Sacramento judge refused Wednesday to order the California Republican Party to disclose information about its ballot drop box program to state officials, rejecting an argument by Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra that the investigation was essential to ensuring ballots are being properly handled. The decision by Judge David Brown does not prevent Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla from returning to court over the matter but marks a significant victory for GOP officials who have insisted their ballot collection campaign is following state election law.

• President Trump sat down for an interview with 60 Minutes yesterday—and it apparently did not go well. According to CNN: “Trump walked out of the interview because he was frustrated with (Lesley) Stahl's line of questioning, one source said. Another person said the bulk of the interview was focused on coronavirus. On Wednesday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said there is a ‘high probability’ that the President will release footage of the interview before it airs Sunday, and accused Stahl of acting ‘more like an opinion journalist.’” Sigh.

The pope has come out in favor of civil unions for same-sex couples. According to The Washington Post: “Francis’s comment does nothing to alter Catholic doctrine, but it nonetheless represents a remarkable shift for a church that has fought against LGBT legal rights—with past popes calling same-sex unions inadmissible and deviant. Francis’s statement is also notable within a papacy that on the whole hasn’t been as revolutionary as progressives had hoped and conservatives had feared.

• And now we get to the portion of the Daily Digest where we say something positive about the president. Yes, really. The Washington Post ran a fascinating piece today discussing how truly, honestly close we apparently are to having a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Key quote: “‘Going from where we were in January and February—where we are going to be hit by this tsunami—to very likely having a vaccine, or more than one vaccine, that is proven safe and effective within a year, is staggeringly impressive, and would only have happened with strong and effective federal action,’ said Robert Wachter, the chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. Wachter has strongly criticized the administration’s response to the pandemic, arguing it has cost tens of thousands of lives. But he called the vaccine effort ‘nearly flawless’ so far—words he said he found difficult to say.”

• Our partners at CalMatters are reporting that Gov. Gavin Newsom is about to get sued by environmental-group Center for Biological Diversity, because he continues to allow fracking permits. Key quote: “(Kassie) Siegel said the permits are ‘illegal’ and fail to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. The Center for Biological Diversity warned Newsom on Sept. 21 of their intent to sue if his administration continued to issue fracking permits.

The Conversation takes a look at violence taking place against female political leaders—with male lawmakers often the perpetrators. Key quote: “On Sept. 24, House Democrats Rashida Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Jackie Speier introduced a resolution–a largely symbolic congressional statement that carries no legal weight but provides moral support on certain issues–recognizing violence against women in politics as a global phenomenon. House Resolution 1151, which is currently under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, calls on the government to take steps to mitigate this violence in the United States and abroad.”

• Speaking of violence in politics: Some voters in Alaska and Florida have received emails threatening them to vote for Trump, “or we will come after you.” Some of the emails say they were sent by the Proud Boys, but NPR reports that seems unlikely, and the group is denying involvement—and in fact, NBC News says the FBI thinks Iran may be involved.

• The good news: NPR looks at increasing evidence that COVID-19 death rates are going down because medical professionals have gotten a lot better at treating the disease:Two new peer-reviewed studies are showing a sharp drop in mortality among hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drop is seen in all groups, including older patients and those with underlying conditions, suggesting that physicians are getting better at helping patients survive their illness.

• The bad: There’s yet more evidence that the pandemic is taking more lives than those included in the official death counts for COVID-19. According to the CDC: “Overall, an estimated 299,028 excess deaths occurred from late January through October 3, 2020, with 198,081 (66%) excess deaths attributed to COVID-19. The largest percentage increases were seen among adults aged 25–44 years and among Hispanic or Latino persons.”

• More CDC-related news: The agency has released new guidance on what, exactly, it means to be in “close contact” with someone who has COVID-19. According to the Washington Post: “The CDC had previously defined a ‘close contact’ as someone who spent at least 15 consecutive minutes within six feet of a confirmed coronavirus case. The updated guidance, which health departments rely on to conduct contact tracing, now defines a close contact as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, according to a CDC statement Wednesday.

If a voter shows up to a polling place without a mask on Election Day, they will not be turned away, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Do you subscribe to Quibi? No? Neither do I—and therefore it’s no surprise that the streaming service announced it was shutting down today, even though backers had raised $1.75 billion (!) to launch the company.

• And now for some happier, local entertainment news, from the Independent: “There has been almost no programming from the Coachella Valley’s theater companies since the pandemic arrived and ruined everything in March—with one notable exception: CVRep, and its Theatre Thursday virtual shows. And if the California Department of Public Health gives the OK, CVRep—in conjunction with Cathedral City—could become the first local theater company to bring live productions back to the Coachella Valley, starting in December.” Read what CVRep’s Ron Celona had to say here.

• And finally … I am sorry to put this mental picture in your head, but it appears Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character caught Rudy Giuliani doing something less than appropriate: “In the film, (slated to be) released on Friday (Oct. 23), the former New York mayor and current personal attorney to Donald Trump is seen reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals while reclining on a bed in the presence of the actor playing Borat’s daughter, who is posing as a TV journalist.”

Again, thanks for reading. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

There has been almost no programming from the Coachella Valley’s theater companies since the pandemic arrived and ruined everything in March—with one notable exception: CVRep, and its Theatre Thursday virtual shows.

And if the California Department of Public Health gives the OK, CVRep—in conjunction with Cathedral City—could become the first local theater company to bring live productions back to the Coachella Valley, starting in December.

Ron Celona, CVRep’s founding artistic director, explained during a recent phone interview that because the theater company is now the proud owner of its own building—the CVRep Playhouse, in Cathedral City—he couldn’t just wait out the pandemic without doing anything.

“This is a year where I can’t even break even,” he said. “I have to make money just to support the building. So that’s what took us to the current plan.”

That plan started with the launch of Theatre Thursday in April. Every non-holiday Thursday at 6 p.m., CVRep produces a show, via Zoom, free of charge, with the participating artists donating their time and talent. The shows range from staged readings of plays to musical performances to monologues and more.

“Theatre Thursday does two wonderful things: It keeps CVRep in the forefront of our patrons’ and followers’ (minds), to know that something is available from CVRep on a weekly basis,” Celona said. “The other thing is, it keeps the artists active. They can work by doing a monologue or a dance or a piece. … Many artists launched their Zoom experience with us and then went on to support other theater companies.”

Celona said attendance at the shows has varied wildly, from a high of 200 people, to a low of 60 or less.

“There is no guarantee. That’s the difference between a ticket for a show: You know how many people are coming that night,” Celona said. “But there is no guarantee in the virtual world; all of these shows are free of charge. However, we do ask for a donation during the program, and each person receives a thank-you after; the email has a donate button on the thank-you. So we do receive donations each week.”

While donations from supporters and attendees of the virtual Theatre Thursday shows have helped CVRep’s financial situation, the organization was still losing money each month—until sponsors stepped in, Celona said.

“We started in August doing monthly sponsorships, and I’m thrilled to tell you, I expected two or three sponsors a month. Well, I’m wrong. We’re getting five to 10 sponsors a month,” Celona said. “The sponsorship is $500 a month, and they’re thanked at each week’s event. They also rotate on our marquee we have on Highway 111.”

As for CVRep’s hoped-for return to live shows: Celona initially looked at doing CVRep’s full planned season at the Cathedral City Community Amphitheater, which is adjacent to the CVRep Playhouse. However, COVID-19 made that cost-prohibitive.

“With the Equity rules, whether a show be indoor or outdoor, the protocol requires that every actor, and everybody that also comes in contact with that actor, be tested once a week. So that’s the crew; that’s the makeup artist, and so on,” Celona said. “We do six-week contracts for plays. And Equity requires a 24-hour turnaround, which means you can’t go to the county; you have to go to a private lab—and then you need written results.

“As for other expenses involved in doing a production: I need a dressing room. So that means I would need to have a trailer, like an RV—a portable dressing room. I would need a storage unit for the set and the props and everything to come off and on for each performance. And at the amphitheater—this is true even for the one-night events we’re going to be doing—we need to bring in port-a-potties, and they need to be sanitized and cleaned throughout the night.”

Instead of the full productions, CVRep and Cathedral City decided to partner on a series of those aforementioned one-night events. Celona hopes a holiday show will kick things off on Dec. 12. Events would follow on the first three Saturdays of January, February and March (with the exception of that third weekend in March, which we’ll explain in a moment.) Tickets will be $25 per person—much less than a typical CVRep show ticket.

If the outdoor shows do take place, Celona said, social distancing and many other precautions will be in place.

“The proposal that we created for the city of Cathedral City included our 23-page safety manual,” Celona said. “(Attendees) will be taken to pods, if you will—circular or square pods that hold a table for two or four. Each pod is about 10 feet apart for social distance. Everyone will be required to wear masks to come into the venue, and they must wear their masks the entire time, unless they’re eating. When the doors open, they’re going to have an hour and a half before the show. People could either bring their own meal, or they could buy, so to speak, a box lunch, but it will be a dinner. Once that food goes away, then they need to put their masks back on to watch the show.”

Celona said his plans include a once-a-month jazz show, a Latinx series and a Broadway style revue. Then there’s that third weekend in March.

“We’ll be culminating in March with something very exciting: It will be our first Shakespeare festival,” Celona said. “Instead of one night, it’ll be a Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the third week of March. It will include two Shakespeare plays performed in rotation. … Our goal is that it kicks off an annual Shakespeare festival that CVRep produces.”

As you may have noticed, these plans include a lot of “ifs.” The reason: As of now, live performances like this are not allowed by the state. Therefore, CVRep and the city of Cathedral City have written a letter to the state Department of Public Health, asking for a waiver.

“One of the strongest points is the venue holds 2,900 people,” Celona said. “The maximum number of people that we will allow to see a show is 225 people—much less than 10 percent of capacity.”

Beyond the hoped-for amphitheater performances, Celona also has hopes that maybe, just maybe, the company can return to the CVRep Playhouse for one full production to close out the 2020-2021 season.

“The only thing we left in the budget is what was supposed to be the final production of this past season, Native Gardens,” Celona said. “I have it in the budget to produce it in April, inside the playhouse. If that turns out not to be legally allowed, then we just cancel the production.”

For more information, visit cvrep.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Some thoughts on Riverside County’s descent into the purple, “Widespread” coronavirus tier:

• This will have a devastating impact on some local businesses. It means that within 72 hours, gyms and movie theaters must close all indoor operations. Places of worship can’t have indoor services. Restaurants can only operate outdoors—and, according to the county, it’ll be at LEAST three weeks before we can move back up into the red, “Substantial” tier. Make no mistake: This will result in some businesses closing for good.

• To those of you who look at this information and shout, “Lives are more important than businesses!” You need to realize that lives and businesses are inextricably intertwined. Business are life-long dreams, sources of income, sanity-maintaining distractions and so much more, to so many people.

• While sliding backwards is very bad, the news is not ALL bad. First, the local weather is getting less-scorching, which means that businesses that have the wherewithal to move operations outdoors will probably have better luck doing so than they would have back in August.

• Also, the county’s numbers are trending in the right direction. The county’s positivity rate (5.2 percent), adjusted daily cases per 100,000 (9.1) and health-equity metric (which tracks the positivity rate in disadvantaged neighborhoods; 6.9 percent) are all better this week than last, and two of those three numbers remain in the red, “Substantial” range. Unfortunately, the adjusted daily case rate is too high—and while the state gave Riverside County a reprieve last week, the state Department of Health declined to do so for a second week.

• While the purple, “Widespread” tier is the most restrictive, it’s actually not as restrictive as things once were: The state now allows hair and nail salons to remain open indoors in all of the tiers.

• We should ALL take this as a call to be as safe and responsible as possible. That means wearing masks around others, washing hands, cooperating with contact tracers, getting tested and, in general, behaving like responsible adults. Our numbers are not great, but they’re waaaay better than they were a couple of short months ago. While much of the rest of the country is surging, we are not—and we all need to work to keep it that way.

More news:

College of the Desert announced today that instruction would remain almost entirely online for the winter intersession and spring semester. Read the details here.

• The state has, at long last, announced reopening guidelines for theme parks—and Disney officials are NOT happy with them. As the Los Angeles Times explains: “The protocols announced Tuesday allow a large park to reopen once coronavirus transmission in its home county has fallen enough for the county to reach Tier 4—the state’s least restrictive designation. A small park, meanwhile, can welcome guests once its home county reaches Tier 3, the second-least-restrictive level.

The state also announced that a limited number of fans can attend live sporting events—but only at outdoor stadiums; only in counties in one of the two least-restrictive tiers; and only if local health officials give the OK. As the San Jose Mercury News explains, all of this means fans won’t be attending games in California anytime soon.

• Here’s the latest weekly Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report. (District 4 includes the Coachella Valley and rural-ish points eastward.) The news is mostly decent, with cases and hospitalizations holding steady—and the weekly positivity rate is down to 4.7 percent. However, COVID-19 claimed the lives of two of our neighbors last week.

• I’ll let this lede from The New York Times explain the big national news of the day: “The Justice Department accused Google of illegally protecting its monopoly over search and search advertising in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the government’s most significant legal challenge to a tech company’s market power in a generation.” Read more here.

People are voting early in record numbers. The Washington Post breaks it down.

• Some reassuring news: ProPublica is reporting that Dr. Anthony Fauci will play an important role in checking the results of various vaccine studiesalbeit with one big exception.

• Related and also reassuring: The state of California also plans on reviewing any vaccines before giving the OK for them to be distributed.

• Related and not reassuring: The president yesterday referred to Fauci as a “disaster” who “got it wrong” on the coronavirus.

• Sort of related and, well, sort of bonkers: Several media experts, writing for The Conversation, say that Russian media sources are starting to refer to President Trump in less-than-glowing language. Key quote: “Russian outlets tended to chastise Trump’s unwillingness to avoid large gatherings, practice social distancing or wear a mask, all of which violated his administration’s basic health guidelines. Likewise, Russian reports criticized Trump’s post-diagnosis behavior–like tweeting video messages while at the hospital and violating quarantine with his public appearances–as ‘publicity stunts’ that jeopardized the safety of his Secret Service detail and supporters.

A human challenge study—in which people are willingly exposed to SARS-CoV-2—is taking place in the United Kingdom. According to The Associated Press: “Imperial College London and a group of researchers said Tuesday that they are preparing to infect 90 healthy young volunteers with the virus, becoming the first to announce plans to use the technique to study COVID-19 and potentially speed up development of a vaccine that could help end the pandemic.

• As mentioned above, coronavirus cases are surging in much of the country—however, as The New York Times explains, the news is not all that dire. For starters, case numbers are up in part because testing is up, too—and deaths are holding fairly steady, in part, because we’re getting better at treating this darned disease.

Health departments across the Upper Midwest are reporting that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally played a rather large role in the surge in COVID-19 cases. Sigh.

Also sorta related comes this headline from CNN: “Minnesota traces outbreak of 20 COVID-19 cases to September Trump rally events.” Bleh.

• You may have heard about the New York Post’s big scoop regarding Hunter Biden’s hard drive. Well … the story’s principal writer refused to have his byline on the piece, because he had questions about its credibility, according to The New York Times.

• Yikes: Someone apparently set the contents of a ballot drop box in Los Angeles County ablaze Sunday night.

• From the Independent: A new Coachella Valley organization called Desert Support for Asylum Seekers is working to make sure refugees in the area—specifically LGBTQ refugees—get the help that they need. They’re focusing much of their efforts on people being detained at or released from the Imperial Regional Detention Center in Calexico. Key quote, from founder Ubaldo Boido: “The detention center was dropping people at the downtown Calexico Greyhound station. Even after the station was closed, (Border Patrol was) leaving them to fend for themselves. So we started this coordinator group to pick up people and get them on a bus, or get them here to Palm Springs where we could get them on a flight.

• Three scientists—who are increasingly getting the ear of the Trump administration—have been advocating against lockdowns in favor of herd immunity ever since the pandemic started. MedPage today looks at their backgrounds and their possible motivations.

• CNBC examines Joe Biden’s tax plan. Key quote: “While Americans earning less than $400,000 would, on average, receive tax cuts under Biden’s plan, the highest earners would face double-digit increases in their official tax rates, according to nonpartisan analyses. In California, New Jersey and New York City, taxpayers earning more than $400,000 a year could face combined state and local statutory income tax rates of more than 60 percent.” However, as the story explains, almost nobody winds up paying the statutory tax rate.

• So, uh, the phrase “Zoom dick” was trending on Twitter yesterday, because Jeffrey Toobin, of The New Yorker and CNN, apparently decided to have a wank in the middle of a Zoom call with colleagues. Read the sordid details here.

• And finally, because the news in outer space is far less horrifying than the news here on planet Earth, take a few moments to learn about what’s happening with a NASA mission called OSIRIS-Rex, which is attempting to gather “loose rubble” from an asteroid.

That’s enough for today. Be safe. Hang in there. Check in on a loved one. Oh, and please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the financial means, so we can keep producing quality journalism. The Daily Digest will be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Regular readers of the Daily Digest know that we often link to stories about scientific studies in this space. And regular readers also know that we always suggest that these stories be taken with a huge, honking figurative grain of salt—because science is often an inexact process, especially these days, given the mad rush to learn about a virus that we didn’t even know existed this time last year.

So … keep that all in mind as you read this piece regarding a brand-new study regarding the risks of getting COVID-19 on an airline flight.

According to ABC News: “United Airlines says the risk of COVID-19 exposure onboard its aircraft is ‘virtually non-existent’ after a new study finds that when masks are worn there is only a 0.003% chance particles from a passenger can enter the passenger's breathing space who is sitting beside them. The study, conducted by the Department of Defense in partnership with United Airlines, was published Thursday.”

The study seems pretty encouraging—but the fact the study was done in part by an airline is what we call a gigantic conflict of interest. So … make that figurative grain of salt we keep talking about even larger in this case.

That said, the findings sort of make sense, given what we know about the effectiveness of masks, and how air circulation is handled on planes.

For what it’s worth, I flew earlier this week for the first time since the pandemic arrived. I am in the middle of a quick trip to San Francisco with the hubby to take care of some things with the apartment he has up here for work, since he’s going to be working from home for the time being—and much of the tech world is even making work-from-home a permanent thing.

As for the flying experience, it felt quite safe; everyone was wearing masks, and there were plenty of open spaces between most seats. The airports themselves were a little eerie—most of the stores and restaurants at both PSP and SFO were closed—but that’s to be expected.

It’s a strange, different world now compared to what it was like eight months ago. Who knows what it’ll be like in another eight months?

If you have the means, please consider clicking here to become a Supporter of the Independent. We make all of our content available for free to all, via email, CVIndependent.com and print—but quality journalism costs a lot of money to produce. Thanks for reading!

And now, the news:

• It’s usually a mere formality for a state’s disaster-declaration request to be approved by FEMA—but this is 2020, and the president is Donald Trump, so nothing is a “mere formality” anymore. Still, it was shocking when his administration at first denied Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request earlier this week regarding the recent, deadly wildfires—before changing course today after a conversation between Newsom and Trump. The approval is a big deal, because, as the Los Angeles Times explains: “The state and its local governments count on FEMA every year to help recover up to 75 percent of their staffing costs for sending firefighters into other jurisdictions—including onto federal land—to help fight wildfires for weeks at a time.

• Here’s the latest Riverside County District 4 report. District 4 is basically the Coachella Valley and the rural points eastward—and, frankly, I found the report’s weekly positively rate shocking (in a good way). District 4 has had a weekly positivity rate in the double-digits for almost the entirety of the past few months, yet on this report, it’s down to 5.9 percent. If this is accurate, this is fantastic progress. However, the report contains sobering reminders that SARS-CoV-2 remains a terrible adversary: Five of our friends and neighbors lost their lives as a result of the virus during the week ending Oct. 11.

• The New York Times did an examination of the scramble the Trump administration is making to enact (or revoke) various policies and regulations. The lede: “Facing the prospect that President Trump could lose his re-election bid, his cabinet is scrambling to enact regulatory changes affecting millions of Americans in a blitz so rushed it may leave some changes vulnerable to court challenges.” Oh, and here’s a quote that should get one’s attention: “Some cases, like a new rule to allow railroads to move highly flammable liquefied natural gas on freight trains, have led to warnings of public safety threats.” Yikes!

ABC News agreed to do a “town hall” with Joe Biden last night … and then NBC, rather dubiously, agreed to do one with Trump at the same time. Well, the ratings are in—and more people watched Joe Biden, even though Trump’s town hall was also simulcast on NBC’s cable-news networks.

• Sen. Dianne Feinstein said some rather nice things about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and Sen. Lindsey Graham during the Senate hearings this week. This didn’t sit well at ALL with some Democrats.

• The Conversation has been knocking it out of the park this week with all sorts of interesting pieces looking at the science behind the news. In one piece, a history professor looks at how past pandemics have ended—and what lessons can be found about how this one will end. Spoiler alert: The virus that causes COVID-19 is here to stay, even though its effects will lessen over time. Key quote: “Hopefully COVID-19 will not persist for millennia. But until there’s a successful vaccine, and likely even after, no one is safe. Politics here are crucial: When vaccination programs are weakened, infections can come roaring back. Just look at measles and polio, which resurge as soon as vaccination efforts falter.

• In another piece, a medicine professor reveals that dementia-related deaths were up a shocking 20 percent over the summer—and nobody is sure why. She explains four possible factors in this sad increase.

• In yet another, a physiology professor makes the case that pneumonia vaccines may help save lives until the much-anticipated coronavirus vaccines arrive.

• Here are a couple of bits of disconcerting science news on the COVID-19 front, although—say it along with me—we should take all of these studies with that figurative grain of salt. One: According to MedPage Today, “Additional evidence continued to suggest blood type may not only play a role in COVID-19 susceptibility, but also severity of infection, according to two retrospective studies.”

• Two: A large study shows that remdesivir does not prevent COVID-19 deaths. However, this study and its conclusions have come under fire from critics—including, surprise surprise, the maker of the drug.

Pfizer may become the first company to apply for an emergency-use authorization for a helpful coronavirus vaccine—but that’s not going to happen until late November at the earliest, the company says.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to all four of the candidates running for two City Council seats in Cathedral City. Find out what District 1 candidates Rita Lamb and Alan Carvalho had to say here, and what District 2 candidates JR Corrales and Nancy Ross had to say here.

• One of the questions we asked the aforementioned Cathedral City candidates involves a recently enacted ban on most short-term vacation rentals in the city. Well, a similar ban appears to be coming to Rancho Mirage as well, as The Desert Sun reports.

• Twitter went down for a good chunk of the day yesterday, and a satire website posted a story joking that Twitter had shut down the site to avoid negative news being spread about Joe Biden. Well … Trump tweeted out that satire piece, apparently believing it to be real news. Sigh.

• And finally, the mayor of Anchorage resigned earlier this week after admitting that he exchanged inappropriate messages with a local TV anchor. However, as The New York Times explains, the story is waaaaay more bonkers than that sentence implies. Here’s a taste: “Mr. Berkowitz’s resignation followed an unsubstantiated claim posted to social media on Friday by the news anchor, Maria Athens, promising viewers an ‘exclusive’ story set to air on upcoming newscasts. Mr. Berkowitz responded by calling the allegations ‘slanderous’ and false, and Ms. Athens shot back by posting what she said was an image of the mayor’s bare backside, with a laughing emoji.” And things get even crazier from there. Trust me: This is worth a read.

That’s enough news from the week. Wash your hands; wear a mask; be kind; be safe. As always, thanks for reading. The Daily Digest will be back next week.

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

Alan Carvalho, semi-retired videographer/video editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rita Lamb, retired educator, incumbent City Council member

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Politics

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

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

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

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

JR Corrales, business owner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nancy Ross, business owner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Politics

On this week's town-hall-style weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World brings us a special virus-themed episode of Donald J. Trump, Detective-in-Chief; Jen Sorensen wonders why Democrats want to "pack the courts"; The K Chronicles makes a pitch for Trump fans to vote for someone else; Red Meat recovers from a medical procedure; and Apoca Clips takes multiple coronavirus tests.

Published in Comics

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