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Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

Indio calls itself as the “City of Festivals,” and is home to the Empire Polo Club, where every year since 2001—except this year—folks from around the world have flocked to the world-famous Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

However, Indio is much more than the home of Coachella. It’s the Coachella Valley’s largest city by population, and has some of the area’s highest COVID-19 rates. It’s in the midst of a redevelopment effort, led by a new College of the Desert campus—but those efforts are being challenged by the economic downturn.

In other words, the winner of this year’s two contested City Council races will have a lot on their plates.

In District 5, incumbent and four-time Mayor Guadalupe Ramos Amith is facing challengers Frank Ruiz and Erick Lemus Nadurille. The Independent recently spoke with them and asked each of them the same set of questions, covering issues from how can the city better curb the spread of COVID-19, to what can be done to lower violent crime in the city. What follows below are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

Erick Lemus Nadurille, community health organizer

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

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

The city of Indio has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other city in the Coachella Valley. What can the city do better to reduce the infection rates among its residents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back in June, when the Indio City Council passed a budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, some reserves were drawn upon to balance the budget. The new budget projects more than $135 million in revenues. Given the economic uncertainty, if those revenue numbers fall short, what cuts or new revenue opportunities would you propose that the city pursue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Guadalupe Ramos Amith, incumbent and small-business consultant

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

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

The city of Indio has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other city in the Coachella Valley. What can the city do better to reduce the infection rates among its residents?

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

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

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

Back in June, when the Indio City Council passed a budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, some reserves were drawn upon to balance the budget. The new budget projects more than $135 million in revenues. Given the economic uncertainty, if those revenue numbers fall short, what cuts or new revenue opportunities would you propose that the city pursue?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Frank Ruiz, Audubon California director of the Salton Sea program

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

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

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

The city of Indio has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other city in the Coachella Valley. What can the city do better to reduce the infection rates among its residents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back in June, when the Indio City Council passed a budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, some reserves were drawn upon to balance the budget. The new budget projects more than $135 million in revenues. Given the economic uncertainty, if those revenue numbers fall short, what cuts or new revenue opportunities would you propose that the city pursue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Politics

Indio calls itself as the “City of Festivals,” and is home to the Empire Polo Club, where every year since 2001—except this year—folks from around the world have flocked to the world-famous Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

However, Indio is much more than the home of Coachella. It’s the Coachella Valley’s largest city by population, and has some of the area’s highest COVID-19 rates. It’s in the midst of a redevelopment effort, led by a new College of the Desert campus—but those efforts are being challenged by the economic downturn.

In other words, the winner of this year’s two contested City Council races will have a lot on their plates.

In District 1, incumbent and current Mayor Glenn Miller is facing challenger Erin Teran. The Independent recently spoke with them and asked each of them the same set of questions, covering issues from how can the city better curb the spread of COVID-19, to what can be done to decrease violent crime in the city. What follows below are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

Glenn Miller, District 1 incumbent and current mayor; district director for State Sen. Melissa Melendez; landscape business owner

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

The No. 1 issue facing Indio now and in the coming year is how to come out of this COVID-19 pandemic with open businesses and an economic future for our community. Having a balanced budget for the city of Indio, with a healthy reserve that makes us able to continue with services, is the most vital issue facing the city in the coming years. We’re not exactly sure how the pandemic is going to affect us overall, but obviously it’s affected us with our concerts and our taxing base. But getting businesses back open, making sure that everybody’s back to work, and making sure, at the same time, that the city’s general fund is balanced and that our reserves are healthy, (will enable us to) continue to (provide) the quality of life and the services that residents expect.

The city of Indio has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other city in the Coachella Valley. What can the city do better to reduce the infection rates among its residents?

What we have been doing: communication—networking with our businesses, our chamber of commerce and our residents to continue to make sure that we’re following what I call the four basic guidelines: Make sure you’re masked up; make sure you’re washing your hands; deep cleaning areas where there are multiple touches; and, obviously, social distancing, especially if you’re inside. This will continue to limit the spread of COVID-19. Our residents have done a good job with this. Our city has provided PPE (personal protective equipment) to our businesses and residents. We were just recently doing this with our senior citizens (to whom) we gave care packages that contained all the essential sanitary items they need to continue to be safe, including masks. So the city needs to continue to open businesses efficiently and safely, and I think what will help us is getting our communication network out to residents and businesses. The more that we open up, and the more interaction we have, the more chance we have of spreading COVID-19. Making sure that we take personal responsibility, and at the same time making sure that our residents and businesses are following those guidelines, will limit the spread—and, particularly, as we continue with social distancing, we have to make sure that we are personally responsible about what we do.

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

What we have done is invest in our police department. We continue to bring new police officers up through our academy, and at the same time, we’ve deployed our Quality of Life Team officers throughout the city of Indio, along with any other units that are a part of the task force for Coachella Valley. We are looking for ways to interact with the community through our faith-based organizations, our businesses and our community as a whole, with outreach from our police department’s chief, Michael Washburn. We have a top-notch police department, and (top-notch) code enforcement and public safety overall, including our fire department. President Obama recognized us as one of only 15 police departments in the United States to be honored as one of the 21st century policing agencies, out of 18,000 (overall). We can do a better job, always, of communicating and looking (to see) what we can do with any kind of crime, but right now, our focus is on communication with our faith-based organizations, our businesses and the community to continue to work with them to reduce any opportunity for crime to be instigated here in the city of Indio. And, we’re working with other regional agencies to stop any crimes, if we’re able to, before they even occur. So, we have a great support unit with the local agencies, and that’s going to be the key to allowing us to provide more services and better public safety for our residents and businesses. We’re always here to support our police officers, and we’re in the middle of investing in more officers, having just hired six brand-new recruits, and we have four more in the pipeline who are working their way through the academy. That’s being paid for by the city of Indio, so that we make sure that they are able to study and go through the academy when they weren’t (otherwise) financially able to because they had to work at another job. So we’ve already invested in another 10 police officers.

Back in June, when the Indio City Council passed a budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, some reserves were drawn upon to balance the budget. The new budget projects more than $135 million in revenues. Given the economic uncertainty, if those revenue numbers fall short, what cuts or new revenue opportunities would you propose that the city pursue?

Right now, we feel we have a balanced budget for the next two years, drawing either from our reserves, or our Measure X funding (a sales tax increase approved by voters in 2016), or from our revenue sources coming in. When I first got on City Council, we had a negative balance in our reserve fund. This is exactly what our reserve fund is for—to make sure that whenever we had any kind of uncertainty in our revenue sources and streams coming into the city, that we are able to utilize our reserve fund to make sure that services wouldn’t be cut.

I talked to the city manager, and his estimates on revenue coming in are a little higher. There’s quite a bit of sales tax (revenue) coming in, and our Auto Mall dealerships, which are our biggest source of revenue, are doing very well. So we’re going to get an update at our next meeting on Oct. 7 on exactly where we are, and where we’ll end up being. But in the last year or two, one of the great things that Indio has done is really push our economic development. We do it every year, but we actually doubled down with two new car dealerships coming in, and we also have a 37,000-square-foot Vallarta supermarket and a lot of other businesses opening. And we’re working with all of our existing businesses to get them open as well.

So, our revenue streams are a little better than we anticipated. If this pandemic continues, then we might have to make an adjustment, but we’ll do it wisely, and we’ll figure out where we can find savings now, and take it from the best opportunity that we have. But we won’t cut into any services or any protection that we have for our residents, to make sure that our quality of life stays like it is. We’re very confident we can do that.

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

I think the one thing you should have asked about is what else we’re doing to make our city’s quality of life better. It’s about working with our residents and our businesses to make sure that the quality of life in Indio is what they expect it to be. Over the last 12 years, that I’ve been on the council, we’ve worked very hard to continue to better the city with the new schools that we’ve brought in. Every one of our high schools is either brand new or has been rebuilt in the last 10 years. We have the new College of the Desert campus that is going to be expanded, and it was going ahead until COVID-19. Multiple businesses have come in, expanding economic opportunities. Obviously, the concerts which were cancelled this year, unfortunately, but we’re bringing in opportunities—not only to our downtown area and our new mall that’s going to be redeveloped, where the Indio Grand Marketplace is, but we now have every major homebuilder (working) in our city. So, the city of Indio is poised not only to be the City of Festivals, but also the City of Opportunity. We have a bright future in the city of Indio, and we’re looking forward to many years of efforts supported by the City Council and our residents, to make it the city that we all want it to be. We can always get better, but I can tell you that from talking to the residents on a continued basis, they are excited about where our future is going, from education up to business opportunities.

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

That’s tough. I’ve been dialing up our seniors and other individuals, just to have a chat and conversation to see how they are. The conversations that I’ve had with people, who I would never have met before or talked to before, have given people an opportunity to get off their devices and get on the phone, because they actually want to hear your voice. So it’s been a great opportunity to connect with some people who I probably would have never had the chance to.


Erin Teran, registered nurse

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

In 2021, I definitely think that unity is going to be very important. We’ve gone through some very difficult times, not only with this pandemic, but we’re seeing much of our country be so split and divided. So I think it’s going to be so important to take a stand in our own communities and be a voice of leadership to try to bring people together, to check on your neighbors and to take care of one another. As human beings, we’re all experiencing many of the same things. We have the same fears right now. We have this fear of getting sick, or getting our family members sick. The stress of having to go to work, and then not knowing if you might bring (the virus) home to your family, is so difficult for people. So many families are trying to do the new distance learning, and it’s so challenging. But I found that if we really work together, we can get through this and overcome it, and make things easier for each other.

The city of Indio has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other city in the Coachella Valley. What can the city do better to reduce the infection rates among its residents?

Well, we do know that the city of Indio has the largest population and the largest workforce (of any valley city), and quite frankly, we have the essential workers living on the east end of the valley. So, I think that, No. 1, we need to be out in front of this, and speaking about it daily. We should be talking about things we can do to keep our residents safe, and keep our employees safe. I’ve talked to so many different people who either haven’t had the PPE that they need, or they haven’t had the training (in how to use it properly). The city’s done an excellent job in getting the PPE out there to the businesses, but I think we could be doing more. I’d really like to utilize some of the committees that we have currently, in order to see if we can designate a group of volunteers—either furloughed or retired health-care workers—who want to volunteer their time to go out there and train some of (the workers at) these businesses. I’ve walked into so many stores where people were wearing their mask beneath their nose. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of education on how to use a mask correctly, and why we need to wear it a certain way, and take it off a certain way.

I think that we need to have real strong leadership, and not wait to see what other cities are doing. In the beginning of the pandemic, Indio took two weeks to put that mask ordinance in place. I think that when it comes to a pandemic, two weeks is really a lifetime. We need to be on top of that. We’re starting to see that we’re moving up into a new tier (of reduced state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions), so our main focus should be keeping everyone safe, and keeping our businesses open. We see so many businesses, especially small businesses, that are struggling right now, and we need to provide resources to those business owners. We could be meeting with them intermittently to see what challenges they’re facing, and to see how we can resolve those issues.

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

I definitely think that many people are struggling. I know we’re talking about 2019 numbers, but again, we’re looking at the (valley’s) most populated city. So when you have people who are struggling and may not be receiving the resources that they need, or even understanding that there are resources available (for them), there may be some desperate measures that are taken. Also, I think we’ve seen nationwide this divide between law enforcement and communities. So this year, we formed a group called We Are Indio, and we held a vigil. The purpose of the vigil was to focus on prevention. Not only does that relate to any kind of police brutality, but it also relates to crime and other things happening in our communities. So when you’re able to provide social resources, and you’re able to bring the community together and form better relationships with public-safety officers, I think we will see a drop in those numbers. Chief Washburn has been very committed to working with us to form that bond with the community, and I’m really excited about that. Having these difficult conversations is not always a comfortable thing to do. For instance, when we were planning our vigil, I had officers call, and one was someone I went to school with (in Indio). He had some concerns, but when I was able to explain to him that our purpose and intent was to make things better for everyone, then he seemed to understand, and it calmed some of his nervousness. Obviously, we want to make sure that the officers are safe, but we want to make sure that we’re preventing any future issues, too.

Back in June, when the Indio City Council passed a budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, some reserves were drawn upon to balance the budget. The new budget projects more than $135 million in revenues. Given the economic uncertainty, if those revenue numbers fall short, what cuts or new revenue opportunities would you propose that the city pursue?

I was able to sit down with Mark Scott, our interim city manager, and he said we’re looking pretty good to get through the rest of this year. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next year. My understanding is that the festivals are planning to move forward next year, but it’s hard to say for sure. I always advocate that city reserves need to be utilized before we make any cuts that would affect any of our employees, because that’s their livelihood. I think it’s important to protect jobs. But we’re seeing so much growth in Indio that even through this pandemic, we’re building in Indio. I think we’ll be able to get through this by working together, but it will be very important for us to advocate strongly for additional funding. I looked at the numbers recently, and I think it was over 2,100 cities nationwide are facing budget shortfalls. So I think it’s time we start advocating to state and federal officials to bring more funds into our community.

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

One of the reasons why it was really important to me to run is that I’m a lifelong resident of Indio. I went to school here from kindergarten through 12th grade. My heart really is in Indio. I have a real passion, not only for what our city was, but for what it’s going to be, because I plan to live the rest of my life here. We’ve made a lot of changes, and obviously, we’ve had a lot of growth since I was a little girl. I just turned 40, and over the last 40 years, we’ve seen a lot of growth and change, but there are so many areas that have been left behind. So I feel a great connection to my community, but running for City Council has given me even more opportunities to speak with different community members and to understand the struggles that they face. For instance, I spoke with Pastor (Carl) McPeters recently. He has a church over in the John Nobles Ranch area, and for the Black community, it’s a very historic area. He was able to share how being displaced from that area (due) to expansion of the Indio mall affected his churchgoers. So I think it’s so important that we make sure our representatives are there to lead everyone, and to give equal access to all resources to every Indio resident.

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

Well, as a nurse, I didn’t have that much of an opportunity to shelter in place, because I was actually taking care of COVID-19 patients. But for me, it’s really been finding the silver linings in everything—and it’s really not one thing that I can say. Obviously, my daughter is disappointed that she has to be home from college, doing distance learning instead of living in her dorm, but the silver lining has been that I’ve had more time to spend with her. And while running this campaign, it’s been more challenging to actually meet with people. But the silver lining there is that when I got sick (with COVID-19), I was able to meet with people virtually, and I didn’t have to run all over town. So, I’d say it’s been finding the silver lining in so many things.

Published in Politics

Happy Monday, everyone. I hope everyone out there had a fantastic weekend, despite the troubling nature of these times.

While my weekend had some lovely moments—a socially distanced patio dinner with friends being the highlight—I also spent a fair amount of time counting all of your votes in the first round of our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll. Well, all of that counting is complete, and I am happy to announce this year’s slate of fantastic finalists in 126 categories!

With that, voting is now under way in our final round of voting, which is taking place here through Oct. 26. As I’ve mentioned in this space before: We ask each reader to vote once, and only once, in each round. Whereas the goals of other “Best Of” polls in this town are to get their publications as much web traffic as possible from readers visiting their websites repeatedly to vote, our goal is to come up with the best slate of finalists and winners. So, please vote—but only once. And we’ll be watching IP addresses and verifying email addresses to cut down on the shenanigans.

Thanks to everyone who voted in the first round, and thanks in advance to all of you for voting in this final around. Oh, and congrats to all of our finalists; thanks for helping to make the Coachella Valley the amazing place that it is!

Today’s news:

• Unless you’ve been hiding in some sort of bunker for the last 24 hours, you’ve likely heard about the complete bombshell The New York Times dropped yesterday regarding Donald Trump’s taxes. The newspaper seems to have gotten Trump’s tax records—documents he’s long fought to kept out of the public’s eye—and they show a history of massive losses, suspect deductions and very little actual taxes paid. Most alarmingly, however, they show that the president has $421 million in debt coming due soon—which, as the speaker of the House pointed out today, raises security questions. It’s not hyperbole to say that this is one of the most important stories of the year. It’s also true that the revelations are unlikely to sway Trump devotees, given that previous unsavory revelations have failed to do so.

A series of wildfires in Sonoma and Napa counties have resulted in “significant loss,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Nearly 50,000 people face evacuations; the situation in wine country is beyond heartbreaking.

Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, was taken into custody yesterday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after he apparently threatened to kill himself. Parscale was fired as campaign manager in July but still worked for the campaign. According to The Washington Post: “The police were called by Parscale’s wife, Candice Parscale, who told the officers upon their arrival that ‘her husband was armed, had access to multiple firearms inside the residence and was threatening to harm himself.’ Parscale was in the house with 10 guns and was inebriated when the police arrived, according to a police report released Monday. His wife had escaped the house after he cocked a gun and threatened suicide, the report said. Her arms were bruised, and she told officers that her husband had hit her days earlier, according to the police report.”

• Efforts by Trump campaign donor and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to “reform” the U.S. Postal Service by cutting costs and severely slowing mail delivery were dealt a blow by a federal judge today. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The U.S. Postal Service must prioritize election mail and immediately reverse changes that resulted in widespread delays in California and several other states, a federal judge ruled Monday. … The judge’s ruling came as part of a lawsuit by attorneys general for the District of Columbia and six states, including California, that accused the Trump administration of undermining the Postal Service by decommissioning high-speed mail-sorting machines, curtailing overtime and mandating that trucks run on time, which led to backlogs because mail was left behind.”

• Related is this scoop from Time magazine: “For three weeks in August, as election officials across the country were preparing to send out mail-in ballots to tens of millions of voters, the U.S. Postal Service stopped fully updating a national change of address system that most states use to keep their voter rolls current, according to multiple officials who use the system.” At least 1.8 million addresses (!) are effected.

• Oh, and then there’s this from NBC News: It turns out the USPS isn’t really keeping track of mail theft. “The Postal Service’s law enforcement arm acknowledged the shortcoming after NBC News, prompted by anecdotal accounts of an uptick in mail theft around the country, sought and received mail theft figures through a Freedom of Information Act request.

• Even though a federal judge has ordered the U.S. Census count to continue through Oct. 31, the bureau today said that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross “has announced a target date of October 5, 2020 to conclude 2020 Census self-response and field data collection operations.” Hmm.

Politico over the weekend dropped a story with this frightening lede: “The (Health and Human Services) department is moving quickly on a highly unusual advertising campaign to ‘defeat despair’ about the coronavirus, a $300 million-plus effort that was shaped by a political appointee close to President Donald Trump and executed in part by close allies of the official, using taxpayer funds.” In journalism school, we were taught that this is called “propaganda.”

• Now let’s compare that story with this piece from CNBC: “The United States is ‘not in a good place’ as colder months loom and the number of newly reported coronavirus cases continues to swell beyond 40,000 people every day, White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.

Channel 4 News, out of the United Kingdom, reported today that it had obtained a “vast cache” of data used by Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. What did that cache reveal? “It reveals that 3.5 million Black Americans were categorised by Donald Trump’s campaign as ‘Deterrence’—voters they wanted to stay home on election day. Tonight, civil rights campaigners said the evidence amounted to a new form of voter ‘suppression’ and called on Facebook to disclose ads and targeting information that has never been made public.”

According to NBC News: “A major hospital chain has been hit by what appears to be one of the largest medical cyberattacks in United States history. Computer systems for Universal Health Services, which has more than 400 locations, primarily in the U.S., began to fail over the weekend, and some hospitals have had to resort to filing patient information with pen and paper, according to multiple people familiar with the situation.” Eek! Locally, according to the UHS website, the company operates Michael’s House in Palm Springs.

The San Francisco Chronicle today became the latest newspaper to examine the troubling fact that a lot of people who have “recovered” from COVID-19 have not actually fully recovered. Key quote: “The coronavirus can infiltrate and injure multiple organs. Studies have reported lasting damage to the lungs and heart. People have suffered strokes due to coronavirus-related clotting issues. The virus can cause skin rashes and gastrointestinal problems. Some people lose their sense of smell and taste for weeks or even months.”

A political science professor, writing for The Conversation, explains a study he did that proves something fairly self-evident: “Politicians deepen existing divides when they use inflammatory language, such as hate speech, and this makes their societies more likely to experience political violence and terrorism. That’s the conclusion from a study I recently did on the connection between political rhetoric and actual violence.” Yes, Trump’s speeches are examined, as are those by other world leaders.

Finally, the Los Angeles Times issued an unprecedented and expansive self-examination of and apology for decades of systemic racism at the newspaper. It’s worth a read.

Stay safe, everyone. Please consider helping us continue producing local journalism—made available for free to everyone—by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, if you can. The Daily Digest will return Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

Here are two passages from The New York Times’ summary story on the Breonna Taylor case.

A grand jury indicted a former Louisville police officer on Wednesday for wanton endangerment for his actions during the raid. No charges were announced against the other two officers who fired shots, and no one was charged for causing Ms. Taylor’s death.

Brett Hankison, a detective at the time, fired into the sliding glass patio door and window of Ms. Taylor’s apartment, both of which were covered with blinds, in violation of a department policy that requires officers to have a line of sight.

He is the only one of the three officers who was dismissed from the force, with a termination letter stating that he showed “an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

Second:

Ms. Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had been in bed, but got up when they heard a loud banging at the door. Mr. Walker said he and Ms. Taylor both called out, asking who was at the door. Mr. Walker later told the police he feared it was Ms. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend trying to break in.

After the police broke the door off its hinges, Mr. Walker fired his gun once, striking Sergeant Mattingly in a thigh. The police responded by firing several shots, striking Ms. Taylor five times. One of the three officers on the scene, Detective Brett Hankison, who has since been fired, shot 10 rounds blindly into the apartment.

Mr. Walker told investigators that Ms. Taylor coughed and struggled to breathe for at least five minutes after she was shot, according to The Louisville Courier Journal. An ambulance on standby outside the apartment had been told to leave about an hour before the raid, counter to standard practice. As officers called an ambulance back to the scene and struggled to render aid to their colleague, Ms. Taylor was not given any medical attention.

Can someone explain to me how these two passages jibe? Can someone explain how a woman, who had been sleeping in her own bed, can be shot five times, and then ignored, in violation of standard police practice—with nobody held accountable? How is this justice?

More news from the day:

• If you want to follow more news on the aftermath of the Breonna Taylor announcements today, I recommend checking out the Louisville Courier Journal website. There’s a lot of good stuff therein.

• An update: The Riverside County Board of Supervisors yesterday voted 3-2 to delay by two weeks a decision on whether to push ahead with its own reopening plan—which would mean disregarding the orders from the state. Key quote, from the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “Supervisors also want more details on exactly what state funding would be at risk should the county defy Sacramento’s reopening guidelines. And they seek more clarity on when different types of businesses could reopen.

• Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order today banning new gasoline-powered cars in California within 15 years. Hooray for the environment—although there are justifiable concerns over the fact that electric cars are more expensive, among other possible issues. Our partners at CalMatters explain.

Disneyland is crabby that theme parks have not yet been allowed to reopen. In the theme park’s defense, the state has been taking its own sweet time (read: many months) in issuing any guidance whatsoever on theme parks. There’s also this key quote from the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “No COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported at Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Six Flags, Legoland and Cedar Fair parks in Florida, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia and Michigan, according to state health agencies and theme park officials.” (The key word there may be “reported.”)

• The Washington Post, via SFGate, looks at a new study showing how the coronavirus has mutated since the pandemic began. Key takeaway: It may be changing to become more contagious.

Dr. Deborah Birx is unhappy with how things are going as the coordinator of the White House coronavirus tax force, according to CNN.

The headline on this piece from The Atlantic is scary … and the words that follow are even scarier: “The Election That Could Break America: If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?”

• Good news: The self-response rate for the Census, both statewide and locally, is picking up. Bad news: A whole lot of people still haven’t responded, and the Census deadline is the end of the month. If you have not yet responded, please head to https://my2020census.gov/ and do so.

How will we know when a vaccine is safe and ready to go? A professor of medicine from the University if Virginia, writing for The Conversation, explains.

• A new CDC study shows that more than 90 percent of Americans remain susceptible to COVID-19. Translation: We’re nowhere close to herd immunity, despite what the president and Rand Paul want to believe. Key quote, from CBS News: “(CDC Director Dr. Robert) Redfield said the CDC is currently conducting a ‘very large’ study in an effort to determine how the country has been affected by COVID-19. He said that some states are seeing infection rates of 15 percent to 20 percent—with one as high as 24 percent—while others are seeing a less than 1 percent infection rate.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz blocked a ceremonial U.S. Senate resolution honoring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Why? (Other than the fact that, you know, he’s Ted Cruz?) He objected to a mention of Ginsburg’s dying wish, as reported by family members, that the current president doesn’t select her successor.

• The swamp is alive and well in Washington, D.C., if this lede from NBC News is any indication: “The consulting firm where the wife of acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is an executive has been awarded more than $6 million in contracts from the Department of Homeland Security since September 2018, according to records on the federal government website USA Spending.”

• Despite the recession and the pandemic, Palm Springs has been a darling of the airline industry over the last month. Simple Flying sums up the new airlines and flights that are coming to our li’l Coachella Valley.

• Since movie theaters finally opening here this weekend, here’s the Independent’s review of Tenet, including a now-out-of-date headline.

• Finally, Independent cocktail columnist Kevin Carlow is developing a bar program for a Palm Springs hotel, and in the process, he’s been trying to answer the question: Is there such a thing as a midcentury-modern, Palm Springs golden era cocktail? Here’s what he’s come up with so far.

Be safe out there, everyone. If you have the means, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will be back on Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

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

Published in Comics

Gyms, movie theaters, churches, nail salons and indoor dining at restaurants may now open—with limits, of course—in Riverside County.

The state of California earlier today announced that the county has officially been moved into the red, “Substantial” tier of the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” because we’ve had two straight weeks with less than 7 daily cases per 100,000 people, and a positivity rate less of than 8 percent.

This move out of the purple, “Widespread” tier means some big decisions will need to be made regarding schools. According to the state, after Riverside County has been in the “Substantial” tier for two weeks, schools can fully reopen for in-person instruction—if local school officials decide that’s what they want to do.

The move puts the county fairly close, reopenings-wise, to where we were back in June … and we all remember how that went: Cases spiked, and local hospital ICUs came close to maxing out. Let’s hope lessons were learned, and things go better this time.

As they say … stay tuned.

Some other news from the day:

• As of this writing, a marathon meeting of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors—regarding a proposal to defy the state and use a county reopening plan instead—was still ongoing. There are a lot of fascinating nuggets in Jeff Horseman’s coverage at the Riverside Press-Enterprise, like: “Speakers, some sobbing, others seething, spoke of missing weddings and funerals or feeling like they’re living in a totalitarian state. Others lamented those struggling with depression, isolation, substance abuse and unemployment. Pastors demanded that their churches be considered essential and for in-person worship to resume.” If the county voted to go along with this plan from Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, it would cause a huge mess, for a number of reasons, including the fact that Hewitt’s plan is oddly MORE restrictive in some cases (now that Riverside County has moved up a tier). Oh, and the state could decide to withhold funding from the county due to the defiance.

San Diego County will stay in the “Substantial” tier for at least another two weeks. After venturing into more-restrictive “Widespread” territory last week, the county’s case rate per 100,000 people eked down below 7 this week.

SFGate offers a nice, if slightly Bay Area-focused, summary of all the county tier movement across the state today. Lots of good news, as well as this: “In his update on the fourth week of the state’s new reopening plan, (Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark) Ghaly also announced nail salons will be allowed to open statewide, even if their county is in the most restrictive purple tier.” 

• And now some perspective: If the Coachella Valley were a separate county, we would not be moving into a less-restrictive tier. According to this week’s District 4 report from the county—District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and mostly rural points eastward—our COVID-19 stats continue to head in the right direction. However, we still have a 10.3 percent weekly positivity rate. Also, the report offers a sobering reminder about how awful this disease is: Six more of our neighbors died over the last week as a result of this awful virus.

• On this day of reopening in Riverside County, the United States hit a milestone: A reported 200,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19. CNBC offers perspective.

• While Riverside County and other parts of California are experiencing a decrease in COVID-19 cases, such is not the case in much of the rest of the country—and the world. From The Washington Post: “Twenty-seven states and Puerto Rico have shown an increase in the seven-day average of new confirmed cases since the final week of August, according to The Post’s analysis of public health data. Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Utah set record highs Monday for seven-day averages. The global picture has reaffirmed that COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is not about to fade away. Countries that had been successful early in the pandemic in driving down viral transmission—such as France, Spain and Israel—are struggling with new waves of cases and instituting new shutdowns. Most people remain susceptible to infection, and the virus is highly opportunistic.”

• STAT created a compelling theoretical “road map” for how the battle against the coronavirus may go over the next year plus. “In this project, STAT describes 30 key moments, possible turning points that could steer the pandemic onto a different course or barometers for how the virus is reshaping our lives, from rituals like Halloween and the Super Bowl, to what school could look like, to just how long we might be incorporating precautions into our routines. This road map is informed by insights from more than three dozen experts, including Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates, people on the frontlines at schools and hospitals, as well as STAT reporters. It largely focuses on the U.S.”

• Well this is interesting: SARS-CoV-2 may be able to block pain. This has some terrible health implications—but it creates some fascinating research opportunities, and opens the door to possible medical advancements regarding pain management. A professor of pharmacology for the University of Arizona, writing for The Conversation, explains.

According to the Los Angeles Times: “UC admitted 64 well-connected or rich students over more qualified ones, audit finds.” Sigh.

• And here’s another sigh-inducing bit of journalism, compliments of The Washington Post: “A $1 billion fund Congress gave the Pentagon in March to build up the country’s supplies of medical equipment has instead been mostly funneled to defense contractors and used to make things such as jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms.”

• College football remains a huge mess. On the heels of news that the Big 10 and Pac-12 conferences are taking steps to get back on the fields this fall comes this alarming news, from ESPN: “The Notre Dame-Wake Forest football game scheduled for Saturday has been postponed after the Irish announced 13 players are in isolation. In a statement Tuesday, Notre Dame said seven players tested positive for coronavirus out of 94 tests done Monday. Combined with testing results from last week, 13 players are in isolation, with 10 in quarantine. As a result, Notre Dame has paused all football-related activities. The two schools are working on a date to reschedule the game.”

Thanks for reading, and thank you to all the Supporters of the Independent out there; if you’d like to join them in helping us continue to produce quality local journalism without subscription fees or pay walls, find details here. Take care, and be safe, everybody.

Published in Daily Digest

Tomorrow’s going to be a fascinating day on the COVID-19 reopening front. Why? Well …

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is slated to vote tomorrow on a proposal that would give a big middle finger to the state, and enact a county plan allowing businesses to open faster, with fewer restrictions. The proposal comes from District 5 Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, a Libertarian. According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise: “’The state’s lack of clear guidelines has left thousands of peoples (sic) uncertain about their abilities to pay bills and provide for their families,’ Hewitt, whose district includes the Pass, Moreno Valley, Perris and Menifee, wrote in a memo to colleagues. ‘ … We (will) feel the burden of these economic impacts for years to come, it is time for Riverside County to take responsibility for our own wellbeing.’”

We’ll also find out tomorrow if Riverside County continues to meet the requirements to move into the less-restrictive “Substantial” category. Per the state: “At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least 3 weeks before moving forward.” The county has met the criteria for one week, according to the state’s weekly updates, issued every Tuesday. Since the last update, it appears cases have ticked up a bit in the county—but so has testing. So, yeah, stay tuned.

• In related news: Elemental recently published a nice primer on what we know about how COVID-19 is transmitted. Key quote: “Instead of obsessing over objects and surfaces, scientists now say the biggest infection risk comes from inhaling what someone else is exhaling, whether it’s a tiny aerosol or a larger droplet. And while a virus traveling through the air sounds terrifying, the good news is there is a safe, cheap, and effective way to stop the spread: wearing a mask.” It’s a fantastic, if long, read.

The state of California will not accept new unemployment claims for two weeks, because the current system is an overwhelmed fustercluck. The state plans on taking these two weeks to fix, update and streamline the system, Gov. Newsom announced today.

• Speaking of fusterclucks: Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the 2020 version of the CDC. So on Friday, the once-trusted government organization issued new guidance saying SARS-CoV-2 can spread through aerosols that can remain suspended in the air and travel farther than 6 feet. Today, the CDC took it back. Sigh.

• The Washington Post looks at the key role college newspapers have played in exposing a whole lot of news about COVID-19—and beyond. Key quote: “The contracting media industry has left few local outlets with dedicated higher-education reporters, leaving student journalists as ‘really the best watchdogs’ in this moment, said Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. ‘They’re the ones who are going to get the invites to parties, and they’re the ones whose friends are going to be reporting symptoms, and they’re following all the right people on social media, so they know first when there’s an outbreak or when there are unsafe conditions.’”

• The New York Times examines at the mess surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine. In an effort to be more transparent, the company just released its trial blueprints. Why? “Experts have been particularly concerned about AstraZeneca’s vaccine trials, which began in April in Britain, because of the company’s refusal to provide details about serious neurological illnesses in two participants, both women, who received its experimental vaccine in Britain. Those cases spurred the company to halt its trials twice, the second time earlier this month. The studies have resumed in Britain, Brazil, India and South Africa, but are still on pause in the U.S. About 18,000 people worldwide have received AstraZeneca’s vaccine so far.” Eek.

• From the Independent: Much of what the Desert Recreation District normally does can’t be done right now, because … well, you know—so the organization has started operating distance-learning hubs, primarily in the eastern portion of the valley, for elementary schoolers. Key quote: “Students in kindergarten through the sixth-grade can participate, and they can be registered by the week, or for extended periods. At all locations, the program begins at 7:30 a.m. each weekday and runs until 5:30 p.m. No class will contain more than 10 students, with two adult educator supervisors.”

• Good news: The U.S. set a record for the largest number of COVID-19 tests given in a day. The bad news, per Reuters: We need to be doing at least six times that number of tests.

• As the politicking and maneuvering takes place over the fate of the U.S. Supreme Court seat formerly held by the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The Conversation breaks down the four steps that need to be taken before a new justice can be seated.

• Soooo many businesses have been devastated by the pandemic—including hotels. Both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times look at the “tsunami” of hotel closures that’s already under way.

• COVID-19 has led to numerous delays in the California State Bar exam—which is costing recent law-school graduates a lot of time and money. Key quote, from the San Francisco Chronicle: “The State Bar pushed the test normally scheduled in July back to September, then to October as it figured out the software and security issues around a new online format for the hours-long exam, which normally involves test takers crammed into conference rooms. … Results from the July bar exams normally come out in mid-November, at which time law students who do not pass can begin studying for the February exams, according to Daniel Schweitzer, a longtime bar exam tutor. With results from the delayed October test not slated to come out until mid-January, there will be almost no time for students who fail to begin studying for the February test unless it too gets delayed.

• Also from the Chronicle: An increasing number of people are ignoring wildfire evacuation orders. During the North Complex fire: “Firefighters rescued at least 100 people as the fire blew through communities including Berry Creek, Feather Falls and Brush Creek. Hundreds of homes burned, dozens of residents were injured and at least 15 people were killed. The disaster could have largely been avoided had residents listened to emergency workers when there was still time to get out, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff. The victims were among scores of people who have defied evacuation orders during the wildfires that have been raging across California, a distressing trend that officials say puts emergency workers at risk, hampers firefighting efforts and often ends in loss of life.”

• Dammit, now Sizzler is filing for bankruptcy. Eff you, 2020.

• Finally, a tip of the hat from those of us at the Independent to the people who worked for the press operation at The Desert Sun. Today was the press’ last day of operation—and the October print edition of the Independent was one of the last publications to roll off of it.

Before we started the print edition 7 1/2 years ago, I got print bids from presses around Southern California—and, by far, the best deal was offered by the Gannett-owned Desert Sun. While I hated—hated—to give my business to Gannett, a company that has not always been the best steward of the papers it has owned (that’s a gross understatement), we started (and continue to operate) the Independent on a very-shoestring budget, so I needed to go with the best deal.

Through 87 print editions, the press folks there did nothing but fantastic work on the Independent. They were professional; they were accommodating when I needed extra time due to various injuries (including my left elbow dislocation in 2018, and my right elbow dislocation seven months ago); and the print quality was consistently good.

From our November 2020 print edition on, the Independent will be printed—like The Desert Sun and some of the other commercial-print jobs that used to be done at the Gene Autry Trail building here—at the Gannett operation in Phoenix. They’ll have to work very hard in Arizona to match the quality and professionalism that was displayed by the operation here.

The Desert Sun did a nice feature over the weekend on the people who worked there. I recommend checking it out.

That’s enough for today. Please help us pay our print bill, and our writers, and for MailChimp, and etc. by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, if you’re able. Stay safe, and as always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Local Issues

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