CVIndependent

Sat01202018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Kevin Fitzgerald

Jon Rahm, the current No. 3 player in the world, carved up the La Quinta Country Club course on his way to a 62—and the lead of the 2018 PGA CareerBuilder Championship after the first day of play.

Familiar names in the PGA golfing world like Patrick Reed, Canadian fan favorite Mike Weir (back after missing last year’s tournament) and player ambassador Phil Mickelson were among the field playing over the three competition courses—the PGA West Stadium Course and Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course, and the La Quinta Country Club course.

But the talk of Day 1, both among players and fans, was the debut appearance of 17-year-old golfing phenom and Palm Desert High School senior Charles Reiter. Reiter performed well, shooting a 4-under-par 68—which put him two shots ahead of that all-time fan favorite, Phil Mickelson, at the end of the day.

After several days of primetime press attention, the self-described nervous teenager overcame all the pressure.

“From the beginning, I kind of was just trying to have fun,” Reiter said at a post-round press conference. “I was trying to settle my nerves on the first tee, took a little slow start, and then I kind of got settled in, and had a lot of fun out there.”

With his father dealing with some health issues, Reiter’s longtime coach, Dave Stockton Jr., took over caddying duties for the precocious golfer. “It's actually really nice to have somebody who is … one of my really good friends. I’ve known him since I was 10,” Reiter said. “Having him on the bag, knowing that he's played out on these courses and won out here, allows me to be more comfortable on the course, knowing that he will be able to help me play through the course.”

Reiter’s ability to crush his tee shots has drawn quite a bit of attention from the other players in Coachella Valley this week. So what are his expectations for this weekend?

“Just go out and have fun—that’s it,” he said.

Tickets for the remaining days of play are $30 per day and include access to tented viewing venues, offering lots of different food and drink options, as well as end of day concerts—Huey Lewis and the News on Friday, and the Goo Goo Dolls on Saturday.

See photos from Day 1 below.

A new grassroots community organization wants this to be the “Year of Indio”—and the first step the group is taking to make that happen is supporting a candidate running against controversial Indio Mayor Michael Wilson.

The group, calling itself Year of Indio, announced its formation and the candidacy of Waymond Fermon during an early January news conference.

“We (in the Year of Indio group) are a group of individuals who care for the city of Indio, and want to see it thrive,” said Tizoc DeAztlan during a recent interview. DeAztlan, an experienced political campaigner who has contributed to the successful election efforts of Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz and State Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, among others, is an adviser to Fermon’s campaign for the new Indio District 2 City Council seat.

Starting with this year’s election, the members of the Indio City Council will be elected by district, rather than city-wide. This means Fermon will go up against City Councilmember Michael Wilson, who recently rotated into the mayor’s chair. To date, no other candidates have announced an intention to run in this district.

“Recognizing that Indio is a critical cog in the Coachella Valley at large, we have to take ownership of its future and create change on our own,” DeAztlan said. “So, as a collective, knowing that Indio has a tremendous amount of strength if it’s utilized appropriately, we realize that the most impactful thing we can do right now is have Waymond on the council.

“That being said, Waymond is just one part of the puzzle. There are two other council positions up for grabs (in Indio this year), and if Waymond, as well as the other candidates supported by the Year of Indio collective are elected—that’s something that can dramatically change the landscape of Indio moving forward. Waymond is a natural fit, so he’s the first move, but there will be more moves.”

We asked Fermon what motivated him to jump into the District 2 race.

“I think it started when I was a kid,” Fermon said. “Growing up, I watched my mother give her last to help other people out, and as I got older, I started to see that all of our (Indio) residents were not being treated fairly. I think Indio is a thriving city, but I think some of the communities are thriving more than others, and I’d like to even that base out.”

Fermon, 38, is a father of three who works as a California Department of Corrections officer. He attended Indio public schools including Kennedy Elementary, Hoover Elementary, Jefferson Middle School and Indio High School, before attending College of the Desert. He said that if elected, he’d focus on certain community challenges he has long worked to overcome.

“One is our youth,” Fermon said. “You affect change with the youth. If they’re going to grow and raise children themselves here in Indio, you have to have something for them to do that keeps them away from crime, like working to gain a higher education. I’ve always had a passion for working with youth.

“Second is the homeless issue. You know, last night, I went out with a couple of folks just to talk to some of the homeless people in the city. I just wanted to listen to them. I believe that putting your feet on the ground and actually seeing it for what it is—you get a better perspective on it. You can’t just keep throwing money at situations. You have to fix some of the underlying issues.”

The fact that a new group including Democratic political operatives is backing a candidate against Wilson should come as no surprise, considering Wilson is a conservative who has spoken out to criticize Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren and the media, among others. However, Fermon insisted his campaign is more than just an attempt to unseat Wilson.

“As far as I go, I don’t worry about what anybody else is doing,” Fermon said. “I have my goals and my plans and my agenda that I’d like to bring to the table. I live by a mantra which is: ‘I focus 120 percent on greatness, because failure is not an option.’ So right now, I’m focused on having a successful campaign and getting there (to the Indio City Council).”

DeAztlan said he does see a need for change regarding the City Council’s makeup.

“What we see as a big contrast (between these two candidates) is how each reaches a decision on policy matters,” DeAztlan said. “What’s your value set? What are your concerns, and what are you thinking about when you make decisions? Whether it’s public safety, economic development, education or transportation, all these things affect people’s lives directly. You want somebody who is considering you and cares for you when they are considering all the decisions before them on the dais.

“What we have in Waymond is someone who’s a family guy, connected to the community, and whose value set is in step with yours, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, independent or just someone who doesn’t vote usually. He’s talking the talk, and walking the walk. He wants more for his community than what he sees now. People are frustrated. The incumbent on the board now (Wilson) is someone who recently did some infamous tweeting that showed his concern wasn’t for immigrant families and those who are suffering, but instead, his concern was that people were attacking a president that most people in his district do not believe in and do not support.”

While DeAztlan was willing to go on the offensive against Wilson, Fermon insisted that he was going to remain positive.

“I’m about positive vibes and a positive life,” Fermon said. “And if I can bring that positivity to the City Council, and to the city of Indio, that’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to the future, and I see some great things happening.”

Every year as of late has seemingly brought about a major change to the CareerBuilder Challenge, the Coachella Valley’s annual PGA Tour event. The latest big change: In early September 2017, Lagardere Sports acquired complete operational control of the golf tournament.

In some years, golf’s biggest names have not bothered to visit our backyard for the January event—even though the tournament’s lineage stretches back to the heyday of the Bob Hope Classic. This latest rendition does not even aspire to reclaim the star-studded glitz and glamour associated with its history.

That’s what Jeff Sanders, the newly appointed executive director of the CareerBuilder Challenge (and the executive vice president of Lagardere Golf Sports events) said when I spoke with him recently about the tourney, currently played on three courses in La Quinta: the PGA West’s Stadium and Jack Nicklaus Tournament courses, as well as the La Quinta Country Club.

“Forty-five years ago was the last time that Arnold Palmer won the Bob Hope Desert Classic,” Sanders said. “We’re going to honor Mr. Hope and Mr. Palmer forever. But we also need to change—and the change is our entertainment, golf-festival-event model. With all due respect, it’s time to change this thing up, make it different and make it fun.

“In our business, if you get the question, ‘Who’s playing, Jeff? Who’s playing?’ Well, let’s see. Phil Mickelson is playing. And John Daly is playing. That’s crazy. That’s good. But the problem is that if that’s where it stops, then all you’ve got is a golf tournament. What I want to have is a tournament where the golf element is the centerpiece, and everything else around it makes it an event. That’s the difference—the food, the wine and these amazing green side pavilions on the 16th, 17th and 18th finishing holes of the PGA West Stadium Course where you can go in, have a drink and watch a little football on big-screen TVs all add value for the ticket-buyer. And then you can always look out the window and say, ‘Hey, there’s Phil Mickelson out there making a birdie on 17.’ You’ve got to make it more than golf.”

This year, anyone who buys a $30 daily general-admission ticket (and most likely pays a $10 per-day parking fee) will get access to all of the best viewing stands and refreshment centers—and be treated like a VIP.

“We want this event to be fun for everyone,” Sanders said, “and at the end of the day, we want to give back as much money as we can to local Coachella Valley charities. Our theme this year is ‘Golf Fore Kids,’ and so local children’s charities will be our donation recipients. And for us, success is judged by the size of our crowds. La Quinta is one of the best destinations in the country for great weather and great activities in the winter months. There are plenty of people here in La Quinta and throughout the desert in January to have a big crowd at our tourney.”

Another part of the Lagardere formula—and included in the price of admission—is music concerts. Huey Lewis and the News headline the show on Friday, Jan. 19, and the Goo Goo Dolls will do the same on Saturday, Jan. 20. Both shows are slated to begin at 4:30 p.m., right as the day’s golf play concludes.

“This year up in Napa (at the Safeway Open tournament, which Lagardere manages as well), we had six nights of concerts, Monday through Saturday,” Sanders said. “The year before, we had only two shows. So here at the CareerBuilder, (in 2019), we’ll have more than two concerts—I can guarantee you that. Whether it’ll be three shows or six, I don’t know. … We’ll certainly add more music and other fun things each year.”

Mike Taylor, a 45-year resident of the desert, is a golf enthusiast and former bartender at famed local establishments like Lord Fletcher’s in Rancho Mirage who served many of the film, music and political personalities who frequented the valley in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Taylor regaled us recently with a few tales of those halcyon days of the Bob Hope Classic.

“One of my fondest memories was watching Jackie Gleason playing with Bob Hope,” Taylor said. “Gleason was wearing a sweater vest and tie. He was ‘dressed to the nines.’ The Saturday I saw them, it was on Bermuda Dunes, and Gleason didn’t play well. From what I understand, he had a massive hangover, because I also understand that he was a pretty handy drinker. He stayed at the Spa Hotel for the whole week, and because the celebrities who played in the ProAm didn’t get any money (from the organizers), he did run up a pretty good tab of around $10,000. I heard he said, ‘Give it to Bob Hope,’ when he checked out. But I think he was probably worth it, because there were enormous crowds when I was out there. I mean, you could hardly walk.”

Even back then, the weekend wasn’t only about golf. “One of the fun things about the tournament experience at that time was that each night, after play ended, there’d be impromptu jam sessions at various hotels in the valley, and they’d be packed,” Taylor said. “You never knew who you’d run into having fun at one of those happenings. That was in the old days when the Hebert brothers were still playing on the PGA Tour … Jay and Lionel Hebert, and you had Jimmy Demaret from Texas. These were all fun-loving guys who liked to sing. But you could wind up seeing Arnold Palmer sing, and (Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop) Maury Wills playing the banjo and singing. There was Jack Lemmon playing the piano. It was just so much fun, like a Mardi Gras in the Desert.”

Alas, those days are gone and never coming back—and Sanders and his team aren’t focused on competing with the past or the PGA major championships.

“This isn’t Augusta National, OK? It’s not the U.S. Open or the British Open,” Sanders said. “This is a regular PGA Tour event. It’s phenomenal golf, but it’s not one of the majors, which people flock to mostly just for the golf. And by the way, why would you make the weekend only about golf when you’re in La Quinta in January? It makes no sense. There’s so much more to do here. We’ll have fun activities around the grounds at PGA West. We’re going to create autograph opportunities for the kids, and the parents, too. The fan experience will be awesome.”

The CareerBuilder Challenge takes place Wednesday, Jan. 17, through Sunday, Jan. 21. For more information, visit www.careerbuilderchallenge.com.

As the turbulent year of 2017 churns toward its conclusion, you may be looking for a place to grab a dose of the Christmas spirit.

I found a place—the Mizell Senior Center in Palm Springs, which administers the Meals on Wheels program for the Coachella Valley.

“We just put our Christmas ‘giving tree’ up,” said Ginny Foat, the executive director of the center. “Our Meals on Wheels drivers—who are professionally trained full-time employees and not volunteers—come back from their routes and give us the names of clients who are just really poor. We sent each of those poorest clients a flier asking them what they wanted for the holidays. When they send us their wish list, we attach them to ornaments which we hang on the ‘giving tree.’ Then, people voluntarily come and pick an ornament and go out and buy specifically for that one person. The kind of lists we get are for books, stationery, electric razors, socks, slippers or new blankets. We never get lists asking for perfume, jewelry and computers. It’s really heartwarming to see all these people voluntarily come take the ornaments off the tree, and then come back with all these wrapped presents that we deliver to client homes on Christmas Eve.

“Another thing we do is deliver holiday bags to every single one of our clients that are filled with items donated by the community,” Foat said. “In the beginning of December, we collect toiletries, socks and other essentials, and then we deliver a huge bag of stuff to each client right before Christmas.”

To the staff of 23 people who enable the Mizell Senior Center’s Meals on Wheels program and provide year-round nutritional support to the neediest seniors living throughout much of Riverside County, generosity of spirit and acts of caring are a way of life every day.

“Our nutritional program has two initiatives: the congregate sites where people come in and have lunch together at different sites that we handle, and then we have the home delivery (via Meals on Wheels),” said Laura Castillo, the director of nutrition and operational services. “… Through Meals on Wheels, we deliver some 465 meals per day. Both the congregate sites and our home-delivery clients range from Whitewater to the west, and all the way east to North Shore, Mecca, Thermal, Coachella and Indio, as well as Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, (other area cities) and two senior communities in Palm Springs, along with our Mizell Center here. Also, we’ll probably start serving Palm Desert’s Joslyn Center at the beginning of our next fiscal year (July 1, 2018).”

Along with these primary responsibilities, the Meals on Wheels team does other things that aren’t necessarily in the job description.

“Sometimes, our delivery drivers are the only person who our clients will see in the whole day,” Castillo said. “That’s part of what makes this program so great. Yes, it gets hectic and frustrating when there’s not enough of this or that, but the support this program gets from the Mizell Senior Center itself is huge. It’s become such a great community.”

The requirements set by Riverside County for participants to qualify for Meals on Wheels service are strict.

“You have to have no one in the house who can cook or go to the grocery store,” Foat said. “You need to have no means of transportation.”

Whether or not a client can qualify for Meals on Wheels, the center’s staff is always looking for ways to improve every senior’s life.

“If a client can find a way to come into the center to get their meals, we encourage it, because they’ll make friends and have a motive to come out of their homes,” Castillo said. “I had a client two years ago who didn’t want to leave his house. I told his kids, ‘He’s mobile, and you need to get him to come to the center.’ So finally, his kids got him to come. Then, six months later, I hadn’t seen him for awhile, so I called the family, and they told me that he was in Oregon. When he came back at the end of the summer, I found out that he had married one of our other clients who he met here at the center. That was so cute. So, it’s a social program. It really is.”

All these good works require a lot of funds—funds that aren’t always readily available.

“Right now, we’re under-budgeted (for the volume of service we provide),” Castillo said.

Foat said Mizell’s Meals on Wheels program never lets any eligible senior go hungry.

“One of the things I think is so unique about our program is that we serve one-third of the (Meals on Wheels) in Riverside County, but we are the only purveyor for the county that does not have a waiting list,” Foat said. “Others start a waiting list each year when the county funds run out, but we fund-raise. This is a hard thing to do, but our board has decided that food is the most important thing for anyone, since without food, you can’t exist. You can’t do anything. So we’ve committed to never having a waiting list, and we have to fund-raise constantly to support this ideal.”

The Riverside County contract supplies the center with not quite 80 percent of the funding required. That means Mizell’s staff and board need to raise the money to subsidize 20-plus percent of the total—or the cost of roughly 34,000 meals, plus the cost of 20,000 extra meals that are not subsidized by the county.

“This year, because the county funds were much reduced, we’ll probably be looking at 50,000 meals that we’ll have to raise the money to pay for,” Foat said. “But it’s so important, since a lot of the clients that we deliver to are so dependent on that meal. Without it, they would not be eating.

“Also, another good part of our program is that we deliver pet food to seniors who have pets. We partner with the Palm Springs Animal Shelter pet-food bank, and twice a month, we deliver either cat or dog food, because we found that sometimes, our seniors’ only companion is their pet.”

To donate money to the Mizell Senior Center and its Meals on Wheels program, visit www.mizell.org, or drop off a check at the center, at 480 S. Sunrise Way, in Palm Springs. To donate essential goods for holiday gift bags or participate in the “giving tree” effort, simply stop by the center.

Below: The Mizell Senior Center kitchen staff: Kelly Wills (executive chef), Laura Castillo (director of nutrition and operational services), Mike Williams (kitchen assistant 1), Pedro Hernandez (kitchen assistant 2), Steve Bautista (sous chef), AJ Pelen (kitchen assistant 2), Irma Hernandez (kitchen assistant 2), Keith Strother (volunteer) and Mindy Burnett (cook).

On Oct. 8, the Trump White House released a long list of demands that the president had given to Congress—demands that Trump said would need to be met in order for the fate of young undocumented immigrants, often called DREAMers, to be determined.

“These findings outline reforms that must be included as part of any legislation addressing the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients,” Trump said. “Without these reforms, illegal immigration and chain migration, which severely and unfairly burden American workers and taxpayers, will continue without end.”

The list of demands disappointed advocates of DREAMers—young men and women who could face deportation if Congress does not act.

Hadley Bajramovic is a Riverside County immigration attorney for both the Consulate of Mexico and the Consulate of Guatemala. She said the proclamation by Trump did not surprise her.

“I don’t know that it was shocking,” Bajramovic said, “but the recommendations (the Trump White House) made are very harsh from our point of view. A lot of the principles and policies that are talked about in that memo are already in place. So, for me, there are parts of it that are just a big eye-roll.

“I noticed a theme of using criminality as a scare tactic—like we aren’t protected from (immigrants). ‘We need to protect the U.S.A. from these people,’ but the protections are already there.”

Bajramovic highlighted some of the positions outlined in the White House directive that she found to be misleading and/or inflammatory.

“The administration is suggesting that the border is still porous, and it is not,” she said. “I work with people who come to the border and declare asylum or ask for protection, and also people who crossed the border illegally. In the past two to three years, I have not had anybody come to my office who recently crossed without inspection. It was very common up until about 2007-2008 that people would either cross through the desert or come in (with the help of) a coyote. Now the people I am seeing were admitted or paroled in by the Border Patrol because they established that they could be eligible for relief. So the notion that the border is still porous is wrong. Building a wall is unnecessary. It’s an unnecessary expense.”

“But what was interesting and eye-opening is that whoever drafted these policies was aware of the protections coming into place under our local laws to help undocumented people or people with immigration issues who have criminal convictions. Most recently, California passed a law that allows attorneys to submit motions to vacate criminal convictions if it can be proven that the defendant was not fully aware of the immigration consequences of accepting a plea deal. This law, California 1473.7, went into effect this past January and says that before a person can do a plea deal, they must understand what they are doing. It’s a due-process protection, and it’s fair. This memo attacks that type of due-process protection and is calling it a part of the ‘sanctuary status.’ It calls for prohibiting states or cities from giving that kind of a remedy. That’s really disturbing.

“Another point that is really important: California provides services and benefits to aliens,” Bajramovic said. “In fact, the California Department of Social Services just opened up federal funding (to access by the public) of $45 million to fund immigration relief for undocumented people. Now this memo says they want to restrict grants to states that do that.”

Megan Beaman Jacinto is a La Quinta-based immigration-rights attorney.

“I’ve seen some phases of reaction and response (among current DACA beneficiaries), beginning with the time leading up to Sept. 5, when Trump declared that DACA would be ended by executive order. There was dread mixed with terror leading up to that date—but after, it was just terror,” she said. “There was a lot of uncertainty immediately about whether that announcement meant that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would just be coming for everyone who then possessed DACA. That was the initial reaction, I think, both in the advocate community as well as the DACA-recipient undocumented community.”

Beaman Jacinto pointed out a less-obvious consequence of the Trump administration’s ongoing anti-immigration stance.

“There’s been an interesting political framing of the DREAMer community as the one, limited group of people who are deserving of immigration protection,” Beaman Jacinto said. “It’s like they were the victims of their parents (actions and decisions). I appreciate, and agree, that the group we call DREAMers should be protected, but it sort of requires that we vilify everyone else. The parents of those kids are not DREAMers, even though they came here to provide a better life for their families. And the kids arriving now are not DREAMers, because they didn’t arrive before the deadline and the passage of the DREAMer legislation. It’s an interesting and arbitrary set of guidelines that have established this one deserving group that’s received protection both from Obama’s DACA executive order and now, most likely, from the (new Trump iteration) of the DREAM Act which we think will become law, hopefully next year. If that passes, it will be really great, and a step in the right direction—but it has required throwing a lot of other people under the bus.”

“If the DREAM Act does pass, or even if it doesn’t, we need to do the right thing for other people who didn’t fall into that so-called DREAMer category—because we’re all dreamers.”

Since 2007, the California Legislature has worked to encourage the development of telephone and Internet access through the California Advanced Services Fund. The fund provides financial assistance to both large telecommunications companies—including Frontier, AT&T, Charter and Cox—and independent broadband projects driven by community organizations that partner with smaller Internet service providers.

Thanks in part to the fund, the Legislature has grown closer to its goal of deploying broadband Internet service to 98 percent of Californians by 2017. But as the end of 2017 drew closer, many California legislators wanted to update the broadband-support program. The result: AB 1665, aka the Internet for All Now Act, which was authored by eastern Coachella Valley Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia.

After overwhelming approval in both houses, the bill now sits on the governor’s desk, as of this writing.

“We know that having broadband Internet access improves the state’s economy, enhances educational opportunities, and benefits public safety, (as well as) our medical field and patient care,” Garcia said during a recent phone interview. “Even in the Coachella Valley, civic participation requires a connection to the Internet now. So this law supports a program that invests in and ensures that the infrastructure is in place for the purpose of allowing carriers to connect all these homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, clinics and public safety services in remote areas, allowing them to communicate. It’s vital to what we all do on a daily basis.”

Garcia said the Legislature set the 98 percent connectivity goal about a decade ago. “We have now gotten to about 94 percent or so, and that last (unconnected) percentage happens to be in mostly underdeveloped areas like the eastern Coachella Valley, Imperial County and other rural parts of the state. So that’s what this program will do.”

However, the bill did not make it to the governor’s desk without controversy.

Stephen Blum is an executive team member of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium, a California Public Utilities Commission-funded group engaged in broadband planning and development in the state, He’s also the president of Tellus Venture Associates, his own broadband-development consulting agency. He is not fan of the Internet for All Now Act version that made it to the governor’s desk.

“There have been attempts in the last legislative session and the two previous sessions to put more money into the (CASF) fund, more or less keeping the program as it was,” Blum said. “This year, things changed. The incumbents (large corporate ISPs) including AT&T, Frontier and the California Cable and Telecommunications Association jumped in and said, ‘We want the bill to be X, Y and Z.’ … Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia took it and started adding language that reflected the desires of these cable and telephone company incumbents.

“The bill went through three revisions, and each time, more perks were added for the incumbents. So as it’s written now, AB 1665 is going to put $300 million into a CASF infrastructure grant account and make it virtually impossible for independent projects to be funded. Essentially, then, it becomes a fund for AT&T and Frontier to use at their discretion.”

Blum said some of the changes made to the act baffled him.

“One of the things this bill does that boggles my mind is it lowers California’s broadband speed levels—and it’s a significant change,” he said. “Right now, an area is fundable if there’s no existing service that provides 6 mbps (megabits per second) download and 1.5 mbps upload speeds. That’s the standard. This bill changes it to 1 mbps up. Now, that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is, because the difference between 1.5 or 1 mbps up is the difference between 1990 DSL systems and contemporary copper system architecture and electronics. You can take a 1990 DSL system, do relatively minimal upgrades to it, and reach the 6 down, 1 up speed standard required. You can’t get 6 down, 1.5 up without going in and doing substantial work. That’s the change that AT&T and Frontier pushed very hard for, because that allows them to do minimal upgrades in rural areas to meet their obligations. Now they’re going to have to invest even less money—because the state will pay for it.

“If you’re in an area that falls under the CASF umbrella … you’re looking at a future where you’re going to have service somewhere in the 6 to 10 mbps download range, and 1 mbps upload range, and that’s not going to change for 10 to 20 years, because once this stuff is in, there’s no point in upgrading it.”

Garcia defended the changes made to the bill.

“There are places throughout the state that still have absolutely no Internet service whatsoever,” Garcia said. “The intention of the bill is to get people connected. The debate was: Why would we allow for certain areas that are already connected to increase their speed capacity? We laid out a goal, through a bipartisan effort of Republicans and Democrats from both rural and urban parts of the state, to make sure that the primary focus of this legislation was to serve the unserved populations. We had people push back, saying that we should be trying to get higher network speeds in places that already had connectivity, and we wrestled with that. What we decided is that we could (try for higher network speeds) after we connect everybody to some service in the areas still having no service. So, modifications to the bill were made where we were not able to appease everyone, but get enough support to move the bill forward.”

Another controversial aspect of the bill: For “last mile” projects that connect established “mid-mile” broadband pipelines to end users like homes, hospitals or businesses, those end users will have to participate financially in the funding of their access. Is that reasonable or fair when the target population is disadvantaged?

“The thought was that there should be some investment, or ‘skin in the game,’ on everyone’s part in order to be considered for access to CASF grants, and ultimately be connected,” Garcia responded.

The Independent asked whether there is some sort of means test built into the bill in order for disadvantaged end users to obtain financial support via the CASF.

“There is a means test through the CPUC,” Garcia said. “There was some confusion that this bill was attempting to just give people free Internet access—that it was like a welfare-type of program where if you signed up, you got free Internet. That’s nowhere near the real case. We’re talking about infrastructure being developed, and that makes it that much more accessible for people to connect to some type of broadband service.”

Blum said when we spoke that he was hopeful the legislation was not a done deal.

“When it gets to the governor, I think there’s a conversation to be had at that point,” he said. “We think that’s where the final decision will get made, and we feel that’s still an open question.”

In April 2016, the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) held a rally to highlight its achievements in bringing safe, clean and potable water to schools in the Eastern Coachella Valley via its Agua4All campaign, which installed 75 clean water-bottle-filling stations for student use.

For many of these local children, these stations offer the only consistent and free access to safe drinking water they have. (See “Potable Progress: Agua4All Meets Its Goal of Giving East Valley Students Access to Safe Drinking Water—but There’s Work Left to Do,” May 8, 2016.)

Since then, however, Agua4All’s progress has slowed significantly. Just those initial 75 stations are operating; no others have been installed.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that the program has stalled,” said Olga Morales, the RCAC regional manager. “Originally, we had two pilot programs, in the Coachella Valley and Bakersfield. Most of our resources were utilized in those two communities. Then, we expanded our program into other counties throughout the state, and arguably, the available money didn’t go as far as it did when it was concentrated in one specific area.

“Our whole program thus far had been funded strictly by foundation and bank money. It takes a lot of effort to attract those kinds of dollars. … In the end, it doesn’t really go very far.

“We did succeed in expanding the program into other counties across the state,” Morales continued, “but there have not been sufficient resources to increase our outreach in Riverside County and the Coachella Valley. However, in the last two months, we were awarded what’s known as a ‘technical assistance (funding) program’ for our drinking-water-in-schools program, which is hosted under the State Water (Resources Control) Board. Under this new program, we’ve been directed to work with schools to identify the need either for access to, or treatment of, drinking water on their campuses. The program officially launches next month, and it has $9.5 million set aside for drinking water infrastructure to be installed at schools in primarily disadvantaged communities.”

Unfortunately, Morales said only school districts in cities with populations less than 20,000 can apply for that assistance for the first nine months—meaning most of the Coachella Valley schools in need will not qualify.

However, there is good news to report regarding infrastructure access in the Eastern Coachella Valley.

The Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD), in partnership with other governmental offices and community stakeholders, is poised to deliver some lasting improvements to East Valley communities. CVWD Board Vice President Castulo Estrada, who represents the East Valley, talked about the positive signs for valley residents who have struggled with a lack of access to potable water for decades.

“During discussions at the CVWD Disadvantaged Communities Infrastructure Task Force meetings (chaired by Estrada), we can put some focus on the water needs of the east side, which is due to a lack of infrastructure,” Estrada said. “… Over this last year, our group at the meetings has grown to include a lot of the people who need to be part of the conversation, and who are essential to ensuring that these projects get done. Our group now includes the assemblymember’s office (Eduardo Garcia), the congressman’s office (Dr. Raul Ruiz) and the county supervisor’s office (V. Manuel Perez). We have folks from the Riverside County Transportation and Land Management Agency, which is the department in charge of issuing permits. We have folks from the United States Department of Agriculture, folks from Building Healthy Communities (BHC), folks from the leadership council, and folks from the housing coalition. Now folks from the Desert Recreation District want to join us.

“Our meetings now provide a place where everybody can talk about the projects that they’re working on, and it allows everybody to have a sense of what’s happening, and that way, things can get done better.”

Estrada mentioned the San Antonio del Desierto sewer-extension project as an example of how the task force is making progress.

“The county was holding back a grading permit that was stopping progress with the project, and as a result, we had to request at least two extensions for a grant from the USDA,” Estrada said. “Then, when Supervisor Perez came in, I spoke to him about it, and there was a big meeting called. After that, things got done. So now that project is going out to bid (for construction contractors) this month after a whole year of hiccups and delays.”

Supervisor V. Manuel Perez agreed that the CVWD task force’s work is leading to much-needed solutions to the East Valley’s longstanding needs for potable water and sewer-system access.

“Castulo’s attempts to ensure that we have reliable water infrastructure on the east side deserve recognition, particularly when it involves safe drinking water, which I view as a social-justice right.” Perez said. “This has been an historical issue for us for a very long time.”

District 56 Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia was also optimistic about the progress being made in the East Valley—including possible forward progress for Agua4All.

“From my perspective, we’re going to continue to build off our efforts with the legislation AB 2124, which included dollars to ensure safe, clean drinking water for our schools and communities in and around our school grounds,” Garcia said. “That was part of the Agua4All campaign, which received approximately $10 million in support of their efforts.

“In this last budget approved by the governor, there is roughly $17 million budgeted toward these types of efforts. That’s specifically a result of our advocacy and the advocacy of other legislators who represent similar geographic districts that are primarily rural, agricultural economies, where you have remote housing circumstances, as we do here in the Coachella Valley, that are unable to centralize infrastructure. … My job, and the job of Castulo Estrada, and the job of RCAC is now to try to bring those dollars to our backyard.”

On June 27, the California Department of Public Health issued its first data report on residents’ participation in the new End of Life Option Act.

The law was signed by the governor in 2015 and took effect on June 9, 2016. The report reveals that 258 terminally ill California patients—diagnosed as having less than 6 months to live—started the process as called for under the law, as of Dec. 31, 2016.

Of those 258 patients, 191 were prescribed the life-ending medications, by 173 unique physicians. The report states: “111 patients, or 58.1 percent, were reported by their physician to have died following ingestion of aid-in-dying drugs prescribed under EOLA, while 21 individuals, or 11 percent, died without ingestion of the prescribed aid-in-dying drug(s). The outcome of the remaining 59 individuals, or 30.9 percent, who have been prescribed aid-in-dying drugs, is currently undetermined, as there has been no outcome reported for these individuals within the time period covered by this report.” (Full disclosure: One of the 111 patients who passed away using the new law was my mother-in-law; see “Annette’s Story,” posted at CVIndependent.com on Dec. 20, 2016.)

Kat West is the national director of policy and programs at Compassion and Choices, a national support organization for medical aid-in-dying patients and their cause. The organization just released its own, independent report on the law, covering activity through May 31 of this year.

“We were actually very encouraged by the data that came out of the state, because it showed that (the participation rate) was in keeping with our previous experience in the other authorized states,” West said. “The one piece of data we were very happy to see was the ratio of the number of different doctors prescribing the drugs compared to the group of patients requesting. That was a really good indicator that medical aid-in-dying is being what we call “normalized” and basically mainstreamed into end-of-life care.”

According to the Compassion and Choices report, the organization knows of 313 prescriptions that were written for medical aid in dying in the first five months of 2017. Meanwhile, 498 health-care facilities and 104 hospice locations have adopted policies supportive of patient choice, while about 80 percent of private insurance companies have covered the cost of the medications, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter and all Medi-Cal plans.

“The additional 313 prescriptions issued (thus far in 2017) were only the ones that we know about,” West said. “There are plenty of doctors who did not reach out to our organization, and there are plenty of terminally ill people who did not reach out to us. As a result, we don’t know of all of the prescriptions that may have been written in the state of California.”

Not all of the news is good for proponents of medical aid-in-dying protocols. The federal House Appropriations Committee recently voted to block funding to implement a new medical aid-in-dying law in Washington, D.C.

In California, a Riverside County Superior Court judge allowed the Ahn vs. Hestrin lawsuit, which challenges the End of Life Option Act, to move ahead into the courts, although an injunction request to put the law on hold was rejected by the judge.

John Kappos, a partner at the O’Melveny and Myers law firm, is representing proponents of the law. He said he is not too concerned about the lawsuit.

“What I find most concerning is the fact that a purely voluntary procedure like medical aid in dying causes some people to try to impose their will on others,” he said. “People can decide that they want to do it, or they can decide that they’d prefer not to do it and just die of natural causes. There’s no one here who is telling the people who do not want to participate in medical aid in dying that they need to, or have any obligation to do so. It’s very concerning to me that there are people in California who feel that they need to tell others … they have to suffer at the end of life, and potentially die an excruciating death.”

Kappos said it could take a year or longer for the case to be resolved. “It’s hard to guess at these kinds of things, but in my view, these are purely legal issues, and eventually, that will come to light, and the case should be resolved on a motion (in the defendant’s favor).”

Here in the Coachella Valley, Eisenhower Medical Center continues to deny its staff and doctors permission to write medical-aid-in-dying prescriptions for its terminally ill patients.

“I try to take the long view, and that is that change is hard,” said West, of Compassion and Choices. “But look back 20 years as an example. If you were to bring up the subject of hospice care with a group of medical professionals, it would clear the room. That’s how taboo the topic of death and end-of-life care was then. Now, of course, hospice is completely mainstream, and everyone thinks it’s great. So it’ll be the same trajectory for medical aid in dying, especially now that California has authorized it.

“Eisenhower is just going to find itself out of step with the community’s needs and desires. It’s going to find itself out of step with its own doctors’ feelings about the issue, and eventually, it will change its policy. The community clearly wants it, so it’s just the administrators. The community is already stepping up their demands, and internal champions within Eisenhower are also calling us and letting us know what they think.”

West predicted change will come to Eisenhower sooner rather than later.

“I’d say they will change their policy within a year. I do believe that,” West said. “The administrators have to pay attention to what their community is asking for.”

West suggested that everyone engage in an end-of-life-treatment discussion with their own health-care professionals.

“Our big ask of everyone is to ask your own doctor now if they would provide the protocol legalized in the End of Life Option Act—whether she or he will support you if and when the time comes,” West said.

The Salton Sea was accidentally created in 1905, and its relentless deterioration began in earnest after the area’s heyday as a resort area in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the decades since, water levels have dropped precipitously, while pollution and salinization levels have skyrocketed—and as a result, the lake is a gradually evolving natural disaster in our backyard.

Over the years, various scientific and political initiatives have been proposed to forestall the very real dangers posed by the degrading sea. But few, if any, of the proposed solutions have been implemented.

Until now, that is.

“The two-pronged approach is moving forward under the Salton Sea 10-Year Plan,” said Bruce Wilcox, the assistant secretary of Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency. “(The first prong is) concentrating on getting some construction done out there so there’s some habitat restored, and more importantly, from a public health point of view, getting some dust suppression happening. We’re doing that right now. We’ve already started.”

The second prong is still being developed, and various Salton Sea threat-management stakeholders—including the Salton Sea Authority, the California Department of Water Resources, the Imperial Irrigation District and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife—are in the process of conducting a series of community workshops, led by Wilcox, in cities surrounding the Salton Sea.

“These meetings are for anyone, but they’re particularly designed for the public,” he said. “We hold them in the evenings so that folks who are working during the day can go.”

What’s the goal of these workshops?

“What we’re hoping to get from the general public is some input on whether or not they think the short-term projects make sense,” Wilcox said. “Are (people) happy with where they are located (geographically)? What other longer-range solutions do you see for the Salton Sea? So far, we’ve gotten some interesting feedback. For instance, there’s concern about water import. There’s concern on the part of people who live on the west side of the sea as to how soon there might be a restoration program under way near them. Those are the sorts of things we’re trying to get from folks.

“Also, longer-term, we want to know if they think the two-pronged approach will work, and how well they think it might work, or what they think we should do to change it.”

One encouraging aspect of the Salton Sea 10-Year Plan rollout is that it offers the first evidence that separate bureaucratic efforts are finally coming together. Signed by the governor in October 2015, Assembly Bill 1095 called for the creation of a list of “shovel-ready” Salton Sea restoration projects by March 31, 2016.

“All of the projects which were mentioned in that bill are included in the 10-Year Plan,” Wilcox said. “Red Hill Bay has started construction.”

The Red Hill Bay Project is a joint effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Imperial Irrigation District to restore habitat on the southeastern shore of the Salton Sea. Wilcox said the state-funded project includes about 500 acres.

Wilcox said other projects will get started later this year and early next year.

“The southwest corner of the sea includes the New River, and on the east side of that river, there are about 640 acres of species-conservation habitat,” he said. “We will advertise in the next month for a bid on the development of this project, and we should start construction on that later this year. That’s a deeper-water fisheries habitat. We now have salinity issues with the Salton Sea that are raising heck with the fisheries, so when we put these on the ground, we’ll manage the salinity in these impoundments. At least we’ll then have some stable fish habitats. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.”

The 10-Year Plan projects are expected to cost about $390 million in total. Who will provide that funding?

“We have $80 million in state of California grants stemming from (2014’s) Prop 1,” Wilcox said. “But we’re looking at getting additional funding from the (United States Department of Agriculture) perhaps, or from the (federal) watershed improvement acts. There’s a bill right now in the California State Senate that would provide additional funding. I’m confident that we’ll get the money we need.”

However, the Trump administration has not exactly embraced funding for environmental issues.

“Well, it’s a new administration, and we’re learning about them as they’re learning about us,” he said, rather diplomatically. “We have a signed memorandum of agreement with the Department of the Interior for funding. I’m going to assume that we’ll get that funding.”

However, Wilcox acknowledged that the memorandum was signed under the Obama administration.

“It certainly could be taken away,” Wilcox said. “But for the state of California, and for most people who look at this question, the cost of restoring the Salton Sea is a huge number. But when you look at it from the federal government’s perspective, it’s a line item in a budget, and there are all sorts of line items in there that are bigger than this one, so I’m reasonably confident that we’ll be able to prevail with the agencies. We’ve had some very productive discussions with them to this point. … But I don’t want to kid anybody. Funding is going to be an uphill fight. It always is, no matter what the project is.”

Wilcox expressed optimism that the 10-Year-Plan will succeed.

“I think the odds are reasonably good,” he said. “(The sea) won’t be like it was in the 1960s. It’ll be smaller, but sustainable. We call it the Salton Sea Management Program for that reason: It’s not restoration, necessarily. It’s to manage and impact all of the things going on.”

Workshops on the Salton Sea’s 10-Year-Plan are being held in cities all around the Salton Sea, including one at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, July 6, at the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo St., in Indio; and another at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, July 12, at the Rancho Mirage Public Library, 71100 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. For more information, including a complete schedule of workshops, visit resources.ca.gov/salton-sea.

After months of rain—and increased revenue from last year’s rate increases—both the western Coachella Valley’s Desert Water Agency and the eastern valley’s Coachella Valley Water District find themselves wading in more riches than they could have imagined just one short year ago.

However, that does not mean that all of the water-conservation mandates are a thing of the past.

“The drought is over, but conservation isn’t,” said Ashley Metzger, the DWA’s outreach and conservation manager. “That’s the big message.”

While Gov. Jerry Brown declared on April 7that the drought was officially over in most of the state—including Riverside County—many of the water-usage restrictions imposed during the drought may be with us for some time.

“We live in the desert, and we’re always in a drought,” said Heather Engel, the CVWD’s director of conservation and communication. “Even though there were many areas of the state that were facing unprecedented circumstances, for us, this is how it is all the time.”

Coachella Valley residents are continuing to conserve. According to the CVWD’s March conservation report, customers used 24.5 percent less potable water than compared to the same period in 2013, while the DWA reported a 23.6 percent decrease.

“There are still prohibitions on water waste, water runoff and watering during or soon after rainfall. These are all things for which the DWA will cite people,” Metzger said. “We see the drought as having been a good learning opportunity for our customers, and we want to keep that message going in terms of water use efficiency.”

However, some of the most onerous water restrictions may be eased.

“Any restrictions that local water agencies imposed above and beyond the state’s, according to my understanding, can be eliminated,” said Engel. “That’s where you see that some of the local time or day-of-the-week outdoor-irrigation usage restrictions are being lifted. But the state restrictions are pretty much common-sense restrictions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the governor and the State Water Resources Control Board make those kinds of restrictions permanent.”

Still, the local agencies are celebrating the results of all the recent precipitation.

“The big and good news is that, with the state getting plenty of rain and snowmelt runoff in Northern California, we are expecting to get 85 percent of our imported water allotment from the State Water Project this year,” Engel said. “That’s huge. If you’ve driven over that Whitewater Bridge lately, you’ve seen the water flowing down, and it’s going to be flowing all year. We’re thinking that we might be able to put about 300,000 acre feet of water into the aquifer, which is huge for all of us here in the Coachella Valley.”

The last year in which the valley received a noteworthy imported water allotment from the state was 2013.

“The only downside is that we have to be more diligent in our messaging concerning safety,” Metzger said. “You know during the summer when people want to get a reprieve from the heat out here that the river flow is alluring. But we want to point people to the reserve to experience the water resource—and not have them go into the river.”

The CVWD may also receive an unexpected revenue windfall. Last year, the CVWD board of directors approved aggressive incremental rate increases over five years. Engel explained: “When we pitched the need for these rate increases to the community, we said there were three key reasons: chromium 6 treatment (required by new state regulations); reduced revenue due to conservation; and the third had to do with a number of other capital-improvement projects, some of which had been deferred during the recession years.”

However, CVWD staff members last fall—after the rate increases were enacted—became aware of test results involving an alternative chromium 6 treatment program.

“We decided to take a timeout and do a pilot study of this alternative treatment method,” Engel said. “If this doesn’t work, we probably won’t meet the deadline to be in compliance with state-mandated chromium 6 levels by 2020. So there’s a bit of a risk there, but the savings to our customers would be so significant, and the positive impact on our communities and the environment so significant, that our board decided it was a risk worth taking. Since the report came, a handful of water districts in the state, and the city of Coachella, are looking into this other method.”

Could this new treatment option lead to—at least—lower rate increases for CVWD customers?

“The board could reduce rates back to 2010 levels if they wanted to do that,” she said. “Or they could say they don’t need any increase this year. Or they could increase any amount up to the total that was published.”

At 8 a.m., Monday, May 22, the CVWD Board is holding a public meeting to review a presentation on next year’s fiscal budget, effective July 1.

“Certainly, we did not spend the money in the last year on the chromium 6 treatment project that we had planned, but we’re uncertain about that future,” Engel said. “People are still conserving, and that’s good, and we do still have these additional projects that we need to do. For instance, we’re in the planning stages for the construction of a new aquifer-recharge facility in Palm Desert, where subsidence of the aquifer has become an issue. So there’s still a need to fund these other projects, but whether or not we can do it with or without a rate increase is still undecided. Based on what the board has said in recent public meetings, it’s clear they’re hoping that staff can come up with a plan (for the next fiscal year) that does not require an increase.”

Meanwhile, the DWA and other local water agencies have found a way to lessen the impact of rate increases on some customers. Partnering with the United Way, the DWA formed the Help2Others program, which provides financial aid to help lower-income residents pay their water bills.

“We have a lot of seniors and some lower-income neighborhoods. … it was really important to get a program like that set up, and we did,” Metzger said. “… Now all five public water agencies in the valley have this program in conjunction with the United Way.

This valuable assistance is funded differently through each of the participating agencies. “Here at the DWA,” Metzger said, “our vendors and our employees have contributed funds to make our program possible, which I’m super-proud of. I think we all realize what we do wouldn’t be possible without the residents paying our rates, and if you need help, we understand water is one of the most fundamental things you need.”

Page 1 of 10