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Local Issues

21 Sep 2020
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…
04 Sep 2020
An academic year in which public education will intersect with public health has created back-to-school shopping lists unlike any other for California’s schools as they attempt to transition toward in-person instruction—once they have the state’s blessing. Bakersfield’s Panama-Buena Vista Union School District plans to hire a manager to handle contact tracing for a system of 19,000 students and 4,000 employees. Anaheim Union High School District spent more than $500,000 this summer on additional band instruments so students won’t have to share clarinets, saxophones and flutes. Among the few California schools to physically reopen, Yreka Union High School District near the Oregon border is spending about 10 percent more than it would in any given year to hire more maintenance staff to support exhaustive cleaning efforts. While an overwhelming majority of students began the year in distance learning, schools are preparing for that moment when schools physically open—sourcing personal protective equipment…
01 Sep 2020
Members of the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) picketed at each of the three Tenet-operated hospitals in the area last week—claiming that employees at the hospitals need to take life-threatening risks every day to care for local patients battling COVID-19. The members formed picket lines at the Hi-Desert Medical Center in Joshua Tree on Wednesday, Aug. 26, before moving to the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs on Thursday, followed by Indio’s JFK Memorial Hospital on Friday. “The overlying reason is that we are in a contract negotiation right now, and at the same time, we are fighting to make sure that all of our workers are safe and have enough PPE, or personal protective equipment,” said union member Gisella Thomas via telephone before Friday’s picketing action in Indio. “Tenet is my employer. I’ve been a respiratory therapist for 48 years, and I’ve worked at Desert…
24 Aug 2020
For more than five years, Palm Springs residents and business owners have waited for the arrival of a showplace downtown park. In 2018, the Palm Springs City Council approved plans to deliver the attraction by the fall of this year—plans which were derailed by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ve taken a long time to get to this point,” councilmember Lisa Middleton told the Independent, “and I want to see a completed project there.” Pretty much everyone agrees with that statement. However, there’s significant disagreement about how the project will be completed—which became apparent after a contentious 3-2 vote at the Aug. 6 Palm Springs City Council meeting. The short version of the controversy is this: Councilmembers Grace Garner, Christy Holstege and Dennis Woods voted to proceed with the original, fully funded plans for the park—overturning a decision made two months prior to scale back those plans and save…
20 Aug 2020
As the Aug. 31 finish line for the California State Legislature approaches, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia and his colleagues are working hard to pass a package of bills designed to bring relief to the state’s farmworker communities and workplaces—which are struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are making bold efforts to put forward policy that protects the health and safety of the farmworkers,” Garcia said during a recent interview with the Independent. “But, also, we’re looking at the economic security of workers, and we want to prevent disruptions in the nation’s food supply, which is as critical to all of us today as it was even before this pandemic. “We’ve got this series of five bills that we want to highlight. We had a press conference back in April about these issues, and after that discussion, the governor took a number of executive orders, like hazard pay (for essential…
11 Aug 2020
Jamie Burson didn’t want her 11-year-old son to discover how frightened she really was about the novel coronavirus. But it’s hard to mask anxiety when you’re living and sleeping together in the same car. After Burson was evicted from her two-bedroom apartment in Vacaville during the second week of April, she heeded Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to shelter in place by cooping up in a two-door sedan near her Walmart job. With school campuses shuttered, her son propped his school-issued laptop on top of the glove box and attended class in the same passenger seat in which he slept. It helped that he could occasionally spend a night at a relative’s or friend’s house, although Burson hesitated to ask to sleep there herself, partly out of fear of the virus. “I was scared because of how many people were dying on a daily basis,” said Burson, who was evicted for…
04 Aug 2020
On June 18, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—seemingly giving a lifeline to the program that allows some undocumented residents who were brought to the United States as children to gain legal status. Celebrations, sparked by the relief felt in undocumented-immigrant communities, spread across America. But they would be short-lived. “Today’s court opinion has no basis in law and merely delays the president’s lawful ability to end the illegal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals amnesty program,” said a statement by Chad Wolf, the acting Homeland Security secretary. A few days later, the Independent spoke to Megan Beaman Jacinto, a Coachella Valley immigration and civil rights attorney, about the impact of the ruling. “What the decision did was essentially say that the Trump administration didn’t (try to) end DACA in the right way, and for that reason, DACA…
27 Jul 2020
They worry about who will care for the children and how far their education will slide. They anxiously await details on what distance learning will actually look like this fall—hopeful but skeptical that there will be more structure and support than there was during the spring crisis. They’re furiously networking on Facebook and Nextdoor in the tens of thousands to form learning pods or arrange child care. They’ve placed a huge number of calls to local tutoring services in search of help. Some wonder who will watch their child—let alone supervise online classes—while they work essential jobs. Parents of more than 5.9 million California K-12 children are scrambling to adapt to a new reality without schools where they can send their children. Ninety six percent of the state’s total enrollment is in one of the 37 counties—including Riverside County—currently on the state’s watch list. Many students still do not have…
09 Jul 2020
More critically ill Californians utilized the state’s End of Life Option Act in 2019 than in 2018—but almost all of those who did so were white. That’s the big takeaway from the California Department of Health’s yearly report, released on June 30, on what is sometimes called the death with dignity law. Consider: In 2019, some 618 terminally ill adult patients received prescriptions for medical aid in dying, and 405 patients took the medication to end their lives. Of those 405 Californians, 353 of them were white—or 87 percent, even though white people make up just 36.5 percent of the state’s population, according to 2019 U.S. Census estimates. (Full disclosure: My mother-in-law utilized the law in 2016.) Only 5 Black Californians (1.2 percent), 26 Asian Californians (6.4 percent), and 16 Hispanic Californians (4 percent) utilized the law, although these demographic groups together represent 61.4 percent of the state’s population (Black…
07 Jul 2020
On July 31, Dr. Conrado Barzaga will celebrate his one-year anniversary as the CEO of the Desert Healthcare District—and what a completely unforeseeable year it’s been. His organization and the valley’s overall health-care infrastructure are being severely challenged by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic—as well as a related and much-longer-term issue that came to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness on May 25, when George Floyd was killed while restrained and lying on a street in Minneapolis police custody. The baring of the long-simmering racial injustices in our society ignited the passion of Barzaga—so much so that on June 3, he issued a statement linking systemic racism to the subpar public-health outcomes of minority populations, both in the Coachella Valley and across the country. Here is an excerpt: “As communities across the country take to the street and risk their lives to demand justice, the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation stands in…

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