CVIndependent

Mon07132020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Forgive the tortured metaphor here … but the reopening train has left the station. And I don’t think there’s anything this country can do to get it back in the station now—no matter how dire things get.

Late this afternoon, the Wisconsin Supreme Court—in a disturbing 4-3 decision—struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order. The result is chaos: According to the Wisconsin State Journal, some counties have stepped in to issue their own orders, which remain valid. As for the other counties …

“For now, it looks like businesses and restaurants in counties that have not prohibited opening may operate as they wish,” the story says.

Closer to home, two Southern California casinos—Sycuan Casino Resort and the Valley View Casino and Hotel—just announced they’re reopening next week. And even closer to home, Morongo’s Canyon Lanes bowling alley will be reopening on Monday, according to the Facebook page.

All of this is happening on a planet where other countries that have eased restrictions are now needing to tighten things back up due to an increase in infections. Would that even now be possible in Wisconsin, if needed?

What a weird, alarming mess.

Meanwhile, May rolls on. And it’s only the 13th.

Other news from today:

• I am going to start off with some encouraging stories, as I cross my fingers really hard: The Washington Post talked to some doctors about how much they’ve learned about treating COVID-19 in the last two months. They’ve learned a lot, and that increasing knowledge is saving lives.

• From The New York Times: Scientists are working together more than they ever have before to find treatments for this damned virus. That’s leading to some very good things.

• Related: Vaccine-makers are considering joining forces to test their various candidate vaccines in one large trial. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach, however, as CNN points out.

• Public-relations guru David Perry drew my attention to this article, from Foreign Affairs magazine. The headline says it all, and as David presented it, I present it to you—without endorsement or critique: “Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Will Soon Be the World’s: Herd Immunity Is the Only Realistic Option—the Question Is How to Get There Safely.

• In a similar vein, here’s a piece from The Atlantic with this headline: “Take the Shutdown Skeptics Seriously: This Is Not a Straightforward Battle Between a Pro-Human and a Pro-Economy Camp.”

• I am holding back tears and counting my ample blessings after reading the opening paragraph of this San Francisco Chronicle piece: “More than 40 immigrants being held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego are alleging that a detainee’s recent death due to COVID-19 was caused by reckless and inhumane conditions, according to a letter begging the governor and other California lawmakers to intervene.”

• Some companies stepped up and offered their “essential workers” what amounted to hazard pay as the pandemic broke out. However, some of that extra pay is coming to an end—even though the hazards have not.

• Our colleagues at Dig Boston have done yet another compilation of alternative-newsmedia coverage of the pandemic, across the country and the world.

• Speaking of kick-ass media: Five media orgs with deep pockets are suing the Small Business Administration for information on which businesses got billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded loans.

The Hollywood Bowl’s summer season is officially cancelled. Surprising? No. Sad? Undeniably.

• If you’re a nerd like me, you’ll be fascinated by this San Jose Mercury News piece on how geneticists mapped the spread of SARS CoV-2 across the country. This data could help guide future travel restrictions.

• From the Independent: Palm Desert’s two new voting districts—which are decidedly unconventional—have been finalized for the 2020 city election. However, the pandemic has delayed the city’s planned adoption of a ranked-choice voting process.

• The federal government has decided some companies don’t need to follow the EPA’s pollution-monitoring rules during the pandemic. Nine states, including California, have filed suit against the EPA as a result.

Bankruptcy courts, alas, are going to probably going to see a lot of filings in the coming months and years. The Conversation shows how the courts are not ready for what’s about to hit them.

• A fantastic read from the Los Angeles Times: Janice Brown spent time at a Victorville hospital after getting sick with COVID-19. She improved, went home … and then the infection came back. This story, while alarming, is also oddly filled with hope.

• More from the “Elon Musk is a dick” files: Some of Tesla’s employees aren’t too thrilled about being rushed back to work at the carmaker’s Fremont plant.

• Creepy, or creative? A restaurant in Virginia with three Michelin stars doesn’t want to feel empty when it reopens with social-distancing restrictions … so it’s “seating” mannequins at unoccupied tables.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. If you can spare a few bucks to support quality, independent local journalism, please consider supporting the Coachella Valley Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with whatever craziness Thursday brings.

Published in Daily Digest

After a legal process that took nearly a year, the city of Palm Desert has finally moved to a district-based city voting system … sort of.

On April 30, the Palm Desert City Council—meeting online due to the COVID-19 pandemic—voted 5-0 to enact the new system. One large district, including the vast majority of the city, will be represented by four council members, while the tentatively named Civic Center Core District will have one representative.

The City Council had also planned to adopt a ranked-voting system in advance of this year’s city elections, but instead decided to put that off for two years due to the uncertainty created by the pandemic.

Karina Quintanilla is one of the two plaintiffs who sued the city in June of last year, alleging that the city’s at-large voting system violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. Similar suits have forced cities across the state, including other Coachella Valley cities, to move from at-large to district-based voting in recent years. During a recent phone interview, Quintanilla—who fought for a five-district system throughout the process—said her feelings on Palm Desert’s new voting system were decidedly mixed.

“I cannot say that I’m satisfied,” Quintanilla said. “I can say that I’m disappointed that we did not get the five districts. But I am pleased that we’ve started a conversation. When Lorraine (Salas, the co-plaintiff) and I were faced with the decision (whether to settle the lawsuit), we knew that it’s very difficult to get things right the first time. But our hope was to generate a conversation—a platform to launch forward to the five (districts option). That’s something that I feel we did achieve, so I feel very pleased with that component.

“What we really wanted, though, was the ability to have districts, because that would allow people to relate directly to one representative.”

Quintanilla and Salas agreed to a settlement with the city in November, launching a process in which city residents were asked to offer input on the new voting system. At the first public presentation on the matter in January, city representatives made the two-district system seem like a foregone conclusion, before taking a more open and honest approach in subsequent meetings. Still, throughout the entire map-creation process, not one five-district map was offered to the City Council by the National Demographics Corporation, a company hired by the city to guide the map-creation effort—despite the fact that a five-district outcome was the stated preference of Quintanilla and Salas.

“Our perspective and our desire was to simply make a civic impact and have more people fully represented on the council,” Quintanilla said. “We were just looking at: How do we improve the city? We didn’t feel that draining the city funds through a long, drawn-out lawsuit was going to deliver any benefit. And now I’m even happier about that (decision on our part), because we couldn’t have anticipated that there would be this global pandemic nor the economic impact.

“So now we’ve come full circle, and we’re OK with postponing the ranked-choice voting. The city has much more important things to do, like taking care of its residents, rather than making that shift in the electoral process.”

While Quintanilla said she views the new voting system as just one step in an evolving process, Palm Desert’s council members spoke as if the process was complete—even though the city, at the least, will need to revisit the map after the results of the 2020 Census are released.

“This has been a long, difficult and challenging process,” councilmember Sabby Jonathan said prior to the final vote. “I want to thank all of the residents who came in and offered their input, opinion and perspective. It did help shape the final result. I think this was a situation where there were a lot of competing pros and cons, and benefits and downsides and upsides, and at the end of the day, I’m hopeful, and I believe that we crafted a method for moving forward that creates tremendous balance for all of the concerns that have been expressed.”

The Independent asked Doug Johnson, the president of the National Demographics Corporation—the company hired to help with the map-making process—what the city would need to do once the Census results are released.

“Following the release of the 2020 Census data, the city will have to revisit the adopted map,” Johnson wrote in an emailed response. “If the current districts remain reasonably population-balanced and in compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act, the revisiting could be as simple as affirming the same lines. But the council does have the option to revise the lines even if population-balanced. It is, however, highly likely that the 2020 Census data will determine the districts are not sufficiently population-balanced, necessitating adjustments to at least bring them into compliance with federal law. California's ‘FAIR MAPS Act’ sets the minimum process the city has to follow for any post-2020 Census revisiting of the districts, including some timeline rules and a requirement for at least four public hearings or workshops.”

Beyond any changes the city may make after the Census data is released, there is always the possibility of another California Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the city and its unconventional new district map.

“According to the settlement agreement,” Quintanilla said, “Lorraine and I are barred from suing the city on this issue. So another resident will have to take over the helm and move it into phase two after the Census is over.”

Quintanilla, however, expressed optimism that the city would be open to input from residents moving forward.

“I had the opportunity to speak with councilwoman Kathleen Kelly, who was very gracious and very thoughtful,” Quintanilla said. “Moving forward, the ability to collaborate will make the city better.”

That olive-branch moment seemed to have resonated with Kelly, Palm Desert’s current mayor pro tem.

“I want, very enthusiastically and on behalf of the city, to thank the plaintiffs for collaborating to assess the appropriate implementation date for ranked-choice voting,” she said at the April 30 meeting. “They’ve shown a true interest in what’s best for the community, and we’re highly appreciative.”

Published in Politics

On this week's extra-crispy weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World looks at the Trump scandal cycle; Jen Sorenson wants us to pay attention to gerrymandering; The K Chronicles visits a movie set; Red Meat checks out a place in the meatpacking district; and Apoca Clips has Li'l Trumpy telling a story.

Published in Comics