Coachella Valley Independent

Daily Digest: May 5, 2021

As Kevin Fitzgerald recently reported in our piece “Vacation Rental Rebellion,” residents in some Coachella Valley towns seem to be turning against short-term rentals.

Take Cathedral City, for example. On March 2, 63% of voters upheld an ordinance that will phase out most short-term rentals in the city by Jan. 1, 2023.

But is the tide turning similarly in Palm Springs? After all, just three years ago, 70% of voters rejected a measure similar to the one Cathedral City voters just overwhelmingly approved.

According to a recent poll commissioned by the Vacation Rental Owners and Neighbors of Palm Springs (VRON-PS), the tide is NOT turning—with a clear majority of those polled showing sustained support for Palm Springs’ short-term rental rules, which were put in place in 2017.

Now, whenever an interest group commissions a poll that ends up showing support for that interest group’s position, the results of the poll should be taken with a figurative grain of salt the size of a two-ton boulder. However, Bruce Hoban, a VRON-PS co-founder and board member, pledged that his group wanted just the facts.

“This same poll was (initially) done in 2018, and that was done so we could find out how we would win Measure C,” Hoban said. “Those questions were designed not to be a fluff piece; they were designed for us to seriously understand. We were in the middle of an initiative election. We wanted to make sure we could win. We asked negative and positive questions.”

The newest version of the poll, of 327 registered voters living in Palm Springs, was done April 1-6 by San Francisco-based firm David Binder Research; it has a margin of error of 5.4%.

In answer to the question, “Vacation rentals, also known as short-term rentals, are rentals in Palm Springs that last for less than one month. Based on what you know, do you think current regulation of short-term rentals in Palm Springs is …,” 46% said the regulation is “about right,” while 15% actually said it was “too strict.” “Not strict enough” was the choice of 21%, while 18% said they didn’t know.

In answer to the question, “Overall, do you think Palm Springs homeowners renting out their homes to visitors and tourists is good or bad for your neighborhood?“ 34% said “very good”; 27% said “somewhat good”; 17% said “somewhat bad,” and “11% said “very bad.”

I asked Hoban why VRON-PS felt the need to commission the poll—something that is not cheap to do—at this time.

“There’s obviously a lot of communication around other cities right now and what they’re doing, and we thought it was important to understand: Was there any effect from the other cities on Palm Springs?” Hoban said. “Palm Springs continues to have the strictest ordinance in the valley—and real, viable enforcement, with real teeth, and real people going out (to check for violations) and excellent reporting systems.”

Clearly, not everyone likes vacation rentals. For “Vacation Rental Rebellion,” Kevin Fitzgerald talked to veteran journalist Hank Plante, a Palm Springs resident who has become an outspoken critic of short-term rentals. Plante pointed out that beyond the Coachella Valley, other California tourist destinations, including Laguna Beach and South Lake Tahoe, have cracked down on them recently.

“At some point, I do think that more and more people will become fed up with (STRs), because the city (of Palm Springs) has done nothing to curb their growth, and has done nothing to stop entire neighborhoods from being taken over,” Plante told the Independent. “I’ll give you an example: In Vista Las Palmas, on North Rose Avenue, the neighbors tell me that there are 19 vacation-rental homes in a four-block stretch. Now, that’s ridiculous. We have zoning laws for a reason. The city would never allow 19 cannabis dispensaries in a row, or 19 liquor stores in a row, or 19 massage parlors in a row. So, I think (the City Council members) need to address the issue of density. They have to impose a cap on STRs in neighborhoods that are overly saturated, and they need to rewrite the ordinance, now that we’ve had some experience with what is not working.”

Hoban said this new poll shows that Plante is not speaking for the vast majority of Palm Springs residents.

“We communicate with the City Council constantly, so we know what they’re hearing back from their districts,” Hoban said. “If during this particular horrible COVID period (since March 2020), there weren’t vacation rentals, the city would have at least $7 million less (in transient occupancy tax revenue), because vacation rentals over-performed, while hotels, unfortunately, underperformed.”

However, that’s not to say Hoban thinks Palm Springs’ vacation-rental ordinance is perfect, although he said the basic rules are sound. He conceded that some minor tweaks are in order—for example, clarifying whether a guest or a homeowner should be fined for certain violations. However, he said he’s been told the City Council can’t make any changes right now due to pending litigation.

“We’re still blocked from making changes to the current ordinance because of a lawsuit that was launched in 2017 by the same people behind Measure C,” Hoban said. “They took that all the way through Superior Court; they lost on everything, but then they appealed it. So that case is still an open case … and while it’s there, the city attorney advises no substantive changes be made to the ordinance until that lawsuit’s settled.”

To peruse the VRON-PS poll results for yourself, click here.

—Jimmy Boegle

From the Independent

A Matter of Priorities: A Look at How Growers had to Sidestep County, State Programs to Vaccinate Farmworkers

By Caitlin Antonios, CalMatters

May 5, 2021

The decision by state and county officials to prioritize Californians 65 and older delayed vaccinations for thousands of farmworkers for several weeks as infections began […]

Content Shifter: Ten Short-Lived Rock ’n’ Roll Series Worth Streaming

By Bill Frost

May 4, 2021

Here are 10 music-based TV series that nearly got it right, only to be canceled after a year or two—burn fast, burn bright-ish.

And Now, the News

• A quick update regarding the proposed arena near Cook Street and Varner Road, which we covered in-depth on Monday: The Riverside County Planning Commission unanimously OK’d the project in a 5-0 vote today. We’ll have an update at in the coming days.

• President Biden today announced a new nationwide vaccination goal today: He wants 70% of all adults to have gotten at least one shot by July 4. NPR elaborates: “The administration also aims to have 160 million adults fully vaccinated by then, a push to improve the level of immunity in the country to the point where the coronavirus has less of an opportunity to spread and so that more public health restrictions can be lifted, administration officials told reporters. … More than 56% of the adult population has received at least one dose, while 40% of adults have gotten two doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The July Fourth goal would mean about 100 million shots during the next 60 days—a slowdown from the earlier vaccination pace, and a recognition that those most eager to get the shot have already done so, administration officials said.”

The federal residential evictions ban is in serious trouble. CNBC explains: “Federal Judge Dabney Friedrich struck down on Wednesday the national eviction moratorium, potentially leaving millions of Americans at risk of losing their homes two months earlier than expected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has banned most evictions across the country since September. The protection was slated to expire at the end of January, but President Joe Biden has extended it, first until April, and later through June. Some 1 in 5 renters across the U.S. are struggling to keep up with their payments amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

• The U.S. is now in favor of sharing the technology behind the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines with the world. The Associated Press says. “United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the government’s position, amid World Trade Organization talks about a possible temporary waiver of its protections that would allow more manufacturers to produce the life-saving vaccines. ‘The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,’ Tai said in a statement. … Opponents—especially from industry—say a waiver would be no panacea. They insist that production of coronavirus vaccines is complex and can’t be ramped up by easing intellectual property. They also say lifting protections could hurt future innovation.”

San Francisco and Los Angeles entered the yellow tier yesterday—the state’s least-restrictive COVID-19 level. Here in Riverside County, we remain one level down/worse, in the orange tier. While the county’s positivity rates meet yellow-tier qualifications, our adjusted daily cases per 100,000 (3.4), while improving, would need to drop below 2—for at least two weeks. As of now, the state still plans to drop the tier system entirely and “fully reopen” the economy on June 15—less than six weeks from today.

In a related vein, here’s the Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report for the week ending May 2, 2021. The numbers keep looking better: Hospitalizations are down in the teens again; cases are lower; and the weekly positivity rate is down to 1.7 percent. One of our neighbors passed away from the disease during the week—showing that while we’ve made great strides, the pandemic isn’t over.

• If you’re vaccinated and outside in the city of Palm Springs, you no longer need to wear a face mask, unless you’re in a large group. According to a May 4 press release: “Effective today, the City of Palm Springs’ emergency order requiring face coverings will be rescinded to align with CDC guidance, now that the California Department of Public Health has officially updated its Nov. 16, 2020 guidance. Under the State guidance, applicable in the City, for fully vaccinated persons, face coverings are not required outdoors except when attending crowded outdoor events, such as live performances, parades, fairs, festivals, sports, events, or other similar settings. For unvaccinated persons, face coverings are required outdoors any time physical distancing cannot be maintained, including when attending crowded outdoor events, such as live performances, parades, fairs, festivals, sports events, or other similar settings.”

• Gov. Newsom earned a win in court today, as The Los Angeles Times explains: “A state appeals court decided unanimously Wednesday that Gov. Gavin Newsom has the legal right to modify or make new state laws during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ruling was a setback for two GOP lawmakers who challenged the scope of the governor’s public health authority. The legislators said they would ask the California Supreme Court to overturn the decision, handed down by a three-judge panel of the Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal. The appeals court said the 1970 California Emergency Services Act grants the governor the power to change state law during a crisis and that grant of authority was constitutional.”

• As the headline on this newsletter from our partners at CalMatters succinctly explains: “Recall circus begins.” Some elaboration: “The effort to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom from office entered a new phase Tuesday, when Republican businessman John Cox rebranded himself as the ‘beast’ to Newsom’s ‘beauty’ while standing next to a live bear named Tag at a Sacramento park. Cox repeatedly referred to Newsom as a ‘pretty boy’ who comes from a ‘political dynasty,’ which Cox contrasted with ‘the toughness, the beastliness’ of his own upbringing — a message reinforced by a $5 million ad buy that will begin airing across the state this week, as well as by a massive red-and-green tour bus emblazoned with the slogan ‘Meet the Beast.’” Good god, it’s gonna be a long year …

• I would be remiss if I didn’t share this tweet from CalMatters’ Emily Hoeven that includes a photo of the aforementioned bear, as she politely put it, “cleaning himself” in the middle of the aforementioned press conference. A circus!

• On a far, far more serious note comes this, also from our partners at CalMatters: Thousands of hospitality workers may get their jobs back as a result of a new state bill: “Hundreds of thousands of California workers are hoping they will benefit from the passage of a hospitality rehiring bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month. This is a great relief, employees say, for them to continue contributing to the state’s economic recovery. SB 93 guarantees the right to return to work for approximately 700,000 workers such as housekeepers, cooks, waiters, and bartenders, especially as the state targets June 15 for a full reopening. … Under California’s new law, hotel industry employers must first offer jobs to their employees who were laid off due to the pandemic within a five-day period. From that point on, employees have an additional five days to accept or reject employment.”

• A political science expert, writing for The Conversation, says the voter-suppression efforts in Georgia may not make all that much of a difference … because the whole system is already horribly messed up: “My analysis has found that Republican-led partisan gerrymandering efforts actually work against voter suppression measures, by packing Democratic voters into relatively few districts that the party wins easily. That means Democrats have fewer competitive seats to potentially lose, even when some of their supporters are kept from the polls.” Sigh.

• Here’s another sigh: The pandemic is so awful in India that even lions are getting COVID-19.

• And finally … ZDNet reports that an encrypted instant-messaging app named Signal tried to run an Instagram campaign showing how much Instagram uses data to target ads to specific users. And what did parent company Facebook say about that, according to Signal? “The ad would simply display some of the information collected about the viewer which the advertising platform uses. Facebook was not into that idea. Facebook is more than willing to sell visibility into people’s lives, unless it’s to tell people about how their data is being used. Being transparent about how ads use people’s data is apparently enough to get banned; in Facebook’s world, the only acceptable usage is to hide what you’re doing from your audience.”

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Jimmy Boegle is the founding editor and publisher of the Coachella Valley Independent. He is also the executive editor and publisher of the Reno News & Review in Reno, Nev. A native of Reno, the Dodgers...