CVIndependent

Tue12012020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

We have more than 25 news links today—a new Daily Digest record—so let’s get right to it:

• On the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, I joined hosts Brad Fuhr, Shann Carr and John Taylor to discuss the various news with Dr. Laura Rush; The Standard Magazine publisher Nino Eilets; and Clifton Tatum and Andre Carthen from Brothers of the Desert. Check it out.

• Protests force change! Some members of Congress are developing “a sweeping package of police reforms,” according to NBC News.

• Unfortunately, the Trump administration, showing a clear inability to “read the room,” doesn’t seem too interested in reforms. “Apart from supporting a federal civil rights investigation into Floyd’s death, the president has offered no proposals for changing how police use force, train new officers or interact with their communities,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

More change being forced by the protests: Los Angeles is considering cutting up to $150 million from the police budget to instead invest in communities of color.

• Yet more change: The chancellor of California’s community college system—where 80 percent of the state’s police officers get training—wants to change the curriculum to address systemic racism.

• Observers in Washington, D.C., have noticed a very disconcerting thing: law-enforcement officers with no visible affiliation or personal identities. This. Is. Scary.

• Also scary: The number of incidents of police violently using force against peaceful protesters continues to grow.

• Twitter is an odd mix of community, fun and simply terrible people. Well, community and fun won the battle against simply terrible people today: A bunch of K-pop fans took over the white-supremacist #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag by using it to share their fave stars, videos and memes—meaning the hate was hard to find among all the K-pop.

• As if I needed more proof that I should have picked another damned profession (kidding) (mostly), the United States is now on Reporters Without Borders’ list of deadliest countries for journalists.

• Also from the journalism world: Newsrooms around the world are currently in the midst of a debate: Should our coverage show protesters’ faces?

• Meanwhile, journalists at two major newspapers are none too pleased with the actions of their editors: Journalists of color at Philadelphia Inquirer are taking a “sick and tired” day to protest a recent “Buildings Matter, Too” headline, while journalists at The New York Times are speaking out against an op-ed mentioned here yesterday by Sen. Tom Cotton that called for the feds to use the military to tamp down on the protests.

• Independent contributor Keith Knight—he does The K Chronicles and (Th)ink comics that appear on the weekly Independent comics page—shared with us this list of “anti-racism resources for white people.”

• Not a cause for panic, but a reminder that we all have to take precautions: Eisenhower Medical Center confirmed it’s seeing more positive COVID-19 tests from the community in recent days.

• COVID-19 testing sites in Los Angeles County were either closed or limited due to the protests and curfews. This has public health officials—and others—concerned.

• We’ve all seen that graph of the various waves of death caused by the flu pandemic of 1918-19. While it’s possible we may see similar patterns with COVID-19—although let’s hope not—this is a very different time, and a very different virus, according to The Conversation. That’s both a good thing, and a bad thing.

• Hmm … Riverside County did not update its COVID-19 stats today. According to a tweet from Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the public health officer: “Due to technical issues, we were not able to access local data from the state's CalREDIE website. We apologize for this delay, and will strive to have updated #COVID19 data and information for you tomorrow, June 4.” (He meant tomorrow, June 5, we assume.)

• The Trump administration continues to use COVID-19 as an excuse to roll back environmental protections permanently.

• Hooray for … Chuck Grassley? The Iowa senator has pledged to block two Trump nominations until his administration explains why Trump fired two different watchdogs.

The Pentagon got billions in stimulus money to fight the pandemic. However, much of that money has gone unspent … and some of it that has been spent has been spent rather strangely.

• National employment numbers continue to rise (albeit it a slower pace)—and now the government layoffs are beginning—including in Palm Springs and La Quinta.

• We’ve mentioned in this space the dangers of (necessarily) rushed science taking place in the battle against COVID-19. Well, a major study regarding hydroxychloroquine—President Trump’s COVID-19 drug of choice—was just retracted by its authors.

• Schools reopened in Israel two weeks ago. However, students are testing positive for the coronaviruscausing some schools to close. In fact, there’s discussion of closing all of them again.

• From the Independent: The latest piece in our Pandemic Stories series looks at the Palm Springs Power, the collegiate baseball team that plays at Palm Springs Stadium every summer. The team’s season was supposed to start last week, but was—to nobody’s surprise—delayed. However, team management is keeping fingers crossed for some sort of season to take place at some point.

Las Vegas is again open for business.

• And finally, let’s end on a brighter note: The Palm Springs International Shortfest has announced its official selections for 2020! Because the in-person event is not happening this year, not all of the selections will be shown—but some will be streaming online between June 16-22. Get all of the details here.

That’s all for today. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Fight injustice. If you have the means, and you value independent local journalism, we kindly ask you to consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Coachella Valley retail stores may now let customers in, and restaurants can reopen for dine-in service.

Earlier this afternoon, Riverside County became the 45th of California’s 58 counties to get the state go-ahead to move further into Stage 2. When that fact is combined with today’s reopening of Morongo, Spotlight 29 and the two Agua Caliente casinos … it’s safe to say this is the most significant day the Coachella Valley has experienced during the reopening process, by far.

However, it’s important to remember the news is not all positive. Riverside County announced another six deaths from COVID-19 had been reported in the last 24 hours; hospitalizations also ticked up in the last day. Within a week or so, total reported deaths in the United States from COVID-19 will cross the 100,000 mark. (And the real death count is likely much higher, experts say, despite certain presidents’ efforts to diminish the numbers.)

In other words, we’ve truly, genuinely flattened the curve here in the Coachella Valley. But SARS-Co-V-2 is still out there—as dangerous as ever.

However you choose to spend Memorial Day weekend, be safe. Wear a mask when you’re out and anywhere near others. Oh, and one more thing: Please be kind.

Thank you. Here are today’s news links:

• From the Independent: Our resident bartender, Kevin Carlow, doesn’t know when bars will be able to open again—and he doesn’t know what they’ll be like when they do. However, he does know one thing: Bars aren’t as important as lives—but they’re definitely important.

Should you get on an airplane yet? And if you must fly, there are steps you can take to make sure the experience is as safe as possible. The Conversation walks you through it all.

• Well, here’s a pants-wetting headline, courtesy of The Washington Post: “Study estimates 24 states still have uncontrolled coronavirus spread.” 

• Gov. Newsom opened the door for filming on shows and movies to resume as early as next week. However, some people in Hollywood say it’s not quite time yet for that to happen.

Donald Trump said today that governors needed to allow churches to reopen—and threatened to “override” governors who refuse. Politico examines the president’s possible motivations.

• In response to Trump’s demand, Newsom said he’d have plans to reopen churches on Monday.

• The New York Times has the latest on what is now called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, the COVID-19-related illness that’s threatening the lives of an increasing number of children.

• While masks must be worn inside stores in most of the Coachella Valley, such is not the case everywhere. In fact, some stores in the U.S. aren’t allowing to wear masks. Read about the gross stupidity here.

• OK, these are two honest-to-Pete headlines on the Los Angeles Times right now. See if you can find the contradiction in logic: 1. “Trump administration warns (Los Angeles Mayor) Garcetti against ‘heavy-handed’ stay-at-home orders.” 2. “White House concerned with coronavirus spread in L.A. area, asks CDC to investigate.

• Meanwhile, members of the Legislature—not necessarily without justification—feel like the governor has been keeping lawmakers out of the loop regarding pandemic spending.

Big Bear has decided the state orders don’t apply to them.

• Mark your calendars for two weeks from tonight: On Friday, June 5, at 7 p.m., the Desert AIDS Project is going to be holding one hell of an online fundraiser. The big names participating include Kristin Chenoweth, Matthew Morrison, Ann Hampton Callaway and a whole bunch of others. Get details here.

That’s the news for today. If you appreciate these Daily Digests, and can spare a buck or two, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Again, have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. Barring any huge news tomorrow or Sunday, we’ll be back Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

In 1913, Los Angeles’ legendary chief engineer William Mulholland watched water flow from the L.A. Aqueduct for the first time and proclaimed, “There it is. Take it.”

The project drew water from the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, more than 200 miles away, across deserts and mountains, drying up the Owens River and the once-vast Owens Lake, and dangerously lowering eerily beautiful Mono Lake. Over time, it also made modern Los Angeles possible in all its awful glory: sprawling suburbs linked by clogged freeways underneath a blanket of smog.

Later, L.A. tore out its rail system to make room for a booming car culture. And even today, despite the dramatic natural setting—10,000-foot mountains, 30 miles of Pacific beaches and one of the nation’s largest urban parks smack-dab in its middle—many of L.A.’s 4 million residents have no easy access to nature, making the city one of our most park-poor.

And yet, last year, as the city celebrated the centennial of its original sin—that Owens Valley water grab—it also marked a turning point in its history: Under cover of one of the worst environmental reputations on the planet, Los Angeles is becoming an unlikely model of sustainability.

This coincides with a political transition. In 2013, L.A. elected Mayor Eric Garcetti, 43, who as a City Council member was a strong advocate for localizing water sources, cutting energy use, promoting efficiency, confronting climate change and providing access to parks and nature. His first official mayoral portrait, taken in a kayak on the Los Angeles River last summer, will greet visitors at LAX. That the L.A. River—a trash-strewn, concrete-lined channel famous as a backdrop for murders and movie car chases—has become an official symbol of Los Angeles says a lot about the city’s transformation. The river, like its city, is slowly but surely being rehabilitated.

Los Angeles has a solid foundation for this effort. Its 329 days of sunshine a year and ocean breezes give it an advantage, making heating and cooling more energy-efficient. The sprawling city is also, paradoxically, already the nation’s densest, with more people on average living in every square block than even New York, thanks to the number of duplexes and apartments in what you might call the suburbs. And it has not one downtown, but many—88 cities in Los Angeles County, a sort of new urbanist’s dream.

Meanwhile, California’s overwhelmingly Democratic political landscape is famously friendly to environmental initiatives. The state has moved well beyond debates about whether climate change is happening to begin implementing the country’s most-progressive policies. Locally, decades of grassroots advocacy to restore the L.A. River—initiated by poet Lewis MacAdams—have been embraced by the political mainstream. The city is also home to RePower L.A., a coalition of environmentalists, labor unions and economic-justice activists that works with the city-owned Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to train workers to retrofit homes at no cost to homeowners.

L.A.’s bid to become a 21st-century sustainable city starts where its environmental sins began—with water. Despite their hot, dry climate, Angelenos use less water than residents of any other American city with more than a million people, according to the Water and Power Department. Aggressive conservation measures during droughts have led to savings in wet times, too: The metropolitan area currently uses the same amount of water that it did in 1970, even though several million more people live here. Still, L.A. imports approximately 89 percent of its water from hundreds of miles away—the Owens Valley, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River. But the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has been forced to leave more water in the Owens Valley, raising the level of Mono Lake, returning water to the Owens River, and keeping down dust at dry Owens Lake. With other imported supplies likely to be pinched by climate change and increasing environmental demands, the municipal utility is working to capture more stormwater and store it in depleted groundwater basins; clean up contaminated groundwater; and recycle and reuse wastewater.

Woodbury University’s Arid Lands Institute estimates that aquifers underneath the city could absorb up to 95,000 acre-feet of stormwater a year—the amount of water the Water and Power Department is now leaving in Owens Lake—if the surface landscape were re-engineered with porous paving, drainage systems, infiltration basins and urban forests, instead of shunting the water into concrete channels and out to the ocean. That’s already happening in neighborhoods and parks around the city.

Meanwhile, the utility has committed to phasing out coal-powered electricity in the next 12 years, ending long-term power purchase agreements with plants in Utah and Arizona, and inspiring the climate-advocacy group 350.org to call Los Angeles “the national leader in the fight against climate change.” L.A. already has the largest solar-rooftop incentive program in the country, and the best feed-in-tariff rules, which allow consumers to sell power back to the grid. The city itself has realized an energy savings of 57 percent by installing 36,500 LED streetlights. It’s working to reduce energy consumption by at least 20 percent overall across 30 million square feet of existing buildings. The City Council recently made L.A. the first major city to require all new and remodeled homes to have “cool roofs” that reflect rather than absorb sunlight.

L.A. is also building a new rail system that is creating a different backbone for a city long defined by cars and freeways. Within a couple of years, you’ll be able to ride a train 25 miles from Pasadena to the beach at Santa Monica for the first time in nearly a century. L.A. is also, incredibly, becoming more bike-friendly, with 350 miles of bike lanes and paths and more on the way. Major city thoroughfares are shut down several times a year for CicLAvia events that attract tens of thousands of riders. And 19 new parks have been opened in recent years as part of the city’s “50 Parks Initiative,” many in L.A.’s most park-poor neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the city has dramatically reduced smog: You can see the mountains here more often now than you could when I was a kid, visiting my grandparents in Pasadena. That said, L.A. has a long way to go. We still have the worst air quality of any major U.S. city. Many local communities suffer from disproportionate environmental health risks because of their proximity to freeways and other polluters. And like everyone else, the city still needs a strategy for kicking its addiction to fossil fuels.

As a newcomer—I moved here a little more than a year ago from Northern California—I’ve been surprised not only by L.A.’s recent accomplishments, but also by the serious self-reflection behind them. Los Angeles is taking more responsibility for its past wrongs and actively tackling current challenges.

Last fall, the University of California at Los Angeles announced a major research initiative. “Thriving in a Hotter Los Angeles” aims to wean the city off imported water and make it fully reliant on renewable energy by 2050, while preserving biodiversity and improving local quality of life. More than 70 campus researchers—from law, policy, conservation biology, engineering, humanities, climate science, public health, urban planning—are contributing to the plan, to be presented in 2019.

The necessary partnerships with local, state and federal government, businesses, other universities, and community groups are already coming together. “Let’s get it done!” Mayor Garcetti told a group of local leaders, researchers and donors, who gathered to kick off the $150 million fundraising campaign in November.

Can we get it done? With the impending impacts of a hotter climate and rising sea level, more wildfires, and reduced snowpack, one could simply argue that we have no choice. We have to get it done.

Jon Christensen is an adjunct assistant professor, senior researcher and journalist-in-residence in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and History Department at University of California at Los Angeles. This article originally appeared in High Country News.

Published in Community Voices

As I wrote last spring, the pumas of Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains are dying—slowly, but quite literally—for lack of genetic diversity.

Blocked from migration by freeways, development and the Pacific Ocean, the lions have begun to inbreed; researchers studying the lions have, through DNA tests, found multiple instances of fathers mating with daughters. If it keeps up, the population will go sterile, depriving the tiny ecosystem of its single apex predator.

That’s why it mattered so much that, during the government shutdown, a puma was found dead on Highway 101 at Liberty Canyon, a well-known wildlife migration route between the Santa Monicas and open space to the north. Fewer than a dozen pumas remain in this cloistered range.

When the lion died, the National Park Service researchers who have been studying the animals for the last 11 years had been furloughed. Now that they’re back, we know: This death is just about as tragic as it gets for the lions of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Seth Riley, an urban wildlife expert who works on the NPS puma study, says that his colleague, Jeff Sikich, was able to access the lion’s body shortly after its death and collect samples, which he submitted to genetics labs at the University of California at Davis and UCLA. So far, the UCLA lab has analyzed 15 “loci”—specific positions on chromosomes occupied by “alleles,” or DNA sequences. “And of those 15 loci,” Riley says, “five had alleles that we never see in the Santa Monica Mountains, and have only seen north of the 101.”

Had the lion not been struck and killed by a passing motorist just after midnight on Oct. 7, that genetic material might have soon been circulating among the pumas of the Santa Monicas.

The death underscores the need for some sort of safe passage wildlife could follow out of the Santa Monicas and back again at Liberty Canyon, which is “one of the only places along the 101 freeway where there’s natural habitat on both sides,” which is critical for animals to safely cross, Riley says. The last puma that came from the north, P-12, crossed here in early 2009, and from what Sikich observed at the site where the body was found, this recent lion seems to have made it all the way across the freeway and run up against a 10-foot right-of-way fence.

The California Department of Transportation has twice had grant applications rejected for a $10 million underpass at this site. Round three comes up soon.

Riley says there’s much more work to be done on the lion’s DNA—scientists are hoping to test 54 loci, not just the 15 already analyzed. But it’s already clear that, had he been able to establish himself in the southern mountains and breed successfully as P-12 did, the now-dead lion’s impact would have been huge.

“When you have a small population and not a lot of reproductive males,” Riley says, “individual migration events make a big difference.”

Judith Lewis Mernit is a contributing editor to High Country News, the site at which this was originally posted. The author is solely responsible for the content.

Published in Environment