CVIndependent

Wed12022020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

For the first time, Palm Desert residents in November will vote for their City Council representatives by district … sort of.

After two residents sued the city last year, alleging that the city’s at-large voting system violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, the council approved a new system: One large district, including the vast majority of the city, will be represented by four council members; it’s now called District 2. A second, smaller district, called District 1, will have one representative. You can view an interactive district map here.

In November, District 2 residents will choose between four candidates for two seats: Incumbents Kathleen Kelly and Gina Nestande, and challengers Evan Trubee and Steven Moyer. The Independent recently spoke to the candidates, asking them each the same set of questions, on topics ranging from the new district voting system to law enforcement in the city.

Here are their complete answers, edited only for style and clarity.

Kathleen Kelly

Incumbent, mayor pro tem

Should you be re-elected, what are your top three priorities for the City Council in 2021?

Some of that has been dictated for us. We positively, absolutely have to manage the COVID-19 pandemic well. That means, to my way of thinking, recognizing first and foremost that the community’s health interests and the business community’s financial interests are totally in sync. Commerce cannot thrive unless people feel safe using commerce. That really requires a broad-based community embrace of the recommended safeguards, such as facial coverings and social distancing. So, if I am re-elected, my top priority will be to try to offer unifying leadership around that issue, and to continue to be engaged with our excellent finance team at the city to shepherd our reserves well, to get us through this. Thankfully, prior councils have left our city on a solid financial footing, so that we are able to weather this without diminishing services—but the same kind of exacting care that they took has to be continued.

Moving past that, even though we are in a crisis, it’s critical to identify some issues where strategic investment has to be made for the future. I would put two (items) at the top of that list. The first is working to improve broadband width, not just for Palm Desert, but for the whole Coachella Valley. This pandemic has exposed our dependence on the internet, so that’s a topic for which we need regional effort. We also need regional effort around diversifying our economy, so that we’re not just hospitality-dependent. Again, this crisis has exposed the problems of being so dependent on the hospitality industry. That’s why I and others on the current council worked very hard to bring about the iHub, the innovation hub across from the CSU (Cal State University-San Bernardino satellite) campus to spark cyber-security startups. That could also be a source of other career options for CSU students. So we don’t just want to survive the pandemic; we want to come out of it stronger, and I would name those two fronts as the most important fronts.

Keeping El Paseo pleasurable has to be on the list, because it’s such a key part of driving the financial resources for the city and for our quality of life. Whether people choose to spend money on El Paseo or not, many people just enjoy walking there. So facilitating outdoor dining is a key priority.

I’m a consistent advocate for more housing choices. One of the great attributes of Palm Desert is that we are a diverse community, and many demographic categories including economic wherewithal are at play, so I do want to see more housing available at all price points.

Did the city of Palm Desert fulfill its obligation to encourage more diversity in political engagement with its two-district solution, or do you believe more districts should be formed?

Experience will answer that, as I expressed when we last spoke. I firmly believe that we should get experience with this new system and learn from that. There are upsides and downsides to a five-district system. I hope that a continuing conversation will inform more residents about both the upsides and the downsides.

In terms of deaths, Palm Desert has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the Coachella Valley by COVID-19. What can, or should, the city do to better deal with the pandemic?

On the topic of the deaths, it should be noted that two particular skilled-nursing facilities accounted for at least 12 of those (COVID-19 related deaths). So, in the early stage of reporting, it kind of skewed Palm Desert higher than our neighbor cities. Unfortunately, the numbers for our neighbor cities seem to be catching up and, in some cases, surpassing us.

I don’t feel there is, or ever will be, such a thing as (doing) enough on that front. This virus is exceedingly challenging, not just because of how highly contagious it is, but because of the range of long-lasting detrimental health effects that people of all ages suffer. So it’s a misconception to suppose that only those over 60 are hardest hit. When you dig into the stories, many younger people who no longer test positive are still dealing with really debilitating consequences. So I feel we have to pull together as a community, without cessation, until it is truly over and done with. That requires constant messaging so that people don’t let their guard down. In early summer, when businesses first started to re-open, some of the public took that as a signal to relax and start having backyard barbecues, and what we hear from county health is that those backyard barbecues became a real source of infection, which hampered the capacity of our businesses to stay open. So if we care about the economy, and if we care about public health, we just have to stay vigilant.

Should the city continue to contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for law enforcement services, given Sheriff Chad Bianco has stated publicly an unwillingness for citizen/community oversight, his refusal to meet with community stakeholders, and the high cost of his department’s services?

That’s a very packed question. It’s appropriate, all of the time, to continue to review that contractual arrangement. I don’t favor being reactive based on any single issue or decision, but it is appropriate to really be in a process of continual review. I would rather see us exert continuing influence on the sheriff than to turn our back and strive to create something from the ground up. Given Palm Desert’s size, there have been tremendous advantages to having public safety delivered from a source that has specialists and task forces that can be tapped for our needs. So I wouldn’t be quick to change the contractual arrangement, but it absolutely is appropriate for us to be, as I said, in a constant state of review.

The City Council originally proposed building an Interstate 10 interchange at the north end of Portola Avenue in 2008. Should the city reconsider moving forward with this plan in light of potential impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhoods, which have expanded notably since the plan was first considered? For instance, should a survey be initiated to gather input from residents most likely to be impacted?

We haven’t. The interchange was designed, in large part, to serve those neighborhoods, and it was put on the schedule in anticipation of that growth in the north part of Palm Desert. Because of the revenue impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing is going to happen there anytime soon. Your question helps me to appreciate that it has been on the drawing boards for so long that once we return to it as a viable possibility, it will be important to have community engagement to both inform and to listen.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity since the pandemic’s arrival?

This won’t necessarily get me any votes, but it’s been a blessing to spend more time with my mom, who is 95. We live together, but before the pandemic, we both had exceedingly busy lives that kept us outside the house all day. So it’s a pleasure just to have three meals together every day.


Steven Moyer

Lawyer

Should you be elected, what are your top three priorities for the City Council in 2021?

I think everyone is, or should be, concerned about two issues, which I really see as one, and that is public health and the economy. I think everyone wants to see the small businesses in Palm Desert re-open, but they’re not going to be able to do that if our residents and the people who work in those businesses aren’t healthy. As far as the public-health aspect of it, I’d like to see the city doing more. I respect everybody’s individual right not to wear a mask or to distance, but I’m suggesting to everyone that when they go out, they wear a mask and they distance, because that’s going to allow our small businesses to re-open. I would like to see the city do more about encouraging people to do that. I don’t think we’ve seen enough of that.

Secondly, we have the issue of the economy. In that regard, in order for the city council to help, there are a number of things it can do. One is to make the permitting of new businesses easier. I think we can continue the San Pablo makeover, although it may be necessary to revisit some of the segments of that project during this time of a recession. I think we should be giving El Paseo a facelift to help the small businesses there. By closing off a couple of blocks and making it into a walking mall, we could have outdoor dining and sales, which would require changing some of our ordinances on a temporary basis, at least. We could install some nice public restrooms for our Southern California visitors, not just our local visitors. Coming from Los Angeles or Orange County or San Diego, people are driving for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, and they usually like to visit a restroom after that kind of a drive. With the restaurants and other businesses that have restrooms being closed, there’s no place for them to go. Also, we need to make sure that we have adequate parking. But if closing off a number of blocks is not a direction that the City Council wants to go in, another approach might be something that I saw recently in Culver City. They closed lanes of traffic, and on the interior street side of the lanes closest to the sidewalks, they installed white plastic barriers and moved outside dining into that area. They put up some nice potted plants and umbrellas, and there were a lot of people sitting outside eating, and they were distanced. That’s something that could be done next week. For those restaurants or shops who have space behind their buildings in parking lots, (the City Council) could make accommodations for them as well.

For No. 2, I think we should extend the ban on short-term rentals into residential areas that currently aren’t covered. I’ve been contacted by a number of people living in Palm Desert who are dissatisfied by the fact that they were left out.

Third would be focusing on making the Cal State University-San Bernardino satellite (campus) into a four-year university so that we can have an educated workforce and provide more jobs. Any city of our size that can have a four-year university is going to provide themselves with a good economic boost.

Did the city of Palm Desert fulfill its obligation to encourage more diversity in political engagement with its two-district solution, or do you believe more districts should be formed?

I believe that we should have five-district voting. At this point in time, I believe that I’m the only candidate running in District 2 who advocates for that. I do not believe that the current settlement of what was essentially a civil rights lawsuit pursuant to the California Voter Rights Act satisfies that act, although I just saw recently something sent out from the city that says it does. Needless to say, as an attorney who represented cities and municipalities in those kinds of lawsuits, I disagree with that representation (on the part of the city). I don’t think it complies with the Voter Rights Act. The current situation provides for voting in District 1 (to elect) one representative who will represent about 20 percent of the city. The other 80 percent is voting at-large, and as a consequence, the way it’s worked out for the last 20 years, and the way it will apparently continue to work out in this 2020 election, is that you have five incumbents, three of which are currently running, and all of whom live in one of the wealthiest sections of the city and within walking distance of each other. The neighborhoods, in the rest of the city, don’t have representatives who share their interests, values and concerns. So I don’t think that’s equal and fair representation. It’s not representative government. It’s government by a few.

Recently, I had a conversation with an old friend who will remain nameless, who lives nearby. He said, ‘Don’t you think that people who live in one area of town might be more talented than the others?’ That’s elitism. We can do better than that in Palm Desert. I don’t think that anyone on the north side wants to be governed by a bunch of people who only live in a small area of south Palm Desert, and that’s the situation that we’ve got now.

If we get sued again, it’s going to cost the city a lot of money, and I think we’ll lose. This time, nobody’s going to settle for this flim-flam settlement. They’re not going to buy that. I’ve spoken to the plaintiffs (in the original Voter Rights Act lawsuit), and they feel that they weren’t given adequate disclosure. Now they’re thinking that if they had known before what they know now, they wouldn’t have entered into this settlement. Nobody else will do that (moving forward). They’ll either go to trial, or they’ll get a settlement for something like five districts. There are other ways to skin a cat, so it doesn’t have to be five districts. I think it should be. You could have four districts and a mayor who’s elected at-large, which would essentially be five districts. By the way, as best as I can tell, this is the only city in the state of California that has two districts.

In terms of deaths, Palm Desert has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the Coachella Valley by COVID-19. What can, or should, the city do to better deal with the pandemic?

The City Council, the city and other departments within City Hall need to do a much-better and more-aggressive job of communicating with our full-time, part-time and visiting residents about the necessity of wearing masks and distancing. As an example, if you go into Palm Springs and just take a drive down Palm Canyon, you see digital signs on wheels saying that you are required to wear a mask and distance. They have banners (hanging) above the street saying the same thing. We were just there recently, and there were a ton of people on both sides of the street walking. Lots of people were enjoying outdoor dining, and everybody was wearing a mask. Nobody was scared off. I think that a lot of folks are anxious to enjoy that kind of experience in Palm Desert, but there are a lot of people who are afraid right now to go into our shops or restaurants where people aren’t wearing masks. I think that the City Council and the departments within City Hall who are responsible for this issue need to take that into consideration, and also remember that there are many more residents in this city than in most in the desert who are over the age of 60. We need to protect them.

Should the city continue to contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for law enforcement services, given Sheriff Chad Bianco has stated publicly an unwillingness for citizen/community oversight, his refusal to meet with community stakeholders, and the high cost of his department’s services?

That’s a good question, and this is an issue that I’ve given a lot of thought to. I have no information that leads me to believe that, at this time, we’re paying too much for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. I have not seen the contract, so I don’t know what it provides for. I have been informed that we are paying $300 an hour for the services of a deputy sheriff. So since I have no other information, that (point) sitting in isolation doesn’t really help me very much. Some people might think that sounds like a lot of money for a police officer. We’re not hiring a high-priced lawyer. But we don’t know what goes into that figure, and we don’t know what other law-enforcement agencies in the valley are being paid. However, I have been informed that Coachella is moving away from the Sheriff’s Department and is going to form its own police department. I would like to get more information on that, and I’ve contacted one of the members of their City Council to find out why they’re going in that direction. It may or may not be applicable to Palm Desert. Coachella is a much larger city, and its demographic (makeup) is completely different than Palm Desert. It may be that many of our residents are satisfied with the Sheriff’s Department in Palm Desert. There may be others who aren’t. I think that, in these sensitive times, we should consider having some public hearings in order to get more information about the issues I just raised, as well as find out how the rest of the city feels about this. So I’m not saying that we shouldn’t continue the contract with the county sheriff; I’m just saying that we should get more information and see how that contract is working in comparison to other contracts of a similar nature throughout the desert, and perhaps elsewhere, to see if we’re paying too much, and to compare it to the cost of running your own police department, and to see how the rest of the city feels about it.

The City Council originally proposed building an Interstate 10 interchange at the north end of Portola Avenue in 2008. Should the city reconsider moving forward with this plan in light of potential impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhoods, which have expanded notably since the plan was first considered? For instance, should a survey be initiated to gather input from residents most likely to be impacted?

It should be looked at again. The City Council seems not to be fully aware of the fact that we are living in the worst pandemic in a century, and a very bad recession that could be worse than the one in 2008. During these unforeseen and unprecedented times you have to adjust, and they don’t seem like they’re adjusting. They’re just like, ‘Let’s talk about the golf-cart parade.’ OK, we can talk about the golf-cart parade while putting in an onramp and an offramp for Portola, but I think we should re-visit the issue and think about if this is the right time for something like that when we could be spending our dollars on things like helping small businesses throughout the city, and maybe hiring some more people at City Hall, so that the staffing is at 100 percent. According to what I’ve been informed since announcing my candidacy, they are understaffed, and, for example, as a result of being understaffed, they can’t do certain types of code enforcement in the manner in which they should be. So maybe we should be spending our dollars on things like that instead of an onramp and offramp that might be nice during flush times.

Also, that (logic) applies to what I believe is Phase 2 of San Pablo, which has a plan for two roundabouts, I think, which maybe we could be doing in flush times. But I’d have to look at how much it costs and how much we’ve got for it (to decide) whether or not that’s something we can afford to do now. Maybe we ought to put it off, and make our priority hiring more staff at City Hall, and paying them adequately and things like that.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity since the pandemic’s arrival?

This with the approval of my health-care providers. We had one standard poodle, and we decided to get her a companion. We got her a puppy, another standard poodle who is now 7 months old. So we’ve been training her and playing with the dogs out in the backyard, and just walking the dogs in our small development early in the morning, partly to get exercise for us as well. We’re appropriately masked and distanced from everybody who lives here right now in the summer.

And I’m taking ukulele lessons online from a very fine musician who, I think, is in Torrance. But he’s one of the premier ukulele players in the country, and I just recently picked up two of my instruments that were being worked on. There’s a luthier named Dey Martin in Palm Springs. Who knew? We have a luthier in Palm Springs. A luthier makes string instruments. He makes guitars, ukuleles and maybe violins, but I’m not sure. But he also does work on them and repairs them. So I asked him to do some work on a couple of my instruments so that it was easier for me to play them. And now they play great.


Gina Nestande

Mayor of Palm Desert; real estate agent

Should you be re-elected, what are your top three priorities for the City Council in 2021?

My No. 1 top priority is to continue to make sure that we’re doing everything possible as a city to keep our citizens safe in terms of COVID, and to help and support businesses by making sure that they have the supplies that they need. It would be wonderful if we get a vaccine or better medications to fight the COVID, but since right now we really don’t, that would be a top priority.

Following that, for the economic health of our Palm Desert businesses—especially the restaurants that have had to go through a second shutdown, and the hair and nail salons—I want to continue to spur economic development and make resources available for when they can re-open, which we hope is sooner rather than later.

We have some economic programs in place right now. We have an emergency loan program where we’re disbursing $1 million to our Palm Desert businesses. Also, we haven’t voted on it yet, but it’s a priority of mine to give $900,000 to our hotels like the J.W. Marriott (Desert Springs Resort and Spa). When people come to the desert, they typically stay for a couple of nights, say Friday and Saturday, and then they go back on Sunday. What we’re going to do is subsidize (a promotional offer) where if somebody comes for two nights, then they can get a third night free, paid for by the city, although they still will have to pay the (transient occupancy tax) on that free night. I serve on the marketing committee (for the city), and research shows that if people stay a third night, they are more likely to perhaps stay for the whole week. So what we want to do is be able to drive customers to our restaurants, to our nail salons and to all of our businesses. So we’re trying to do what we can to support businesses in Palm Desert.

My third priority is the California State University-San Bernardino satellite campus. I want to help nurture and support expanding the degree programs offered there. Just recently, they had a graduation of 400 students. That’s amazing, and we’re very proud of that. We’re adding a cyber-security program, for example, and we’re expanding hospitality (programs). We want to grow technology programs out of this university, and our city has donated money to help with this expansion. So that’s my third priority, and it’s one that is looking to build the future of Palm Desert. One day, we hope it will become a stand-alone campus and it will just be Cal State-Palm Desert. But we’ve got to grow the student body, and we’ve to grow the degree programs in order to make that happen.

Did the city of Palm Desert fulfill its obligation to encourage more diversity in political engagement with its two-district solution, or do you believe more districts should be formed?

I’m going to answer that this way: We have a population of about 50,000 in Palm Desert. I don’t feel we’re comparable to like a Los Angeles, where you’ve got millions of people. I’m not saying we’re homogeneous, but for me, I don’t like the idea of balkanizing, per se, Palm Desert. I believe that El Paseo, which would probably not be in my district, is near and dear to my heart, and I care about that area. Cal State’s in another area of Palm Desert, and I care about that area. So I want to be representing Palm Desert, and I believe that (a multiple-district approach) is actually dividing us. Reluctantly, I went along with the two districts. But the jury is out on it. I tend to agree that I don’t want (the current) District 2 to feel like it’s, how do I say, not as important, because there’s four districts versus one, is how I see it. So I don’t really like that either. But I just went along with what the majority of the council wanted to do on this issue.

I was born in ’63, and when I grew up as a child, Martin Luther King was a hero to me. He changed the United States with his quote about being judged by his character, not the color of his skin. But I feel that this Voter Rights Act is throwing that out the window.

In terms of deaths, Palm Desert has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the Coachella Valley by COVID-19. What can, or should, the city do to better deal with the pandemic?

I’ve been partnering with the Riverside County Department of Public Health to get a deeper dive into the (COVID-19) numbers. It takes them a long time to (research a request), because it’s such a huge county, and they can’t respond every week to every little mayor’s request. But the last time I got data, we found that about half of the deaths were occurring in nursing homes here in Palm Desert. We have several nursing homes here, and many of their patients already have underlying conditions. So I think we just need to continue to support our nursing homes and our nurses working there. I think when we go out and about, people should wear their masks. When we go into the grocery store people, should be social distancing. I think our citizens are doing a great job. We just need to make sure we continue to have enough hand sanitizer and face masks if a business is running short. We were given $700,000 in funds from FEMA to use for our (COVID-19 related) supplies. So we’re being very conscientious with those funds, and we’re using them appropriately where needed.

Should the city continue to contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for law enforcement services, given Sheriff Chad Bianco has stated publicly an unwillingness for citizen/community oversight, his refusal to meet with community stakeholders, and the high cost of his department’s services?

I will say that almost half of our budget goes to police and fire. I do support our police, though. I believe safety is a top priority, and that, first and foremost, we need a safe city. That needs to be the foundation. We need law and order. We can’t condone violence and anarchy. Also, when COVID hit, we had to start looking at our budget again to make up for the shortfalls, and I will say the Sheriff’s Department looked long and hard, and they found a way to cut back about $3.5 million for this year. So that was a big plus. And I do not support de-funding the police.

The City Council originally proposed building an Interstate 10 interchange at the north end of Portola Avenue in 2008. Should the city reconsider moving forward with this plan in light of potential impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhoods, which have expanded notably since the plan was first considered? For instance, should a survey be initiated to gather input from residents most likely to be impacted?

It was 12 years ago (when this plan was first initiated), and over time, the cost to do that interchange has gone up astronomically. Now there’s not enough money to do the project. It’s millions of dollars short, and that (projection) was made pre-pandemic. We greatly want that interchange, and we were partnering with (the Coachella Valley Association of Governments) on it. CVAG came back to us and said, ‘Sorry, city of Palm Desert. We’re several million dollars short. You can try to help us raise the money to find the funds.’ So, that’s where we are with it—and then the pandemic hit. So it’s on hold. But I do think it needs to be looked at again, and we’ll know more in the coming months.

Gosh, if we get a vaccine for COVID, I think it will be such an uplifting thing for the state of California and the whole United States that maybe the flood gate of funds will re-open. Another issue that sort of ties into this one is that we just got our sales-tax (report) from the county for the month of May. Typically, we get about $600,000 approximately, but this May, we got approximately $1 million. Our finance director, who couldn’t believe it, wanted to make sure there wasn’t a mistake, because we don’t want to spend money that we don’t have. But it’s been confirmed. We’re not sure if it’s coming from more online sales, but the economy seems to be firing up. So we’ll see if that trend continues.

We have $100 million in reserves. This is a very well-run and financially sound city. But we don’t have the money to fund this whole project. We have to get state credits, grants and find other monies. But, having said that, if the economy comes roaring back, it will make it easier.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity since the pandemic’s arrival?

Actually, my children and I have been playing board games, and that’s something that we didn’t do anymore. The game called Catan is a great game. It’s about trading, building and settling communities, and it can go on for hours.


Evan Trubee

Owner of Big Wheel Tours

Should you be elected, what are your top three priorities for the City Council in 2021?

Not necessarily in order, I would say the top three issues are making sure we preserve the short term rental rule, and maybe even look at—and this is a can of worms, and I don’t really want to go there—but maybe look at some of the loopholes that were created in the current ordinance, because it did not cover the planned residential communities. In other words, it restricted short-term rentals in R1 and R2, but planned residentials were left out of it, almost like HOAs, even though many of these planned residentials don’t have CCRs that prohibit short-term rentals. I’ve talked to several residents, and it’s becoming a bit of an issue. The current regulations need to be protected, and maybe enhanced. We’ll see. But the feedback that I’m getting is that there are some pretty unhappy residents in those PRs.

Second, I want to make sure we maintain our economic strength and foundation. We’re going to lose quite a bit of (transient occupancy tax) revenue, and we need to be judicious about keeping a balanced budget. This year turned out pretty well, but we’re going to have to be pretty disciplined on the budget so we don’t run into trouble. And we need to think about diversifying the economy away from tourism so much, and try to cultivate more local businesses that don’t necessarily have to do with tourism.

Third, I would say, is to make sure we keep the pressure on advocating for the four-year university, meaning that Priority One foundation that’s been set up and that the city’s giving $150,000 to. My point is that even if the state of California, which is looking at a budget deficit, put the building of another four-year university on the back burner, I think we should keep the pressure on our lobbying efforts in Sacramento to make sure we stay on their radar.

I just want to make sure to get this in: We can’t forget supporting the College of the Desert. Let’s keep the four-year university as an emphasis, but not at the expense of supporting College of the Desert.

Did the city of Palm Desert fulfill its obligation to encourage more diversity in political engagement with its two-district solution, or do you believe more districts should be formed?

I followed that process pretty closely. I did go to the redistricting meetings that were held just this past winter, and even before that, I was paying attention. I think they came up with a solution that is in compliance with the California Voting Rights Act. In other words, they created a district that was as close as you can get to a majority-minority composition. So in that regard, they achieved the objective of the CVRA. It was adjudicated, and both parties agreed to it. So you’ve got to trust the judicial system. It went through the process. I’m curious to see how it plays out in this 2020 election cycle. Now, going to five districts, if that’s what you want to consider, you couldn’t carve four districts out of what is now District 2 and come up with anything even close to a majority-minority district to help try to get Latinx representation on City Council. So then you’re talking about a different issue. You’re talking about Palm Desert being a city of a size where you can justify having five separate districts of roughly 10,000-15,000 people if we get to that point. So it becomes a different issue other than just complying with the CVRA in terms of ethnic composition.

I guess the short answer is that I’m willing to let this current cycle play out, (and) see how the residents respond. I believe they did achieve the goals of complying with the CVRA in this instance. But I’m flexible. I mean, if down the road, Palm Desert residents say, ‘Hey! We feel under-represented because we live in the northern sphere, and there’s nobody who lives in our district on council,’ well, then, shoot. I’m all ears. Let’s talk about that, and talk about maybe down the road dividing it up into five.

In terms of deaths, Palm Desert has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the Coachella Valley by COVID-19. What can, or should, the city do to better deal with the pandemic?

From what I understand, and I have not been able to verify this officially, there were one or two places, and I think they were assisted-living (facilities), where a big cluster of the deaths happened which spiked our numbers relative to other valley cities. That’s what I understand, and I’ll give my answer based on that understanding. So, that was unfortunate. That’s terrible. I don’t know how it happened, and I don’t know if the city could have prevented it. However, I do advocate wearing masks.

At first blush, when this thing happened in March and April, I said, ‘Oh I’m a believer in personal liberty and in an educated populace deciding whether or not they want to do it.’ And the question was, ‘Were (the masks) really effective?’ I’ve come to the conclusion, after doing research and studying, that masks are effective. So I’m all for mandating masks here in Palm Desert at businesses, and when people are in stores in close proximity to one another. Beyond that, I think the city has done a pretty good job with education programs. They were part of the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau campaign to promote mask-wearing, so I guess that’s my answer. I think the city has done a decent job so far. Like I said, I believe our numbers (of COVID-19 deaths) are higher just due to that one unfortunate outbreak that may, or may not, have been preventable by the city of Palm Desert.

Should the city continue to contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for law enforcement services, given Sheriff Chad Bianco has stated publicly an unwillingness for citizen/community oversight, his refusal to meet with community stakeholders, and the high cost of his department’s services?

You know, I’ve talked to city officials about this, because since I’m running for this office, I have to consider all of these issues. Palm Springs has their own police force. Desert Hot Springs has their own police force. There are pros and cons to each (type of) service. When you contract out with the Riverside sheriff, then you’re spreading out the liabilities. You know, I was told by an employee of the city of Palm Desert, ‘Look, each one of those police officers is a walking liability.’ So it creates a great risk for the city if, God forbid, there is some kind of lawsuit or issue. You spread that out when you contract with the sheriffs. I like that aspect of it. From what I understand, and the research that I’ve done, the three main things that are front and center nationally are addressed. The sheriffs use body cameras; they’re not allowed to do “no-knock” warrants; and they don’t use choke holds.

So I like what the Sheriff’s Department is doing in that regard. I’m not familiar with Bianco’s unwillingness (to cooperate with civilian review). Actually, I haven’t read anything about it, so I can’t really speak to any of Bianco’s actions. I’m just talking from my perspective, and from what I know about Riverside sheriffs, I would advocate for continuing the contract with the Sheriff’s Department moving forward, for sure. In my mind, it’s one less thing the city has to worry about or staff. I think they’re doing a good job so far here in Palm Desert. I’m happy with the job they’re doing as a citizen.

The City Council originally proposed building an Interstate 10 interchange at the north end of Portola Avenue in 2008. Should the city reconsider moving forward with this plan in light of potential impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhoods, which have expanded notably since the plan was first considered? For instance, should a survey be initiated to gather input from residents most likely to be impacted?

I’ve noticed it on the agenda for the past year or so as well. From one meeting to another, when the issue of the interchange is brought up, the projected costs seem to go up considerably. I know a lot of it is being borne by CVAG (Coachella Valley Association of Governments) and the county, but the costs to the city went up considerably. As with any construction project, over time, costs typically don’t go down; the estimates go up. That’s a concern. When you talk about moving forward with the Portola interchange, I do think we need to take into consideration the (opinions of) the residents in the northern part of the city. Also, you have to take into consideration the BlackRock housing development, which is projected to bring almost 1,000 homes into that part of the city. I feel that you want to get the infrastructure in place before you have the impact on that infrastructure. In other words, build the infrastructure first, and then the housing development. So, I think that’s something to consider as well. I would like to see it happen, as long as it doesn’t adversely impact our budget to the point where we’re digging into reserves.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity since the pandemic’s arrival?

Being able to spend time with the kids. My son, who’s 19, came home from college early, in March. And my two daughters are teenagers. So when you get to this point of parenthood, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel where they’re going to be out of the house. I’m going to be an “empty-nester” in five years. I’ve just really enjoyed spending time with them. We’ve been playing games, reading books and just being together. I know it’s going to end; we’ll go back to our busy lives and busy schedules where we’re going in 20 million directions. So being with them has been a treat, and we’re enjoying it. Luckily, I have a loving family and it’s just fun to spend time together.

Published in Politics

For the first time, Palm Desert residents in November will vote for their City Council representatives by district … sort of.

After two residents sued the city last year, alleging that the city’s at-large voting system violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, the council approved a new system: One large district, including the vast majority of the city, will be represented by four council members; it’s now called District 2. A second, smaller district, called District 1, will have one representative. You can view an interactive district map here.

In November, District 1 residents will choose between two candidates: Karina Quintanilla, one of the aforementioned plaintiffs in the Voting Rights Act lawsuit, and incumbent Susan Marie Weber. The Independent recently spoke to the candidates, asking them each the same set of questions, on topics ranging from the new district voting system to law enforcement in the city.

Here are their complete answers, edited only for style and clarity.

Karina Quintanilla

Site coordinator for Think Together

Should you be elected, what are your top three priorities for the City Council in 2021?

My priorities are districting, growing higher education and public health. Regarding districting, the importance of representation, and the equitable distribution of our votes across Palm Desert—that’s a conversation that’s been had many times now, I believe. A lot of the residents I met with while I was gathering petitions (to run for the City Council) had questions about the settlement and how we got to the two districts. Now, they understand that Lorraine (Salas, the second litigant in the case) and I settled because we knew there were going to be challenges with implementing the process, so we wanted (to create) a first opportunity for everybody to come, get the microscope out and look at the process and scrutinize to see how we could do it better the next time. We wanted everybody to have more of an even say.

Today, as we move forward on this pandemic, we need to be sure that we have equal representation. We keep saying that we’re all in this together. Yes, we’re in this together—but we are not in the same boat. My boat looks very different from somebody else’s, and we need all these communities with all of our little concerns to have an equal voice in what happens with the resources moving forward, and how we identify the priorities as a city.

Now, talking about growing higher education opportunities in Palm Desert: I worked at Cal State San Bernardino, and I remember hearing that the nursing program got off the ground years ahead of schedule because the community said they work looking ahead and could see that a nursing shortage was going to get critical. So they made sure that funds were available through philanthropists and commitments from the cities who felt they had to make that happen. So, the health sciences building wasn’t even complete—and there was already a cohort of nursing students. I had the privilege of working with those students who are now in the field themselves, saving lives. Some of them are doctors of nursing, as is my sister. She has worked in a couple of medical facilities here in the desert.

With higher education comes the ability to diversify our economy. Right now, we have so much tied up in hospitality and tourism, and everyone is taking losses. So, growing our higher education capabilities will mean that we have different fields available. Right now, some of the highest-paying jobs available in the region are in cannabis—but we don’t have the biologists, the chemists and others that are needed (by this new valley industry) growing in our own backyard. Instead, they often come from out of the area. They get their master’s degrees and acquire good jobs with good salaries, when we could grow this talent at home. We are letting our brightest students leave to pursue their higher education, while we have to pay high wages to attract people who have lived in other urban areas who relocate for jobs that we can’t fill here.

We know that Cal State right now has said that they are not ready to approve any (new four-year) programs—but when they say they’re ready, we have to put ourselves in the position of having addressed housing inequality. Right now, students can’t afford to live in Palm Desert, and we can’t give them the kind of housing that makes it easy for them to work a part-time job and focus on being a student. We can’t stick our heads in the sand. If we’re going to grow our university, we’re going to need faculty for it, and they will come with families, in many cases, and we’ll need places for them to live close by. So we need to be forward-thinking in how we allocate our physical resources and where we allot land, because we need housing to be accessible to Cal State. Also, I think that supporting the city’s infrastructure, to be sure we have more accessible public transportation, is very important.

Public health is another of those major priorities. Having experienced (COVID-19 infections) within my own family, I wonder how my neighbors are coping. People get fooled (into complacency) by the wealth of their zip code, but I believe that there are a lot of people struggling to get by everywhere. We have to be aware that our neighbors may be struggling, and not everybody knows how to get help. This may be the first time that somebody is experiencing this kind of financial distress. Maybe they made it OK through the last recession. You know, maybe they had two incomes before, and the spouse passed away, so this is their first time trying to make it on a single income. We have to be genuinely more compassionate, and I think that Palm Desert just needs to do more for her residents.

I’m very happy to see that some businesses are open around town, and have signage saying that masks are required and (they) have the right to refuse service. But there needs to be signage citywide. It is of great concern to me that we have access from Highway 74, from Interstate 10 and from Highway 111, and we don’t see anything that welcomes our visitors and says, ‘Please be careful, and wear a mask.’ It doesn’t have to be a political issue. It doesn’t have to be a freedom issue, as people are making it (out to be). It’s a public-health issue. It’s a compassion issue. It’s a ‘love thy neighbor’ issue. People who come from out of town may not know what our policies are. They may be here for business for the first time, so they don’t know what Riverside County’s policies are, let alone from one city to the other.

I grew up in Thousand Palms, and they have signs. That was wonderful for me to see. When you get off on Monterey (Avenue), and you head north, Thousand Palms has a sign that encourages people to wear a mask and to be distant. That helps protect a beautiful little community with a lot of essential workers, where I still have family. Palm Desert can clearly afford to put up these signs. But we don’t have that clear signage, and we’re one of the cities that’s been hit the hardest by COVID-19.

When I think of what will happen with the viral load that we have in the community if we open too soon, it concerns me very deeply. Eventually, we have to reopen completely, and that’s not a matter of if, but just when. What’s within all of our control is how we move forward as a unified community so that we can do this with fewer mortalities. We have to think of all of the kids, all of the teachers and all of the first responders. You know, if we really are going to glorify their profession, then let’s respect that they are on the front line and they are at the most risk. We’re not giving them the respect they deserve in any way, shape or form by replacing (the word) “essential” with “disposable” workers.

In terms of deaths, Palm Desert has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the Coachella Valley by COVID-19. What can, or should, the city do to better deal with the pandemic?

I think that Palm Desert residents, and the people who work here as well, deserve better. Not everybody is contained to their zip codes, and we’ve got people who live all across the valley and are in different industries who need to feel safe going to work.

Right at the start of the pandemic, I started a job working at a senior-living facility where I met some amazing residents. But just the idea of going to work every day, and loving the people that you work with, and then being afraid that any one of them could go, or that you could be taking virus home to your family, creates levels of stress that are toxic. When they closed down the dining room, there was this one woman who liked to take her time eating, so she was eating in a different area. She said to me, ‘I’m just a slow eater. When I grew up during the Depression, you never knew when you were going to get a next meal. So, we made time to eat slowly.’ That came full circle for me—thinking about how many kids now are dealing with this generational impact of the crisis mode that they see their parents in, and these hyper-stress levels. In education curriculums, you’ll see them talk about adverse childhood experiences. We are all being exposed to trauma, but I’m worried about the long-term effects of this stress on the little ones. And yes, they need to be out there. Yes, they need to play. Yes, they need to engage, but they need to feel safe. They need to know that when they go out, it’s going to be safe for them to do so, and that the adults have done their due diligence in making sure that they’re taken care of.

Should the city continue to contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for law enforcement services, given Sheriff Chad Bianco has stated publicly an unwillingness for citizen/community oversight, his refusal to meet with community stakeholders, and the high cost of his department’s services?

I felt disappointed upon having learned that there was no outreach (on the part of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department) to the organizers of the (George Floyd/Black Lives Matter) demonstration in Palm Desert. Having seen so many different people protest in the Coachella Valley, it seemed that the mindset was already one of response only, instead of it being an opportunity to engage, observe and keep the peace. So, it was very disappointing to me.

I would choose to believe that all stakeholders’ best interests (would be served) by coming together and making sure that the needs of the community are met. It makes it difficult to have the community fully support the needs of law-enforcement officers if we aren’t able to hear directly from (Sheriff Chad Bianco) his justifications as to why these expenses keep growing. And we need to have everybody come to the table to have these open conversations.

The City Council originally proposed building an Interstate 10 interchange at the north end of Portola Avenue in 2008. Should the city reconsider moving forward with this plan in light of potential impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhoods, which have expanded notably since the plan was first considered? For instance, should a survey be initiated to gather input from residents most likely to be impacted?

I think that this is the kind of (issue) that just needs to be put on hold. It needs to be tabled until we get (more) districts in the city. The people who live in that area are the ones who are going to be impacted the most, and we need to be sure that they have their voices heard loud and clear. The environmental impact of having that right in their neighborhood may not be something they anticipated (12 years ago). Maybe residents have a vision of something entirely different that they want to see go on there. I don’t see why this needs to be a top priority right now. That funding needs to be directed to public health right now.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity since the pandemic’s arrival?

Some of the things that I’ve done are things that I learned to enjoy when, for instance, I was out of work on disability. A lot of people think that it’s a time to rest and hangout, but sometimes, it’s just a time to recover. But, my personal favorite me-time (activity) continues to be going to the blood bank. It’s my time to unplug from everything, because you can’t quite be texting. You maybe watch a movie, but it gives you time to reflect that no matter what else is going on, I’m standing, and, I’m healthy enough to be able to give something that my body is just going to make more of. I truly believe in giving everything we have if we can make somebody else’s day and life better. Not only is that good for them, but it feels great inside. So I wish more people would take the opportunity to go down to LifeStream, where they take excellent care of you. I’ve built some long-term friendships with people who have been donating there since it was the Community Blood Bank back in the ’90s. That’s one of my favorite things to do.

I know it’s kind of weird, but everybody’s got their own (favorite activity). I can’t hike right now. It’s too hot. But if you go to donate, you do it in the AC. You get to lay down while you do it. They give you juice and cookies. You get T-shirts and gas cards, and you get to save lives—and, that’s a pretty good feeling, too. When we feel kind of helpless, like there’s nothing we can do because it feels like our hands are tied as we watch our national leadership scramble and try to figure things out, there are things we can do. …  And they are doing the antibody screening, so you may be able to come back and give plasma and save even more lives.

There are absolutely things that we can all do. We can all take the Census to make sure that, once this (pandemic) is all over, each community has a true representation and how much funding they deserve to receive to meet the individual needs of their community. And everyone can vote. Everyone can pay forward.


Susan Marie Weber

Palm Desert City Council incumbent; sole proprietor of an accounting business

Should you be re-elected, what are your top three priorities for the City Council in 2021?

Yes, I do think that I should be re-elected. I kind of look at things objectively. I’m an accountant, so I look at things (to see) are they in balance—debits and credits, and so forth. That’s always allowed me to look at things objectively to try to determine what’s best. I think that’s one of the things I bring to the council, while maybe other people on other councils might not have that capability. And I don’t take things personally.

So my top three priorities, and mostly what we’re working on right now, is pretty consistent with what’s going on in the city—and that is how we can work on housing. Housing seems to be an issue right now. So what can the city do to help facilitate more housing? Now, the state has stepped in and given us some directives. We call them “unfunded mandates,” because they tell us, “Here is what you will do as a city, but good luck on trying to figure out where the money comes from.” So, one of our issues is how to create what we all call “affordable housing,” so that people who are just working in our city can actually choose to live here and not have to drive back and forth. That’s probably one of my main objectives right now.

The other one (deals with the fact that) our city has an extraordinary amount of what we call committees and commissions. These are opportunities to participate in the city, and my goal is to get more people involved in that. So when I meet somebody, and they say they really like our city, I immediately (suggest) that they go to our website, click on the committees and commissions, and find out what makes you happy and participate in that. For example, you may have noticed the project going on around San Pablo Avenue. We have an Art in Public Places Commission that is very much involved in selecting the art that’s going to go there. Also, they select the art that goes all along El Paseo, for which our city has become rather famous. So, everybody has a passion, and serving on one of our committees or commissions is a way that they can have their passion and get involved in the city. I like people to be involved. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and saying that you don’t like what’s being done, come on over, and let’s get you to work and find out what you can do to contribute to make it better.

So, those are two things that I think are most important right now. We had 100 residents show up for Envision Palm Desert (a strategic-planning effort). Our city is comprised of community involvement, and that’s what I think makes our city as great as it is. Everybody asks me, and I do think that our city is the best in the valley. I’m not kidding. It’s the best financially run. It’s the best (in terms of) commitment from our community. It’s just the best all around.

Did the city of Palm Desert fulfill its obligation to encourage more diversity in political engagement with its two-district solution, or do you believe more districts should be formed?

It’s kind of hard thing to say, because so many people think that we didn’t fulfill it. I can only speak for myself, but I was not in favor of districting. I think it’s inappropriate for a city like ours. You have an opportunity in our city every two years to do away with three (city councilmembers) and replace them, and then in two years do away with (the other) two and replace them. Now, people are going to be confined to one representative—at least in my District 1: They’ll be confined to me for four solid years. Whereas before, (the voters) had more flexibility. … If you live in our city, you had five people you can go to with your comments, and everybody would be working to make everything better. Now, with districting, I’m not quite sure. I presume that most of us who are there will continue that practice, no matter which district we are assigned to, if I can use that phrase. But I don’t think it was the best thing for our city.

We are a unique city. We’ve worked all these years as a whole city—and now, to divide us, I don’t think was in our best interest. I’ve read a lot of comments by people who want to take it further and make it into five (districts). Frankly, I’m baffled by that, and can’t figure out how that would benefit (Palm Desert). When they talk about diversity, our diversity is all over our entire city. They had quite a challenge working on the demography (of new district creation) because we are a city where (different demographic groups) just live all over the place. Plus, I’m not quite sure what they mean when they say that they want more representation. It’s hard to answer a question when the question doesn’t make sense. How do you want more representation? What’s going wrong right now? Can you not show up at City Hall? I have regular office hours, and anybody could walk in on a Friday, and there I would be. They wouldn’t even need an appointment. With any of the council members, all you have to do is call and say that you want to talk to a council member right now, and somebody would be there. So I’m not quite sure what the people who disagree with (the results of) the districting want, exactly.

I don’t quite know how to answer that question. I thought we were doing really well. I felt represented, and I always participated, too. If I didn’t like what was going on, I showed up to say so.

In terms of deaths, Palm Desert has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the Coachella Valley by COVID-19. What can, or should, the city do to better deal with the pandemic?

Our city is on the record, and we (on the City Council) all voted to accept whatever instructions the county is putting out. For example, if the county says. ‘OK, you can all open up, and here are your guidelines,’ our goal is to comply with those.

Regarding the significant amount of deaths that appear to be in Palm Desert, I think that sometimes they leave out the rest of the story—and that is that we have a tremendous amount of nursing-care facilities. A lot of times, when they’re hit hard, a lot of deaths will come out of that area—not necessarily because of a lack of care or cleanliness or anything else; it’s just that those particular patients might have been susceptible. So it’s always important to look at the rest of the story before decisions are made.

Regarding our city, the minute that we had the information, we shut down our city (administration). Everybody started working from home. We got new computers and all sorts of systems set up so that people could assist the public immediately. So we did not drop the ball on that. When you call, you get help so that (obtaining) licenses and so forth can continue to take place. We figured out a way with our social distancing at City Hall to have the public make appointments to come in for one-on-one assistance. We’ve complied in every manner, and deep cleaning has been done. I was over there yesterday to do the online City Council meeting, so that I don’t have to worry about my computer shutting down. And while I was there, everyone was walking around with our masks on and following all those rules.

Should the city continue to contract with the Riverside County Sheriff for law enforcement services, given Sheriff Chad Bianco has stated publicly an unwillingness for citizen/community oversight, his refusal to meet with community stakeholders, and the high cost of his department’s services?

Well, we just changed our contract with them. But my concern about any of these organizations is that the people who are working in them aren’t necessarily running them. The unions are telling everybody what they have to do, and I’m not a fan of unions dictating what should be paid to different people, because I think the unions kind of all work for themselves after a while. That’s something that we’ve been facing, and you can’t just keep escalating costs, because pretty soon, 100 percent of the income that the city might get is going to be used for public safety. So we changed our (contract) so that we have more people who are working on paper work, you might say. So for example, you might call the sheriff’s department, because you’ve just been beaten up, and you would have a sheriff’s deputy go out there and take care of it. Then, I might call to say I just had a robbery, and they might take the report and then have somebody else out to follow up with all of the paperwork. So the deputies are now freed up to go out and do more of what we might call law-enforcement type work.

A lot of the (policing) issues we’re having, unfortunately, come from the homeless issue. Now, why would we want a deputy going out to take care of a homeless issue? So we’re hiring different people who can go out and handle that, as long as there’s no risk. As you understand, there’s a real fine line in public safety, where you don’t want anybody to get hurt. We’ve been looking at this now for the last two years, so I imagine that this is going on all over the place. Everybody’s trying to decide: What’s the better way?

Clearly, I’m not a fan of defunding. That’s not a good solution at all. It sounds like a great idea, but it’s not practical or common sense. If you’re going to get rid of something, you’ve got to be prepared to put something in its place. Also, we are working with Indian Wells and La Quinta to study the issue of changing the way we sub-contract out (our law-enforcement services). I’m a major fan of subcontracting, rather than having our own police force, (because) that’s a real expensive way to do it. For example, if we’re subcontracting out, and we all of a sudden need a whole lot more deputies, they can easily bring in the extra service to take care of our needs. That gives us a great amount of flexibility that we would not have if we just had our own police force. Of course, there’s good and bad on both sides. It’s kind of nice to know your own officers, so we try to make sure that we have the same ones for a period of time, like Lt. (Matthew) Martello right now, who we call our police chief, even though he’s with the sheriff’s department. He mostly works in Palm Desert, so we all have that comfort level of knowing him directly. So, all costs have to be analyzed, and the decision that’s made has to be focused on public safety and what’s best for our community.

There’s a matrix study that we’ve done (to analyze) how we could make police work more efficient, because if you keep doing things the same old way, you’re going to keep getting the same old results. If they’re not affordable results, then something has to change a little bit.

The City Council originally proposed building an Interstate 10 interchange at the north end of Portola Avenue in 2008. Should the city reconsider moving forward with this plan in light of potential impacts on the adjacent residential neighborhoods, which have expanded notably since the plan was first considered? For instance, should a survey be initiated to gather input from residents most likely to be impacted?

We’ve been working on this for ages. If it had been left up to the city of Palm Desert, we would have had an overpass in the blink of an eye. But we have to coordinate with everybody under the sun, beginning with CalTrans, the water district and anybody who touches that (project)—we have to negotiate with them to make sure that safety measures are in place for whatever they have (to do) in their underground or wherever. I’m not quite sure what you’re asking, because we’re trying to go ahead with it. That’s been our goal all along, to go ahead with it. We’re still being delayed because of the other organizations, not because of ours.

What I’m asking is: Since the project has now taken so long, do you think the plan should be re-visited with more community input from current neighboring residents, rather than going on what seemed like a great idea in 2008?

Well, the residents who I hear from and the community I hear from are very much in favor of having another access to Interstate-10. Our traffic clearly has increased quite a bit. So, if there are residents who don’t think it’s a good idea, of course, I would love to hear from them. But government takes a long time to do something. … The money is allocated. It’s sitting on the books allocated for this particular project. The design has been done, and the design has been approved by CalTrans and whatever agencies are involved in this. They’ve all taken the time to approve all those plans. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to start all over again.

When that overpass is finally completed, a lot of people are going to be quite happy. It’s going to relieve traffic on Monterey and Cook (Street) a little bit, since some of the traffic will be coming in via Portola. So my only concern is that if people are saying we should start all over, then they’re not understanding the reason it’s taking a long time. Our city is a fiduciary of the public money. So, when the public has decided, ‘Yes, we want to do that particular project,’ that money is set aside and designated for that particular project—and to change that would be quite an endeavor. Remember, these funds have been set aside for quite some time. I can’t even imagine how would we return them to whatever organization. So I don’t think it’s feasible, but I would invite anybody who thinks it’s a foolish idea to meet and talk. Right now, I thought we were pretty much on board with it.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity since the pandemic’s arrival?

I’m like a lot of people in that I like to watch these old PBS shows, and I watch a lot of movies and TV shows. They’re kind of nice, because they don’t use a lot of bad language in them, and PBS doesn’t use a whole lot of bad language. So they’re not so stressful, and you don’t have to cringe all the time. Of course, like everybody else, I talk to friends and send emails out to everybody to stay in touch and make sure everybody’s healthy.

Published in Politics

Toward the start of the stay-at-home order, I remember telling a friend (on a Zoom chat, of course) how much I looked forward to that wonderful day when the lockdown was over, and we could meet for happy-hour and hug again.

Ah, how naïve I was. If only it could be that simple.

We could meet for that happy hour again on Friday, as bars will be reopening that day. However, the scene would not be like it was in my mind’s eye. When I imagined that wonderful day, I didn’t imagine face masks and socially distanced tables—nor did I imagine the agonizing, scary dilemma going out to a bar would present.

And that hug? It’s definitely too soon for that.

Nothing seems simple in this pandemic-tinged, half-assed world in which we now live. On one hand, I keep seeing justifiably optimistic announcements on social media about gyms and cocktail lounges and movie theaters and even Disneyland reopening soon.

On the other … I keep looking at the local COVID-19 stats, and sighing at the across-the-board increases—which, predictably, people are freaking out about on social media. According to the state, our local hospitals have 85 coronavirus patients as of yesterday—the highest number I have seen a while.

But there’s a dilemma within this dilemma: The experts have said all along that when we reopened, cases would begin to rise. As Gov. Newsom said yesterday: “As we phase in, in a responsible way, a reopening of the economy, we’ve made it abundantly clear that we anticipate an increase in the total number of positive cases.

He’s right. They did say that. The goal is to make COVID-19 a manageable problem as life resumes. But it’s still a problem—a potentially deadly one—and nobody’s sure if we’ll be able to keep it “manageable” or not.

Today’s links:

• It’s official: Coachella and Stagecoach are cancelled for 2020. Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, officially pulled the plug this afternoon. “I am concerned as indications grow that COVID 19 could worsen in the fall,” said Kaiser in a news release. “In addition, events like Coachella and Stagecoach would fall under Governor Newsom’s Stage 4, which he has previously stated would require treatments or a vaccine to enter. Given the projected circumstances and potential, I would not be comfortable moving forward.”

• If you’re one of the people who is sniveling about masks, or denying that they work … it’s time for you to stop the sniveling and the denying.

Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege and the Palm Springs Police Officers’ Association are in the midst of a war of words. Here’s the brief, oversimplified version what happened: On Monday, Holstege wrote an open letter to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in support of Supervisor V. Manuel Perez’s proposed resolutions to condemn the killing of George Floyd (which barely passed), and request the Sheriff’s Department to review its own policies (which failed when Perez couldn’t get a second). In it, Holstege wrote, among other things: “Like most communities throughout Riverside County, in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, we have a long history of racial segregation and exclusion, racial violence, racist city policies and policing, and injustice and disparities in our community that exist today.” This did not sit well with the officers’ union, which today accused Holstege of not bringing up any problems with the department until now, as well as “vilify(ing) our officers and department.” Holstege has since responded with claims that the union is mischaracterizing what she said. All three statements are recommended reading.

• Related-ish: San Francisco’s public-transportation agency recently announced it would no longer transport police officers to protests. The San Francisco Police Officers Association’s response? Hey Muni, lose our number.

• From ProPublica comes this piece: “The Police Have Been Spying on Black Reporters and Activists for Years. I Know Because I’m One of Them.” Wendi Thomas’ story is a must-read.

• The Black Lives Matters protests are resulting in a lot of long-overdue changes. One shockingly meaningful one was announced today: NASCAR will no longer allow confederate flags at its racetracks.

And Walmart has announced it will stop keeping its “multicultural hair care and beauty products” in locked cases.

And the Riverside County Sheriff announced today it would no longer use the use the carotid restraint technique.

• The government is understandably rushing the approvals processes to make potentially helpful COVID-10 treatments available. However, as The Conversation points out this is a potentially dangerous thing to do.

Also being rushed: A whole lot of state contracts for various things needed to battle the pandemic. Our partners at CalMatters break down how this created—and forgive the language, but this is the only word I can think of that sums things up properly—a complete and total clusterfuck.

• Provincetown, Mass., is normally a packed LGBT haven during the summer. However, this year, businesses there are just starting to reopen—and they’re trying to figure out the correct balance between income and safety.

Your blood type may help determine how you’ll fare if you get COVID-19. If you have Type 0, you may be less at risk—and if you have Type A, you may be more at risk.

Wired magazine talked to three vaccine researchers for a 15-minute YouTube video. Hear the voices and see the faces of the scientists behind the fight to end SARS-CoV-2.

A study of seamen on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt—where there was a much-publicized COVID-19 outbreak—offers hope that people who recover from the disease may have immunity.

If it seems like groceries are more expensive, that’s because they are—about 8.2 percent more expensive.

What fascinating times these are. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Black Lives Matter. Please help the Independent continue what we’re doing, without paywalls, free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will likely be back tomorrow—Friday at the latest.

Published in Daily Digest

Let’s get right to the day’s news:

• I owe Supervisor V. Manuel Perez an apology. In this space last Friday, I called his attempt to get the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to review its own policies “pretty weak,” because, well, he was asking THEM to review THEIR OWN policies, more or less. Here’s what’s happened since. First, the department’s union announced they were opposed to the idea because, in the words of the union president, “There is no need to suggest or invent problems that do not exist in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.” Then Sheriff Chad Bianco—the one who has recently been on Fox News—said he didn’t want a “political” process, and pointed out that the County Commission doesn’t have authority over him. Second, Perez’s motion by the County Commission failed, because he couldn’t get a second. Yeesh. Key quote from Bianco, to the supervisors: “It's not your job to tell me what to do.”

• From the Independent: We spoke to Angel Moreno, one of the organizers of the June 1 Black Lives Matter protest in Palm Desert: “What’s happening right now is just really unacceptable, and we just wanted to do this protest so our words could be heard.”

• The TV show Cops’ 33rd season was slated to premiere next week. That’s not going to happen now.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently asked an epidemiologist how long it’ll take to determine whether the Black Lives Matter protests will cause a spike in COVID-19 cases. Key quote: “(Dr. George) Rutherford is encouraged by what he sees in Minnesota, which is where the protests started on the week of May 25. It has been almost a full two weeks since the protests began, and the number of new confirmed cases statewide is actually trending downwards.”

The Conversation uses science to explain that COVID-19 deaths and the killing of George Floyd (and many other Black men and women over the years) have something in common: Racism.

• The state announced late yesterday that movie theaters could reopen—at 25 percent capacity—on Friday. However, most of them probably won’t open that soon. Deadline explains the reasons why.

• Meanwhile, The Living Desert is reopening on Monday. Here’s what the people who run zoo and gardens are doing to reopen as safely as possible.

• Yesterday, we discussed how a WHO doctor created a furor by claiming asymptomatic SARS=CoV-2 infectees don’t spread the virus all that much. Well, today, WHO did a whole lot of backpedaling.

• One of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the state is taking place right now in a prison in this very county: Almost 1,000 inmates at the Chuckawalla Valley State Prison have tested positive, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Why is COVID-19 killing more men than women? The Conversation examines what we know, what we don’t know, and, uh, why we don’t know the things we don’t know.

• Some people who are making the very wise decision to stay home while the world around them reopens are getting shamed, according to this USA Today columnist.

Even though you might think the opposite if you’re a loyal viewer of NBC Palm Springs, Amazon’s coronavirus response has been rather problematic. Therefore, it’s a good thing that the retail giant is going to soon start testing its workers a whole lot more.

• Yet another analysis of SARS-CoV-2 mutations explains why the San Francisco Bay Area was briefly such a COVID-19 hotbed: The virus entered the area from all sorts of different places as it started to spread.

A company that’s on the leading edge of the vaccine race just got all sorts of government cash to work on a treatment to battle COVID-19 designed around antibodies.

• On a recent interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he was “almost certain” more than one vaccine being developed would work against the disease he called his “worst nightmare.” He also made it abundantly clear that we’re nowhere near the end of this damned pandemic.

All of the state’s DMV offices will soon be open again. (Well, except for the one damaged by looters in San Bernardino.)

• This story probably has no application to your life whatsoever, but we’re presenting it here because it’s so damned weird. The Business Insider headline: “People are paying as much as $10,000 for an unlicensed remdesivir variant for their cats, in a thriving black market linked to Facebook groups.”

• Finally, on his Netflix show Patriot Act, Hasan Minhaj explains why a whole lot of local newspapers are in trouble—and how essential they really, truly are.

That’s the news for this Tuesday. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Fight injustice. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means to do so. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

The Palm Desert Sheriff’s Station, located on Gerald Ford Drive, is the home of the Coachella Valley’s most robust local policing force.

The station covers all unincorporated areas of the western valley, as well as the cities of Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells, each of which contracts with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to provide police services.

Officials in one of those cities, Palm Desert, are expressing concerns about rising public safety costs. Palm Desert Mayor Bob Spiegel recently told the Independent that for the first time, public-safety costs now make up more than half of the city’s budget.

After hearing that, we decided it was time to talk to the commander of the Palm Desert Sheriff’s Station regarding the local state of crime, public-safety issues and law-enforcement needs.

Unfortunately, our media requests were either ignored or shoved off to the cities with whom the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department contracts. Deputy Armando Munoz, the local public information officer, repeatedly dodged questions. He wouldn’t even tell us how many deputies are employed at the Palm Desert Station.

Up until about two months ago, the things were different. The station’s commander was Capt. Susan “Sue” Trevino, the first woman to ever hold that post. Capt. Trevino, who recently retired, was a remarkable leader who understood the need for media access and public information.

On Aug. 10, Capt. David Teets took over as the station’s new commander. After two weeks of emailing media requests for a short, 10-20 minute interview with Teets, Munoz stated that “the captain is unavailable” to talk.

Therefore, I simply showed up at the Palm Desert Sheriff’s Station—and Lt. John Shields, a law-enforcement veteran of 27 years, gave me an interview on the spot. He started by answering that employment question: He said the station has roughly 200 people on staff.

Lt. Shields oversees Rancho Mirage as its assistant chief of police. He talked about the city’s low crime rate, and the fact that there has not been a homicide in Rancho Mirage in recent years.

“With Rancho Mirage, our concern is property crimes,” he said. “That’s the biggest problem, and it’s not that big in comparison to other areas,” he said.

Rancho Mirage, with a population a bit below 18,000, has a sheriff’s substation. Eleven deputies are on patrol daily—two motorcycle officers included—along with three community service officers.

Lt. Shields said Rancho Mirage has no plans to reduce its policing force.

“We meet with the city manager and the city staff weekly, and we have not recommended it,” he said.

Due to the recent San Bernardino and New York terrorism acts, the question of adequate public safety is on the minds of many.

“For the size of the city, we have quite a few officers out there, so we have a very good presence there,” Lt. Shields said. “We also have lots of city staff personnel who went through the active-shooter training program, and they know if they see something, to say something.”

President Gerald Ford used to live in Rancho Mirage, and rumor has it that President Barack Obama is considering purchasing a home there.

“When and if they come, he will no longer be a sitting president, so the footprint and the threat is much smaller,” Shields said. “As far as the resources go, the Secret Service will take care of that, but we’re ready.”

As for Indian Wells, my questions were promptly answered via email by Nancy Samuelson, the city’s spokesperson. According to her, Indian Wells has one officer dedicated 24/7, as well as one motor officer, one special enforcement officer, one special event officer, five community service officers and one lieutenant overseeing its staff.

There is a small sheriff’s substation across from Indian Wells City Hall, and the city’s crime rate is minimal.

“Main public safety (concerns involve) traffic enforcements, collisions and petty property crime,” Samuelson stated. “Any need for more deputies is analyzed by response time, number of calls and crime volume.”

Samuelson said that Indian Wells’ population is 4,974, and that the city’s contract with the Sheriff’s Department costs $3.5 million annually—which represents 24.78 percent of the city’s budget.

Unlike Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells, the city of Palm Desert is facing some challenges when it comes to the rising cost of public safety.

According to David Hermann, the city of Palm Desert’s spokesman, the city’s general-fund budget is $53,267,218 for the fiscal year; of that, $21,141,245 is slated for police services.

In order to save some money, the city froze two motorcycle-cops positions. Hermann said the savings from two positions is $611,034.88.

There is also a possibility to save more money: The city froze a special enforcement officer position, too, but these funds were set aside in case one of the frozen positions needs to be reinstated; the potential additional savings is $308,116.24. 

“The city’s police department currently has 78 sworn deputies, taking into account two frozen officer positions and one officer assigned to the special enforcement team,” Hermann said. “The department also has 11 non-sworn positions, including nine community service officers, a crime analyst and a forensic technician.”

Palm Desert, with a population just shy of 50,000, could save more than $900,000 from these public-safety budget cuts. Could this substantially affect safety and crime in Palm Desert?

That’s a question I wanted to ask Capt. Teets. Alas, he was “unavailable.”

Published in Local Issues

We’re living in a video world. Cameras are everywhere: on streets, tablets, smart phones and satellites.

Cameras can also help protect the public and law enforcement alike when placed in key public areas and—increasingly—on police officers themselves.

However, you won’t find very many law-enforcement cameras in the Coachella Valley. For instance, Palm Springs Police Department officers do not wear body cams, nor do their police vehicles have dashboard cams. The same goes for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, which enforces law and order in Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and elsewhere.

An early February request to talk about cameras with Alberto Franz, the Palm Springs chief of police, was answered by an assistant who stated that the chief was busy until the end of month. On the contrary, San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman was happy to talk, both one-on-one and via email.

“I am a huge proponent and completely support the use of body-worn cameras on our police officers,” Zimmerman said. “We have 600 officers wearing cameras. By the year’s end, all of our officers working in a uniform patrol assignment (about 1,000) will be wearing them. Having officers wearing body-worn cameras is a win-win for both the officer and the community.”

Meanwhile, here in Riverside County, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, the union that represents deputies, is going to court in an attempt to stop the county from issuing body cams to on-duty deputies. Deputy Armando Munoz, the public information officer at the sheriff’s Palm Desert station, stated that “nobody … will talk about the body cameras at this point since the whole issue is still in court proceedings.”

While Chief Franz declined to talk about possible body cameras, Sgt. Harvey Reed, the Palm Springs Police Department spokesperson, did talk. He said management has started looking at different makes and models of cameras. Of particular interest is a clip-on camera that attaches to an officer’s shirt below the collar. It shows the area directly in front of the officer, as well as slightly to the left and right, and records in color with sound.

“When policies and procedures are developed, privacy expectations will be taken into consideration,” he said.

Certainly, when it comes to cameras, privacy issues are important. In fact, former police dispatcher Laura Crawford, now enjoying retirement in Rancho Mirage, remembers when officers’ unions even didn’t want global-positioning systems activated in police cruisers.

“It was vital to me as a dispatcher to know where an officer was if all hell broke loose,” Crawford said. “Body cameras have the same issues, as officers feel everything they do is under scrutiny.”

San Diego’s Chief Zimmerman, however, believes the positives of body cameras far outweigh negatives.

“A body worn-camera can be a very valuable training tool for the officer,” Zimmerman said. “Currently, at my department, we are hiring many police officers, and having the ability to see the video will only enhance the training of our officers.”

Surveillance cameras and traffic cameras can also be useful in combating crimes. Yet desert cities are lagging behind when it comes to adopting this technology as well.

David Hermann, the public information officer at the city of Palm Desert, confirmed there are no monitored traffic cameras on public streets in Palm Desert.

Mark Greenwood, Palm Desert’s director of public works, said the city does have a few traffic signals equipped with cameras that allow the signal to change more quickly based on the presence of vehicles. However, these low-resolution cameras do not record, and are not monitored. Palm Desert also has five portable, motion-detecting cameras that are meant to discourage vandalism and graffiti; they take still photos when they detect motion. However, when I spoke to Hermann in February, he said none of the cameras were deployed.

Palm Springs police dispatchers have the ability to monitor 11 cameras, mostly in the downtown area. The video from these cameras, according to Sgt. Reed, is recorded and retained for a period of one year. Palm Springs has 80 intersections with signals.

In the near future, Palm Springs will proceed with the construction of a new Traffic Management Center and Citywide Traffic Signal Interconnect Project. According to Marcus Fuller, an assistant city manager and city engineer, the federally funded, $2 million-plus project will include numerous new traffic cameras, although it has not yet been determined if and how data will be stored.

Stay tuned.

Published in Local Issues

We’re getting older. We’re getting more Hispanic. And we’re getting a heck of a lot bigger.

Those are the conclusions that can be drawn from a series recently released Coachella Valley growth projections. The state of California earlier this year released statewide figures broken down by county, and the folks at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) were kind enough to release brand-new Coachella Valley-specific projections to the Independent.

The numbers are striking: SCAG projects that while there were 443,000 people in what the association classifies as the Coachella Valley in 2008, there will be 604,000 of us in 2020—just seven short years away. And in 2035, there will be 884,000 of us.

“When you think of our growth over the years, it’s been slow and steady,” said Cathedral City Councilmember Greg Pettis, who also sits on the boards of SCAG and the Riverside County Transportation Commission. “This is an explosion.”

That explosion will largely take place in the East Valley. While the population of every city in the valley is projected to grow by at least 20 percent, Indio is expected to grow from 73,300 people in 2008 to 111,800 in 2035—a 53 percent expansion.

However, the projected growth in Coachella makes Indio’s growth look quaint: The city of 38,200 people in 2008 is expected to balloon to 70,200 in 2020, and 128,700 in 2035, making it the valley’s largest city. (For what it’s worth, the city of Coachella is updating its general plan, and documents show that city officials there are projecting 155,000 people by 2035.)

But the biggest growth won’t happen in any city at all. The unincorporated areas of the valley are expected to see half of all the population growth between 2008 and 2035: While 87,500 people lived in the Coachella Valley’s unincorporated areas in 2008, a whopping 308,600 people will be in those areas in 2035. A SCAG map shows that much of this expansion in unincorporated areas will take place north of Interstate 10 and in the areas south and west of Coachella.

The projections from SCAG and the state show that as we grow, the Coachella Valley’s percentage of Latinos will rise, while the percentage of “non-Hispanic whites” will fall.

Meanwhile, we’ll get older, too. State figures show that Riverside County will be leading California in terms of growth rate. Expanding the timeframe out a bit, these state figures show that between 2010 and 2060, Riverside County’s population will expand by 92 percent (with the Coachella Valley growing at a higher rate than the rest of the county). However, seniors will see the highest percentage of growth: The number of people age 65 to 74 in Riverside County is expected to grow by 210 percent; the number of people between 75 and 84 by 255 percent; and people 85 and older by a whopping 531 percent.

While projections definitely can be wrong—the Great Recession, for example, blew holes in some earlier projections—it’s clear that our little valley will go through a whole lot of change over the next generation.

Reasons for Optimism

The good news is that local leaders said they’re working to prepare for this “explosion,” and in some ways, we’re ahead of the curve.

For example, when it comes to area’s roadways, we’re doing OK.

“So far, we’ve been able to keep up with growth and traffic,” said Tom Kirk, the executive director of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments. “This time of year, some of our roadways are taxed, because we have so many visitors, but our roads are still far less congested than in Los Angeles and other urban areas. We’ve done a good job of keeping up with that.”

He pointed to the fact that Riverside County voters approved—and renewed—a half-cent sales tax measure that funds transportation projects as one reason the valley’s roadways remain relatively viable, and said that impact fees on new developments have—and will continue to—provide funding for new roads.

Pettis noted that Interstate 10 has seen a steady series of interchange improvements, and that there’s a possibility of more new or expanded interchanges, including ones at Da Vall Drive, Landau Boulevard and Jefferson Street.

Kirk also brought up moves that area governments are making to go beyond vehicle-based transportation. Specifically, he mentioned the proposed Whitewater River Parkway, a bike/pedestrian/“neighborhood electric vehicle” pathway—46 miles, at an estimated $70 million cost—that would connect all of the valley’s cities.

“It’s a big part of our plan to move people from point A to point B,” Kirk said.

Kirk also said he feels that the valley is well-prepared to handle the increase in water needs that will come with a large increase in population, noting that the Coachella Valley Water District and other area agencies have long-term commitments to secure the water supply.

“Also, we tend to use less water in newer developments than older developments,” Kirk said.

The recent Coachella Valley Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, prepared by the Coachella Valley Regional Water Management Group, examines many of the water issues facing the valley, and comes up with a comprehensive plan for our water supply. The plan does ring some warning bells, though, including the fact that our local aquifers are decreasing due to over-pumping, and that projected Colorado River water may not be available due to drought and climate change.

Speaking of comprehensive planning, the city of Coachella is putting the finishing touches on its general plan update. Luis Lopez, the city’s community development director, said the plan is the blueprint for the city’s much-larger future.

I asked him: Is the city of Coachella ready to become the valley’s largest?

“As a small-city government, we need to grow and mature and sophisticate into a large city,” Lopez said.

Lopez added that the city is working hard on transportation matters, to make sure future residents will be able to get around the area. He said city planners are putting an emphasis on making streets more pedestrian-friendly, and improving access to public transit.

Officials are also preparing for new developments, such as La Entrada, a 7,800-home project located south of Interstate 10 and east of Highway 86.

“It’s basically like a new town up there,” he said. “We need to create connectivity with the project.”

Causes for Concern

Of course, with growth comes change. Lopez conceded that as more and more agricultural land is gobbled up by homes and development, his small, agricultural town will cease to be so small and agricultural.

“Currently, we’re more rural, with more open space. As those areas become urbanized, there will be a significant change in character,” Lopez said.

Of course, character is just one of many potential worrisome changes. For one thing, less agricultural land means less agricultural business.

And speaking of business: If the size of the valley doubles, where will all these newcomers work?

Pettis cited employment as a potential problem. He said that if plans and proposals to expand College of the Desert (presuming the college can ever get beyond a recent series of scandals and misdeeds) and the Palm Desert campus of the California State University at San Bernardino could come to fruition, that would be a great start. He also said community leaders need to look at expanding the health-care industry (especially considering the increase in the senior population) and getting “some kind of manufacturing” into the desert.

“It needs to be a focus,” he said.

Speaking of a focus, everyone the Independent spoke to agrees that the valley needs to keep the money train that is tourism on track. Pettis is especially hopeful about a proposed (and long-delayed) resort hotel in downtown Cathedral City that he said could bring 500 to 600 jobs.

However, the valley may not need as many jobs, per se, if there were greater rail connectivity to the rest of Southern California. Housing is cheaper in the Coachella Valley than it is in much of Los Angeles and Orange counties, so more people who have jobs in those metropolitan areas could decide to make the commute if the commute were cheaper and easier than it is now.

Both Pettis and Kirk talked up the importance of twice-a-day, seven-day-a-week rail service to Riverside, Orange County and Los Angeles; currently, Amtrak offers only three days of service between Palm Springs and Los Angeles—and the train arrives in North Palm Springs at the ungodly time of 12:36 a.m.

“We have a lot of people traveling (from the Coachella Valley) to Riverside or Moreno Valley every day,” Pettis said. “Well, they’re stuck on the freeways now.”

Finally, Kirk said that the concern that figuratively keeps him up at night is a problem that neither he nor other local leaders can control.

“I do believe for those of us who live in and love the state of California, there’s much that worries me. There are systematic, big picture concerns” when it comes to state government, especially when it comes to funding education and infrastructure, he said.

The Great Unknowns

One of the more interesting aspects of the projected growth involves the fact that so much of it is expected to happen in unincorporated areas. As mentioned above, as of 2008, 87,500 people—or not quite 20 percent of the 443,000 people that lived within the Coachella Valley Association of Governments’ jurisdiction (which, for some reason, includes the Blythe area)—lived outside of an incorporated area.

In 2035, that number is projected to be 308,600, or 35 percent of the total population of 884,000.

In the past, when a large number of people moved into an unincorporated area, the residents would often band together to incorporate and create a new town or city, or an adjacent city would annex the area. However, “the game is different today,” Kirk said, considering that governments at all levels—and especially at the state and county levels—are navigating through financial problems.

“I think it’d be a struggle for a new city to be formed, and a very big challenge for older cities to expand,” Kirk said. “That means the challenge is going to fall upon the county’s shoulders to service these populations.”

That’s not to say that the area’s cities don’t have expansion plans—for example, Coachella is planning some annexation of land involving the La Entrada development, Lopez said, and Pettis noted that Cathedral City has designs on the Thousand Palms area. Still, it’s safe to say that many of the largest-growing areas in the valley will wind up unincorporated.

The biggest concern that the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has about this extra burden is finding qualified law-enforcement officials to handle it all—especially if growth comes quickly.

“Deputy sheriffs and correctional deputies are required to meet strict requirements to ensure they can handle the demands of a career in law enforcement. The hiring process for a new deputy sheriff can take between eight and 12 months, with another year of training. The skill level and experience takes even longer to achieve, so you need to consider the lead time necessary to reach the intended goal,” wrote Riverside County Chief Deputy Rodney Vigue, in response to an emailed list of questions from the Independent.

These requirements, when combined with the projected growth explosion, have Vigue concerned.

“Less than 1 percent of the candidates who apply for a deputy sheriff position are hired, and all the agencies in the Coachella Valley and throughout the state are competing against each other for the same candidates,” Vigue wrote.

Vigue, like Kirk, expressed concerns about the state’s financial picture.

“The unforeseen impacts the state may have on existing funding sources and any future cuts have the potential to force local communities to evaluate budget priorities,” Vigue wrote. “For example, the recent influx of state prisoners into the county correctional facilities and into our communities, as a result of the state corrections realignment, has strained local obligations. This impact is not only being felt from a county perspective, jail-overcrowding and a rise in crime, but also from each city that is trying to make the community safer. The shift from state responsibility to the county has strained an already overburdened correctional system, which will take years of planning and funding to overcome.”

So, in other words, as the Coachella Valley gets older, more Hispanic and a heck of a lot bigger, don’t expect everything to be smooth sailing.

“The department will need to look toward innovative programs, technology and volunteers to assist with controlling crime and maintaining the quality of life we currently enjoy in the Coachella Valley,” Vigue wrote.

Published in Local Issues