CVIndependent

Fri06052020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Last Friday’s Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting and its aftermath were simply remarkable—one of the most stupefying series of political events I’ve ever witnessed.

Here’s the short version: The supes voted unanimously to revoke three of county health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s orders, as well as most of a fourth. Instead, the county will now defer to the state’s weaker (and, in some cases, less-clear) orders.

Frankly … the revocation of the orders involving golf courses and short-term lodging, and the partial revocation of the order involving schools, won’t change much. But that fourth one … in terms of sending a message, at least, it’s a doozy: The supervisors voted to revoke Cameron’s requirement that face masks be worn, and social distancing protocols be followed, in businesses and public places. Instead, face coverings and social distancing are now just “strongly recommended.” (They’re still required in Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs and some cities, for the record.)

Here’s what is remarkable about the vote, and what followed:

• Local supervisor V. Manuel Perez voted with the rest of the supervisors to revoke the orders, and he hasn’t explained why. Before the vote, Perez signaled that he wanted to keep the face-mask requirement in place … but then he voted to revoke it. Since the vote, he’s been quiet on his social media. We asked his office for an explanation of his vote over the weekend, and have not yet received a response as of this writing. Therefore, all we have to go off of is a Facebook video posted on Sunday by Greg Rodriguez, Perez’s government affairs and public policy advisor … and it’s not very helpful. First: Although Rodriguez uses the term “we” throughout the video, he starts off by saying he is not speaking for Perez, so we should take him at his word. And second: Rodriguez never explains why Perez voted how he did anyway. Rodriguez says around the 4:35 mark: “You’ve got to have a majority of votes to pass something, and we did not have those votes to support what our stance was.”

So … Perez voted for something he was against?

My guess was that Perez was bowing to the wishes of the local business community, including the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce (of which the Independent, I should disclose, is a member—and a less-than-happy one, FWIW), which has been clamoring for Perez to push for a faster reopening. But that’s just speculation.

Mr. Perez, you have some explaining to do.

• Perez was excoriated by his usual political allies after the vote. I don’t use the term “excoriate” lightly here. Perez is a progressive Democrat, and other progressive Democrats were not shy about openly criticizing him. On a Facebook post by Rodriguez, Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors commented about Perez: “He failed by voting to overturn all of the public health orders of the county’s public health officials which will delay our ability to reopen more businesses, hurt workers on the front lines and harm more residents’ health. How disappointing! To allow those who don’t want to wear face coverings to infect grocery workers is not something to be proud of. Glad Palm Springs City Council adopted our own rules to protect workers’ and residents’ public health.”

• The vote occurred after the county sheriff had already said he would not enforce the health orders anyway. Sheriff Chad Bianco—in a speech littered with falsehoods—had previously told the supes that the state had gone too far and had inappropriately taken away people’s constitutional rights with the shutdown order. He also at one point implied the virus really wasn’t a threat to healthy people (?!). So, therefore, he said, he wasn’t going to enforce the county’s orders. He then went on Fox and Friends and said similar things. So, yeah, holy shit.

• The supervisors, at this crazy meeting, did make some good points regarding the unfairness of Gov. Newsom’s reopening criteria. When Gov. Newsom announced what benchmarks counties would need to meet to further reopen, one of the requirements was that there be no COVID-19-related deaths for two weeks. If this requirement were truly followed, some of California’s larger counties might not be able to reopen until SARS-CoV-2 was more or less eradicated. Fortunately, Newsom has since signaled that the state would be a bit more flexible.

Expect more drama to unfold as soon as tomorrow, when Newsom is expected to offer more information about further business openings—including a possible timeline for in-restaurant dining.

Hang on, folks.

Today’s links:

• Remember the rule about studies these days—they need to be viewed veeeeeery skeptically—but, getting back to masks: A new study shows that consistent mask wearing may by itself be able to solve much of this COVID-19 mess we find ourselves in. From Vanity Fair: “Among the findings of their research paper, which the team plans to submit to a major journal: If 80 percent of a closed population were to don a mask, COVID-19 infection rates would statistically drop to approximately one twelfth the number of infections—compared to a live-virus population in which no one wore masks.” We say this with that figurative huge grain of salt, but wow.

• More encouraging health news: A clinical trial at Stanford is examining whether injections of a safe compound called peginterferon lambda-1a, when given early after a COVID-19 diagnosis, can reduce both deaths and patient recovery time.

• Also, some ER docs, writing in The New York Times, say checking at-risk people’s blood-oxygen levels early and often can help medical professionals get a jump on the virus.

• And according to this piece from The Wall Street Journal: Maybe ventilators aren’t the way to go with treatment?

• CBS’ 60 Minutes reports that the Trump administration is slashing the funding of some scientists working on a cure for COVID-19, because, again, nothing makes sense anymore.

Gov. Newsom and other Western governors are asking the feds for trillions in financial help. Yes, trillions with a “T.

• Meanwhile, in Shanghai, Disneyland is open again.

• The San Francisco Chronicle wonders: Are food trucks the future of dining in SF? (Follow-up question: Can we get some in the Coachella Valley? Please?)

• Also from the San Francisco Chronicle (which, in recent years, has improved to the point where it’s now one of the country’s most underrated newspapers): A data analysis shows that almost half of the coronavirus deaths in the state involve nursing homes.

• The Washington Post broke this story over the weekend, and it should really piss you off: A Texas company on Jan. 22 wrote the federal Department of Health and Human Services and asked if his company should ramp up production to make 1.7 million more N95 masks a week. He was ignored. Repeatedly. And that company’s still not making masks at capacity. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.

United Airlines touted the fact that it would leave middle seats open because, you know, social distancing. Turns out that’s not always the case.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapters 157, 158 and 159: There was a packed rodeo in Shasta County. And two people were arrested after attacking a Van Nuys Target employee who insisted they wear masks. And Elon Musk continues to be a dick.

• Meanwhile, doctors are having problems getting remdesivir—and sometimes having to decide which patients get it, and which ones don’t.

Is it possible the Florida governor knew what he was doing when he was slow to close down the state, and quick to reopen it? The Washington Post takes a nuanced look at Ron DeSantis.

• Finally, John Krasinski and some friends from The Office are here with your weekly dose of Some Good News.

That’s enough for today. In fact, we think this is the longest Daily Digest we’ve ever done. So, yay, news! Anyway, buy our Coloring Book, because it’s awesome. Also, if you can afford to support 1,300-word-plus Daily Digests like these, plus all sorts of other awesome local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. Back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

I would like to officially welcome you all to the toasty portion of the Coachella Valley 2020: Pandemic Edition.

Starting tomorrow, and for the next week plus, we’re expected to hit triple-digits each and every day. And as far as sheltering in place, I am trying to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

On the plus side: I won’t want to go outside as much during the day, and that’ll make staying at home less of an issue.

On the minus side: I looooove summer evenings here—you know the kind, where you walk outside and think, “Gee, this doesn’t seem that hot,” and then you look at the weather on your phone, and it’s still 103 degrees, and you start to wonder if perhaps the heat has fried portions of your brain. Love those evenings.

Also on the minus side: most local HOA and apartment pools are still closed. And wearing a mask out when it’s 103 is gonna be less than pleasant.

Sigh.

Today’s links—and there are a lot of ’em:

• Gov. Gavin Newsom today said the state is ramping up COVID-19 testing—something that needs to happen, he says, before we start reopening the state.

• Related: Kaiser Permanente is building a new lab in Berkeley that will be able to process 5,000 tests a day by the time it opens in early June.

• The Santa Clara County health officer says a woman who died in her home on Feb. 6 was a COVID-19 victim—meaning the virus was spreading in this country a lot earlier than previously known.

• Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors has assembled a “Palm Springs Business Transition and Re-Entry Task Force” to guide the city’s efforts when it’s time to start reopening.

Meanwhile, the news coming out of Washington, D.C., is completely weird, with the president now saying he disagrees with the Georgia governor’s move to start reopening that state. And the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (i.e. the government agency involved most with developing a vaccine) says he was forced out by the president because he spoke out against Trump’s touting of hydroxychloroquine.

• Oh, and Attorney General William Barr recently left open the possibility of legal action against states that go “too far” with keeping stay-at-home orders in place. Lovely.

• People who needed medical help to battle the coronavirus are now starting to get some large medical bills.

• A New York Times analysis of mortality data in 11 countries shows a lot more people are dying during this pandemic than official counts are reporting.

• The city of Indio offers this very cool video from local leaders, all of whom have one thing to say to all of the essential workers out there: Thank you.

• As a former resident of Las Vegas who still retains great affection for the city, I have a fun fact for you: Did you know that the vast majority of the Las Vegas Strip is not actually part of the city of Las Vegas? The city limits actually start at Sahara Avenue and go north, for the most part; everything south of that is just part of unincorporated Clark County. In other words, the mayor of Las Vegas doesn’t actually have anything to do with most of what people think of as Las Vegas. Keep this in mind when you hear this dumpster-fire of an interview Anderson Cooper had with Carolyn Goodman, that aforementioned mayor of Las Vegas.

• The headline of this piece from New York Magazine is, quite simply, “We Might Never Get a Good Coronavirus Vaccine.” I won’t comment further, because I don’t want to start whimpering.

• Oh, and here’s more depressing news: A number of COVID-19 victims will be dealing with the effects of the disease for the rest of their lives.

How do blood sugar levels affect COVID-19? The Conversation explains the science behind this question thus far.

• From the Independent: What happens when two bored, laid-off bartenders, who happen to be roommates, talk about cocktails, and then transcribe the whole thing? Find out here, especially if you’re a fan of pickled eggs.

• Also from the Independent: The McCallum Theatre has announced a fantastic 2020-2021 season. We talked to McCallum head Mitch Gershenfeld about it—while keeping our fingers crossed that the season actually comes to be.

• The state has launched a website where people who are able can sign up to volunteer with organizations that have a need. Check out the California Volunteers website

• This story made me laugh out loud, even though it probably shouldn’t have: The California Highway Patrol says they’re giving out waaaay more tickets to people traveling more than 100 miles per hour.

Coachella Valley Repertory is starting a series of free online classes/lectures. The first one is taking place tomorrow (Thursday), at 6 p.m.: “Broadway Musicals: Blockbusters From Gypsy to Hello, Dolly!” with Glenn Rosenblum.

That’s what we call a busy news day, and that’s enough for now. If you want to support a local small business and the Independent at the same time, please consider our Adopt a Small Business program. If you want to support the CREATE Center for the Arts, local artists and the Independent at the same time, buy our amazing Coloring Book! Wash your hands, and wear a mask when you absolutely must go outside. We’re on deadline for the May print edition tomorrow, so we may or may not have a Daily Digest for Thursday, depending on how that goes; in either case, we’ll be here Friday. Stay safe, and thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

So … I was a little cranky yesterday, as regular readers of this Daily Digest know.

Today, well, I am still cranky. I’d explain why, but part of it involves a boring story about a loan application that was rejected, apparently due to a glitch on the lender’s end, and when I called to figure out what happened, after a half-hour of gibberish, I was told I needed to call the Small Business Administration, even though the SBA has nothing to do with glitches on the lender’s end.

It was right then and there that I almost started day-drinking. Almost.

Anyway, in an effort to improve my mood, and perhaps yours, I am going to focus on some truly positive news that came out today. But before I do, I must present the usual caveats: Remember, science/study news these days is coming out quickly, often before it’s vetted, peer reviewed, etc. So, don’t get too excited about any of these things, OK?

First: Early study results regarding one of the drugs being investigated as a possible COVID-19 treatment are really, really encouraging. About the drug remdesivir, made by California company Gilead Sciences, CNN reports: “The patients taking part in a clinical trial of the drug have all had severe respiratory symptoms and fever, but were able to leave the hospital after less than a week of treatment, STAT quoted the doctor leading the trial as saying.”

Second: We’ve heard over and over that it’s going to take at least a year—at least being the key words—for a vaccine to be available. While that will likely be the case for most of us, according to various news sources, it’s possible, just maybe, that one or more could be available in about six months or so—perhaps even sooner—at least for high-risk groups.

Third: Preliminary antibody studies are coming out indicating that a lot more people may have been infected with COVID-19 than previously believed. Now, this is more of a mixed bag than strictly good news. If true, on one hand, it means a huge number of people who have the virus—and, therefore, can spread the virus to others—never know it, and that creates all sorts of challenges. On the other hand, it means this disease is less lethal, percentage-wise, than previously believed. And if—IF—people who’ve had COVID-19 are immune for some period of time (which is something we do not know yet), that means we’re closer to some sort of herd immunity.

Fourth: Testing is becoming ever-more available in Riverside County. According to the county: “Riverside County residents who do not have symptoms but want to be tested for coronavirus will now be able to after health officials modified the guidelines for testing.” 

Fifth: What we’re doing now is working. Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors posted today: “Thank you to everyone, you have helped us begin to flatten the curve. In Riverside County, the doubling rate for new infections has slowed from every 4.7 days two weeks ago to every seven days. In Palm Springs, the doubling rate for new infections is now approximately every three weeks. This is a major change from the a few weeks ago when we were designated as a ‘hot spot.’”

So … as we head into the weekend, there are a lot of reasons for optimism.

Today’s links:

• More good news: Our partners at CalMatters bring us this story about the fact that many of us are looking out for each other during this crisis—perhaps more than ever before.

• Gov. Gavin Newsom has put together a task force with some big names to help California recover from this recession we suddenly find ourselves in.

Work continues to fix the complete mess that is the SBA loan situation.

• The Hill reports that one soon-to-be-published study indicates that social distancing is actually much, much better for our economy than more deaths would be.

• Our friends at Coachella Valley Sexual Assault Services asked us to share this info: “CVSAS has collaborated with Palm Desert Riverside County Sheriff's Department to host a First Responders/Healthcare Providers Appreciation Procession. This event is to acknowledge the heroes working on the front-lines during this global pandemic. We will be meeting in the Albertson's parking lot located in Country Club Village at: 40101 Monterrey Ave. Rancho Mirage, CA 92270 at 7 p.m. sharp on Tuesday, April 21. … We are asking that you bring a blue light to shine from your car in honor of them as we follow law enforcement through Eisenhower. We are still following all rules and regulations regarding wearing face masks. … Please RSVP via email by Monday, April 20, at noon to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..”

• A cautionary tale: An NFL player who has tested positive for COVID-19 swears he did everything right … and still caught the virus.

• Only in Florida, where some public officials are inexplicably reopening beaches, could surfing be considered an “essential activity.”

• Yes, real estate transactions are still taking place during the shutdown … but the whole home-buying/selling process has gone through some changes. Jeff Hammerberg of GayRealEstate.com offers this primer.

• You know how talk shows that normally have live audiences seem uncomfortably weird without laughter? The Conversation explains why a laugh track is important.

• I have never been a huge Guy Fieri fan, but these upcoming “takeout” versions of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” sound pretty gosh-darned cool.

• The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert has launched “Discover at Home” activities on its social media … such as a gazpacho recipe for junior home cooks!

That’s all for today. Hey, our Coloring Book is officially on sale! We’ll start getting the books into hands, both physically and virtually next week; here are the details. If you can spare some cash, and value the independent local journalism this publication provides, for free to all, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Watch CVIndependent.com over the weekend for updates and more; the Daily Digest will return Monday. In the meantime, wash your hands; wear a mask when you absolutely must go out; and stay safe. We’re well on our way to the other side!

Published in Daily Digest

If you’re one of those people who gets upset when you can’t read a newspaper article due to a paywall … it’s time we had a chat.

First off, you should know that it’s not your fault you feel this way. When the big daily newspaper companies went online two decades ago, the decision-makers at those newspapers decided to give everything away for free. Why, you ask, would they make people pay for news delivered in physical form, yet give it away online? I don’t know. I do know that many of those big newspaper execs are what people call “morons,” seeing as they chose to react to things like Craigslist not by innovating, but instead by making staffing cuts—resulting in a weaker product—to protect what was often a 30-40 percent profit margin at their companies.

This caused a death spiral at most daily newspapers around the country: They kept cutting and cutting and cutting, and not innovating, until things got dire. Then one day, they decided to start charging for that online news they’d been giving away for more than a decade.

Say it along with me: Morons!

In the alternative-newspaper world, we were a little smarter. Yeah, we gave away our content online for free, too—but that made a little more sense, because we’d been giving away the physical product for free, too. While our industry also got our ass kicked by Craigslist and online personals services, and that killed off some of the slower-acting bigger-city newspapers, a lot of people also innovated: We started doing profitable events that our readers liked, for example. We were more innovative online, too, making better-looking websites and creating e-Editions—and generally being more fun than other newspapers.

Until about a month ago, many alternative newspapers—especially in smaller and medium-sized markets—were doing OK. We were doing fun, engaging and important coverage of our communities; attracting advertising from restaurants, theaters and events; and doing events of our own. That kept the lights on, the servers serving, and the presses running—meaning we could continue to offer all that fun, engaging and important coverage to our readers for free.

Then … well, thanks to COVID-19, all the restaurants were closed (except, thank goodness, for takeout). So were the theaters. And the events were all cancelled. This is a problem.

Anyway, the idiocy of the daily newspaper companies, and the sorta-smarts of the alternative-newspaper companies, have long masked one important fact: Doing news is not cheap.

Take us at the Independent, for example. Our staff writer gets paid. Our 10-15 regular freelancers are paid. We have server fees and bookkeeper fees and cell-phone charges and monthly subscription fees for the computer software we use. Each “normal” pre-pandemic print edition of the Independent cost, conservatively, $3,000 to $4,000 to lay out, print and distribute. Heck, we pay about $2,000 a year just for libel insurance—needed to protect us in case someone with deeper pockets than us decides he or she doesn’t like a story we did.

I could go on and on … but you get the point: If you are able, you need to support the newspapers from which you get your information. (Yes, even The Desert Sun.) This stuff takes time, and talent, and money to produce.

So … the next time you can’t read a newspaper article due to a paywall, don’t snivel; subscribe.

As for the Independent, never fear: As long as I am around, we will never have a paywall, because I understand that some of our readers—especially right now—can’t afford to pay for the news … and I am proud of the work we’re doing, and I want everyone to have access to it. I also trust that our readers who can afford to send us a few bucks will do so, because they’re smart and value what we do.

But, seriously: Stop complaining about paywalls, OK?

Tomorrow, we’ll have some news about some exciting things going on with the Independent, despite all the darkness. In the meantime, keep reading. Oh, and if you want/need a copy of our April print edition, go here for details.

And now, the news.

• Our very own V.J. Hume did an amazing piece on how our neighbors who are Alcoholics Anonymous members are dealing with this new temporary reality. It’s a fascinating read.

• Fingers crossed: Faster, easier COVID-19 testing is on its way … to some places at least.

• USA Today brings us this interesting piece on what scientists are learning from COVID-19 mutations. Buried within the piece is more encouraging news about how California’s doing at #flatteningthecurve.

• Coming next weekend, some big-name drag performers are putting on a really big online show.

• The president and CEO of the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce has put together a fundraiser to send local health-care workers food.

• Missing Las Vegas? Here’s info on a virtual tour of the Neon Museum to temporarily satisfy your thirst for the bright lights.

• The Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Development Center and Mayor Geoff Kors are holding a webinar at 1 p.m. tomorrow (Monday) on resources for businesses affected by this mess.

• From our partners at CalMatters: The governor thinks the state will have enough ventilators to get through the pandemic—as long as citizens keep doing our part.

• Palm Desert’s CREATE Center for the Arts has put its 3-D printers to use, making personal protective equipment for local medical professionals.

• A bunch of local orgs have created an emergency fund for families in need.

• Could the coronavirus bring back the drive-in movie theater?

• The California Restaurant Association is afraid that the pandemic will shutter 30,000 California restaurants.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Make sure (safely) that your neighbors are OK. Support local journalism. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

I have always been awful at living in the moment.

My mind, left unchecked, is always running—usually pondering something out of my control, or a hypothetical, or something in the future (i.e., a hypothetical).

What is this disaster going to do to my business? Will I be able to pay my bills? This was supposed to be opening week of baseball season; what if there’s no season at all this year? I am worried about my friend who’s coming down with something. I’ll need to go to the store tomorrow, and I don’t want to.

You get the idea.

Earlier today, I took a break and took a walk around the block with a friend who lives in my apartment complex. (Social distancing precautions were taken.) It was nice to be outside, and my friend and I had a good talk … but I couldn’t tell you five details on things I noticed on the walk. It was a gorgeous day, yet my mind was babbling to itself with worry, with fear, with what-ifs? and so on.

Wasted opportunity.

Truth be told, my stomach is feeling tight with anxiety as I type this. But if I take a deep breath, and focus on the moment, the now … everything’s OK.

It doesn’t feel OK, but it really is OK. I am home. I am safe. I am well-fed—and in fact, I am sipping a delicious michelada. I am working on something with purpose while listening to comfort music (i.e. the’80s station on SiriusXM). I am comfortable. The rest of my day is slated to consist of work I enjoy, a delicious dinner (homemade soup, salad and then homemade meatloaf) with the husband and cat, and then all sorts of Bon Appetit YouTube videos.

In the moment, in the now, life is good.

Just going through the exercise of typing this and thinking about its truthfulness has that anxiety knot in my stomach loosening … even if just a little. (Like I said, I have always been bad at this.)

For most of us, for most of the time, for most of this shelter-at-home phase, we will be OK in the now/moment. Yeah, we all need to prepare and plan and work to do our all to make sure our future selves—and our future friends, family, community, etc.—are taken care of. Yes, each of us will have bad moments. But we will all be better off if we are able to actually, for example, enjoy the gorgeousness of our spring weather during a walk around the block.

In the moment, in the now, life is good.

Here’s today’s news.

• Courtesy of our friends at Dig Boston, here’s another recap of COVID-19 coverage from alternative newspapers across the country.

The National Guard is here to help FIND Food Bank make sure the valley’s hungry are getting fed

• Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors reminds you that in California, sheltering-in-place is a requirement, not a recommendation.

• The California DMV is extending deadlines and launching virtual field offices. Watch for updates.

• If you’re looking for statewide news on the coronavirus and its effects, one of the best sources is our partner CalMatters. We’ll be republishing a lot of CalMatters’ coverage at CVIndependent.com, as we always do, but there’s always good stuff there.

• Casey Dolan, over at aggregation website Cactus Hugs, has also been doing a daily recap of COVID-19 news and links; here are his for today.

• Audible has launched a new free service with audiobooks for kids and teens during the duration of this COVID-19 mess.

• The city of Indio reminds you that city parks are open, but the playgrounds are closed.

• Jewish Family Service of the Desert—which is actually non-denominational, by the way—is offering telecare therapy for both existing clients and new, as well as other services. Details here.

• Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times checked in with the legendary Vin Scully during these troubled times. Read the story, and listen to the video to hear words of hope from the legend himself.

• Finally, whether you’re a fan of the TV show Schitt’s Creek or not … some excellent advice above.

Keep washing your hands. Stay at home if you can. Call or message a loved one and say hey. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, Palm Springs residents living in the newly drawn Districts 1, 2 and 3 will head to the polls to elect three City Council members.

These elections are the first step in the city’s transition from at-large to district-based representation, to comply with the California Voting Rights Act. The changeover will be complete after the November 2020 election of council members in Districts 4 and 5.

(To see the newly drawn districts, visit www.palmspringsca.gov/government/city-clerk/election-general-municipal-election.)

Another change: The city will no longer have a directly elected mayor; instead, Palm Springs will join most other valley cities in designating a councilmember as mayor for a year on a rotating basis.

The Independent recently reached out to the three candidates running for the new District 3 seat. Both incumbent Geoff Kors and challenger Michael J. Dilger spoke with us at length, while candidate Alan Pettit declined to be interviewed.

Here are their complete answers, edited only slightly for style and clarity, presented in the order in which the candidates will appear on the ballot.


Michael J. Dilger, Gig Worker/Perennial Candidate (formerly ran for New York City mayor and Congress; his Twitter account says he’s a “Write-In Nonpartisan Candidate: The President of The United States of America”), 46 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

There are three things that I think need to be addressed: the security issues of Palm Springs, the “quality of life”—which includes the homelessness (situation) and the unfunded liabilities which amount to more than $300 million—and I’d like to include medicine and science. But for brevity, if I had to pick out the single most important issue facing Palm Springs, it would probably be the “quality of life”/security.

If you look at current trends across the United States, we live in a very polarized political environment that has cascading effects such as police officers being shot, citizens (being) antagonistic toward the police, and you see it manifested in other areas, too, because it’s like a trickle-down effect. So, it’s quality of life. “Quality of life” is the single most important issue facing Palm Springs. And, under “quality of life” come security, homelessness and economic viability. These are very complex issues. I know you want an answer that will just reduce it down to one thing, but I can’t do that, because they’re all intertwined.

But, if you’re asking me what would I do first if I’m elected to office, in the first 90 days, there are certain things I’d like to do. I believe in getting off on the right footing, and being very strong out there and doing a lot of things right away. So I’d like to talk to the police. As we move forward and evolve in the United States, we’re going to need new policing standards, because the old tactics are not going to work as effectively. Palm Springs is not a sleepy community any more. The big cities are growing larger, and policing in New York City now is not the same policing we had back in the 1970s. That wouldn’t be effective today, and what we’re doing right now is not going to be effective 10 years from now. The same goes for Palm Springs. So if you ask me what I would do in my first 90 days, I’d like to address a lot of key issues, like to talk to the police department and introduce new methodologies of policing. Then, I’d like to address the power structure of our community. You have underground power lines and above ground power lines, and yet you have entire blocks that are dark sometimes at around midnight. Now I know that some of these are planned outages, but a lot are unplanned, like when we have inclement weather, and for various other reasons, entire blocks just lose power. That’s not healthy during the summer; it’s not healthy really any time, and it’s just a very bad environment to have that. So I’ll work with the governor on that within my first 90 days.

Also, I want to help the homeless immediately, because you can’t have anyone just living on the street. Everyone talks about helping the homeless, but no one knows what to do. No one’s going to help. They need houses; they need actual physical homes to go to. There’s a lot of reasons why people are homeless, but in 2019, one of the largest reasons why people are homeless is substance abuse. It used to be that you were on the street if you’re mentally ill. Now people are displaced due to opioids and heroin, and we have to address that. I talked to one person on the campaign trail, and he said, “You know, Mike, we owned a clothing store, my wife and I. But we had to close our store, because the homeless would come in to use our bathroom, and they ‘d inject heroin in there. We called the police, but the police couldn’t legally do anything, because they couldn’t stop and frisk them, and they didn’t see them injecting the drugs. So, we finally closed the clothing store because it just got to be too much.” They signed their names to get me on the ballot.

So, these issues are not going to go away. In the first 90 days, I think another important issue is security and the “quality of life,” and I’ll get the ball rolling on all these things. I talked to a security guard at Rite Aid in the Palm Canyon area, and he said there was a beauty store robbed. One (recent) Sunday at 11:30 a.m., two people came in; then they brought another guy in, and they all had guns, or two had guns or whatever the story is, and you can’t have that stuff. These are all things that I would address actually within the first 30 days, 60 days. I know how you get the ball rolling. And the most important thing is giving people safe (surroundings). Especially in Palm Springs—people aren’t coming here to work on Wall Street. They’re not coming here to make a flourishing living. They come here to vacation, to retire, to relax, to be safe and have a good time. So we have to come up with that kind of environment.

What grade would you give the city of Palm Springs regarding its response to date to the homelessness problem? What has the city done well, and what future actions and policies would you support?

The city of Palm Springs sprayed for mosquitoes over the summer time, and I think they’re continuing. It was around 2, 3, 4 a.m. in the morning, and I saw the helicopters. I deliver food. I’m a gig worker, so I was out then. I saw the helicopters, but I didn’t exactly know what they were doing. But then when I read about it in the paper, I thought, “Oh geez … they’re spraying.” So I’ve got to ask the question, “Did anyone get the homeless off the street before they sprayed?” … Regardless of whether or not they say the spray is innocuous, it’s not innocuous. I looked up the chemicals. It’s not innocuous, you know. Anyway, that’s another story. But if the homeless weren’t removed off the streets prior to spraying, then I give Palm Springs a total “F”; even an “F”-minus. Come on.

Now, if they were removed off the street (prior to spraying), what would I give Palm Springs in regards to the homeless? I’d still give them an “F”. You know why? Because the (homeless) are still on the streets. And if they’re still on the streets, that means someone is being derelict in their duties. Someone is doing a really bad job, because you have another human (living insecurely). I see them, and it’s always someone else’s responsibility. There’s no shelter here. … I tell you what: I’ve been around, and I’ve done a lot of things in life, and I know how things work. And, I still give (the city) an “F” for helping the homeless. And I give the entire state of California and “F” for helping the homeless, because they’ve got them in tents and under viaducts all the way from Northern California down to L.A. And if you really want me to be honest: Do you remember when San Diego had the hepatitis “A” outbreak? Well, what happened is, and they don’t tell you this, but I suspect that a lot of the places all around the United States all want the homeless out of their communities, so they give bus tickets to (homeless individuals) and send them to California. And everyone thinks that San Diego has the perfect environment. Even New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio might have paid people to come to California. So anyway, San Diego gets a hepatitis “A” outbreak, and how does that happen? (Editor’s note: On Sept. 1, 2017, San Diego County declared a local health emergency due to a hepatitis “A” outbreak that lasted until Jan. 23, 2018.) It’s transferred through fecal matter. Anyway, long story short, a lot of the businesses in downtown San Diego would allow the homeless to use their bathrooms, no problem. But suddenly, San Diego gets an influx of homeless, and the business owners start to say, “Hey. No, you can’t use our bathroom today.” So people started to defecate in the street. So that’s how the hepatitis “A” outbreak started, but no one will tell you that. I don’t have proof. That’s just a postulate.

Again, is there any specific strategy or plan that you would employ to better deal with the homeless issue in Palm Springs if you’re elected to the City Council?

I don’t think that hotels work. I’ve seen the effect when New York City commandeers hotels, and people on the block don’t like it. It lowers house values in the community, and it just becomes a free-for-all at that point.

First, I think you’ve got to get people housing. You can 3-D print a home in less than 24 hours, and you can do it for as little as $4,000. Now, that’s not long term, but people just need to have a place to go. And for people who have cognitive abilities who can get back into the work force, we’ve got to get them into the work force right away. And, for people who have severe mental illness, we have to have resources for them, (including) counseling staff, but they still have to have a place to go—not a halfway house, and not a tenement, because that’s not a solution. So, immediate housing (is needed) and not using a hotel, but perhaps using innovative means like 3-D printing a house, or you talk to people and give them subsidies to bring a person in (to their home), but I don’t know if that will work. The thing that could probably be most effective is finding certain pieces of land and actually building places. Getting businesses involved and making it like a (recreation) center: If you’re down on your luck, or things aren’t working in your life, or you’ve got a substance-abuse problem, you know, you come here. And not to stay in a shelter, because it’s not a shelter, because a shelter is like a camp where you’ve got to sleep 100 to 200 people in a room. Actually, it’s more like a hotel, because you have your own room, but it’s not staffed with people who are apathetic. It’s actually staffed by good people who want to get people back on their feet. And you get businesses involved, like Starbucks, because it’s good for them, and it’s good publicity. Once you get them involved, and they want to hire these people on an interim basis, then you’re getting (these homeless individuals) back into the work force.

But there’s got to be more done to implement something like this. If it were up to me, I’d burn down every shelter in the United States, because I think they’re all cesspools. I don’t think they’re effective, and they’ve got lice and bed bugs. I think there’s rampant drugs (being abused), prostitution and crime. You’ve got to have a good place. It should be kind of like a YMCA. You ever been to a YMCA in New York City, like the Vanderbilt YMCA? It’s a block from the (United Nations campus), and you tell people that you’re staying at the YMCA, and they think, “Oh … the YMCA, really?” But no, because the Vanderbilt YMCA is like an oasis in the city. You’ve got a gym there; you’ve got a pool, and it’s got a great staff. You’ve got good values (at work), and everybody’s got their own room. This isn’t a homeless-priced community, but it actually costs only $100 per night to stay there. So, my point is that if you had a place like that, that operates on the same model as that, but you’ve got businesses involved, I think it could be effective. Let me just say that what we’re doing right now isn’t working.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

In 1970, when people used to smoke marijuana, it was totally different than now in 2019. The legalization of marijuana is in its infancy, so there’s not research to (explain) how it’s affecting people. But, let me say that emergency-room physicians in Denver, Colorado, have had people come in to their ER with symptoms that they can’t explain, because they’ve never seen them before. Then, the (patients) say, “Well, I’ve been smoking marijuana.” And, the ER doctors say, “Hey, this is totally different than how marijuana used to be back in 1970s-1980s.” Marijuana now is like 25 times stronger. So, if people really want to be honest, they don’t know how this is going to affect people mentally in the long term.

But, I can’t answer the question of how Palm Springs has handled the cannabis business, because it’s too new. I’ve read that they have some new dispensaries opening; there’s one on South Palm Canyon across from Rite Aid, but the only reason people have marijuana now is because there aren’t enough Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerbergs and other creative people who can create jobs and careers for people to allow them to unlock their talents, their gifts. The politicians, we can’t do that, obviously, so they give people marijuana to keep them high. Meanwhile, do you think they keep everyone high in China? Come on … not a bit. Meanwhile, every one’s going to be high in the United States. What do you think will happen (in) the mid-2020s when China’s economy really starts to rocket, and India goes into second place, and you’ve got Americans who just want to get high? It’s not a good policy. I know people want to have a good time; I get it. I know human nature. But, as a leader, I’m not going to advocate that. I’m not going to do it. I don’t have kids, but I want to have kids someday. And when my kids sit down with me, I’m going to (tell them), “You know, I don’t want you to do that. I want you to save your faculties and see if you can become the next Einstein. I want you to do something magnificent in life.” I don’t think a lot of people smoking pot are doing amazing things with their life. But I could be wrong. You can write that, too. I don’t care.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

They’re building a new arena for hockey, and I guess it will be used for more than hockey, and that’s going to bring as much as 10,000 people into our community at a time. I don’t think the current Palm Springs police force is going to be able to handle the excess people. So, they (could) enlarge the police force by (getting) more citizens involved, like citizens on patrol, but I think obviously, they’re going to have to hire more officers. But at some point, the current policing standards that we have will start to break down.

So what can we do? Well, I think we need to rely more on technology to help police. It seems very bad when an officer approaches a car, lets down his guard (and then is killed), as we saw with what happened in Texas with the deputy sheriff who was shot in the back of the head. I have ideas for a certain kind of technology that (allows) the officer to feel safe approaching a car and walking away from a car. … There are all kinds of things we could do. Also, with respect to mass shootings, although “knock on wood,” we haven’t had one here yet, I’m not an advocate of having teachers carrying holstered guns within the school. But I am an advocate of having creative ways to know if a kid is bringing a gun into a school. I have ideas for that, too. And thirdly, if you have a poor quality of life and a lot of drugs in a community, I know there’s people giving drugs to a lot of people (living) on the streets so that they stay on the street. So, we have to reduce that. Also, the security guard at Rite Aid said, and it’s probably speculation on his part, that the people who were responsible for the holdup they had at the beauty salon recently were probably from a gang in Desert Hot Springs. So, we have to completely reduce that. There’s all kind of things we can do. You’ve got to have the will to do it, though. There’s no reason that crime can’t be reduced dramatically, but you have to want to do it. That doesn’t mean getting out there and having a police department that’s militarized. Nobody wants that. It’s not good for the citizenry. We want to reduce crime by relying on technology or a smarter way of policing that keeps officers safe and keeps the community safe. Make Palm Springs a “smart city” where you don’t rely entirely on technology, but make it a lot more reliant than it is, and I think crime will be dramatically reduced.

When you speak about technology, are you talking about cameras and surveillance, or are you talking about other forms?

No, I’m not thinking about cameras and surveillance. Like with an officer approaching a car, there are certain devices—you could call it a “guardian angel”—that approaches the car before (the officer), and everything is handled remotely. It’s almost like a robot. And for the school system, I wasn’t thinking of cameras; it would be (a device) that is like an octopus, that has a way of detecting if someone has a gun, and it doesn’t harm the student who has a gun, but it benevolently wraps them up so they can’t move and therefore can’t fire the gun.

Again, as for the community at large, I’m not thinking of cameras. I’m thinking of certain (strategies) such as not having blackouts, either planned or unplanned. As for the police, there are all kinds of ideas that come to my mind. Off the top of my head, we need to have (the police) more involved with the community. In 2019, it seems that they’re not people’s friends. And it’s not the officers, and it’s not the people; it’s just the environment. We have to have more of an Andy Griffith-type of police (department). I know it sounds like a joke, and too good to be true, but you don’t want to feel like the officer is trying to pry for information and knowledge. You want an officer who’s around, and you think, “He’s my friend,” or, “She’s my friend.” In New York, you’ve got 8 million people living in the city, and they just lost an officer recently, and I tell you what they do there: The officers go out (because the city is made up of different precincts) and they’re the greatest intel officers, because they know everyone in the community. So if there’s any anomaly or aberration, they ask people during casual interactions. This has been happening for like the past eight years, but it is still effective, and that’s how every community has got to be all across the United States. If you enhance that (approach) with everything else like bulletproof windows on cop cars, and protective technology for officers and improving the quality of life for everybody, it’s going to reduce crime.

The only reason a kid joins a gang is because he doesn’t know who he is. He feels peer-pressured, and he’s got the wrong friends, and he might not have family. He doesn’t know where he’s going in life, because he can’t think yet. But if you put a community officer with maybe a celebrity who walks in the community from time to time, you get people involved and excited about life and their dreams and their goals. The next thing you know, the kid says, “Hey! What am I in this gang for? This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” I get it. It takes willpower, and it’s a constant struggle. You’ve got to inspire people to do this kind of thing. Otherwise, it works for a month or a short time, or it doesn’t work at all, and we’re back to the same stuff. It’s more imperative that we do this in 2019 than at any other time in history. I’m only 46, but I would venture that you never had people who disrespected police like we do now. It’s really imperative that we get back on track. That will enhance the community and keep it safe.

You know, I was at Rite Aid last night buying ice cream. I go there almost every night to buy ice cream; I get my ice cream and then go to bed. So I’m buying a scoop of ice cream, and there’s no one in the line. I start to pay, and then I walk back to get something to drink and then walk back up to the cashier, and he’s already ringing me up, and all of sudden, two guys in line start giving me a hard time. And I’m like, “What the heck?” Finally, I got sick of it and I said, “What are you talking about? I was here before you guys got (in line).” And they said, “Are you sure about that?” And I’m thinking: This is ridiculous. This is the kind of stuff I went through in the city (of New York). I don’t want to go through this here in sleepy Palm Springs where everybody is supposed to be nice. So I’ve noticed a change in people’s behavior, and we’ve got to get people back to wanting to be helpful and charitable to (other) people. The way it starts is with the leaders exuding that benevolence, giving people that reason to do good things and inspiring people. Then, every one else in society starts to follow suit. I know I’m only running for City Council, but it starts there. Whatever happens in Palm Springs can be a model for the entire state of California, as well as the United States. I firmly believe that in my heart.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

It amazes me that nobody, not Native Americans or local politicians in Palm Springs, can work out the parking. That aside, it’s a positive for the community. It’s the 32nd amateur hockey team. (Editor’s note: The team slated to play at the arena is a professional minor-league hockey team.) So, that’s a real positive for the kids around this area, because it gets them involved in things. It gets them out of their shell. A kid might say, “Hey! I want to be a hockey player, or I like sports.” You know kids are spending too much time on their iPhones and social media. It’s a positive.

When I first heard about it, I thought, “It’s going to change the downtown of Palm Springs.” And it is. But I think it’s a real boon for Palm Springs and the kids as well as the local citizens. Now I get it, too, because I know that a lot of people who live in that area and are worried that it’s going to block their view of the mountains. But I read today that a lot of it is going to be built underground, and that’s genius. So, I’m thinking real optimistically about it right now, and I’ve got ideas about how to handle the parking if they don’t come up with ideas. There are all kinds of things we could do. We could have people park remotely, and we could make a train to get people in (to the arena downtown). There are all kinds of things we could do to really jazz things up. I think it’s a win-win deal. I think it’s a good thing.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

That’s a complex question. From what I understand, Palm Springs has, I think, it’s $340 million in unfunded liabilities. I’m not on the inside track right now. I haven’t looked at the books. I don’t know where their investments are. To be honest, I can’t answer if Palm Springs is ready for another recession, because I don’t know where the money is or what they have as a surplus. But if you ask me how I would appropriate resources if economic hard times hit the area, the police department, fire department and paramedics would always get resources from me. I would never stifle any emergency worker, because if you stifle emergency workers, then you stifle your citizens, because that’s your protective fabric. You need them. We’d have to get money for them. Then I’d worry about the people who are struggling in our community. If there are elderly who are struggling to pay their rent, I would help them. Or if there are children who are with parents who don’t have air conditioning in the summer time, I’ll always help the people who are without resources. But, honestly, I can’t answer the question if Palm Springs is ready for another economic downturn. I’m not at City Hall right now, and I haven’t looked at the books.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

The perfect night out … you know, whatever I do in life, I always seem to work a lot. I did have a date, though. I had a date about six months ago with this woman who was from Amsterdam. So, what did we do? We went to Ruby’s and had milkshakes and burgers, and afterward, we went to Starbucks. So, that seemed like a nice night out for me. I’m pretty simple.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

So, I’m driving this past Saturday night, and I’m on Palm Canyon going toward Ramon Road. There are so many cars on the street, and I’m thinking, “The season hasn’t even started yet, and there are all these cars.” And I went to Starbucks, and they had closed already; they’re turning everyone away at the door. Follow me here for a second: There are all these people, and the season hasn’t even started yet. What happens when the season starts, and we’ve got an extra 10,000 people here?. Everyone speeds down Palm Canyon if you’ve noticed. As we increase with people, we’ve got to worry about people’s safety. Maybe (the city should) block off Palm Canyon between like Amado and Baristo. Now, do we make Indian Canyon two-way? I’ve got to think about this. This is where the smart city comes into play—if we had an app that people could go on and see how the transportation schedules are working with the buses, the traffic and maybe a train. Maybe a train is not a bad deal, too.

We could have remote parking for the arena, and then we could have a train that actually makes various stops. You mentioned “the perfect night out.” Well, the perfect night out for a lot of people—for me, it’s going to Ruby’s—but for a lot of people, it’s walking down Palm Canyon and going to restaurants like Le Vallauris or LG’s. So if we had some sort of mass transportation that was clean, all solar and efficient, people could take it to go to key points. There’d be the downtown sector. And let’s say we built an artificial intelligence center for the students to go to after school. And let’s say that the train went all the way up to the Tramway. And let’s say we had a longevity center with all the latest ground-breaking technologies and where doctors could come in, so the train could stop there. And since space is a big deal now, let’s say you had a space center sponsored by big business or people who have an interest in this (pursuit). So it could stop there. You move people around like this. Making a train for just one thing, just the arena—I don’t know if that’s a good idea, but if you had these five to seven hot spots that I’ve got in the back of my head right now, then you wouldn’t have to make Palm Canyon a two-way, because you’d get people moving efficiently. Palm Springs is beautiful, so they’ll all be looking around at the scenery, and you’ll cut down on congestion, and cut down on accidents. You can do a lot of different things, and this is safe. You won’t have people getting hit by cars, or perhaps you won’t have crime.

I was sitting at the Coffee Bean last year, in the summer of 2018, and I was on my phone. A man walked in, and a man ran out. And a woman screamed and yelled, “He took my purse!” Her husband ran out after him, so I ran after him too. Her husband caught up to the guy in the parking lot next to the Palm Mountain Resort, and he’s pulling the guy out of the car. Meanwhile, I’m taking a picture of the license plate and car, then I called the police. The police came, and they never did get her purse back, but my point is that as we increase with people, you’re going to have weird stuff like this happen. But with smart ways of getting around the city, and enhancing the city with other pleasurable things that are cool to do, and looking to the future, we could actually have a “smart” train, whether it’s solar or hydrogen or electric—we could do all kinds of things. So, the jury is still out on making Indian Canyon a two-way, because I don’t know how it would be. It might just be chaos. So that’s the second question I don’t know, and I’m not afraid to say I don’t know.

I guess we’ll find out, because they’re doing it.

Oh, they are doing it right now? They’re making it two-way?

Yes. Work has started already.

Well, when I get elected, I’ll introduce my ideas, and maybe we’ll change it back.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

When I’m elected, I bring three important things. I bring integrity to that office. I will always do what is right for the will of people, not for my own interests, but for the community and the entire state of California to make life better for people. I’m not a politician. I’m a person who has ideas and wants to fulfill his calling to do good with his life. At this point in my life, this is what I’ve been trying to do since 2007. I’ve been trying to get elected to office. I do it honestly. I don’t take money from people, so that once I get there to elected office, I’m not going to have to do their will, and can do the people’s will. I do it the honest way. I’ll bring integrity to the office in its truest sense. Secondly, altruism. It’s bigger than I am, and it’s about being selfless. I believe in a greater good. I believe in God. It’s about doing work for the greater good. Thirdly, I bring new ideas, but I’m also a realist, too. I don’t believe that every one of my ideas is the best idea on earth. But if I come up with a hundred ideas, one idea will be the best, and it’s going to work. That’s how I operate. I continue to farm out ideas, until it’s like ,“Eureka!” And it’s the best idea to make life better for people. Maybe the “guardian angel” approach robot (for police car stops) is not the best idea in the world, but if I come up with another 99 ideas, one of them is, hopefully, going to help a police officer and save his life, and save another person’s life.


Geoff Kors, Palm Springs City Council Member/Mayor Pro Tem, 58 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

The No. 1 issue facing Palm Springs is to ensure that we continue our economic growth, so that we can provide a high level of services to our residents, and address homelessness, the issue of affordable housing, infrastructure repairs and other matters that all take resources. Given CalPERS losing 40 percent of the pension money that local governments have paid in, we need to continue to build our reserves, as we’ve done over the last four years, and (continue to build) our economy, so that we can honor our pensions and our other obligations while continuing to move our city forward.

Any specific thoughts on how you’d like to see the city maintain or generate more revenues?

Our budget has grown substantially since the recession; I created and the council adopted a pension-reserve fund so that we could start putting money away to pay for future pension costs instead of having to make cuts to pay them. We have close to $40 million in reserves, more than double from when I was elected four years ago, and we have engaged in a number of programs to continue to pump our business community and spur economic development. I started a bimonthly meeting of a new Economic Development and Business Retention Subcommittee which I co-chair with Councilmember (Christy) Holstege. We have launched a number of new economic-incentive programs in order to keep our economy moving, and we’ve also created our “Uniquely Palm Springs” program to promote our local small businesses in Palm Springs, so that those will continue to fuel our economy and create jobs.

What grade would you give the city of Palm Springs regarding its response to date to the homelessness problem? What has the city done well, and what future actions and policies would you support?

I’ve served as the co-chair of the homelessness task force for the last four years, and part of that time, the city wasn’t doing very much other than contributing some funding to Roy’s, the homeless shelter that the county closed down three years ago. Homelessness, poverty and mental health are all issues that are the responsibility of the county under state law, and not cities. The county is the entity with a social-service department, and (it’s) the entity up until now that has received all the funding for investment purposes. Over the last three years, the city and the subcommittee I co-chaired have decided that given the lack of funding from the county, we needed to step up and fill that void. So, we’ve hired now two homelessness and health crisis teams that are on the ground seven days a week. We’ve put something into a number of programs, including the housing-first program; (we’ve) transitioned 200 residents into housing. And recently, Councilmember Holstege and I led an effort to work with Assembly member Chad Mayes to lobby legislative leadership and Gov. Newsom for direct funding to Palm Springs. The result was that we’ll be receiving $10 million to help address homelessness in Palm Springs. We’re the only city other than the largest 14 cities in the state to be receiving money.

Do you have any potential steps or strategies looking forward that you’d like to share with readers/voters?

Sure. While we don’t have all the rules and restrictions on (that) funding from the state, our focus is on permanent solutions to move people off the streets and into housing. What we lack in Palm Springs, and throughout the west valley, is transitional and permanent supportive housing. Without that, it’s very difficult to help people transition off the streets. That housing is essential, and it needs to have wrap-around services. So, that is the priority as we move forward.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

Palm Springs was the first city in Riverside County to allow medical marijuana many, many years ago. We were also at the forefront when recreational cannabis (use) was passed by the voters. Cannabis is a legal business and should be treated as a legal business, but cannabis facilities need to adhere to the rules, which include not emitting odor, and ensuring that all their products are safe and tested. I think one change that we have proposed—and I’m on the subcommittee with Councilmember (J.R.) Roberts—is that there are business requirements in all zones of the city, including industrial zones. Since industrial zones border some of our residential neighborhoods, we are proposing significant fines and suspensions for any cannabis business that is in violation of the odor requirements. We’ve retained an outside odor expert, and all cannabis facilities have to have a plan approved by this expert in order to open and operate. This has had a significant impact on reducing some of the odor issues that were being experienced, and we are looking at creating a “green zone” with tax incentives to encourage cannabis facilities, particularly growers and manufacturers, to be further away from residential neighborhoods.

We are continuing to meet with groups in the cannabis industry and other stakeholders as this industry evolves to make sure that we are doing it in a way that is fair to the businesses, that doesn’t create a burden on our neighborhoods and residents, and works for everyone involved.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

I think our police chief and department do an excellent job. Their community and neighborhood policing programs have been very successful. We are very fortunate that we continue to maintain our own police department as compared with many other cities that contract with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

There’s no level of crime that we should ever be comfortable with. We always want to do better. Since the recession of more than a decade ago, we have provided full funding to staff our police, fire and emergency medical departments. That is due in large part to voters having passed Measure D, which provided us (with) the resources to do that. The police recently hired six new graduates from the police academy who have just started their on-the-ground training with the department. Upon their graduation (about 3-4 weeks ago), all of them were top-rate and did extremely well, and we’re looking forward to having those additional people working for us in the city. We’ve also added significant numbers of fire fighters and emergency medical personnel, as ensuring the health and safety of our residents is a prime priority of government.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

The arena will bring a hockey team, the first professional sports team, to Palm Springs, as well as entertainment, family shows and additional convention space, all (of which are) things that greatly benefit our residents and our city. That said, it’s important that we work to mitigate any potential negative impacts affecting public safety.

As soon as the arena was announced, I reached out to senior staff at the tribe to engage them in working with us on a parking study, which we are in the process of doing. It’s important that, on nights when there’s a major event, we don’t lose parking for our other businesses, our residents and our neighborhoods. Given past ventures from the tribe, we know that they are very good at business, and that they’re going to want this significant investment to be successful, which means making sure that those issues are addressed. The city will continue to work closely with them on those issues as time moves forward.

I was pleased to see the renderings (of the proposed arena design) which show that this is not an extremely tall arena, as many have feared. It’s being built partly underground and with a very midcentury design that is appropriate for the city of Palm Springs. Plus, I like hockey, and I look forward to going to games, as I think many of our residents are.

Palm Springs is such an amazing place to live, and I can’t think of another city with some 45,000 full-time residents that has an international airport with direct flights to 20 cities, a world-class museum, festivals like the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Modernism Week, incredible restaurants, and wonderful retail—and that all causes a lot of people to come here. A city of 45,000 would not have all of these wonderful amenities for residents without us maintaining our charm, our warm, friendly environment and our beautiful natural surroundings. That’s what makes me so love Palm Springs.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

I believe we are much better situated if there is another economic downturn than we were prior to the last recession. We have close to $40 million in reserves. We have put in place numerous incentive programs to encourage investment in Palm Springs. We have more full-time residents than we had previously, and a much more diverse demographic living here. We have focused on promoting tourism, not just for people who live across the country or around the world, but also more locally. We’ve added some $200,000 to the budget this year for research on, and promotions to, people living within a 60-mile radius—people who can come into Palm Springs for the day, shop, go to an event, go out to dinner and generate tax revenue and help our small businesses. In an economic downturn people may not travel (in) from as far away, but people who live closer are not going to travel as far away, either. So, keeping our focus, in part, on people who can drive here, or fly from close places like San Francisco, Portland or Seattle, has been a high priority. That will help us keep our tourism-based economy moving in the event of an economic downturn. So, that research is just getting underway, and I would anticipate that the marketing pieces will probably launch right around the beginning of 2020.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

For me, I think the perfect night out would be to make dinner on the barbecue and sit outside under the stars with my husband, James, and my dog, Dash, and have some quiet alone time in paradise. Being on council and having so many events that we all do, the thought of having a totally relaxing night and cooking outside is great. That’s not to say that there aren’t wonderful restaurants, and attractions, and theater, and other events to go to in Palm Springs. We have so many of them, and I enjoy doing (those things). But the perfect night would really be to just be outside—at this time of year, it’s just so beautiful out—enjoy the stars and spend time with the two beings that I love.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

I support changing Indian Canyon from what was known as the four-lane freeway out of town to a two-way roadway. Most of the money (for the conversion) came from a competitive grant process for public safety which Palm Springs was awarded through (the Coachella Valley Association of Governments) thanks to the great work of our staff. Indian Canyon was not safe for pedestrians or bicyclists, and was also dangerous for cars. It was on that basis that we were rewarded the grants. It will slow down traffic and make it safer. It will make Indian Canyon part of what is now a wonderful downtown. From the museum to the convention center, with the cultural center and spa and the new arena on tribal land and the rest of our downtown on city land, it will really integrate all of it. It will also help a great deal to spur economic growth and help businesses on Indian Canyon, because it will be more pedestrian-friendly, and cars will be coming in from both ways, so it will feel more like an integrated part of our city. You know, with the arena coming now, too, this will allow the city to move traffic freely, when necessary, in either direction to (facilitate) getting people in or out based on traffic studies and what makes the most sense. It also gives us a two-way road when Palm Canyon Drive is closed for VillageFest every Thursday, or Pride or any of the other events that happen on Palm Canyon.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

Your questions have touched on some of the important issues such as our economy, public safety, infrastructure and homelessness which are among the many issues we are working to address. In January, I became the liaison for the Parks and Recreation Commission, and one of the issues I recently started to focus on is upgrading our parks. I’ve lived in other cities and grew up where the neighborhood park was integral to our lives. It’s where I played kickball after school. It’s where my dad taught me to play tennis. It’s where we had family picnics. Here, we have such wonderful and beautiful parks, but we need to activate them, and we need to upgrade them.

I recently worked to get water fountains and watering stations in our parks. We’re testing one out in Ruth Hardy Park, and then we’ll be moving on to other parks. I want to help clean up Sunrise Park so that our residents can enjoy it. We stopped some behavior that was going on there, and I really want us to continue to focus on how we treat every single one of our parks.

The last thing I’ll say is that I love living in Palm Springs. I can’t think of anywhere else that I’d rather live. It’s been a privilege and an honor to serve the city and its residents over the last close-to four years, because our residents and our businesses are so engaged. So many people want to give back. They want to make a difference. They volunteer; they donate; they come to council meetings; and they bring their best ideas to us. I’ll be truly honored to serve the city for another term.

Published in Politics

In April 2016, a number of concerned Palm Springs residents banded together to form the Save Oswit Canyon (SOC) movement. The goal: Stop a real estate developer’s plan to build several hundred homes—and a flood-control dam which would measure the length of a prone Empire State Building—in the beautiful canyon.

In the three-plus years since, SOC conservationists have fought battles on multiple fronts. SOC supporters have held rallies, lobbied politicians, gathered thousands of signatures to file a public initiative, raised funds, fought in the courts and negotiated with developers in an effort to buy the environmentally sensitive acreage off of South Palm Canyon Drive.

Fast-forward to July 17, when the SOC team issued a press release with the cryptic heading, “The Fate of Oswit Canyon Has Been Determined! Will It Become a New Neighborhood or Will It Be Preserved?” Media attendance was requested at a press conference to be held the following day at Oswit Canyon.

At 9 a.m. the next morning, SOC founder and president Jane Garrison stepped behind a podium emblazoned with a majestic photo of an endangered bighorn sheep. After some brief introductory remarks, Garrison commented: “I have some good news, and I have some depressing, urgent news. The good news is that, after a 3 1/2 year battle, the developer has finally agreed to sell the property.”

The small but energetic crowd erupted in cheers and applause. “That is a huge hurdle that we’ve gotten over,” Garrison said. “We’ve been working with the incredible Jim Karpiak (executive director of the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy), and the CVMC has been hard at work behind the scenes for awhile now to find us federal and state grants to purchase this property. The city of Palm Springs has been great and has agreed to contribute to the purchase of this property, because we all know that the only way to truly save open space is to buy it. We can battle this in court for years and years, and we will if we have to—but we don’t want to. We want to purchase it and conserve it for our generation and for generations to come.

“Now, the depressing news,” Garrison continued. “We are in the process of working everything out, but we have estimated that we are going to be $1 million short” of the more than $6.6 million total needed.

“I’m appealing to my friends, neighbors and the community to say that, ‘We can’t lose this piece of property. Not over a million dollars,’” Garrison said. “It would be so tragic. If every single resident of Palm Springs donated only $25, we would be there. It’s an easy number to achieve if everyone put their minds into helping.”

Garrison went on to urge people to donate, and to also consider staging house parties or other types of fundraisers—because the $1 million shortfall has to be made up by Dec. 31. Garrison tried to get more time to raise the funds, she said, but the developers would not cooperate.

“I think we can do it,” Garrison said. “We collected over 5,000 signatures in 30 days. … I know we can do it, but I’m here, because I can’t do it alone. So I’m asking for help. It would be so tragic to lose this ecosystem that is home to endangered bighorn sheep, to bobcats, to foxes, to mountain lions, to protected migratory birds.”

Garrison said two generous donors have pledged up to $50,000 each in matching donations for individual contributions made between now and the end of August, thus doubling their impact.

“I can’t stress enough,” Garrison said, “that this is our only chance. So I’m urging all residents to make a donation. Whatever you think you can afford to donate, double it.”

Karpiak, of the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy, next addressed the audience.

“We’re a state agency, and we try to bring funding to the Coachella Valley whenever we can,” he said. “We mostly focus on acquiring land for conservation. This land is critical now. Due to a regulatory quirk in how the multiple species conservation plan of the Coachella Valley was drafted, and the fact that it was tribal land at one time, this (parcel) is not included as protected land under that plan. … This land is valuable for its stunning beauty as well as for its big role in the ecological system here.

“We’re putting together a package of funding. We don’t know how much yet, but we’re working with the federal government to get some more grants. Several million dollars have been mentioned, but it’s probably not going to be enough, since this is valuable land, but hopefully with the help of the community, we will fund it successfully.”

Palm Springs City Councilmember Geoff Kors also spoke briefly to the group.

“We have a great opportunity right now,” Kors said. “Sometimes people have said (to me), ‘Open space doesn’t build roads or provide any resources for the city.’ And I always respectfully say, ‘I disagree.’ It is our open space and our mountains that draw tourism. And that, actually, does pay to pave our roads and provide for public safety. It’s one of the reasons so many of us live here, and why are property values are what they are. So, it’s critical, just from an economic point of view, that preserving open space is so critical for our city.

“The city in the past has done such a great job with the Chino Cone, and now we’re looking at property near the tram, and at Rimrock, and now this. This really is a great step in the right direction. It only gets done as a public/private partnership.”

Donations, which are tax deductible, can be made at saveoswitcanyon.org.

Published in Environment

Antisemitism and other forms of racial hatred are on the rise—and Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs is taking a stand with the Interfaith Service to Stop Hate, taking place at 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 29.

During a recent phone interview, organizer Bob Weinstein explained the goal of the service.

“There’s been a tremendous spike in the hate of minorities, with Jews being shot dead in their houses of worship, and African Americans being persecuted in the streets,” Weinstein said. “Even in Palm Springs, we had an incident with the Black History Parade … where someone from the parade was attacked by a racist.

“The LGBT community is systematically being attacked. We have a very polarizing situation today where minorities are being viciously persecuted across the country and around the world. A Jewish person can’t walk down the streets of Paris without being attacked. What I wanted to do to combat this hate before it gets worse is partner up with local churches once a month … and have more of a brotherly service and try to get the pastors, temples and Baptist churches across the country to (tell) their congregations that hate and bigotry are not acceptable. We’d like to start this trend across the country.”

Weinstein said religious congregations are in a position to speak out against racial hatred.

“The base of the community is the community that goes to church or goes to a mosque,” he said. “Unless the leaders of these communities talk and teach their congregants that hate is not acceptable in our society, things could get worse. During the Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe during World War II, most of the churches remained silent, even though the church leaders were aware that Jews were being persecuted and murdered. You can’t have that today. You need to have the leaders of the community talk to their congregants and tell them, ‘This has to stop, and it’s not acceptable.’ We have to make a change for the better, and we have a capacity to do better.”

In 2018, the FBI reported that there were 7,175 hate crimes in the United States in 2017—1,054 more than the previous year, or a 17 percent increase.

“The problem is it’s becoming more acceptable,” Weinstein said. “Antisemitism is out in the open. Attacking African Americans in the street has become more acceptable. These things cannot be acceptable in our society; otherwise, we’re going to end up in a civil war. That’s the bottom line. We have to stop it, and we have to deescalate the situation before it gets worse.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are at least 30 hate groups in Southern California.

“There have been a number of Nazi organizations and hate groups living in the Coachella Valley, and in the surrounding areas as well,” Weinstein said. “It’s always been a very conservative jurisdiction. Small pockets like Palm Springs are subject to periodic attacks like we had with George Zander a few years ago. We have to be on guard, and we have to fight back.”

The service at Temple Isaiah will include speakers including Congressman Raul Ruiz, Mayor Robert Moon, Palm Springs Councilmember Lisa Middleton, Palm Springs Councilmember Geoff Kors, and State Senator Jeff Stone.

“We’ll have speakers before the service from 6:30 to 7:30, and then at 7:30, we’ll have the service where our congregation will join the Baptist congregation in Palm Springs, Ajalon Baptist Church, an African American congregation, and their choir will join our cantor onstage, singing and praying together. We’ll be praying for peace and to stop the hate.”

Weinstein said Temple Isaiah has an important role to play in fighting for social justice in the Coachella Valley.

“Temple Isaiah has always been at the forefront of trying to seek justice not only for the Jewish community, but for minorities in general,” he said. “Many years ago, we had interfaith services with the African-American community and other communities throughout the Coachella Valley. We’re always trying to reach out. I think that not only should we reach out in this instance; we should try to set a trend for the rest of the country.”

The Interfaith Service to Stop Hate will take place at 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 29, at Temple Isaiah, 332 W. Alejo Road, in Palm Springs. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-325-2281, or visit www.templeisaiahps.com.

Published in Local Issues

On the morning of March 7, a fire broke out near the kitchen of Bongo Johnny’s Patio Bar and Grille—about one hour before the Arenas Road restaurant in downtown Palm Springs was scheduled to open.

The Palm Springs Fire Department quickly put out the blaze—ruled an accident, after linens and oil-soaked rags in a laundry hamper spontaneously combusted—but by then, the damage was done: Bongo Johnny’s kitchen was essentially destroyed, while smoke and water damage closed three of the four other businesses in the building: Stacy’s at Palm Springs, Mischief Cards and Gifts, and the Palm Springs Piercing Company. Only Streetbar, located at the east end of the building, remained open.

More than two weeks later, those four businesses remain closed—and frustration is mounting over a Palm Springs City Council that Bongo Johnny’s general manager called unresponsive, as well as a landlord, Plaza Investment Company, Inc., that’s allegedly being uncooperative.

“My No. 1 goal is to rebuild, as soon as possible,” said Robb Wirt, the owner of Bongo Johnny’s. “The landlord is hindering that. At this time, it’s literally unknown when that will be. … They’re saying they aren’t responsible for the structure of the building. They are!”

Mark Hewitt, Bongo Johnny’s general manager, explained what was happening with the insurance companies, the landlord and the other three businesses.

“I don’t know if ‘fighting’ is the right word to use here,” Hewitt said. “When things like this happen, everybody has their own insurance company. Everyone needs to come to the table here, because at the end of the day, their building burned. Our business burned, and (the landlord’s) business burned. Unfortunately, the stance the landlord is taking is, ‘It’s all your fault,’ and they don’t want to bring their insurance company into it, because they want our insurance company to pay for everything. That’s not how the insurance game works.”

Plaza Investment Company, Inc., did not respond to an interview request as of our deadline.

Wirt said cleaning needs to get started at Bongo Johnny’s so the other three closed businesses in the building can reopen.

“The other businesses have smoke damage, and basically we just need to clean so they can start their process and open up while (Bongo Johnny’s) is under construction,” Wirt said. “We all share an attic space, so if we start cleaning, it’s just going to get dirty again, because the dust will go through the vents.”

Hewitt said they’ve appealed to the Palm Springs City Council for help. “I spoke to Mayor Robert Moon, and he told me, ‘I don’t want to get involved.’ He got involved in Wang’s (in the Desert) over vandalism, but he’s friends with the landlord, and that’s probably why he doesn’t want to get involved.

“It’s a nightmare. I’m under the impression that the City Council’s role is to help small businesses, because we bring in money to the city. I haven’t gotten any help. Geoff Kors hasn’t returned my calls; J.R. Roberts hasn’t returned my calls. I feel like the landlords don’t care. All of the tenants on Arenas pay rent to the same landlord, and (the landlord) hasn’t given back a single dollar to the LGBT community. Yet they take millions of dollars from us, and we all just pay our rent and taxes, and we get nothing out of it.”

Bongo Johnny’s will be closed for months. However, Stacy Louis, the owner of Stacy’s at Palm Springs, expressed hope that his bar could re-open by the end of March.

“There are so many things I’m dealing with, and I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before.” Louis said. “I’m more of the guy who goes with the flow and doesn’t create problems. But when we can’t get action immediately after we’ve had a fire like we did … I am frustrated.

“I actually paid my cleanup company, who was waiting for the landlord to authorize, which took four days and through a weekend. … I could get this going if I have (an asbestos) test, and it comes back at a little less than 1 percent—which it did. I had to wait four days for the second test to be done, because the landlord wouldn’t approve it. My cleanup person paid them out of his pocket to get this second test done so I could get going. I shouldn’t have had to sign a contract with my cleanup company to get started because I’m waiting for one insurance company to work with the other—and I just gave them $5,000 out of my own pocket.”

Stacy’s suffered damage from both smoke and the firefighters’ efforts to put out the fire.

“I have a few holes punched through my restroom, probably from the axes of the firemen, and I have water that’s come in through that same restroom and into the offices and the bar itself,” Louis said.

The employees of both Bongo Johnny’s and Stacy’s are being paid their hourly wages for the time being, Wirt and Louis said, but for Bongo Johnny’s, there’s a race against time: The insurance company will only pay for two months of wages, and Wirt said he is paying his staff what they would normally make in tips out of his own pocket.

“On his own accord, Robb has decided that the little bit of personal cash that he has, he’s going to use to make sure the employees are whole first,” Hewitt said. “But what we’re getting from the landlord is, ‘If you can pay your employees, why don’t you just pay for everything else?’ Three days after the fire, we got all of the employees together and said, ‘We want you back, but we don’t know how long this will be for as of today.’ We’re going to continue to pay them for as long as we can, which is not the narrative you want to give someone sitting at home thinking, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen in two months?’”

Louis said his employees have benefited from the kindness of his fellow Arenas Road business owners.

“I said to (my employees), ‘I will pay you for your hours, and if any of you need help because you’re not making your tips, you can come to me, and I will take care of you until we get this figured out.’ But I think the kindest thing that happened was (at Streetbar). Dick Haskamp, the owner of Streetbar, passed away a few days before the fire. The employees of Streetbar came to me and asked if it was OK if (Stacy’s bartenders) could fill in during the memorial service. I can’t even tell you how many tears that’s brought to my eyes. So we made it all happen. We got a schedule together, and they trained them. … During this (service), all the sales would be donated to Stacy’s, on top of the tips that they would make.”

Wirt said he’s been overwhelmed by messages of support from Bongo Johnny’s customers.

“I’ve been getting e-mails from people on Yelp, Facebook and through my website,” Wirt said. “They’re saying, ‘I just landed; I’m on my way.’ They get there; they find out we’re closed; and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I always start my trip in Palm Springs at your restaurant.’ Bongo Johnny’s has been there for 12 years, and it’s iconic for the LGBT community. It’s their first stop when they get off the airplane, and I didn’t even realize that until this happened. Now they’re going somewhere else.

“People bring their dog because we’re dog-friendly. … (Customers) come in on a Friday night—and I can guarantee you they’re not eating anywhere else, because of how they might be dressed. They feel safe. Now that’s been taken away from them, and it’s a detriment to the community that we can’t reopen quicker.”


Following publication, we received this response from Geoff Kors:

I was surprised to see the statement that I didn’t return a call from the manager of Bongo Johnny’s, especially as your reporter never reached out to ask me about this issue or whether or not I received a call.

The fire occurred on the day that my husband’s mother died, March 7. We left for Scotland a few days thereafter and returned Tuesday night, March 20. During that time, I checked with our city manager about the situation and also spoke with a friend whose business was impacted due to the fire. I was told that both the mayor and Councilmember Middleton were working on the issue, and I would be briefed upon my return.

I never received any communication from Bongo Johnny’s, and checked with staff at City Hall today and was told that the only call that had been to the mayor, and it was from Rob Wirt. No message was left for me, and I was never informed of a call.

Published in Local Issues

On Nov. 7, voters who live in the city of Palm Springs will go to the polls to select two new members of the Palm Springs City Council.

This election will mark a complete changing of the guard, so to speak, after the indictment of former Mayor Steve Pougnet and a couple of developers on corruption charges two years ago. The two new members will replace retiring City Council members Ginny Foat and Chris Mills, and joining three new members who were elected two years ago: Geoff Kors, J.R. Roberts and Mayor Rob Moon.

With City Manager David Ready, this new council will help guide a city that is enjoying the best of times … and, at the same time, suffering through the worst of times.

The city is more popular than ever as a tourism destination—yet it is enduring the aforementioned scandal involving its huge, signature downtown development project. Some areas, such as the Uptown Design District, are enjoying a resurgence—yet the homelessness problem continues to worsen.

The Independent’s Brian Blueskye recently spoke to each of the candidates about these various issues and more. He asked them about the issue of homelessness; the new vacation-rental ordinance; the lack of affordable housing in the city; ethics and transparency;the downtown redevelopment project; and the city’s relationship with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Finally, he asked each candidate whether the city is opposed to fun—a charge against the current council leveled by some, including the Cactus Hugs website.

Here’s what each of the candidates had to say.

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Christy Holstege

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Glenn Flood 

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Henry Hampton

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Judy Deertrack

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Lisa Middleton

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Robert Julian Stone

Published in Politics

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