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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

After meeting numerous famous and powerful people during almost 25 years in journalism, I’m rarely star-struck or intimidated these days.

In fact, it’s happened to me just twice since I’ve called the Coachella Valley home. The first time was when I met Joyce Bulifant—semi-regular on the classic Match Game back in the 1970s, and co-star of one of my favorite movies ever, Airplane.

The second time was when I met Barbara Keller.

For the life of me, I have no idea why I was starstruck when I met Joyce Bulifant—I love her, but I’ve been left unflummoxed by bigger stars before. But I do understand why I was intimidated by Barbara Keller, when I somehow found myself sitting next to her at an Equality California Awards host committee meeting: I knew I was in the presence of a person who was truly great.

Barbara Keller passed away at the age of 75 on Monday, April 15.

Barbara was as kind and welcoming as a person could be, but I was star-struck by her reputation, her gravitas, her works. I knew how many local nonprofits and charities she supported—with her money and a whole lot of her time. I’d heard tales about her extreme kindness from friends. And I’d known, by seeing her with my own eyes at various events (almost always with her fantastic husband, Jerry), how simply fabulous she was.

It’s common when someone well-known dies for them to be showered with exaggerated levels of praise and accolades. However, regarding Barbara Keller, there’s no exaggeration: She deserves each and every bit of the love and appreciation she’s received. She was truly a giant of the Coachella Valley. Her death is a huge loss to the community.

“This morning we lost our one and only Barbara Keller. The love she brought to the Desert AIDS Project family changed us forever,” said Desert AIDS Project CEO David Brinkman, in a statement on the day she passed away. “She had been our board’s leader, the Steve Chase’s chief and our clients and mission’s ultimate champion. Words fail to express the gratitude I have for having been the recipient of her friendship, love and mentorship. Barbara Keller equals humanitarian.”

My sincere sympathies go out to Jerry and the rest of her family, as well as her work family at Lulu California Bistro and Acqua California Bistro.

We’ll have more on the life of Barbara Keller in the Independent soon. In the meantime, I invite you to pick up the May 2019 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent, hitting the streets this week. As always, thanks for reading.

Published in Editor's Note

When Senate Bill 239 took effect last year, it made knowingly spreading the HIV virus a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Opponents of the bill, which was signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown, were furious, speculating it could lead to an increase in HIV transmissions. However, people on the front lines of the fight against HIV/AIDS said the new law was a much-needed step in the right direction, considering treatment and prevention methods have changed significantly since the AIDS epidemic began in 1981.

“If you criminalize HIV, it discourages people from getting tested,” said Carl Baker, the director of legal and legislative affairs for the Desert AIDS Project. “Under the old statute, if you didn’t know your status, you didn’t commit a crime (if you passed the HIV virus to someone else). It was better to be dumb and spread the disease than to be smart and prevent the disease.”

Samuel Garrett-Pate, the communications director for Equality California, said via e-mail that potentially criminalizing those with HIV proved to be bad public policy.

“HIV-specific criminal laws hurt rather than help,” Garrett-Pate said. “There is no evidence that laws targeting people living with HIV for criminal penalties actually reduce the number of new cases of HIV or improve public health in any way. In fact, research suggests that such laws may be a disincentive to testing and disclosure of one’s HIV status and a barrier to seeking care for people living with HIV. In addition, these laws may give HIV-negative people a false sense of security with respect to the health of their sexual partners, thereby encouraging riskier behaviors and more sexually transmitted infections. … HIV decriminalization encourages HIV testing, treatment and disclosure to sexual partners.”

Baker said only one group of people in recent years faced prosecution.

“The only real people who were prosecuted in the last 15 to 20 years were sex workers,” Baker said. “It wasn’t used for the everyday person; it was only people who were picked up for prostitution. That was the targeted audience. I can see the rationale, because if you’re in the sex industry, you’re going to spread it to a lot more people than Mr. Smith on the street.

“But way back in the ’80s, there were some bad actors. There was a male who was infected and was intentionally sleeping with women without telling them. There’s always that one bad actor.”

Garrett-Pate said the law was used to disproportionately target women and people of color.

“Overall, 800 people came into contact with the California criminal-justice system from 1988 to June 2014 either under an HIV-related law or under the misdemeanor exposure law, as it related to a person’s HIV-positive status,” Garrett-Pate wrote. “Black and Latino people made up two-thirds of the people who came into contact with the criminal-justice system based on their HIV status, even though just half of the population living with HIV/AIDS in California is black or Latino. Women made up 43 percent of those who came into contact with the criminal-justice system based on their HIV-positive status, even though just 13 percent of the HIV-positive population in California is women. … White men were significantly more likely to be released and not charged.”

Baker emphasized that testing and public-health awareness are the best ways to battle HIV—not criminalization.

“We want people to be tested and to go into treatment; then they are not infectious and are undetectable,” Baker said. “That’s our goal to ending this epidemic. The combination of Truvada and antiretrovirals keep the likelihood at 99.8 percent of the virus never being transferred. It’s as effective as using a condom. By having something on the books that discouraged people from finding out their status and pushing them underground, that was going to encourage more behaviors that will spread the virus.”

Baker said that despite the progress the Desert AIDS Project and other public-health groups have made in battling HIV, minority groups remain the most at risk.

“The spike in transmissions (has been) in the transgender population and in the minority populations in Riverside County that don’t identify as gay. They use the term ‘men having sex with men,’ because they could be married or have a one-off with another man, and they aren’t out,” Baker said. “That’s the issue, and those are the people we want to get tested, because they aren’t identifying as gay and think they don’t have anything to worry about. Those are the hardest people to get tested—and where the virus is blowing up.”

For information on free and confidential HIV testing, visit gettestedcoachellavalley.org.

Published in Local Issues

Darrell Tucci is the chief development officer for the Desert AIDS Project, and he spearheads D.A.P.’s annual Dining Out for Life fundraiser, taking place this year on Thursday, April 25.

“Last year, we challenged people to become part of the B.L.D. Club—to commit to having breakfast, lunch and dinner at Dining Out for Life restaurants,” Tucci said, adding that D.A.P. is issuing the same challenge this year.

I am proud to say I was part of last year’s B.L.D. Club … and then some. In fact, I went a little crazy (in a good way) last year during Dining Out for Life: I wound up dining—or, at the very least, buying a drink or a snack—at 11 different participants last year, starting with coffee and a scone at Ristretto, and ending my night with a Maker’s Mark and Coke at the Tool Shed.

A lot of people joined me in meeting D.AP.’s challenge, and then some: Due to the generosity of the 75 participating bars and restaurants, Dining Out for Life last year raised a whopping $280,000 for D.A.P.—$50,000 more than the year before.

If you’re unfamiliar with Dining Out for Life, here’s how it goes: Local bars and restaurants agree to donate at least 33 percent of their sales on Thursday, April 25, to D.A.P. It’s that simple. Really. While D.A.P. volunteers will be present at most of the participating venues during the day—offering “I Dined” stickers and giving people the opportunity to make extra donations if they’d like—all people need to do to help D.A.P. is dine and/or drink at one of the participating restaurants and bars.

Find a complete and constantly updated list of participants at www.diningoutforlife.com/city/greater-palm-springs.

Dining Out for Life is held on behalf of HIV/AIDS service organizations in 45 cities across North America on the last Thursday each April. Even though the Coachella Valley is one of the smallest markets—if not the smallest market—that participates, last year’s $280,000 was the second-largest amount raised in any city. Only Denver, which had three times as many restaurants participating, raised more money.

Why is Dining Out for Life so successful in the Coachella Valley?

“We have a secret sauce that’s a combination of a few important ingredients,” Tucci said. “First, the restaurateurs in our valley really embody our valley’s philanthropic nature.

“Second, this valley has been at the forefront of the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic since day one, and today’s inhabitants embody that. At Dining Out for Life, we see a dedication from attendees that’s almost like the dedication people have when going to vote.

“People wore that ‘I Dined’ sticker as a badge of honor, just like the ‘I Voted’ sticker on Election Day,” Tucci said about last year’s Dining Out for Life event. “We’d never ran out of stickers before.”

Tucci isn’t exaggerating when he touts the generosity of local restaurateurs; last year, the top three fundraising restaurants in North America—yes, the entire continent—were all located in Palm Springs: Spencer’s Restaurant, Lulu California Bistro and Trio Restaurant.

Then there are the smaller restaurants that give literally everything they have, and then some, on Dining Out for Life day. Tucci said he was amazed, for example, by the generosity of the Holiday House Palm Springs last year: Not only did the restaurant give 100 percent; the owner then matched that 100 percent donation. And at Rooster and the Pig, the restaurant gave 100 percent—and the staff donated all of their tips for the day, too. Other 100 percent participants last year included The Barn at Sparrows Lodge, Ristretto and—at 110 percent—Townie Bagels.

“All of these restaurants that participate, whether they’re giving 33 percent or 100 percent—not one of them is making money that day,” Tucci said.

This incredible generosity is needed more than ever by the Desert AIDS Project. While the origination remains one of the top HIV/AIDS service organizations in the world, D.A.P. is now also much more: As a Federally Qualified Health Center, anyone in need of primary medical care can walk in D.A.P.’s doors and become a client, getting access to doctors, prescriptions, dental care and behavior-health care. In fact, roughly half of D.A.P.’s clients today are not living with HIV.

Seeing as more than half of the Coachella Valley’s residents now live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, D.A.P. is struggling to make sure everyone who needs quality health care in the valley can get it. To meet the demand, D.A.P. is in the midst of a $20 million expansion, slated for completion in 2020, that will more than double the organization’s patient capacity. When the expansion is complete, D.A.P.’s 60,490-square-foot campus will be able to serve 8,000 patients, up from 3,900 in 2017. The dental clinic will be able to help 1,700 people, compared to 814 in 2017, while the behavioral-health-patient capacity will rise from 583 to 1,200.

Every dollar raised during Dining Out for Life makes a huge difference. As for the aforementioned scone and coffee at Ristretto I bought to kick off Dining Out for Life last year … with Ristretto giving 110 percent of that sale to D.A.P., that $8 purchase wound up paying for three safer-sex kits. I went to Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill for dinner with two friends; we spent $120, and with the restaurant giving 50 percent, $60 went to D.A.P. to pay for three free, confidential HIV tests. I dropped in and had a drink with a party of about a dozen or so friends, most of whom were dining there, at Zin American Bistro; seeing as Zin donated about 75 percent of that check, about $340 went to D.A.P.—enough to house a low-income client for a whole month.

Follow me via the Coachella Valley Independent’s Facebook page on Thursday, April 25, as I try to match or even surpass my 11 stops from last year—and join me in visiting as many Dining Out for Life participants as possible. After all, the Coachella Valley has a lot of work to do this year to match the giving of last year.

For more information, including a complete list of Dining Out for Life participants, visit www.diningoutforlife.com/city/greater-palm-springs. If you know of a restaurant that you’d like to see participate in Dining Out for Life, get information at www.desertaidsproject.org/2019-dining-out-for-life.

A sold-out crowd of more than 100 people enjoyed nine fantastic cocktails—all made with Ketel One Botanical vodka—at the Third Annual Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship, held Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Moxie Palm Springs.

Carlos Argumedo, of Farm, was declared the champion of the event, earning an amazing 92 points (out of 100 possible) on the judges’ scoresheets. The tally was close—three points separated first place from fourth place. Argumedo follows in the footsteps of 2018 winner Hunter Broggi, of Lulu California Bistro (who also participated in this year’s event), and 2016 winner Sherman Chan, of Trio Restaurant.

Trio’s Garrett Spicher was the Audience Choice winner.

Nine bartenders competed in the event, which sold out for the first time in its three-year history. Each competitor made tastes of their drinks for each attendee, before making full drinks for the judges: Ketel One’s Leslie Barclay; Brad Fuhr, of media sponsors Gay Desert Guide and KGAY 106.5 FM; and representatives of Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week’s beneficiaries: the Desert AIDS Project’s Darrell Tucci, and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s Alexis Ortega.

The championship is the highlight of Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, a production of the Coachella Valley Independent. During the week, which continues through Saturday, Feb. 2, participating restaurants create a special drink for the week, or highlight an existing drink from their menus, and donate at least $2 from each drink sold during the week to the Desert AIDS Project and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert. A complete list of drinks and participants can be found at PSCraftCocktails.com.

Below is a collection of photos from the event, taken by the Independent’s Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Snapshot

On Feb. 9, Desert AIDS Project will be celebrating in a big way at its 25th Annual Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards gala.

To celebrate the silver anniversary edition of D.A.P.’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Barry Manilow will be performing a full concert. While virtually all of the attendees know about Barry Manilow, some of them may not know much about the man for whom the event is named—a man whose generosity is, in part, responsible for the success D.A.P. has had over the years.

Steve Barrett Chase, who passed away in 1994 at the age of 52—himself a victim of the AIDS epidemic—was a designer to the stars. His clients, according to the Los Angeles Times, included Rona Barrett, Dyan Cannon, Farrah Fawcett, Gene Hackman, Johnny Mathis and Joan Kroc, the owner of McDonald’s.

“He was a bigger-than-life character,” said Steve Kaufer, a friend of Chase’s who has been on the D.A.P. board of directors since 2007; Kaufer was also on the board from 1987-1997, and currently serves as the board president. “He was a very successful interior designer. I think his love for design and making things pretty started when he was really young in his life, and he pursued that.”

Chase came to Palm Springs to work with famed designer Arthur Elrod, and stayed in the Coachella Valley after Elrod died in a traffic accident in 1974.

“Steve was very talented and became very, very successful,” Kaufer said. “I had a subscription to Architectural Digest, and I think he was featured in Architectural Digest more than any other designer that I ever saw. 

“I always thought that maybe he had compromising pictures of (Architectural Digest editor) Paige Rense,” Kaufer said with a laugh. “In all seriousness, he was always in the magazine because his designs were literally all over the world. Of course, he designed in Palm Springs and in the desert area, but he designed internationally. He designed yacht interiors, airplane interiors—so he kind of did it all.”

Kaufer said Chase was someone who didn’t enjoy just sitting around.

“One of my early recollections is going over with a couple friends to his house, and everybody wound up playing croquet out on his lawn, and it was fun,” Kaufer said. “He was traveling. He was doing things. He was an avid jogger, and he was always very active.”

Kaufer said that when Chase became involved with D.A.P., one of the first things he did—not surprisingly—was lend his design talents to the fledgling organization.

“DAP started in 1984, and we had a small office, and then we moved to a facility on Vella Road in Palm Springs—but it was an industrial building,” Kaufer said. “I don’t know what it had been used for before we moved in, but it was pretty rough around the edges, and Steve became involved. He used his talents and his firm, and he also leaned on a lot of his vendors to donate services and products that could be used in his work at the DAP to make it look pretty. 

“He felt that, just because we were a charity, and we were dealing a lot of times with people who lived below the poverty level, we didn’t have to have an office that looked horrible. He wanted people who came in to have a nice environment in which to be in, to receive their care, and to work.”

In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was difficult to raise money for HIV- and AIDS-related service organizations like D.A.P., because the virus and disease such carried a huge stigma.

“It wasn’t popular to be a corporate sponsor of an AIDS program, and many people in the area of normal philanthropy didn’t look at AIDS as an area that they wanted to get involved in,” Kaufer said. “Steve recognized that, and he used his celebrity and his contacts with major stars and big people like Joan Kroc, and President and Mrs. (Gerald) Ford, to try to expand the giving that D.A.P. received from groups that we normally wouldn’t get funding from.”

Those contacts paid huge dividends, as did Chase’s personal generosity. Not only did Chase lend significant support to D.A.P.; he also gave major support to the organizations today known as The Living Desert and Gardens, and the Palm Springs Art Museum.

In the case of D.A.P., the organization Chase championed is now in the midst of its biggest period of expansion to date—a $20 million project, slated for completion in 2020, that will more than double the organization’s patient capacity. The expansion, called vision D.A.P. Vision 2020, is necessary in part because D.A.P. is now a Federally Qualified Health Center—meaning anyone in need of primary medical care can walk in D.A.P.’s doors and become a client. When the expansion is complete, D.A.P.’s 60,490-square-foot campus will be able to serve 8,000 patients, up from 3,900 in 2017. The dental clinic will be able to help 1,700 people, compared to 814 in 2017, while the behavioral-health-patient capacity will rise from 583 to 1,200.

I asked Kaufer what Steve Chase would think if he could see where D.A.P. stands today.

“He would be very proud—very pleased,” Kaufer said. “Steve was a big personality, and he did things in a big way, and he would be very pleased to see what was going on at Desert AIDS Project and the expansion of our mission to provide health care for not only people with HIV and AIDS, but a community that really needs quality health care, and has no other source for it. He’d be very proud. 

“He’d also probably start looking at the plans and saying, ‘No, we can’t have that wall there. We need to do this, and the lobby has to be a little bit different, and we need some different furniture,’ Kaufer added with a laugh. “He would want to put his mark on it, and ensure that it looked good, so that people, when they came there for treatment, would feel special.”

To donate to the D.A.P. Vision 2020 expansion, call Christopher Ruetz, D.A.P.’s Director of Major and Planned Giving, at 760-656-8450, or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more information on Vision 2020, visit dapvision2020.org.

Desert AIDS Project has started construction on the largest expansion since it moved into its current campus in 1998—a $20 million project, slated for completion in 2020, that will more than double the organization’s patient capacity.

This news about the expansion, called D.A.P. Vision 2020, may make some people wonder: Why such a large expansion? And why now?

Darrell Tucci, Chief Development Officer for D.A.P., says one word can answer these queries: Need. Specifically, there’s a huge need for quality health-care services in the area—and D.A.P. is stepping in to fill that need.

“This expansion is vital, because more than half of our neighbors in the Coachella Valley live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (or about $24,000 per year, per person), and many of those people live without access to quality health care,” Tucci said. “We will be able to serve more people, regardless of their HIV status, without compromising our original mission of ending the epidemic of HIV in the valley. We’re not exchanging one for the other.”

While helping men and women dealing with HIV and AIDS has always been at the core of D.A.P.’s mission, the organization today serves everyone and anyone in need of quality medical care, regardless of HIV status, because it is now a Federally Qualified Health Center. Anyone in need of primary medical care can walk in D.A.P.’s doors and become a client—getting access to doctors, prescriptions, dental care and behavior-health care. In fact, roughly half of D.A.P.’s clients today are not living with HIV.

With the existing facilities, D.A.P. is struggling to fill this massive need—hence the expansion, which includes purchasing the county health care building next door, and joining it with the current main D.A.P. building. When the expansion is complete, D.A.P.’s 60,490-square-foot campus will be able to serve 8,000 patients, up from 3,900 in 2017. The dental clinic will be able to help 1,700 people, compared to 814 in 2017, while the behavioral-health-patient capacity will rise from 583 to 1,200.

The expansion will also include a 76 percent increase in the number of apartment units for low-income individuals on the D.A.P. campus, from 80 to 140 units. There is currently a three-year waiting list for such housing.

While the scope of the current Desert AIDS Project expansion is unprecedented, the organization has a long history of adjusting to meet the needs of both its clients and the entire Coachella Valley:

• In 1994; D.A.P. opened a satellite office in Indio to offer HIV and hepatitis C testing; D.A.P. also offered, and continues to offer, intervention and case-management services to the east valley’s underserved, largely low-income and Latino communities via its Indio facility.

• In 2001, recognizing that many people living with HIV were suffering from nutritional challenges due to a lack of steady employment, D.A.P. opened the Morris and Lila Linsky Food Depot to provide healthy food, grocery-store vouchers and nutritional guidance to clients in need.

• Due to the lack of affordable housing for people living with HIV and other chronic conditions, D.A.P. in 2007 opened the Vista Sunrise Apartments on the D.A.P. campus, with the support of philanthropist Philip Caplin.

• The following year, D.A.P. opened the first HIV-specialty dental clinic in Riverside County, on the D.A.P. campus, later expanded by philanthropists Georgia and Gerald Fogelson.

• In 2012, Annette Bloch—who continues to be one of D.A.P.’s most generous supporters—provided the funding for D.A.P.’s Cancer Care Center, dedicated to HIV-related cancer research, screenings, treatment and prevention.

• Due in part to the fact that the Coachella Valley’s rate of HIV infection is more than twice the federal rate, D.A.P. in 2014 launched Get Tested Coachella Valley, the nation’s first nonprofit-led, region-wide initiative featuring HIV testing, prevention, education and linkage to care. More than 81,000 residents have been tested to date.

• Since a lack of access to sexual-wellness information was contributing to an increase in sexually transmitted infections in the area, D.A.P. in 2015 opened The Dock, a walk-in, no-appointment-needed clinic offering HIV and STI testing, as well as linkage to care, and access to PrEP—a medication which helps prevent HIV—and PEP, which helps people who have been exposed to HIV.

Construction on the $20 million expansion is under way due to the generosity of many local businesses and individuals; in fact, D.A.P. has received approximately $13.15 million in funding commitments so far. However, that means D.A.P. still needs to raise nearly $7 million in order to make the complete expansion a much-needed reality.

Tucci said it’s in the entire community’s best interests to support D.A.P.’s expansion.

“If you know people affected by HIV, you should support us as we continue to expand as the region’s largest service provider supporting those who live with HIV,” he said. “If you don’t feel like you’ve been directly affected by HIV, you should support us because of the 40,000 or so people in the Coachella Valley who are without a primary care physician, because we can offer many of those people a medical home.”

The time for the expansion is now, he said, since advances in medical care and support services have made it so people who live with HIV can not only survive, but thrive.

“Short of a cure, we can stop the spread of HIV completely by identifying everyone with HIV and getting them proper health care, including medications that make (their HIV) undetectable and therefore not infectious,” Tucci said.

For more information, or to donate to the D.A.P. Vision 2020 expansion, call Christopher Ruetz, D.A.P.’s Director of Major and Planned Giving, at 760-656-8450, or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more information, visit dapvision2020.org.

The Desert AIDS Project wants to let Coachella Valley residents know about the dangers of hepatitis C—especially baby boomers, who may have been carrying the now-curable disease unknowingly for decades.

Jose De La Cruz is a community health educator for DAP. He explained why people from one particular demographic—those born between 1945 and 1965—are especially at risk for the potentially fatal disease, which can cause liver failure and liver cancer.

“The test (for hepatitis C) didn’t really become available until 1991 or 1992,” De La Cruz said. “So you’re talking about anybody (being at risk) who received a blood transfusion before then. … You also have people who were going off to the Vietnam War; there were casualties, and universal precaution wasn’t even developed yet. There was the revolution of IV drug users during the 1960s. Before HIV came around, a lot of tattoo parlors didn’t have too many health departments going in to inspect them, (nor did) piercing parlors. There are a lot of factors that add to this, and because it takes such a long time for the symptoms to develop, because the liver can regenerate itself, you have people who could have been infected for 30 to 40 years, while no symptoms have developed yet.”

Hepatitis C can now be cured—but because of the high cost of these new drugs, some insurance companies are not willing to pay for them until serious liver damage has occurred.

“With hepatitis C, one of the things you want to be able to do is get yourself a good doctor, because a lot of the time, the insurance companies will make you wait until you’re at Stage 2 of liver damage,” De La Cruz said. “But you have some great doctors who will notice how much damage you have to your liver, and if you’re developing symptoms already. If you’re developing symptoms, that could be a reason to get you on treatment now instead of seeing how much damage of the liver you have.”

The cost per dose of these hepatitis C drugs is astronomical—potentially approaching $90,000 for a 12-week regimen—and the drugs are newly available to some lower-income Californians thanks to the state recently allocating $176 million for treatment.

“The medication is pretty expensive—it’s $1,050 per pill for Sovaldi—and the thing is … how many people can (an untreated person with hepatitis C) infect?” De La Cruz said. “Now you’re looking at even more infections. One person you allow to keep living with hepatitis C, not curing them—how many more people could this person infect, and how much more money is it going to cost? … It’s almost like HIV back in the ’80s, when the numbers started to multiply more and more due to a lack of education and lack of knowledge.”

There is another group De La Cruz and other health educators are trying to reach: people who know they have hepatitis C, but who have previously declined treatment due to questionable effectiveness and serious side effects.

“There are a lot of people who know they are infected and didn’t want to go through the treatment,” he said. “It’s because of not knowing that … doctors now have Sovaldi, and this medication can cure them. Many are under the assumption that it’s still interferon and ribavirin treatments, and there are horror stories they’ve heard about the interferon. It’s now my job to go out there and educate them, saying, ‘No, now there is a cure; you don’t have to live with hepatitis C anymore. Now, you don’t have to go through the regimen (lasting) six months to a year. Now, it’s just eight to 12 weeks and not just clearing 35 to 40 percent (effectiveness); now it’s 96 to 98 percent.’ Those are the things we’re trying to pass on to the public.”

When I asked how effective the public-awareness campaign has been, De La Cruz said it’s been positive—although it’s always a challenge to convince some people they’re at risk.

“Because of the high-risk population I work with in the recovery centers, the homeless shelters and the county jails—to me, it’s very positive,” he said. … “I try to go to the senior population, because of the baby boomers. … Many of them don’t know they are infected with hepatitis C and have passed it on to their loved ones.

“In the east valley, there isn’t a lot of knowledge about HIV and how it’s transmitted, and lots of times, you find people out there with HIV, and they’re in the hospital because they didn’t think they were at risk, and many years had gone by with symptoms developing. It’s also happening with hepatitis C. Now their livers are failing; now their skin is yellow; now they are tired and exhausted. … (Some people think), ‘You have no risk for hepatitis C if you’re a woman, you’re married, you have kids, you have a job, you don’t do any drugs, and you don’t do any of this or that.’ But people forget about the partners they’ve had, or something that might have happened 20 years ago that was just one time.”

For more information, call the Desert AIDS Project at 760-276-5097.

Published in Local Issues

Desert AIDS Project’s Dining Out for Life Breaks Records

If anyone ever needs proof that the residents of the Coachella Valley are a rather generous lot, look no further than the results of the Desert AIDS Project’s Dining Out for Life (DOFL) fundraiser back in April.

First, a recap of how DOFL works: On one chosen day per year, restaurants across the Coachella Valley agree to donate at least 33 percent of their sales—from one particular meal, or from everything—to the Desert AIDS Project.

On April 26, 75 local restaurants participated, raising a whopping $280,000 for DAP—an increase of $50,000 from last year. An estimated 10,000 valley residents went to these 75 restaurants that day.

“You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone wearing a ‘badge of honor’—the ‘I Dined’ stickers given to diners at participating locations,” said event manager George Nasci-Sinatra, according to a news release.

That’s impressive. However, it’s even more impressive when these numbers are put into context.

Dining Out for Life is a nationwide (plus Canada!) campaign held the last Thursday in April every year by various HIV/AIDS service organizations. Representatives of all of these campaigns gathered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the North American Dining Out for Life Conference in July to compare notes. Well, it turns out that even though the Coachella Valley is one of the smallest markets participating in Dining Out for Life, we rank No. 2 (!) in terms of money raised.

“Only Denver, which had three times more participating restaurants, raised more funds this year,” said Darrell Tucci, the chief development officer for DAP. “To be the smallest market in population driving the second-largest results is absolutely extraordinary and something we should all be proud of. Other markets have more participating restaurants, but no other market can boast the level of commitment shown by restaurants in greater Palm Springs.”

The main reason for the local Dining Out for Life’s success is the sheer generosity of local restaurants: In fact, the Top 3 restaurants in the country (plus Canada!) in terms of the total amount of money donated are here—Spencer’s Restaurant, Lulu California Bistroand Trio Restaurant, in that order. They raised a combined total of $61,679.

It’s also worth noting the sacrifice of some smaller restaurants that elected to give 100 percent or more of the day’s proceeds to DAP: Townie Bagels, Holiday House, The Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge, Ristretto and Rooster and the Pig. Heck, the wait staff at Rooster and the Pig even donated their tips for the day to DAP.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I’m personally a supporter of the Desert AIDS Project; the Independent does business with DAP; and George Nasci-Sinatra and Darrell Tucci are good friends of mine.)

Will the Coachella Valley be able to top these fantastic results during the next Dining Out for Life, on Thursday, April 25, 2019? Stay tuned.

For more information as the 2019 date draws nearer, visit www.diningoutforlife.com/palmsprings.


The Ace Hotel and Swim Club Celebrates Its Annual Craft Beer Weekend.

It’s become a summer tradition for Southern California beer-lovers: The Ace Hotel and Swim Club's Seventh Annual Craft Beer Weekend will take place Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 4 and 5.

The weekend’s big events are a Craft Beer Festival from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, featuring entertainment, food and unlimited tastings (!) from some of the top craft breweries from SoCal and beyond; and a beer brunch at 11 a.m. on Sunday, featuring six beer-inspired and beer-paired courses—plus starting and ending beers, too.

Passes for the Saturday festival are $35, and the Sunday brunch will set you back $55—or do both for just $70. Attendees who book a room for the weekend get into the festival for free.

Get tickets and more info at www.acehotel.com/calendar/palmsprings/craft-beer-weekend-18.


In Brief

The Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, at 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage, has announced it has adopted new technology from a company called ORCA Digesters, Inc., that turns food waste into water. This will keep an estimated 624 tons (!) of food out of landfills each year. Awesome! … The Libation Room is now open at 73750 El Paseo, in Palm Desert. The new cocktail bar promises a speakeasy type of vibe; check it out Tuesday through Saturday from 4:30 p.m. on. For more information, call 877-869-8891, or visit www.libationroom.com. … The Manhattan in the Desert in Palm Desert, at 74225 Highway 111, has apparently closed. The Palm Springs location, at 2665 E. Palm Canyon Drive, is still alive and kicking. … One of the most happening outdoor-dining spots in downtown Palm Springs has been temporarily closed for a “facelift.” The patio at Tropicale, at 244 E. Amado Road, was closed on July 9 for a remodel that “should take about three weeks,” although the indoor bar and dining room remains open during construction. Depending on how that goes, and when you’re reading this, it may have reopened already! Call 760-866-1952 with questions.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Help the Desert AIDS Project by Dining Out for Life on April 26

Thursday, April 26, is one of my favorite foodie days of the year.

It’s not a day featuring a lot of great deals and food specials; instead, it’s a day during which local restaurants and their customers (i.e., you) do a lot of good for the community.

April 26 is this year’s date for Dining Out for Life, the annual fundraising extravaganza for the Desert AIDS Project and other HIV/AIDS service organizations around the country. It’s simple, really: On that day, restaurants across the Coachella Valley have agreed to donate anywhere between 33 and 110 percent of their sales to DAP.

It really is simple: All you do is go out to eat, like you probably would anyway—and DAP gets a big chunk of whatever you spend. (If you feel like you must do more than simply eat out, never fear: Many participating locations also have donation envelopes available.)

My friends at DAP tell me that even though the Coachella Valley is one of the smaller markets in which Dining Out for Life takes place, it’s one of the larger markets in terms of money raised. Last year, we ranked No. 3 in North America—and this year, the folks at DAP are keeping their fingers crossed for a jump to No. 2. Our li’l community does so well, in part, because of the generosity of some large and very busy restaurants: Lulu California Bistro (donating 50 percent), TRIO (donating 60 percent) and Spencer’s (donating 75 percent) generally rank near the top of the continent-wide list in terms of the amount of money donated.

However, it is most certainly not all about the big places: The biggest generosity, in many ways, comes from the smaller, mom-and-pop places. Rooster and the Pig and Ristretto are both donating 100 percent of their sales on April 26 to DAP—while Townie Bagels is giving a whopping 110 percent.

On Dining Out for Life day, you’ll be able to find me at a half-dozen or so—maybe more—participating restaurants throughout the day: having bagels, coffee, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, dinner, a post-dinner snack and then probably a few drinks. Follow my exploits via the Coachella Valley Independent Facebook page.

Please join me for Dining Out for Life on April 26. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It’s literally the least you can do.

Visit www.diningoutforlife.com/palmsprings for a complete and constantly updated list of restaurants and their donation percentages.


In Brief

The much, much delayed opening of Grand Central Palm Springs, a restaurant and event space in La Plaza in downtown Palm Springs, is apparently close. Yeah, we’ve heard this several times before over the last two years, but co-owner Rita Capponi is so confident it’s actually happening this time that she gave me a “firm” opening date: May 1. More details to come; watch www.grandcentralpalmsprings.com for updates. … Alicante, the tapas-themed restaurant at 140 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in downtown Palm Springs, is gearing up for a name and theme change. Revel Public House will offer sports, great food and lots of drink, led by three new exclusive beers brewed by San Marcos’ Mason Ale Works—under the name Palm Springs Brewing Co. Visit the brand-new Revel Facebook page for details. … Draughtsman, at 1501 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, just started a new late-night menu. “Late Night at Draughtsman” takes place from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., Wednesday through Sunday. The menu includes fare such as Cauliflower “McNuggets” ($9) and a braised pork belly banh mi ($14), along with late-night beer specials and frequent entertainment. Get more info at draughtsmanpalmsprings.com. … The owners of CCBC—a gay, clothing-optional resort and play place (*ahem*)—have announced plans to build an adjoining 2,560-square-foot restaurant, called Runway; it’ll also have a 568-square-foot dining patio. We cannot wait to see this! See plans at www.ccedd.org/project/ccbc-resort-runway-restaurant. … Try (hopefully) great chili and benefit the Cathedral City Senior Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, April 7. The annual Chili Cook-Off takes place at the Big Lots Center at Highway 111 and Date Palm Drive; $20 gets you chili tastings and a box lunch from Aspen Mills. Yum! Find more details at www.cathedralcenter.org. … And now, in the “Why in the hell not?” category: The Village Pub Palm Springs, at 266 S. Palm Canyon Drive, has launched two new food challenges. On Wednesdays, you can try one of two challenges: Eat 10 blazing wings in five minutes ($13); or gobble down one pound of potato chips and two pounds of fish with homemade beer batter in 10 minutes ($30). Beat the challenge, and the food is free. Hmm. Learn more about the “Village Idiot Food Challenge”—and see if any idiots actually succeed—at www.facebook.com/villagepubpalmsprings.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

HIV is no longer a death sentence: Today, most people with the virus—as long as they receive proper medical care—will live long and productive lives.

However, the amazing medical advances that have allowed for this have led to a new challenge: an increasingly large number of older people who are living with the virus.

The Desert AIDS Project was the first HIV/AIDS organization of its kind in the nation when it was founded by community volunteers in 1984. Today, it’s a federally qualified health center that serves anyone in need, regardless of HIV status—and a lot of DAP’s clients are older people who were diagnosed with the virus in the 1980s and 1990s.

“We’ve learned a lot since 1984,” said Jack Bunting, the public relations specialist for the Desert AIDS Project. “… We all know with the advances in pharmacology that people aren’t dying of this anymore. Now, we have an aging HIV population—people who are in their 20s all the way through their 80s. It’s no longer a death sentence. What we’re trying to do is invigorate people’s lives so they can live with it and still live long, healthy and productive lives.”

Bunting said DAP’s clients today have needs that would have been unthinkable during the AIDS crisis.

“Job training and vocational training—there’s a whole gamut of services that people need to live with this disease,” Bunting said. “We’re not doing triage for dying people anymore; these people are going to be here for a long time. They’re able to be of good use, good value and live productive lives. … There’s a hierarchy of needs. You can give them all the HIV medication you want, but if they don’t have anywhere to live, they’re depressed and isolated. If they don’t have food, and if they’re lonely, they aren’t going to take their medication.”

The fact that more than half of all Americans infected with HIV today are 50 or older led a group of local medical experts, patients and activists to start the HIV + Aging Research Project-Palm Springs, or HARP-PS. The nonprofit will be holding a day-long “Reunion Project 2.0” conference on Saturday, March 31. Visit www.harp-ps.org for more information.

Due to an increasing demand for services, the Desert AIDS Project recently announced a huge expansion project. The agency, located in Palm Springs at Sunrise Way and Vista Chino, has acquired the building south of the existing campus, and is expanding beyond those existing buildings as well. Once the $20 million expansion is completed in 2020, DAP will be serving an estimated 8,000 patients in its medical clinics—up from 3,900 last year.

A lot of the new DAP space will be dedicated to services that were not needed in the days when HIV was basically a death sentence. DAP’s dental clinics will serve 1,700 patients in 2020, up from 814 in 2017. DAP-owned housing—for which there’s currently a years-long waiting list—will almost double, from 80 apartments now to 141 in 2020.

Wade Cook is a client at and volunteer with the Desert AIDS Project. Now 60, Cook was diagnosed as being positive in 1991 while living in Texas, and he said the Desert AIDS Project saved his life.

“I’ve received treatment in a few other areas of the country, and the Desert AIDS Project is really unique and pretty special,” Cook said. “I’m at the Desert AIDS Project every day, given I volunteer there, and I go to all the groups and receive my medical care, and my mental health (care). As far as medical care goes, I’ve never received such thorough care, and my health has improved so much that I’m considering going back to work again.”

Cook said living with HIV takes a toll on one’s body.

“It speeds up the aging process in a lot of ways,” Cook said. “You develop diabetes (a side effect of some medications), heart conditions, high cholesterol and other different things that might develop with older age—but you develop them a lot sooner with HIV. For me, I developed severe arthritis, which is why I went on disability, because I was in a wheelchair for four years. The fact that my body is working so hard to fight this infection—it can only do so much. I’ve had a lot of issues with my liver just because of the medications that I take.

“HIV and aging is a new field for a lot of people to begin to look at—and to evaluate people like me.”

Long-term survivors have to deal with more than the virus and the side effects of the medication; Cook said people with HIV are often overcome with anguish.

“There’s isolation, which is a huge issue for people who are long-time survivors,” he said. “Depression is another issue that people struggle with. There are a lot of us who have lived with this for a very long time who have developed PTSD symptoms, because we’ve gone through a series of very traumatic events in the process—including the loss of lots of people early on in the epidemic. As time has gone by, lots of us have gone through severe health issues.”

This is one reason behavioral health care is also a big part of DAP’s expansion: In 2020, an estimated 1,200 patients will receive such care, up from 583 last year.

Cook talked about being first diagnosed with the virus back in 1991.

“I was a school teacher in rural Texas, and I was terrified that the parents of my students would find out—that the school district would find out, and I didn’t know what the response would be,” he said. “I didn’t go to the doctor using my insurance, because I didn’t want anything to show up anywhere.”

In Las Vegas, Cook said, he received care at a medical center that stigmatized people with HIV.

“You had to go through the back alley to get to the ward,” he said. “It had a very powerful effect on me when I first walked into that ward, because I had to walk through basically where the janitors kept all their buckets—that was what was set aside for people with HIV.

“I’ve referred to the experiences of living with HIV as living through a war.”

Despite the great care he’s received at DAP, Cook said he still deals with the mental and physical toll that HIV has taken.

“Those feelings don’t go away. I’ve lost a lot of people who I’ve known through the years, especially earlier on, when there was so little help,” he said. “One of the things the Desert AIDS Project does an incredible job with is mental health and programs for people to interact and communicate with each other. I’m at a point in my life where I’m considering going into a Ph.D. program. For years, I’d lived with this idea that (HIV) was the end of my life, and I was done.”

Another challenge aging LGBT individuals are facing, regardless of HIV status, is a lack of family members to help with care. Stonewall Gardens, an LGBT retirement community in Palm Springs, often deals with the fact that many residents have no family members.

“We deal far less with family members and more with friends and the individual themselves. Often times, most of our residents don’t have family members, or they’re estranged from them,” said Lauren Kabakoff, the marketing and sales director of Stonewall Gardens. “It’s not unusual that someone will come by themselves, or maybe their niece or nephew will come to look for them. That’s a challenge we have, because it’s so easy for kids to put Mom and Dad somewhere, and deal with selling the house and selling the car. But for us, our residents need to deal with all of this themselves. They need to change their address themselves, sell their home or deal with renting their home, and wrap up their affairs before they move in. There’s no family to say, ‘We’ll put Mom and Dad in there and deal with it later.’ It’s a bit of a different dynamic.”

Kabakoff said the Stonewall Gardens staff often winds up doing more than staff members at a traditional assisted-living facility.

“By default, we do become family for so many of our residents. We are the only people that they may have,” Kabakoff said. “We end up taking on a more personalized role.”

Kabakoff said it’s important for Stonewall Gardens staff members to understand what their clients’ special needs are—much like the staff members at DAP must do.

“They already have an inclination for what it takes to be here and work with our community,” she said “They have a connection to the community, have a passion for it, and they understand it in a way to want to help the residents on a deeper level.

“You also have to be creative in what you do, because this is uncharted territory.”

Jimmy Boegle contributed to this story. Below: Artists’ renderings of what portions of the DAP campus will look like when the $20 million expansion is completed in 2020.

Published in Features

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