CVIndependent

Tue07142020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

There are so many things that could be said right now, but instead, I am simply going to share some numbers with you, from our friends at FatalEncounters.org, which tracks people killed during interactions with law enforcement.

According to Fatal Encounters, as you can see in the graphic above, May 2020 is believed to be the first time—going back to 2000, when Fatal Encounters’ data set begins—that the number of deaths with police involvement cracked the 200 mark. And 863 people have died so far this year, which is a record-setting pace.

Something’s wrong here … and as we mentioned yesterday, it starts at the top.

More news:

• Maddenly related: More than 120 journalists covering the protests around the country have been attacked by police. Again, it starts at the top; after all, you know who keeps insisting journalists are the enemy of the people.

• Here’s more on police attacks on the media, courtesy of The New York Times.

From our partners at High Country News: This is #BlackBirdersWeek, which is designed to shed a light on racism in the birder community.

Twitter has removed accounts, supposedly by ANTIFA, that were actually tied to white supremacists. Yeesh.

Fantasy Springs opened its doors today, meaning Augustine is the only valley casino to remain closed.

• The fact that so many Americans are struggling financially will make it harder for the U.S. to keep COVID-19 contained, according to an expert writing for The Conversation.

• I find this encouraging, weird and frustrating all at once: A couple Italian doctors made international news recently by claiming the coronavirus was substantially weaker there than it had been before. The World Health Organization, however, vehemently disagrees.

• Here’s some of the latest news on the stunning, dictator-like move yesterday by the Trump administration to clear out peaceful protesters so the president could walk to a church and hold a bible while photos were taken. 

• A new grant program for small businesses—paid for by the stimulus bill and administered by the county—will begin taking applications tomorrow. However, there are some serious restrictions—including one saying businesses that received a EIDL or PPP loan are not eligible.

• The Red Barn, the Palm Desert bar at the center of all sorts of controversy due to its … uh, provocative roof signs and failed attempt to reopen, burned this morning.

• The editors and reporters at The Desert Sun are doing some amazing work during these trying times—despite being owned by a company that has, historically, been pretty awful. As evidence of this awfulness—and why rampant media consolidation can be terrible: The Washington Post examined why many Gannett papers (including The Desert Sun) did not lead with coverage of the George Floyd protests on Sunday.

• President Trump is bafflingly ordering West Point grads back to campus for a graduation speech on June 13. And, of course, some of the cadets who are graduating have tested positive for COVID-19.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Be safe. Speak out against racism and injustice. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

I’ve been asked several times why we don’t regularly post COVID-19 stats here in the Daily Digest, and the answer is simple: Statistics, when put in the proper context, are important and revealing. When they’re not, however … they can be confusing and misleading.

Take the total number of COVID-19 cases, for example. As of this writing, according to Riverside County, there have been 5,618 confirmed cases in the county. Since the start of April, that number has been increasing at a pretty steady pace—there have been a few peaks and valleys, sure, but overall, the pace has been pretty consistent for the last six weeks now.

So … what does this tell us? Well, it tells us SARS-CoV-2 is still a problem. But that’s about all it tells us.

One of the reasons the number has kept going up at this pace is that the county, and the medical organizations within it, have done a fine job of ramping up the amount of testing done in the county—and more tests means more positive results.

What about deaths? Alas, 242 people in Riverside County have died from the virus, according to the county. That’s 242 individuals who loved, were loved, and made some sort of a mark on our world. That number represents a lot of loss. But in terms of what the number of deaths tell us about the disease’s spread … deaths are a lagging indicator, reflecting what was happening two to six weeks ago … maybe more. Also, there’s increasing evidence a whole lot of deaths due to COVID-19 aren’t being reported properly anyway.

One of the best, most-contextual statistics out there—a number, alas, that is hard to find—is the R-naught number. It tells us how many people, on average, one person with COVID-19 is infecting in a certain place. If we keep that number below 1, progress is being made in stemming the virus’ spread. If it’s above 1, the virus’ spread is increasing. But, as the San Francisco Chronicle points out, even the R0 number has its limitations.

I’m not saying all of the stats being thrown at us by government officials or news sources should be disregarded or ignored. However, I am saying these numbers need to be looked at in the proper context—and they’re usually not.

Today’s news:

The Desert Sun talked to some local media types, including yours truly, about the struggles of the media in the Coachella Valley.

• From the Independent: Our beer writer points out a small positive that’s come about as a result of the stay-at-home order: It’s easier than ever for beer-lovers to get amazing craft beer from across the state.

• For the first-time ever, the House of Representatives has changed its rules to allow remote voting. Like almost everything else these days, the vote was along party lines.

A new survey of older men living with HIV, primarily in the Palm Springs area, by a UC Riverside researcher, has results that are both sad and frightening: Not only are many of these men anxious and depressed; it’s causing them to miss taking their medications.

Can we learn something from Georgia? The state started reopening three weeks ago now, and things so far … are going OK?

• Eisenhower Medical Center just released some new Coachella Valley-specific stats about COVID-19. The hospitalization numbers had not yet been updated as of this writing, but scroll down for other numbers, and you’ll see the valley is doing OK.

• Up in Anza, the new Cahuilla Casino Hotel plans on opening 12 days from today.

• Millions of Americans are still waiting on the unemployment benefits they need to survive, according to Bloomberg News.

Paycheck Protection Program loans could come back and bite a lot of businesses in the you-know-what, due to restrictions on spending, as well as reporting requirements. SFGate breaks it down.

• Good news! It’s been proven safe for people suffering from COVID-19 to receive plasma from people who have recovered—and early results on the practice’s effectiveness are encouraging.

• Bad news! The Navy is reporting that five sailors aboard the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier have tested positive for the virus for a second time. Nobody’s quite sure what that means yet.

• Sad and scary news: A couple of Ralph’s employees in the Los Angeles area have died from COVID-19.

• Frustrating news: More and more government agencies are using the pandemic as an excuse to disregard public-information laws.

• Baffling news: No matter your politics, you have to admit some of President Trump’s recent statements about COVID-19 testing have been simply bonkers.

A study out of Berlin has recommendations on how orchestras can situate its members and safely play again.

Is a vaccine made with tobacco really going to save us all? A vaccine made from the stuff is heading to human trials, because—repeat after me—nothing makes any sense anymore.

• Finally, Sylvia Goldsholl is one of my new heroes. At 108 years old, she’s lived through two pandemics—and just beat COVID-19.

That’s all for the week! Buy our fantastic Coachella Valley Coloring Book. If you can afford to do so, please consider becoming a supporter of the Independent, and help us continue doing great local journalism without the annoying article limits or paywalls you find on other websites. Wash your hands. Be kind. Wear a mask when going out. The Daily Digest will be back on Monday, at the very latest—and we will be updating CVIndependent.com with great stories all weekend.

Published in Daily Digest

I speak for the vast majority of local small-business owners when I say the last month has been pretty terrible.

(Yeah, I know I speak for the vast majority of everyone when I say that. But bear with me here.)

First, seemingly overnight, a good chunk (or, in some cases, all) of our business just evaporated. Then we went into survival mode—looking for new revenue opportunities if possible, researching grants, applying for grants, feverishly reading news on the stimulus bill and the aid it might provide, and then getting deeply confused and frustrated at the conflicting information we received after the bill passed, and then getting even MORE confused and frustrated when we started to actually apply for the PPP and/or the SBA Disaster Loan, or is it a grant, and should we apply for one, or both, and WHY IS THE BANK NOT TAKING APPLICATIONS YET, and what does “cost of goods sold” EVEN mean, and when will I hear back, and what in the holy bloody frick is happening, and I haven’t gotten any REAL work done between all the applications and Zoom meetings with well-meaning organizations, and AAAAAAAARRRGH?

Yeah. It’s been like that.

Anyway … I am proud to announce that, in our case, all of this lead to something very good: The Coachella Valley Independent is one of 400 local newsrooms around North America that has received a $5,000 grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, in partnership with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Local Media Association, to help us continue our reporting on the coronavirus crisis. You can read the complete list of recipients here.

We’re honored to be one of the recipients of this grant—and not only is it evidence of the quality work we're doing at the Independent; it’s a testament to all of the support and feedback we have received from you, our readers. I can’t thank all of you who have reached out and offered a kind thought, or words of encouragement, or constructive criticism, in the last month or so. I also want to again thank the dozens of you who have become Supporters of the Independent in recent weeks. This grant and your support will help us continue to do what we do—honest, local, ethical journalism, available to all.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean I get to stop the survival-mode scramble. I’ll still be applying for other grants, and inquiring about the status of the Independent’s SBA Disaster Loan, and wondering if I should apply for the PPP thing, too—because the grant from Facebook, plus the reader support we’ve received (while fantastic and much-appreciated), will only make up for a small fraction of the business we’re going to lose in the months ahead.

And not only are we trying to tread water and keep doing what we’re doing here at the Independent; we want to do more. Our community needs good, local coverage more than ever, because … well, where else can people get it? The Desert Sun’s staff is going through what amounts to a 25 percent staffing decrease due to a loss in revenue, and other local media is suffering as well.

So far, none of my staffers or contributors here at the Independent have been furloughed or asked to take cuts. The goal is not to make any cuts—and, in fact, I have asked my contributors to do more pieces, for pay, if they can. (Hey, that reminds me: If you have writing and reporting skills, and want to help tell the Coachella Valley’s stories, drop me a line. The pay’s not great—but we do pay.)

Again, thank you to Facebook Journalism Project, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, the Local Media Association and—most of all—you, our readers. It’s just going to take a while, so hang in there—but we’re gonna get through this, as long as we keep supporting each other.

Now, today’s links:

• The Independent’s Kevin Fitzgerald talked to the heads of three local senior centers about the challenges they’re facing while trying to provide services to the population that’s most at-risk during the pandemic. At a time when they can’t actually offer services in person. And with a sudden, unexpected loss in revenue. This isn’t always an easy read—but it’s a must-read, and it’s also, at times, an inspiring read.

• Yesterday, we painted a fairly positive picture about how we’re #flatteningthecurve locally. Therefore, I wanted to point out the numbers and projections that Riverside County issued today, which are, frankly, much more grim—starting with the projection that the county will run out of ICU beds in just six days. It’s important to note that the Coachella Valley has less than a fifth of Riverside County’s population, and what we’re hearing on the ground here is much less dire. The takeaway: Regardless, we need to keep staying at home, wearing masks when we do go out, and generally behaving like civic-minded adults.

• Oh, and we really need to stop flushing wipes! Even the ones that say they’re “flushable”! Just TP!

• This story is developing: After all but one employee didn’t show up to work, the 84 patients at Riverside’s Magnolia Rehabilitation and Nursing Center were moved to various locations, including a couple in the Coachella Valley. Just awful.

• If you were curious how national treasure Carol Burnett was handling the stay-at-home order, The Hollywood Reporter has this article for you.

• Have you been having weird dreams during this semi-quarantined existence? You’re certainly not alone.

Is it possible that COVID-19 came to California in the fall? Stanford researchers are looking into that definite possibility.

• Workers at supermarkets and other retail businesses that remain open are literally risking their lives to keep society up and running. God bless you.

• Well, the Independent made another list, of media organizations where “US journalists working across more than 1,000 local newspapers and other publications are facing cuts due to the economic hit their employers have taken on coronavirus.” Thankfully, the Independent has thus far avoided this list of newsroom layoffs, furloughs and closures.

• If you’re using beer, wine or spirits to cope with this mess … well, again, you’re not alone—and scientists worry all this extra drinking could have significant health costs down the line.

Will warm weather help calm the spread of COVID-19? We still don’t know for sure, but don’t count on it.

• Good news: For some diabetics, one drug-maker is capping the co-pay costs of insulin during the crisis.

• Journalism teachable moment: Always read past the headline. This Wall Street Journal headline is downright horrifying: “Nearly a Third of U.S. Apartment Renters Didn’t Pay April Rent.” First … these stats only take into account rents paid through April 5. Second, here’s the story’s third graph: “Only 69% of tenants paid any of their rent between April 1 and 5, compared with 81% in the first week of March and 82% in April 2019, the data show.” So … while 31 percent didn’t pay any of their rent before the April 5, that number represents a 12 percent difference from last year—which is still very revealing, but nowhere near as WTF?! as the headline implies. If I were the editor of The Wall Street Journal, the headline-writer for this piece would be in some deep shit right now.

• Former Independent contributor (and a friend) Baynard Woods writes this piece for The Washington Post about his bout with what he thinks was COVID-19. It shows how important it is to have a true quarantine plan, just in case.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Only flush TP and … well, you know—BUT NOT ANY WIPES. If you’re an artist, you have not-quite two days left to get us your art for our very-cool coloring book projectIf you’re able, please support us so we can continue to cover the Coachella Valley—and even do more—during this unprecedented time. Now, wash your hands again. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

I joined the Coachella Valley Independent in 2013, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. The Independent has provided me with many opportunities in my journalism career.

Thus, it’s bittersweet to say that as of June 19, I will be stepping down from my position as the assistant editor/staff writer here at the Independent. I have accepted the position of entertainment, culture and celebrity reporter at The Desert Sun.

In the spring of 2013, when I began writing for the Independent, this was a very new publication. The first issue, a quarterly, had just hit newsstands; we would not go monthly in print for six more months. I was new to the journalism profession and didn’t know what to expect. Now, six years later, as I look back at what the Independent has accomplished, as well as my own accomplishments, it feels incredible.

This publication has won three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. The depth of news coverage we have been able to do, with limited resources, on local elections, state legislation, homelessness, LGBT issues and a broad number of other subjects makes me proud. I’m honored to have been part of this publication.

I’ve enjoyed an incredible number of editorial opportunities in our local entertainment scene, covering both Coachella and Stagecoach every year since 2013; interviewing a long list of nationally touring bands; and getting to cover events such as the Palm Springs International Film Festival. I’ve also covered numerous great local bands. Some of them have said, “This is our first interview,” when I went to meet with them; many of them are still together in the local music scene, doing great things—and even enjoying some success outside of the valley.

All along, I knew that if I wanted to advance my career, it would probably require that I move outside of the area—which presented a dilemma: I’ve called the Coachella Valley home for 15 years now, and I love it here. That’s why I am so thrilled about this job at The Desert Sun.

On the flip side, I’m sad to be leaving a publication I’ve grown along with over the last six years. This publication has taken on such a diverse range of coverage and is an important voice in our local community, from Anita Rufus’ “Know Your Neighbors” column to Robert Victor’s monthly astronomy column, and from all the great food and beverage coverage to the fantastic in-depth arts and entertainment coverage.

The mission statement of this publication says it all: “We believe in true, honest journalism: We want to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted. We want to be a mirror for the entire Coachella Valley. We want to inform, enlighten and entertain.” A lot of work and sacrifice goes into putting that mission statement into action, and I hope that people will continue to support the Independent for a long time to come.

Published in Community Voices

Bruce Fessier has seen the Coachella Valley’s arts and entertainment culture completely change—repeatedly—during the 40 years he’s worked as the entertainment writer at The Desert Sun.

On June 3, Fessier’s column will be appearing for the last time before he heads into retirement.

“The industry has changed quite a bit, and it’s not as satisfying as it used to be,” Fessier said during a recent interview at The Desert Sun’s offices. “I still have some brain cells, so I would still like to do some other things before I no longer have those brain cells. I never wanted to spend my entire life as a journalist. It just kind of worked out that way. Having the opportunity to take an early-retirement benefit gives me enough of a cushion that I can try some other things.”

When Fessier arrived at The Desert Sun in 1979, there wasn’t much to cover.

“I often say that the difference between now and then is that when I first started, there wasn’t enough entertainment to have a calendar,” Fessier said. “Now there is so much entertainment that they don’t want me spending my time assembling a calendar. So I don’t do a calendar anymore, and I’m back to where I started. I covered the nightclubs, and I covered the lounge scene. They had concerts at Palm Springs High School, and most were either big band or classical.”

Fessier said skater culture was helping launch a local music scene when he started at The Desert Sun.

“There was a guy named Myke Bates who started a company called Bates Skates. That became the centerpiece for this skating culture,” Fessier said. “There was a rebellion that was happening right after I got here. A lot of the people were skateboarding and roller-skating on sidewalks in Palm Springs. The city of Palm Springs created ordinances to prohibit them from skating. This guy Bates was the head of the skating culture and was a punk-rocker. He was in the band Target 13. That generated this punk-rock culture, and I started covering a lot of that. Most of that was in Desert Hot Springs and not in Palm Springs itself, but there was a real scene that was developing. I covered that in the early days, and it was always the alternative to the classical stuff you’d see at Palm Springs High School and the lounge scene.”

Fessier was around when the desert generator scene developed. Bands such as Kyuss and Fatso Jetson played shows in the middle of the desert as they cut their teeth—and Fessier doesn’t agree with the modern romanticization of those desert parties.

“I went out to one generator party, and it was just terrible conditions,” he said. “Never mind how dangerous it was; it was the type of thing where there was so much sand blowing. It would get in your face and all the instruments, and it was just not enjoyable. … I would see some of those guys at Adrian’s Dance Club or something like that, but I can’t say I was a participant in the generator scene.

“Back in 1989, you could hear this music coming out from the middle of nowhere, and you didn’t know where it was coming from, because they never told anybody. Jesse Hughes (of Eagles of Death Metal) recently posted on Facebook about how I covered him in the early days. I saw him and one of his bands at this drive-through Italian restaurant in Cathedral City where you could get spaghetti for $2, and he was playing there. That’s the thing: You’d see these people playing in little nooks and crannies. Even though I didn’t go out and hang out in the hills, I was still aware of what was going on.”

There was one name in town that you couldn’t avoid back then.

“Everybody idolized Sinatra in those days,” Fessier said. “I wrote a column one time back then about how you could go to every bar in town and hear ‘New York, New York.’ I got so sick of that song. That came out in 1979, and everybody was singing it. That’s what it was like in 1979 in Palm Springs. They were all close personal friends of Frank and all had stories about him, and I’d run into him at all these different places. That was kind of fun, actually.

“I wasn’t really a big Frank Sinatra fan at the time, but just seeing the impact he had on all the people and discovering his generosity in person—it made me a big fan of his. Once I stopped getting over the generational thing that I had and started appreciating his music, I became a big Frank Sinatra fan.”

Fessier remembered seeing both the good side and the bad side of the Chairman of the Board.

“He was mercurial. If you caught him on a good day, you were intoxicated by him. If you caught him on a bad day, you were scared to death of him. I saw him on both sides,” Fessier said. “The first time I was in a room with him was the first week I was entertainment editor. This PR guy decided he was going to take me around town and show me all the lounges and restaurants. He told me he was going to take me to Don the Beachcomber, because that was where Sinatra hung out. I had a friend with me at the time who was a real drunken kind of friend. I wasn’t expecting this to be any big deal, and the last thing I expected was to see Sinatra at this place.

“We get there, and there was Sinatra. Don the Beachcomber was a tiny place. He was at the bar with about 20 friends, and he’s entertaining them all. This red light came on, and he said, ‘When that red light comes on, I sing.’ This PR guy said, ‘You do not talk to Frank Sinatra.’ My friend was drunk and said, ‘I don’t care what you say; I know people who are big shots, and I’m going to go up to him and say hello.’ (My friend) brushed us aside and said, ‘Hey Frank,’ and Frank said, ‘Hey pal, how you doing?’ and shook his hand.

“Frank had this charisma, and it would hypnotize you a bit.”

Fessier also covered the local theater scene extensively.

“I saw the big change coming, and that was the McCallum Theatre (which opened in 1988),” he said. “When I got here, there was an organization called the Valley Players Guild, and they were always looking for their own home. Then there (was) the Palm Desert Community Theatre, and that was pretty much it. College of the Desert did their own shows. Then the McCallum (began) doing fundraising and the performing-arts series that they did at Palm Springs High School and the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum. It became apparent that would not only dwarf community theater, but take up all of The Desert Sun’s resources: I was going to be covering what was going on at the McCallum instead of community theater.

“That’s the reason I co-founded the Desert Theatre League in 1987, because there were more groups that were starting, and there were other splinter groups. I thought they needed some sort of a promotion that I wasn’t going to be able to provide, and an award show would be that kind of promotion. I wanted it to also be a networking opportunity for people to share their resources. My co-founder was an actor in town who also worked in the advertising department for The Desert Sun, so some of these splinter groups that didn’t have nonprofit status could get the lower nonprofit advertising rate by being a member.”

Fessier and I were two of the five journalists invited to cover Paul McCartney’s 2016 show at Pappy and Harriet’s. I remember seeing him disappear and reappear many times throughout the show.

“I had an early deadline,” Fessier explained. “We are always trying to be first, and so Robyn (Celia, the venue’s co-owner) let me use their office. Their office got so crazy with people coming in to where I went to the back of the office in this closet where I had my laptop, and I’d be writing and walking out to see what the commotion was. We didn’t get a photo pass, either, and I was trying to take pictures. That was crazy! … It was certainly historic, and I didn’t really appreciate it as much as I should have at the time.”

Fessier said covering the valley’s big festivals, Coachella especially, can be tiring and strenuous—but wind up being worth the trouble.

“Even today, the press accommodations are bad,” Fessier said. “I did an interview with (Coachella founder) Paul Tollett a week ago, and I was telling him how the press accommodations always suck. I told him, ‘You know what the sports guys get?’ The second year we were there, a colleague said that the press tent was four sticks and a canvas. The first year, they didn’t even have electricity in there. But at the time, it was so magical, because you could just walk up to people. I walked right up to Moby and did an interview. There was nobody setting up any press interviews. It was magical from the very beginning.”

Fessier made a prediction about Coachella’s future.

“It’s going to be international,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if J Balvin is the first international headliner not to use English as his primary language. That’s the direction it’s going in. It had more international stars this year than there were acts from the United States. Paul Tollett likes to nurture those guys and bring them up.”

Considering all the changes taking place in the media world, I had to ask: Do you feel that what we do will still matter in the future?

“I just did a talk to a class of broadcasters at College of the Desert, and I told them, ‘You’re living in an exciting time when you won’t need radio stations, and you won’t need newspapers, (but) you will need entrepreneurial skills to monetize your work. You have an opportunity to find out what you want to do and make a living at it without corporate ties,’” he said. “Working for a corporation is very frustrating. I’m happy to not have to be worried about rewriting some story from TMZ about herpes breaking out at Coachella.”

Fessier explained why he stayed at The Desert Sun for four decades.

“I got an offer at the San Francisco Chronicle, and I’m from San Francisco. I went to college there, and I always dreamed of going back to the Bay Area. But the salary they were offering me was not significantly more than what I was getting here,” he said. “I’ve always had other income opportunities and have never had to rely just on The Desert Sun. It’s between not being offered enough money and my wife saying, ‘I’m not going to live in Cincinnati!’

“This is a nice place to not only live but raise kids. I’m very proud that both of my kids are doing very well now. One is an animator for Bob’s Burgers, and the other one is managing a cannabis dispensary.”

Published in Features

Last year, the McCallum Theatre celebrated its two-year Crisalida Community Arts Project with a showcase called East Valley Voices Out Loud.

The goal of the project was to foster a relationship between the McCallum Theatre and artists in the underserved eastern Coachella Valley—and East Valley Voices Out Loud was a triumphant showcase of the fruits of that project.

While the Crisalida Community Arts Project’s James Irvine Foundation grant ended a year ago, the McCallum is bringing back East Valley Voices Out Loud for a second year, on Saturday, May 13.

Poet, playwright and musician David Gonzalez worked with the McCallum Theatre on the Crisalida Community Arts Project and put together the showcases both years. He explained what will be different about this year’s showcase.

“We have a bunch of new artists, and we have expanded the role of other artists who have mentored a couple of new people,” Gonzalez said. “We’re having a dance troupe from Mecca that is going to be performing, which should be really cool.”

The Crisalida Community Arts Project gave much-deserved attention to East Valley poets, musicians and more. Gonzalez said the project is still going, albeit in a “greatly reduced fashion.”

“The real emphasis is the showcase, but I’ve been doing some outreach and mentoring with people (from) other organizations,” Gonzalez said. “The issue right now is funding. We had a major grant for those first two years. This year, the McCallum has dipped into its own pocket to do this project. They are demonstrating their commitment to the East Valley through this. The intention is to keep doing East Valley Voices Out Loud, and to look for other sources so we can reboot and recharge Crisalida from where we left it a year ago.”

While the success of the project and last year’s East Valley Voices Out Loud was evident to anyone who talked to the participants, the efforts received some unfair criticism. A review by Bruce Fessier of The Desert Sun panned last year’s East Valley Voices Out Loud showcase, while prominent East Valley artist Armando Lerma, of the Date Farmers, harshly criticized the project. Gonzalez addressed some of that criticism.

“(Lerma) had a very skewered, egocentric, self-serving, defensive, destructive and myopic experience of it,” Gonzalez said. “I have negotiated many difficult situations and tried with my greatest skill to deflect and move that in a positive direction.”

As for Fessier’s critique, Gonzalez said East Valley Voices Out Loud was not meant for critical review.

“It was meant for social review, but not aesthetic review,” Gonzalez said. “To make comparisons to other organizations who put up community work was so ill-guided. Could it have been better? Of course! We had 35 amateurs onstage, and there were things that went haywire, but to take the platform of The Desert Sun and the platform of theater critic and turn that against an effort where we did over 350 community residency projects with so much blood and sweat and tears? It was so unfortunate.”

Local musician Giselle Woo took part in last year’s showcase and will return this year. She discussed what made last year’s experience special.

“It was my first time ever performing at a theater like the McCallum,” Woo said. “I think it makes it interesting, because it gives an opportunity for young Latinos—who make up the majority of people who performed in East Valley Voices Out Loud last year—to be performing there. Things like that are sometimes something we only get to dream of, and never get the chance to do.

“The west side is popping, but the east side has been, too, and it continues to do so—just with not a lot of coverage. It’s nice to expand the light.”

Woo said she’s hoping to step up her performance this year.

“I have plans to bring a band with me, if I could,” she said. “I’m still working on completing it. It’ll be alumni from College of the Desert and stuff like that.”

Carlos Garcia, from the East Valley Repertory Theatre, is another returning performer.

“One of the pieces we’re planning to do is an all-male production of monologues—spoken word, poetry and deconstructing masculinity,” Garcia said. “The working title right now is Bad Hombres, referencing what Trump said.”

Garcia said some of the works in this year’s showcase will undoubtedly address the politics over the last year.

“I think that it will possibly be more focused on what’s happening politically,” he said. “I personally am not. Our pieces are more personal, but I feel that other groups might get political. I don’t really care for that myself, but I feel with what’s happened in one year with Trump and with us being Latino performers, there will be some issues addressed.”

Garcia said last year’s experience was inspiring because it fostered community.

“We felt as actors and performers that we were inspiring other actors, poets and musicians. We were also inspired by the other performers,” he said. “We didn’t know each other, and through the East Valley Voices Out Loud showcase, we were able to come together and meet each other. For one night, we are one group united, and that’s one thing I really enjoy about that.”

Gonzalez expressed optimism that the Crisalida project and the East Valley Voices Out Loud showcases will continue. He explained what the community can do to help.

“The first thing is to show up and hear the voices,” he said. “Hear, see and feel the East Valley community as it takes a step into the West Valley. Don’t go on preconceptions and what you’ve read. Come with a sense of openness and discovery, and stay afterward to shake hands, get invites or invite other people. The only way this bridge is going to be built is hand-to-hand and eye-to-eye. The showcase is a chance to do just that. 

East Valley Voices Out Loud takes place at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 13, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $9 to $22. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Local Fun

On May 14, the McCallum Theatre hosted East Valley Voices Out Loud. The show was the culmination of the two-year Crisalida Community Arts Project, led by the McCallum and storyteller David Gonzalez. Of course, readers of the Independent already knew that, because we did a big story on the project in advance of the show.

I was fortunate enough to attend the first 75 minutes of the show. (I left early because I’d committed to being at a fundraiser in Palm Springs later that night.) At times, the show was a bit rough. The talented hosts, Arturo and Erika Castellanos, talked over each other at certain points. After playing their first song, Lomeli Mariachi started a second piece, it seemed, only to be ushered off the stage by the hosts. Some of the performers were visibly nervous, shaken by being on the large McCallum stage, a place were countless legends have performed over the years.

These elements were the focus of Bruce Fessier, the veteran arts scribe for The Desert Sun, in a scathing piece published on May 17. Fessier ripped East Valley Voices Out Loud to shreds, comparing the show to a different event that was, in his eyes, far more successful.

“… The company spent just four hours rehearsing in the theater. McCallum president and CEO Mitch Gershenfeld said the project was meant to be measured by the work it did in the East Valley more than what was presented on stage. So he considers it a success,” Fessier wrote. “But the people who paid $9-$22 to see the show could only conclude that the East Valley performers Gonzalez selected were amateurish and the main reason for that was their lack of direction.”

I’ve been in journalism now for two decades, and I’ve never seen a veteran journalist miss the point of something so badly.

There’s a lot about the East Valley Voices Out Loud show that Fessier didn’t mention. Like the moment when at least half of the audience members raised their hands after being asked whether it was their first time at the McCallum. Or the look of sheer joy on some of the young performers’ faces when the audience cheered loudly. Or the fact that the showcase featured a new piece by a brand-new East Valley theater company created, in part, because of the Crisalida Community Arts Project.

Instead, Fessier sneered that the show was not compelling “even though its producer-director-curator, New Yorker David Gonzalez, spent two years searching for talent and staging over 300 workshops and writing eight books with a $600,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation.”

Perhaps if Fessier had covered the works of the Crisalida Community Arts Project before attending the show, he would have gotten the point: East Valley Voices Out Loud, while rough around the edges, was a triumphant showcase of art and artists from an oft-ignored, disadvantaged part of the valley we call home. The Crisalida Community Arts Project was meant to develop stronger community ties—and East Valley Voices Out Loud proved that the project was a rousing success.

The fact that Fessier missed all of this is baffling—and appalling.

Published in Editor's Note

The struggle to gain protection for critical land and water resources, wildlife, Native American cultural sites and spectacular landscapes within the California desert has gone on for more than a decade. With support from a wide group of constituents, including off-roaders, businesspeople, faith leaders, conservationists and veterans, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has developed strong, balanced legislation—but Congress has been either unwilling or unable to act.

Her latest proposal, the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act, hasn’t even been scheduled for a committee hearing, and no bill was introduced in the House. So, the senator pushed forward to safeguard our precious public lands by asking the president to use his powers under the Antiquities Act to declare three new desert national monuments—Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains.

The responses from editorial boards at The Desert Sun, The Press-Enterprise in Riverside and the Orange County Register were disappointing and perplexing. While editors acknowledged the need for protection of the California desert, they chose to advance arguments defying all logic. The Desert Sun applauded Feinstein’s conservation efforts and even said the proposed national monuments “would be great additions to the nation’s protected lands”—but then slammed the senator for turning to the Antiquities Act to accomplish this goal. Instead,Desert Sun editors argued that we should return to a dysfunctional Congress that is intent on blocking any public-lands legislation, no matter how broad and diverse its support in local communities.

In an editorial published by both The Press Enterprise and Orange County Register, Feinstein was accused of being eager to “cede congressional powers” to the executive branch because of her request that the president take action. That argument is certainly hard to swallow, given the senator has spent nearly 10 years trying to push desert-conservation legislation through Congress. The same editorial gave Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, a soapbox to spout misinformation about both the Antiquities Act and the nature of national monuments. As chair of the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands, McClintock has consistently blocked conservation efforts. He proposes that Feinstein and the president would be conspiring “to declare vast tracts of land off-use” if they proceed with the designation of the new national monuments. McClintock claims they would benefit an “elite few granted restricted use.” In reality, it would be mining, solar and wind projects that would restrict access to an “elite few,” while creating these monuments would benefit the greatest number of people by ensuring recreational access for equestrians, hikers, hunters, rock-hounders and off-roaders on designated routes.

Use of the Antiquities Act—which grants the president the authority to declare national monuments on lands controlled or owned by the federal government—has been used almost equally by Democrats and Republicans alike. One need look no further than Joshua Tree or Death Valley to see the success of national monuments in providing protection for natural resources and conserving sites with cultural, historic and scientific value, as the act prescribes. Both places were initially established as national monuments, the former by Republican Herbert Hoover, and the latter by Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Their elevation to national parks by Congress through the California Desert Protection Act only increased their value to the community.

The proposed Mojave Trails National Monument would connect Joshua Tree National Park to the Mojave National Preserve and protect significant wildlife corridors. This region includes the longest intact stretch of historic Route 66 and the best-preserved encampment from World War II’s desert training center, Iron Mountain. Important Native American trading routes and sacred trails crisscross the landscape.

Castle Mountains contains 36 species of rare plants, including some of the finest native desert grasslands in the entire California Desert. This is home to healthy populations of golden eagles, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and bobcats. It’s also a target location for reintroduction of pronghorn, the world’s second-fastest terrestrial mammal. Beneath the shadow of Hart Peak are rich Native American archaeological sites and the historic gold mining ghost town of Hart.

For many Coachella Valley residents, the dramatic landscape of the proposed Sand to Snow National Monument is an everyday sight, including Southern California’s highest peak, Mount San Gorgonio, and its longest river, the Santa Ana. This area includes alpine peaks, forests, Joshua tree woodlands and two of California’s three deserts, the Colorado and the Mojave. Its mountains are the most botanically diverse in the contiguous United States. This is critical habitat for migrating birds, black bears and bighorn sheep, and it contains culturally significant Native American sites. For the 18 million people who live within a two-hour drive of this proposed monument, there are great opportunities to get outside and enjoy wide-open spaces.

We are fortunate here in the Coachella Valley to be surrounded by the wild beauty of the desert. It is the reason many of us came to live, raise families, start businesses and retire here. With public lands close by, both residents and visitors have the opportunity to connect with nature. I count myself among them. I have enjoyed exploring these natural areas as an avid hiker and camper, and I’ve visited remote sites accessible only by four-wheel drive. Protecting these landscapes preserves the quality of life that we enjoy. That’s why so many Coachella Valley businesses and organizations support the establishment of these monuments—using either legislation or presidential proclamation. This includes my own organization, Great Outdoors Palm Springs (GOPS), an all-volunteer group that educates, promotes and conducts camping and hiking activities for the Coachella Valley’s growing LGBTQ community.

While we remain committed to passing Sen. Feinstein’s California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act, we recognize the opportunity to protect some of the lands contained in that legislation now. So we also call on the president to designate three new desert national monuments, to ensure that the pristine public lands all around us remain for generations to come.

Scott Connelly is the vice president for outings of Great Outdoors Palm Springs.

Published in Community Voices

Editor's Note: Allene Arthur died on Friday, July 31. She was 91 years old.

Independent contributor Brane Jevric was a dear friend of Arthur's; he often drove her to various social events. And on Jan. 30, 2014 at CVIndependent.com, and in the February 2014 print edition of the Independent, Jevric toasted his dear friend with a story talking about this fabulous woman and journalist.

I was so impressed by something Arthur said in the piece—“I write for the reader—not the advertiser or the people being written about, but the reader!”—that it was the motivation for my Editor's Note in that print edition of the Independent, in which I railed about the unethical pay-for-play "journalism" that is so prevalent in our valley and our world.

In honor of this amazing woman, we're republishing Jevric's piece below. Allene, you're greatly missed.

—Jimmy Boegle


After close to a century, Allene Arthur finally came out about her age.

I’d driven Miss Arthur to numerous social events over a period of 15 years. We covered those posh events together—and until recently, I had no clue that she started writing her column before I was born. That’s how good she is at keeping secrets.

Well, now we know her age: About 100 people showed up at Seven Lakes Country Club (in January 2014) to help her mark her 90th birthday.

This seasoned journalist started writing her lifestyles/scene column in 1959—and has no intentions of stopping anytime soon. Yes, she’s been covering big events for a long time—including the royal wedding of the (20th) century, of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, in 1981.

‘‘I phoned the story in from London, and it appeared on the local daily’s front page the same day as the wedding,” she told me during our one-on-one at her Palm Springs home.

In the media business, things can change in a heartbeat, sometimes tragically, after a story is published. In 1994, Arthur experienced such a moment following an exclusive with DinahShore for a local magazine.

Palm Springs Life printed my feature interview with Dinah in which she spoke in present tense!” she said. “Unfortunately, she died just about as the magazine was to hit the stands. There was no time to change her quotes into past tense.”

As the decades went by, Arthur experienced various changes in technology—which, of course, changed the way she did her job. One of the biggest changes came while she was working at the local daily as a society editor.

“I was 55 when computers came around, so here at the paper, we went to the classes to learn about it,” she recalled. “Soon, the classes split into advanced and slow ones. I ended up in the ‘dumb’ class—as did the publisher and editor-in-chief, who were my generation.

“The younger reporters got into the computers faster, and I bet you the fifth-graders would beat us all to it!”

Arthur’s personal story is that of a strong-minded woman who raised her son (after a divorce) while working as a single female in a tough corporate environment. The long hours, multiple events to cover and many pages to write—all on deadline—may have left a small impact on her health.

“I did have a minor stroke a few years back, but it did not hamper my column-writing in the slightest,” she said. “It was not a downer in that way.”

Here, Arthur paused. She smiled, remembering something. “Well, Kirk Douglas had a stroke, too,” her hazel eyes flashed, “but he was so charming and engaging when I was taking his quote, you couldn’t tell.”

Allene Arthur has written more than 2,500 columns so far—and that’s just locally! Twice, she said, she quit writing her column. “After both of these interruptions, I’m told there was a considerable letter campaign from The Desert Sun readers that my column be restored. Once again, editors asked me to return to my regular column.”

On this rare occasion, Arthur offered an exclusive: She revealed who the hardest celebs were to quote.

“Frank Sinatra was, by far, the worst one!” she said. “I’d been at his Palm Springs home several times, covering events he and Barbara hosted. Sinatra was always cold and distant. He hated journalists! Also, another former local resident, novelist Harold Robbins, was so blunt and rude!”

President Gerald Ford was just the opposite, according to Arthur.

“I was so impressed by Ford!” she said. “He and Betty were at several social events I covered. At one, where he was the guest of honor, we were introduced during the pre-dinner cocktail hour and fell into conversation. He was a gracious gentleman. And I was seated next to the first lady during the dinner.”

How does Allene Arthur keeps going? What keeps her feeling young?

“I love porn flicks!” she joked with a bright smile. “I never run out of material; there’s just not enough space to publish everything I want!”

We talked about the place of columns in American journalism, and Arthur mentioned that her idols were Erma Bombeck and Ogden Nash. That’s when Arthur pointed out an ingredient of the master columnist: “I write for the reader—not the advertiser or the people being written about, but the reader!”

It would take up a whole story just to list all of the awards Arthur received for her “first century” in journalism. Instead, I took a picture of her by her “vanity wall.” They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but there’s always another word to be written—until the final column, that is.

That leads to my last question for Allene Arthur: When’s the time to quit for good?

She answered without hesitation.

“I’ll end it when I run out of something to say, or when publishers decide to eliminate me—whichever comes first!”

Published in Features

After close to a century, Allene Arthur finally came out about her age.

I’d driven Miss Arthur to numerous social events over a period of 15 years. We covered those posh events together—and until recently, I had no clue that she started writing her column before I was born. That’s how good she is at keeping secrets.

Well, now we know her age: About 100 people showed up at Seven Lakes Country Club recently to help her mark her 90th birthday.

This seasoned journalist started writing her lifestyles/scene column in 1959—and has no intentions of stopping anytime soon. Yes, she’s been covering big events for a long time—including the royal wedding of the (20th) century, of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, in 1981.

‘‘I phoned the story in from London, and it appeared on the local daily’s front page the same day as the wedding,” she told me during our one-on-one at her Palm Springs home.

In the media business, things can change in a heartbeat, sometimes tragically, after a story is published. In 1994, Arthur experienced such a moment following an exclusive with DinahShore for a local magazine.

Palm Springs Life printed my feature interview with Dinah in which she spoke in present tense!” she said. “Unfortunately, she died just about as the magazine was to hit the stands. There was no time to change her quotes into past tense.”

As the decades went by, Arthur experienced various changes in technology—which, of course, changed the way she did her job. One of the biggest changes came while she was working at the local daily as a society editor.

“I was 55 when computers came around, so here at the paper, we went to the classes to learn about it,” she recalled. “Soon, the classes split into advanced and slow ones. I ended up in the ‘dumb’ class—as did the publisher and editor-in-chief, who were my generation.

“The younger reporters got into the computers faster, and I bet you the fifth-graders would beat us all to it!”

Arthur’s personal story is that of a strong-minded woman who raised her son (after a divorce) while working as a single female in a tough corporate environment. The long hours, multiple events to cover and many pages to write—all on deadline—may have left a small impact on her health.

“I did have a minor stroke a few years back, but it did not hamper my column-writing in the slightest,” she said. “It was not a downer in that way.”

Here, Arthur paused. She smiled, remembering something. “Well, Kirk Douglas had a stroke, too,” her hazel eyes flashed, “but he was so charming and engaging when I was taking his quote, you couldn’t tell.”

Allene Arthur has written more than 2,500 columns so far—and that’s just locally! Twice, she said, she quit writing her column. “After both of these interruptions, I’m told there was a considerable letter campaign from The Desert Sun readers that my column be restored. Once again, editors asked me to return to my regular column.”

On this rare occasion, Arthur offered an exclusive: She revealed who the hardest celebs were to quote.

“Frank Sinatra was, by far, the worst one!” she said. “I’d been at his Palm Springs home several times, covering events he and Barbara hosted. Sinatra was always cold and distant. He hated journalists! Also, another former local resident, novelist Harold Robbins, was so blunt and rude!”

President Gerald Ford was just the opposite, according to Arthur.

“I was so impressed by Ford!” she said. “He and Betty were at several social events I covered. At one, where he was the guest of honor, we were introduced during the pre-dinner cocktail hour and fell into conversation. He was a gracious gentleman. And I was seated next to the first lady during the dinner.”

How does Allene Arthur keeps going? What keeps her feeling young?

“I love porn flicks!” she joked with a bright smile. “I never run out of material; there’s just not enough space to publish everything I want!”

We talked about the place of columns in American journalism, and Arthur mentioned that her idols were Erma Bombeck and Ogden Nash. That’s when Arthur pointed out an ingredient of the master columnist: “I write for the reader—not the advertiser or the people being written about, but the reader!”

It would take up a whole story just to list all of the awards Arthur received for her “first century” in journalism. Instead, I took a picture of her by her “vanity wall.” They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but there’s always another word to be written—until the final column, that is.

That leads to my last question for Allene Arthur: When’s the time to quit for good?

She answered without hesitation.

“I’ll end it when I run out of something to say, or when publishers decide to eliminate me—whichever comes first!”

Published in Features

Page 1 of 2