CVIndependent

Tue05262020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

I have spent most of the last two days basically doing two things:

1. Getting everything ready to send the Independent’s June print edition to press.

2. Checking the state’s “Resilience Roadmap” page every 15 minutes for updates on the counties allowed to move further into Stage 2 of the reopening process—meaning stores can let customers inside, and restaurants can have dine-in customers.

As of 6:45 p.m., 43 of the state’s 58 counties have been given the go-ahead … and Riverside County is NOT one of them, even though the county posted the paperwork to move ahead last Friday.

This really could change at any time; San Joaquin County was added to the list since I started writing this, and about a half-dozen were added last night after business hours—including San Diego County.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, we are heading into Memorial Day weekend, and if Riverside County gets its blessing soon, some restaurants and stores could possibly allow customers inside—with restrictions and social distancing—by the time the weekend arrives. After all, some places are already open in San Diego after word came down late last night.

Also, whether or not you think we should be reopening this much already (and my feelings are beyond mixed), this whole process is undeniably fascinating.

We’ll keep watching and hitting the “refresh” button.

Today’s news:

• What if a second wave of COVID-19 washes across the country? The president said that even if that happens, he won’t close things down again (although, thankfully, it isn’t his call to make).

• A Catch-22, sort of: Educators say budget cuts caused by the pandemic will jeopardize their ability to safely reopen schools in the fall

• From the Independent: Missing concerts? Well, some people have started to do drive-in concerts—including a weekly Sunday show as the sun sets on 15 gorgeous acres in Yucca Valley. Matt King has the details.

• Consider yourself warned that this piece is depressing: According to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, a large portion of the jobs lost due to the pandemic are never coming back—even though as of now, employers intend on rehiring most of the people. “We know from the past that these aspirations often don’t turn out to be true,” he told The New York Times.

• Depressingly related: Mitch McConnell said the feds would not extend a boost in unemployment benefits when that increase expires.

• Why are people acting, well, so darn weird? Two psych experts, writing for The Conversation, say that when people are confronted with their own mortality, core beliefs—good and bad—get amplified. It’s a deeply interesting look at human psychology.

• While restaurants have been able to stay open to do takeout, and will be allowed to have customers inside in advanced Stage 2, bars have not, and will not. As the San Francisco Chronicle points out, a lot of bar owners think that’s decidedly unfair.

• Another primer on how numbers can be deceiving: Reported coronavirus cases have been sharply rising in California … while the infection rate has been heading downward. The reason? Significantly increased testing.

• Per usual, I took part in the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast/videocast today. The hosts and I chatted with the fantastic Dr. Laura Rush; events expert Hugh Hysell; and designer/retailer Christopher Kennedy.

• How weird it is to be a reliable media source these days! Readership is waaaaaay up—but revenue is waaaaaay down. The latest media company to announce layoffs: The Atlantic.

• The CDC now says that you don’t have to worry too much about catching the coronavirus from contaminated surfacesalthough perhaps you should still worry a little bit.

• ABC News and the Mayo Clinic teamed up to see how reliable the various antibody tests are. The results? Not so great.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 987: Some 1,200 pastors across the state say they’ll hold in-person church services on May 31, whether the state allows them or not.

Augustine Casino will not be joining the Agua Caliente properties and Morongo in reopening this weekend: General manager Jef Bauer says a mid-July reopening date is more likely for the Coachella property.

• Local small businesses impacted by the pandemic could get grants of up to $10,000 that do not need to be repaid, according to Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, thanks to the county receiving a big chunk of CARES Act money. Expect more details at the June 2 Board of Supervisors meeting.

Changes are coming to the airport-security process as a result of the virus, the Transportation Security Administration announced today.

Hollywood productions—for starters, all of your favorite TV shows—have been shut down, like most everything else, as a result of COVID-19. The Los Angeles Times looks at what it’s going to take to get things running again.

• What have Americans been spending their stimulus checks/deposits on? CNBC takes a look.

Please be safe. Please be kind. Please wear a mask when you’re out and anywhere near other people. If you like this Daily Digest, and want to support it and the other quality local journalism the Independent provides, think about becoming a Supporter of the Independent, if you’re able. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Riverside County seems poised to move into the second part of the state’s Stage 2 reopening process—meaning people may soon be able to shop in stores, and dine in at restaurants.

This news comes as a result of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement today that he’s revised the state’s somewhat odd reopening criteria—and that “roughly” 53 of the state’s 58 counties would soon qualify.

Of course, he did not announce which of the 53 or so counties qualify. So I checked the state’s county-variance website for updates throughout the afternoon to see if Riverside County had qualified, and I got excited when the page with the list of counties crashed for about an hour. I thought maybe it was being updated … but that was not the case. Boo!

Anyway, this afternoon, Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said in a Facebook video that he was confident the county would meet Newsom’s revised criteria. So … ready or not, here we probably go, maybe!

More news from the day:

Joshua Tree National Park reopened over the weekend. The Los Angeles Times has the details.

• The county has opened yet another free testing site in the Coachella Valley, this one at the Cathedral City Library.

• Some very, very promising news on the vaccine front: The volunteers who participated in a study for biotech company Moderna’s vaccine developed antibodies, and the vaccine caused no harm to the participants. You all know the rule about rushed studies these days—they need to be taken with that gigantic figurative grain of salt—but the news could not have been any more encouraging. CNN has the news on that.

More vaccine news, from the San Francisco Chronicle: One potential vaccine, being designed by a Northern California company, is actually administered via a patch. Science!

• Other news from Gov. Newsom from today and over the weekend: He’s asked the state’s casinos to reconsider their opening plans for now. And in something of a surprise, he said pro sports will probably be able to return to the state—in empty stadiums—come June. Also possibly coming in a couple of weeks: Haircuts!

Highly recommended: Fareed Zakaria’s “take” from his Sunday CNN show. He powerfully makes the case that the reopening debate has its roots in class and income. This is a must-watch—especially if you’re a college-educated person who is still employed and who has no doubts whatsoever that the reopening process is being rushed across the country.

Yes, we really are living in the worst timeline: So the president came out today and said he’s been taking a disproven, dangerous drug to prevent COVID-19. Then the speaker of the House criticized him for doing so, in part because the president is, in her words, “morbidly obese.” Ladies and gentlemen, your federal government!

• From the Independent: Our resident sommelier, Katie Finn, has been holding wine tastings via Zoom—and they’ve been a blessing. But they can’t replace the real thing.

What is the future of restaurants? The San Francisco Chronicle takes a multimedia look at what to expect when we’re allowed to finally dine in.

• If you want to break the rules, you rebel you, and see your friends despite the continuing stay-at-home order, the Los Angeles Times breaks down the risks you’ll be facing.

• NBC News looks at how COVID-19 patients are helping each other in ways that medical professionals cannot.

• NERDS! I say that with tons of love, even though we Stanford folks are trained to dislike anything UC Berkeley: After the college’s graduation ceremony was cancelled, students wound up replicating the campus and having a virtual ceremony via Minecraft.

• A unique idea from a Maryland bar to make sure customers maintain social distancing guidelines when it’s time to reopen: Everyone wears innertubes on wheels!

That’s certainly enough for today, no? Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you leave the house, because more and more science is coming out showing that it drastically cuts down on virus transmission. If you own a local business, or want to support a local business, check out our $199 advertising special. If you can afford to support local journalism, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

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

So … Perez voted for something he was against?

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

Mr. Perez, you have some explaining to do.

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

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

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

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

Hang on, folks.

Today’s links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Meanwhile, in Shanghai, Disneyland is open again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

This has been one hell of a news day—one of the busiest news days since this whole mess started, I’d say—so let’s get right to it:

• Big news item No. 1: The state’s reopening process is slated to begin on Friday, with, for starters, retail stores allowed to open for pickup. Here are the details on Gov. Newsom’s announcement today, from our partners at CalMatters.

• Big news item No. 2: According to The New York Times, a Trump administration projection anticipates deaths from COVID-19 will skyrocket over the next month. Meanwhile, states—many of which are currently seeing a rise in cases—are continuing the reopening process. Meanwhile, nothing makes sense anymore, and I need a cocktail.

• Big news item No. 3: Arizona, aka our neighbors to the east, are pushing the accelerator on the reopening process, with salons able to open on Friday, and restaurants able to open for dine-in service a week from today.

• Big news item No. 4: The continuing debate over Riverside County supervisors’ possible move tomorrow to cancel the orders of its own health officer, in favor of aligning with the weaker state orders. Earlier today, local supervisor V. Manuel Perez released a Facebook video in which he explained his thinking. I listened to all 37-plus minutes of it, and as far as I can tell, he is leaning toward rescinding some of Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s orders (on school closures, for example), and keeping at least parts of others (on face coverings and short-term rentals). He also announced the county would be opening two new testing sites in our valley—in Mecca and Desert Hot Springs—and touched on plans for the county to mobilize 200 contact-tracers. After listening to the whole thing, I now need another cocktail.

• This just in: The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership just released a report on the economic damage being wrought locally by the pandemic. I haven’t had a chance to read the whole thing yet, but, well, the news is pretty terrible. Read the report yourself here.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to Allen Monroe, the CEO of The Living Desert, about where the Palm Desert zoo stands, and what the future holds. Interesting takeaway: The Living Desert had made emergency plans regarding earthquakes and fires—and that helped the zoo handle the pandemic, in some ways.

• There was a world summit today focusing on the effort to come up with a coronavirus vaccine. The U.S. didn’t take part.

• Testing on the rise: The Desert AIDS Project is now offering COVID-19 testing to anyone who wants it, even people who are asymptomatic. However, you need an appointment. Get the details here.

• OK, after all of that stuff, here, look! John Krasinski’s Some Good News is back with a new, graduation-themed episode.

• Feeling better? Good! Unfortunately, we now have to tell you that, according to this Washington Post headline: “The coronavirus pandemic is pushing America into a mental health crisis.”

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 58: A security guard was shot and killed after telling a Family Dollar customer in Flint, Mich., to put on a face mask.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 59: Another restaurant—this one in Orange County—was packed after opening its doors this weekend.

• In other Orange County-related news, the governor decided to stop picking on them, and is allowing the beaches there to reopen.

• If you miss live music, and you’re not worried about the virus, Missouri is the place for you: Concerts can be held there now, as long as attendees are socially distanced.

Our friends at the Create Center for the Arts were burglarized recently. Sigh. However, they’re keeping up their efforts to make personal protective equipment for local medical professionals by using 3-D printers

• Do you find yourself at times needing to take a break from all the pandemic news? You’re most certainly not alone.

• According to The Conversation, if the world gets an effective vaccine, and vaccine-deniers refuse to take it, that could be very, very bad for all of us.

Donald Trump had an uncle who was legitimately a brilliant scientist. A friend of the late John G. Trump said he’d be horrified by his nephew’s antics.

More promising news on the drug front, this time regarding a flu drug called favipiravir, made by Japanese company Fujifilm.

• If you’re starting to look like a mountain man, or perhaps a Muppet (or, in my case, a Muppet mountain man), consider these self-care tips from Esquire.

That’s more than enough. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. Buy your coloring book. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you can afford to do so, so we can continue doing quality local journalism. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

“As the (COVID-19) pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.”

— UN Secretary-General António Guterres

The United Nations honors World Press Freedom Day every May 3—and on this World Press Freedom Day, many media organizations find themselves in serious trouble, because of the economic chaos brought to us by the pandemic. 

I am going to turn things over to A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, by sharing part of a note he sent to me and a whole bunch of other news publishers on Friday:

“I wanted to reach out to you to say how much we appreciate the important, difficult work you’re doing right now. My colleagues and I stand with you in your commitment to providing information that is critical to the safety, security, and knowledge of our communities. As the coronavirus pandemic presents unprecedented reporting challenges and growing financial pressures, it’s also underscored the value of great journalism.

“We want to share the news … that The New York Times will launch a campaign encouraging readers find a local news organization they trust, and to support it through a subscription or donation.

“Like many of my colleagues at The Times, I spent years working in local news. We know firsthand the essential role original, quality news organizations play in communities across the nation. And we’ve been distressed to watch as the pressure on local news continues to rise through the pandemic, leading to an estimated 36,000 journalists being laid off or furloughed in a matter of months. We hope we can help by raising awareness of the importance of supporting local news organizations.”

You can find the database The New York Times put together of trusted local journalism sources here. I am proud to say that the Independent is one of three Coachella Valley news sources listed.

Over the last seven weeks—since the figurative, uh, “stuff” started hitting the fan—we’ve received a heartening amount of reader support. However, if you have not yet become a Supporter of the Independent, and you are able, I ask you to consider doing so now. We’ve lost 80-plus percent of our advertising revenue as a result of the pandemic, and we need your help to continue doing what we do—quality, Coachella Valley-focused journalism, which we make available for free to everyone, both in pixels and print. Learn how to become a Supporter here.

To all of you who have become Supporters of the Independent … thank you. Because of your support, we have so far been able to avoid cutting staff or content. However, if you are able, I have one more thing to ask of you: Please consider going to The New York Times database, and finding another journalism organization to support as well—like a hometown news source, for example.

As always, thanks to all of you for reading. Now, here are today’s links:

• The big local news: Why in the world does the business community think it understands the virus better than the county health officer—and why are county supervisors, including local rep V. Manuel Perez, considering siding with the business community over that local health officer? This will all come to a head when county supes vote on Tuesday to revoke Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s health orders if they go beyond the state’s orders.

• The New York Times looks at the effort by scientists to answer a key question about COVID-19: “Why Does the Virus Wallop Some Places and Spare Others?

Why aren’t California pharmacies being enlisted in the effort to ramp up COVID-19 testing—like pharmacies are in other states? The San Francisco Chronicle attempts to answer this query.

When the virus hits indigenous tribes, things could get very, very bad. The Guardian looks at an effort being made by a lot of big names to get Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to pay attention to this fact.

A Hong Kong restaurant group has released its “playbook” on how to reopen. Here are the details.

• USA Today points out the obvious, albeit in an interesting way: We’re all dying to travel (safely) right now.

• This somewhat overwritten column by Frank Bruni from The New York Times focuses on Laurie Garrett, a journalist who predicted that the pandemic would happen. You don’t want to know what she thinks will come next.

• Well, this is one hell of a teaser, from the folks at the PBS NewsHour: “More and more, people don't care about expert views. That’s according to Tom Nichols, author of ‘The Death of Expertise,’ who says Americans have become insufferable know-it-alls, locked in constant conflict and debate with others over topics they actually know almost nothing about. Nichols shares his humble opinion on how we got here.” What fun!

• Good news: Gilead Sciences—which sure has been doing a lot of lobbying as of late——is releasing 1.5 million vials of remdesivir, for free, for emergency use this week. Perhaps not-so-good news: The federal government will decide where the vials go.

• The Los Angeles Times looks at drugs not named remdesivir that may help battle this damned virus.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 47: Business is booming at a diner in El Dorado, Calif., after the owner decided to violate state law by opening her doors for dine-in customers, because, you know, she has bills to pay.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 48: The mayor of a city in Oklahoma rescinded an order to wear masks because some people got a little pissy.

• Trevor Noah is good people: He’s paying furloughed members of The Daily Show staff out of his own pocket.

• If you haven’t yet heard of the arrival in the U.S. of ASIAN MURDER HORNETS, well, sit down, because we have some bad news.

• Finally, because why not, comes this headline from Esquire: “Behind the Scenes of a Nude Photography Project in Quarantine.”

That’s all we have for today. Wash your hands. Be safe. Be kind. We’ll be back tomorrow with more.

Published in Daily Digest

Welcome to May 2020—which should be the most fascinating months in American history.

April was horrible, in terms of deaths and economic calamity—but for the most part, the country hunkered down and sheltered in place. But now that May is here, the figurative wheels may be starting to come off.

Many are states starting to reopen—despite an increasing number of COVID-19 cases. Some local governments in California are taking steps to reopen, in defiance of the state orderProtests seem to be getting angrier—including those close to home in Orange County, over Gov. Newsom’s surprising decision to close the beaches there, and only there, this weekend. 

Here in the Coachella Valley, some are getting restless, too. The Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce yesterday asked county supervisor V. Manuel Perez to do what he can to “start opening back up the Coachella Valley economy.” Meanwhile, Gov. Newsom said the first steps toward reopening California are days, not weeks, away … but has not been specific on what that means, exactly.

How is this all going to play out? I have no idea. All I know is that the next 30 days are going to be a wild ride—and that the Independent will be here to help make sense of it.

Wash your hands. Be kind. Be safe. And hold on tight, folks.

Today’s links:

• The big local news of the day: College of the Desert announced today that all summer AND fall classes will move online. More or less, this means the campus will be closed for the remainder of 2020.

• As expected, the government has announced that remdesivir may be used as an emergency treatment for COVID-19.

• Related: This opinion piece from The Washington Post does a good job of putting Dr. Anthony Fauci’s remarks on Wednesday regarding remdesivir in the proper context: They gave us real hope.

• Also related: The House wants Dr. Fauci to testify next week. The White House isn’t going to let him.

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: Gov. Newsom’s program that would pay restaurants to make meals for seniors in need has a lot of problemsand as a result, not a single meal has been delivered yet.

• Here’s a holy-cow-that’s-awful stat: More than 4,000 workers at 115 meatpacking plants in the country have tested positive for the virus. More than 900 of those are at a single Tyson plant in Indiana.

• Related: It turns out the much-touted executive order by the president for meat plants to reopen isn’t going to do much of anything.

• Not only is the race on to develop a new vaccine; some scientists are studying whether old vaccines, for polio and tuberculosis, can help fight the coronavirus. How’s that possible? It involves something called “innate immunity.”

• The Palm Springs Cultural Center this week has added two films to its watch-at-home lineup. Get the details on Crescendo and Saint Frances here.

• The Atlantic takes a mostly depressing look at how the pandemic is going to change retail business in the country.

• The U.S. Bartenders’ Guild fund has only dispersed $1.5 million of the $7 million it has in its emergency aid fund—with up to 90 percent of applicants being rejected. The San Francisco Chronicle gets some answers on why that is.

• Omar Tate, the proprietor of a popup restaurant experience called Honeysuckle, wrote a powerful essay for Esquire; this one line sums things up masterfully: “When America gets a cold, Black America gets pneumonia.”

• The headline on this piece from a HuffPost political reporter gets straight to the point: “Tribes Were Supposed to Get $8 Billion In COVID-19 Aid. They’ve Gotten $0.”

Former Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has a message for the people protesting stay-at-home orders: You’re being selfish, and you’re disrespecting America’s veterans.

• Related: Elon Musk is getting some Silicon Valley execs on the “reopen now!” bandwagon—while others are decidedly in disagreement.

• The consistently excellent Texas Tribune breaks down the battle in that state over unemployment benefits—and as that state reopens (prematurely, perhaps), many fearful people are being forced to go back to work.

If you’re one of the people who somehow believes COVID-19 is no worse than the flu, either you’re ignorant, or you don’t know how numbers work.

• When it’s time for Las Vegas to reopen … it’s not going to reopen all at once, as the MGM Resorts acting CEO pointed out during a call yesterday.

• Some people are starting to get an email from the Census Bureau asking questions about how they’re faring during the pandemic. Here’s a story from NPR, from a week or two back, on why that’s happening.

That’s enough for today. Be safe. Wash your hands. Check in on a loved one and see how they’re doing. Get details on our fantastic coloring book here, and becoming a Supporter of the Independent here. Barring anything major, we’ll be off tomorrow, but back on Sunday, in honor of World Press Freedom Day.

Published in Daily Digest

The auditorium at the UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Center was filled with more than 150 attendees when Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez spoke at the Adult Justice System Symposium on Oct. 30.

Perez talked about the innovative programs and services now utilized by the Riverside County Probation Department to help citizens re-integrate into their communities after being released from prison—and he spoke passionately about why the issue is important to him.

He elaborated on those reasons in a subsequent phone interview.

“I’m very proud of the fact that I grew up in Coachella, and that I grew up (the child of) immigrant farm workers who did everything that they could to support their children,” Perez said. “But the 1980s and ’90s in the city of Coachella were tough. It was crazy. La Eme (the Mexican mafia in the United States) and the local gangs ran the city and ran the community. So many people were pressured to become a member of La Eme, or of a gang, and if you did not, then unfortunately, maybe something would happen to you.

“I was just very lucky. I was just very, very lucky. So that’s why (this issue) is deep for me. It’s not only about folks who were very close to me, but also even family members. I’ve got family members to this day who are in prison.”

Perez organized the event in conjunction with the Riverside County Probation Department to familiarize residents and organizations with community-based programs geared toward rehabilitation, with the intention of preventing the need to re-incarcerate those convicted of crimes.

Riverside County Interim Chief Probation Officer Ron Miller II spoke about his desire to engage the community in a recent phone interview.

“You know it’s interesting: Historically, probation has not been a ‘sexy’ department to cover,” Miller said. “For many years, we primarily did pre-sentencing reports on people who had been convicted and were awaiting sentencing. The pre-sentence report would give some background information to the court to (help them) determine an appropriate sentence. … As money in the adult world (of probation services) continued to dry up, the responsiveness to adults on probation was fairly limited.”

Then, in 2009, Senate Bill 678 became law.

“SB 678 had to do with giving funds for evidence-based practices to be developed,” Miller said. “That infusion of money into the system really allowed probation to start going from a slow-walk to a run: It allowed us to get into case-plan development, and really look at the treatment needs of adult clients and the factors that led them to a place where they were arrested. Then, we could come up with strategies to address those treatment needs.

“For us, the two words you hear a lot of are ‘previous trauma’ or ‘drama’ (that may explain) what’s gone on in this person’s life, and next: How do we get this person back to being happy, healthy, whole and functioning in our communities?”

Two years later, the state passed Assembly Bill 109, which started a process known as “realignment”: People convicted of less-serious felonies were diverted from the state prison system and instead sent to county jails.

“For all the negativity that came out of (the passage of that bill),” Miller said, “it really did push additional money into our portion of the criminal-justice system that allowed us to become more effective in reaching the adult population and creating change opportunities for them. You’ll hear a lot from law enforcement about the challenges that AB 109 has presented. But from our perspective, these were people who were coming out of prison anyway, and instead of going to parole for supervision, they now went to probation for supervision—and (at the county level), this is our community. We know the resources that are available, so we’re probably the best-situated agency to provide the level of support toward community integration.

“A guy’s coming out of prison after having served, say, five years: That’s five years out of the loop. They don’t have a bank account. They don’t have a place to stay. They don’t have a job. They get $200 exit money, and then you’re popping them back into the community. Where’s the support for success? We’re probably the best agency to try to bridge this person, from where he was (in jail or prison) to getting him back on his feet and functioning back in the community.”

Have these efforts decreased the recidivism rate? Miller said he believes they have.

“Of the main categories we look at in the field of probation, one of those is the formal probation client. That’s somebody who has been arrested, gone to court and has been sentenced to probation locally,” he said. “We have about 9,000 of those clients currently in Riverside County. Among that group, about 26 percent will recidivate (within three years), which means that about 74 percent successfully complete without a new violation. That’s the number that we focus on, the successful completions.

“Then we have the AB 109 population of about 3,000 clients, and they come in two groups. One is the group that is arrested, goes to court and is sentenced to (state) prison, but then they serve their sentence locally at a county jail. … Then we also have the group that is sentenced to prison; they go to prison; and then when they’re released, because they were there for a non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious offense, they come to probation for supervision. On average, about 43 percent of those clients recidivate.”

That apparent decrease in the recidivism rate was part of the story Perez wanted to tell at the symposium.

“Quite frankly, I was impressed by the amount of people (who attended), but regardless, that’s not the point,” Perez said. “Did they gain something from it? Are there changes that should be made to our system? And do they feel they have a voice in the system? This (symposium) is our first attempt, and this is my passion.

“In the ’80s and ’90s, the compassion did not exist in our communities, especially in communities of color. Community policing was not (born) of compassion. I think now it is changing. I think what probation is doing is creating change. Now, it’s not just about looking for people and then locking them up and throwing away the key, just because they wear certain clothing or they look a certain way. I believe that compassion is now coming, or is here.

“Also, today, we have leaders who are coming back home. They grew up in areas of the Coachella Valley that are much more forward-thinking and open-minded. Then they went off to school, and now they’re returning. It doesn’t matter what their ethnicity may be. They are very willing to work with people now. It wasn’t like that before. So we have to be empathetic and compassionate. In my opinion, that’s something that we need to strive for every day. It’s hard, but we should do that.”

Published in Local Issues

It’s been hot in the Coachella Valley—including a 121-degree day on Aug. 5—and no segment of our community is more threatened by that heat than the valley’s homeless population.

It was a 115-degree day on June 11 that helped spur the city of Palm Springs to partner with Riverside County to open an emergency overnight cooling center at the Demuth Community Center—and that partnership helped lead to an even larger collaboration to open three new long-term overnight cooling centers in the valley.

The centers opened July 1, the result of a partnership between the county, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, and the three cities where the centers are located. The Coachella Valley Rescue Mission is staffing the centers, with the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation offering support.

Greg Rodriguez is the government affairs and public policy adviser to Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez.

“Supervisor Perez and I were approached by the city of Palm Springs to try to get (an overnight cooling center) opened this year,” Rodriguez said. “Supervisor Perez suggested that we should try it in the three cities of Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs. It’s easier for transportation—for the homeless individuals who don’t want to leave the city that they are in—so that’s how the three new nighttime centers were developed this year.

“Ideally, I’m working on some other projects that hopefully will result in more permanent facilities for next year that would be 24-hour operations,” like those in the east valley.

In Indio, both the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and Martha’s Village and Kitchen offer spaces where homeless individuals can both stay cool and access a variety of other needed services.

“(Our facility) is a place where we provide services, but the west valley does not (have such a place),” said Tom Cox, program director at CVRM. “… If there were a west valley shelter, or navigation center, or whatever they’re calling it this week, then they would be more successful. It really is that simple: One, have a place. Two, put service providers in that place who are going to make a real difference—and, three, there will be results.”

Daytime summer cooling centers have been a regular feature across Riverside County and the Coachella Valley for decades.

“The daytime cooling centers are managed by Riverside County through the Community Action Partnership, or CAP,” Rodriguez said. “We try to add new sites when possible. When we get really extreme temperatures, they’ll expand their hours during the day. But we haven’t had any nighttime cooling centers.”

Until now. However, it wasn’t easy to get the overnight cooling centers up and running.

“There were a lot of logistics,” Cox said. “Staffing was one, because you need staff that are compassionate and know what they’re doing. You needed port-a-potties, port-a-showers and portable storage units. … (People in need) get a shower, a clean set of clothes and a meal.”

The collaboration has not only filled an urgent need; it’s raised hopes of even further partnerships to help the homeless in the valley.

“I’ve started kind of a new role,” Rodriguez said. “I’m still with Supervisor Perez’s office, but I’m heading up a homelessness collaborative effort through the Coachella Valley Association of Governments in conjunction with the Desert Healthcare District and Riverside County. Also, it has the support of the valley’s nine cities through CVAG. … We did contract through CVAG with the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission (CVRM) to handle all the daily operations. I’m more involved in the conceptual side, the financing side and, of course, tracking (data) the results. Ideally, we’re not only hoping to get people cool at night, but also get them tied into some homelessness services as well. In fact, we’ve had success with that already in the case of at least six individuals.”

Can any resident of the valley escape the summer heat in one of these facilities?

“The daytime cooling centers serve all of the (valley’s) residents,” Rodriguez said. “The nighttime centers mainly focus just on the homeless population. That being said, if somebody’s electricity should go out, and they don’t have air conditioning or they don’t have the funds to run their air all the time, they’re welcome to use the centers. We’re not prohibitive, but the focus is on the chronically homeless population who are sleeping out in the elements.”

Both Rodriguez and Cox extolled the involvement of the Desert Healthcare District, which threw resources and fundraising muscle behind the cooling center program expansion.

“Regarding the new nighttime centers, we’ve had them open for a month now, and they will be open (until the end of September),” Rodriguez said. “In the first month, it’s been highly successful.”

In July, the three centers served more than 250 people and fulfilled well more than 3,000 service requests.

“There’s still a need for additional funds, because we’re helping to cover the extra utility costs of the churches who have donated their space,” Cox said. “This is where the DHCD has been such a great partner by matching any of the privately donated funds that have come in. The Desert Healthcare District has been great in providing us with email (outreach) to share what we need, and their Summer Homeless Survival Fund has done a pretty awesome job as well, and in a short time.”

What can valley residents contribute to support these vital new community shelters?

“Towels, toiletries, linens and pillows are all things that we need, and we have to launder them every day,” Cox said. “We need bottled water, individually wrapped snacks, coffee, paper products, air fresheners, clothing and undergarments. Bombas socks just donated about 7,500 pairs of socks. … For the centers themselves, we need bike racks, storage racks, a few laptops, some commercial laundry washers and dryers. If somebody has an extra SUV or van lying around, we could definitely use those. We need a lot.”

The three cooling centers are open 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. at the city of Palm Springs facility at 225 S. El Cielo Road; World Life of Fellowship Center, 66290 Estrella Ave., in Desert Hot Springs; and Community Presbyterian Church, 38088 Chuperosa Lane, in Cathedral City.

To donate supplies, call Tom Cox at the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission at 760-347-3512, ext. 251, or drop them off at 47470 Van Buren St., in Indio. Cash donations can be made through the Desert Healthcare District at www.dhcd.org/HomelessFund.

Published in Local Issues

On May 9, 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed former state assemblymember V. Manuel Perez to serve the remainder of the term of the late John Benoit, the Riverside County District 4 supervisor.

On June 5, Perez will attempt to hold on to the seat, but he’s facing a formidable challenge from Palm Desert City Councilmember Jan Harnik. While June 5 is considered the primary election, these two experienced Coachella Valley politicos will get no primary testing ground—because in their two-person race, one of them will almost certainly get a majority of the vote, avoiding a general-election contest and getting elected to a new four-year term.

“I think it’s important that people realize the magnitude of what this (campaign) means for the 4th District and for the county of Riverside as a whole,” Perez said during a recent phone interview. “This is the first time in years that we will see an (almost) new Board of Supervisors, and (it could be) a very diverse group, which I think is important to recognize.

“I am running because I’ve always felt a deep sense of responsibility to public service, and that dates back to me growing up as a kid on the east side of the Coachella Valley. But I’m also running because I believe that we need to have a voice that unites both sides of the valley. I believe I can do that.”

Perez is a Democrat, while Harnik is a Republican—but the supervisors’ seat is considered nonpartisan.

“I’m fortunate that I’ve always worked in nonpartisan positions,” Harnik said during a recent phone interview. “So my job has always been to do what’s best and to approach issues with logic and common sense—and, in fact, what is attractive to me in the supervisor position is exactly that. It’s nonpartisan, but, yes, I will carry my values. Yes, I am fiscally conservative, and I don’t believe in spending more than you have. But I don’t have to listen to somebody at the party and at a higher level telling me what is best.”

We asked each candidate about the most pressing issues they’d like to address.

“We have to make sure that we provide public safety in an effective manner,” Harnik said. “That’s the high-quality public safety that, I think, people deserve—but I think we have to get the budget in order before we can do much. The budget is $5.5 billion, and the revenue for that budget is $5.22 billion. Running in the red is unsustainable, and doing things like voting to spend $40 million on an outside consulting firm (KPMG, in this case) to find efficiencies and see how the county can spend their money better is a bad idea. Bringing in outside agencies to do those kinds of things are simply done now when people don’t want to make the tough decisions. … I will not shy away from tough decisions.”

Perez identified a host of critical concerns held by various segments of the county’s voters.

“I think the top issues to deal with are homelessness and behavioral-health efforts; continuing to support our veterans; and obviously, our economy and jobs are a major concern, as well as quality-of-life issues such as the Salton Sea, air pollution and asthma rates, infrastructure including sidewalks, and safe routes to schools,” Perez said.

Perez touted his governing experience and skills.

“What I think sets me apart from my opponent is not only do I have the education—having attended local schools, being a (University of California at Riverside) graduate, and then going off to Harvard University and coming back home—but I also have experience in policymaking, (on the) local city council, school board, and especially at the state level,” Perez said. “I learned how to connect the dots. I’m able to pick up the phone and call the speaker (of the California State Assembly) on a specific issue, and I’m able to text (Assemblymember) Eduardo Garcia or (U.S. Representative) Dr. Raul Ruiz and ask them how are we going to deliver a message to pass the Desert Healthcare District expansion so that we can get it in front of the voters. I think my opponent can’t compare to that—not that I’m better than her, but I’ve been very fortunate to hold these positions in my career.”

Both candidates have amassed considerable campaign chests. As of Dec. 31, Perez reported roughly $552,000 in donations, while Harnik showed close to $400,000, which included a $20,000 posthumous donation made by the John Benoit campaign fund. When we spoke with Perez in April, he updated his fundraising total to roughly $730,000.

“We knew early on that this was going to be a very expensive campaign,” Perez said.

We asked both candidates whether it was appropriate that they were receiving funds from donors who list their addresses as being not just outside of Riverside County—but completely out of state. The year-end reports showed nearly 3 percent of Perez’s contributions came from out of state, as did 5.4 percent of Harnik’s.

“I did notice that she had quite a lot of contributions from throughout the U.S., and it’s perfectly legal, so OK,” Perez said. “If I had access to all those individuals, I would probably be doing the same thing. I will say, though, that Riverside County is a bit antiquated when it comes to the rules around fundraising.”

Harnik said the large number of donors she has is evidence of her appeal.

“I hope you noticed how many donations I have; I have far more donors, because these are real people donating to me,” she said. “Now, the issue with the geography: Keep in mind that a lot of these people will say, ‘Well, I don’t vote here, so why would I donate to your campaign?’ Quite often, my answer is, ‘Because you own a home here, and you bought here because you like the quality of life here. You may not vote here. You may vote somewhere else because you’re only here three, four or five months a year, but you want to maintain the quality of life, and you want to protect your investment.’”

We asked the candidates if they had a specific message they wanted to share with voters.

“Never in close to eight years on the City Council have I missed a City Council meeting,” Harnik said. “That’s a great example of my work ethic. I work hard, and I come to every meeting prepared. I believe in this region, and I do believe there are some things that we really have to look at differently than we have. I can do that. I have the energy. I have the work ethic, and I’ll show up.”

Perez said: “I’m very honored to be in this role, and I don’t take it for granted. I know that people really loved former Supervisor John Benoit. I know I have to continue some of his legacy, and I have to create my own. I get that. It may not seem either sexy or specific, but I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to pass and carry policy, and keep staff as well as hire new staff to keep the momentum going (while) learning the nuances of the infrastructure at the Riverside County level. It’s a lot of work.”

Published in Politics

In 1948, the Desert Healthcare District was created by the state of California. Health-care districts were intended as a “response to a shortage of acute care hospitals as well as minimal access to health care in rural parts of the state,” according to the DHCD website.

In the ensuing 70 years, the service portfolio of the DHCD has evolved and expanded. Today, with an annual operating budget of roughly $7 million, the DHCD provides support to a variety of organizations (such as Find Food Bank, Volunteers in Medicine, Coachella Valley Rescue Mission, etc.) that provide health and wellness services to residents in the current district—some 515 square miles of the western Coachella Valley, including Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage and the portion of Palm Desert west of Cook Street.

While a Riverside County property-tax allocation paid by all county residents helps fund the DHCD, it serves only this relatively limited portion of the county’s population. However, that is about to change.

In February 2016, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia—representing his eastern Coachella Valley constituency—introduced legislation, Assembly Bill 2414, mandating the DHCD to annex an additional 1,760 square miles of territory—and to provide health-care support to residents of eastern Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, Coachella, Bermuda Dunes, Mecca, Thermal, Oasis, North Shore and Vista Santa Rosa. The bill passed and was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2016.

Today, a concerted effort is underway to bring the vision of an expanded DHCD to fruition. The next important milestone: Having the voters of Coachella Valley approve the expansion by passing a measure. Spearheaded by DHCD CEO Herb Schultz and the health district’s board of directors, the “One Coachella Valley” approach, as CEO Schultz calls it, did not arrive at this point without struggle against resistance.

“This has been (the subject) of an ongoing conversation for about 15 years that, finally, required us to pass legislation to get to this point,” Garcia said. “Are you aware that this effort now underway could have been accomplished by the DHCD taking the initiative and applying to the Riverside County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to expand their territory? I hate to say this, but we almost had to force this issue via the legislation in order for us to get to where the voters can approve it in November.”

That struggle seems to have given way to a new spirit of mutual cooperation.

“The (DHCD) board’s focus, and the advocates’ focus, is squarely on getting this) on the ballot this year,” said Schultz, who has been the district’s CEO since late 2016.

But in order to accomplish that goal, a resolution offered by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors must be approved by LAFCO—and, LAFCO has indicated to the DHCD board that it would only support a proposal that was accompanied by a list of potential quantifiable funding sources.

The district has estimated it will need to increase its yearly budget by about $4 million in order to provide the new expanded territory with the same level of services it delivers to its current, smaller district. But so far, in the district’s search for increased revenue sources, it can only point to a generous, but limited, self-funding commitment: In late February, the DHCD board announced a $300,000 per year donation, which would last for a period of 20 years, equaling a total investment of $6 million. Will that be enough for LAFCO to sign off and allow the initiative to be placed on the ballot? “I can’t conjecture at this point what the LAFCO staff is going to say in its analysis,” Shultz said. “I can’t conjecture what the LAFCO commission is going to say when it gets to vote on that staff report.”

Garcia said the LAFCO commission’s opinions may not matter.

“In the law, LAFCO was stripped of its (ability) to deny the actual application,” Garcia said. “Therefore, their process is very procedurally driven. There is nothing in that process that can cause this application to be declined. So, what the job of both the Desert Healthcare District and Riverside County has been, is to identify a (single) funding source to get the DHCD expansion up and going. Given those circumstances, we believe now that, with the recent action taken by the DHCD (to allocate and accrue a self-funded total of $300,000 annually for 20 years), they’ve done that. They’ve identified a funding source—perhaps not the total amount that would be the ultimate operating budget of the expanded health care district, but it certainly is enough to get some programs up and going. And they’ve identified a series of other funding sources that would be able to augment the level of commitment that they’ve made. So, from all perspectives on this end, we are on track to meet the goals of the bill and to be able to give the voters of eastern Coachella Valley the opportunity to expand the health care district.”

Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said he expected the forward momentum toward the expansion to continue.

“We’re taking it step by step, or bite by bite, if you will,” Perez said. “The first thing we have to do is get this resolution through LAFCO. We’ve finally got the language down for the resolution. It’s going to go to LAFCO when they meet (potentially on April 26). We’re very committed to this effort. This is an ongoing struggle that goes back many years—and as a person growing up on the eastside (of Coachella Valley), I can say that obviously, the time has come.”

With all the parties coming together, it appears the objective of providing more inclusive health-care services throughout Coachella Valley may be within reach.

“There are no guarantees, obviously,” Schultz said. “But the important thing is that this process has brought together what we call the ‘One Coachella Valley’ approach. It’s not about the west, and it’s not about the east. It’s about the valley.”

Garcia said he’s confident things will work out.

“The reality is that, if and when the voters approve this expansion, the DHCD’s entire (current) $7 million annual operating budget will become part of the (new overall) DHCD operating budget. So it isn’t going to be that $7 million will be only for the west valley, while $300,000 is used for the east valley. It will be a budget that encompasses everything. … The desire to increase the budget in order to reach more people is the goal that’s on the minds of the DHCD leadership. I believe we’ll get there.”

Published in Local Issues

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