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Back on May 1, we wrote: “Welcome to May 2020—which should be one of the most fascinating months in American history.”

Well, May sure lived up to that statement, didn’t it?

It’s now May 29. Here in the Coachella Valley, retail stores, restaurants, some casinos and—as of this afternoon—some vacation rentals are again open for business. So far … so OK, I guess.

Nationally, however, the country is in crisis—but not because of COVID-19, though the virus remains as deadly as ever. No, the culprit is good ol’ fashioned police brutality and racism.

As of this writing, protests are continuing to grow in cities including Atlanta; Washington, D.C., Chicago; San Jose; and beyond, after rough nights last night in Minneapolis, Louisville and other cities.

I am hoping—naively, perhaps—that some good may eventually come out of this. Derek Chauvin—the Minneapolis police officer who we’ve all seen pinning down George Floyd on that awful video—has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Meanwhile, police leadership around the country is speaking out, swiftly and strongly, in condemnation of what we all saw on that video.

These are gut-wrenching times, for so many reasons. We, as a country, need to fight to make sure we come out of this better—because we need to be better.

If you agree with that statement—and I sure hope you do—it’s time to ask yourself: What am *I* going to do be better?

Today’s news links:

• The big local news of the day, as mentioned above: Riverside County announced that short-term rentals can resume taking reservations immediatelyalbeit with restrictions. While some cities, like Rancho Mirage, are continuing to restrict them, the city of Palm Springs has clarified that they are, in fact, now allowed in P.S. This is a welcome boost to the economy. As for what it means for COVID-19 … we’ll just have to wait and see.

• And now for the bad-if-unsurprising local economic news of the day: The August edition of Splash House is officially cancelled.

CVS has opened free drive-through testing sites in Coachella, Palm Springs, La Quinta and Indio. Here’s the list and the details.

Los Angeles has been given the go-ahead for retail, restaurants and barber shops/salons to reopen.

• Gov. Newsom today defended the surprisingly fast reopening processes taking place in much of the state. Key quote: “Localism is determinative. We put out the how; counties decide the when."

• Another stimulus/relief bill is in the works. But Mitch McConnell says this’ll be the last one. NPR explains.

• Meanwhile, in the middle of the world’s worst pandemic in 102 years, the most prosperous country on the planet is completely pulling out of the World Health Organization. At least that’s what the president said today, because—as we keep saying—NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE.

From Bloomberg News comes this astonishing lead: “One farm in Tennessee distributed COVID-19 tests to all of its workers after an employee came down with the virus. It turned out that every single one of its roughly 200 employees had been infected.”

• NBC News reports that during “the first media briefing from the CDC in more than two months”—and I will remind everyone that WE ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC—it was revealed that the coronavirus began its spread in the U.S. in late January, a month or so before anyone noticed.

• One of the keys to keeping the virus contained may be antigen tests. What are they, and how do they differ from the diagnostic tests you know about, and the antibody tests? The Conversation explains.

• Spending is way down, and savings is way up, according to CNBC: Americans who are fortunate enough to have cash are holding onto it.

That’s enough for the day! Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. Please consider helping us continue to do quality independent, local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent, if you can afford to do so. We’ll be back Monday, at the latest.

Published in Daily Digest

Vacation rentals are one of the most contentious issues in Palm Springs—and on June 5, voters in the city will decide on a measure that opponents say would effectively ban vacation rentals, if approved.

Measure C is the culmination of a battle that’s been brewing for more than a decade over short-term rentals, or STRs. The housing-market crash during the Great Recession created an STR boom in Palm Springs, as buyers both local and from out of town snapped up foreclosed-property bargains, and later turned them into vacation rentals.

The problem is that these homes—available for weekend getaways and short retreats through Airbnb and other services, and at times the sites of rather raucous parties—are intermingled with homes occupied by full- and part-time residents.

According to Rob Grimm, the campaign manager for Palm Springs Neighbors for Neighborhoods—the group that got Measure C placed on the June ballot—there are 1,986 units registered as vacation rentals and home shares, which hosted an estimated 467,000 visitors in 2017.

“This is an alarming number of strangers to be rotating in and out of unsupervised mini-hotels located in residential neighborhoods,” said Grimm.

However, city officials claim that the STR issue is under control, thanks to strict enforcement of the city’s newish vacation rental compliance ordinance.

“We are one of the only cities in California that has a dedicated Vacation Rental Compliance Department,” said Boris Stark, a vacation-rental code-compliance officer. “Our latest ordinance … was a collaboration among community stakeholders and city leadership. It addresses neighborhood concerns head-on.”

Stark said the department includes eight officers and two vehicles. I personally have seen VRC officers working, often late at night and on weekends, to enforce the city’s ordinance. (I wanted to go on a ride-along with Stark, but City Manager David Ready did not respond to my request.)

The city makes hefty revenues from the STRs.

“For fiscal year 2016-17, total (transient occupancy tax) dollars from vacation rentals was $7.58 million, and for 2017-18, we anticipate the same,” Stark said. “Vacation Rental Compliance issued over 430 citations for various violations in 2017.”

Grimm said no neighborhood in Palm Springs has been unaffected by STRs.

“The city has refused to entertain density limits on the number of STRs allowed in the city,” he said.

Measure C has attracted fierce opposition in the form of a coalition called We Love Palm Springs. According to Jeremy Ogul, the coalition’s media relations coordinator, opposition to the STR ban comes from groups including Vacation Rental Owners and Neighbors of Palm Springs, representing nearly 400 homeowners; the Palm Springs Hospitality Association, with about 200 hotels, restaurants and attraction venues in the city; the Palm Springs Regional Association of Realtors; and the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, among other groups.

“We oppose Measure C because of the devastating impact it would have on the Palm Springs economy,” said Nona Watson, CEO of the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, in a news release.

While a majority of vacation rentals are owned by people who are not residents of Palm Springs, local entrepreneurs have also invested in STRs. Athalie LaPamuk owns and manages two vacation rentals in the city. She also owns and operates Ice Cream and Shop(pe) at the Arrive Hotel.

“I often meet visitors at my vacation rental who are excited to plan a return trip to stay at the hotel, or guests at the hotel who want to come back and stay in a vacation rental,” LaPamuk said in a news release. “Those are some of the same people who end up moving here and starting businesses here. The point is that our city benefits from all this tourism activity.”

Both sides fervently believe they are acting in the city’s best interests.

“It is time for the residents of Palm Springs to decide what their neighborhoods should look like,” Grimm said.

Published in Local Issues