CVIndependent

Sat02242018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Kevin Fitzgerald

On Saturday, March 19—after a spirited men’s semifinal match in which eventual 2016 PNB Paribas Open champion Novak Djokovic defeated longtime rival Rafael Nadal—two local Coachella Valley High School students joined Jean Yves-Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas North America, on the Stadium 1 show court.

Brianda Beltran and Miguel Alvarez, winners of the inaugural BNP Paribas Annual College Scholarship Award, each received recognition for their accomplishments—both on the tennis courts playing for their Coachella Valley High School team, and in the classroom.

“We’ve been supporting this tournament since 2009,” Fillion told the Independent after the ceremony. “I myself have had the privilege to be here pretty much every year. I know it’s a wonderful tournament. You have superstars, but you get to know the people when you come eight years in a row. (At BNP Paribas), we felt, I felt, we are all part of a community. It’s one thing to say you want to be part of a community, but it’s another thing to do it. We felt this scholarship program supporting students was actually a very sincere and truthful way to do it and not to just say it.”

Each year starting this year, one male and one female senior student/tennis player will be selected from local valley high schools to receive a $15,000 scholarship to help support their college educations.

We asked Fillion if it was a rigorous selection process. “Very, very,” he replied. “When I went to the school yesterday (Coachella Valley High, in Thermal), what I told the students there was I was actually impressed and moved by many of these applications. But this being like life, you always have winners. Obviously, Brianda and Miguel happen to be excellent.

“Tennis was an important factor, and these two students are excellent tennis players who play in public schools, but it was also academic. It was maturity and leadership. When you look at what Miguel and Brianda have done beyond just being very good tennis players and (helping) the team, it’s very nice.”

Brianda said she embraced tennis with academics in mind.

“My friends told me, ‘Oh, you should join tennis, because you’re going to need this when you’re applying to college, and it looks good on your resume,’” she said. “I hadn’t done a sport in awhile, so I went to practice, and I stayed there, and I did it and did it. Eventually, it did help me, because I received the BNP Paribas scholarship. So I don’t think I could be anymore grateful.”

Miguel said he started playing tennis when he was a sophomore.

“I started because my coach, Larry Salas, who is also a counselor at my high school, mentioned the importance of academics in being at school and activities like being in clubs, extracurriculars, community service and volunteer work, too. Also … he said, ‘What sport are you planning on playing in high school?’ I honestly never considered myself an aggressive-enough person for most other sports. I considered golf and tennis. Since he was the tennis coach, he asked me to go practice one day with them—and I loved the sport. That two-hour practice on that one day was it for me.”

Both student-athletes said they don’t anticipate playing tennis seriously beyond high school—although the sport will remain part of their lives.

“Since I was introduced to the sport when I was already 15 or 16 years old, my hope is that my kids are able to start when they are little so they can be pros,” Brianda said. “I hope to play in my free time and when I come back home in the summer. Obviously, I want to help the incoming freshmen or meet up with the girls I’ve played tennis with.”

As for Miguel? “I’m really going to focus on getting the best education I can and getting the best out of school. But I will continue to play tennis recreationally. I guess if I could make the college tennis team, I wouldn’t deny that opportunity.”

How will the scholarship money impact their college aspirations? “Both my parents came here to look for a better job, so they didn’t finish college,” Brianda said. “So I really want to get my bachelor’s in psychology and minor in communications. Then I want to get my master’s, and my dad says he’d be really, really proud of me if I got my doctorate, which I’d be willing to do.”

Miguel shared a similar story.

“When my parents came to America, they always hoped for us to live the American Dream, where we would find success and where we would work hard to be somebody in this world,” he said. “Now I want to enter USC (where he’s been accepted) as a business major and attend their world-business program, where I would attend USC for two years, spend one year in Hong Kong, and a year in Milan.”

As things came to a close, Miguel had one last message: “Just for the record, I do have something I want to say. Where we live, in Coachella … it’s a little sad that in our entire city, the only courts that we have to play on are the ones at our school. I know that in other cities here in the valley, like La Quinta or Palm Desert, most of their parks have tennis courts here, there, everywhere. So if anyone really wanted to play tennis in our community, it’s very limited, considering that the only courts are at our school.”

Sounds like the young man thought of another community project worthy of the attention of PNB Paribas and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

The second and final week of Coachella Valley’s prestigious BNP Paribas Open typically delivers sharp tennis play and competitive drama as sports media and fans around the world focus on the on-court action.

This year, that unfortunately was not the case.

As Sunday’s first match began, hopes ran high that top-ranked Serena Williams would reclaim the championship she last captured in 2001. But a curiously subdued and somber Williams offered little resistance to No. 8 Victoria Azarenka’s determined if less-than-dominating performance. With 33 unforced errors, Williams squandered a multitude of break-point opportunities throughout both sets. Even so, she did manage a short-lived comeback in the second set before succumbing to now second-time BNP Paribas champion Azarenka in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.

That set the scene for heavily favored and top-ranked Novak Djokovic to take on No. 12 Milos Raonic of Canada. Despite plenty of Canadians in the stands to offer support, Raonic could never gain an advantage in the match. He underperformed throughout, committing 27 unforced errors while managing a mere four aces with his vaunted serving game. As the second set began, he left the court for an elongated injury play stoppage, and when he returned, he lost every game in a convincing 6-2, 6-0 Djokovic win.

But by far, the biggest unforced error of the strange day went to none other than Raymond Moore, the BNP Paribas Open tournament director and CEO. At a morning news conference, Moore was asked about prospects of elevating his tournament to the status of a fifth major title for the pros. Saying that the men’s tour was on board for that opportunity, he then offered this evaluation of the WTA and the women’s tour players: “In my next life, when I come back, I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don’t make any decisions, and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky,” he said.

Moore continued: “If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.”

Both Azarenka and Williams expressed their displeasure with Moore’s remarks during post-match interviews. “Why do you have to make the comment? Who cares?” Azarenka asked rhetorically. “I mean, if that makes that person feel better or bigger or whatever, it’s a pretty sad person.”

Williams said, “Obviously I don’t think any woman should be down on her knees thanking anybody like that. If I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister … you know, I couldn’t even bring up that number.”

When asked if she thought there might be a misunderstanding regarding how people were interpreting Moore’s comments, Williams replied, “Well, if you read the transcript, you can only interpret it one way. I speak very good English. I’m sure he does, too.”

Later in the day, Moore had the BNP Paribas public relations staff issue a statement on his behalf which stated, “At my morning breakfast with the media, I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous. I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole. We had a women’s final today that reflects the strength of the players, especially Serena and Victoria, and the entire WTA. Again, I am truly sorry for my remarks."

(Update: Moore resigned on Monday, March 21.)

With all of Sunday’s controversy and uncharacteristically tepid competition, it would be easy to overlook some of the sparkling play that took place earlier in Week 2. Arguably the best tennis of the entire tournament was played on Wednesday, in the round of 16 match between No. 5 Rafael Nadal and No. 52 Alexander Zverev. Perennial fan favorite Nadal defeated the 18-year-old German phenom, who had thrilled crowds with upset wins over Grigor Dimitrov and Gilles Simon, both Top 25 players. Stadium 1 was packed for their battle, and the crowd roared throughout in appreciation of the competitive fire displayed by both players in the 6-7, 6-0, 7-5 Nadal comeback victory.

As the 2016 edition of the BNP Paribas Open got under way last week at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, two topics dominated the conversations of players, the media and fans alike: Maria Sharapova’s recent alleged doping infraction (leading to her absence) and the return of Venus Williams after a 15 year boycott of the tournament where she enjoyed some of her earliest career triumphs.

Two-time defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic told the media he was sympathetic regarding Sharapova’s situation. “I know that she has always been very responsible and aware toward herself, toward the sport—very disciplined, very … hard working, hard-working ethics, and (she) loves what she does.

“I thought she was very courageous, and it was very human, brave of her, to go out and take the responsibility and say what has happened. She did admit that she made a mistake with her team. But certainly if there was a mistake, and if she was caught to be positive on doping for a certain substance, then there should be certain kind of consequences for that.”

Consequences seemed to be on Venus Williams’ mind as she stepped back into the Tennis Garden surroundings.

“I think when (Serena) came back, it wasn't an easy decision. You never know what was going to happen,” Venus said regarding her sister’s return to Indian Wells last year. “But she had so much courage to do so. It made it so easy for me. I felt like when I came out here, I was able to focus on the tennis and not on, ‘Oh, my gosh, what’s gonna happen?’”

What did happen when she finally set foot on the Stadium 1 show court for her Friday, March 11, match? A standing ovation that lasted several minutes.

“Yeah, I did get emotional,” Venus Williams said. “When we were doing the coin toss, I got a little watery eyed. Your opponent—you don't want to give them any more encouragement. It was wonderful. I think I smiled the whole warm-up. I had to get my game face on. It was tough to do.”

Shortly after the start of her first match, against 89th-ranked Kurumi Nara of Japan, the wind kicked up, and a burst of rain rolled across the Tennis Gardens grounds, blowing objects around. The storm chased players off all the courts—and it’s possible the disruption contributed to Venus’ early exit from this year’s tournament: She would go on to be upset, 6-4, 6-3.

“The crowd rooted me on because it was a tough day and tough conditions and brutal out there,” a positive Venus Williams remarked in her post-match media conference. “It was wonderful to feel the love. You know, I would love to come on back.”

As the winds dissipate and the second week of play gets under way, all five of the top-seeded men are still alive (including No. 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Andy Murray, No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, No. 4 Rafael Nadal and No. 5 Kei Nishikori), while just three of the top 5 women (No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 5/defending champ Simona Halep) are moving ahead. 

Wednesday, March 9, was a beautiful day in many ways at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

At 9 a.m., under brilliant blue skies, long-estranged Women’s Tennis Association champion Venus Williams made her first official appearance at the tournament since 2001. She took to Practice Court 1 to begin her preparations for her first match, which will take place on Friday, March 11. Before only a dozen onlookers—only members of the media and security guards—Venus worked on her game. She seemed anxious and a bit surly; while casting surreptitious gazes at the few strangers present, she maintained a serious expression.

At 10 a.m., as her workout entered its second hour, the gates to the grounds opened up for fans—and a crowd of spectators quickly formed around her court. She worked out in brief spurts, taking frequent breaks to rest in the shade, talk on her phone or grab sustenance from a Whole Foods shopping bag she brought with her. During one of those breaks, as the stands filled, she looked around and caught sight of a young girl holding a sign that read: “Welcome Back Venus!”

A smile broke across her face.

As she returned to the court for more work, a healthy round of applause spilled out from the gathered fans.

The tension had been broken. She laughed, and it was pretty clear she was starting feel comfortable at the site of some of her earliest career victories.

Later, when she left the practice court, she walked across the great green area where players regularly congregate for impromptu soccer matches, calisthenics or other activities. Dogged by the ever-present photographers (present company included), she seemed a bit guarded, but then veered off to a crowd of autograph-seekers behind the fence, where she spent a few minutes signing and chatting. Then she was off again.

The final surprise sighting of the newly returned Venus Williams came at the start of her sister Serena’s practice session, around 12:30 p.m. As Serena, the current top-ranked WTA ranked player, laced up her tennis shoes and talked to her entourage, Venus appeared on the court to greet her sister. They spent 10 to 15 minutes together, laughing, dancing and talking with Serena’s guru-in-residence, Patrick Mouratoglou.

With a kiss and a smile Venus left. But make no mistake: She seems happy to be back, and regardless of the ill will from 15 years ago, her fans are happy, too.

With the trauma of the Dec. 2, 2015, mass shooting in nearby San Bernardino fresh in their minds, Simon Moore—the lead adviser of the Coachella Valley High School Health Academy and Health Occupation Students of America—and his students began planning a community outreach program.

Kimberly Bravo, a senior at the Thermal high school and the captain of the CVHS HOSA community awareness team, noted in a news release announcing the forum that mass shootings have taken countless innocent lives.

“Later, we find out that the people committing these shootings suffer (or suffered) from various types of mental health issues. The question we ask ourselves is, ‘Why didn’t anyone hear these individuals’ cries for help?’” she said.

At the forum, Bravo, her fellow students and the members of the public who attended learned that the premise of the forum was flawed: Most people who carry out mass shootings don’t make cries for help—because they aren’t mentally ill.

“Not all of these shootings are based on mental illness,” said Desert Hot Springs Chief of Police Dale Mondary, one of the panel participants, who worked in San Bernardino before taking his newish job in the desert. “I’d say the majority probably are not. It could be political causes, or religious ideology or some sort of family-relationship issue.”

The fairly well-attended forum attracted a distinguished group of prominent local and national professionals and politicians, all with their own perspectives on the theme.

“Everyone who we invited showed up—and, I mean, that’s just amazing,” Moore said after the forum. “We asked Dale Mondary, the chief of police from Desert Hot Springs, because he’s a new guy to the area who came from San Bernardino. State Representative Chad Mayes, who is a Republican, just showed up and said, ‘Let’s talk.’ And we’re not even in his district. Also we got Supervisory Special Agent Colin Schmitt from the FBI (who was lead incident commander during command post operation for investigating the San Bernardino shootings). And given the acclaim that attendee Dr. James Fox receives among law enforcement as a profiler in the U.S., it was really cool to get him.”

Fox (pictured below) is a professor and interim director at the School of Criminology at Northeastern University who has appeared on numerous television shows, writes a regular column in USA Today and has been called on for his expert opinions by the U.S. Congress, several attorneys general, President Bill Clinton and Princess Anne of Great Britain, among others.

The panel covered numerous topics over the course of the discussion, which lasted more than 90 minutes—and the hard link between mental illness and mass shootings was not the only myth debunked at the forum.

“There’s one tiny flaw in all the theories as to why there’s been an increase in mass shootings in the United States, and that is the fact that there has not been an increase in mass shootings over the past several decades,” Fox said. “Now, I don’t mean to minimize the pain and suffering of all those who have been victimized in these attacks. But the facts say clearly that there has been no epidemic.”

He offered an array of statistics to support this stance.

That position not withstanding, student co-moderator Sergio Ortega asked, “With the growing number of mass shootings in public spaces, what do you think is the root cause of these incidents?”

“In the cases of shootings in public places which are the rarest, maybe 5 or 6 a year,” Dr. Fox said, “they are the ones where mental illness is most likely to emerge. These individuals have a paranoid sense that the whole world is evil or the government is corrupt, and they really don’t care who they kill as long as they kill as many people as possible.”

Schmitt mentioned that shooters often put a lot of thought into where they make their attack.

“Between 2000 and 2013, there were 160 active shooter instances, and 46 percent of them took place in areas that were open to pedestrian traffic. Obviously, it’s unlikely that we’d have an incident like this at an FBI building which is full of armed agents. If somebody is looking to kill lots of people, they are going to go somewhere where there is not a lot of law enforcement.”

After the forum, we asked Moore if he was surprised by the expert opinions that seemed to undermine the basic premise behind the forum.

“No. They knew the discussion was about violence in relation to mental health,” he said. “Dr. Fox’s finding is that most of those shooters are not mentally ill. He told us that among people who commit mass shootings, less than 12 percent have had mental health issues. And Chief Mondary has a specialty of combating crime rather than profiling. I think it was great that they both spoke from their experience with the public.”

So what’s next for the students who were involved in this public-awareness exercise?

“Now it’s time to get the word out,” Moore stated. “When we had a debriefing with the student organizers, I asked if most people who carry out mass shootings have mental health issues, and everyone in the room said, ‘No.’”

On June 7, Coachella Valley voters will go to the polls to cast their votes in the California primary—and the Republican Party is going all-out to reclaim the 36th Congressional District seat, currently held by Dr. Raul Ruiz, a Democrat.

So far, two Republicans have declared their intentions to take on Ruiz (who did not return repeated requests for comment for this story).

“When I entered the field, there was no Republican who had thrown their hat into this race and stayed in the race,” novice candidate Dwight Kealy told Independent. “We’re looking at a district where a strong Republican should have a good showing. Historically, it’s been a Republican district.”

That historical advantage was altered dramatically in 2012, when Ruiz, then a novice candidate himself, upset heavily favored Republican incumbent Mary Bono Mack in a tight race. In 2014, Ruiz won re-election, handily beating Brian Nestande.

“Right now, there’s a pretty likable Democrat in office, quite frankly,” Kealy admitted. “He’s from the district, and he obviously appeals to the Latino vote as well.

“(The Republicans) needed someone with a good story, so I was encouraged to explore this opportunity. I talked to a bunch of people throughout the district and introduced myself, and they were excited about it. I talked to the state leadership and at the national level to the Republican Party. They all seemed really excited.”

But not long after Kealy had committed, 24-year political veteran Jeff Stone, currently serving in the state Senate, made public his intention to challenge Dr. Ruiz as well. (Shortly after this story was published, Kealy announced he was dropping out of the race.)

“When the paperwork becomes available, we’ll expeditiously acquire the general-nomination papers and get them filled out,” Stone said. “We’ll get 40 registered voters in the district to sign those, which should not require much of an effort, and we’ll get them filed, and we will be officially in the race.”

Stone said he has been working hard to gather endorsements and raise funds for his likely battle against Ruiz, who already has $1.5 million in the bank for his campaign.

Is Stone concerned how voters will react to his decision to run for national office less than halfway into his four-year term as a state senator?

“I have to balance my responsibilities as a state senator, which are going to come first,” he said. “I’ll use what spare time I have to get into the district and talk to constituents—and, of course, you’ve got to be able to raise money to get your message out. So we have roughly 10 fundraisers that are planned between now and June at various areas of the district, in the state of California, and some that will actually be outside of California.”

Stone said his decision to jump into the congressional race resulted from a string of unexpected occurrences, beginning last March, when he made a trip to Washington, D.C.

“I went there to hear Benjamin Netanyahu and to show that there were a number of us in the country who did not believe the Iran deal was a good deal,” said Stone, “and also to lobby members of Congress to not support that deal the president was proposing with Iran. I walked the halls of Congress and met with our state delegation, including Dr. Raul Ruiz. While we were sitting with Dr. Ruiz, he made it very clear he was going to stand with Israel. I walked away from that meeting, just as many people did, thinking he was not going to support this horrific deal.”

But according to Stone, Ruiz broke his word when he ultimately voted to support the deal.

“He got a message from (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi that he had to support the president of the United States, and he was pretty much told what to do, and he flip-flopped on the vote. I was so disappointed, because that rarely has happened in the 24 years I’ve been an elected official, that somebody would make such a major policy shift on such an important issue, namely national security.”

Stone wrote a “Valley Voice” piece for The Desert Sun, voicing his opposition to the nuclear deal, last September.

“After that, I was getting phone calls and emails from people saying, ‘Senator Stone, where do we sign up? And where do send funds?’ And I said, ‘Well, what are you talking about?’ And they said, ‘Aren’t you running for Congress?’ I said, ‘I’m not running for Congress.’”

In November, Stone said, he returned to Washington, D.C., to lobby for federal assistance for his California district, and encountered two longtime Republican congressmen from California, Darrell Issa and Ken Calvert.

“‘You know Jeff, we really need you to get into this race,’” Stone recalled them telling him. “‘This is a race that’s about 50-50 Democrat-Republican. And frankly, Dr. Ruiz has been in Congress now long enough that he has a record that can be scrutinized. … So we’re asking you to step up to the plate.”

Although Stone has been in his state Senate seat for less than two years, he also has a voting record that is scrutinized by some groups. For instance, the California League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club California and the California Teachers Association all gave Stone unfavorable ratings for the votes he cast in 2015 on legislative matters affecting their interests.

On the other hand, the National Rifle Association gave him high marks for the votes he cast.

“There are many things that will show a dramatic difference between Dr. Ruiz and myself,” Stone said. “People will have a clear choice on one ideology and vision for our country or another. I look forward to challenging Dr. Ruiz to a series of debates. I’m hoping we can get five debates in before the primary (June 7) so that the wonderful constituents of the Coachella Valley and the Hemet Valley and the Idyllwild area will have an opportunity to vet both of us.”

How did first-in candidate Dwight Kealy responding to Stone’s candidacy before dropping out?

“The goal has been to have the best Republican candidate. So if every one in the Republican Party and all the groups get together and say, ‘Hey, Dwight, Stone’s better than you, and we’re not giving you any money or any votes,’ then this would be a horrible hobby to spend my next six months doing.”

Play began in this year’s Coachella Valley PGA tournament stop—formerly known as the Bob Hope Classic, more recently as the Humana Challenge, and now as the CareerBuilder Challenge—on Thursday, Jan. 21.

Tour pros teed off at the La Quinta Country Club (the only layout to return from last year’s competitive three courses), the Nicklaus Tournament Course and, most surprisingly, the TPC Stadium Course. Players took on this challenging 18 holes for the first time—and, until this year, the last time—in tour competition in 1987.

It’s fair to say quite a bit has changed in the pro-golf world in the interim—much of it fueled by the impressive amount of money at stake. In 2016, the total purse for the entire tour season is roughly $330 million. Also, the simple game of golf—hit a ball with a well-manufactured but twisted stick until you knock it into a hole—now generates some $3.4 billion annually in consumer revenue in the U.S. alone. This gold mine has given rise to lucrative commercial-sponsorship opportunities

For each well-sponsored pro, every Thursday marks the first day of competition for that week’s tour stop—and it also signals the day they have to acquiesce to a skilled inspection by Palm Desert resident Buff White and his colleagues at the Darrell Survey Company.

“When people read golf magazines, and there’s a statement of fact regarding golf equipment and accessories—like a company says, ‘We have the No. 1 wedge on tour,’ or ‘the No. 1 fairway wood,’ then it would have to be verified by a third party, which is the Darrell Survey Company,” White said during an interview at the TPC Stadium Course this week. “We’ve been doing that since 1933.”

White, who became a permanent resident of Woodhaven Country Club in 2010 but traveled 46 weeks for the job last year, has been going through pro and amateur golfers’ bags on the first tee of every tournament’s first day of competition for 29 years.

“We check the equipment that the players are actually using to make sure that they are living up to their sponsorship contracts,” White said. “And, for the PGA, we’re making sure that nobody has illegal equipment in the bag, or too many clubs, or if they’re breaking any PGA regulations.”

Since the Coachella Valley stop comes so early in the calendar year, it presents special challenges to these PGA compliance representatives.

“For the first four events in January of each year, equipment changes like crazy,” White said. “These guys have had a few weeks off, so they’ve been able to practice with new golf balls, new wedges, new putters and new drivers, and everybody is always tweaking their equipment a little bit. This tournament is always tough, because you have amateurs playing, and the manufacturers always want to know what clubs are in their bags as well. But the amateurs sometimes don’t know what’s in their bag, so that makes it really tough, because they may have too many clubs, or they’ve got seven hybrids—and it’s a little bit disconcerting.”

What are the ramifications of these last-minute survey inspections? Is any corrective or punitive action taken right there and then as players are about to start?

“Sometimes, but usually nothing happens right then,” White said. “We’re not there to get into their heads. They know if they’re trying to use an illegal club, and sometimes they’ll do weird things. Like sometimes, they’ll tee off without a driver in their bag, and they’ll leave it on the third-hole tee box and pick it up when they get there. Or a guy will (think), ‘I’m under contract with company “X,” but I don’t want to play that driver,’ so they’ll show you the right driver, and then they’ll go pull a different one out of the starter’s tent on the first tee. So we’re always on our toes and looking for that guy who’s trying to figure out a way to get around the rules or his deal obligations.”

On rare occasions, though, if a player blatantly flouts the regulations, he could be penalized strokes or be disqualified from the tournament.

“Usually, other players will rat a guy out” said White with a chuckle. “If they think one of the guys is spinning the ball like crazy, they’ll go to a rules official and say, ‘We want you to look at this guy’s wedges,’ and the official would go right to the player and tell him that they need to verify the grooves on the club face.”

When White approached the bag of fan favorite Phil Mickelson on the first tee at the La Quinta Country Club on yesterday’s first day of play, you could read tension in the exchange between White and Phil’s caddy, whose nickname is Bones. (See the first picture below.)

“Phil doesn’t change anything in his bag usually very much, and Bones, his caddy, isn’t the easiest guy to deal with at times,” White said afterward. “He makes the tee box seem like it’s his office space, and it’s not like a golf course to him. So when he’s done with you, he’s done with you. But Phil had made a lot of changes today, which, like I said, he normally doesn’t make. But Bones was courteous enough to say ‘OK, did you get it all?’ Phil asked me the same thing. So, it took me right up to the last second, but, yeah, I got it all. It was all right.”

So, too, should be this year’s PGA Career Builder Challenge, which wraps up on Sunday, Jan. 24.

In the United States, 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute of every day on average, according to a 2015 National Coalition Against Domestic Violence report. That equates to more than 10 million victims annually.

While there was a steady decline in the number of incidents reported in California from 2005 to 2012, the last two years for which statistics are available have seen increases, according to the California Department of Justice. In 2014, the nine cities of the Coachella Valley recorded 1,317 domestic-violence incidents; more than 20 percent involved the use of a weapon. On average, that works out to just less than four reported incidents per day in our valley—where Shelter From the Storm (SFTS) provides one of the only sources of hope to frightened and often desperate victims and their families.

“There’s a high need, and we’re still the only provider out here,” said executive director Angelina Coe during an interview in her office, located in a strip mall surrounded by a commercial area of Palm Desert. “The demand is there, but it’s a question of getting people to come in for help. It’s about the stigma of being in a shelter, which is still very negative. The fear factor involved in leaving the cycle of domestic violence, and leaving safely, has an impact on people coming into shelter.”

Coe has worked in the nonprofit, family-services, domestic-violence and homelessness-services sectors for almost 20 years, and came to SFTS in October 2012.

“These are not the easiest type of shelters to run, because you have to consider safety and security,” Coe asserted. “You have women with their children who are in serious need, and their resources are limited, because most of them do not have an income and won’t be able to establish an income in a 60-day time span (which is the normal period permitted for transitional housing assistance). They don’t have any skill sets, because they were young when they got married or got into the abusive relationship. They don’t have any family support system, because there’s a lot of fear and intimidation.

“You have to deal with their medical issues that result from being physically abused, and there are mental-health issues that come from being verbally and psychologically abused for years, and the trauma that happens to the children. It’s not that victims are choosing to stay because they don’t want to leave; it’s just harder to leave because their life is at risk: ‘I’ll kill you if you ever tell the police,’ or, ‘If you leave me, you won’t make it another night,’ or, ‘I’ll take the children away from you,’ or, ‘No one will believe you,’ or, ‘I’ll have you deported,’ which has become a big threat with many of our undocumented victims.

“There are often drugs and alcohol involved—not just on the abuser’s part, but the victims are forced into usage as a means for them to be kept under control. Also, the victims worry about the uncertainty: ‘What happens after I go to the shelter?’ ‘How am I going to live?’ ‘How am I going to provide for my family?’ ‘How am I going to provide for myself?’ ‘At least he (or the abuser) gives us a home. It’s not safe … but it’s a home.’ The victims kind of learn to live around the abuse: ‘OK, don’t do this so he won’t get angry, or if he is angry, do this so that he’ll de-escalate.’ ‘Wear certain things to avoid the injuries being more serious.’ The children become buffers sometimes.”

As if trying to protect and resuscitate the lives of victims isn’t hard enough work, SFTS is being forced to do more with less: Last year, SFTS saw a major portion of its funding abruptly cancelled.

“We lost our critical $150,000 in funding from (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) this past August, because their priorities changed, and they were no longer funding transitional housing programs. Instead, their focus was more on permanent housing solutions for homeless people in our society,” Coe said. “That was a devastating cut for us, but we were able to reach out to the community, and we received donations of about $40,000 which helped us to get through to the end of last year.”

The shortfall did lead to a cut in services in 2016, however.

“Our transitional, longer-term housing program, where victims and their families could be housed by SFTS for up to two years, was discontinued as of Dec. 31,” Coe said. “Fortunately, the families we did have in that program at the time were able to move onto permanent housing, so they are stable and moving forward, and remain connected with us for community counseling and outreach services if they need.”

Thankfully, some additional funding is arriving this year.

“We got an increase in our California (Governor’s) Office of Emergency Services funding, and that’s helping to supplement a lot of the overhead expenditures at our shelter, although we have downsized some,” Coe said. “But our main priority is to continue to provide quality care for the women and children and deal with their healing process which we’re doing through our hotline, our crisis shelter and our community counseling and community outreach. All those core services are still going and flourishing and fully funded for the majority of the year ahead.”

What is the status on the housing front? “We do still have our emergency shelter where victims and their families can stay for up to 60 days, and if we have a family that’s in need of longer-term housing, we can work with that family on a temporary transitional basis at that shelter as well. Then we work with other out-of-town facilities that … have longer term housing.”

The 22-person full-time SFTS staff has its hands full. So what can community members do to help?

“We very much appreciate monetary donations,” Coe said. “… And there are also donations of goods that we are always in need of and appreciate receiving.”

For more information or to donate, call 760-674-0400; visit www.shelterfromthestorm.com; or send mail to 73550 Alessandro Drive, Suite 103, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

The annual Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Awards Gala provides a cadre of A-list film actors and directors with oddly titled awards for their trophy cases—along with a low-stress, fun night in Palm Springs, the “home away from L.A.” for many celebrities.

This year’s honorees at the Saturday, Jan. 2, gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center included Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, Bryan Cranston, Michael Fassbender, Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Saoirse Ronan, Alicia Vikander, Rooney Mara and Tom McCarthy.

The 11-day festival proudly presents a broad gamut of films within nearly every genre, produced both here and abroad; some of these films receive little or no viewership in the commercial marketplace otherwise. In contrast, the celebrity cast of honorees and presenters—Michael Keaton, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Ridley Scott were among the latter this year—as usual included a host of attention-grabbing nominees for the rapidly approaching major award season in Los Angeles. This proven strategy creates fund-raising fodder for the mix of industry players and local philanthropists who pay to get inside the Convention Center event. This year, more than $2 million was raised to support the year-round community service and film appreciation activities of the Palm Springs International Film Society, organizers said.

However, for me, the night proved to be a bust. While larger national media sources received prime space on the red carpet, the stars—most of whom were accompanied by a phalanx of PR representatives—were quickly whisked past those of us at the very end of the carpet where media outlets not offering national outreach were banished. (As for photos … the Independent was denied a photo credential, period … hence the mediocre smart-phone pics below.)

Special recognition was earned by Mr. Depp, who took time to amble at a leisurely pace, offering smiles and a couple of mumbled responses to urgently proffered inquiries.

In summation, I offer, for your enjoyment, a few freeze-frame stills and a brief video I shot to prove that I did, in fact, cover the event.

Enjoy. 

As the calendar turns from 2015 to 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown and his Sacramento conservation team are pleased with the results of California’s statewide drought-emergency restrictions.

However, they’re not happy with the efforts of Coachella Valley’s largest water agencies—despite significant cuts in local water usage.

“Californians have reduced water use by 27.1 percent in the five months since emergency conservation regulations took effect in June,” wrote Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), in her Dec. 1 monthly press release. “In October, when outdoor water use—and the opportunity for significant savings—typically drops off from the hot summer months, the statewide conservation rate was 22.2 percent, down from 26.4 percent in September. Adding to the challenge, October brought temperatures that were well above normal for most of the state. Nonetheless, average statewide water use declined from 97 gallons per person per day in September to 87 in October.”

Meanwhile, representatives of the Coachella Valley’s two major water agencies expressed pride over their customers’ conservation achievements—and frustration with SWRCB delays in addressing multiple requests for reductions in their state-high 36 percent reduction targets, and the lack of transparency in the state’s process to levy onerous fines against them.

“I think our customers have done a really good job,” said Heather Engel, the director of communication and conservation for the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD), which provides water to most of the eastern valley. “We’re averaging 27 percent savings over 2013, and honestly, that’s pretty impressive. But—and unfortunately, there is a ‘but’—that 27 percent is not enough to make the state happy.

“We were fined $61,000 by the state, because they don’t think our customers are doing enough. It was very disappointing to receive that fine, because I think we’re doing a good job. But we’ve got to move on.”

How often may fines be levied? “They haven’t made that clear. In fact, when they released the October numbers at the beginning of this month, they did not announce any new fines. I don’t think anyone knows when to expect another announcement of fines.”

On the western end of the valley, Ashley Hudgens, the Desert Water Agency (DWA) public information officer, expressed concern over the CVWD fine and a similar fine levied against the Indio Water Authority (IWA). So far, the DWA has avoided a penalty.

“The hard thing about this is that the state’s action here is kind of arbitrary,” Hudgens said. “If you look at Indio, and you look at CVWD, there are very different circumstances there. Each of them had very different levels of contact with the state before the fine, and there wasn’t a real pattern (of which agencies the state fined). We crunched the numbers a dozen ways: Was it suppliers who missed their targets by volume, or was it those who missed by gallons per capita, or was it those who missed their target by percentage? There was no rhyme or reason necessarily to link the people the state chose to fine in any of the calculations that we did. So we don’t know if we’re in peril of a fine.”

Repeated attempts to contact Brian Macy, general manager of the IWA, for comment were unsuccessful.

Hudgens reiterated the DWA’s disagreement with the 36 percent reduction target assigned to the agency.

“The 36 percent target in our minds is arbitrary, and it’s disproportionate to the circumstances here (high average temperature and lack of rainfall) and our (existing) water supply,” she said.

Hudgens also praised her agency’s customer base for achieving a cumulative savings through October of 29.2 percent—above the state average, but below the state’s mandate to the DWA.

“I’m incredibly proud of our customers for doing that, but there is still more to do,” she said. “Everybody needs to do their part. I think the city of Palm Springs has set an incredible example. They’ve done a really good job of conserving—and since they’re our biggest customer, that’s been huge for us.”

In response to the state fine, the CVWD implemented heightened restrictions as of Dec. 1. All residential and commercial customers are now prohibited from any outdoor irrigation on Mondays and Thursdays. Also, penalty fees for exceeding water-usage allotments have increased close to 100 percent.

“In the cooler months that we’re entering now, your landscaping doesn’t need water seven days a week,” Engel said. “The plan is for people who don’t normally cut back to do so for these two out of seven days. If they do, then they are reducing their water use by about 28 percent. If we have a large segment of customers who do that, it could have a significant impact on our overall savings. We don’t know for sure if that will generate enough savings to allow us to reach our 36 percent target, but we’ll see what the results are.”

We’ve all heard forecasts predicting heavy precipitation due to a strong El Nino condition in the Pacific Ocean. Could that break the drought and relieve the pressure on valley residents to limit every drop of water they use?

“We’re waiting to see what happens and how it impacts our reality,” CVWD’s Engel said. “If the state gets a lot of rain, and if the lakes get full, and there’s snow in the Sierras, then the state might lift the drought emergency. But it would require a lot of rain and snow for that to happen.”

They’re also in wait-and-see mode at the DWA.

“We are trying to be cautiously optimistic and remind people that even if we do have a wet winter, it’s going to take a lot to get us into a sustainable level in terms of the state’s aquifers,” Hudgens said.

Speaking of sustainable levels: How are the two largest valley agencies coping with the revenue shortfalls caused by the reduction in water usage by their customers?

“We are still experiencing a large drop in revenue because of the conservation, and it is mostly being made up with penalties revenue each month,” the CVWD’s Engel said. “So that has allowed us to only dip into our reserves a little bit each month. As a result, we’re in really good shape financially, because we have those healthy reserves.”

But at the DWA, there are no penalty fees, nor is there a tiered rate structure as part of a conservation strategy.

“We are in a revenue shortfall situation,” Hudgens said. “Before this year began, we adjusted the budget downward since we assumed this is where we would be—so we’re coping with it. We are going to have to look at rates, and I think that’s on everyone’s mind out here. I think all the local water agencies are going to be looking at rates. I would guess probably sometime in 2016 we will see a rate study. Of course, that’s up to our board of directors.”