CVIndependent

Tue11202018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Kevin Fitzgerald

Despite last weekend’s helpful storms, it’s a fact: There’s a water shortage in California.

Depending on your news source, we’re told that the state is suffering either through its worst drought ever, the worst since the 1880s, or—at the least—the worst in the last 15 years.

“Not only was 2013 one of the driest years on record in California; it followed two dry years in 2011 and 2012,” said Craig Ewing, the Desert Water Agency’s president of the board, during his opening remarks at a recent DWA public workshop regarding water conservation and management.

Concern is highest in communities farther north, like Santa Barbara, where water restrictions mandated by a Stage 1 drought alert were initiated on Feb. 4. Customers there are being asked to reduce water usage by 20 percent. But even as such measures are being taken, some projections say that available water resources for that city could run out as early as July. “I am not calm and collected,” said Ray Stokes, manager of the Central Coast Water Authority, the agency responsible for importing state water into Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, to the Santa Barbara Independent.

Here in the Coachella Valley, the news is comparatively good news for Desert Water Agency customers. The agency serves customers in Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs. “We have underground storage called the aquifer here,” explained Ewing at the workshop. “Ninety percent of our water comes from that; 10 percent comes from snows and the creeks. So we aren’t in the desperate condition they’re in up north.”

The good news continues. Due to the combined efforts of the DWA on the west end of the valley, and the Coachella Valley Water District agency—which services most of the communities from Cathedral City to the Salton Sea—the water level in the aquifer has been supplemented frequently since 1973 through “recharging” of the supply with water obtained from the Colorado River as part of an agreement with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

“We started banking natural runoffs during wet years,” Ewing said. “Now we’re trying to maintain a stable supply. But we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, since they’re telling us that the 21st century will be drier than the 20th. This comes down to some big issues around climate and geology and water availability, and your role as a human being to leave a smaller water footprint as we go forward.”

Ewing noted the fortunate reality at play in the Coachella Valley. “We live in a desert, and yet we have direct access to the California State Water Project, so we don’t pay a middle man,” he said. “We have this aquifer that actually filters the water so we don’t have to spend money on treatment, and it provides a valuable natural storage resource. We have to recognize that we are probably the most fortunate people out there with regard to water—but that’s no reason to ignore the drought problem.”

Also in attendance at the public workshop was Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez, who is currently running for the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. “I’m here because I felt it was important to hear about the concerns that our constituency may have and to hear from the DWA what they are proposing. Everyone has to do their part at the end of the day. We have to do everything we can to protect our most important natural asset.”

DWA officials discussed some of the water-conservation efforts currently under way. The first is operational efficiency, which involves the water agency’s efforts to make sure it saves water in the way it’s delivered to the customer. This includes replacing damaged water mains, providing homeowners with smart water meters, and identifying irrigation-system leaks, among other initiatives.

Other efforts include educational outreach, customer incentives or rebates, and regulatory restrictions on water usage. Another conservation strategy, tiered-rate billing, is under serious consideration and study by the DWA.

For CVWD customers, tiered-rate billing is already business as usual.

“We started tiered rates in 2009,” said Heather Engel, CVWD director of communications and legislation. “And we didn’t get a lot of resistance from our customers. We did a pretty heavy education campaign, which included sending ‘shadow bills’ to every customer for three months prior to implementation. They got to see if their bill would go up, down or stay the same. And for 80 percent of our customers, the bill actually went down by a couple of pennies.

“Some people did accuse us of just trying to make more money,” Engel continued. “But it really was an education program. People maybe thought they were being very conscientious with their water use, but here was a guide that they could look at and say, ‘Wow! I’m being excessive.’ Maybe they had leaks they didn’t know about and could now address.”

Are tiered rates definitely in the future for DWA customers?

“If you ask me, I’d say yes,” said DWA board president Ewing. “But it will be a discussion for the board. I think we need to go there.”

Barbara Ojena, a Palm Springs citizen, seemed pleased that she attended the workshop.

“I was very impressed how on top of things the organization is. Personally, I’d like to see a few more regulations put in place at this time, because we are in a severe situation statewide. I think we need to make people more aware of that and conserve what we’ve got.”

A good time for a good cause was the goal at the Will Powered Golf Classic, held Monday, March 3, at Palm Desert’s Bighorn Golf Club, and the Desert Smash tennis tournament, held Tuesday, March 4, at the La Quinta Resort.

The events were hosted by actor/comedian Will Ferrell and cancer survivor Craig Pollard, the founder of Cancer for College.

Players competed in a “shamble” format in the annual golfing fundraiser, which has been funding scholarships for cancer survivors since 1994. The golf tournament kicked off Cancer for College’s 2014 Desert Showdown, which continued on Tuesday, March 4, with the Desert Smash tennis tournament, as well as a concert featuring Nelly and Boyz II Men at The Show at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa.

Ferrell and Pollard were joined this year by Kevin Spacey, the two-time Academy Award-winning actor and star of the hit Netflix series House of Cards. Since 1994, Cancer for College has granted more than $2 million in college scholarships to more than 1,000 cancer survivors.

At an impromptu press conference on his way to tee-off on Monday, Ferrell touted all of the charity-centric activities included in this year’s expanded Desert Showdown. In particular, he expressed excitement about the concert at The Show, modestly called Will Ferrell’s Epically Awesome Desert Showdown Concert Extravaganza.

“I don’t think that Coachella music fest will be able to compare! And that’s a scoop, by the way,” he said.

Regarding the serious cause underlying the fun and games, Ferrell explained the perspective he and Pollard share.

“We use humor to kind of talk about cancer,” said Ferrell. “You know, it’s such a taboo subject, because people don’t want to talk about having gone through the disease, but we kind of mix it up. One of the best parts is hearing the recent scholarship recipients’ speeches, where they talk about everything they’ve gone through, and how motivated they are to make a difference.”

Moments later, just after the celebrity groupings were announced on the first tee, the crowd was told that Will Ferrell would face the No. 2-ranked tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic, at the Desert Smash tourney on the next day.

“I’m going to be playing with my driver,” deadpanned Ferrell as he waved his golf club in the air.

On Tuesday, March 4, however, that driver was nowhere to be seen, as fans of tennis and celebrity star-gazing flocked to the La Quinta Resort’s tennis club. Desert Showdown Day 2 got under way with celebs and amateurs filling many of the back courts for short doubles matches. Comedian/actor Jon Lovitz, singer Redfoo, actor Joel McHale of Community and actor Timothy Olyphant of Justified were among the stars who participated.

In the afternoon, fans ringed the stadium to watch the featured matches. Ferrell decided serenade the crowd during his opening remarks with a flawed rendition of the Canadian national anthem. No. 2-ranked tennis pro Novak Djokovic, who was teamed with Ferrell in one of the most entertaining doubles matches, played while wearing a wig as an homage to Will Ferrell’s character Jackie Moon from the film Semi-Pro.

Also competing were Bridesmaids actress Rebel Wilson, two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey, 2014 Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka, the top-ranked doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan, and former BNP Paribas Open winners Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantuchova, among others.

As play was about to begin, Will Ferrell told the crowd, “I’ve been practicing for this moment my entire life! Make sure you hydrate. I’m doing that by drinking a lot of tequila and vodka.”

The contests were frequently interrupted by impromptu fundraising auction events, the proceeds of which all went to Cancer for College. One highly successful auction was inspired by valley resident and WBO world welterweight boxing champion Timothy Bradley, who provided two ringside tickets to his upcoming bout with Manny Pacquiao. As bidding escalated rapidly, Kevin Spacey taunted his doubles opponent Ferrell to bid higher, saying, “Come on, Will! Anchorman did better than that.”

Ferrell responded by urging Spacey to pony up some of his earnings from his Netflix series House of Cards.

“Netflix only pays us in DVDs,” quipped Spacey.

It’s fair to say that a good time was had by all.

Scroll down to view a photo gallery.

Original version published at 10:45 a.m., Tuesday, March 4; updated version published at 10:15 a.m., Wednesday, March 5.

It’s going to be a busy election year in the Coachella Valley.

Residents of Rancho Mirage will kick things off with a municipal election on April 8, before the spotlight moves to the hotly contested big-name races. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz, a Democrat, will be opposed by Republican State Assemblymember Brian Nestande in a fierce battle that could help determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives. And Gov. Jerry Brown will be seeking his second term as the 39th governor of California against an as-yet-undetermined Republican candidate.

Down the ballot a bit is the election for Riverside County District 4 supervisor, featuring Republican incumbent John Benoit, and Democrat V. Manuel Perez, who is currently serving as the state assemblymember for the 56th District (which includes the Salton Sea area and much of the northern and eastern parts of the Coachella Valley, including all or parts of Coachella, Indio, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs). However, both of the seat’s announced contenders insisted that their race is just as important—if not more important—than the bigger-name contests.

“This seat is very important. In my opinion, it is one of the most important seats in government, if not the most important,” said Perez, who, like Dr. Ruiz, is a graduate of Harvard University and is considered a rising star in Democratic circles. “Many people don’t understand that. For all the policies that I’ll decide at my level, or Congressman Raul Ruiz will decide at his level, county government is where the rubber meets the road.”

Benoit, on this point, agreed with Perez.

“I enjoyed being a senator, and (serving in) the State Senate was an honor and a privilege,” said Benoit. “But nothing I did in the Senate even comes close to the impacts I have, sometimes every week, in the decisions I make here as a member of the Board of Supervisors—real impacts on real projects that are going to have real significance.”

The office of county supervisor is considered a nonpartisan position, although the office can be attained only by enduring a political campaign and an election process. Benoit addressed this contrariety.

“Because this is a nonpartisan office, and most of what we deal with is nonpartisan issues, I would think the biggest distinction between myself and my opponent is that I have 42 years of public-service experience,” he said. “That all helps a lot when you’re managing an office as part of a board responsible for 58 departments and 18,000 employees.”

As for the “nonpartisan” nature of the office he’s seeking, Perez mused: “It’s supposed to be. You know, I’ve been approached by many different entities and different allies on both sides of the aisle—Republicans and Democrats—to run for this seat. I feel that’s because of my work in Sacramento and because of my strong ties within the networks of the leadership there. I’ve worked in a bipartisan way, where (most) of the (policies) I’ve passed have been bipartisan, so I’ll definitely bring independent thinking to the county Board of Supervisors. I feel I’m the person who can bridge through and build up the Coachella Valley.”

What initiatives will be the focus of their respective campaigns? Benoit cited work he’s been doing in Mecca and the East Valley.

“We have the (66th Avenue) overcross and the Comfort Station, which is a legacy issue that we’re working on with the Galilee Center,” he said.

The Mecca Comfort Station would provide “restroom, shower, laundry, and adequate parking facilities to migrant farm workers in Mecca and the surrounding communities,” according to a county document. The Galilee Center assists the underprivileged in the East Valley.

He also pledged to work on the economy of the district.

“Every where you look, there are initiatives for growth and, in particular, solar projects and a vast array of potential renewable projects involved with the Salton Sea moving forward,” Benoit said.

Perez also said he’d focus on the economy.

“Ultimately, jobs and the economy are the No. 1 issue, because we still see a major gap between the rich and the poor,” he said. “In Riverside County, the largest number of poor exist here compared to every county in California, except Imperial County. I’ve got to make sure I deal with regulation, incentives and credits to lure in business.”

Both candidates are acutely aware of the see-saw voter-registration struggle going on in the Coachella Valley. Democrats have been whittling away at the Republican advantage in the county in recent years, although Republicans seemingly stopped that trend in 2013; as of Dec. 31, 2013, Republicans had a 5.14 percent voter-registration edge, according to the California Secretary of State.

“I’m pleased to see that the Republican registration numbers have come back some,” said Benoit. “But frankly, I’m not worried about that. I’m spending as much time or more talking to Democrats, talking to folks in the western part of the valley where I’m not as well-known—and when I talk to them, it has nothing to do with Republican or Democrat. I talk about all of my experience during four years in this supervisor’s office, and that I’m the right choice to continue what I’m doing.”

However, Perez pointed out that District 4 bucks the county trend; according to those same Dec. 31 figures from the Secretary of State, there were 3,600 more registered Democrats than Republicans in District 4.

“We have a 4 percent advantage in District 4,” Perez said. “… Earlier, we laughed about how this is supposed to be a nonpartisan race. Ultimately, we’re going to win this not because of those numbers, but because we’re going to out-work them. The numbers, be what they may be, do exist. But this campaign is going to be won on the ground.”

How do the candidates view their position in the race at this point? As of the end of 2013, Benoit had about $57,000 more in the bank, but Pérez was closing that gap.

“We know we’re way ahead in endorsements … and we certainly have an advantage in fundraising,” said Benoit. “Also, we’ve seen some polling numbers that indicate we’re in very good shape. But we’re putting all that behind us and running like we’re losing, to win.”

Perez also said he expects a close, challenging race.

“Ultimately, people are going to have to make a decision between two individuals who are going to work hard to win this election,” Perez said. “For some voters, this decision may be a tough one. They may have to break loyalties. So, yes, it’s going to be a campaign that, in my hope, causes people to reflect and dig deep inside—not only into their pocketbooks, but into their hearts and minds. They know that I actually care, and they’ll come out and vote for me.”

Below: V. Manuel Perez: "I’ve worked in a bipartisan way, where (most) of the (policies) I’ve passed have been bipartisan, so I’ll definitely bring independent thinking to the county Board of Supervisors. I feel I’m the person who can bridge through and build up the Coachella Valley.” Photo by Kevin Fitzgerald.

The crowd on the Arnold Palmer Private course was pretty thin during the first two days of last weekend’s Humana Challenge Golf Tournament. In fact, during Thursday’s first round of play, only Canadian Mike Weir attracted a sizable fan following—composed mostly of his snowbird countrymen and women.

But during Saturday’s third round (Jan. 18), the crowd was noticeably larger. One of the largest galleries was following the U.S. pro pairing of Zach Johnson (arguably the hottest golfer on the tour) and Keegan Bradley (winner of the 2011 PGA Championship major title).

Along for the ride in the foursome: Coachella Valley amateur competitors Ralph Hemingway and Ed Michaels.

“I’ve played the last eight years with the (Bob) Hope Tournament and now the Humana,” Ralph Hemingway told me after his round. “And right now, I’d say the format of the Humana is the best of any of the pro-ams I’ve ever played at.”

The traditional pro-am format for decades had three amateurs playing with one PGA Tour pro in each foursome, and the tournament stretched over five days and 90 holes of competition.

“This is the second year that they’ve changed to a four-day, 1-on-1 (pros and amateurs) format. And being able to play with a different pro each day is just fantastic,” explained Hemingway. “You talk to the pros. … They felt like an oddball with a pro and three amateurs. Now they’ve got another pro to walk with, and somebody in the same tee box.” (Amateur competitors play from a tee box closer to the hole than the pros do.)

Back in the days of the Bob Hope Desert Classic, the tournament was known for the multitude of entertainers and celebrities who showed up to play as amateurs—attracting lots of star-gazers to the fairways.

“People would come to watch the celebrities … not the golf, just the celebrities,” Hemingway recalled. “People with the tournament ask me quite a bit if I miss the celebrities, and I said I really don’t. Celebrities are celebrities. I’m not really a celebrity nut anyway. They can play their game, and I’ll play mine.”

Does he plan on going back to play in the 2015 Humana Challenge?

“Oh sure, I’ll be there,” said Hemingway. “No doubt about it. I’ve played in the Dinah Shore and the Frank Sinatra, and I keep coming back to the Humana. They’ve done a lot of great charity work, and that’s a real factor.”

One last question for Hemingway: Is he related to Ernest?

“Yeah we’re fourth-cousins, and I have a collection of first-edition printings of all his books.”

Scroll down to see a few shots of Hemingway in action.

On Thursday, Jan. 16, President Bill Clinton took a break from a series of conferences and meetings held this week here in the Coachella Valley—dealing with health initiatives and economic development—to join legendary golfer Gary Player and PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem at the official opening ceremony of the 2014 Humana Challenge Golf Tournament.

Afterward, he spent a few hours at the Arnold Palmer Private Course in La Quinta talking with some of the professional golfers and fans in attendance.

"President Clinton and I have been friends for 30 years," said Marjorie Seawell, vacationing here from Denver, after she spoke with the former president at some length. "I got to know him first in the National Governors Association, and we became fast friends. Every time we find ourselves in the same place, we try to get together. He's a special friend."

The Clinton Foundation held its annual Health Matters conference in La Quinta earlier this week.

Regarding his involvement with the tournament, President Clinton said during a nationally televised interview with the Golf Channel, "When we started this, Commissioner Finchem asked me if I would work with him to try to help salvage what was the old Bob Hope golf tournament—both for Bob’s memory, who I knew for the last 20 or so years of his life, and for the community that has done so much work and has raised so much money for charity with the help of the PGA Tour and the players."

He recalled an anecdote that Bob Hope shared with him. "He told me, ‘The only thing I ever did, even after I gave up golf, was that I walked an hour a day. And sometimes because I worked at night, it was at midnight. And sometimes because I was in London and it was raining—I took rubber boots.’ You’ve got to have something to do come rain or shine.”

Regarding his ongoing commitment to the Humana Challenge Golf Tournament, President Clinton commented, "We really work hard here. So does our sponsor, Humana, and I give them a lot of credit. They participate in our conference, and this year, we got another $11 million committed, and we’ve got enough money committed in the United States to touch 50 million more people with after-school programs for kids who need help and support. We’re trying to build a culture of wellness in America and make it a part of what we do.”

It’s rare experience for an audience to spontaneously break into full-throated laughter or even applause in the middle of a movie—but such visceral reactions were frequent during the 2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Student Screening Day, on Monday, Jan. 13.

More than 1,000 students from nine valley high schools were selected by teachers and administrators to fill the auditorium at the Palm Springs High School on the final day of this year’s film festival for screenings of Wadjda and The Crash Reel. They also participated in Q&A sessions after each showing.

“It’s been a sensational day,” said PSIFF director Darryl Macdonald. “I’m willing to bet that for the vast majority of our audience today, this film (Wadjda) was the first subtitled film they’ve ever seen. … It teaches them how people of their generation live on a day-to-day basis in Saudi Arabia—and their response was just overwhelmingly wonderful.”

For the film’s writer and director, Haifaa al-Mansour, the student audience’s vociferous support of her film helped make the struggles she endured while making the film in her native Saudi Arabia worthwhile.

“My country is segregated,” said al-Mansour. “It doesn’t allow a woman to be on the streets. So if the Saudis don’t want women in the streets, then I’ll make the film from a van with a monitor and a walkie-talkie. But I don’t think they like me to make the film as well—so here we go.”

Did she model the film’s rebellious and hyper-entrepreneurial title character after herself?

“I’m shy. I’m not a hustler like Wadjda,” said al-Mansour. “My niece is amazing, and I based the character on her. She’s always scheming some way to make money. She’ll never take no for an answer. I grew up with girls like that who have great potential, but they give up and become conservative, because this is the way society wants them.”

Bank of America is the sponsor for the educational day.

“We’ve been doing this day for six years,” said Al Arguello, the Inland Empire’s market president. “It’s the highlight of our annual sponsorship, because we’re able to expose over 1,000 students in the Coachella Valley to the art of film-making.”

Macdonald said it was a special day for everyone involved.

“This is exactly what our student screening day is all about: opening (students’) eyes to the world and giving them an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with these filmmakers, and ask penetrating questions that are inspired by the movies.”

It was Day 5 of the 2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival, and I wanted to talk to the leader of the festival’s critically important volunteer team.

Of course, this was not the best time for Rochelle Koch to take a few moments to chat with a pesky reporter. To put it mildly, she was kind of busy.

However, Koch, who is in her third year as the PSIFF volunteer coordinator, seemed happy to take some time to chat about her “wonderful team.”

“It’s my volunteer family, is how I refer to it,” said Koch (pronounced “Cook”), who comes across as a focused bundle of energy. “‘Our Volunteers Are The BEST!’ is what I put on my business card and on my emails—and it’s the truth.”

Festival director Darryl Macdonald was also happy to take a few moments out of his busiest week of the year to share his perspective.

“The volunteers’ contribution to the festival’s success is invaluable in every way,” he said. “This is one of the top three festivals in the U.S. in terms of attendance, with well over 130,000 attendees last year. So the manpower needed to support 15 screens showing films from early morning until well into the evening each day, the number of hands needed to deal with hundreds of filmmaking and press guests in town, coming and going throughout the festival … there are just so many fronts where extra hands and brains are needed that it is utterly true that without our volunteers, there is no way we could run a festival of this size or pursue the kinds of ambitions we have.”

Remember how we mentioned that Koch is kind of busy? Well, we were putting it mildly.

“I have over 3,500 shifts to cover at the five screening venues and various events over the 11 days of the festival,” she said Koch. “The main responsibility for myself and volunteer assistant coordinator David Gray is to manage and schedule volunteers, and making sure all of our shifts are covered when volunteers have to cancel their commitment, because life does happen.

“So out of our standing database of more than 2,000 registered volunteers, we have between 700 and 800 working at this festival—and we couldn’t do it without them. They’re wonderful people from all walks of life—a CEO to a dishwasher in a restaurant. They’re from different nationalities and different races. That’s what, I think, gives us our strength.”

The volunteers are organized into 19 active teams: Theater Operations, Transportation, Balloting, Special Events, Black-Tie Gala, Guest Services/Hospitality, Concierge, Credentials, Film Society, Film Review, Front Desk, Merchandise, Office, Opening/Closing Night, Street Team, Village Fest, Volunteer Department, Interpreter and—last but not least—the Lead Team, which supervises the Theatre Operations and Ballot volunteers.

“We rely on them to take care of everything from taking tickets at the door, dealing with customers at the merchandise outlets, (and helping) our guests in the hospitality suites, to travel support. Literally, we have volunteers who drive into Los Angeles to pick up filmmaker guests and drive them to Palm Springs,” Macdonald said. “There is not a single front of the festival that volunteers are not an integral part of.”

Few people realize that the Palm Springs International Film Festival volunteer effort is a year-round affair.

“We have a volunteer corps which helps out in the office year-round, and there’s a preview screening team made up of 16 volunteers that help us critique submitted films as they come in,” said Macdonald. “… We also do the Palm Springs ShortFest each June. It’s the largest short-film festival in North America, and last year, we got over 3,400 entries. So we’ve put together this crew of programming assistants from our volunteer corps. These are people who have long been immersed in film who help us with the grading process by actually watching the films and then recommending which films move forward in the process. It literally takes five or six months even for this group and our staff programming team to watch 3,400 films.

“I’m not entirely sure that some of us wouldn’t be wearing inch-thick glasses or be locked in a booby hatch somewhere, bouncing off of rubber walls, if it wasn’t for the help we get from our volunteers.”

Only a select few can claim to have been a part of the now finely tuned PSIFF volunteer effort from the beginning.

“We have three wonderful volunteers—Dee Thomas, and Sidel and Lionel Weinstein—who come out every season, and they’ve all been here since Sonny Bono started this festival 25 years ago,” said Koch. “And they are all such neat people.”

Of course, these three will be among the honored invitees to the annual post-festival “thank you party” for the volunteer staff, at which Macdonald and festival Chairman Harold Matzner will show their appreciation.

“When compared to all the various film festivals in the country, our volunteers have a wonderful reputation for being the friendliest and the most helpful, since they know film themselves, and they know what they’re doing,” said Koch. “All of our volunteers do a wonderful job, and they’re great ambassadors for Palm Springs.”

Those interested in becoming a PSIFF volunteer should visit the website at www.psfilmfest.org/society/work/volunteer.aspx. People who register will be contacted via phone by a volunteer representative.

The Palm Springs International Film Festival kicked off over the weekend with some of the fest's biggest events.

On Friday, Jan. 3, the Opening Night Gala Screening, featuring the film Belle, took place at Palm Springs High School. And on Saturday was the biggest event of all: The Black Tie Awards Gala, at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

Here's how the Los Angeles Times described the awards affair:

The Palm Springs International Film Festival gala or, as Tom Hanks called it, "This little, intimate, Sonny Bono rec-room chicken dinner get-together for two-and-a-half-thousand people," took place Saturday night. Meryl Streep picked up an award. So did Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Bruce Dern and Matthew McConaughey, among others.

And though they were all seated within a few feet of one another in the airport-hangar-sized Palm Springs Convention Center, these Hollywood stars were more or less allowed to eat their pot-roast dinner in peace.

That's because Bono was in the house.

That's Bono, the singer from the Irish rock band U2, not Mary Bono, the widow of another singer named Bono—Sonny, the man who started the film festival 25 years ago when he was mayor of Palm Springs.

The Independent was there; here are just a few pictures from the events. And watch CVIndependent.com all week for more coverage of the festival. Enjoy!

Fish-farming—also known as aquaculture—was the fastest growing segment of agriculture in the United States back in 1998, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

At that time, the Imperial and Coachella valleys generated roughly 70 percent of the farm-raised fish coming out of California, according to the same Times story. In 2012, the production of farmed fish worldwide surpassed the production of beef for the first time in modern history, according to an article from environmental think-tank Earth Policy Institute. That same piece notes that this year, the worldwide consumption of farmed fish may surpass the consumption of fish caught in the wild.

But here in the Coachella Valley, the aquaculture industry has suffered setbacks as the demand has grown.

"The whole fish farm industry in the U.S. has been hit by high feed costs and energy costs," said Riggs Eckelberry, CEO and inventor with OriginOil, a Los Angeles-based company that develops water-cleanup technology. According to him, the problem got so bad that some California fish farms closed as the Great Recession set in back in 2007 and 2008—including some here in our valley. But Riggs Eckelberry and his brother Nicholas, OriginOil’s co-founder and chief inventor, believe that their new technology can bring about a resurgence of aquaculture in Coachella Valley.

On Wednesday, Dec. 18, the pair were present at Thermal’s Aqua Farming Technology fish farm, which farms tilapia and catfish, as OriginOil unveiled its relatively new Electro Water Separation (EWS) Algae screen S60 process, which couples with the Aqua Q60 water-purifying process to form the foundation of a relatively inexpensive solution to sustainable organic fish farming here and around the world. Aqua Farming Technology has partnered with OriginOil to become their permanent showcase facility.

“This farm is owned by a company that is trying—with the combination of solar panels to provide cheaper energy—our algae feed for nutrition and our inexpensive water cleanup solution, to create a package that will enable the restart of all the fish farms in Coachella Valley,” explained Riggs Eckelberry. “They want to make us part of their secret sauce. Hopefully, it won’t be so secret soon.”

The media event was attended by State Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez and Coachella Mayor Eduardo Garcia.

“Today’s a good day,” Mayor Garcia (right) said. “Anytime we can introduce a technology that is clean and green, and can address a wide range of issues here in our region, such as job creation and environmental matters ... it’s a good day.”

Of course, the other big-picture environmental matter that was discussed most frequently on this day was the threat to the survival of the Salton Sea.

“Working with partners like OriginOil,” said Pérez, “we can integrate and bring in academicians, engineers, inventors, entrepreneurs and those who believe in sustainable communities to advance efforts to restore the Salton Sea.”

In fact, Nicholas Eckelberry said he already has at least a partial solution to the Salton Sea problem. The lake’s future is being threatened by a decreasing water supply, and increasing salinity and pollution.

“I’ve designed a system for ocean cleanup which could effectively clean up the Salton Sea—at least all the suspended solvents,” said Eckelberry. “The technology we’re showcasing today is applied to algae-harvesting. Then we apply this same technology in a different format to ammonia-reduction. And we apply it in another format to frack-water-cleaning in the oil industry. And in another format, we can apply it to waste water treatment as well.”

One immediate positive local impact resulting from the OriginOil presence is a newly established alliance with the Green Academy of the Desert Mirage High School in Thermal. Lead teacher Tony Korwin brought nine of his pupils (below) with him to gain some first-hand knowledge of this new technology in their neighborhood.

“The Green Academy is a school within a school,” said Korwin. “ These students study green energy—solar, wind, geothermal. We were invited to come down here today, and they want to partner with us for continued education and potential scholarships for my students.”

Riggs Eckelberry said he sees real value for all participating partners.

“The Coachella Valley can be a source of organic fish-farming, which is not only invaluable to this community, but will set an example for the rest of the world and change perceptions of farmed fish. We’re super excited.”

There is but one ice rink operating in the Coachella Valley: Cathedral City’s Desert Ice Castle, offering “the coolest fun in the desert,” according to its slogan.

While the Desert Ice Castle is open to the public, it also has a mysterious element to it—including the fact that it’s a main training spot for a potential 2014 Olympic medalist. I wanted to talk to the owner—Anthony Liu, a former Olympic men’s figure-skater and a seven-time Australian champion—about the Desert Ice Castle. But for weeks, he eluded my phone calls and requests to talk.

So at 7 a.m. on one recent Saturday morning, I went to the DIC with my camera, hoping to photograph and talk to Liu. I’d been told that he was back in town briefly between international trips to skating competitions being held in preparation for the Olympics—two of which had been won by his star pupil, Japanese Olympic medal contender Tatsuki Machida. On this morning, he was coaching some advanced skating pupils and was already on the ice when I got there.

Shortly after I started taking pictures, I spotted Liu through my telephoto lens: He was staring right at me, and did not look pleased. I lowered my camera, smiled and nodded across the ice. With a curt nod of his own, Liu skated toward me.

I introduced myself and explained why I was there. He smiled and said: “Please don’t mention me in the article.”

“Don’t mention you?” I replied, quite surprised. “But you own this place.”

Again, he smiled. “Well, you can mention I’m an owner, but please don’t use a picture of me. Thank you.”

He turned away and stepped back onto the ice. With that, the hoped-for photo session and interview came to an end.


On a recent warm winter day, as I followed assistant manager Jennifer Gonzalez (right) into the rink area, I was met by an Arctic air blast. The Ice Castle was indeed living up to its aforementioned slogan.

What brings the most people to this Perez Road facility? “The hockey leagues definitely bring in the most money right now,” said Gonzalez. “We have four travelling teams for the kids (ages 4-17), and an in-house adult league with six teams, one of which is made up entirely of players from the 29 Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat base.

“The public skating is pretty popular, too, along with the birthday-party-room bookings, and it’s particularly busy on the weekends,” Jennifer said. “Friday and Saturday nights, the crowd is mostly younger folks without parents, while Sundays, we get mostly families skating together. And we’re always busiest in the summer, because it’s so cool in here.”

There must be obstacles to keeping the ice in good condition during those steamy desert summer months. “In the summer, it’s very expensive to run the three compressors needed to create and maintain the ice,” Gonzalez concurred. “And another challenge is to manage the condition of the ice, because the figure-skaters need soft ice, while the hockey teams must have hard ice, or the surface gets so chopped up that it’s unusable for figure-skating.”

The DIC is a family business. It’s owned by Liu, and managed by Andrew Luczynski, Liu’s father-in-law. Caroline, Liu’s wife, plays a substantial role as well.

Built on the site of a former Coca-Cola bottling plant, the DIC development effort began in earnest in mid-2010. The management team projected the rink would open in April 2011, but financial and construction challenges pushed back that date to Sept. 9, 2011. During construction, the common belief in the international competitive figure-skating community was that the Desert Ice Castle was built to complement the training capabilities of a Southern California sister facility, the world-renowned Arrowhead Ice Castle, which had been bought by Liu in 2003.

For several decades, the Arrowhead Ice Castle was the picturesque training site of choice for many of the world’s most-serious Olympic figure-skating contenders, as well as their coaches, including the legendary Frank Carroll. The reigning 2010 Olympic men’s figure-skating champion Evan Lysacek had trained there, as had Michelle Kwan, Robin Cousins, Nicole Bobek, Surya Bonaly and Chen Lu. The list goes on.

When the DIC opened, Frank Carroll (who has a home in Palm Springs) committed to using the new rink as his training base. But in May 2013, an announcement came that he was returning to his former host rink, the Toyota Sports Center, in El Segundo. “Our figure-skating department is thrilled to have the return of this elite level of training,” said Juliette Harton, the director of skating at the Toyota Center, in a press release issued at the time. “Mr. Carroll brings strong, respected leadership to a superb staff deep with Olympic, world and national level coaches.”

That development was followed by another surprising move, made this past August: Liu closed the beloved Arrowhead rink. The announcement shocked the competitive figure-skating community. Liu cited the inability to get enough revenue from the community-participant activities such as hockey leagues and public sessions, and invited all of the coaches and athletes still working there to follow him to his new rink in Cathedral City. It’s unclear how many have.

Today, when you walk into the DIC foyer, you are confronted immediately by the wall of competitive figure-skating coaches who work there—headed up by Frank Carroll. Given Carroll’s publicized departure, one wonders why his photo still leads off the coaching display.

So who has replaced Carroll as the Ice Castle’s most-accomplished coach? It’s none other than Liu himself, thanks in part to his tutelage of Tatsuki Machida, who trained often at the DIC in 2013.

But no photo of Mr. Liu can be found on the coaching wall of fame—or anywhere else I saw at the DIC, for that matter.

Why does Anthony Liu insist on keeping such a low public profile, when promoting his professional stature could benefit his Desert Ice Castle endeavor? And what will happen to the stature of Liu and the Desert Ice Castle if Tatsuki Machida wins an Olympic medal, with the whole world watching?

Stay tuned.

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