CVIndependent

Fri08072020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

In response to yesterday’s Daily Digest, I received this email from a reader, which is reprinted here, verbatim:

Is your paper written by one person? Articles picked by you? Just curious as to where you’re from? Palm Springs? Just not sure if this is a PS newsletter?

This made me realize that a lot of you are new to the Independent—and that even some of you who have been reading for a while may not know much about me or the newspaper, and/or where these Daily Digests fit into things.

So, if you’ll indulge me, here are my answers to that reader’s questions (slightly expanded upon and edited from my personal response to the reader):

Is your paper written by one person?

No. The Independent has a staff writer and 15 or so regular contributors, writing on everything from theater to astronomy to cocktails to news. Feel free to peruse all of the articles, going back to our late-2012 launch, at CVIndependent.com, and check out our print version archives at issuu.com/cvindependent.

Articles picked by you?

I, Jimmy Boegle, am the editor/publisher, but most of my writers decide what they’re going to be writing about … because they’re the experts in what they’re writing about, not me. As for this Daily Digest email, I write it and select the article links, although I get suggestions from a lot of people—especially from Garrett, my husband.

Just curious as to where you’re from? Palm Springs?

I live in Palm Springs, yes. I’ve been here for more than seven years. If you would like to view my professional credentials, check out www.linkedin.com/in/jimmy-boegle. I have a 25-year history in journalism, going back to my days at Stanford University. I’ve worked for The Associated Press and at newspapers in Reno/Sparks, Las Vegas and Tucson. Before I moved here at the start of 2013, I spent a decade as the editor of the Tucson Weekly.

Just not sure if this is a PS newsletter?

Most of the content in the Independent itself—with the exception of some movie reviews, our comics page, Savage Love and a couple of other things—is written by people in the Coachella Valley, for people in the Coachella Valley. This Daily Digest email, however, was started when the pandemic hit as a way to share news on COVID-19 and the shut-down orders from reliable, vetted news sources, from around the country and world.

So, there you go! If any of you have other questions about the Independent, me, our fantabulous writers or life in general, feel free to send them my way.

And now, what you’re really here for—today’s news:

• I was again part of the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast/videocast, with hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr. Today’s guests were the fabulously smart Dr. Laura Rush, from Kaiser Permanente; Alexander Rodriguez from the On the Rocks radio show; and Debra Ann Mumm from the Create Center for the Arts. Check it out if you dare!

Gov. Newsom announced a revised $203 billion budget today—which includes a lot of deep cuts. One of the most painful—a 10 percent salary reduction for many state workers. However, that cut, and others, could be avoided if the feds chip in and help. Our partners at CalMatters have the details.

• More bad—and by “bad,” we mean “approaching Great Depression bad”unemployment figures have been released.

Unfortunately, most of the job losses are hitting families that are least-prepared to deal with them: Almost 40 percent of lower-income households have been affected, according to Politico.

Cathedral City is the latest valley city to step up and require face masks in many places, following the county’s stunningly ill-advised revocation of the face-mask health order last week.

• Related: From The Conversation comes this headlineMasks help stop the spread of coronavirus—the science is simple and I’m one of 100 experts urging governors to require public mask-wearing.

Could COVID-19 be causing an inflammatory syndrome in children that’s similar to Kawasaki disease? The CDC just issued an alert for doctors to be on the lookout.

Las Vegas may start to reopen soon—and it’ll be a very different experience when it does, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• A live-stream performance featuring John Stanley King, Kal David and other local music luminaries takes place tomorrow (Friday) at 3 p.m., and it benefits the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission. Get details here.

• This opinion piece from The Washington Post points out a painful truth: In most of the country, we’re giving up on containing COVID-19and are now scrambling to reduce the harm it causes.

• Meanwhile, in Alabama, legislators proposed spending $200 million in federal funding for COVID-19 on a new State House. Yes, they really did that. https://www.newsweek.com/alabama-senate-leaders-want-use-money-2-billion-coronavirus-aid-build-new-state-house-1503255

• The New York Stock Exchange is partially reopening for in-person trading on May 26. Yay? Or something?

• Finally: One Riverside girl really wanted to hug her grandparents … so she invented the hug curtain.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Wear a mask, for pete’s sake. Buy our amazing Coloring Book. If you can spare a few bucks, please consider supporting quality, free-to-all, independent local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow!

Published in Daily Digest

Susan Moeller describes herself as someone who was never an expert. “So I just asked a lot of questions—and got things done.”

Moeller, now 75, first came to the desert in 1993 as redevelopment director for Cathedral City. Born in Superior, Wis., she arrived in Southern California at the age of 8.

“We lived in Long Beach and could see the racetrack at Los Alamitos from our backyard,” she says.

During World War II, Moeller’s father was rescued in France by Gen. George Patton. “My mother didn’t know if (my father) was alive when I was delivered by the nuns,” Moeller says. “My mom worked for BFGoodrich doing special-project work, but she never really knew how smart she was.”

Moeller’s dad was a truck driver, and was the first in his family to attend college. “He was the youngest of eight kids, always known to everybody as ‘Uncle Buck,’” Moeller says. “He was a good man, and would always help anybody who needed it. My dad died when mom was 60, and she lived into her 90s, always doing projects and keeping herself busy. That’s the main lesson I got from her: ‘Just keep on keeping on.’

“My younger brother and sister and I were always encouraged to follow our dreams. My sister became a teacher and coach, my brother a CPP (certified payroll professional). I just always wanted to have a ‘me.’”

After attending California State College at Long Beach, majoring in English with a minor in drama, Moeller joined an improv group and performed at colleges throughout Southern California. After some time as an English teacher, Moeller was hired as a project aide for the city of Fresno. She found herself working for a man from India who had been trained at the United Nations; he was impressed with Moeller’s communication skills.

“Because of my teaching background, he had me review whatever he wrote,” she says. “I’m very intuitive, while he was very methodical. What I learned was how to write grants for federal funding. We needed to find solutions for housing, infrastructure, redevelopment and education, but it was the 1960s, and we were able to get money for drug-prevention and treatment programs. I learned to identify problems and think from the perspective of what we could do to fix them. We would then talk to officials in the field to figure out what would work.”

Moeller’s career later took her to Santa Ana, where she wrote and reviewed grants as director of the South Orange County YMCA (“It was the first time I had worked with a board of all women; we got a program for mature women adopted!”); and, after almost 10 years in Cathedral City, to Redwood City for another decade, where, Moeller says, “It all came together. We could get to a point where projects would start to fall apart, but I thought of myself as an opportunity broker, and it all just jelled. I know about redevelopment, and I loved it.”

Moeller says, somewhat surprisingly, that spirituality was an integral part of the work she did with city governments. “It was a kind of synchronicity. I was able to make good things happen for people. I’m particularly proud of the investment in downtown Cathedral City.”

Moeller’s affection for Cathedral City shines through when she talks about her time there. “I watched community faces as they toured what we had done to downtown. People were so proud. They were worth the investment, even though, here in the valley, there is still prejudice against Cathedral City. When I first got here after having worked in seven other cities, I felt like the Coachella Valley was (behind) 10 years, regarding everything from housing to civil rights to agriculture.

“The city manager was Bruce Liedstrand, and he was my mentor. He was willing to work with the community for two years to come up with a vision. In the other cities down here, it would get to a point where the community wouldn’t even know what the planners were doing. Bruce made sure the community ‘owned’ the project.

“There’s still a lot to be completed, and the proposed casino will help if it’s connected to downtown, and people can take advantage of that connection.”

Moeller is now retired.

“There are things I like about retirement, and things I don’t,” she says. “I retired in 2012, but I guess I didn’t really retire. I depleted myself with care-giving when my mom died, and then my son broke his leg. (Moeller has two sons, as well as step-children from her current marriage.) And now I’ve had a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. When the tremor started, I was told to slow down, and to think of it as just stuck energy. I’ve finally shifted my attention to me as a project.”

While talking to Moeller, one gets the sense that she’s a gentle soul.

“I’ve always wanted to see people come together, and I think people yearn for community,” she says. “I guess I’m a Pollyanna: I like to see the glass half full. I believe people want to do the right thing and be part of something bigger than themselves.

“My bottom line has always been: Don’t be afraid to ask the questions that might make you uncomfortable, but which can lead you where you want to be.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

The California State Auditor’s Office recently launched a new tool, available to anyone with an internet connection: an online dashboard that aggregates, compares and ranks the financial stability of more than 470 California cities, based on detailed and publicly available information.

“For the first time, Californians will be able to go online and see a fiscal-health ranking for more than 470 cities based across the state,” State Auditor Elaine Howle proclaimed in a news release announcing the launch. “This new transparent interface for the public, state and local policymakers, and other interested parties, is intended to identify cities that could be facing significant fiscal challenges.”

The most compelling feature of this new dashboard is the interactive map of California. To uncover relevant financial details, any user can run their cursor over the geographic area correlating to any one of the 470 cities whose financial data is included. When the cursor hovers over a given city, a box opens to show the name of the city and its rankings in the 11 different indicator categories: overall risk, liquidity, debt burden, general-fund reserves, revenue trends, pension obligations, pension funding, pension costs, future pension costs, OPEB (other post-employment benefits) obligations and OPEB funding. It quickly reveals information that, until now, was difficult to obtain.

The data, however, is a little outdated: The city evaluations and rankings are based on 2016-2017 fiscal-year numbers, the most-recent complete data set available for all the cities represented.

“We are in the process of getting the 2017-18 information, so we’ll be able to provide that information on our dashboard as well,” said Margarita Fernandez, chief of public affairs for the California State Auditor, in a recent phone interview. “The (dashboard) tool is now established, so we’ll be able to put up the information for 2017-18 as soon as it comes in. Eventually, you’ll be able to look at it yourself and see trending information like, ‘Here’s how they were doing in 2016-17, and now here they are in 2017-18, etc.,’ and whether things are improving, or they’re not improving.”

Despite Fernandez’s attempt to explain the older data, some city representatives see this as a serious defect in the state auditor’s effort at transparency.

“These numbers are two to three years old, and I think that our financial state today reflects that,” said Brooke Beare, the city of Indio’s director of communications and marketing, during a recent phone call.

The nine Coachella Valley cities are, in the category of overall risk, ranked as follows:

  • Palm Springs: No. 46 (moderate risk level)
  • Cathedral City: No. 105 (moderate)
  • Indio: No. 118 (moderate)
  • Coachella: No. 121 (moderate)
  • Desert Hot Springs: No. 308 (low)
  • La Quinta: No. 434 (low)
  • Palm Desert: No. 444 (low)
  • Rancho Mirage: No. 454 (low)
  • Indian Wells: No.  466 (low)

The good news is that none of the nine Coachella Valley cities were ranked in the “high risk” category. The bad news is the three worst-ranked—Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Indio—all were rated as “high risk” in four of the 11 indicator categories studied by the state auditor. It was on this basis that the Independent reached out to representatives of each of those three cities.

As of our deadline, only Indio representatives—Beare, and Assistant City Manager and Finance Director Rob Rockwell—responded. A city of Palm Springs finance executive did reply to an email requesting a phone interview, and asked that the Independent deliver its questions via email. The Independent complied, but received no response to those questions.

Rockwell, Indio’s finance director, applauded the state auditor’s dashboard.

“I think the reporting itself is good, and I appreciate it. I think it’s useful,” he said. “I don’t think it necessarily tells the whole financial story, but I think there are bits and pieces that will allow organizations or municipalities like Indio to go back and do some double-checking on some things, which is exactly what we did in Indio.”

He discussed various actions taken in the last two years by the Indio City Council. “Two of the four areas where Indio was considered ‘high-risk’ were pension funding set-aside, and OPEB (other post-employment benefits) set-aside,” Rockwell said. “In regards to the pension funding, just this year, the Indio City Council committed $1 million to setting up a pension trust … and that money is set aside and can only be used for pension obligations. So the issue of us not having money set aside has already been addressed.

“In regard to that OPEB funding set-aside, in February of 2014, the city created another … trust that in this case is basically for retiree medical costs. We’ve been committing money to that on an annual basis, and (as of Sept. 30), it totaled $1.77 million. So, the City Council recognizes the need—but it’s not been a super-high priority, in the sense that the City Council has been focused on capital infrastructure improvements in the city of Indio.”

Given the pension-funding liabilities currently shown on Indio’s balance sheet, the $1 million currently in the pension-funding trust wouldn’t make much of a dent. Rockwell told the Independent that the point of setting up the trust wasn’t to offset the entire debt amount.

“To think that we’re going to put $50-plus million aside (to cover the amount of unfunded liabilities)—that’s a striking number,” he said. “Really, the purpose of this trust is to set up some money so that, if a recession occurs, instead of having to make cuts to services to pay our pension costs, we can reach into this trust and pay our annual pension costs for a year, or maybe two, maybe three, maybe five, and not have to reduce services (to residents) in years where our revenues might be short due to economic impacts.”

Mounting pension obligations are a concern for all of our valley cities. It was a major topic of discussion in this past November’s Palm Springs City Council elections.

“I think that most California cities, including those here in the valley, are having a tough time dealing with these increasing pension costs,” Rockwell said. “I don’t think it’s a surprise that a lot of cities are even having to face some service reductions to fund their pension obligations. I think obviously that the return on investments that were originally expected did not come through. … The obligation is real, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Cities are just having to adjust, and there are various mechanisms to do that. A lot of cities have changed their retirement formulas. Clearly, the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act (which took effect in 2013; it includes compensation limits and establishes minimum contributions by employees) has changed pension funding. I have to say that for the city of Indio, the number of employees that we’ve hired under PEPRA is occurring at a faster rate than we expected. I don’t know how much that’s going to help the unfunded liability, but I can definitely say that there’s a change taking place.”

To view the State Auditor’s Local Government High-Risk Dashboard, visit www.auditor.ca.gov/bsa/cities_risk_index.

Published in Local Issues