Newsletter: An oasis of pain in the Coachella Valley

Esperanza Sanchez carries drinking water delivered by a Coachella Valley Water District truck.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, April 22, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

As the coronavirus wreaks havoc across the world, many have referred to this pandemic as an “equalizer.”

And while it’s true that coronaviruses don’t discriminate by tax bracket as they seek entry into host cells, the broader effects of this crisis have been far from equally distributed. Communities that already had the least to lose have often borne a disproportionate amount of the pain.

Even before the coronavirus struck, the Oasis Mobile Home Park in the eastern Coachella Valley was plagued by difficult conditions — arsenic-contaminated water flowing from the taps, decrepit trailers and piles of garbage. But as my colleague Brittny Mejia reports in a powerful new story, the global disaster has brought new levels of misery to this impoverished California trailer park.


Many of the farmworkers who live here are undocumented, lack health insurance and don’t qualify for unemployment insurance or federal COVID-19 relief. The local demand for food assistance has nearly tripled as farmworkers lose their jobs. The pandemic, as Brittny writes, “has only amplified the daily struggle for the overwhelmingly immigrant and working-class people who call this place home.”

Brittny is a dogged and deeply compassionate reporter with a reputation for focusing on stories and voices that might not otherwise be centered in mainstream coverage. I called her last night to talk about the challenges faced by this community, as well as the unique obstacles she faced trying to do field reporting during a pandemic. Here’s what she said.

How has the pandemic changed things for this community?

There are a lot of unincorporated rural communities made up of farmworkers in the eastern Coachella Valley. They were already struggling to pay their rent with the money that they made from working, and now they have this added pressure of not having work.

One of the women that I focus on in the story, Esperanza, is older too. So her kids were worried about her even going out to work because of the risk of exposure. But she was like, What is the alternative? I have to keep looking even though there aren’t as many jobs. You could see that across the board.

Are these issues consistent with what farmworkers are dealing with across the state?

Yes, definitely. In Northern California, there were cases of farmers who were destroying their crop instead of having the farmworkers come pick anything because they just weren’t getting the same demand. As a result, they were laying off seasonal workers early or not bringing in as many people. Fewer farmworkers are also getting called in to work, as farmers try to implement social distancing in the fields.


What was your reporting process like for this story? What kind of challenges were presented by trying to report in the field during a pandemic?

It’s very weird to adjust to reporting in a mask. Especially in the Coachella Valley. It’s desert, so the heat is really hot. I often just wanted to take off the mask while doing interviews.

Sometimes if I was interviewing someone and they weren’t wearing a mask, I felt bad because I didn’t want them to think that I was worried they were going to get me sick. And I couldn’t really express my emotions with my face covered. I really hoped they understood that I was being sincere and genuine.

What makes getting that sincerity across so important to you as a reporter?

Especially with these kinds of stories, in these communities, I never want someone to think that I don’t genuinely care or that I am just there trying to get a quote and then walk away. It’s a lot to ask someone to lay their life out for you. I want people to know that I appreciate it and that it means something to me.

Is there anything people can do to help?


The Galilee Center is a great resource. They do food distributions, they hand out wipes and bottles, they help with rental assistance. They’re doing so much for people across the eastern Coachella Valley.

[Read the story: “Coronavirus brings new levels of misery to impoverished California trailer park” in the Los Angeles Times]

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

The first COVID-19 death in California occurred at least a month earlier than previously thought: Two coronavirus-infected people died in Santa Clara County on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17, the medical examiner revealed Tuesday, making them the first documented COVID-19 fatalities in the United States. Until now, the first fatality was believed to have occurred in Kirkland, Wash., on Feb. 29, and officials previously believed the first Silicon Valley death was March 9. Los Angeles Times

California sets guidelines on which patients are prioritized if hospitals are overwhelmed by the coronavirus: California has made progress in protecting the healthcare system from a dramatic spike of sick patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. But state public health officials are still planning for a “worst-case scenario,” quietly publishing a sobering set of detailed guidelines to answer the troubling ethical question of who lives and who dies should California face a new surge in the coronavirus outbreak, resulting in a shortage of ventilators and medical supplies. Los Angeles Times


Lewis MacAdams, a famed crusader for the Los Angeles River, has died at 75. MacAdams, who died of complications related to Parkinson’s disease, was a poet and visionary figure who helped found Friends of the Los Angeles River and mentored generations of activists in fights to reduce the damage along the 51-mile flood control channel hemmed by freeways, power lines and railroad yards. Los Angeles Times


Across L.A., local leaders and nonprofits are identifying holes in the safety net for immigrants without legal status and have created relief funds backed by philanthropists and grassroots donors. LAist

Landlord-tenant disputes are shooting up in L.A., according to police data. “On April 1, the day the rent came due, the LAPD responded to 100 calls about renter-landlord disputes, by far the highest volume it has received all year.” Crosstown LA

A magnitude 3.7 earthquake struck underneath South Los Angeles just after midnight Wednesday and sent light shaking across the Los Angeles Basin. Los Angeles Times

PS: You’ve prepared for the big one already, right? If not, get started. Los Angeles Times

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President Trump says he’ll suspend new green card applications amid the coronavirus outbreak: With his poll numbers dropping, Trump says he’ll restrict legal immigration to battle the economic fallout of coronavirus, but the connection remains unclear. Los Angeles Times


Will California reopen in sections? Some parts of California say they are ready to reopen. Others say they are now close. Could the state reopen by geography? Los Angeles Times


“Where are the strokes and the heart attacks?” Doctors worry as patients avoid ERs: Amid fears that hospital emergency rooms are rife with the coronavirus, fewer people with medical emergencies are seeking help. Los Angeles Times

More than 850 residents and staff in assisted-living facilities in California have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to data released late Monday by the state social services agency. Los Angeles Times

How Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena was transformed into a coronavirus treatment facility. The Sacramento Kings’ old stomping grounds will be prepared to take on up to 400 COVID-19 patients in the arena, potentially from all over California. Sacramento Bee

Latinos in San Francisco account for 25% of positive coronavirus cases but make up only 15% of the San Francisco population. Los Angeles Times



Lysol, masks and a wedding dress: After postponing their nuptials, a Bakersfield couple decided to document history with a pandemic-themed wedding shoot. Bakersfield Now

How canceling Comic-Con affects these Southern California comic book stores: “It’s one of those weekends where you go and make the amount of money that you make in a whole year.” Riverside Press-Enterprise

Cal State Fullerton is planning to begin fall semester with online classes, making it one of the first universities in the nation to make that move as campuses throughout the country grapple with how long to stay closed. Will others follow? Los Angeles Times


Need dinner in San Bernardino? An after-school boxing program for kids has repurposed itself in the face of the pandemic. Instead of training amateur prizefighters, Project Fighting Chance is now crafting and delivering dinners for families in need. San Bernardino Sun

Thanks to plentiful recent rain, colorful wildflowers are springing up across the Inland Empire. Virtually visit the blooms with this slideshow. Riverside Press-Enterprise

How to buy grocery items like meat and fresh veggies in Fresno without going to the grocery store. Fresno Bee


Touring national parks, couch edition: Here are all the cool things you can see on national park webcams (including Old Faithful eruptions). Los Angeles Times

And a poem to start your Wednesday: “blessing the boats” by Lucille Clifton.

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Los Angeles: sunny, 85. San Diego: sunny, 75. San Francisco: sunny, 69. San Jose: sunny, 75. Fresno: sunny, 82. Sacramento: partly sunny, 84. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Richard Lutz:

In mid-December 1948 my parents sold our row house, dad quit his job, packed a 1948 Dodge Woody and auctioned off everything remaining in the house. We drove west and arrived in Los Angeles two days before Christmas. We left narrow roads, hills and cold snowy winters to arrive at grandpa’s house with a green lawn, palm trees, warm weather.... Since that time, I have never lived anywhere else except when the Army sent me overseas.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.