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Local Issues

27 May 2013
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College of the Desert Superintendent/President Joel L. Kinnamon doesn't have an opinion on legislation that could radically impact 2.4 million students in California's beleaguered community-college system. The legislation in question, Assembly Bill 955, would permit community colleges to offer self-supporting courses at increased rates during winter and summer sessions, following budgetary cutbacks—to the tune of $800 million systemwide since 2008—that have left many of these institutions incapable of meeting ever-increasing demand. Under AB 955, students would pay tuition of about $200 per unit for these courses, reflecting the actual costs associated with providing them, instead of the state-subsidized rate of $46. A third of the revenue generated from the courses would go to financial assistance for low-income students. Critics charge that the bill would create a "two-tiered system," in which those who can afford to pay the increased rates are able to get the classes they want and need. Proponents—including…
29 May 2013
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Initial steps toward building an alternative-transportation corridor for valley residents are being taken—without specifics on a potentially costly variable. The Coachella Valley Association of Governments, the organization spearheading efforts to construct the Whitewater River Parkway, has secured grants from various sources worth as much as $49.4 million, according to Mike Shoberg, CVAG transportation program manager. An exact accounting isn't possible, Shoberg said, because the Desert Healthcare District has pledged "up to $10 million." The tally includes a $17.4 million contribution from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which was charged with doling out $53 million in pollution-mitigation fees stemming from the construction of the Sentinel power plant near Desert Hot Springs. The project, also known as the Parkway 1e11, is envisioned as a 52-mile paved path for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers of small, low-speed electric vehicles. It would wind its way through nine cities, from Desert Hot Springs and…
24 May 2013
The slick brochure advertising homes in Indio’s Sun City Shadow Hills neighborhood has escapist senior fantasy written all over it. “Get Ready For The Next Great Chapter Of Your Life,” it says. On the cover, a lush green expanse of golf course fairway cuts through two shimmering lakes and ends at what looks like a Spanish village, where uniform clay roofs sit on top of white building facades, offering a perfect color transition between the Bermuda grass in the foreground and the desert mountain landscape behind it. But there is trouble beneath the utopic veneer: Many of the 55-and-up "active adults" who live here have become disillusioned with the homeowners association and the property managers who run it. They worry about how their nearly $9 million in annual dues money is being spent, complain about financial conflicts of interest, and say they collectively are getting gouged by fees and fines…
21 May 2013
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While other Coachella Valley cities tend to get more attention, it’s the city of Indio that—by a fairly wide margin—has the largest population. With more than 80,000 residents, it’s one of California’s fastest-growing cities; it’s also the home of the Coachella and Stagecoach music bonanzas. In fact, city leaders recently gave Indio the tagline “The City of Festivals.” However, a drive down once-bustling Fargo Street in the downtown/old town part of Indio reveals that all is not well: Most of that population growth has been in the suburbs, and the city’s core features numerous vacant, boarded-up buildings. Meanwhile, the city government’s reputation is still recovering following the 2010 retirement of Indio City Manager Glenn Southard following a series of financial controversies. (Editor's Note: Elaine Holmes wants to make it clear that she was a supporter of Southard and his "positive approach to Indio.") But there are signs of progress in…
02 Apr 2013
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Duroville is synonymous with abject poverty, disgusting messes, noxious fumes, electrical fires, feral dogs and sewage ponds. In the backyard of the glitzy Coachella Valley, our fellow humans were allowed to live in conditions like those in the slums of what we call Third World countries. The park was due to be shut down in 2003 for health and safety violations. And in 2007. And again in 2009. On tribal land near Thermal, Duroville belongs to a man named Harvey Duro Sr., a member of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians. At one time, almost 4,000 people lived there. The majority of residents are migrant farm workers, picking vegetables and fruit in the nearby agricultural fields. Most of them moved into a new government-subsidized housing development called Mountain View Estates, just a few miles away, at various stages during 2012. There, they can turn on the tap and see clear…
29 Mar 2013
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We’re getting older. We’re getting more Hispanic. And we’re getting a heck of a lot bigger. Those are the conclusions that can be drawn from a series recently released Coachella Valley growth projections. The state of California earlier this year released statewide figures broken down by county, and the folks at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) were kind enough to release brand-new Coachella Valley-specific projections to the Independent. The numbers are striking: SCAG projects that while there were 443,000 people in what the association classifies as the Coachella Valley in 2008, there will be 604,000 of us in 2020—just seven short years away. And in 2035, there will be 884,000 of us. “When you think of our growth over the years, it’s been slow and steady,” said Cathedral City Councilmember Greg Pettis, who also sits on the boards of SCAG and the Riverside County Transportation Commission. “This is…
25 Mar 2013
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Ann Field and I stand on a dusty lot on Avenue 81. We’re in Oasis, south of Thermal and close to Highway 86. We’re watching for two dogs that have been abandoned and are running around the neighborhood. As the sun starts to set, there they are—only instead of two dogs, there are now four. Ann sighs softly. Animal-control officers from the Riverside County Department of Animal Services rarely venture south of 66th Avenue in Thermal. The department’s mission statement touts educating the public on keeping animals, the importance of spaying or neutering them, and ensuring they are in a good home. Yet Ann said that when she has spoken with people from the department—asking them about coming out to visit the nearby migrant work camps, where a lot of these dogs get left behind—they come up with a number of excuses. Socioeconomic factors, as well as the inability to…
11 Mar 2013
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Well, as we all know, there was an earthquake this morning. It was a magnitude 5.2, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Or maybe it was a swarm of 5.1 quakes. Ooops, just one 4.6. We'll get back to you when the USGS finally makes up their mind. After we checked for damage to Independent World Headquarters (and there was none, save one somewhat frazzled cat), we did what any modern journalists would do: We got on Twitter to see what was going on. Scroll down to see what we found. [<a href="//" target="_blank">View the story "This Morning's Earthquake: Twitter Responds" on Storify</a>]
25 Feb 2013
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Food-truck operators may soon be freer to serve Riverside County residents, some of whom have looked with envy upon neighboring counties with far looser rules. County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, who was elected last year after pledging to "free the food trucks," is consulting key players about the possibility of overhauling the county's restrictions on mobile kitchens, according to his chief of staff, Jeff Greene. Greene is now telling aficionados of food-truck fare—and those seeing potential dollar signs in an untapped market—that they'll have to wait until the summer, at the earliest. "We want to take time to do this right," he said, while adding that proper regulation didn't entail "inventing the wheel." The current rules were set in the 1980s as a reaction to incidents of food poisoning and injuries, and are among the most stringent in the state. As it stands now, vendors are restricted to selling pre-packaged foods…
15 Feb 2013
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When it comes to government these days, maybe, to quote an old Cole Porter song, "anything goes." Two area school districts, Coachella Valley Unified (the east valley district that runs public schools in Indio, Coachella and points east) and Desert Community College (aka College of the Desert), are among the hundreds in California that have used financing known as capital appreciation bonds, or CABs, to fund construction projects. These bonds differ from more-traditional cousins in that payments can be put off for years—sometimes decades—allowing districts to save face by not raising property taxes, at least in the short term. However, interest compounds during those years, and when the bill comes due, many districts—and, therefore, taxpayers within those districts—will be socked with explosive costs. Repayment of traditional bonds typically runs about $2 to $3 for every dollar borrowed. In contrast, districts using CABs will frequently shell out four to five times…