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Local Issues

10 Oct 2014
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A smile grows on Jacqueline Aguilar’s face when she talks about local art and her community. Aguilar, a senior at Coachella Valley High School, is passionate about these topics—and she’s eager to share her insight with anyone willing to listen. Aguilar represented Raices Cultura when she spoke about art and her community to an audience of city planners at the 2014 Annual Conference of the American Planning Association’s California Chapter in Anaheim in mid-September. “I was really nervous. I was shaking,” Aguilar said. “I’m not usually that nervous, but people started showing up, and it was really weird to have such a large audience.” Aguilar and other youth representatives from the eastern Coachella Valley participated in a youth panel at the annual conference titled “Legitimate Voices: Youth Perspectives on the Meaning of Building Healthy Communities in the Eastern Coachella Valley.” The youth panel was an opportunity for planners to hear…
29 Sep 2014
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While a storm-water master plan exists for some undeveloped areas of Coachella Valley, residents will continue to suffer from the consequences of inadequate storm-water infrastructure for years to come, due to a lack of funding Portions of the east valley learned this lesson the hard way on Monday, Sept. 8, when storms—including the remnants of Hurricane Norbert—flooded portions of Mecca, Thermal and other communities. In many of the unincorporated communities, storm-water systems have yet to be installed, said Mark Johnson, director of engineering for the Coachella Valley Water District. Mecca and North Shore, for example, are both subject to flooding, even though the master plan for the areas identifies what is needed to provide necessary flood protection. Needed flood control systems would be designed and constructed in the future in accordance with master planning for the area, Johnson said. “I think the (residents of) unincorporated areas are aware of the…
24 Sep 2014
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The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 is landmark legislation that prevents discrimination on the basis of disability and requires public accommodations for the disabled. However, the act includes loopholes and flaws, as is the case with many good laws. In most states, the Americans With Disabilities Act allows people to file a lawsuit against a business that does not meet disability regulations; however, the only result is that the business must remedy the violation(s). That’s not the case in California. Due to the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, enacted in 1959, those with disabilities can file lawsuits and receive monetary damages. According to the California Bar Association, ADA lawsuits in the state represent nearly half of the ADA litigation nationwide. In Palm Springs, it appears that a couple of individuals and their attorneys are taking advantage of these facts. A woman by the name of Diane Cross, represented by…
05 Aug 2014
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Michael Weems is an artist with an impressive collection, a successful gallery, and a renowned résumé in the art world. As of late, however, he’s had a focus beyond art: Helping the homeless. He’s asking his fellow Coachella Valley residents to assist as well. Weems recently talked to the Independent about what led him to leave the corporate world and become an artist. “I’ve been an artist for about 20 years now,” Weems said. “I had worked as a financial manager with AT&T back in Washington, D.C., for about nine years, and I was downsized with about 15,000 other people. When I was downsized, I visited a friend of mine on my first-ever trip to California. When I visited her in San Diego, she took me to a psychic who said to me, ‘You’re not going to be in the corporate world any more; you’re going to be an artist,…
04 Aug 2014
Five years ago, when south-central Texas was suffering through its driest year in more than a century, public officials in the city of San Antonio turned in desperation to a new tactic to enforce water conservation: They dispatched the police. From April 2009 and on through the rest of the year, off-duty officers and other city employees prowled neighborhoods looking for over-green lawns, leaky hoses and inveterate sidewalk-washers, issuing tickets to observed offenders. The city also set up an online form residents could use to report their neighbors, just in case the authorities let one slide. “We don’t go out in a car with sirens blazing or anything like that,” San Antonio Water System spokeswoman Anne Hayden said back then. “But we do take the report and send out a letter saying, ‘You’ve been reported for not following water rules.’” The gambit may have seemed extreme at the time, but…
23 Jul 2014
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Desert Hot Springs has been in a fiscal emergency ever since last year’s surprising November revelation that the city was facing a budget deficit upward of $6 million. In an effort to bridge that gap, the city put Measure F on the June 3 ballot, proposing to drastically raise taxes on vacant parcels of land. Even though more than 60 percent of the city’s voters said yes to the measure, it did not pass, because of a state law requiring two-thirds approval. Today, after slashing the budget, city officials are considering placing another revenue-raising effort in front of voters, this time in November. Had Measure F passed on June 3, it would have provided the city with just more than $3 million. Mayor Adam Sanchez said the city has two realistic options for the Nov. 4 election. “We can go again with a (initiative) similar to Measure F … but…
14 Jul 2014
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Thirty years ago, in the middle of what was becoming the AIDS epidemic, the Desert AIDS Project was founded to help locals deal with the crisis. On Friday, July 25, at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, the Desert AIDS Project will be celebrating its three decades with its annual Mid-Summer Dance Party. Playing at the event will be Independent resident DJ All Night Shoes, and DJ Femme A. Cameron Neilson, formerly on the television show X-Factor, will also be providing entertainment. Darrell Tucci, DAP’s chief development officer, discussed how the organization began. “A group of people locally saw what was taking place as far as the (AIDS crisis) was concerned in the 1980s,” Tucci said. “DAP became one of the first AIDS services organizations in the country in 1984. The Desert AIDS Project over the years has allowed itself to keep its fingers on the pulse of the epidemic,…
01 Jul 2014
Much of the state of California is currently facing a water crisis, thanks to a record-setting drought. Yet here in our desert environment of the Coachella Valley, the happy anomaly of apparently plentiful and affordable water continues as the status quo. However, that does not mean all is settled regarding water in the Coachella Valley. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (ACBCI) has filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court to obtain senior water rights over the shared Coachella Valley aquifer. The suit, filed on May 14, 2013, against the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) and the Desert Water Agency (DWA)—stewards of much of valley’s public water supply since 1918 and 1961, respectively—is expected to go to trial no later than February 2015. On May 13, the latest legal maneuver occurred when the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion, which has since been granted, to join the lawsuit…
16 Jun 2014
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The Health Assessment Resource Center (HARC) is a community-based organization that works to assess the health needs of the Coachella Valley—and the organization recently released a report regarding the valley’s health status and needs. The findings, in many cases, were not pretty. The Coachella Valley’s nine cities and unincorporated areas are all represented through surveys done via random-digit dialing to residents in the valley. In 2013, the key finding for health-insurance coverage was that one-third of adults between 18 and 64 were without health insurance. However, the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) is now having a significant impact on access to insurance, so numbers will most likely improve in future surveys. As far as major diseases go, high blood pressure/hypertension was the most prevalent in the Coachella Valley, at 37.8 percent (134,208 residents), followed by high cholesterol at 30.8 percent (108,183 residents). Eileen Packer, the chief executive officer of HARC,…
26 May 2014
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The LGBT Community Center of the Desert held its annual donor-appreciation party on Thursday, May 15—and the event’s star attraction was the organization’s brand-new executive director, Mike Thompson. He hadn’t even started his job yet—in fact, his first day on the job is slated to be Monday, June 2—but Center supporters were excited to meet the man who they hope will fill a staff-leadership void that’s existed since the previous executive director, Gary Costa, stepped down some time ago. Thompson’s qualifications are impressive. He spent about a year and a half with GLAAD, as the chief operating officer and the acting president. He was the executive director of Equality Utah for almost four years, and he spent a short stint as the director of development for the AIDS Project Los Angeles. The University of Oklahoma graduate and member of the Cherokee Nation also served as the executive director of a…