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15 Oct 2020

Candidate Q&A: Meet the Two Candidates Running for the Cathedral City District 2 City Council Seat

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JR Corrales and Nancy Ross. JR Corrales and Nancy Ross.

Cathedral City will soon to become the site of the valley’s third Agua Caliente casino—giving a centerpiece to the “downtown” area city leaders have long been attempting to bolster.

However, the casino will open in the middle of a pandemic that has crippled many valley businesses—and sickened many Cathedral City residents. As of Oct. 11, 1,992 residents of Cathedral City have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2—the third-most among the valley’s nine cities—and 32 Cathedral City residents have died.

At this critical point in the history of this mid-valley community, residents will be voting to fill two City Council seats during the Tuesday, Nov. 3, election. In District 2, a pair of new candidates, Nancy Ross and JR Corrales, are seeking a four-year term.

The Independent spoke to all both candidates recently about issues impacting their neighborhoods, including short-term vacation rentals, pandemic safety concerns, and the need for civility in public discourse. What follows are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

JR Corrales, business owner

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City in 2021?

The most important issue facing Cathedral City is how we can move forward with the pandemic and deal with the backlash of COVID-19. But another big challenge we face moving forward as a city is how to adapt to the new casino. How do we build around it and bring more businesses back to Cathedral City? We need to be more receptive to diversifying and to meeting the needs of our citizens to attract businesses.

The Cathedral City mission statement includes these two descriptors: “valuing fairness, balance and trust” and “honoring our similarities and differences.” However, relationships between some of this year's City Council candidates have been decidedly contentious and uncivil. What can you say to assure voters that, should you be elected, you will strive to demonstrate those laudable qualities while fulfilling your sworn responsibilities to residents and fellow councilmembers?

The whole reason why I’m running is to diversify our city, and by bringing diversity to the City Council, it gives us the ability to bridge the gap between our citizens and the City Council, and to form a more communicative state between those two. That’s huge in local politics. To be able to bring together people who normally wouldn’t talk is why I’m running, because it will bring a different perspective and a different point of view to our already amazing council. I’ve been endorsed by two of the current City Council members, Mark Carnevale and Ernesto Gutierrez. Former mayor Kathleen DeRosa and former mayor and police chief Stan Henry have also stood behind me. So that relationship is already there. It’s already established, and it will continue to grow when I get elected. I’m bridging the gap between past council members, or past mayors and police chiefs, to build a new generation of Cathedral City politics.

The City Council recently voted unanimously to approve an ordinance phasing out short-term vacation rentals in much of Cathedral City. Since resident supporters of vacation rentals have issued threats of legal action against the city as a result, do you think the City Council should revisit this issue in the coming year?

I think we have to let that play out. I believe that the citizens overall spoke up and (showed) what they thought was needed for our city, and the City Council did a great job of listening to their concerns. I stand 100 percent behind their process and what was agreed to.

As of this interview, Cathedral City ranks third in total COVID-19 cases out of the nine Coachella Valley cities, and fourth in deaths. Although the City Council extended its COVID-19 public-restrictions policy through the end of this year, do you think there is more that the city government should be doing in response to the health threats posed by this pandemic?

I think the city has done a great job in reacting to provide the best possible measures to help prevent this pandemic. Moving forward, I agree 100 percent with their extension of that ordinance. The only way to protect our citizens is by listening to our experts across the country, and I sincerely back what they’ve had to do.

What issue impacting Cathedral City should we have asked you about? What are your thoughts on how to address that issue?

I think that diversifying our City Council so that it represents the city as a whole is a very important issue. I’m 38 years old, and the average person’s age in Cathedral City is 38, with 1.5 children in their home. So, I am 38 years old, with three children, which puts me right in the middle of that curve. That gives me the ability to look at the city from a different perspective as to how we can improve our overall city by providing more programs to our youth, more programs to our senior citizens, and (addressing) the issue of closing the gap between the citizens and City Hall.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during this pandemic?

My favorite shelter-in-place activity has been bonding with my children. It’s been an amazing time. As a small-business owner, you get caught up in the everyday work of trying to build a better business. But with this pandemic, the best experience of this whole thing is being able to spend more quality time with my children. I think it’s important for all of us to see that one of the most important lessons of this whole thing is that sometimes it takes a pandemic to remind us of what our values should be—and taking care of our own and putting family above everything are most important.

We’ve brought back board games, and we’re having a lot of fun. It’s good-old-fashioned family fun. It got the kids away from their tablets and the internet, and it’s a special way to bond. It brought back my childhood memories, and at the same time introduced our children to them. Hopefully, in their future, they’ll be able to sit back and do the exact same thing with their kids. We’ve gotten really competitive (playing) Connect Four.


Nancy Ross, business owner

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City in 2021?

I think not just in 2021, but moving forward, (the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City is) to not allow COVID-19 to define us. We have to address the safety of the citizens. Everybody thinks that’s the No. 1 issue, and I agree wholeheartedly. We have to help our businesses that are still open to stay open, and search for all kinds of resources and grants and stimulus packages that we can to aid our struggling citizens. I think we can all agree that that is our top priority.

Along with those things, I am beginning to readily identify COVID-19 PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). We see people who are now afraid to go back into a restaurant, even though they’re only seating at 25 percent capacity. They’re unsure of whether or not they want to take the vaccine when it comes out. They feel unsure about where we’re headed as a nation. They’re nervous about schools reopening under any circumstances. So when I see people who feel paralyzed to move forward on issues that I knew they weren’t (intimidated by) before, I see that these aren’t just literal issues, but psychological issues as well. That probably shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us, but that’s also something we’re going to need to address, because not only have we been injured by COVID-19, and continue to be injured, but we need to make sure that it does not paralyze us moving forward. There’s just too much at stake in order to get our businesses back open, in order to get our children back to school, in order to get our government back functioning at a (productive) rate. Obviously, (since the city of Cathedral City) gets our money from sales taxes, at some point, we’re going to have to re-enter society. That will paramount to our recovery.

The Cathedral City mission statement includes these two descriptors: “valuing fairness, balance and trust” and “honoring our similarities and differences.” However, relationships between some of this year's City Council candidates have been decidedly contentious and uncivil. What can you say to assure voters that, should you be elected, you will strive to demonstrate those laudable qualities while fulfilling your sworn responsibilities to residents and fellow councilmembers?

For 30 years, I have worked in some kind of governance or another. And for those 30 years, I’ve stood for people. I spent six years as a director of the ACLU, where we did what I consider to be the most important work there is—and that is the work of the people in defending the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. I will always continue supporting those values of our country, of our state and, most importantly, of the citizens of Cathedral City.

Also, my experiences have allowed me to learn a great deal about people, about collaboration and the importance of unity. It’s something that we’ve seen a shortage of in our nation over the last several years, regardless of the (political) party you identify with. We have become a less-tolerant nation. We’re intolerant of our neighbors, our citizens and even of our friends. It is absolutely front and center that we need to become more empathetic of our friends, neighbors and citizens. I have participated in well more than 250 meetings with Cathedral City. I’ve heard the people speak, and I know what’s important to them. And I’ve watched our elected officials and how they govern. The reason I’m running for office is that, after hundreds of meetings, it was clear to me I have a voice that is different from the voices on the dais, and it will allow me to bring forward a collaborative voice that will help us move forward.

The City Council recently voted unanimously to approve an ordinance phasing out short-term vacation rentals in much of Cathedral City. Since resident supporters of vacation rentals have issued threats of legal action against the city as a result, do you think the City Council should revisit this issue in the coming year?

I do not. When we have citizens within our city who are being violated, who are being harmed and who are being treated inappropriately, we cannot cave to (those residents who state) that those people are not in the majority. I’ll give you that—they’re not the majority. But they are the ones being harmed, and how many people must be harmed before our entire city says, “No more”?

I have attended every meeting where this was discussed, including the neighborhood meetings at City Hall. I have listened to short-term vacation rental owners and supporters. I’ve been in private meetings with people positioned on both sides of the issue, and I have read significant amounts of documentation submitted by both (sides). It is extremely important to remember that (under the new ordinance), there is no limiting of short-term vacation rentals in resort areas like Desert Princess or Canyon Shores. Also, there is no limiting short-term vacation rentals in a home-share situation, which means anyone can rent out a spare room to visitors. And although I am convinced that short-term vacation rental owners don’t want to be bad neighbors and don’t want to cause trouble for the city, the very situation of random people—not personally known to the property owners or their neighbors—in unsupervised areas just brings problems that are predictable.

However, I would bring forward an idea that, so far, has been unique to me: I would suggest that short-term vacation rental owners meet with developers to look at the feasibility of building an entire HOA community that is strictly for the purpose of short-term vacation rental investment, and in an appropriate zone—not in R1 or R2 (residential zones), but in resort-style zones. That way, (people) can own the homes that they could later retire into if they want, or they can rent it out as a short-term vacation rental. And they could also share aggregate services by having onsite management, by sharing house cleaners, pool-service people and yard-service people, and (in this way) maybe even reduce their costs as opposed to (maintaining) a stand-alone home.

The city is not opposed to short-term vacation rentals. They are opposed to residential short-term vacation rentals that are much more like businesses with strangers coming and going, and no control over it.

Honestly, I’ve been approached by a signature collector (for a referendum), and they just aren’t telling the truth when they ask you to sign for the referendum, because (they say) Cathedral City has outlawed short-term vacation rentals. That’s just simply not true.

As of this interview, Cathedral City ranks third in total COVID-19 cases out of the nine Coachella Valley cities, and fourth in deaths. Although the City Council extended its COVID-19 public-restrictions policy through the end of this year, do you think there is more that the city government should be doing in response to the health threats posed by this pandemic?

I think the city has done a good job letting the citizens know what the restrictions are within Cathedral City, and encouraging all of our citizens to wear face coverings, to wash their hands and to stay socially-distanced.

But as (Cathedral City is) one of the youngest cities in the valley, with an average age of 38, our people are workers. They do not have the luxury of sheltering in place indefinitely, so they’ve had to go back to work—and with that comes a larger risk of infection. I believe they’ve all done their best to protect themselves, but going back into grocery stores, back into senior-living (facilities) or landscape work, just brings you into contact with other people who are, perhaps, not as careful as you are. It’s a societal conundrum. You have to feed your family, and you have to keep your family safe. You just balance those two the very best way that you can.

We, as a city, must encourage and support and protect our citizens in every possible way we can, and help ease those tough decisions to the best of our ability. We must continue to provide services to those facing food insecurity, (even though) so many of our pantries are not open, because they are indoor facilities. We need to reach out to people we know and help them in the ways that we can. … But at the same time, we must be understanding that people cannot just lock their doors and virtually starve to death. There’s a very difficult line that’s been drawn, and it’s one that our generation has never faced before. These are problems that are predictable, but just unfathomable. So we just can’t point fingers; we must work together to do the best that we can in our young city to get through this as quickly as possible.

What issue impacting Cathedral City should we have asked you about? What are your thoughts on how to address that issue?

It seems that all roads lead to COVID-19, and I believe the issue that needs to be addressed is food insecurity. We have had some wonderful programs brought forward like Great Plates, that allowed low-income people to utilize local restaurants for a meal. … And as I mentioned earlier, many of our pantries are not open or are not at full capacity, because many are indoor facilities that cannot function (under) social-distancing guidelines. What I believe needs to be addressed is how we can move these facilities outdoors, and how we can help all of our nonprofit organizations by seeking stimulus money, grant money and private donations to make sure that our people, who are struggling for food, have well rounded supplies available to them.

You can only take so many hits. You can lose your job, or your children can’t go to school. And even if you have a job, you can’t go to it if your children have to be educated at home or (you need) to pay for ridiculously expensive day care. And then (you may not) able to bring enough food home for your family to eat, and you’re worried about your health all at the same time. It is a mountain of rocks piled on our citizens’ backs, and we cannot solve all the problems. But food insecurity, in conjunction with health, must be the No. 1 priority. As a city, I believe that the residents, the nonprofits and the elected officials do have some (ability) to grant opportunities to facilitate a solution, or at least be the bridge to get us through these incredibly difficult times.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during this pandemic?

My husband, Bob, after his 22-year career in the military, became a general contractor. Throughout our marriage, he has spent his time making other people’s homes fabulous. Now, for the last six months, I’ve had nothing but opportunities for Bob and I to remodel our home. We’ve done a remodel on our guest bathroom and on our guest bedroom. We’ve installed solar in our home and a new air-conditioning system, and now we’re in the process of remodeling our master bathroom. We’re able to do these things, because I have my husband’s free labor, which makes it all manageable and doable, even during these difficult times. So it has been a delight to work together and to see happy things happen within our home, even though we know that so many tragic things are happening just outside our door.

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