Name: Larry Buchanan
Occupation: Retired/president of historical society/secretary of the DHS Rotary Club/Economic Development Team
Interview: In person
1. Describe the city’s current budget situation. How do you plan to balance the budget and take care of the city?
It’s dismal. We already knew that going in, and we have had to make extreme cuts in services to the point where we were in a real service deficit. My biggest concern is the cuts to the police department. The pay is not competitive with the rest of the cities in the area. We have a really small police department; we’re getting new people in; and we’re losing people at the same time. It’s not adequate, and we need to do something about it. One of the things we have to do is find a stable funding source for our police department. It’s been funded over the past 10 to 15 years by a couple of really shaky devices: a partially dedicated property tax, and a utilities tax. Both are going to sunset by 2020. Many people no longer have landlines or (are not) tied to cable like they used to be, so the utilities tax has steadily declined. We’re working on a new property-tax formula for vacant land. Homeowners pay a lot of property tax; vacant land owners pay virtually nothing. We’re trying to even that out a bit. We have to do it now. If we wait, it will never happen.
Additionally, I have my own plan that has a little bit of support: We know that 80 percent of public-safety revenue is generated from homeowners. They use 15 percent of the public-safety dollars; 85 percent of the public-safety dollars are used by people who are renters, absentee land owners and vacant land owners, and they don’t pay their fair share. My idea is to put a surcharge on rental properties of $10 per month per occupied unit. It’ll raise enough money to stabilize this problem, and additionally anything we do. A lot of people favor a 1 percent sales tax increase, and I find it repressive; I’d rather see people who are actually responsible for spending their dollars and using their services to pay the bigger price.
2. Aside from hiring more officers, what can be done to tackle DHS’ crime rate?
I’m a big believer in community policing. I also believe we have not done a good enough job in this town of developing neighborhood-watch groups. We need to improve our communications systems, and our cops are handicapped right now with poor communications systems. I’ve done ride-alongs with police officers, and I found that it’s challenging, because they don’t even have GPS. I have GPS on my phone, and I was actually helping the sergeants I was riding with by typing the address and showing them where it was located. They have maps where they have to stop and look at them, and it slows them down. Their radio systems are also really poor. We’re on our third police department, and we’ve been very bad about sticking with something and staying with it. We want something for nothing, and we want them to cover us without paying much for it, and we can’t have that. That’s not the way it works. They can give us a 27-officer police force, but we have to pay for it, and it’s simple as that. We don’t have reserves; even if you see that on a campaign sign, that’s cash flow so they can pay people. We need to develop a better relationship with the police and the community by having more bilingual officers and more officers that look like the community they’re serving in. That’s been a big emphasis of mine, and a big one of the police chief. They need to reach out to minority communities—which are majority communities here. We have a young population and are the youngest city in the valley, and we have to work with these kids. The police force is starting to do a good job, and we finally have a solid chief.
3. How do you plan to attract new businesses to Desert Hot Springs?
A few things. … We have a Kmart, a Vons and a Stater Bros. We have virtually no retail to speak of. Even our mom and pops aren’t much. If you want to find business supplies in this town, the UPS Store stocks a little table with some supplies on it, and that’s about it. Kmart has virtually nothing, and grocery stores have a little something, but nothing really to speak of. I have to go down to Palm Springs or order it on Amazon. What do we do? Encourage more retail so people don’t have to go down valley or order online because there’s nowhere in town to get anything. A lot of our people are going to Walmart in Palm Springs to buy everything they need and spending their tax dollars down there. The worst thing about this is 60 percent of the people who work at Walmart in Palm Springs probably live in Desert Hot Springs. We need to get more retail in here.
Another is … cultivation of marijuana, and it’s going to be a big business for us, and we have businesses coming in to the industrial area on Little Morongo that are going to be bringing in tax revenue. The big shakers and movers in the grow industry are very interested us, so there’s money and a lot of jobs coming in. The jobs will be good-paying and highly technical.
We have this huge industrial area along Interstate 10 between Palm and Indian that we can’t do anything with. The reason we can’t do anything with it is because we can’t provide sewage to that area, which sits over the aquifer for the desert, and we can’t build that area up. There are businesses who want to come into that area, but we need a regional water treatment plant down on Indian, and our water district has a plan, which I’m behind. We have a lot of land and a lot of water, but we need to protect both and to make sure they’re not dumping sewage into that aquifer.
4. DHS has a problem with homelessness. What can the city do to fix this?
There are a lot of things the city can do that will marginally help the situation. The biggest issue with homelessness in our area is we have a very small law-enforcement element, compared to Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs, to chase them out. Increasing our police force is one way to address it.
The biggest problem for homeless people is mental health. We have the county medical health building, and (it is) very small compared to what (it was) supposed to be, and does only one thing: Provide mental health services to people 62 years and older. If you’re 59, nope. If you’re a young homeless man or woman, no. We have no beds for the homeless. Roy’s Resource Center, which is a unified joint effort in north Palm Springs, is constantly full. Most of the people up here don’t qualify for Roy’s, anyway, because they won’t take anyone with mental-health or drug-addiction problems. I remind (County Supervisor) John Benoit every time I see him that we had this discussion a year ago, six months ago, three months ago, and we had it a month ago, that we need to open the county medical health building up to people who are under 60 and (place a) heavy emphasis on children, people with substance abuse issues, and homelessness issues. If we do that, it will improve our situation greatly.
5. If you could challenge every DHS resident to do one thing, what would that one thing be?
I would challenge everyone to go out and clean up the vacant lot that’s close to your house. I don’t care who owns it; clean it up. Don’t be dumping your garbage out in the desert, and clean up your neighborhood. Plus. you have to get to know your neighbors. That improves the quality of life for everyone, and one of the biggest problems of the past 50 years is people don’t know their neighbors. How you going to ask people for help you’ve never met?
6. Palm Drive/Gene Autry or Indian Canyon? Why?
I can’t give a clear answer to that. If I’m going to the airport, I’m going down Palm/Gene Autry. If I’m going to Palm Springs, I’m probably going to take Indian, even though it’s in awfully bad shape between North Palm Springs and Dillon. If I’m going down valley, I’m going over to Mountain View and to Date Palm.
7. Date shake or bacon-wrapped dates? Why?
I like date shakes. I’m not a big bacon guy—I mean, I love bacon, but I’m not supposed to be doing that, so I would have to go with the date shake.
8. If someone gave you a $100 gift card to the DHS Kmart, what would you buy?
I would probably buy something electronic. Every time I have a Blu-ray DVD player break, I go over there to buy another one.
9. If someone walked up to you and told you that DHS was the worst place to live in California, what would your response be?
I hear that a lot. It depends on where you are and what your experience is, so I’d need to know more about what the problem is. My neighborhood is fantastic, and I know all my neighbors. There are renters and people who own their own homes in my neighborhood, but I know them all. We have a good neighborhood; we look out for each other, and there are a lot of neighborhoods like that. There are also some that aren’t that good, and there are some places where my concern is no one wants to go out at night here. This is a great challenge, and when we moved here, we knew what we were getting. We want to make this a better place, and the only way to do that is by being active and getting involved. Also, what I don’t understand is if you don’t like Latino people; you don’t like African-American people; and you don’t like young people, this is not the town for you, and you should consider going somewhere else. We’re a young community with a lot of minorities, and if you don’t like those kinds of people—and those are the ones we hear about this from the most, the more-affluent Caucasian people—you must invest yourself into this to make it work.
10. Award-winning water from the tap, or bottled water?
I’m a tap-water guy. I do drink bottled water when I’m in the desert, because you have to hold it in something.