When Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas defeated then-Mayor Adam Sanchez in 2015, the city was recovering financially after narrowly avoiding bankruptcy.
Today, the city’s finances are on solid ground—thank you, marijuana!—but Desert Hot Springs still faces a lot of challenges and issues, all of which will be on the minds of voters when they head to the polls on Nov. 6.
Matas is running for re-election to a two-year term, and he’s facing relative political unknown Stephen Giboney.
Matas says he wants to keep the city’s progress going; Giboney views the city as having many problems that have potential small-government solutions. We recently spoke to both of them; here’s what they had to say.
When I met with Matas at the RV resort that he manages, he described what he hopes to accomplish over the next two years.
“My focus will be getting the new City Hall up and running, because that’s important for our image,” he said. “Public safety-wise, I’ve been talking about building a fire station on the east end of the city for a long time. We’re finally at a point where we have a fire chief who believes we can build a fire station there. Finding the capital money to do it, I think we can do that over time, but the problem is staffing it on a regular basis at a million dollars a year. My goal before I leave office, hopefully in two years, is to make sure we’ve at least broken ground on the new fire station.
“Financially, I want to make sure we stay on the same path we’re on now. We put $8.5 million in the bank for our reserves … so if anything happens like we had happen in 2012 and 2013, where we had $400 in the bank, we’ll now have the reserves to fall back on.”
Matas touted his economic achievements.
“Economic development is really starting to build in Desert Hot Springs, and not just with the marijuana industry,” he said. “Our consultants are starting to bring businesses in, and we recently signed a contract with Grocery Outlet to bring them into our community. … A lot of politicians use quality of life as one of their points; I use youth (and) seniors, because it matters all the way up. Our senior services are better now with the Mizell Senior Center there for us. Youth services are getting better with the recreation center and youth sports. We’re working on some at-risk youth programs, and we are bringing back our PAL program.”
A lot of DHS residents are concerned about increasing rents; however, Matas said he was not sure whether the city should get involved.
“It’s tough in our community, because you can only control so much. Do you bring in rent control or not?” he said. “Our community is anywhere from 40 to 50 percent rental properties. Because of the recession, a lot of buyers came into the city and bought a lot of properties and … now they’re starting to raise the rent. My wife and I got married about a year ago, and we leased a house for a couple of years while we were getting ready to buy. We bought a house and just left the house we were leasing, and the rent on that house went up about $200. The market is there for the homeowners to raise the rent; the question is, does a city government step in and try to regulate that? I try not to get involved in that type of business.
“If the rent goes up, does that mean there are more jobs out there, and people are being paid more? Possibly. We would have to do the analysis, and it’s a tough question, because we haven’t been approached to do that yet.”
Matas dismissed concerns held by some citizens that the marijuana industry could bring in more crime.
“When it comes to the marijuana industries in the industrial area, I always tell people that’s one of the safest areas you’ll ever be in. The product growing out there, 99 percent of it leaves the community and never reaches any of our dispensaries,” he said. “The marijuana industry, when it comes to dispensaries in the city, most people are respectful; they know from the medical side of things that you go buy it; it’s in a brown bag; you take it home, and you use it responsibly or as prescribed. Same with the recreational side: You can’t walk around with it or use it on the streets. We have nothing related to crime going up based on the marijuana industry. If anything, it stayed the same or lowered because of these armed guards at these locations. … I think we have a bigger problem with heroin and prescription drugs in our community. That leads to petty crime, because people need to find ways to support their addiction.”
While Matas said this will likely be his final term, he didn’t rule out running again if he feels the need.
“My wife, Victoria, has been my rock. It’s no secret that I had a couple of marriages before her. I did a lot of good things good in my life, but some relationships haven’t been the greatest,” Matas said. “I raised my sons alone for the most part, and my youngest son was getting ready to graduate high school when I met Victoria. I never thought I’d get married again. She really energized me and thought I’d be a good mayor. I thought I was going to finish my term on the council and ride off into the sunset, because it takes up a lot of time, but she convinced me to run for mayor. But one thing I’ve learned as mayor is family is very important: I make sure Sundays are my day off. I have support from this company I work with to take Tuesdays off to go be the mayor, and we have a great staff now.
“Our City Council over the last two years has worked well together. We debate respectfully, and when it’s done, we move on. It’s not like the arguments in the past where we used to scream at each other. I love it right now.
“If I’m re-elected for two years, I’m most likely done, and that will have given me 13 years at that point of serving my community,” he said. “I spent 20 years as a volunteer firefighter, and two years as president of Food Now. My wife says, ‘Don’t ever say for sure.’ If it’s a perfect world for me in two years, I can support someone trying go in the same direction I want to leave the city. If there’s no one in two years, I might have to reconsider. But (as of) right now, after this term, I’m done, and I’ve served my community.”
Aside from a few YouTube videos and a radio interview related to the subject of geoengineering and chemtrails, there’s not a lot of information out there about Stephen Giboney—and many residents were downright puzzled by some of the things he said during a recent debate that was broadcast on Facebook.
After sitting down with Giboney at Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs, I found that he has some strong opinions on the city.
“I was tired of waiting to see some of the problems I see in this city be fixed,” Giboney said. “The city can thrive, and I don’t see it thriving. It mostly has to do with the perception of the city. Even if it’s better than Palm Springs, it’s still perceived as poor. I don’t see anything changing, and I have a real problem with the crime rate in this town. It can be handled much better than it is.
“First of all, I believe the city has to stop encouraging miscreants from coming here, and I believe (the city) encourages them to come here,” he said before delving into some confusing territory. “You get into a system that is more underground and more of a spoken system where it’s nothing you can track on paper. We know what it is. But how do we put it in terms where we can publish it? It’s happening. You see new people coming through the city all the time. When you have a city government that always wants to look good, they aren’t going to give out information that they don’t have to. We have to read between the lines as to what’s going on. The latest thing I heard from the mayor is, ‘It’s not illegal to be homeless.’ That seems to be his way of addressing it, which is not really addressing it.”
Giboney said he supports marijuana decriminalization, but he is not a fan of many elements of the industry.
“I believe in the free market. If you’re a legal business, and you’ve applied and been approved, I have no problem with that kind of business,” he said. “… (But) I believe there’s an agenda. California has been very interested in marijuana since the early 1900s, and they’ve been implementing things since the ’70s. It’s not a small industry. This is a very controlled industry, and there are a lot of hands in that industry that they don’t talk about. Eventually, it’s going to be a big-pharma thing. At the small grassroots level of the industry, I have no problem with it. I’m for total decriminalization of the product across the board. I want it to be no more dangerous of a product than tomatoes.”
He elaborated on his views.
“Government likes to run in debt. Our federal government is in debt; our state is in debt; and our city is in debt. They may not say it’s in debt, but they have $14 million in liabilities they they’re responsible for. My belief is that if an industry is coming into a city and offering a financial supplement to the tax base, fine. But what’s going to happen is the city is going to take that income and boost it up to where they’re going to go into debt more. That gives them the freedom to go that much higher in debt. They don’t use (the new revenue) to pay down their debt; they use it to justify spending even more.”
Giboney is not a fan of the city’s taxation of marijuana, either, even though the voters approved the taxes.
“I can’t stand bullies, and I believe the government stands there exploiting the lack of information in the heads of the average voter. They exploit that,” he said. “(The voter initiative approving the marijuana tax) was passed saying they were going to tax the retail side of it and the manufacturing side. What came out shortly after the cultivators started to come in was the cultivators were writing the rules of the city. If you want to ignore the history of how government is controlled by special interests, you can say, ‘Yeah, they voted for it. Isn’t that great?’ History tells you that they have no voice.”
Giboney said he sees rising rents to be a continuing trend—and claimed there’s already a solution in place.
“There’s an exodus from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and people can’t afford to live in those cities anymore. What that causes is competition for the same houses here,” he said. “People will do the same work and move outside of a city to lower the cost of living. … Part of what’s going on is people want the same house, and they’re going to raise the prices up. That’s supply and demand, and it’s a simple concept.
“There are federal and state programs that are mandated for cities to follow to provide a certain percentage of housing to lower income. I believe that this city and its residents have been exploited, again, for their lack of understanding of these programs. There (are special) interests that live in the city. … It’s not creating a new program, just taking advantage of what’s already there.”
Giboney explained what kind of mayor he would be if elected.
“I would be a knock-on-your-door, drive-through-your-neighborhood, go-to-your-meetings mayor,” he said. “The purpose of the mayor is two things: You have to run the City Council meetings and learn the system. The second thing is you have to be a figurehead for the city. You have to go out and ask people, ‘What is wrong in your community?’ so that there is a regular back-and-forth. The mayor is a liaison between the city and the people, so that the people have an ear to tell what their problem is. If someone tells you something about it, because if you don’t do something about it, you’re not doing your job.”