CVIndependent

Sun03242019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On Nov. 6, Desert Hot Springs voters will choose between five candidates for two City Council seats.

Incumbent Joe McKee chose not to run for re-election, while Jan Pye hopes to retain the seat to which she was appointed earlier this year when Yvonne Parks stepped down. She’s joined on the ballot by a former Desert Hot Springs mayor and several relative newcomers.

We spoke to four of the five candidates for this story. (Peter Tsachpinis didn’t respond to e-mails or phone messages.) Here’s what they had to say.


In 2015, then-DHS Mayor Adam Sanchez narrowly lost his re-election bid to Scott Matas.

Sanchez’s term started off with the city near bankruptcy. Sanchez helped turn the city around, but a feuding City Council, as well coverage by The Desert Sun about Sanchez’s ties to a Desert Hot Springs marijuana dispensary (Sanchez was later cleared of wrongdoing), put him in a negative light with many residents. Now Sanchez is hoping to earn a return to the Desert Hot Springs City Council.

During an interview at Zapopan Mexican Food, Sanchez reflected on his time as mayor.

“I started off with the City Council, and at that time, I knew we were heading for trouble, because we were overspending,” Sanchez said. “That’s the only reason I ran for mayor. After the election, it all came out that we were in a financial emergency and were living month to month. I knew it was going to happen, but when I talked to the Desert Sun back then, I told them, ‘Just because the city gives you the financials, it doesn’t mean that it’s straight up.’

“I spent two years as mayor fixing the budget. We had to downsize and find a way to live within our means, and at the same time, I was trying to work on the image of the city to go toward health and wellness. We started doing marijuana dispensaries and cultivation.”

Sanchez has been accused of grandstanding at Desert Hot Springs City Council meetings, and was associated with the controversial “No Matas” signs on Dillon Road. However, he said he deeply cares about the city.

“I saw the city going in a direction that I didn’t feel was in the best interests. So what are the options? You sit back and go to a council meeting? What’s that going to do? They’re just going to look at you, and you’re done. … You get back in.”

Sanchez expressed concerns about the construction of a new City Hall, which was approved for $6 million in 2017, and is now reportedly going to cost $8 million.

“The council is saying now, ‘We’re going to build this mini Taj Mahal,’ and that’s supposedly going to make everything better. I don’t see the reality of that,” he said. “What they are doing is making it better for city staff, but $8 million—projected? Are they serious? … (They’re doing this) instead of working on the homeless problem and getting the citizens more engaged. … Nowhere in this whole process two years ago did (residents) say, ‘Our priorities are a new City Hall.’ It was about providing safety for our residents and building sidewalks to the schools, and kids shouldn’t be walking on the street. When the young lady from the high school got killed (as a pedestrian, trying to cross Palm Drive, in March), that’s when I asked, ‘OK, what’s in the budget? What do we have?’ The city gave me a hard time and wouldn’t give me the information.”

Sanchez claimed the current budget numbers don’t add up, and criticized Matas, his former mayoral opponent.

“They’re saying they have $8.5 million in the bank, and now Scott Matas is saying due to enhancements they’re making in the city and the money they’re spending, it’s $4.5 million. Which is it?” Sanchez said, “You can’t say you’re spending $8 million on the new City Hall, and you’re building some new green park areas, so now it’s $4.5 million.”

He dismissed concerns expressed by some residents about all of the marijuana businesses, and said people needed to worry more about education.

“Eighty percent of students in Desert Hot Springs qualify for the school lunch program. That tells you that … we have the working poor, and they’re part of the city,” he said. “… We had all these parolees here through the 1960s up until recently; they just changed the law, saying if you commit a crime in Los Angeles, you stay there, and you don’t go to somewhere like Desert Hot Springs. What ended up happening is a culture developed of dysfunctional values, with kids growing up in single-parent households and growing up without role models as adults.

“You need to make sure every kid in third-grade is reading at grade level. … At the state level, corrections knows how many prisons they’re going to build based on the statistics of the kids that are not reading at grade level after third-grade. We should be developing programs with the school district to make sure these kids can have academic success by being able to read well. That’s done through the educational process. I don’t want to spend money telling kids not to smoke marijuana; I’d rather see that they get the proper educational resources. A well-educated child will make better choices.”

Since leaving office, Sanchez has remained accessible.

“I relaxed a little bit,” he said with a laugh. “After I left, I still got phone calls from people when we had heavy rains and their homes got flooded out. I spent a lot of time working with my contacts in businesses and industries to help some of these residents. I was out there helping people through their problems—immigration problems, high school students. … It’s almost a continuation of what I was doing before. Now I didn’t have to worry about the budget and could go out and talk to families and help them, through the police department, the planning department, or any other resources. It’s almost as if I became a social worker.”


When Gary Gardner moved to Desert Hot Springs from Seattle in 2016, he quickly became active in local politics.

He worked on the Measure B and C tax campaign last year and spoke out regarding the need to keep the Desert Hot Springs Police Department fully funded. He was asked by Mayor Scott Matas to form and chair the Human Rights Committee in Desert Hot Springs, and then asked to serve on the Planning Commission.

Gardner—a former radio and television personality, lobbyist and public-policy advocate—told me during an interview at The Shop Cafe about his love of motorcycles and the outdoors, his upbringing in Salt Lake City, his time at Brigham Young University, and the fact that he’s not a big fan of wearing a suit and tie.

Gardner said the city needs to properly handle the booming marijuana industry while also embracing the businesses that were in DHS before.

“We need to manage the growth here and encourage the growth, and not neglect what’s already here. It’s kind of a juggling act as I look at it,” Gardner said. “The medical-marijuana industry saved this town from bankruptcy. It put money back in the coffers; it brought new businesses looking to hire employees; and it made this town thrive. But that business is going through a lot of changes rapidly and will go up and down. We can’t hang our hat on it. If it hits a dip, this town is really going to suffer. So we need to focus not only on them, but on the places that built this town. We need to work cooperatively to make this place a very friendly, very welcoming, very clean and very safe place to be. That will benefit us in the long run.”

Gardner believes the city has the potential to become a tourist attraction.

“My vision for the city is a health-and-wellness center with our spas and our mineral water, with the marijuana industry, and with all of those kinds of things tied in with the hiking, the views, the desert—and we worked to get the Sand to Snow National Monument,” he said. “… When people Google ‘Sand to Snow,’ that will bring them to Desert Hot Springs. That will bring the revenue in for all the hotels and restaurants, and as they grow, we’ll have more growth in restaurants and retail.”

After living in Seattle, Gardner has a unique perspective on high living costs and gentrification.

“This is still the most affordable corner of the Coachella Valley. It’s one of the reasons I moved here,” he said. “It really should stay that way. Where you see an increase in property values, mainly that is in what we call the light industrial zone, which is where the marijuana farms are. It was open desert and worth pennies, and now we have legalized cultivation; the value in that area has shot up. My own home value has gone up, but not greatly. … Most of the people here rent. I’d love to see more home ownership and would love to see us encourage developers rather than scrape out whole new subdivisions. We have a lot of vacant land, and I want to figure out a way that we can offer incentives for developers not to build McMansions, but average middle-class homes.

“Coming from Seattle, they had a huge housing crisis there, but they don’t have a lot of open land. It’s surrounded by water, and there are no places to build. But we have unlimited land here.”

He’s also hoping for job growth within the city.

“So many of our citizens leave here during the day to go to work elsewhere,” he said. “I’d love to see them stay here if we can find ways to get the marijuana folks to hire people who already live here in town, or encourage (marijuana-business employees) to stay here if they’re coming from out of town.”

There are some residents concerned that the marijuana businesses may attract crime and public safety issues. Gardner does not agree.

“Being on the planning commission, we review every single business application. One of the checklist items is security. If you go and visit some of those cultivation farms, it’s like getting in and out of Fort Knox. I’ve talked with Desert Hot Springs Police Chief Dale Mondary many times, and he personally reviews the security when they get their building permits. His concern is not what’s going on here, but once it leaves here, for the potential of someone hijacking a truck.

“… The city itself has a nasty reputation for crime, but the truth is crime is down over 20 percent in the last five years, because we passed a tax measure a year ago to fully fund and staff the police department. What we need to do is get a new fire station, and we need another one on the east side, because the one fire station handles 30 calls per day, and if you’re having a heart attack or your house is on fire, they are 10 to 15 minutes out.”

He praised previous administrations for not contracting with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for police services when the city was strapped for cash in 2014.

“Our police are well-liked. We have a responsive police chief; our crime rate is down; and I think that the image of bad crime out here is by the media and the TV stations who love to say, ‘Oh, another one out in Desert Hot Springs,’” he said. “But you know what? Our crime rate is lower than Palm Springs, lower than Coachella, and lower than Indio. We have really gotten a handle on that.”

Gardner’s eyes lit up when he told me about his passion for the outdoors and motorcycles.

“I love hiking, and that’s one of the reasons I came here,” he said. “I walk out of my house and do a four-mile walk every day. I love going out to Mission Creek. My boyfriend and I have a little teardrop trailer that we take out camping to Joshua Tree or Mount San Jacinto. I learned how to ride a motorcycle when I was a kid before I could drive, and I’ve loved the traveling on motorcycles ever since. I’ve been in every state of the union on my motorcycle.”


Jan Pye kept mentioning one word during our interview: education.

The former councilwoman returned to the body earlier this year to serve out the rest of the term of Yvonne Parks, who moved out of Desert Hot Springs. During a recent interview at Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs, Pye explained why she wants to remain on the City Council.

“I like the way council was going when they were all getting along, and I wanted to get back in,” Pye said. “I wasn’t going to run, because I liked the way the council was. Then Yvonne Parks decided to move out of town, and a couple of other people I knew decided not to run. So that’s why I decided to get in.”

Pye talked about the turbulent times during her previous council tenure.

“When there was an item on the agenda to have the sheriff’s department come and be in our community (in place of an independent police department),” she said. “My concern is Riverside County was doing increases of 7 percent a year, which meant if we had the sheriff’s department, we were going to have to cut down (other budget items to pay that) 7 percent. At that time, we had police officers who were willing to stay and weren’t getting what the rest of the Coachella Valley (officers were) getting. They were good officers. We ended up keeping our police department. We also had a situation where they wanted all the retailers to have $15 an hour (minimum wage), and that was very contentious, but you have to have the power of persuasion to get the three votes.”

On the issue of gentrification, Pye said the banks could possibly help.

“Part of it goes back to what I said about education. The banks are providing some opportunities to get people into homes. You’re always going to have that with the marketplace,” she said. “… What you can do is you can create banking opportunities, and if (residents need) to pay whatever it is in rent, it might as well be to own a home—so the banking industry is going to have to do something.”

Pye said that while the marijuana industry has been essential to saving the city’s finances, she also sees the need for other economic development.

“We have to see it as another form of revenue, but not the revenue,” she said. “… Most people in business know that if you’re in it for three years, you might survive. If you’re in five years, you’re really about to survive. You have to look at it like that. Some of the marijuana businesses here are struggling, and others aren’t struggling. It’s a business that compliments us. We’re known for our spas and our waters, and medicinal marijuana falls into that plan. We have some sustainability from it here, and we have $6.8 million in reserves. At one point before that, all we had left after one year was $400.”

Pye told me that when she arrived in Desert Hot Springs, she was told by the man who rented her home to her that she probably wouldn’t like living in the city. He was wrong.

“I came here with my daughter as a single parent from Los Angeles and rented the home I live in now before I decided to buy it,” she said. “That’s when I went to city council meetings. … This town helped me raise my daughter. When I worked, and they’d see her, and she was somewhere like Rite Aid, they’d call me and ask me, ‘Is she supposed to be there?’ People were watching over her.”

Pye told me a story about something her father instilled in her while she was growing up.

“My father asked me when I was 15 if I wanted to flip burgers. I said, ‘No,’” she said. “He told me I was going to learn how to type. I wasn’t interested in that. He made me do it, and he made me practice. He made me type, no matter what my homework was, for one hour. If he left and came back, I always told the truth and would tell him if I didn’t do it for an hour. … After baby-sitting for a while at 16, my first job into the real world was as a file clerk, and I told them if I pass secretarial school, I would have the next position—and I got it. That’s how I kept going. I thanked my father then.

“I also did the same thing with my daughter.”


I met Jim Fitzgerald at Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs. The former retail manager spent 35 years in the industry and is new to Desert Hot Springs. He told me he had a four-point plan for the city—but didn’t have any information on paper when we spoke.

He told me he’s funding his campaign himself, and that he’s not putting signs up all over the city as the other candidates are doing.

“I came here a year and a half ago to remodel and fix up two houses,” Fitzgerald said. “… I looked back to 27 years ago when I was building these two houses with my father. They never sold, and we built three models. I see the emptiness after all these years, a lack of retail, and a lack of prosperity in Desert Hot Springs. I started to meet people, one of them being a councilman already, and I started asking him a bunch of questions.

“… I got (the houses) done and found myself doing nothing. I started to figure I was going to stay here after I met a lot of nice people; it’s a nice city. A lot of people are interested in this city, and the cannabis industry is a potential (way) forward, and I’ve been learning as much as I can about that. I think I can help bring retail in.”

Fitzgerald said the city has handled the marijuana industry well—although there are a lot of unanswered questions.

“I think in the old days, when there were people on the street selling marijuana, that was a criminal act,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone who has been harmed by (using marijuana). Plus, there is a medical advantage to it. I think the City Council here is doing it right. This city is very careful about it. I think it’s going really well, and it’s so brand new. … Now, all of a sudden, it’s legal. I think that’s a heck of a challenge for this state. There are all these new questions coming up. Can a spa have a phone service where someone can call up and ask for some edibles? Those things have never actually been figured out.”

Attracting new businesses is tough for Desert Hot Springs, but Fitzgerald said he knows why.

“Certainly the biggest one is crime and safety, especially up and down Palm Drive,” he said. “If you want to bring retail in … (retail managers) don’t want people concerned about going in and out of their store, especially at night. There’s been a great deal of improvement, though, recently, especially with the murders and stuff like that. One is too many, but it’s the smaller crimes that helps bring the big stuff down. … We do have a reputation, although it is getting better. Statistically, we made improvements after getting more police officers. We need to do more, but we’re going in the right direction.”

Fitzgerald talked about the increase in housing costs and rents.

“That’s a matter of supply and demand. We don’t have enough houses here,” he said. “If you have a decent house, you’re going to get $1,400 a month rent for it; $1,200 is about where it’s starting right now. It can go as high as $1,700 for a real nice house. We don’t have the $800, $900 or $1,000 apartments, because there aren’t a lot of apartment buildings. But do we want to turn into another Rancho Mirage, where there are all these beautiful estates and all that kind of stuff? There’s a new development that just got approved in Mission Creek, and it’s going to be 1,900 units, and 900 are going to be apartments. If people are doing all this work, they have to live somewhere, and it’s the people working out of the city, but they’re still going to buy Starbucks here and all that kind of stuff. But you’d much rather have them working and living here.”

Fitzgerald was quick to answer when I asked him what his priorities as a city councilman would be.

“I want to make sure we continue to get along with each other. When you see a council that’s bickering and fighting, they aren’t getting anything done,” he said. “Right now, what I understand is it could be a lot worse in Desert Hot Springs. That’s something that’s on my mind. One of the first things I’d want to do is get together with the council and come up with a growth and incentive package for retail. The other thing is find out who owns these empty buildings and find out what the issue is regarding that. If they need help fixing them up, maybe we could give them a loan, but we have to get those empty buildings filled. When retailers see empty buildings, they don’t want to see empty buildings: ‘If this is the place to go, why are they empty?’”

Published in Politics

With a population of about 25,000 people, Desert Hot Springs is one of the smaller cities in the Coachella Valley—yet DHS has the second-most traffic accidents among the nine cities.

These accidents are often deadly: In 2016, there were seven fatal traffic collisions in DHS, while in 2017, there were eight—and the stretch of Palm Drive between Pierson Boulevard and Camino Aventura seems to be particularly dangerous.

“Our accidents are actually decreasing, but it’s still a major issue for us,” said Desert Hot Springs Police Chief Dale Mondary. “In 15 years, we’ve had at least 25 fatal accidents. It’s not as many as Palm Springs … but that’s still a lot for Desert Hot Springs.”

In an effort to curb the number of accidents, a safety-enhancement zone will soon go into effect on that stretch of Palm Drive between Pierson and Camino Aventura.

“Any fine for a moving violation is doubled in that area,” Mondary said. “That was just another part of our approach to try to get people to slow down and drive safer. There are people who don’t pay any attention to the speed limit. They think, ‘I have to be at work in Palm Desert at 8 a.m., and if I leave my house at 7:20 a.m. and drive 70 mph, I can get there in time.’ They do that instead of getting up earlier and driving the speed limit.

“This is just one way we hope to slow people down. A lot of the offenders are repeat offenders who get more than one citation in that area, so if their fine is doubled, they’re going to think, ‘I can’t afford $700 to $800 for a ticket!’ That’s a tough sell for us, because we are a blue-collar working community, and we don’t want to take money out of people’s pockets that could be spent on their families. But what if you’re driving 65 in a 45, and you run over somebody and kill them? You’re going to be criminally charged and spend years in prison.”

Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas said a recent fatality helped lead to the safety enhancement zone.

“The last death that happened was Pamela Carrillo; she crossed the street and lost her life,” Matas said. The 17-year-old was struck by a car and killed in March. “We brought the family in and talked to the family members, asking what we could do better. One of the things they suggested was putting together a speed-safety zone. We hope that signage, streetlights, stoplights and restriping the roads will work together. Do we want to cause our residents more grief when they have to pay a ticket? No, but we do want to hold people more responsible for what they’re doing. You can’t go 65 mph up a street when people are walking along the side of it.”

A lot of jaywalking takes place along that aforementioned stretch of road—something the city is also trying to crack down upon.

“Over the past couple of months, we’ve written probably at least 50 jaywalking tickets,” Mondary said. “We need more crosswalks, because the reality is if you live in this particular part of the city, the nearest crosswalk is a quarter-mile away. People are going to say, ‘I’m just not going to walk down that far; I just want to get to the bus stop across the street.’ The problem is they try to run across five lanes of traffic that are in a 45 mph zone.”

Matas said the city has been examining the problem over the past two years with surveying and traffic studies.

“When I became mayor 2 1/2 years ago, one of the priorities I wanted to set with the City Council was so many pedestrian accidents and deaths,” Matas said. “I wanted to make our roads safer. We put together a plan to prioritize the stretches of roads that were the worst. Our staff did an analysis and showed us where the problems were. … We’ve put together a plan on where we needed to put some funding and received a state transportation grant about two years ago. The bids are due by the end of July for construction, and construction (should) start late August through September. We’re going to add an additional stop light on Camino Aventura, and choke and restructure the lanes so they aren’t as wide, which causes people to slow down. We’re going to put better bicycle lanes in, sidewalks on the west side of the street, and crosswalks for the kids, given there are schools close by. We’re going to add 23 streetlights to light up the streets better, and with the new LED technology, they will point straight down onto the streets and not up into the night sky.”

Even after the changes are made, it’ll be up to DHS residents to be smarter drivers and pedestrians.

“(Pedestrians) don’t realize that even though they might have the right of way to cross the street, you’re not going to win a battle with a 2,000-pound car going 55 mph,” Matas said.

Mondary added: “The solution is people being responsible and crossing where they should be crossing.”

Matas said the state transportation grant was a huge help.

“The problem that we have is we know where the problems are; the problem is always money,” he said. “… Traffic safety has always got to be a priority. We just bought a motorcycle for our police department, because we need to slow traffic down. Whether you lose one life or 15 lives, it’s alarming either way.”

Mysterious signs that say “No Matas” have appeared near the intersection of Dillon Road and Palm Drive (see photo below); they also call for a signal light and crosswalk to be put in at Camino Aventura. They were apparently put up by an attorney with the support of former Mayor Adam Sanchez.

“This individual came in and was uneducated about what we were doing, and he tried to make allegations that the City Council wasn’t doing anything,” Matas said. “One of the first things I did (as mayor) was put together priorities of our City Council, with traffic safety being a priority, but it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to find money and put together the projects. We were already in the process of fixing that roadway long before he put up that sign.”

Published in Local Issues

It was a simple, four-step exercise:

1. We came up with a list of 10 questions—five serious, issue-based questions, and five questions that are a little more light-hearted—to ask all of the candidates for city office.

2. We set up interviews with all of the candidates.

3. We asked the candidates the 10 questions.

That’s exactly what Desert Hot Springs resident Brian Blueskye did over the last couple of weeks. He interviewed eight of the nine Desert Hot Springs candidates (two mayoral candidates and seven City Council candidates)—everyone except Jeanette Jaime. Brian called her twice and emailed her twice; he even accepted help from another candidate who offered to put in a good word. No dice.

Now, comes the last step.

4. Report the answers to those 10 questions.

Here’s what all of the candidates have to say. We only made minor edits on the candidates’ answers for grammar and style; in some cases, we also edited out redundancies. Finally, in some instances, we did not include portions of candidates’ answers if they went completely off-topic.

Welcome to Candidate Q&A.

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs Mayoral Candidate Scott Matas

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs Mayoral Candidate Adam Sanchez (Incumbent)

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs City Council Candidate Russell Betts

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs City Council Candidate Larry Buchanan

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs City Council Candidate Richard Duffle

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs City Council Candidate Asia Horton

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs City Council Candidate Yvonne Parks

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs City Council Candidate Anayeli Zavala

Published in Politics

Name: Adam Sanchez Sr.

Age: 57

Occupation: Mayor of Desert Hot Springs

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?

We have $1.5 million in general cash flow. We also made sure we had $1 million in case of an earthquake, or all the rain we’re going to get this year; we don’t want to be in the position to where we (need) to ask for money from the county to make repairs from a flood or earthquake. It’s our responsibility as a city to manage ourselves. We don’t want to borrow money.

Our priority was to make sure we balanced the budget, had money for cash flow—and financially we’re stable now. A lot of money we were supposed to get from grants, they were holding back because they thought we were going to go into bankruptcy. They told us to wait and see what happens. Now that’s not over our heads anymore, and we did what we needed to do to stabilize the city. We have a true budget, true numbers—and it’s all transparent now.

2. Aside from hiring more officers, what can be done to tackle DHS’ crime rate?

One solution is education. We’re going to bring in a charter school from Moreno Valley called the Rising Stars Business Academy, and they’re certified and accredited in what they’re doing. One of the reasons we’re bringing them out is because the alternative school—they told me they had 140 students there, and wouldn’t tell me what the dropout rate was. My guess is they lose 50 percent of them, because they drop out. But Rising Stars is more one-on-one, and they offer vocational training. It’s for students who aren’t going to go to College of the Desert and who are tired of school. When they’re at Rising Stars, (the school) can connect them to HVAC, being an electrician, learning how to put up solar panels, or learning how to do drywall. Then they wire you to the business community, where you work somewhere. It’s a different approach to dealing with truancy and dropping out of school; a lot of these young people end up going toward that gang culture. Rising Stars is also a nonprofit that can do gang-intervention programs.

3. How do you plan to attract new businesses to Desert Hot Springs?

We’re working on an economic development plan, and it’s working right now. We have Rio Ranch (Market) almost ready to open up. Next to that, we have three residential developments right now, and that’s bringing a lot of contractors here. It shows the market is slowly going to start coming back, and it’s a mark for us with the economy, because the builders are building again because people are looking to buy again. That fuels the economy to create more jobs.

We also have the Walmart. They haven’t finished their environmental impact report. I don’t know how much longer they’re going to wait, but all they have to do is submit that, and the planner we have will analyze it; then it goes to planning, then the council, and that land has been bought already.

We need to work more with small businesses and how can we make it easier for them. One of those things is to not charge a permit fee for a new business owner, and just waive it. The second thing we can do is be a lot gentler when it comes to signage. You have to let small business put their signage up, even if it’s just banners, and extend that from six months to two years. The government needs to get off their backs and make it easy for them to get started. We need to work on that.

4. DHS has a problem with homelessness. What can the city do to fix this?

I think right now, we’re doing what we can. People who are truly homeless and in need of help getting back on their feet will go to Roy’s Resource Center first.

Those who choose to be homeless … we need to come to a consensus in the community to where we have the faith-based (programs) and the food banks (help the homeless, rather than individuals). There are faith-based organizations providing breakfasts and lunches; if you’re homeless, and you need a place to eat, we provide that socially as a community. But one problem is there are those who continue to assist the panhandlers who will be at Del Taco, Subway, Stater Bros. or Vons. They’re panhandling on a regular basis to fuel their addiction, and the majority of it is alcohol. We as kind-hearted individuals, as a city, need to get to a point where we give instead to the food banks and the faith-based organizations. The police department is out there trying to get them off the dividers and get them to understand that if they want to be homeless, that’s the choice they have, but don’t take advantage of the kind-heartedness of the people giving you money.

We need to visit the businesses and reach out to the residents more and develop a homeless strategy.

5. If you could challenge every DHS resident to do one thing, what would that one thing be?

Work closely with Desert Valley Disposal. The reason I say that is because they handle the trash collection and recycling, but one of the biggest complaints we have now from residents is people putting too many items out at one time. Fifty percent of the homes here are either home rentals or apartments. They have a lot of individuals who will be gone in six months. What they do is they throw everything out in the alley or the empty lot next to it and are out within 24 hours. We need to find a way to hold the people who own the homes or rent the homes more accountable. The way we’re doing it now is not beneftting us as a community. The other part is educating the other 50 percent of residents as to how it really works. When they mean two large items per pickup, they mean two large items, not a dozen. A lot of residents don’t understand the process.

6. Palm Drive/Gene Autry or Indian Canyon? Why?

Palm Drive/Gene Autry.

7. Date shake or bacon-wrapped dates? Why?

I’ll take a date shake any day of the week, and I’ll get it at the Windmill Market on Indian Canyon.

8. If someone gave you a $100 gift card to the DHS Kmart, what would you buy?

Usually, when I go in there, I buy pizzas for kids at the Little Caesars. But I think right now, I’d go buy backpacks and educational materials for the kids who are really in need in the community.

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?

This is the only place in the entire world where you have a fault line right down the middle of the city. Because of that fault line, you have the best-tasting water in the world, and the best hot therapeutic water in the world. No one else has that. I’m not talking about the valley, but the world. With the location here, we have the best views. At any given time during the winter, we could have snow on the mountains. View-wise, it doesn’t get any better than this. During the evenings, Palm Springs doesn’t have sunsets because of the mountains—but we have sunsets. We also have wind, which means we also have wind energy, plus we have solar energy. I consider it one of the best places in the world.

10. Award-winning water from the tap, or bottled water?

Tap! No bottled water. My wife and kids buy bottled water because they’re spoiled. 

Published in Politics

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 we have to change it, because by law, you can’t do the same thing twice,” Sanchez said. “There are people in the community who would rather put an increase in the sales tax on the ballot. That will be part of the debate and discussion at the city council meeting in August.”

Sanchez said he still prefers the parcel tax on vacant lands.

“What’s good about the parcel tax is it’s an opportunity for all the residents and anyone who owns property to make it fair and balanced,” Sanchez said. “The reason we didn’t go to the sales tax before is because it’s all the regular residents who own homes and work here who pay that tax. The parcel tax is on the vacant landowners, many of whom don’t live here. … It’s still a challenge, because you have to get to that 66.7 percent voter approval.”

Per Proposition 13, any increase in special taxes requires a two-thirds majority vote. Measure F received support from 61.5 percent of voters on June 3.

Measure F was proposed as a way for the city to avoid bankruptcy, and to ensure that public-safety services such as police and fire remain viable.

The primary argument against Measure F in the voting guide sent to voters was written by Robert Bentley, who railed against a corrupt City Council and suggested the measure was a “trick” being pulled on residents. The Inland Empire Taxpayers Association also campaigned against Measure F.

Neither Bentley nor the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association responded to interview requests from the Independent.

Michael Burke, a Desert Hot Springs resident and the owner of BurkeMedia Productions, signed the argument in favor of Measure F.

“I was in support of Measure F for one major reason,” Burke said. “Desert Hot Springs has this huge deficit. The City Council worked really hard to reduce it. We needed a solution, and Measure F was brought to the council. At first, they were going to make the parcel tax around $570 per acre, and that was ridiculous. They brought it down to around $375, which I also thought was a little high. After researching it, what the owners (are paying on vacant) parcels … is $29.50, which is ridiculously low.”

Burke said the solution made sense to him after he did his own research.

“Measure F would have raised the vacant land tax to still be lower than (the tax paid by) homeowners,” he said. “It would have made it a little bit fairer, because they would at least have to pay for the basic services that they use.”

After the failure of Measure F, city funding for groups and agencies such as Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, the DHS Health and Wellness Center (which also includes the Boys and Girls Club) and the Desert Hot Springs Police Department was jeopardized.

“During this process, we were already having discussions with the Desert Healthcare District and Borrego (who run the Health and Wellness Center) about how we can minimize our costs of operating the Health and Wellness Center. It’s a $1 million operation,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said the city wants to keep its own police department, rather than contracting with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for police services.

“Right now, I hate to say it, but we’re taking the police department on a month-to-month basis,” Sanchez said. “They have their budget now, so they have to make adjustments and reductions within the department. They recently had to let go the records clerk because they had to reduce the budget by $500,000. They can’t afford to remove a police officer, because that’s a priority, so they had to look at administration to reduce some of those costs.”

Sanchez said he hopes that voters realize the city’s budget crisis is a serious matter.

“I think people realized that as we had to do a budget without Measure F, and how we had to reduce the police department and police budget even further, that (the budget situation) was critical. We had to make reductions in terms of staff and accounting. There are a lot of details in the budget where they had to reduce cost. They can’t even have any more training.

“What we have now is a bare-bones police department, because Measure F didn’t pass. But how can a bare-bones police department function without putting their own safety and the public’s safety in jeopardy?”

Published in Local Issues

There is no question that the city of Desert Hot Springs is in financial trouble: The city is facing a deficit of $6 million or more.

However, bankruptcy is off the table, as far as the newly elected mayor, Adam Sanchez, is concerned.

Sanchez was elected to the DHS City Council in 2011, and ran for mayor against incumbent Yvonne Parks in 2013. Sanchez won by the narrowest of margins—12 votes.

During a recent interview with the Independent, Sanchez discussed the economic issues that Desert Hot Springs faces, as well as his plans for the city, and his first month in office.

“It feels like it’s been a year,” Sanchez said. “I think the obvious reason why is because one day after the election, we’re told by the mayor, the city manager and finance director that we have a deficit of $6.9 million. Hearing that right after the election, it’s enough to make you stop in your shoes and start thinking about where this started going wrong—and (why) didn’t anybody notice it? Since then, it’s been basically a quick roller-coaster ride, going down. Being on a roller coaster going down, you’re holding on. The last month has been holding on and trying to figure out how to go about reducing the deficit, because we know we have to be at a balanced budget by June 30.”

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Sanchez attributed much of the deficit to Desert Hot Springs’ police force and city employees, along with their pension plans. While many American cities that have gone through financial stresses have placed the blame on city employees and their pensions, Sanchez said it’s a bit more complex than that when it comes to Desert Hot Springs. However, in a city of 27,000 people, there are no questions that some of the city’s salary figures are mindboggling—and smell of possible corruption.

“I think the biggest concern came when they did the numbers on the police department: They were working the regular shifts, but also double shifts,” Sanchez said. “The detectives were working overtime constantly. Most of the detectives worked during the day, but the crimes happen at night, so why pull them out again? When they did the breakdown on it, they were averaging $200,000 a year per police officer. A study came back and showed that we were the 20th-highest in the state for paid employees.”

Sanchez said other employees within city government were also taking advantage of a flawed system.

“We had a city manager making $217,000 as part of his salary, and then $900 a month for a car allowance,” Sanchez said. “When you look across the state and cities similar to ours, the city manager is making anywhere from $140,000 to $160,000. On top of that, the police chief’s salary went up, too. … All of a sudden, you have a police chief who could be making close to $190,000.”

Sanchez said that while he was on the City Council under Parks’ leadership, he was hesitant to vote for any of the city budgets without transparency and full disclosure.

“With the prior administration, when they did the audits, a lot of this was kept private from us. … In the two years I was on the City Council, I was never asked to sit down with the auditors and look over their reports; none of us were. The only ones who were that I’m aware of were the mayor and city manager. A lot of us were left out of the loop from the entire process.”

Sanchez didn’t list that as the only issue; he said he’s learning a lot from an audit, still taking place, that Sanchez ordered after he took office.

“Within the police department alone, they had their own budget analyst who was working with the police chief and city manager, and the city had its own finance director. We had two different analysts, and they weren’t communicating with each other.”

Sanchez has pledged that there will be more transparency under his administration.

“We’re trying to put together a system where the city manager, the finance director, the mayor and the whole council will act as one finance committee. Before, it was the mayor and the mayor pro-tems that did it along with the city manager, so the City Council was left out. … Everybody needs to be communicating, and we can’t afford to be overspending.”

Of course, more business development in Desert Hot Springs could help the city avoid future budget problems.

“Right now, Two Bunch Palms resort wants to do a major expansion. … They want to create a whole new spa area, a new dining area, and add additional condos. They want to invest a tremendous amount of money and expand the resort to where we can showcase our health and wellness. In the next year and a half, that’s what we’re going to be working on with them.”

Speaking of health and wellness: Those are words Sanchez uses repeatedly, as he believes health and wellness can lead to economic opportunities for the city, and well-being for the city’s population. He spoke with pride about the city’s new health-and-wellness center and the programs it offers.

“What you need to have is programming directed toward creating a healthy family,” he said. “To have a healthy family, you have to make sure the kids are seeing the doctor. At the same time, you have to make sure the family is well-educated in health needs. A lot of it is education and preventive medicine. Why can’t we find ways to take advantage of that? All of a sudden, now you’re building a community around health and wellness, so we can get away from what we hear now, which is violence, more crime, and a city government that can’t keep its budget balanced.”

Sanchez said that if he gets his way, Desert Hot Springs will keep its police department, and there will be no cuts to education. The painful 22 percent cut in pay for the police department and other city employees will hopefully help save the city’s budget going forward, he said.

On the subject of his narrow win over Yvonne Parks, Sanchez talked about how he refused to believe he’d lost on election night, when preliminary results appeared to show Yvonne Parks had been re-elected.

“People were telling me the election was really over,” he said. The number (of votes I was behind) had dropped so quickly, from 97 to 24 on the second day after the election, and people were saying, ‘Oh my gosh; it’s not over yet.’ On the third day after the election, at about 2 p.m., they posted the results and had me up by 12.”

Sanchez said he was the youngest of three children to a single mother, and he grew up in the Boy Scouts, learning the value of public service at an early age. He also has a degree in recreation management.

“For me, it’s almost like the best time to be here in Desert Hot Springs, building this health-and-wellness initiative that I want to build, to change the overall image of the community to being a positive place for families to live, and for us to be proud of the fact we have the great hot mineral waters, the best-tasting drinking water—and now we have a government in the city that’s engaged and involved to where we care about one another,” he said.

Published in Politics