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Local Issues

21 Jun 2016
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This one may just be eligible for Guinness World Records: Palm Springs resident Tracy McKain has been a victim of vehicle-related thefts four times in the 3 1/2 years she has lived at her current residence. In fact, her latest vehicle, a 1999 Honda Civic, has been swiped three times since last October. During the most recent theft, in May, the car was taken even though half of the steering wheel had been cut off during the previous theft. The police report reveals that the car didn’t even have license plates. “And no gas, nor lights, either!” McKain said. Yet her Honda was again stolen at night, and somehow driven to Desert Hot Springs, where police found it abandoned. For 3 1/2 years, McKain has rented a studio in a small Stevens Road condo complex not far from downtown Palm Springs. Her front window is about 50 feet away from…
13 Jun 2016
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Just after 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, Omar Mateen walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and started firing at the 320 or so people who were still in the club after the bartenders announced last call. In the three terrible hours that followed, at least 50 people lost their lives. The country woke up to this horrifying news on Sunday morning, and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert quickly assembled a vigil to be held at 6:30 p.m. on Arenas Road in downtown Palm Springs. Mike Thompson, the LGBT Center’s chief executive officer, explained how the vigil came together. “It was really kind of a matter of minutes,” Thompson told the Independent. “A few people already coordinated some activities, so it was immediately getting together with them and organizing the community organizers. It was great to have something to rally around, and the support has…
20 May 2016
Since March 24, the Coachella Valley Water District management team has been conducting a series of public presentations billed as “Water Rate Workshops.” The managers’ goal of these presentations: Cnvince wary customers to go along with a proposed four years of considerable water-rate increases, slated to start on July 1. The CVWD board of directors will decide on the first year of proposed increases on June 14. At the May 2 workshop, many customers of the utility—which provides water to most of the valley from portions of Cathedral City eastward—left unconvinced about the need for the rate hikes, despite the arguments made by CVWD General Manager Jim Barrett and Conservation Manager Katie Ruark. The CVWD cites three main factors in the increase request: a decrease in revenue due to successful conservation efforts which obviously reduced water sales; water treatment needed to meet newly adopted state drinking-water standards for chromium 6,…
06 May 2016
The initial East Valley goal of the Agua4All campaign: Bring relief to thousands of students who had no access to safe drinking water by installing 60 bottle-filling stations at the schools of the Coachella Valley Unified School District (CVUSD). An April 8 rally at Toro Canyon Middle School in Thermal celebrated success: By the end of March, that goal had been eclipsed, as 75 stations had been set up. As a result, students now have free reusable water bottles and on-campus access to one or more Agua4All stations, providing safe drinking water on a continuous basis. “It’s been an extremely important effort that was initiated by the California Endowment, the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) and Community Water Center. Now we want to take it statewide,” said Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, of the East Valley’s 56th District, in an interview. “We introduced a piece of legislation (AB 2124) that allocates the…
21 Apr 2016
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The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is at a crossroads. The tribe, which has some 32,000 acres of land across Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage and outlying areas, is making big plans for its prime downtown Palm Springs real estate. Meanwhile, the tribe is involved in a controversial lawsuit against the valley’s two largest water agencies over control of the area’s water rights. In addition, tribal leadership, with Chairman Jeff Grubbe at the helm, is preparing for an uncertain future that includes online gambling—which may or may not hurt the tribe’s casino revenues. The late Richard Milanovich (1942-2012) reigned as the tribal chairman for 28 years, during which he placed winning bets on the gambling industry. He led his people from obscurity to become the first Native American tribe in California to own and operate two major casinos—Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs, and Agua Caliente Casino Resort…
10 Mar 2016
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I admit that when I first heard about Stephan Anspichler’s March to Equality project, I didn’t quite get it. The March to Equality is billed as “the most expansive march in history supporting LGBT equality,” and consists of people from around the world uploading their “steps”—pictures of feet, videos of “journeys,” or evidence of actual marches—via social media (using the #marchtoequality hashtag) and Marchtoequality.org. The goal: To gather 2.5 million steps by the 50th anniversary of Stonewall riots on June 28, 2019. As of this writing, Marchtoequality.org reports that 985,000-plus steps have been made. While the March to Equality boasts an impressive slate of “global ambassadors” such as former Major League Baseball player Billy Bean and actor Alan Cumming, there’s no fundraising aspect—and no other discernable point, other than to “support full LGBT equality.” However, when I recently chatted with Anspichler—a film and TV producer who now lives in Palm…
03 Mar 2016
With the trauma of the Dec. 2, 2015, mass shooting in nearby San Bernardino fresh in their minds, Simon Moore—the lead adviser of the Coachella Valley High School Health Academy and Health Occupation Students of America—and his students began planning a community outreach program. Kimberly Bravo, a senior at the Thermal high school and the captain of the CVHS HOSA community awareness team, noted in a news release announcing the forum that mass shootings have taken countless innocent lives. “Later, we find out that the people committing these shootings suffer (or suffered) from various types of mental health issues. The question we ask ourselves is, ‘Why didn’t anyone hear these individuals’ cries for help?’” she said. At the forum, Bravo, her fellow students and the members of the public who attended learned that the premise of the forum was flawed: Most people who carry out mass shootings don’t make cries…
22 Feb 2016
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A bottle, perhaps two, of Barolo might have helped cost the city of Palm Springs a fortune. The Italian red wine was served during a meeting in 2010 between Steve Pougnet, then Palm Springs’ mayor, and developer John Wessman. Before the meeting, Pougnet had publicly talked about filing eminent-domain proceedings against Wessman’s Desert Fashion Plaza—which the developer had kept largely empty for almost a decade. The following day, at the State of the City luncheon, Pougnet announced a deal with Wessman and a “new downtown vision that will benefit all of Palm Springs and the valley.” The bond between Pougnet and Wessman grew after that. The mayor was hired to work for the Palm Springs International Film Festival—which has long included Wessman as a board member and vice chair. IRS records show that the Palm Springs International Film Society, the nonprofit that runs the festival, paid Pougnet $37,500 in the…
19 Jan 2016
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After a nasty and bitter campaign to become the mayor of Desert Hot Springs between City Councilman Scott Matas and incumbent Mayor Adam Sanchez, Matas bested Sanchez by just 63 votes. During a recent interview, Matas said that already being on the City Council helped him settle into the office fairly quickly. “I think because I was fortunate enough to sit on the City Council for eight years, there really wasn’t a lot of transition for me coming into office,” Matas said. “I think a lot of times, new mayors have made campaign promises and figure out, ‘Oh my God. I got into office, and now I can’t do that!’ So I was very aware during my campaign that anything I said, I was going to be held accountable for.” However, Matas said he wishes he’d gotten more help with the transition from Adam Sanchez. “The one thing that’s sad…
08 Jan 2016
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A divided California Legislature passed a law in September allowing terminally ill patients to seek a prescription to end their lives—and now, some in a divided California are looking at ways to overturn that law. The first attempt was a ballot initiative by the groups Seniors Against Suicide and the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, which would have given voters a choice to overturn the End-of-Life Option Act in November 2016. Their deadline to collect 365,880 voter signatures was Monday, and group spokesman Brian Johnston says they came up short. “It’s an arduous process,” he says of signature-gathering. The California Secretary of State will not have a report on the signature count until next week; each county has eight business days to do a rough count of signatures before submitting them to the state, which will then verify the signatures if a measure looks like it has sufficient support to make…