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Local Issues

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…
23 Nov 2015
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If you live in the Coachella Valley, you may receive a phone call sometime early next year from a nonprofit called HARC—Health Assessment and Research for Communities. HARC’s new board president, Bruce Purdy, says it’s vital for you to take that call, and answer all of the survey questions that follow—even if the questioning is lengthy and a bit tedious. “The data we’ll collect will ultimately support and improve the health and well-being of the residents of the Coachella Valley,” he said. “It will provide an objective picture of the health of citizens in this community, and help create programs and policies that will help improve health of a whole lot of residents.” It’s HARC’s job to conduct this survey of residents every three years, and then compile and release the results. So, why’s it so important to have this data? “We believe that in the last five years, grants…
18 Nov 2015
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Nejat Kohan is an Iranian Jew who, like many immigrants (myself included), came to this country in hopes of creating better life. Kohan’s dream was to become a big-time developer. One of the first projects he was involved with here in the desert was the reconstruction of the historic Spanish Inn—nowadays known as Triada—the iconic hotel on Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. The property has been a hot spot for Hollywood celebrities since 1939. Lana Turner and Elizabeth Taylor frequented there, as well as Howard Hughes and Alan Ladd. In 1995, Los Angeles-based investor Hormoz Ramy bought the deteriorating hotel; Kohan stepped in as his business partner in 2002. Kohan threw all of his financial resources, time and energy into the reconstruction, he said. “The project I was working on was a massive undertaking,” Kohan said. “There are three complexes within the 65,000-square-foot lot. The underground parking alone is…
14 Nov 2015
At the recent 2015 Coachella Valley Economic Summit, hosted by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), roughly 700 representatives of the valley’s elite businesses and employers listened to rosy reports about the current national, state and local economy. According to presenter Michael McDonald, of Market Watch LLC, job growth in the valley in 2015 was at its highest level since 2005. Employment in the leisure, hospitality and health care sectors is at 15-year highs, while hiring in the professional/business services sector is higher than it has been since 2008. Median home prices have rebounded to match prices in early 2008, when they began the free-fall precipitated by the widespread economic downturn. It was a good day for CVEP, founded in 1994 “to promote a diversified, year-round economy by facilitating programs that stimulate job creation in key industries through business attraction, retention and expansion, and unite business and education leaders to…
28 Sep 2015
It’s been a turbulent couple of months for the Cathedral City Public Arts Commission. The way interviews were done for potential commission members raised eyebrows. The fact that almost all of the newly seated commissioners live in the same area caused concerns. Then the commission made a major change in direction, with new commissioners pushing an aggressive slate of programs and projects that they say will bring increased artistic opportunity and expression into the daily lives of Cathedral City residents. “You know, frankly I was rather surprised at how it all went,” returning commissioner and new co-chair Alan Carvalho said regarding the interview process. “When I was interviewed before being selected last year, it was in a closed City Council session. This time, it was done in the open, and I don’t think that they were ready for so many people to be applying. “One of the focuses of the…
18 Aug 2015
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San Bernardino police recently made national news thanks to a creative operation. Cops, dressed in plain clothes or as homeless people, walked up to cars stopped at an intersection. The officers held signs, but instead of saying something to the effect of “need food,” the signs said something to the effect of “S.B. Police. I am not homeless. Looking for seatbelt and cell phone violations.” Of course, many drivers didn’t pay attention—they were busy texting, talking on a phone or even eating. Those drivers received citations. The Palm Springs Police Department also recently conducted a creative operation, of sorts, to combat a common Palm Springs crime: bike theft. In broad daylight, a marked police department bike was placed as bait, in Sunrise Park and in other areas of the city frequented by homeless people and the less fortunate. Of course, plain-clothes cops were on the watch. During the operation, three…
24 Jul 2015
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When I moved to Desert Hot Springs a decade ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know a thing about the desert city when I moved here from Cleveland in 2005. However, I was soon filled in by others: DHS has a lot of crime. Meth houses. Trashy people. Corrupt government. In the decade since, things haven’t gotten any better. In early July, a website called Roadsnacks.net published a piece, “using science,” that declared Desert Hot Springs is the worst place to live in California. It made the rounds on Facebook; the piece supposedly had received 358,600 views as of our press time. It’s no wonder Slipping Into Darkness, the wildly popular Desert Hot Springs band, included a song titled “DHS Blues” on the album Shurpedelic. OK, look: DHS isn’t perfect. It has its problems, for sure. But my city of not quite 30,000…
10 Jul 2015
The Coachella Valley Unified School District is doing its best to keep the East Valley connected. The district—which encompasses 21 schools at the eastern end of the valley from Indio to the Salton Sea—recently announced that the school board had approved the installation of wireless Internet routers on all 100 buses in the district’s fleet. The decision came after a successful pilot program, which began eight months before, with the implementation of Wi-Fi connectivity on three buses. Also approved was the installation of solar panels on 10 buses in order to extend the routers’ battery life so they can become mobile wireless “hotspots” that will be parked overnight in communities where no wireless access currently exists. Superintendent Dr. Darryl Adams sees this strategy as part of the core service the school district must provide to its students. “You know every school district eventually is going to have to ensure that…