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Local Issues

05 Aug 2014
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Michael Weems is an artist with an impressive collection, a successful gallery, and a renowned résumé in the art world. As of late, however, he’s had a focus beyond art: Helping the homeless. He’s asking his fellow Coachella Valley residents to assist as well. Weems recently talked to the Independent about what led him to leave the corporate world and become an artist. “I’ve been an artist for about 20 years now,” Weems said. “I had worked as a financial manager with AT&T back in Washington, D.C., for about nine years, and I was downsized with about 15,000 other people. When I was downsized, I visited a friend of mine on my first-ever trip to California. When I visited her in San Diego, she took me to a psychic who said to me, ‘You’re not going to be in the corporate world any more; you’re going to be an artist,…
04 Aug 2014
Five years ago, when south-central Texas was suffering through its driest year in more than a century, public officials in the city of San Antonio turned in desperation to a new tactic to enforce water conservation: They dispatched the police. From April 2009 and on through the rest of the year, off-duty officers and other city employees prowled neighborhoods looking for over-green lawns, leaky hoses and inveterate sidewalk-washers, issuing tickets to observed offenders. The city also set up an online form residents could use to report their neighbors, just in case the authorities let one slide. “We don’t go out in a car with sirens blazing or anything like that,” San Antonio Water System spokeswoman Anne Hayden said back then. “But we do take the report and send out a letter saying, ‘You’ve been reported for not following water rules.’” The gambit may have seemed extreme at the time, but…
23 Jul 2014
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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…
14 Jul 2014
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Thirty years ago, in the middle of what was becoming the AIDS epidemic, the Desert AIDS Project was founded to help locals deal with the crisis. On Friday, July 25, at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, the Desert AIDS Project will be celebrating its three decades with its annual Mid-Summer Dance Party. Playing at the event will be Independent resident DJ All Night Shoes, and DJ Femme A. Cameron Neilson, formerly on the television show X-Factor, will also be providing entertainment. Darrell Tucci, DAP’s chief development officer, discussed how the organization began. “A group of people locally saw what was taking place as far as the (AIDS crisis) was concerned in the 1980s,” Tucci said. “DAP became one of the first AIDS services organizations in the country in 1984. The Desert AIDS Project over the years has allowed itself to keep its fingers on the pulse of the epidemic,…
01 Jul 2014
Much of the state of California is currently facing a water crisis, thanks to a record-setting drought. Yet here in our desert environment of the Coachella Valley, the happy anomaly of apparently plentiful and affordable water continues as the status quo. However, that does not mean all is settled regarding water in the Coachella Valley. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (ACBCI) has filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court to obtain senior water rights over the shared Coachella Valley aquifer. The suit, filed on May 14, 2013, against the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) and the Desert Water Agency (DWA)—stewards of much of valley’s public water supply since 1918 and 1961, respectively—is expected to go to trial no later than February 2015. On May 13, the latest legal maneuver occurred when the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion, which has since been granted, to join the lawsuit…
16 Jun 2014
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The Health Assessment Resource Center (HARC) is a community-based organization that works to assess the health needs of the Coachella Valley—and the organization recently released a report regarding the valley’s health status and needs. The findings, in many cases, were not pretty. The Coachella Valley’s nine cities and unincorporated areas are all represented through surveys done via random-digit dialing to residents in the valley. In 2013, the key finding for health-insurance coverage was that one-third of adults between 18 and 64 were without health insurance. However, the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) is now having a significant impact on access to insurance, so numbers will most likely improve in future surveys. As far as major diseases go, high blood pressure/hypertension was the most prevalent in the Coachella Valley, at 37.8 percent (134,208 residents), followed by high cholesterol at 30.8 percent (108,183 residents). Eileen Packer, the chief executive officer of HARC,…
26 May 2014
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The LGBT Community Center of the Desert held its annual donor-appreciation party on Thursday, May 15—and the event’s star attraction was the organization’s brand-new executive director, Mike Thompson. He hadn’t even started his job yet—in fact, his first day on the job is slated to be Monday, June 2—but Center supporters were excited to meet the man who they hope will fill a staff-leadership void that’s existed since the previous executive director, Gary Costa, stepped down some time ago. Thompson’s qualifications are impressive. He spent about a year and a half with GLAAD, as the chief operating officer and the acting president. He was the executive director of Equality Utah for almost four years, and he spent a short stint as the director of development for the AIDS Project Los Angeles. The University of Oklahoma graduate and member of the Cherokee Nation also served as the executive director of a…
08 May 2014
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It’s official: Authorized murals will be coming to the city of Palm Springs. After months of controversy—starting with the painting of a provocative mural at Bar on Palm Canyon Drive, and going through the police-led shutdown of the PLANet Art mural project last month—the Palm Springs City Council voted 3-1 to enact a mural-approval process. Paul Lewin cast the only opposing vote, citing concerns that the new policy was not restricted enough. (Councilmember Ginny Foat was absent from the capacity-crowd meeting.) The ordinance states that any mural plans must go through a multi-step process, and get approval from bodies including the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission and, ultimately, the Palm Springs City Council. Existing murals, such as the one at Bar, are not grandfathered in, and must get approval. The ordinance had fairly widespread support, including the endorsement of the Main Street Palm Springs merchants association. The first public speaker…
29 Apr 2014
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When the pain of the Great Recession was just beginning to be really felt in 2009, Brian McGowan—then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deputy secretary for economic development and commerce—approached Coachella Valley leaders about developing an innovation hub. “We didn’t really have a clue what it meant,” said Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet at a news conference on March 31. Spurred by McGowan, Pougnet—along with Cathedral City Mayor Kathy DeRosa and then-Desert Hot Springs Mayor Yvonne Parks—formed the Coachella Valley iHub. After the three cities chipped in, the iHub became one of the first six in California—there are now 16 in the state—and it’s starting to pay dividends: 21 tech-related companies are currently part of the Coachella Valley iHub. “We do have the top iHub in the state,” said Tom Flavin, the president and CEO of the nonprofit Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, which is now working with the three founding cities (as well…
24 Apr 2014
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The weekend of April 5 and 6 was going to be big for Debra Ann Mumm and local lovers of public art. The owner of Venus Studios Art Supply had joined renowned local muralist Ryan“Motel” Campbell to launch PLANet Art Palm Springs. The project brought four renowned mural artists to downtown Palm Springs’ Arenas Road area to paint four large-scale murals. Proper funds had been raised; the city’s Public Arts Commission had even endorsed the week long project. Everything was ready to go. Except it wasn’t. As the artists started to paint, the police showed up and told Mumm and Campbell that their project was not authorized—it was illegal. Police reportedly threatened arrests if the artists continued to paint. Campbell took to Facebook and other social media to vent his frustration. He even posted a picture of the police arriving and shutting down the project. “ART IS NOT A CRIME,”…