CVIndependent

Fri09222017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

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