CVIndependent

Wed09202017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

The closing of Roy’s Resource Center in North Palm Springs—what was the western Coachella Valley’s only shelter for the homeless—has thrown many people onto the streets, and Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG) is trying to act.

However, on June 20, the Desert Hot Springs City Council voted against a proposed program that would offer 12 rental properties across the west valley for up to 90 days to those who are homeless or at risk for homelessness. The council decided to revisit the issue in September.

The proposed program is a collaboration between CVAG and Path of Life Ministries. Desert Hot Springs City Councilmember Russell Betts said that he doesn’t feel the program is a good idea.

“They keep deflecting to, ‘Oh, this is just trading a home for anyone who you’d love to have as a neighbor,” Betts said. “That’s the rapid rehousing portion of it. The part that is really objectionable is the emergency housing component: That’s where homeless (people) straight off the street get put into a house in a residential neighborhood. It’s basically putting a homeless shelter in the middle of a residential neighborhood—only it’s a homeless house instead of a homeless shelter.”

Cheryll Dahlin, the CVAG management analyst, said CVAG would continue to work with the city of Desert Hot Springs while implementing the program in Palm Springs and Cathedral City.

“The representative on the Homeless Committee for Desert Hot Springs is Councilmember Joe McKee, and he’s been very supportive of this. But he did inform us at our last meeting that he would vote ‘no’ based on the decision of his council,” Dahlin said. “The city has traditionally not contributed toward Roy’s Resource Center, and we are going to continue our outreach with the city to address any questions they might have about the program. … Our staff recommendation and the recommendation from the Homeless Committee is that we focus on getting services up and running in Palm Springs and Cathedral City.

“Councilmember Ginny Foat, of Palm Springs, and Councilmember Mark Carnevale, of Cathedral City, have been very supportive. The city of Palm Springs has put in their budget about $103,000 for this program, which was the requested amount … we made to each city in the Coachella Valley for Roy’s Resource Center. Cathedral City has put up half of that amount, and the other half will be discussed at a future meeting.”

Desert Hot Springs resident Judy Shea has tried to help by opening a rental property to house homeless veterans in Desert Hot Springs. Shea, who said she would speak to the Independent after the City Council meeting, had not returned post-meeting phone messages as of our press deadline.

Betts is not a fan of Shea’s efforts.

“Eight years ago, she volunteered that same facility as an overnight cold shelter,” Betts said about Shea. “She went down to CVAG back then and offered it, and they took her up on it. It got red-tagged because … it was an unsafe building. They had 40 people staying there, with buses sitting out front of it, idling overnight. At 5 a.m., people would go there to pick them up and take them back down to Cathedral City or wherever else in the west valley, and bring them back again later. … It got shut down, and that was right around the time that Roy’s Resource Center was getting ready to open. They moved everyone down there.”

According to DHS city officials, Shea once owned a home in Glendale and did work on it without permits; the property was eventually seized by Los Angeles County. Betts said that Shea has been doing the same thing to the property she has in Desert Hot Springs.

“She wants to put 40 people in there again. She said at the meeting that it wouldn’t be all veterans, but maybe other homeless,” Betts said. “She’s once again trying to operate a homeless shelter in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The worst thing is she has not pulled any permits. It’s common sense that when you do work on your house, you have to go to City Hall and file for a permit to go start doing this work, and an inspector goes out and has a look at it. She just started working with volunteers.”

At the June 20 DHS City Council meeting, several residents expressed concern about Shea’s efforts. Marjorie Snell was worried because Shea’s proposed location was close to an assisted-living facility.

“Caring for veterans requires trained professionals who deal with PTSD, alcoholism, addiction and anger management,” she said.

Betts also said DHS’ location on the outskirts of the Coachella Valley make it a poor location for a homeless shelter. One of the downfalls of Roy’s was its middle-of-nowhere location.

“Let’s say that you get someone; they get stabilized, and now it’s time that they go look for work,” Betts said. “They’re not going to have a car, and they’re going to have to ride the SunBus. Anyone in Desert Hot Springs knows that it can be a 2 1/2 hour ride to get to your job. It used to be 2 1/2 hours just to get to College of the Desert. If Roy’s was too remote, downtown Desert Hot Springs is even more remote. We’re six miles further away. It’s real nice that everyone wants to push this off on Desert Hot Springs, but we have so many challenges here.”

Dahlin conceded that the location of Roy’s played a role in the decision to repurpose the building into a long-term care facility for adults with mental illness.

“The location of Roy’s Resource Center was a much debated topic. I think if you talk to Ginny Foat, she’d tell you about the challenges we had over locations back then,” Dahlin said. “As we embark on what we’d be doing in this next phase, we’ve discussed some possible locations for shelters, and you do run into questions and concerns from the city and the neighborhood when you talk about a physical building. The biggest upside to Roy’s re-purposing is that it’s a long-term board-and-care facility, so the need for daily transportation has been eliminated. You don’t have clients coming in and out every day.”

Published in Local Issues

A growing number of young students are eschewing college in favor of vocational or certification programs—and as part of that trend, a new facility in Desert Hot Springs is offering classes that help underprivileged and at-risk men and women take steps toward vocational certification.

The slogan of Smooth Transition Inc., located at 13070 Palm Drive, is “Believe, Achieve, Receive.”

During a recent phone interview with executive director Robin Goins, she talked about the history of Smooth Transition, which has moved into a space where an alternative high school used to be located near Stater Bros.

“We’ve been in Desert Hot Springs providing services for about five years—but on a small scale,” Goins said. “We were working with the Department of Social Services. We started working with the (DHS) Family Resource Center, and we grew into a small class space that was down the road.

“Last August, the mayor said they had this space that was abandoned and suggested I go look at it. The rest is history. The next thing I knew, we had an 8,000-square-foot school. It doesn’t surprise me that nobody really knows about it, because we haven’t really been out in a big way until this past September.”

Goins started what would become Smooth Transition by teaching life-skills classes at a library in Riverside.

“We were founded in 2009 after the housing market crashed,” she said. “Everybody was losing their homes, their jobs and everything else. I’m a professor by trade, and I had about $17,000 worth of seed money. I decided I wanted to start training people who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity, because they financially don’t fit the model of continuing education, which I don’t really believe works for everybody. … Even community college doesn’t work for everyone; there are people who just learn differently. It started out with a small life-skills class I taught, and grew and grew and grew. I convinced the IRS that it was an emergency state, which it was at the time, and we received our nonprofit status in three weeks.

“From there, we’ve been growing. We did a lot of services in Riverside, but we’re finally putting our footprint in Desert Hot Springs in a big way.”

The age range of people who seek services from Smooth Transition is quite wide.

“The youngest we’ve ever served is 16,” Goins said. “We’ve had people in their late 70s doing computer training at the Salvation Army. I would say that the average is about 20 to 40. Some are people just starting careers, and others are people trying to start new careers and new paths.”

When I visited the Smooth Transition facility in February, I was shown the new radio-broadcasting studio that is being run by Michelle Rizzio and her local radio station, KDHS. I also peeked into some of the classrooms, where teachers were offering lessons in various programs.

“We start with a basic life-skills class, which teaches financial literacy and how to function on a day-to-day level,” Goins said. “We have GED classes, and everything else is all vocational-focused. We have computer trainings and (classes on) how to use Microsoft. We go as far as six-month certification programs and have the same accreditation as a community college. We offer certifications in radio broadcasting; we have a culinary program; we have the sewing arts; we have interior design, fashion design and merchandising. We have a new (program where) we’re bringing in people to teach how to install satellite dishes. We’re always looking out for programs people can take to get them into the workforce.”

Goins said education is currently undergoing a shift in the United States—and that shift will likely continue.

“I think the last recession showed us that corporate America cannot be something that you aspire to, and that retirement (is not something) you should aspire to or expect; we need to think of new ways to do things,” Goins said. “I see the return of small businesses and people taking control over their destinies. I also think that corporate America and other organizations realized people coming out with degrees are not always the most-suitable candidates.”

Goins said the community in Desert Hot Springs has embraced Smooth Transition.

“The community has been very supportive and excited,” she said. “You have people who don’t want to do anything with their lives, but then you have people who really do, but don’t have the resources. They don’t have transportation; they don’t have support at home; they don’t have money, or whatever. We have people coming in every day who are really interested and excited.”

Of course, the nonprofit faces obstacles as it grows.

“The biggest challenge we have right now is funding,” Goins said. “We have people who don’t have money, and we know that going in. We’re always trying to fundraise for tuition. … We will not be putting (people) in student-loan debt; I will not do that. I think that’s an atrocious thing to do. So we’re always looking for creative ways to keep our programming going.”

For more information on Smooth Transition Inc., visit www.smoothtransitioninc.com.

Published in Features

A recent review of the budgets of all nine Coachella Valley cities confirms what multiple sources have mentioned over the last several months: The costs of providing police and fire protection have been rising every year—and could soon become a worrisome financial burden.

“About 50 percent of our general-fund budget at this time goes specifically to public safety,” Coachella City Councilmember V. Manuel Perez told the Independent in a recent interview. “In the course of the last few years, public-safety expenses have increased between 5 and 7 percent every year.

“The passing of Measure U a couple of years ago, which was a 1 percent sales-tax increase, is the only reason why … we’ve been able to sustain ourselves—and we understand that these annual (public-safety cost) increases are going to continue.”

With 50 percent of the general fund being allocated to public safety, Coachella falls in the middle of the pack, as far as valley cities go. Given different accounting methods, a direct comparison is difficult to make. However, Indian Wells is at the low end, spending about 35 percent of its general fund on public safety, while Cathedral City is on the high end, around 65 percent.

This is not just a problem here in the Coachella Valley, and studies have been done across the country over the past decade in an effort to determine what’s driving the trend in rising public-safety costs, even when adjusted for inflation. But because there so many variables at play, these studies have not uncovered a single root cause.

In the Coachella Valley, five cities—Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Coachella and Indian Wells—contract out public-safety service to Riverside County and Cal Fire, while the other four cities—Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs and Indio—still maintain independent police departments. Only Palm Springs and Cathedral City have independent fire departments. Yet independence does not seem to be an indicator of how large a city’s budget allocation will be, since Palm Springs comes in on the low end at about a 45 percent budget allotment, with Cathedral City on the high end at 65 percent.

Back in 2013, Desert Hot Springs was in the midst of a financial crisis and explored outsourcing services to the county. “We were looking at our police force and what we could do either with the sheriff’s department or keeping our own police department,” said Mayor Scott Matas, who was a City Council member at the time. “When the sheriff’s department’s initial bid came in to us, it appeared that it was a couple of million dollars less. But after the interim police chief and his staff tore the bid apart and compared apples to apples, when the sheriff’s department came back for a second round, we found out it was actually going to cost us $1 million more, so it was pretty much a no-brainer for us to keep our own police department.”

Desert Hot Springs is now on better financial footing. “Recently, we actually gave a little bit back to the police department, which was cut by upwards of 22 percent when the fiscal crisis was going on,” Matas said. “It’s been nice to keep our own police force. It’s more personable when it comes to your community policing, because you have the same police officers there. When you contract out, you never know what that face is going to be. We have that issue with our county fire contract. We’re very fortunate that some of the firefighters who work in this community have been here a long time, but for the most part, they rotate in and out all the time, so you never have that same chief, or you never have the same firefighters.”

Indio City Council member Glenn Miller, who has also served as the city’s mayor, touted the benefits of Indio having its own police force.

“About 80 percent of the police officers working with us live in our city,” Miller said. “We have a large contingent that is home-grown, and then a lot of them have moved into the city, including our police chief, Michael Washburn, who came from Seattle. So they are vested in the city, and that does us a lot of good. … When they live in our neighborhoods, they get to know those communities.”

What solutions are mayors and city councilmembers looking at to keep public-safety spending in check?

“When it comes to county fire, they’ve just been given larger pay increases, which then trickles down to the people who contract with them,” said Matas, the DHS mayor. “We were hoping to open another fire station eventually, but now we’re looking at just trying to keep the staffing that we have. … It’s always a challenge with public safety. We’ve been very fortunate with our police services. Crime is down. We’ve got a great chief (Dale Mondary), and we’re working in a great direction, but with this fire budget coming up, I don’t know how we’re going to do that.”

Coachella’s V. Manuel Perez said there’s no way his city can keep pace with the public-safety cost increases as things stand now.

“We have to figure out how we can work with other valley contracting cities to come up with a long-term solution for this problem,” Perez said. “Maybe we can come up with some sort of (joint powers authority) between the cities to support an agreement to help pay for public safety.”

Newly elected La Quinta City Councilmember Steve Sanchez agreed that it’s worth exploring whether the valley’s cities should join forces … perhaps literally.

“I think that’s something we need to discuss amongst all our council members,” Sanchez said. “We need to look at all options, whether it’s (joining forces with) Indio or other cities, or if it’s just staying with the sheriff’s department—whichever makes the most sense.”

Miller said East Valley cities have already started talking about working together more.

“When I was serving as the mayor of Indio, up until the end of this last year, we discussed with (La Quinta Mayor) Linda Evans and (Coachella Mayor) Steve Hernandez the possibility of doing an East Valley coalition plan that would include combining police and parks, and … making a better community overall by working together as one. We could lower costs for each individual city by economies of scale. Also, we talked about economic development, youth programs and senior programs. Not that we were going to give up our autonomy, but we’re looking at ways we could partner up to get a bigger bang for our buck, and maybe do better for our residents by being able to provide additional services.

“With public safety, we’d look at what we could do, since we’re right next to each other, to institute a regional police force. It’s something that we’re open to. You never shut the door on any option.”

Published in Local Issues

It’s windy and quite hot out on Indian Avenue in Desert Hot Springs. But Yudit Ecsedy doesn’t mind, as the artist paints a traffic-signal control box as part of the city’s Art in Public Places program.

The idea is to turn the ugly green roadside utility boxes into works of art, painted over by local talent as part of an effort to beautify the oft-troubled city.

Ecsedy, a native of Budapest, Hungary, came to the United States as a child. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in art history, and in 2011, she retired to DHS, a place where she had been vacationing since she was a student.

“My parents and I started coming here in the winter for at least a week years ago,” she said. “The place helped my mother’s arthritis. The view, the atmosphere, the healing waters and the ‘time out’ all contributed to creating quality time for our family. I continued this tradition with my husband and four children—and now I’m part of this town.”

The Art in Public Places fund was created by the city in 2008, according to Janice Gough, president of the nonprofit Art Foundation of Desert Hot Springs.

“With utility boxes being the lowest-costing way to bring art to the city, we started getting some of these boxes painted,” Gough said. “There are 111 boxes in DHS.”

Ecsedy became involved with the project in 2013—and the City Council did not like some of her proposed works, because they had religious themes.

“I handed in my designs, some with representations of angels,” she said. “In January 2014, the City Council, after seeing my designs, brought in a law prohibiting any public art with wings. A lawyer from Virginia flew out to sue the city for forcing artists’ subject matter. I chose not to sue the city, being aware of its bankruptcy situation at the time.”

DHS has a Community and Cultural Affairs Commission which evaluates the control-box art applications. In January 2014, Gough became a CCAC commissioner—and things started moving forward. Ecsedy also agreed to do other works that did not involve wings.

“I was allowed to … start on my designs. I have painted one box so far, and have commission for two more,” Ecsedy said.

Ecsedy’s first box was commissioned for $500, and the box on Indian Avenue was commissioned for $1,200. Gough said the financial resources are accumulated thanks to a fee assessed on commercial builders, earmarked specifically for the program. However, the money is not the only motivation for artists like Ecsedy.

“What motivated me is simply helping beautify the town that I love,” she said. “To have my paintings on public display here for years and have local citizens and vacationers see them and respond to them is a special gift in my life.”

It took Ecsedy two months to paint her first box, she said, not counting weeks of preparation as she created the design on paper. The materials used are steel primer, acrylic paints and an anti-graffiti coat.

“The winds there were brutal, and often I had to come home after only two hours of painting because the paint would dry before I could apply it to the design,” Ecsedy said.

Renowned local muralist John Coleman has also painted traffic boxes throughout the valley. One of his creations can be seen on a box on Dillon Road, and though painting a traffic box is not as big of job as a mural, he said it wasn’t an easy task.

“The weather can and does make painting traffic boxes a little tricky at times,” he said. “I don’t mind the heat, but the wind is the most challenging—blowing tools, drop cloths and ladders around constantly.”

He said the reception he receives while painting the boxes is overwhelmingly positive.

“Passers-by often honk and tell me that I’m doing a great job,” he said. “Some folks stop to talk and take photos.”

Published in Features

Editor's Note: For a clarification and follow-up to this piece, go here.

The city of Desert Hot Springs has a reputation problem.

KDHS FM 98.9 hopes to be part of the solution.

The low-frequency, all-volunteer radio station is starting to garner attention thanks to community-outreach efforts being made by Michelle Ann Rizzio, who is currently running the station. She said her father started the station as a hobby back in 2006.

“I went off to college in 2009 at the University of San Francisco and immediately got involved with KUSF,” she said. “When I came back most recently, in September 2014, my dad was still operating his radio station, and still had it as a closed thing and a lot more hobby-oriented. He was getting open to ideas for having local shows and volunteers to get a little bit more of a formal radio station. I thought, ‘This is what I did in college, and I would love to get involved down here.’ He said, ‘Ok, take it over!’

“In December 2014, I started working toward revamping it and getting it branded for being an outlet for the community. Since then, I’ve been building our brand, throwing events and getting volunteers.”

Rizzio described the current format of KDHS as “free form.”

“It has in the past been a lot more alternative, reggae and metal,” she said. “In the past few months, it’s been transitioning more toward the community, and we’ve been having music meetings every week in Desert Hot Springs. There will be a handful of volunteers each time, and we’ll vote on vinyl records as well as MP3s and local bands. It’s definitely free-form.”

KDHS currently has no paid staff members. Rizzio said she is currently in the process of getting KDHS registered as a nonprofit, and she has hopes for the station to get a public space. It’s currently operated out of a studio at her family’s home in Desert Hot Springs.

“We’ve opened up our studio to volunteers and are really working to build,” Rizzio said. “I really want to get a public production space in Desert Hot Springs. I’ve been talking about it for the past seven months, and we recently just had some construction done on our private studio. It’s able to get the job done at this time, and we’re able to produce high-quality productions and put them on the air, and do trainings and one-on-ones with the DJs and volunteers, but it does have limitations. There are time limitations, and (we) can only seat one person at the computer. I want to have more spaces for the DJs to work at and have a larger facility so this can all take place.”

Running a local all-volunteer radio station is not without challenges, of course.

“As far as interacting with the community goes, I haven’t had any issue with that,” Rizzio said. “I have a lot of people who support us and a lot of people who want to get involved. I think the biggest thing has been getting our production tight and making sure everybody knows their expectations and what a volunteer radio station entails. For a lot of our volunteers, community radio, radio, production work and all that stuff is brand-new to them. It’s also about focusing and keeping my eye on the prize, which is getting a public production space.

“There are so many opportunities that come my way, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, that’s amazing!’ But then I have to remind myself to focus and build the word, continue to fundraise and train volunteers. It’s just me, and I’m training everybody and trying to build a team that can train other volunteers.”

Another issue is the station’s signal.

“We’re currently working on raising our antenna so we can be heard clearly all throughout Desert Hot Springs,” Rizzio said. “Right now, you can’t hear us in certain areas like Mission Lakes. Once we get that a little higher, we should be able to be heard toward Ramon (Road) and Vista Chino, and hopefully to Morongo. I know that some people have complained about some static on the radio station, but there’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to raising the antenna, especially with the wind out here.”

To get the word out, KDHS has started producing various events, including a recent benefit show for the station at Playoffs Sports Bar that featured Monreaux, The Hive Minds, The CMFs and Higher Heights—bringing some of the valley’s top local bands to DHS. In other words, being part of the solution.

“With how much marginalization that goes on in Desert Hot Springs and all the communities built around the void in this city, radio can create radical social change, and help with social justice issues as well,” Rizzio said. “I grew up in Desert Hot Springs, so I’m very well aware of our reputation throughout the years and how we currently are. In my opinion, there’s a lot of opportunity, and I think a radio station could serve the community quite well.”

For more information, visit www.kdhsfm.com.

Published in Features

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 is that my opponent never conceded to me. He never shook my hand; he never congratulated me, and he never transitioned me into his office,” Matas said. “I understand it was a bitter election toward the end, but if I want my programs to be successful that I’ve started, I would transition the next mayor. If I lose my next race, that’s what I plan to do—transition the next mayor into office to make sure he or she is aware of the programs I’ve started and want to see successful in the community.”

Matas said he intends on continuing some of the things Sanchez did during his two years as mayor.

“I’ve spent a lot of time running around meeting with different organizations and different people, trying to see where he started and where he left off, and to keep the momentum going. Little things he did during the two years he was mayor, I want to keep going,” Matas said. “The Martin Luther King Day event is important, and he helped build that event, so I want to see that annually continue. Some of the educational programs he helped build, like Smooth Transitions (a nonprofit that helps at-risk people find employment and education, which recently began serving DHS) … I want to help continue those programs in the community.

“Except for those couple of things I mentioned, I don’t think he accomplished a lot in his two years. One thing he didn’t do that I wish he would have done was set goals for the city staff. On Feb. 5, we’re going to have a meeting with our staff and set some direction.”

Sanchez did help the city move from near-insolvency and near-bankruptcy toward financial stability.

“When I first took office on Dec. 1, I asked the city manager, ‘Do we need to declare another fiscal emergency?’ He said no, and we’re going to have in our mid-year budget about a half-million extra dollars,” Matas said. “At the end of the fiscal year, we’re going to be up $5.2 million. There was no reason to declare another fiscal emergency. We’re healthy. We’re looking out to 2020, which is a fiscal cliff for us with the tax measures ending, so we’re now starting to plan for those measures ending and see if the cultivation of marijuana is going to help our budget overall. We also have to look at the tax measures ending and how much that’s going to take away. If we don’t have those tax revenues in 2020, we could be $4 million in the hole. We have to make sure we measure all that and plan for it.”

While Sanchez did help strengthen the city’s budget, Matas said Sanchez exaggerated his accomplishments when Sanchez claimed during the campaign that the city had accumulated $2.5 million in reserves.

“Mayor Sanchez put campaign banners up that were absolutely not true. We never had $2.5 million in reserves this year,” Matas said. “We were floating with $2.1 million that went down to $1.8 million in ‘cash flow.’ But that’s how you pay your bills: If we put $2.5 million in reserves, the city staff would come back to us two weeks later and say, ‘We have to pay some bills.’ There was no reason for him to say that. … The budget is healthier, and we have to continue to build on that.”

Potential new revenue sources in DHS include a proposed Walmart—and large-scale marijuana cultivation. Matas joked that he previously thought marijuana was consumed simply by “picking a leaf off, rolling it up, and smoking it,” and said he’s learned a lot about the marijuana business—and the healthy amount of revenue it could bring to city coffers. He said he’s also debunked the myth that marijuana dispensaries lead to more crime.

“Cultivation is going to be huge for our community. There are five cultivation operations that are in an approval stage,” Matas said. “The largest one is 1.1 million square feet of cultivation. …. There are many skilled and well-paying jobs involved, and they’re looking for space in the community to start a training program.

“We had our police chief pull numbers, and there were 30 calls for services to the two dispensaries we have open. The 30 calls for service were for things like, ‘Someone looks suspicious outside our store; can you come check it out?’ It’s not contributing to any crime to our community. On the cultivation side, one of them is planning to hire ex-military for their security.”

While dispensaries may not bring an increase in crime, Desert Hot Springs as a whole has crime issues that have painted the city in a negative light. However, things are starting to improve, Matas said.

“Our new police chief, Dale Mondary, has established himself and has good programs going,” Matas said. “The problem with us is we have positive and negative press going every day: They catch some knuckehead doing something stupid, and a press release goes out on social media; it’s a positive and a negative perception on our city. People don’t realize we have less crime than Palm Springs; we get a bad rap for crime.”

For the most part, Matas had kind words about his colleagues on the City Council.

“Yvonne Parks came back to the council after once being mayor. She’s a great ally, and she’ll be there for two years,” Matas said. “Anayeli Zavala is young. She’s 26 and new to politics. She’s probably a little overwhelmed. I know she’s probably been impacted by the community, because anybody and everybody wants to have a conversation with you. She’s made votes on both sides of the issues based on what she believes is best for the city.”

While Matas—a former volunteer firefighter—is generally even-tempered and soft-spoken, he concedes that it isn’t always easy to work with a couple of his fellow council members.

“I think the most stressful thing has been to build consensus with the other council members,” he said. “I have two very strong individuals on the council. Joe McKee is very set in his ways. Russell Betts and I have always had our little differences, but we’ve been working well together.”

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: Anayeli Zavala

Age: 26

Occupation: Education/internship coordinator

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?

I think it means being fiscally conservative, just as the council has been thus far, to make sure we’re staying within our means and not exceeding what our budget is. Obviously, we don’t want to end up in the situation we were in a few years ago again. I think it’s great that we’re not in a deficit any more, but I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet. I think we need an understanding of what we can pay for and what services we can provide as a city.

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

Making sure we’re not just working with the police department, but also doing what can we do in the school district. We have a large percentage of young people who are committing all these crimes, for whatever reason; it could be nothing to do, but I’m not really sure. I think we need to build a relationship with the school district so we can reach out to those students who are going in the wrong direction; work with the probation department; and work with mental-health services as well. Sometimes there are mental issues that are involved and need to be addressed. Police officers aren’t necessarily equipped to be dealing with mental-health issues, so we need to make sure we’re cooperating on all levels to have a public-safety approach that not only encompasses the police department, but also might be touched by public safety. Also, (we need to) be supportive of our new police chief’s approach to community policing.

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

We need a vision in our city on where we want it to go. What are our two year goals? Ten-year goals? Twenty-year goals? (We need to make) sure we have a general plan, because that coincides with the vision for the city. Once we’ve created this vision of where we want our city to go, we need to make sure we are targeting industries and businesses that we want to have in our city that align with our vision. We also need to provide incentive programs that target those businesses. There are a few different avenues we can take with this. On a more local level, I sit on a board for a microloan bank that will be operating soon here in Desert Hot Springs, and we’re going to be providing small-business loans to residents who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Often times, people want to start a business, but they don’t have the collateral to get a traditional loan from a bank.

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

I think it’s important to work with the county to leverage resources and (see) how we can bring additional funding to things like Roy’s Resource Center. It’s really just about the city being restrictive in its finances; the county, with its funds, we should look into how to bring those resources here.

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

Post one positive thing about their community on social media, or even call the newspaper. No city is perfect, but it’s evident that we don’t have the best reputation in the media, and I think that’s slowly starting to change. But as residents, we need to be part of that active process in redefining our image. There are plenty of people here who are hardworking, honest and not criminals. There are people doing positive things for the community who don’t often get that recognition or that publicity.

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

Palm Drive/Gene Autry. It’s a lot easier to drive on than Indian Canyon.

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

I’m going to say date shake, because I have a weakness for desserts.

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

I would buy books and workout DVDs.

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?

I would say, “That is not true and I completely oppose that statement!” I would let them know we’re not perfect, but there are a ton of people trying to do positive things in the community. I think that needs to be showcased and highlighted. If you go looking for trouble, you’ll find it anywhere you go. I’ve lived here my whole life; I’m 4 foot 11, and I have done just fine. 

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

From the tap!

Published in Politics

Name: Yvonne Parks

Age: 79

Occupation: Former mayor of Desert Hot Springs/retired

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?

I think the council has done a pretty good job of just cutting everything. I would have done things a little differently had I been re-elected. What I would do—and what they didn’t do—is aggressively pursue economic development. We had five employers sitting there waiting to come into the city, and no one contacted them during these last two years. We had a hedge-fund person who was going to build a 3 million-square-foot distribution center at Interstate 10 and Indian, and a hotel that was going to go in down there, and they were also going to put in their own sewage and water. Nobody pursued Applebee’s, and they were very close to coming, and they just needed the right site. That’s the first thing I would do: Get more revenue, because there’s no problem in this city that revenue won’t help.

I’d also aggressively pursue the grant program. We wrote $5 million in grants and got $3 million out of it. You also have to have a plan, and you can’t lead without a plan; you also need a vision, and then you set benchmarks. What do you want this city to look like in five years? 10 years? We had a vision two years ago, and we knew what we wanted.

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

We have to get community-based policing back—that worked! When we had that, our crime rate came down, because people got active. They participated, and we had the city separated into four quadrants with specific officers assigned to them, and the people who lived in those quadrants got to know their officers. We need to get back to that and back to where the community feels safe and connected to the police department. Also, the youth are doing a lot of the daytime crimes such as the burglaries. They should be in school, and they’re doing things while people are out at work. We need to put unmarked cars in those areas, and it’s going to show, because the crimes are reported, and (they’ll) look at this map and say, “They’re targeting this area.”

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

First of all, I would put together an aggressive economic development committee, and I would work with the chamber of commerce. They know the entrepreneurs, and they know the businesses that would be willing to come in. Work with Walmart and get them in here. Walmart is an attractor, and I don’t care what the detractors have to say. You look at all these areas in the Coachella Valley with a Walmart, and pretty soon, you’ll have Ashley Furniture, PetSmart, Kohl’s, and they gravitate there, because they know there’s going to be foot traffic in and out of Walmart, and they want to be close. They want to take advantage of it.

I also know the owners of the 70 acres at the corner of Dillon and Palm on the southeast corner. Two years ago, they were planning to bring in a nice development with Target as an anchor store, and that fell through because no one followed up. I want to bring in for the youth a (John’s Incredible Pizza); it’s like a huge building, and one half is the food and all of these little rooms where you can entertain, and on the other side for $35 a year, per kid, there’s a two-lane bowling alley, bumper cars and every kind of arcade you can ever imagine. It’s a matter of rekindling and giving those leads to the economic development committee.

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

Right now, I would venture a guess, (there are so many homeless on the streets) because our police have offered them a ride down to Roy’s Resource Center, and they refuse. You can’t make them do something that they don’t want to do. I think what we’ve got in our city are those who are on drugs and alcohol, and they don’t want to stop, and they know if they go in there (to Roy’s), they have to abstain from both.

The other population is the mentally unstable; with that group, I know they can be helped simply by giving them medication, and they can go into The Path, which is the facility down by Roy’s, and they have 20 beds there. But mentally, they can’t be in a closed room or adhere to rules and regulations. If they aren’t willing to get help, I don’t see there is much that we can do.

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

I’d say be the eyes and ears on the streets for our police officers. Help identify crime before it happens. We have some of that beginning to happen, and I want it to continue. There’s nothing better than that cooperation between the public and the police to get that crime rate down.

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

If I’m going to Cathedral City or Rancho Mirage, I take Mountain View to Varner to Date Palm and get on the 10. If I’m going to Palm Springs, I’ll go down Indian Canyon. But Indian Canyon really needs a lot of work right now. I think we’ve got Palm in pretty good condition. Let’s get that CalTrans money and put it to work in Desert Hot Springs on Indian Canyon; bring in Palm Springs with their Measure J money; and then bring in the county to get that done.

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

Oh my goodness—date shakes, but I also love the bacon-wrapped dates, too. If I had to make a choice, first I’d have the shake, and then follow it up with a bacon-wrapped date. Dates are fantastic!

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

I’d probably buy my daughter some clothes, my son some clothes, and if I could find anything that I liked, I would buy some clothes.

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?

You don’t know Desert Hot Springs! Desert Hot Springs has the greatest potential of any city in the Coachella Valley. We’ve got the land; we’ve got the drive to succeed; and we’ve got residents who love living here and want everyone else to love living here. If you say it’s the worst place to live in the valley, you probably haven’t even been here.

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

I drink from the tap. My water tastes as good as bottled water, and it’s just as tasty and cheaper than bottled water.

Published in Politics

Name: Asia Horton

Age: 34

Occupation: Tax-preparer

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?

Right now, I like to compare it to the emergency room: We stopped the hemorrhaging, and we’ve stabilized the condition of the city. That’s a good thing, but now we need to move it from the trauma unit to the actual ward so we can really get down to the problem. I think we can sustain ourselves, and I don’t think we’ll go into bankruptcy as it is now. We need to get some revenue-generating plans in there, and we need to produce more than we’re spending each month. That’s the problem: We don’t produce more money than we actually spend.

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

We need to do prevention. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Where’s the source? It’s like we’re trying to deal with crime and everything after it’s evolved. We’re not getting to the source of the crime or the gang. There is a source, and big cities go through this all the time. We need gang-prevention programs through the police department, where they’re going into the community and engaging themselves.

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

Re-branding Desert Hot Springs has always been one of my key points. I don’t think we get as much business as we could; we don’t attract the developers and the money from investors because we have a bad rap. Our rap is pretty much in the toilet. We’re known for the crime; we’re known for the drugs; we’re known for the corruption in politics, and the bickering at City Hall.

What I would like to do is push all the good things and to always present myself as if I am the city of Desert Hot Springs, and represent my city. I wouldn’t bicker with my colleagues openly on television. It just wouldn’t happen. I would want the investors and developers to see that we’re sound. If you’re going to invest in foreign currency or overseas, one of the first things you look at is the stability of the government. If they’re on the brink of war or just coming out of a war, you’re not going to invest in them. The same thing with a city—no one is going to want to come here until we show them, in terms of leadership, that we’re together.

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

First of all, we need to address it. Let’s be real: We need to talk about it publicly, frequently. We need to be talking to the organizations in our city and around our city that specifically deal with homelessness.

I think (homelessness) is unnecessary. I don’t feel there’s any reason that any American should be sleeping on the street. I think that is a responsibility that society needs to own up to. I don’t hear enough about it. Where are the homeless shelters here in town? There are none. We just kind of shuffle them around, and that’s not acceptable. You can’t cure what you don’t confront.

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

Get involved. I think one of the reasons we’ve had issues in our city in the past is because we, as voters, have not been informed enough about the issues and people we’re voting for. Let’s get more involved; let’s pack City Hall and let our voices be heard. I’d like to see more people asking questions, and each and every citizen ask a question to our local government.

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

Neither. Dillon to the 62! (Laughs.)

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

Date shake. There’s nothing else in this world that could compare. Have you ever tasted one? That’s frozen heaven in a glass! That’s my guilty pleasure, and that’s where mommy goes without telling the kids.

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

I’d probably buy up all of Rihanna’s body perfume and go straight to the jewelry section and get what I could afford.

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?

I’d probably laugh at them and ask them if they live here. I hear about the crime, but it’s not that prevalent to me. I sit on my porch every night and watch the sunset, and my street is quiet.

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

I do both, but I’ll only do tap if I have ice. If I don’t have ice, I do bottled water. 

Published in Politics

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