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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On Nov. 6, Desert Hot Springs voters will choose between five candidates for two City Council seats.

Incumbent Joe McKee chose not to run for re-election, while Jan Pye hopes to retain the seat to which she was appointed earlier this year when Yvonne Parks stepped down. She’s joined on the ballot by a former Desert Hot Springs mayor and several relative newcomers.

We spoke to four of the five candidates for this story. (Peter Tsachpinis didn’t respond to e-mails or phone messages.) Here’s what they had to say.


In 2015, then-DHS Mayor Adam Sanchez narrowly lost his re-election bid to Scott Matas.

Sanchez’s term started off with the city near bankruptcy. Sanchez helped turn the city around, but a feuding City Council, as well coverage by The Desert Sun about Sanchez’s ties to a Desert Hot Springs marijuana dispensary (Sanchez was later cleared of wrongdoing), put him in a negative light with many residents. Now Sanchez is hoping to earn a return to the Desert Hot Springs City Council.

During an interview at Zapopan Mexican Food, Sanchez reflected on his time as mayor.

“I started off with the City Council, and at that time, I knew we were heading for trouble, because we were overspending,” Sanchez said. “That’s the only reason I ran for mayor. After the election, it all came out that we were in a financial emergency and were living month to month. I knew it was going to happen, but when I talked to the Desert Sun back then, I told them, ‘Just because the city gives you the financials, it doesn’t mean that it’s straight up.’

“I spent two years as mayor fixing the budget. We had to downsize and find a way to live within our means, and at the same time, I was trying to work on the image of the city to go toward health and wellness. We started doing marijuana dispensaries and cultivation.”

Sanchez has been accused of grandstanding at Desert Hot Springs City Council meetings, and was associated with the controversial “No Matas” signs on Dillon Road. However, he said he deeply cares about the city.

“I saw the city going in a direction that I didn’t feel was in the best interests. So what are the options? You sit back and go to a council meeting? What’s that going to do? They’re just going to look at you, and you’re done. … You get back in.”

Sanchez expressed concerns about the construction of a new City Hall, which was approved for $6 million in 2017, and is now reportedly going to cost $8 million.

“The council is saying now, ‘We’re going to build this mini Taj Mahal,’ and that’s supposedly going to make everything better. I don’t see the reality of that,” he said. “What they are doing is making it better for city staff, but $8 million—projected? Are they serious? … (They’re doing this) instead of working on the homeless problem and getting the citizens more engaged. … Nowhere in this whole process two years ago did (residents) say, ‘Our priorities are a new City Hall.’ It was about providing safety for our residents and building sidewalks to the schools, and kids shouldn’t be walking on the street. When the young lady from the high school got killed (as a pedestrian, trying to cross Palm Drive, in March), that’s when I asked, ‘OK, what’s in the budget? What do we have?’ The city gave me a hard time and wouldn’t give me the information.”

Sanchez claimed the current budget numbers don’t add up, and criticized Matas, his former mayoral opponent.

“They’re saying they have $8.5 million in the bank, and now Scott Matas is saying due to enhancements they’re making in the city and the money they’re spending, it’s $4.5 million. Which is it?” Sanchez said, “You can’t say you’re spending $8 million on the new City Hall, and you’re building some new green park areas, so now it’s $4.5 million.”

He dismissed concerns expressed by some residents about all of the marijuana businesses, and said people needed to worry more about education.

“Eighty percent of students in Desert Hot Springs qualify for the school lunch program. That tells you that … we have the working poor, and they’re part of the city,” he said. “… We had all these parolees here through the 1960s up until recently; they just changed the law, saying if you commit a crime in Los Angeles, you stay there, and you don’t go to somewhere like Desert Hot Springs. What ended up happening is a culture developed of dysfunctional values, with kids growing up in single-parent households and growing up without role models as adults.

“You need to make sure every kid in third-grade is reading at grade level. … At the state level, corrections knows how many prisons they’re going to build based on the statistics of the kids that are not reading at grade level after third-grade. We should be developing programs with the school district to make sure these kids can have academic success by being able to read well. That’s done through the educational process. I don’t want to spend money telling kids not to smoke marijuana; I’d rather see that they get the proper educational resources. A well-educated child will make better choices.”

Since leaving office, Sanchez has remained accessible.

“I relaxed a little bit,” he said with a laugh. “After I left, I still got phone calls from people when we had heavy rains and their homes got flooded out. I spent a lot of time working with my contacts in businesses and industries to help some of these residents. I was out there helping people through their problems—immigration problems, high school students. … It’s almost a continuation of what I was doing before. Now I didn’t have to worry about the budget and could go out and talk to families and help them, through the police department, the planning department, or any other resources. It’s almost as if I became a social worker.”


When Gary Gardner moved to Desert Hot Springs from Seattle in 2016, he quickly became active in local politics.

He worked on the Measure B and C tax campaign last year and spoke out regarding the need to keep the Desert Hot Springs Police Department fully funded. He was asked by Mayor Scott Matas to form and chair the Human Rights Committee in Desert Hot Springs, and then asked to serve on the Planning Commission.

Gardner—a former radio and television personality, lobbyist and public-policy advocate—told me during an interview at The Shop Cafe about his love of motorcycles and the outdoors, his upbringing in Salt Lake City, his time at Brigham Young University, and the fact that he’s not a big fan of wearing a suit and tie.

Gardner said the city needs to properly handle the booming marijuana industry while also embracing the businesses that were in DHS before.

“We need to manage the growth here and encourage the growth, and not neglect what’s already here. It’s kind of a juggling act as I look at it,” Gardner said. “The medical-marijuana industry saved this town from bankruptcy. It put money back in the coffers; it brought new businesses looking to hire employees; and it made this town thrive. But that business is going through a lot of changes rapidly and will go up and down. We can’t hang our hat on it. If it hits a dip, this town is really going to suffer. So we need to focus not only on them, but on the places that built this town. We need to work cooperatively to make this place a very friendly, very welcoming, very clean and very safe place to be. That will benefit us in the long run.”

Gardner believes the city has the potential to become a tourist attraction.

“My vision for the city is a health-and-wellness center with our spas and our mineral water, with the marijuana industry, and with all of those kinds of things tied in with the hiking, the views, the desert—and we worked to get the Sand to Snow National Monument,” he said. “… When people Google ‘Sand to Snow,’ that will bring them to Desert Hot Springs. That will bring the revenue in for all the hotels and restaurants, and as they grow, we’ll have more growth in restaurants and retail.”

After living in Seattle, Gardner has a unique perspective on high living costs and gentrification.

“This is still the most affordable corner of the Coachella Valley. It’s one of the reasons I moved here,” he said. “It really should stay that way. Where you see an increase in property values, mainly that is in what we call the light industrial zone, which is where the marijuana farms are. It was open desert and worth pennies, and now we have legalized cultivation; the value in that area has shot up. My own home value has gone up, but not greatly. … Most of the people here rent. I’d love to see more home ownership and would love to see us encourage developers rather than scrape out whole new subdivisions. We have a lot of vacant land, and I want to figure out a way that we can offer incentives for developers not to build McMansions, but average middle-class homes.

“Coming from Seattle, they had a huge housing crisis there, but they don’t have a lot of open land. It’s surrounded by water, and there are no places to build. But we have unlimited land here.”

He’s also hoping for job growth within the city.

“So many of our citizens leave here during the day to go to work elsewhere,” he said. “I’d love to see them stay here if we can find ways to get the marijuana folks to hire people who already live here in town, or encourage (marijuana-business employees) to stay here if they’re coming from out of town.”

There are some residents concerned that the marijuana businesses may attract crime and public safety issues. Gardner does not agree.

“Being on the planning commission, we review every single business application. One of the checklist items is security. If you go and visit some of those cultivation farms, it’s like getting in and out of Fort Knox. I’ve talked with Desert Hot Springs Police Chief Dale Mondary many times, and he personally reviews the security when they get their building permits. His concern is not what’s going on here, but once it leaves here, for the potential of someone hijacking a truck.

“… The city itself has a nasty reputation for crime, but the truth is crime is down over 20 percent in the last five years, because we passed a tax measure a year ago to fully fund and staff the police department. What we need to do is get a new fire station, and we need another one on the east side, because the one fire station handles 30 calls per day, and if you’re having a heart attack or your house is on fire, they are 10 to 15 minutes out.”

He praised previous administrations for not contracting with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for police services when the city was strapped for cash in 2014.

“Our police are well-liked. We have a responsive police chief; our crime rate is down; and I think that the image of bad crime out here is by the media and the TV stations who love to say, ‘Oh, another one out in Desert Hot Springs,’” he said. “But you know what? Our crime rate is lower than Palm Springs, lower than Coachella, and lower than Indio. We have really gotten a handle on that.”

Gardner’s eyes lit up when he told me about his passion for the outdoors and motorcycles.

“I love hiking, and that’s one of the reasons I came here,” he said. “I walk out of my house and do a four-mile walk every day. I love going out to Mission Creek. My boyfriend and I have a little teardrop trailer that we take out camping to Joshua Tree or Mount San Jacinto. I learned how to ride a motorcycle when I was a kid before I could drive, and I’ve loved the traveling on motorcycles ever since. I’ve been in every state of the union on my motorcycle.”


Jan Pye kept mentioning one word during our interview: education.

The former councilwoman returned to the body earlier this year to serve out the rest of the term of Yvonne Parks, who moved out of Desert Hot Springs. During a recent interview at Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs, Pye explained why she wants to remain on the City Council.

“I like the way council was going when they were all getting along, and I wanted to get back in,” Pye said. “I wasn’t going to run, because I liked the way the council was. Then Yvonne Parks decided to move out of town, and a couple of other people I knew decided not to run. So that’s why I decided to get in.”

Pye talked about the turbulent times during her previous council tenure.

“When there was an item on the agenda to have the sheriff’s department come and be in our community (in place of an independent police department),” she said. “My concern is Riverside County was doing increases of 7 percent a year, which meant if we had the sheriff’s department, we were going to have to cut down (other budget items to pay that) 7 percent. At that time, we had police officers who were willing to stay and weren’t getting what the rest of the Coachella Valley (officers were) getting. They were good officers. We ended up keeping our police department. We also had a situation where they wanted all the retailers to have $15 an hour (minimum wage), and that was very contentious, but you have to have the power of persuasion to get the three votes.”

On the issue of gentrification, Pye said the banks could possibly help.

“Part of it goes back to what I said about education. The banks are providing some opportunities to get people into homes. You’re always going to have that with the marketplace,” she said. “… What you can do is you can create banking opportunities, and if (residents need) to pay whatever it is in rent, it might as well be to own a home—so the banking industry is going to have to do something.”

Pye said that while the marijuana industry has been essential to saving the city’s finances, she also sees the need for other economic development.

“We have to see it as another form of revenue, but not the revenue,” she said. “… Most people in business know that if you’re in it for three years, you might survive. If you’re in five years, you’re really about to survive. You have to look at it like that. Some of the marijuana businesses here are struggling, and others aren’t struggling. It’s a business that compliments us. We’re known for our spas and our waters, and medicinal marijuana falls into that plan. We have some sustainability from it here, and we have $6.8 million in reserves. At one point before that, all we had left after one year was $400.”

Pye told me that when she arrived in Desert Hot Springs, she was told by the man who rented her home to her that she probably wouldn’t like living in the city. He was wrong.

“I came here with my daughter as a single parent from Los Angeles and rented the home I live in now before I decided to buy it,” she said. “That’s when I went to city council meetings. … This town helped me raise my daughter. When I worked, and they’d see her, and she was somewhere like Rite Aid, they’d call me and ask me, ‘Is she supposed to be there?’ People were watching over her.”

Pye told me a story about something her father instilled in her while she was growing up.

“My father asked me when I was 15 if I wanted to flip burgers. I said, ‘No,’” she said. “He told me I was going to learn how to type. I wasn’t interested in that. He made me do it, and he made me practice. He made me type, no matter what my homework was, for one hour. If he left and came back, I always told the truth and would tell him if I didn’t do it for an hour. … After baby-sitting for a while at 16, my first job into the real world was as a file clerk, and I told them if I pass secretarial school, I would have the next position—and I got it. That’s how I kept going. I thanked my father then.

“I also did the same thing with my daughter.”


I met Jim Fitzgerald at Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs. The former retail manager spent 35 years in the industry and is new to Desert Hot Springs. He told me he had a four-point plan for the city—but didn’t have any information on paper when we spoke.

He told me he’s funding his campaign himself, and that he’s not putting signs up all over the city as the other candidates are doing.

“I came here a year and a half ago to remodel and fix up two houses,” Fitzgerald said. “… I looked back to 27 years ago when I was building these two houses with my father. They never sold, and we built three models. I see the emptiness after all these years, a lack of retail, and a lack of prosperity in Desert Hot Springs. I started to meet people, one of them being a councilman already, and I started asking him a bunch of questions.

“… I got (the houses) done and found myself doing nothing. I started to figure I was going to stay here after I met a lot of nice people; it’s a nice city. A lot of people are interested in this city, and the cannabis industry is a potential (way) forward, and I’ve been learning as much as I can about that. I think I can help bring retail in.”

Fitzgerald said the city has handled the marijuana industry well—although there are a lot of unanswered questions.

“I think in the old days, when there were people on the street selling marijuana, that was a criminal act,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone who has been harmed by (using marijuana). Plus, there is a medical advantage to it. I think the City Council here is doing it right. This city is very careful about it. I think it’s going really well, and it’s so brand new. … Now, all of a sudden, it’s legal. I think that’s a heck of a challenge for this state. There are all these new questions coming up. Can a spa have a phone service where someone can call up and ask for some edibles? Those things have never actually been figured out.”

Attracting new businesses is tough for Desert Hot Springs, but Fitzgerald said he knows why.

“Certainly the biggest one is crime and safety, especially up and down Palm Drive,” he said. “If you want to bring retail in … (retail managers) don’t want people concerned about going in and out of their store, especially at night. There’s been a great deal of improvement, though, recently, especially with the murders and stuff like that. One is too many, but it’s the smaller crimes that helps bring the big stuff down. … We do have a reputation, although it is getting better. Statistically, we made improvements after getting more police officers. We need to do more, but we’re going in the right direction.”

Fitzgerald talked about the increase in housing costs and rents.

“That’s a matter of supply and demand. We don’t have enough houses here,” he said. “If you have a decent house, you’re going to get $1,400 a month rent for it; $1,200 is about where it’s starting right now. It can go as high as $1,700 for a real nice house. We don’t have the $800, $900 or $1,000 apartments, because there aren’t a lot of apartment buildings. But do we want to turn into another Rancho Mirage, where there are all these beautiful estates and all that kind of stuff? There’s a new development that just got approved in Mission Creek, and it’s going to be 1,900 units, and 900 are going to be apartments. If people are doing all this work, they have to live somewhere, and it’s the people working out of the city, but they’re still going to buy Starbucks here and all that kind of stuff. But you’d much rather have them working and living here.”

Fitzgerald was quick to answer when I asked him what his priorities as a city councilman would be.

“I want to make sure we continue to get along with each other. When you see a council that’s bickering and fighting, they aren’t getting anything done,” he said. “Right now, what I understand is it could be a lot worse in Desert Hot Springs. That’s something that’s on my mind. One of the first things I’d want to do is get together with the council and come up with a growth and incentive package for retail. The other thing is find out who owns these empty buildings and find out what the issue is regarding that. If they need help fixing them up, maybe we could give them a loan, but we have to get those empty buildings filled. When retailers see empty buildings, they don’t want to see empty buildings: ‘If this is the place to go, why are they empty?’”

Published in Politics

Let me tell you a little story that illustrates how what we do here at the Independent is different from what most other valley publications do.

At first glance, nothing seems too complex or crazy about “Turnout Turmoil,” Brian Blueskye’s recent political story (which serves as the cover story for our October 2017 print edition). Essentially, it’s an 1,100-word story about a recent change in state law regarding when cities and other local governments have their elections, and how local cities are dealing with this new law.

Simple, right? Actually, it’s not simple at all.

The story behind the story: Brian worked on this piece, off and on, for six weeks. This was initially slated to be last month’s cover story, but we shelved it because, after two weeks of work (again, off and on), we were still figuring things out.

Turns out we weren’t, and aren’t, the only ones still figuring things out. The law, signed into effect by Gov. Jerry Brown two years ago, mandates this: If local governments don’t hold their elections on the same dates as statewide/federal elections, and they have been seeing a significantly lower turnout than statewide/federal elections, they have to move their elections to the same dates as those statewide/federal elections.

Unfortunately, the language in this new law is confusing as hell. This has left cities, school boards, water boards and other local governments around the state scratching their figurative heads as they try to determine whether or not they, in fact, have to move their election dates. Locally, three cities may or may not be affected by this new law. One has decided to move its election immediately; another has decided not to move its election for now; and the third doesn’t yet know what it is doing.

Because of all the confusion, some officials were slow to get back to Brian; others never did get back to him. Of course, Brian, too, needed to take a lot of time to figure out what the law meant (while working on everything else he had to work on, of course).

Some other publications in town are satisfied with running press releases. Yet others are content with simple, easy, space-filling pieces. (And don’t get me started on the publications that take paid advertising and present it as editorial, without disclosing that.)

Here at the Independent, we don’t do any of that. While we’re far from perfect, we do our best to make sure our reporting is fair and accurate—even if we tackle a complex issue, and it takes us six months to figure things out.

As always, thanks for reading the Independent. Don’t hesitate to contact me with feedback or questions, and be sure to pick up the October 2017 print edition, hitting streets this week.

Published in Editor's Note

On Sept. 1, 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 415 into law.

SB 415 was definitely well-intentioned: It mandates that cities and other “political subdivisions” move their elections to the same dates as statewide elections—unless their elections have had a high-enough turnout percentage in recent years. Cities and other political subdivisions are required to have a plan in place by the start of 2018 to move their elections by 2022.

The goal was to increase turnout—often quite low—in elections for seats on city councils, school districts, water boards and other local government bodies, in areas where elections were held on dates that did not match the dates of statewide and federal elections.

Unfortunately… all SB 415 has really done so far is confuse the heck out of everyone.

Three cities in the Coachella Valley have, up until now, held elections on dates different from those of state and federal elections: Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs have held municipal elections in odd-numbered years, while Rancho Mirage has always held its city elections in even-numbered years—but in April, not November.

Because confusion reigns, the cities are each handling SB 415 differently as of now. Palm Springs isn’t changing a thing; Rancho Mirage isn’t sure what it’s doing yet; and the members of Desert Hot Springs’ City Council voted to immediately switch the city’s election date—generously extending each of their own terms by a year.

California State Sen. Ben Hueso introduced the bill in July 2015. Ana Molina-Rodriguez, a member of Hueso’s staff, explained the bill.

“Starting in 2018, any local government holding an election off-cycle that results in a voter turnout that is 25 percent less than the average voter turnout in the past four statewide elections will have to consolidate,” she said. “When we started looking at the odd-numbered-year elections compared to the gubernatorial elections or the presidential elections, the incredibly low turnout rates were why we drafted this bill.”

The bill’s language that determines whether a city or other political subdivision has to move its elections—“the voter turnout for a regularly scheduled election in a political subdivision is at least 25 percent less than the average voter turnout within that political subdivision for the previous four statewide general elections”—has left elections officials across the state scratching their heads.

The city of Palm Springs has determined its elections have had a high-enough voter turnout to stay right where they are.

“We have elections in odd-numbered years, and at this time, our city is not required to conform to the even-year-number election requirement,” said Cindy Berardi, of the Palm Springs City Clerk’s Office. “For the time being, our elections will remain in the odd-numbered years. Based on the voter turnout, our city does not need to switch to the even-numbered-year elections.”

Rancho Mirage, which holds vote-by-mail elections in April every even-numbered year, is still determining whether or not it will need to change.

“That is something that our city attorney is going to have to determine,” Rancho Mirage City Clerk Kristie Ramos said. “If it turns out that we need to change, we have until January 2018 to determine what we’re going to do. But we haven’t made a decision yet.”

In Desert Hot Springs, the City Council members extended all of their own terms and called off the scheduled 2017 municipal election in favor of an election in 2018 … sort of. The city will still ask residents to come to the polls this November, to decide on Measures B and C, which would extend tax funding for public safety services in Desert Hot Springs.

Desert Hot Springs City Clerk Jerryl Soriano said that because of the city’s low voter turnout for municipal elections, DHS had to comply with SB 415. The City Council members voted unanimously for the change—and the one-year extensions of all their own terms—in March. She said she presented various options to the council.

“The bill goes into effect in January 2018,” Soriano said. “The bill states that the cities need to have a plan by January 2018. Whatever plan the city chooses has to go into effect by the 2022 statewide election. I presented different options to the council. The first one, that they went with, was to move this year’s election to November 2018.”

Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas explained why he and the City Council members decided to move the election to 2018, and extend all of their own terms by a year.

“We talked about the different options we had,” Matas said. “That was what was decided by the City Council, and there was no opposition from the public on it, so we went ahead and voted on it. We could have had an election this year, and it could have been a one-year term for the mayor and a one-year term (for the City Council members whose seats would have been up for election).”

In Desert Hot Springs, the mayor is usually elected to a two-year term, while four members of the City Council are usually elected to four-year terms.

“Being mayor, I can say it’s hard to get a lot of things done in two years, because that’s what my term is, but to have a one-year term as mayor, it would be a little tough,” he said. “It was something we took to the public, outlining the different options. … We could go to a (one-time) one-year cycle for mayor and three-year cycle for the council. Or we could go backward and extend our terms by a year to make everything even.”

Beyond all of this confusion, the political science on whether there is a true public benefit to moving these elections remains unclear.

Yes, there will be an increase in voter turnout by moving city elections in places like Desert Hot Springs and Los Angeles to the same dates as state elections. On the other hand, lower-level elections tend to get lost in the shuffle when they’re held at the same time as state and federal elections; odd-year city council elections don’t have to compete with legislative, congressional and presidential races for attention. There is also the issue of “voter fatigue”—some voters get overwhelmed by huge, complex ballots during consolidated elections and skip ballot items toward the end.

Putting aside the pros and cons of various election dates, officials from California cities can agree on one thing: SB 415 could have been written a lot more clearly.

“Good luck reading that and understanding all of it,” Matas said. “It was confusing to us, too.”

Jimmy Boegle contributed to this story.

Published in Politics

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

Two years ago this month, a couple hundred people—Independent contributors, friends, advertisers and readers—gathered at Clinic Bar and Lounge in Palm Springs to celebrate the launch of our monthly print edition, and the one-year anniversary of CVIndependent.com.

Well, a lot has happened regarding the Independent in the 24 months since then. First and foremost, we’ve managed to keep going, distributing 24 quality print editions and publishing at least three pieces every weekday at CVIndependent.com. We launched our Independent Market, which has delighted readers and advertisers alike by bringing them together with half-price gift certificates. We won a national journalism award. We launched our Supporters of the Independent program. And most gratifyingly, we’ve gained a lot of readers and fans.

I think it’s time to celebrate again, yes?

Join the Independent staff and contributors from 6 to 9 p.m., Friday, Oct. 16, at Chill Bar, 217 E. Arenas Road in Palm Springs, for our Third Anniversary Party. There will be fantastic music, drink specials, door prizes and all sorts of other great stuff. You can also learn more about the Independent’s programs, including the Independent Market, the Supporters of the Independent, and the Independent’s new CV Job Center website, which we just launched.

Also, a tip: If you come up to me and say, “Hi, the Independent rocks!” I may just give you a card for a free drink.

One other thing we’ll be celebrating that night: The completion of the biggest journalism project the Independent has ever tackled.

In mid-September, I set up interviews with all 14 of the candidates for Palm Springs mayor and City Council; Brian Blueskye did the same thing with eight of the nine Desert Hot Springs candidates. (One DHS City Council candidate refused to respond to numerous messages from Brian.)

I asked all of the Palm Springs candidates a set of 10 questions; Brian asked all the DHS candidates a set of 10 questions. We let the candidates answer. We typed up those answers—and you can find the results at CVIndependent.com.

As always, thanks for reading. See you at Chill on Oct. 16!

Published in Editor's Note

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

Name: Richard Duffle

Age: 34

Occupation: Stay-at-home dad/planning commissioner of Desert Hot Springs

Interview: Phone

1. Describe the city’s current budget situation. How do you plan to balance the budget and take care of the city?

There has been some recent movement in a positive direction in the budget. Obviously, there’s a whole lot more that can be done. In order to help with what we currently have with the budget, I believe whoever is sitting up there on our next City Council needs to dig down deep into our contracts that we hold as a city, and current expenditures that may have not been looked at for several years. I’m sure some money can be found in those to support some of the underfunded programs in the city. Our City Council (members) also need to be leaders; they need to be dignified when they’re sitting in City Council meetings, free of bias and respectful to each other. Often times, things get heated at City Council meetings, and I believe those heated conversations are more heated than they need to be.

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

Our chief of police, who is doing a fantastic job, wants to go back to community policing. In order to combat crime in Desert Hot Springs, we definitely need the community’s help. We can’t put it all on the police department. We have to be willing to work with the police department as citizens reporting crimes, no matter how big or small they may be, and supporting our officers in the city.

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

Being professional. Cleaning up our streets is obviously something that’s going to take us a long way, but we need to change the perception of Desert Hot Springs. We have been called Desperate Hot Springs, The Dirty-D. Desert Hot Springs has a bad reputation throughout the valley and outside the valley, throughout the county. In order to attract new businesses here, we have to clean up our act.

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

With our current budget status, there’s nothing that can be done right this second. However, there are programs that can be instituted, and there are people within the community who are looking into helping with this homeless population. In any low-income city, you’re going to have a homeless problem, and every city deals with a homeless problem.

We need to get some sort of treatment facility up here for some of these people who are in and out of the prison system, and we need to find some kind of rehabilitation program and work with community leaders within Desert Hot Springs with what can be done, as well as some religious organizations that are looking to promote help for these individuals.

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

I would have to say to trust our chief and report crimes. Don’t just report those crimes on Facebook to other citizens. Pick up the telephone, and report those crimes so our police department can do their job as effectively as possible.

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

I use both Palm Drive/Gene Autry and Indian Canyon frequently. I have a daughter who attends school in Palm Springs, so I travel those roads quite frequently for doctor’s appointments. I use Gene Autry a little bit more, given it’s closer to where I live; it’s a little bit more of a bigger road, and a bit more maintained.

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

I’d have to say date shakes. I have a sweet tooth.

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

I do shop at the Desert Hot Springs Kmart, but if someone walked up to me out of the blue and handed me a $100 gift card, I would probably turn around and take it to someone in the community in need, to take that gift card to purchase groceries or clothes for their children.

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’ve been in Desert Hot Springs since 1993, and before that, I was in Coachella. Just like any city, Desert Hot Springs has good areas and bad areas. I believe Desert Hot Springs is a wonderful community with a lot of potential. We just need help from the citizens and the City Council on getting our act together.

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

I would have to go with the award-winning water from the tap. I do not buy bottled water very often, unless we’re going camping.

Published in Politics

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