CVIndependent

Fri09222017

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

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: Russell Betts

Age: 57

Occupation: Retired small-business owner

Interview: Phone

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

The budget is balanced, and the city’s financial status is stable. I know there are people out there trying to tell people otherwise. We’ll finish up the year with $2.5 million in the bank as reserves. It’s not $2.5 million spent anywhere else, but extra money sitting in a bank account. It’s a complete turnaround for the city.

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

What’s critical right now is to hire more police officers. By January, we will have our police department at full force at 27 officers. Next, we have to fund some youth-intervention programs through the police department, bringing in outside specialists and working with some of the groups like Rising Star Academy to keep the youth from going down the wrong path and causing problems.

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

The most important thing we can to attract new business is provide business service so when people come in, they can make decisions. There’s been somewhat of a convoluted system at City Hall where it’s been very difficult for businesses to come in and get established, mostly because the permit process takes so long. We are getting very close to where that’s being streamlined, and we’re getting permits over the counter same-day. It’s just an unwieldy system, and we’re working on making it much easier instead of scaring businesses away. We also have to stop this problem of steering businesses to land (owned by) people who (city officials are) friends with. When people come into this city and want to locate a business … let us know; don’t hire so and so development “because he’s my friend and makes campaign contributions to me.”

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

Our city needs to draw on research and innovative programs from across the country to develop a comprehensive plan that focuses on ending homelessness among all populations—chronic, families, youth, veterans and the elderly—in our city. Efforts by other communities have shown results.

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

Come forward and cooperate with the police when they ask for help in solving a crime. Witnesses seem to be very reluctant, and even some victims seem to be very reluctant. We will all work with our police department.

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

I travel both. It depends on where I’m going, I suppose.

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

I’d rather have a cheeseburger at one our local restaurants.

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

It’d probably get burned up real quick on Legos and Nerf guns for my grandson.

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’ve never lived here. It’s a beautiful city.

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

It’s too obvious—tap water, of course.

Published in Politics

When I moved to Desert Hot Springs a decade ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I didn’t know a thing about the desert city when I moved here from Cleveland in 2005. However, I was soon filled in by others: DHS has a lot of crime. Meth houses. Trashy people. Corrupt government.

In the decade since, things haven’t gotten any better. In early July, a website called Roadsnacks.net published a piece, “using science,” that declared Desert Hot Springs is the worst place to live in California. It made the rounds on Facebook; the piece supposedly had received 358,600 views as of our press time.

It’s no wonder Slipping Into Darkness, the wildly popular Desert Hot Springs band, included a song titled “DHS Blues” on the album Shurpedelic.

OK, look: DHS isn’t perfect. It has its problems, for sure. But my city of not quite 30,000 people is not the worst place to live in California.

Here’s why.


As one would predict, the article was not popular with many members of the Desert Hot Springs Neighborhood Group on Facebook. Several people challenged the article’s legitimacy, pointing out that the city government is improving, and mentioning no small number of new businesses that are popping up. However, some people in the group agreed with the article’s conclusions, claiming that DHS boosters were ignoring the realities facing our not-so-beloved desert city.

I reached out to DHS City Councilman Russell Betts, figuring that he might be able to offer some counter-arguments to the Roadsnacks article.

“The two people who run that website, they do one of those lists on every state,” Betts said. “They’re click-whores. They’re just doing that to build traffic. How can they possibly analyze all 50 states?”

The Roadsnacks article claimed the findings were based on population density, unemployment rates, adjusted median income, the housing-vacancy rate, education, long commute times, high crime and weather.

“For those who live there, consider these facts: The crime rate in DHS is almost the highest in California, per capita,” the article said. “Nearly one in four homes is vacant. And residents earn a paltry 32 grand a year. Which goes nowhere on a California budget. Plus, summers are miserable.”

Betts does not agree with these sentiments.

“We are about 10 minutes away from all the nightlife of Palm Springs,” he pointed out. “We’re close to all the attractions within the Coachella Valley. It’s a little quieter here, and we have cooler temperatures. The housing values are really good, so you can get a really nice house out here for a lower price. If you don’t want to be bothered with all the traffic and congestion down on the valley floor, we’re the best place to be.”

He’s right: The housing prices in DHS are definitely reasonable, and there are some beautiful parts of Desert Hot Springs.

But what about the crippling budget deficit the city faced not too long ago? DHS made national news when the town’s coffers were pushed toward insolvency.

Turns out there’s no crisis anymore.

“The biggest problem was the budget, but we got that fixed,” Betts said. “It was no small feat to get our finances stabilized. From there, we can start to build on everything else we need to take care of.”

OK, so the city government is improving. What about crime?

It is definitely a problem in DHS. In 2007, a rock, and then fireworks, were thrown through the window of the house I share with my roommate—at 3 a.m. The rock and fireworks set off our fire and burglar alarms, and the Desert Hot Springs police and fire department immediately showed up. The officers mentioned it was most likely a random act of vandalism.

“You’re not in Cleveland anymore,” I thought.

Residents who belong to the Desert Hot Springs Neighborhood Group regularly complain that their cars and homes have been broken into. Then there’s the violence: Five people were murdered in the first four months of this year. In fact, a number of residents showed up at a City Council meeting in April to voice frustrations with the criminal activity.

However, help may be on the way: While the Desert Hot Springs Police Department was racked by cuts during the budget crisis, Betts said the city is now looking to add more police officers.

“We’re trying to fill the last of seven positions,” he said. “When you get a (budget) crisis like we did, you can find yourself in a lot of jeopardy. The crime is going to be solved with getting more officers on the streets. The seven police officers are budgeted, and we have the money. The police we have are doing a great job; we just need more of them. We really need to knock down this criminal activity.”

So help may be on the way regarding crime. But what about homelessness? The city has a large, visible homeless population, and members of the Desert Hot Springs Neighborhood Group often kvetch that no one is addressing the issue. Yes, the valley has fine facilities like Martha’s Village and Kitchen, and Roy’s Desert Resource Center, but many homeless people aren’t ready, able or willing to adapt to the structured environment and the rules at these places.

As a result, DHS has some well-known homeless people. “Joseph” is known to pile rocks in patterns on various properties and has been photographed throwing objects at passing cars on Palm Drive, for example.

However, one of the things I love about DHS is that the people here care. Residents have proposed raising money to purchase vacant buildings to turn them into shelters. There are many who wish to take control of the situation.


If Desert Hot Springs is the worst place to live, it must have a terrible business climate. Right?

Just the opposite.

The restaurants of Desert Hot Springs have a lot to offer. The Capri, Thai Palms, South of the Border, Casa Blanca and Kam Lun are all notable places to eat in Desert Hot Springs, and they’re often busy.

Then there are the spa offerings in Desert Hot Springs: There are plenty of them, and the area’s waters are world-famous. Two Bunch Palms is one of the best known spa resorts in the United States and has been mentioned in films, television shows and national media.

New businesses have been opening their doors in abundance. Desert Rocks Indoor Climbing Gym, an indoor climbing facility, just opened. Other businesses that have opened within the past year include the TOP Shop, Pho Na 92 and Desert Market. Another market called Rio Ranch is being built right next to the K-Mart, and Walmart is taking an interest in Desert Hot Springs. Two medical-marijuana dispensaries are now open and bringing added revenue to the city.

Paula Terifaj, the owner of the DogSpa Resort and a member of the Desert Hot Springs Planning Commission, believes in the city’s business possibilities.

“I don’t see our city through rose-colored glasses,” Terifaj said. “I see it’s been very challenged for several reasons. We’ve been dealing with ills that have been brewing for decades. But since I’ve gotten involved, I’ve noticed we’re under new guidance. In my opinion, what we’re doing is clawing our way out of a financial disaster created by a former administration, and I’m going to call it a ‘city in transition.’”

Terifaj said she recognizes the efforts the city has been making to attract new businesses.

“The city used to be really tough on new business, but the new City Council recognized that,” she said. “They looked at the cost of business licenses and everything else. The city wants to be more business-friendly, and they’ve even talked about offering incentives for new businesses. The city has recognized that the city needs businesses; the city wants businesses, and has to attract businesses. They’re really trying to make that easier at the city level, and it’s been talked about quite a bit.”

Terifaj mentioned that the city is looking at promoting culture, too.

“One of the things the city has talked about is forming an arts district and looking at where to have an arts district,” she said. “It went through the City Council, and it went in front of the Planning Commission. It came to us and during our last meeting; most of the meeting was spent talking about the arts district. People from the public got involved in that conversation, and it was amazing.”

At the center of these efforts is Richard Teisan, a real estate agent who lives in Desert Hot Springs and is the executive director of the new Community One Foundation.

“We are going to build artist residences, so artists can come in and live in Desert Hot Springs and do their work,” Teisan said. “(We plan) 4,000-square-foot facilities where an artist can show his work, and live in the back or live above it. These are all kinds of artists—writers, musicians, sculptors—and we have furniture-makers from Honduras. These guys are so crafty, and they build this beautiful furniture. They want to come in and be artists and develop art pieces.”

Regarding home values, Teisan explained why Desert Hot Springs is desirable.

“The first thing that I tell people is that when you look at prices per square foot, the price per square foot is (one of) the lowest that you can see in the state,” he said. “The second value I always talk about is there have been waves of contractors coming through building various quality of houses. The last wave to come through built much higher-quality homes than (in) the years before that.”

There are a lot of vacant lots in DHS. Teisan sees these as an opportunity.

“The value of vacant lots has dropped drastically, so that you can buy a lot in Desert Hot Springs to build a house on for $8,000 to $15,000,” he said. “You can’t do that any place else in the state, unless you go up into the wilderness. In this place, there’s land that has water, power, gas and sewer, and you can still buy the land for under $10,000 for a quarter-acre.”

It’s true: When you look at real estate listings for Desert Hot Springs, you’ll find nice homes, in safe areas, for far less than comparable homes in neighboring Palm Springs.

So, back to the original question: Is Desert Hot Springs truly the worst place to live in California?

Heck no, it’s not. While Desert Hot Springs has its problems, the city is packed with potential, especially with people flocking from Los Angeles and finding Riverside and Redlands to be too expensive; eventually, the reasonable real estate prices here will attract them. The city is addressing issues such as crime, and is working on attracting businesses.

People who know me will vouch for the fact that I’m not much of an optimist. So believe me when I tell you that I see Desert Hot Springs as a decent place to live, that’s filled with people who care about their city, being led by a city government that’s working to solve problems.

Below: Pho Na 92 is one of the many businesses that have recently opened in DHS. Photo by Brian Blueskye.

Published in Local Issues