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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: 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

When the pain of the Great Recession was just beginning to be really felt in 2009, Brian McGowan—then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deputy secretary for economic development and commerce—approached Coachella Valley leaders about developing an innovation hub.

“We didn’t really have a clue what it meant,” said Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet at a news conference on March 31.

Spurred by McGowan, Pougnet—along with Cathedral City Mayor Kathy DeRosa and then-Desert Hot Springs Mayor Yvonne Parks—formed the Coachella Valley iHub. After the three cities chipped in, the iHub became one of the first six in California—there are now 16 in the state—and it’s starting to pay dividends: 21 tech-related companies are currently part of the Coachella Valley iHub.

“We do have the top iHub in the state,” said Tom Flavin, the president and CEO of the nonprofit Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, which is now working with the three founding cities (as well as the cities of La Quinta, Palm Desert and Indio, plus Riverside County) on the iHub.

More dividends are coming, too: According to a study released at that March 31 news conference, the iHub is projected to have a $12.5 billion impact on the Coachella Valley between 2017 and 2036. Yes, that’s billion with a “b.”

By 2036, the study—by research economist John Husing—estimates that 81 companies involving clean/renewable energy, technology, health/medicine or advanced manufacturing will be operating in the valley as a direct result of the iHub. A projected 3,544 new jobs will be in place at those companies in 2036, with a total payroll of $174 million.

The iHub currently includes companies working at the CVEP business center, and at the iHub Accelerator Campus, located near the Palm Springs International Airport. Leaders are also hoping to build a second iHub campus, for advanced manufacturing, in the East Valley with the assistance of a federal grant.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, but the economic payoff is significant,” Flavin said.

Joe Wallace, the managing director of the Coachella Valley iHub, explained that Husing’s study makes some fairly conservative assumptions. It assumes that seven companies will “graduate” (i.e. go out on their own from the iHub) each year, with an average of 15 employees each; half of those companies are projected to go out of business. The bulk of the surviving companies are assumed to have 10 percent job growth per year, with expansion stopping at nine years and 35 employees; every fifth company is presumed to keep expanding beyond 35 employees, and every 10th company’s job growth is projected to be 20 percent per year. Each job’s pay is modestly projected at $48,900—the median salary of an Inland Empire manufacturing worker in 2013.

The development of an iHub is especially important in the Coachella Valley, elected officials say, because the valley’s economy is currently over-dependent on tourism—a fact which reared its ugly head during the Great Recession.

It’s also important because the valley currently lacks a lot of good-paying jobs outside of the service and tourism sector. Today, many young people who grow up in the valley are forced to leave due to a lack of work.

“Most of the kids who grow up here would like to stay,” Wallace said.

Silicon Springs Enterprises—a company that partners with and helps develop tech companies that want to do business in the Coachella Valley—was the first company to graduate from the iHub. It’s a great example of a new local company that has big plans—and big potential.

“We want to create another Silicon Valley, one that’s smaller and more efficient, in the desert,” said Joel Fashingbauer, Silicon Springs Enterprises’ president and chief operating officer, at one of the company’s regular Desert Tech Meetups, as reported by the Independent in December.

At the March 31 press conference, Pougnet patted himself and his fellow mayors in Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs on the back for taking the initial steps to form the Coachella Valley iHub in 2009 and 2010.

“We invested money when times were tough—and we’re now beginning to see the fruits of our labor,” he said.

Published in Local Issues

There is no question that the city of Desert Hot Springs is in financial trouble: The city is facing a deficit of $6 million or more.

However, bankruptcy is off the table, as far as the newly elected mayor, Adam Sanchez, is concerned.

Sanchez was elected to the DHS City Council in 2011, and ran for mayor against incumbent Yvonne Parks in 2013. Sanchez won by the narrowest of margins—12 votes.

During a recent interview with the Independent, Sanchez discussed the economic issues that Desert Hot Springs faces, as well as his plans for the city, and his first month in office.

“It feels like it’s been a year,” Sanchez said. “I think the obvious reason why is because one day after the election, we’re told by the mayor, the city manager and finance director that we have a deficit of $6.9 million. Hearing that right after the election, it’s enough to make you stop in your shoes and start thinking about where this started going wrong—and (why) didn’t anybody notice it? Since then, it’s been basically a quick roller-coaster ride, going down. Being on a roller coaster going down, you’re holding on. The last month has been holding on and trying to figure out how to go about reducing the deficit, because we know we have to be at a balanced budget by June 30.”

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Sanchez attributed much of the deficit to Desert Hot Springs’ police force and city employees, along with their pension plans. While many American cities that have gone through financial stresses have placed the blame on city employees and their pensions, Sanchez said it’s a bit more complex than that when it comes to Desert Hot Springs. However, in a city of 27,000 people, there are no questions that some of the city’s salary figures are mindboggling—and smell of possible corruption.

“I think the biggest concern came when they did the numbers on the police department: They were working the regular shifts, but also double shifts,” Sanchez said. “The detectives were working overtime constantly. Most of the detectives worked during the day, but the crimes happen at night, so why pull them out again? When they did the breakdown on it, they were averaging $200,000 a year per police officer. A study came back and showed that we were the 20th-highest in the state for paid employees.”

Sanchez said other employees within city government were also taking advantage of a flawed system.

“We had a city manager making $217,000 as part of his salary, and then $900 a month for a car allowance,” Sanchez said. “When you look across the state and cities similar to ours, the city manager is making anywhere from $140,000 to $160,000. On top of that, the police chief’s salary went up, too. … All of a sudden, you have a police chief who could be making close to $190,000.”

Sanchez said that while he was on the City Council under Parks’ leadership, he was hesitant to vote for any of the city budgets without transparency and full disclosure.

“With the prior administration, when they did the audits, a lot of this was kept private from us. … In the two years I was on the City Council, I was never asked to sit down with the auditors and look over their reports; none of us were. The only ones who were that I’m aware of were the mayor and city manager. A lot of us were left out of the loop from the entire process.”

Sanchez didn’t list that as the only issue; he said he’s learning a lot from an audit, still taking place, that Sanchez ordered after he took office.

“Within the police department alone, they had their own budget analyst who was working with the police chief and city manager, and the city had its own finance director. We had two different analysts, and they weren’t communicating with each other.”

Sanchez has pledged that there will be more transparency under his administration.

“We’re trying to put together a system where the city manager, the finance director, the mayor and the whole council will act as one finance committee. Before, it was the mayor and the mayor pro-tems that did it along with the city manager, so the City Council was left out. … Everybody needs to be communicating, and we can’t afford to be overspending.”

Of course, more business development in Desert Hot Springs could help the city avoid future budget problems.

“Right now, Two Bunch Palms resort wants to do a major expansion. … They want to create a whole new spa area, a new dining area, and add additional condos. They want to invest a tremendous amount of money and expand the resort to where we can showcase our health and wellness. In the next year and a half, that’s what we’re going to be working on with them.”

Speaking of health and wellness: Those are words Sanchez uses repeatedly, as he believes health and wellness can lead to economic opportunities for the city, and well-being for the city’s population. He spoke with pride about the city’s new health-and-wellness center and the programs it offers.

“What you need to have is programming directed toward creating a healthy family,” he said. “To have a healthy family, you have to make sure the kids are seeing the doctor. At the same time, you have to make sure the family is well-educated in health needs. A lot of it is education and preventive medicine. Why can’t we find ways to take advantage of that? All of a sudden, now you’re building a community around health and wellness, so we can get away from what we hear now, which is violence, more crime, and a city government that can’t keep its budget balanced.”

Sanchez said that if he gets his way, Desert Hot Springs will keep its police department, and there will be no cuts to education. The painful 22 percent cut in pay for the police department and other city employees will hopefully help save the city’s budget going forward, he said.

On the subject of his narrow win over Yvonne Parks, Sanchez talked about how he refused to believe he’d lost on election night, when preliminary results appeared to show Yvonne Parks had been re-elected.

“People were telling me the election was really over,” he said. The number (of votes I was behind) had dropped so quickly, from 97 to 24 on the second day after the election, and people were saying, ‘Oh my gosh; it’s not over yet.’ On the third day after the election, at about 2 p.m., they posted the results and had me up by 12.”

Sanchez said he was the youngest of three children to a single mother, and he grew up in the Boy Scouts, learning the value of public service at an early age. He also has a degree in recreation management.

“For me, it’s almost like the best time to be here in Desert Hot Springs, building this health-and-wellness initiative that I want to build, to change the overall image of the community to being a positive place for families to live, and for us to be proud of the fact we have the great hot mineral waters, the best-tasting drinking water—and now we have a government in the city that’s engaged and involved to where we care about one another,” he said.

Published in Politics