CVIndependent

Thu11142019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Kevin Fitzgerald

About 30 miles east of Indio, perched on the high ground of Chiriaco Summit, stands the General Patton Memorial Museum.

It is located at the heart of what was the Desert Training Center, established by Gen. George S. Patton in 1942 to train American troops in desert warfare in preparation for the invasion of North Africa. In its brief, two-year existence, it became the largest Army training facility in the United States, through which passed 60 divisions and more than 1 million soldiers.

On Monday, Nov. 11—Veterans Day—a crowd of some 1,000 dignitaries, honorees, veterans and their families will gather in this space with local citizens to recognize the contributions and sacrifices of all American veterans. This year, the traditional event will serve a dual purpose: It will be a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the museum as well.

“This 25th anniversary celebration of the museum’s opening is a very big thing to our board,” said Mike Pierson, the newly appointed general manager of the museum, “especially to co-founder Margit Chiriaco Rusche, who still operates the café family business next door and acts as our first vice president. Also, original founding board member Leslie Cone gave her input for this event.

“For 25 years, this has been a labor of love for both of them and for all who have served on the board.”

The ceremony—which is open to all—begins at 11 a.m. “We’ll begin with an air salute flyover of World War II aircraft flown by Warbirds West,” said Pierson, a U.S. Special Forces veteran who served on the Patton Museum board before becoming the general manager. “Following will be a re-enactment of World War II battles. We have the consulate general of the Republic of South Korea coming in from Los Angeles as our special guest to unveil our new Korean War Memorial Wall. Gen. George Patton’s daughter Helen, who lives in Europe and is the president of the Patton Foundation, will be our keynote speaker.”

Pierson said U.S. Congressman Raul Ruiz, Assemblyman Brian Nestande, Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez and Supervisor John Benoit are all expected to attend the free event, which will include a chili cook-off and a raffle.

“Most of all, we’ll recognize all the veterans who have served from all the war eras. It will be quite a party,” Pierson said.

Museum general manager Mike Pierson.While the Veterans Day celebration is always the highlight of the museum’s calendar, the future is filled with plans for many additions and improvements to the museum.

“Friends and community supporters are going to build us a new room for both storage and to use as a vault,” Pierson said. “Some members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars are going to renovate and re-locate the last remaining original building from the former Camp Young to our grounds for use as a maintenance office. One of our board members is restoring our 2 1/2-ton truck right now; another friend is rebuilding our vintage World War II Sherman tank, which we should move to the position right up front in our tank yard. We’re going to create a botanical garden of indigenous desert plants in our garden and tank yard, and develop an approved school course curriculum to offer for credit to student groups who visit the museum to learn about the history of U.S. warfare or to study the vegetation of the desert. We’ll build an education center out in the chapel area.

“I have a lot of ideas, but never enough time,” Pierson chuckled.

Like many museums, the General Patton Memorial Museum depends on memberships, sponsorships and donations to stay afloat.

“It is difficult to keep the doors of the museum open relying only on the small amount we charge for admission and our small amount of gift-shop sales,” Pierson said. “Our operating expenses are more than most people realize. For instance, we have to maintain a constant temperature in our buildings in order to preserve the perishable artifacts like books, uniforms and weapons.”

The main focus of that fundraising outreach has been the sale of memorial tiles, which are engraved with the names of former service personnel and then mounted permanently on one of the museum’s memorial walls. These include the West Coast Vietnam Veterans Wall, the new Korean War Veterans Wall, and the Defenders of Freedom Wall.

“The campaign to attract donations for tiles from service units like bomber groups, Marine battalions and Navy shipmates as a whole group, and not just as individuals, is an initiative of mine,” Pierson said. “It started from my desire to honor veterans from my own high school. First, there were the four who lost their lives in Vietnam. I knew all four of them personally. And by honoring them, I wanted to honor all those who served in Vietnam.

“The first year, in 2010, we unveiled about 48 names. Nine of those veterans had never talked to their family or children about their service—and to see them in front of that wall on Veterans Day three years ago with their families, and with assemblymen and congressmen shaking their hands and taking pictures with them in front of those memorial tiles … well, word got out from those nine about what a spiritual and healing thing it was for them. They were actually crying.

“So last year, 11 others showed up from my high school, because we put two more tiles on. And this year, the fifth and final tile will be mounted, totaling 102 service members from the tiny town of Imperial, California, who served in the Vietnam era.”

General Patton himself would be moved, perhaps, by the commitment of those who have nurtured this namesake destination.

“General Patton joined our Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post right here at Camp Young, in 1942, I believe, along with all of his line officers who had served in World War I,” said Pierson. “And he stayed a member of our post, and his granddaughter, Helen, is a member of our ladies' auxiliary. It’s kind of neat to have that tie.”

The General Patton Memorial Museum is located at 62150 Chiriaco Road, at Chiriaco Summit, located off Interstate 10 about 30 miles east of Indio. The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., daily; admission is $5; $4.50 for seniors; and $1 for kids age 7 to 12. Children 6 and younger, active members of the military, and card-carrying members of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars are all admitted for free. Admission is free to all on Nov. 11. For more information, call 760-227-3483, or visit generalpattonmuseum.com.

More than 40 cities in California have terminated red-light camera programs within the last 10 years, according TheNewspaper.com, “a journal of the politics of driving.”

San Diego announced the end of that city’s program—in which drivers were mailed tickets after tripping sensors and then getting photographed in the act of an apparent traffic violation at an intersection—in February of this year. Numerous cities in other states have similarly ended participation in this well-intentioned, but often ill-conceived approach to traffic law enforcement. At least eights states prohibit the use of red-light camera systems, including Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Yet Cathedral City is sticking with its red-light camera program—at least for now.

Since March 2006, the city has had a red-light camera at Date Palm Drive and Ramon Road; in February 2009, the city added two more: At Date Palm and Vista Chino, and at Landau Boulevard and Ramon.

“It’s a cost-benefit exam,” said Capt. Chuck Robinson, the Cathedral City Police Department’s public information officer. “When we look at the system over the first five years, we saw a lot of good things come out of the safety aspect. A lot of the issues that have been brought up as arguments against the system, we’ve essentially nullified, because we did it right. We did it right from the beginning, and we did it for the right reasons.”

Public officials generally cite two reasons for supporting red-light camera programs. The first is that they benefit public safety by reducing vehicle collisions in the targeted intersections.

However, the statistics provided by Capt. Robinson show that the number of accidents at these three intersections were higher in both 2011 and 2012 than they were in 2010, the first full year that all of the cameras were operational. In 2010, there were 15 such collisions at Cathedral City red-light camera intersections. In 2011, that total soared to 25 collisions. In 2012, the number decreased to 17.

As for the statistics at those intersections before the cameras were installed, Capt. Robinson said he couldn’t provide them. “We had a crime analyst who we lost during all the cutbacks last year. That crime analyst had all the historical data, especially the red-light camera stuff. So when we lost him last year, basically we lost all his work.”

However, he did recall one statistic: “I know anecdotally that the first year we had the red-light camera at the intersection of Date Palm and Ramon, we saw a 30 percent reduction in the number of collisions at that intersection.”

The second rationale is that the fines—almost $500 per ticket—imposed on drivers provide a revenue stream to cash-strapped municipalities. However, in the case of Cathedral City, that’s not the case; in fact, only the company that manages the program is making big bucks.

Along with the red-light statistics supplied to the Independent by Capt. Robinson, he wrote, “The cumulative revenue generated by the program since March 2006 to present is $1,455,817. The cost of the program management by ATS (American Traffic Solutions, a company based in Arizona) over that same time period is $933,227. The city acquired approximately $522,580 over these last seven years, which equates to approximately $74,654 per year in revenue.”

Capt. Robinson continued: “The personnel costs associated with reviewing each citation, handling citizen inquiries and complaints, attending court and processing public-record requests during the year is about $65,000.”

That means the Cathedral City Police Department is reaping approximately $9,654 per year from the cameras.

“That sounds about right, because the whole intent of the program was to be cost-neutral,” Robinson said. “We didn’t install (the red-light camera enforcement system) to generate revenue. … Over the last seven years, the overall revenues versus what we’ve expended and paid out are negligible.”

Meanwhile, a review of public records by the Independent shows that the city’s justifications for starting the program in the first place may have been less than accurate.

The original Cathedral City authorization document for initiation of the red-light camera program, dated May 25, 2005, shows that the proposal by then-Police Chief Stanley Henry—now a member of Cathedral City’s city council—offered only one example of a successful red-light camera: Indian Wells.

The “Background” section of the document states: “Indian Wells has had a successful program for approximately four years.” It then goes on to mention: “According to their public safety manager, the Red-Light Camera Program has been part of their overall traffic strategy. He reports more awareness, less speeding and collisions. … The cameras have created few complaints and according to the Public Safety Manager have been well-received by the community. He said Cathedral City will be happy with the results.”

However, at the time of that writing, the city of Indian Wells was already in the process of terminating its red-light camera program. In fact, public records show that Indian Wells shut off its red-light camera system sometime in 2004, and officially ended the contract for services in July 2005—no more than two months after the City Council of Cathedral City cited them as a program to be emulated.

So why did Cathedral City cite Indian Wells as a red-light-camera success story when, in fact, it was not?”

“At the time that the Indian Wells program was in effect, they were very satisfied with it,” said Capt. Robinson. “The problem that Indian Wells had was that the initial technology they were utilizing was wet-film-based. The technology was in its infancy, so for them, it was very labor-intensive, which is why I think they ended up getting rid of their program.”

However, Indian Wells’ personnel director and public safety manager, Mel Windsor (who was working in the same capacity while the city’s red-light camera system was operational) differed on some of these points. Regarding the Indian Wells citizen satisfaction levels described in the Cathedral City Police Department’s proposal to the City Council, Windsor recalled, “When we first implemented the system, I fielded complaint calls all day, every day, beginning as soon as I got to my desk each morning.”

What about technical challenges in Indian Wells' system? “No, we never had any technical problems. We contracted with ACS/Lockheed Martin, and they had pretty well worked out any bugs in their system while managing their system in San Diego. … We shut down the system because it cost too much to run, and the city council made the decision to use any funds earmarked for the red-light camera system to hire additional motorcycle deputies, who can operate in more of a stealth mode and address multiple driver behaviors that pose a danger to the public safety.”

Today, some Cathedral City officials may be reaching a similar conclusion.

“The bell curve on safety benefits has flattened out,” said Capt. Robinson. “I don’t think we’re going to see any more safety that we can get out of the program in those intersections. We’re looking at the program from the standpoint of: Is it cost-effective for us to keep it? There have been a lot of costs aside from just paying for the system itself and the service behind it. So all those things have to be weighed together, and we’re in the process of doing that now.

“Our contract expires in February or March of 2014. We don’t have any addendums or extensions; it actually expires. So we’re already heading down that road where we decide if it’s something we want to continue with, or if we try something else.”

When a decision is reached by first quarter of 2014 on whether or not to extend the Cathedral City red-light camera program, will that decision be announced to the public with any fanfare?

“You know, that is a very good question,” Capt. Robinson said. “From a safety standpoint, I would say it would be in our best interest to make that as quiet as possible. But … I also realize that in a lot of areas, the popularity or unpopularity of the red-light camera systems is political. … I would say if it were up to me, (we’d) go quietly into the night. If people still believe it’s there, then they’re still going to behave. But word travels fast. I mean, it’s a small valley, so regardless, (drivers) are going to know at some point, anyway. But whether it’s with fanfare or not, I don’t know.”

Saxon Burns contributed to this story.

On Friday, Aug. 9, more than 500 followers and believers of UFOlogy and the extra-terrestrial contact movement gathered for the first Contact in the Desert conference at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center.

Over three days—through Sunday, Aug. 11—35 experts on these belief systems are offering lectures, workshops and panel discussions.

Although the auras of spirits were not visible to the naked eye, vendor tents ruffled in the strong desert winds, and participants sought out shelter from the hot sun as the first day's activities wore on.

For more information, visit contactinthedesert.net. Below are a few photos of the conference experience.

Contact in the Desert is “a gathering of the superstars of UFOlogy.”

That’s how spokesperson and lecturer Michael Luckman described the event, slated for Friday, Aug. 9, through Sunday, Aug. 11, at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center. Organizers hope Contact in the Desert—which will feature lectures, workshops and interactive experiences conducted by 32 renowned experts in the topics of UFO sightings, extra-terrestrial contacts and proactive ET-signaling—will become an annual event.

“More than 400 military personnel have given videotaped depositions worldwide saying that UFOs are real. They’ve had sightings and encounters,” said Luckman, “When so many military eyewitnesses come forward, there really is very little left to debate.”

Luckman is also the founder of Cosmic Majority, which calls on “the governments of the world to implement an early warning detection system designed to reduce the growing meteor and asteroid threat.”

Contact in the Desert comes on the heels of the Citizen Hearing on Disclosure, which brought researchers and government/agency witnesses from 10 countries to Washington, D.C., to testify before six former members of the U.S. Congress on April 29 through May 3. Organizers said the purpose of the hearing was to present evidence supporting the truth of an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race, and a government policy to embargo that truth.

“There’s no question anymore that we’re being visited,” Luckman said. “Exactly who they are, whether they all come from the same place, how friendly they are. … These are all matters for speculation.”

Such speculation will certainly be the focus of Contact in the Desert activities. Highlights of the three-day event include: Friday’s lecture entitled “UFOs: A 21st Century Approach” by author Richard Dolan; a panel discussion, “Are We Alone? The Right To Know,” on Saturday hosted by conference headliner and emcee George Noory, of the syndicated AM radio show Coast to Coast; and a Sunday night “Field Work Experience and Training Event” conducted by Steven Greer involving the practice of his personal CE-5 contact protocols—“signaling techniques” he developed as the founder of the center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CSETI).

Joshua Tree National Park, which is slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island and sits in close proximity to the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, has reportedly been the site of more than a dozen reported UFO sightings since 1968.

Worldwide sighting reports reveal that many of these incidents take place in the vicinity of earthly military bases.

“UFOs have been spotted in nuclear-weapons storage facilities,” said Luckman. “But, in my opinion, it’s not for any bad reason. These are like UFO peacekeeping forces that are surveilling and keeping us from blowing our planet up.”

With its wide open vistas of the night desert skies, the Joshua Tree Retreat Center is a perfect locale for the UFO community to come together. Participants can discover, contemplate and discuss the myriad issues raised by the basic question of whether other highly intelligent and technologically advance civilizations exist beyond our solar system—and, if they do, what impact contact with those beings would have on our planet.

Contact in the Desert has been scheduled to coincide with the Aug. 11 onset of the Perseid Meteor Shower. As event press-information rep Susan von Seggern told us, all participants at the conference will be invited to gather outdoors around 11 p.m. to share in “a true intergalactic experience … when meteors will appear to ‘rain’ into the majestic desert sky from the constellation Perseus.”

Contact in the Desert takes place Friday, Aug. 9, through Sunday, Aug. 11, at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, 59700 Twentynine Palms Highway, in Joshua Tree. Advance registration starts at $225, or $200 per couple; meals and optional tours are extra. For more information, visit www.contactinthedesert.net.

Brandon Viloria, 8, was running wind sprints in 95-degree weather at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday (July 10) outside of the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. His mother, Shannon, was by his side.

What would possess a kid to do such a thing? Turns out Brandon is the current California boxing champion in the 8-to-10-year-old, 55-pound bantam weight class, and he was slated to compete at the 12th Annual Desert Showdown tournament at Fantasy Springs this weekend.

“He’s got to drop 1.4 pounds right now so that he can make his weight limit at the weigh-in,” explained his father, Dominic. “We’re trying to become the Desert Showdown champion now.”

Brandon’s commitment and determination is typical of the aspiring boxing champions who have converged on the Coachella Valley in July to compete in boxing coach and promoter Ralph Romero’s dream event. As the USA’s second-largest amateur boxing tournament, the Desert Showdown has become a normal step for many amateur boxers as they try to climb to the top.

Beyond the roughly 600 participating fighters’ skill level, the fact that they are learning the discipline and focus required by a boxer’s demanding lifestyle can be a valuable reward in itself.

“With this tournament, everything’s for the kids,” says promoter Romero. “They’re the ones who take the hits. I’m just here to guide them—help them do right, get through high school, go to college, make a career. School first, boxing next. That way, if they get out of boxing, they’ve got something to fall back on.”

Director of the Coachella Valley Boxing Club, Lee Espinoza—who trained the world champion brothers Julio and Antonio Diaz, and has 22 fighters competing in this year’s tourney—concurs.

“I started training kids 33 years ago, and I had just three boys to work with,” recalls Espinosa. “Today, guys I trained when they were 6 years old have 6-year-old sons. They’re doing fine, and that’s great.”

As Thursday’s weigh-in drew to a close, one happy competitor stepped off the scale. With tired smiles and “No. 1” hand signs, the Viloria family celebrated their chance to capture a Desert Showdown belt: Brandon had made his weight.

Scroll down for the photo gallery, and watch this story at CVIndependent.com for more photos throughout the weekend.

Over the last decade in the Coachella Valley (and Riverside County overall), there has been a seismic political shift that is not related to the proximity of the San Andreas Fault.

In 2004, as the presidential election drew near, the Republican Party in Riverside County held a voter-registration advantage of 12.5 percentage points over the Democratic Party.

Four years later, that Republican advantage had dwindled to slightly more than 5 percentage points. And in 2012, as the race between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney neared its climax, the Democratic Party had narrowed the gap to just 4.5 percentage points.

According to data released on May 20 by the California Secretary of State, that differential is now just 4.1 percentage points.

It’s no surprise that many political insiders in Riverside County attribute the Democrats’ surprising wins at the polls last November—Obama actually beat Romney by almost 11,000 votes in the county, and Dr. Raul Ruiz edged out incumbent Rep. Mary Bono Mack to get elected to Congress—to the party’s effective voter-enlistment drive over the last decade.

“When we opened our headquarters five years ago (in Cathedral City), we realized that one of the most important activities we could pursue was voter registration,” explained Elle Kurpiewski, the manager of the aforementioned headquarters and a former president of the Democrats of the Desert. “Our facility plays host to 11 different Democratic clubs and organizations in the region; we sponsor a booth at the weekly Thursday night Palm Springs Village Fest; and in 2008, we had 27 semi-permanent voter-registration sites established.”

Other factors have impacted the registered-voter landscape, too. One was the California online voter registration legislation that took effect in 2012 and is credited with enabling some 800,000 new voters statewide to join the electoral rolls prior to the 2012 general election. This new registration method proved particularly effective in attracting eligible voters among the young and minority groups, favoring Democrats statewide by a 2-to-1 margin over Republicans. (There are no specific numbers for Riverside County available yet.)

“Our only concern was whether online registration would actually work: Would voters be able to navigate the system successfully to get registered?” Kurpiewski said. “What we want is that people take advantage of their constitutional right to vote. If it works and helps stop registration fraud, then we’re in favor of it.”

Another major factor is the rapid growth of the Latino population statewide. According to the California Department of Finance, by early 2014, Latinos will outnumber white people by early 2014. Along with the Latino segment’s rapid growth comes these political realities: While only 44 percent of eligible Latino voters in the state had registered, more than 60 percent of them identified themselves as Democrats; meanwhile, only about 15 percent said they were Republicans, according to the Public Policy Institute of California in an analysis released earlier this year.

Therein lies both an opportunity and a challenge for the two major political parties.

“I always say that the Republican Party in Riverside County has three ongoing and equally important goals: voter registration, fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts,” said Randon Lane, chairman of the Republican Party of Riverside County. “I will speak to any organization, representing any constituency, about the Republican Party message and values. Right now, it’s important for us to get outside the box to attract both new voters to register as Republicans, and convert those who may not completely understand our message and are registered now with other major parties.”

Kurpiewski said local Democrats have made specific efforts to reach Latino communities in Coachella, Indio and Mecca. “But our focus is not just the Latino community; we care about everyone. In all ethnic communities, we enlist participants who are members of that community and have skills and expertise unique to their community. They know their neighbors and can identify the areas where our voter registration outreach will succeed. Our whole thing is working together with the communities that make up Coachella Valley, and that has made us successful in turning this valley blue.”

All eyes are now on the 2014 Riverside County Board of Supervisors race between challenger V. Manuel Perez, a Democrat, and Republican incumbent John Benoit. Just how much of the voter-registration focus in Riverside County will be on recruiting Latino citizens?

“There are a lot of shared voter concerns that we speak to as a party in our outreach efforts, whether at meetings, via social media or direct mail,” said Lane, “but particular voter segments have their specific issues that we want to address. The Republican Party wants to speak to the Latino community’s concerns, just as we need to address concerns in the black, Asian, white or any ethnic constituency where voters will consider supporting the Republican Party.”

Kurpiewski said local Democrats are in the process of starting a major voter-registration drive this month. “I’d rather not share details, because we don’t want to give opposing parties a preview of our strategy, but we are very confident that this effort will enable us to accomplish everything we can to help V. Manuel Perez to get elected, and also to keep U.S. Congressman Raul Ruiz in office,” she said.

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