CVIndependent

Thu11142019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Brian Blueskye

When I spoke to the candidates for Cathedral City’s City Council two years ago, the main concern was economic development—how to generate revenue, grow new businesses, and continue to come back from the devastation of the Great Recession of 2008.

Today, the city is undeniably in a better financial position. Revenues from the new and growing marijuana industry have been a boon—but each candidate I spoke to this year acknowledged that Cathedral City still has a long way to go.

This year’s election is being done differently: Under threat of a civil-rights lawsuit, Cathedral City—like many other California municipalities—has switched from at-large elections to district-based elections, and three of those five new district seats are up for election this year. The city is also eliminating the elected mayor’s seat; from now on, the position will rotate among the five council members. As a result of all this, two incumbents—Mayor Stan Henry and Shelley Kaplan—are not running for re-election.

One incumbent is running—Mark Carnevale is facing Juan Carlos Vizaga in the new District 3. In the new District 4, four candidates are facing off: Sergio Espericueta, Ernesto Gutierrez, Rick Saldivar and John Rivera. In District 5, voters will choose between Raymond Gregory and Laura Ahmed.

Four of the eight candidates—Juan Carlos Vizaga, Sergio Espericueta, Ernesto Gutierrez and Laura Ahmed—did not respond to e-mail requests and phone messages from the Independent. Here’s what the responding candidates had to say.


District 3

Mark Carnevale said he’s hoping to continue the work he started after being elected to his first term in 2014.

“I was a new candidate, and Cathedral City had planted the seed,” said Carnevale, who owns Nicolino’s Italian Restaurant with his wife. “There were a lot of development possibilities and a lot of empty buildings. There was a lot of work to be done, and I’ve always accepted challenges in my life. I thought I’d like to be involved in it and throw my personal background as a businessman in there, because a city is run different than a business. When the dice was rolled, we came up with a really good council.

He said the state’s elimination of redevelopment agencies earlier this decade took a toll.

“We’ve really done some good things with the efforts of the prior councils, but the redevelopment money was taken away,” he said. “We put some ideas together with a lot of goal-settings. The economy turned around; cannabis fell into our lap; the economy fell in our lap; and we started renting the buildings, so Cathedral City is moving forward. Timing is everything. We work together as a team to move forward.”

Carnevale said he’s fine with the move to district-based elections.

“It means being a little bit closer to the constituents there, and they can reach out to you,” Carnevale said. “But I’ll still represent all five districts. I don’t care if someone comes to me from District 5, saying, ‘Mark, I have a problem.’ I’ll be there. I’m going to the city manager, saying, ‘Hey, this person in District 5 has a situation.’ That doesn’t make a difference to me.”

Carnevale said he still sees economic development as Cathedral City’s key issue.

“We have to get the downtown filled up. We have to get the entryway from the Interstate 10 freeway onto Date Palm more conducive and get some building going along there,” he said. “We definitely would like to see the annex of Thousand Palms. That’s going to take some work. For me, being a businessman, if I want to build something, I’ll build it. If I want to knock down a wall, I’ll knock down a wall. But the city (red tape) is unbelievable. First, you have to get property entitlements and go through a process. If there’s redevelopment money involved, you have to get approval from their board. It could take years just to get a decision made to build. That’s frustrating. I’d like to see fast-line development here and want to see stuff grow fast.

“Cathedral City has property, and we have the lowest rents in businesses. That’s why we’ve seen 30 restaurants open over the past year and a half.”


District 4

Rick Saldivar is a newcomer to politics and was inspired by his church to run for City Council.

“I’m a pastor at a church in Cathedral City. Our main lead pastor asked a couple of the other pastors to go to City Council meetings,” Saldivar said. “I’ve lived in Cathedral City all of my life. … I love what they do for the city, and when they started doing district (elections), I decided to run for my neighborhood, because I feel I have a real pulse of the residents I live with in my neighborhood.”

Saldivar said people in his district have concerns about a lot of day-to-day issues that don’t reflect well on a city that is trying grow economically. 

“(People are concerned about) homelessness, drug abuse, youth-at-risk, and youth in general,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of senior citizens who are raising their grandchildren. That’s something that has become new to me. I think the homelessness issue needs attention, but I know that’s a valley-wide problem.”

Saldivar thinks small businesses could help solve the city’s economic problems.

“Cathedral City needs to have some sort of program or education on how to start your own business,” he said. “After all the door-knocking I’ve done, I’ve learned there are a lot of entrepreneur-minded people in our backyard—(potential) business owners who have had ideas, but have nothing to educate them on that. How can we make them self-sufficient and add a storefront to our city? I ran into a lady who does garage sales in different areas of the city with different families. She was so business-savvy, and I asked her why she didn’t have a storefront somewhere. It was because she didn’t know how.”

John Rivera is an architect who says his dedication to public service led to his City Council run. He currently serves on the city’s Architectural Review Committee, and formerly served on the Planning Commission.

“I have 25 years of service, including two years with the city of Palm Springs and 15 with Cathedral City,” Rivera said. “I was also a scoutmaster in Palm Springs for seven years with Boy Scouts of America. I tell people I am doing this because this is what my dad would have done. My dad was the type of person who did a lot for people and for family and friends. He was always the guy who stepped up to help. He would never ask for anything in return. That was just his nature.”

Rivera expressed concern about the lack of new construction in Cathedral City.

“We have a lot of growth with the cannabis industry, and that’s been a blessing,” he said. “The thing I see, being an architect by profession, is a lot of business and construction in Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert—but none in Cathedral City. I think it’s a sign that there’s something not happening, and that needs to be corrected. Being an architect and being on the Planning Commission, I’ve been at both ends of projects and have gotten them through. I know the system, and I know ways to streamline and make changes for a faster process to make things more business-friendly.”

Rivera also said the city needs to look at economic development in a more-modern way.

“In the past four years, there have been 30 new restaurants that have popped up. We’ve had a couple of big-box stores shut down, Burlington Coat Factory being one of them. The big-box stores are disappearing with e-commerce,” he said. “One of the things I’ve been focused on trying to get is what I refer to as a millennial city. We have a downtown that is made largely of vacant lots. When the city was master-planned back in the 1990s, it was done by architects in San Francisco that designed our city based on models in the 1970s and the 1960s. I think that was a waste of taxpayer money, and we need to look forward on how millennials will live in our city. They aren’t golfers; they don’t live the lifestyle that baby boomers live, and trying to tailor a new look for our city that is millennial-friendly is going to take a lot of forward-thinking and a lot of changes, but will create something that is very unique and will draw a lot of potential home-buyers.”


District 5

Raymond Gregory, running in District 5, retired in 2017 after 25 years with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

“One of the reasons I retired was because I was tired of being removed from my own community,” Gregory said. “My intention when I retired was to work on my house and work on things I felt were neglected—but also to volunteer in my community and with the city. When I retired (in September 2017), I started looking for opportunities and talking to people. People said that with (my) experience in law enforcement and (my) experience with government—and I had gone back to school, getting a master’s in business management—they said I’d be a good City Council member.”

Gregory, like other candidates, talked about how the recession hit Cathedral City particularly hard.

“Cathedral City had some challenges before, but when the recession came, a lot of the stores and businesses that the city had attracted started to close, and bigger stores moved away,” he said. “We’re left with a lot of empty storefronts. We have residential and commercial portions that were started to be developed and were never finished. … Quality of life is related to economic development, because if you’re not generating the revenue, you’re not able to build up your public safety or maintain your roads, and you don’t have the recreational opportunities such as parks. So there are a number of quality-of-life issues that need to be addressed, but economic development is the No. 1 challenge we have.”

Gregory expressed hope that tourism dollars and new businesses could come to Cathedral City.

“We need to build up a good tax base, and if I had my wish, we’d build up hotels, because it’s a good tax for the city to make revenue off of,” he said. “We’re a west valley location with a lot of the same amenities that our neighbors in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage have. I’d like to see hotels, tourism and recreational businesses. We have to continue to build on our arts and culture district and attract small businesses related to that. I’d like to see some green technology come in, and something to offer great jobs for people who live here so they don’t have to drive elsewhere to work.”

Jimmy Boegle contributed to this story.

November is here, which means the weather has been cooling off, and the holiday season is about to arrive. It also means the Coachella Valley and high desert are full of great events.

Speaking of great events: The McCallum Theatre has a busy November, including shows by Lea DeLaria and Jake Shimabukuro, which you can read about elsewhere in this issue. Here are a few others you should consider: At 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3, country-music star Travis Tritt will offer an intimate acoustic-style performance, during which he’ll share stories about his life and career. These types of shows are always interesting, and the McCallum is the perfect venue for this type of concert. Tickets are $38 to $88. At 8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 15, singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell will take the stage. He’s written hit songs for many country musicians, including Keith Urban, and he’s won two Grammy Awards. Tickets are $25 to $65. At 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 16, Irish singing group Celtic Thunder will perform. The group has been wildly popular ever since its first television special on PBS in 2008. Celtic Thunder is a huge draw in America and uses dramatics, comedy, lighting and choreography to dazzle audiences. Tickets are $60 to $90. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino is offering an awesome list of November shows. At 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 2, Rascal Flatts will be performing. Rascal Flatts was one of the biggest country groups of the ’00s and continues to be a powerhouse in country music. The group has sold more than 20 million records and has 17 No. 1 singles. Tickets are $69 to $159. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3, jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall will be stopping by as part of her Turn Up the Quiet world tour. I had a chance to check out Krall during a stop at Fantasy Springs a couple of years ago—and she was magnificent. If you love jazz, Diana Krall is a must-see. Tickets are $59 to $99. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 17, pop legend Paula Abdul will be performing. Paula Abdul was a huge name in ’90s R&B and could dance like no other. She’s sold more than 60 million records, has been a dance choreographer, and has been a judge on American Idol. Tickets are $39 to $69. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has some big names stopping by in November. First up, at 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 2, is Eagles lead vocalist, drummer, and guitarist Don Henley. Henley found success as a solo artist after the Eagles first breakup in 1980, releasing his first solo album in 1982—but it was his second, Building the Perfect Beast, in 1984, that landed him his big hit “The Boys of Summer,” which has become a radio staple. Tickets are $175 to $250. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 17, pop singer Johnny Mathis will be performing. Mathis does what has been described as “standards” and “romantic ballads,” but his vocal range and catalog include R&B, country, blues, soul and many other genres. Tickets are $90 to $120. Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 has a couple of fine events scheduled in November. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3, it’ll be a night of music from Sinaloa, Mexico, when Voz De Mando and Kanales will be performing. You might remember Voz De Mando from the 2011 film A Better Life. The band has become a hit with both American and Latin audiences. Kanales’ life story—coming to the United States for a better life at the age of 15, and finding success through singing—is remarkable, but the music the man makes is definitely worth the hype: His songs are deep and tell the stories of lessons he’s learned and struggles through which he’s lived. Advance tickets are $40. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 17, country music star Easton Corbin (upper right) will be performing. Corbin has charted with “A Little More Country Than That,” “Roll With It” and “I Can’t Love You Back.” He’s performed at Stagecoach and toured with Brad Paisley. Tickets are $40 to $60. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa has a few noteworthy November events. At 9 p.m., Friday, Nov. 2, comedian, talk-show host and political commentator Dennis Miller will be performing. While his political opinions have taken a turn toward the unpopular, he was the best Weekend Update personality Saturday Night Live ever had. Tickets are $69 to $89. At 9 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3, reality-television star Teresa Giudice will be appearing. I spent way too much time trying to figure out how this show was going to work, and what the former Real Housewives of New Jersey and Celebrity Apprentice star will be doing. My best guess: Discussing her time spent in a federal prison for fraud? And her husband’s deportation back to his native Italy? Tickets are $35 to $65. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s is rolling into November with a fantastic schedule. At 9 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3, Starcrawler will be performing. Starcrawler is an independent band that’s about to go to some pretty awesome places. This Echo Park group certainly knows how to rock, and the band’s songs are a kick in the ass. The group’s appeared on Apple Beats 1 radio, and Elton John played ’em on his Rocket Hour radio show. The band has an album being produced by Ryan Adams coming out soon, too. Also appearing: The Entire Universe, which is fronted by Jeffertitti, formerly the frontman of Jeffertitti’s Nile, and a former bassist in Father John Misty’s band. Jeffertitti is pretty far out, but in an awesome way. Tickets are $15. At 9 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 10, country musician Jesse Dayton will take the stage. He’s performed on albums with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, The Supersuckers, and Kris Kristofferson. He also worked with Rob Zombie on some of his films. Also on the bill: Charlie Overbey, who has been touring after releasing his new album Broken Arrow earlier this year. Tickets are $20. At 9 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 24, the Meat Puppets will be returning to Pappy and Harriet’s. If you’ve never seen the Meat Puppets before, I highly recommend ’em. The band appeared with Nirvana on the Unplugged special and has been listed as an influence for many punk-rock and desert-rock bands. Tickets are $25. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The Purple Room Palm Springs has a couple of great dinner-show events to consider. At 6 p.m., Friday, Nov. 2, former Broadway actress and singer Nancy Dussault will be performing. She appeared on Broadway in musicals such as The Sound of Music, Bajour and Do Re Mi. She’s still performing at the age of 82. Tickets are $45 to $50. At 6 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3 singer/songwriter Chadwick Johnson will take the stage. He’ll be performing the music of Las Vegas, which is certainly jazzy, upbeat and good to listen to during martini time. Tickets are $25 to $35. At 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16 and 17, actress and singer Linda Lavin will be performing. You might remember her from the show Alice. She’s a noteworthy singer as well, and will be performing with a backing band. Tickets are $50 to $60. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422; www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

The Date Shed has one event scheduled for November: At 8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 29, SoCal reggae band and Date Shed regulars Fortunate Youth will be performing. The Hermosa Beach band also includes ska and punk in its sound. The group’s shows are always well-attended, and they are always asked back. Tickets are $20 in advance. The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe St., Indio; 760-775-6699; www.facebook.com/dateshed.

The Copa Palm Springs has one ticketed event in November, too: At 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 10, The Divine Miss Bette starring Catherine Alcorn will grace the Copa stage. It’s billed as a cabaret show with the songs of Bette Midler—and it’s received a lot of critical acclaim. Tickets are $25 to $45. Copa Palm Springs, 244 E. Amado Road, Palm Springs; 760-866-0021; www.copapalmsprings.com.

Did you know the Coachella Valley has a growing reggae scene?

Higher Heights is one of the bands that’s come out of that scene, playing shows consistently while in the process of recording the band’s first full-length album. A single, “Indian on the Mountain,” was produced by Ronnie King in 2015 and is available on streaming services.

Higher Heights will be playing at the seventh annual Synergy Music and Arts Festival on Saturday, Nov. 10.

During a recent phone interview, frontman Mike Fernandez discussed his passion for reggae music.

“When I first heard Bob Marley back in 1981, it was the message. I could understand it, but I couldn’t figure out why he was singing about it,” Fernandez said. “If I wanted to dance to it, how would I do it, or how would anyone go about doing it? It was the newness of it, and I had never heard anything like it. It was the Rastaman Vibration album, and it was the days of 8-track, and a friend of mine let me borrow it on 8-track. I fell asleep listening to it; 8-tracks didn’t end and would start over again, and by the time I woke up the next morning, I was kind of indoctrinated. It peaked my imagination.

“I started buying Bob Marley’s music. When I was at school growing up, they were calling me Bob Marley, and I started going by Reggae Mike. It was the music and the power of the lyrics.”

However, for a while, Fernandez did not think all that much about music.

“What happened with me was that I was working a job that was 10-15 hours per day, even on Sundays. I was really stressed out and worked there for 10 years straight,” he said. “When I finally quit working at that job, this music started coming back into my mind—and it was original stuff I never heard. I was working again, but in a much more relaxed atmosphere, and I was more rested. I stopped cutting my hair, given (at the previous job), I had to be clean-shaven and my hair had to be short all the time. As my hair started growing out and the songs started coming back to me, I harnessed those songs and memorized what I was hearing. I memorized the hooks, the messages, and then I built on them and started writing songs, one after another. All this was new to me. It just comes to me through spiritual force—and I harness it.

“I harness it, write it down, and get it a hook. One time, I had a hook, and I woke up to memorize it. I was singing it over and over and over for about 30 minutes. I should have recorded it, and I didn’t. I thought after 30 minutes of repeating it over and over, I’d remember. The following morning, I didn’t remember. I tried to tap into that and meditated on it—it was somewhere in my brain, and I’d repeat the words, and it didn’t sound right anymore. But about two months later, after never letting go, it came right back—and this time, I recorded it. That’s our song called ‘Searching.’ I had that experience of losing a melody on a couple of other occasions, but not anything more than a couple of months.”

While reggae music was born out of the Rastafari spirituality, Fernandez said he does not follow it.

“My music is actually unlike reggae: It’s totally original, because in reggae music you have the ‘roots message,’” Fernandez said. “The Jamaican artists take offense to it. … Unless you follow their dietary rules, you have no right to be singing reggae music and calling yourself ‘roots.’ My music is not that, and I don’t believe that the man they call Rastafari (the late Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia) is Jesus Christ incarnate. That’s their claim … and all those songs about Jah Rastafari are giving him glory and serving him. My music doesn’t do that. My music is not political and has no political overtones. … Every song has a life and breath of its own.”

When you see Higher Heights perform, you can feel the energy Fernandez is putting out. He explained where that comes from.

“It’s an experience. I’m not moved by music; I’m moved by the story behind the music,” he said. “First comes the lyrics. If the lyrics are telling me something, and I’m connecting to the lyrics—if I can reflect on the lyrics and connect them to an experience of my life—then I can connect to the song. The music comes secondary. I get a wave of energy coming our direction when I sing certain parts of a song that people connect with. I can feel that energy like a tidal wave coming from the crowd toward the band. I can feel that coming through my chest and out my back. In my opinion, that’s important. I’m not just doing music to do music; for me, it takes the magic of what a song is supposed to be.”

Higher Heights has played at the Synergy Festival before, and Fernandez said it’s always a great time.

“It’s outdoors, and I like that it’s in November when the weather is nice,” he said. “The turnout is always pretty good. I like serving the musical community with the music we’re playing. It’s a joy to be doing it. It’s a community thing, and it’s people from all walks of life.”

The Synergy Music and Arts Festival takes place from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 10, at Dateland Park, 51805 Shady Lane, in Coachella. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.culturasmusicartscoachella.com.

Let’s face it: When you think “shopping mall,” you don’t think “cool cultural events.” Yet for the past three years, that’s exactly what’s happened at the Westfield Palm Desert with the popular and ever-growing STREET event.

STREET takes food, art, music and fashion—and incorporates it all into one fantastic event. This year’s fourth annual STREET on Friday, Nov. 2, features a music lineup including The Flusters, Ocho Ojos, C-Money and the Players, DJ Day, the Yip Yops and the Academy of Musical Performance. On-site food vendors include Stuft Pizza, The Grilled Cheese Truck, Jo Jo’s Grill-A-Dog, Baby’s Bad Ass Burgers, Ramona’s Express and Royal Red Velvet Cupcakes. Interactive art exhibits by YMCA of the Desert and Flat Black Art Supply will highlight the event.

STREET is different this year in one big way: The Coachella Valley Art Scene is no longer involved. But during a recent phone interview with Franchesca Forrer, the marketing director for Westfield Palm Desert, she said she hopes to work with the Coachella Valley Art Scene and its CEO, Sarah Scheideman, in the future.

“I have hopes that they’ll emerge in some other entity,” Forrer said. “We’re actually going to be working with Sarah on social media and doing events. So stay tuned, because they’ll be involved again, or at least Sarah will.”

Where did the idea for STREET come from?

“(Our former GM) was looking for something different to do on the property that would tie in with some of the retailers we have that are edgier and cool—that have some of that street edge, like Hot Topic and Vans as an example. She saw the third-level parking deck; this is one of the highest levels in the desert that has panoramic views of the mountains and the city of Palm Desert. I wanted to do something that celebrated the art that’s tied into the Coachella Valley, but also offer things such as food, fashion, food trucks, music and all of the things we love about street culture in one space.”

Forrer explained what people can expect to find at STREET.

“As events grow, so do the number of partners, which makes it all the better, because it’s bigger and better each year,” she said. “The event is sponsored by the city of Palm Desert, which has been extremely generous and supportive of this event, which is great to see. The event is curated by Flat Black Art Supply; they have been working with artists all year, and these artists come from all around Southern California and San Francisco. There’s a giant spray can that will be interactive, and there’s much more interactive art sponsored by Flat Black Art Supply. In addition, the YMCA of the Desert is on hand to help us with kids’ crafts, and we’re going to be doing everything from bubble art to wire sculptures, and making our own graffiti T-shirts and bandannas. People can come and work with graffiti spray cans and help artists make large-scale murals. It should be a lot of fun.”

STREET has grown significantly over the past three years, Forrer said.

“STREET has become an official art setting and is listed as a public art tour by the Convention and Visitors Bureau,” she said. “We had around 1,500 people the first year, and last year, we had just under 5,000. It’s great to have a free event for all ages; that’s part of the appeal. I think there’s something to be said about an event where we invite the locals, but we also invite our visitors.”

The mall doesn’t seem like a place where you’d find a lot of local music, but the Westfield Palm Desert has actually worked with many of the STREET performers before.

“Having the Academy of Musical Performance speaks to two things,” Forrer said. “One, we are a community gathering space for families as well as a place to shop and dine, and two, we love all kinds of music, including rock and how great it can be done by teenagers in a School of Rock style. A lot of the artists this year, we have had play in the mall at special events and retailer openings. Some of the bands have made contact with some of the major brands, which is the link between art and fashion.”

STREET will mark the first time the Palm Desert band Yip Yops has played a local show in about a year; the group has been focused on shows out of town.

“Their career trajectory has just blossomed,” Forrer said. “They’re playing really solid Los Angeles spots now, and this is the first time they’ve been back to the desert in about a year. It’s great to see them come home.”

Forrer said she hopes STREET continues to grow.

“We want to focus on doing more sculpture, because we believe that’s an important piece we want to bring into the (shopping) center,” she said. “We know that shopping is a very different experience now. It’s completely about experiences now, and to document that moment that you couldn’t have online, that you have with your family and friends. I think that art and music coming into the center will be part of that experience.”

STREET starts at 5 p.m., Friday, Nov. 2, at the Westfield Palm Desert, 72840 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.westfield.com/palmdesert/entertainment/the-street.

DJ Alex Harrington dropped his new album, Stargazer, in early October—and within two weeks, the album had already generated 250,000 streams and a whole lot of buzz. The album is a fantastic production from start to finish with a lot of nu-disco awesomeness. For more information on Alex Harrington, visit www.alexharrington.co. The former Independent contributor was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Hoobastank at the Fillmore in San Francisco with my mom!

What was the first album you owned?

Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

What bands are you listening to right now?

As far as bands go: Holy Ghost!, Friendly Fires, and Kasabian. On the producer/DJ side: Bondax, The Knocks.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Hate to be cliché, but I don’t get Taylor Swift. Good on her and her team for building an empire, but I don’t get the fascination people have with her or her sub-par tunes.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

Tough one! I’d have to say Chic. Nile Rodgers is an amazing human being, and their music is made to be heard live!

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Throwback songs from the mid-’90s to early 2000s, especially on the rap/hip hop side of things: Mase, Puffy, Biggie, Brandy ... I love it all!

What’s your favorite music venue?

Bang Bang in San Diego.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“Ooh baby, I feel right, the music sounds better with you,” Stardust, “Music Sounds Better With You.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Jamiroquai. I found them in 1994, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I idolized (still do) the lead singer, Jay Kay. They make real music that’s accepted by the mainstream. Keeping it funky!

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

I’d ask Jimmy Page what inspired him to write the lead riff for “Kashmir.” Such an epic tune!

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“Maybe Tomorrow” by Stereophonics. A beautiful song, one of their most lovely, in my opinion. Love the message!

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Holy Ghost!’s self-titled debut album!

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Hoodrich Disco” by Rome Fortune. (Scroll down to hear it.)

If you've never listened to Daytime Moon before, you really should fix that. This majestic three-piece band—which includes Brent Simpson, formerly of Spankshaft—incorporates several different genres into the music. The band will perform at the Beatnik Lounge on Wednesday, Oct. 17, and The Saguaro on Friday, Oct. 26. For more information on Daytime Moon, visit www.facebook.com/daytimemoonband. Brent Simpson was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Canned Heat at Pappy and Harriet’s. I think I was about 10. I went up to country, and got my mojo workin’ for whisky and wimmen and boogie music. I’m serious. I realize those are all titles of songs by them, but I was 10 years old, and it blew my mind.

What was the first album you owned?

The first CD I ever bought with my own money was one of the Now That's What I Call Music! CDs, but I can’t remember which volume it actually was. The first album of a band that I actually liked and knew what I was getting into was Blink-182’s Enema of the State. Then it was pure mayhem, and I quickly maxed out my parent’s subscription to one of those “pick some CDs and get them in the mail”-type deals.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I am enjoying some Family Thief, Slothrust, Mystic Valley Band, Amine, Animals as Leaders, Mourners, and Jouska. I am also listening to the new Daytime Moon masters from Get Right Recording Studios.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

I don’t get why so many artists have to pop pills and drink cough syrup and all that nonsense. Life is beautiful, and mental health is not talked about enough. There are a ton of amazing artists out there who feel incomplete or unhappy the way their chemistry is, and they should be able to talk about it.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

Jimi Hendrix! Or, maybe Elvis. This is a really hard question, because I feel like maybe Elvis wouldn’t live up to the expectations. Jimi would probably blow anyone away, but everyone probably chooses one or the other, so maybe Jimi.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Have you heard of The Moog Cookbook? Also, jazz ensembles are sometimes cool. I was a band geek back in the day, ya know, so I kinda have a different take on this.

What’s your favorite music venue?

The Palms in Wonder Valley.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“This a rollie not a stopwatch, shit don’t ever stop,” Drake, “Nonstop.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

The Beatles. They taught me that love is all you need.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

I would ask Mozart: “DO YOU WANT TO JAM?”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

I would love it if there was a karaoke-type thing and a sweet jam session or a drum circle, but if it had to be one song, it would probably be Blink-182's “Adam’s Song,” but played on a dozen ukuleles and one bass guitar. Or an a capella version of that “Time Traveler” song by The Flusters.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy. It’s the only album I own two of, so it must be my favorite, right?

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Alien Boy” by Oliver Tree. (Scroll down to hear it.)

Sticky Doll recently moved to the high desert from Los Angeles—and the band’s first couple of local shows have proven the group is definitely an oddity … in a good way.

There’s a shock-rock element to Sticky Doll’s brand of punk, and frontwoman Cynna Luchia is a show all by herself. Bassist El Sancho plays through both a guitar amp and a bass amp.

On Saturday, Nov. 10, Sticky Doll will be putting on Sticky Fest at the Palms Restaurant in Wonder Valley, and has invited local bands such as Instigator, Karr, Throw the Goat, Sleazy Cortez, Drop Mob, Ormus and others to take part.

During a recent interview in Yucca Valley, El Sancho (Greg Gendron) discussed what brought Sticky Doll to the high desert.

“We found out how cheap it was to buy a house, and we thought, ‘Why not move out to the desert?’” Gendron said. “It happened within a few months, and we fucking love it. I grew up in Eastern Washington in a town called Yakima. There’s a sign on the freeway that says, ‘Welcome to Yakima, the Palm Springs of Washington.’ It’s real similar to here. … It’s good ol’ boys with pickup trucks and guns. The climate and the small-town vibe are the same. I feel like a kid living here, and I love it. Cynthia (Cynna Luchia) grew up in East Los Angeles and lived in Los Angeles all her life.”

However, when it came to the music scene … Sticky Doll was not thrilled.

“We were excited, and we thought we were coming into something really exciting—and we were really let down immediately,” he said. “We went to some open-mics, and we were surprised at how it was just a hippie vibe, and everyone was a Bob Dylan singer-songwriter wannabe. (There’s a) certain artist around town who thinks she’s an alien; it was just weird and a real letdown. We thought we were coming to Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal. … Everyone said the same thing to us: ‘You have to create a scene up here. There are people here who love metal and love punk, but a scene has to be made for it.’ That’s why we put together Sticky Fest.”

As for El Sancho and Cynna Luchia … what’s their story?

“We put out our first album on Christmas Day in 2015. We’re due for a new one, and we do have a new one coming out. People always ask if Cynthia and I are married or if we’re a couple, and my blanket response is, ‘I fuck her ... .’ But yeah, we are a couple. We had the same kind of taste in music, and we’re both sober. We were going to this musicians’ AA meeting, and it was a place where you could play and not do traditional ‘shares’; The ‘shares’ were you went up and performed.

“We’ve been together for about five years now. I play guitar, and I play bass, and I went on this mad hunt for a pedal effect that could do what we have now, and I finally found it. I bought it and I thought, ‘This is fucking killer!’ I could send it into a bass amp and have a bass sound, and through the guitar amp have killer power chords. Once I got that in the mail, I thought, ‘Let’s do it!’

“If you would have asked me five years ago if I’d be in a band with a girl, I’d say, ‘Hell no!’ Especially with a girl I’m dating? I would think you’d be out of your fucking mind! The fact that I’m doing what I’m doing now is funny to people who knew me back then, but I love what we’re doing now.”

Gutter Candy drummer Dani Diggler was recruited into the band before Sticky Doll started playing local shows.

“We’ve gone through some real shitheads, but Dani fits us real good,” El Sancho said. “We kind of dialed his playing in a bit. We’re almost industrial to where it’s just kick drum, snare and high hat. He’s coming from Gutter Candy playing ’80s, ’90s and Guns N’ Roses; he’s a typical drummer. He didn’t come in and say, ‘We have to play my style!’ He was like, ‘Whatever you guys need.’ But Dani is cool, plus we actually pay him.”

El Sancho hopes this is just the first Sticky Fest.

“It came into fruition back in June,” he explained. “I had never heard of any of these bands. I’d heard of Throw the Goat, because they played shows down our way. But I was pleasantly surprised when I learned there was a scene down the hill. This is a first-year thing; it’s out of my pocket, and I’m not going to book a big-name band, because there’s not a budget. So I started looking for local talent.

“When I first talked to the Palms, it was going to be a two-day festival. I had put out an open call on Facebook for punk and metal bands for a festival. I got inundated with responses; I had 40 to 50 responses. A few weeks into it, I was having an in-depth conversation with the Palms, and given their concerns, I wasn’t thrilled, but we agreed to do it for one day.”

Sticky Fest takes place starting at noon, Saturday, Nov. 10, at the Palms Restaurant, 83131 Amboy Road, in Twentynine Palms. Admission is $12-$15; members of the military and attendees 16 and younger (with a parent) are admitted for free. For tickets or more information, visit www.facebook.com/events/588237201548978.

In 2006, a YouTube upload of Jake Shimabukuro playing a ukulele rendition of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” became one of the early viral videos.

After that, the Hawaiian-born Japanese American became an ambassador, of sorts, for the ukulele, and his career has taken him to some incredible heights, including performances with Jimmy Buffett, Jack Johnson, Bette Midler, Ziggy Marley, Bela Fleck and many others.

He’ll be performing at the McCallum Theatre on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Shimabukuro said during a recent phone interview that ukulele renditions of rock songs never feel strange to him, even when he ventures into works such as New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” and Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9.”

“I’m a big fan of so many different bands and different music, so when I have the opportunity to cover one of their songs, it’s like the equivalent of wearing your favorite athlete’s jersey,” Shimabukuro said. “I just love that music can make such an impact on someone’s life.”

After growing up in Hawaii, Shimabukuro said he feels a connection to traditional ukulele music.

“When I first started, that was all that I really played. To this day, I still do the traditional music, because that’s a big part of my culture and a big part of the instrument,” he said. “In all of my concerts, I make sure that I have at least one or two traditional songs in the show so I can really bring it back to the roots of the instrument.”

When I brought up his cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Shimabukuro gave a nod to the late Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole as having performed one of the best covers of that song.

“I really think that version is very special—the re-harmonization of the song and the stripping down of the elements of the Judy Garland version from the Wizard of Oz that we’re all familiar with,” he said about Kamakawiwo’ole’s version. “I think what he did with the song is absolutely brilliant. He re-harmonized the tune in a simplistic way that I never thought I would ever hear in that song. His choice of how he phrases and arranged the melody—he does alter it, but not too much where it feels like a different song—is stunning and one of the most moving arrangements of that song that I’m aware of.”

Ukulele is being played more and more in contemporary pop/rock music—and Shimabukuro loves it.

“For me, I think in the last 15 to 20 years, there have been so many wonderful artists that are very respected and have picked up the instrument. I feel like I’m in good company,” he said. “Eddie Vedder did a ukulele record. The lead singer of Pearl Jam doing a ukulele album—that blew my mind! Paul McCartney started playing it during live shows as a tribute to George Harrison. Bands like Train in their song ‘Hey, Soul Sister,’ that whole track’s driving force is the ukulele. … Seeing these iconic musicians and artists picking up the ukulele—it’s cool, and it becomes something that becomes acceptable.

“I’m stoked, man. A lot of it started with George Harrison, who was a big ambassador for the instrument, because he lived in Hawaii, and he fell in love with the instrument and started using it in his recordings and his concerts. He was known for always bringing ukuleles with him to get-togethers.”

Even as Shimabukuro’s popularity has grown, he said he still loves Hawaii and can’t imagine living anywhere else.

“When I was younger, I thought it would be cool in New York City, Japan, or even in Los Angeles or Nashville where you have so much access to music and the arts. The older I got, I realized that in Hawaii, I was so fortunate to be born and raised here,” he said. “Especially as an Asian American living in the United States, I think Hawaii is the only place where you can grow up and be part of the majority as an Asian American. Anywhere else, I would have had a different experience as an Asian American. We have such an amazing culture and rich heritage. There’s so much history here in the islands. The music was very influential. The culture and the lifestyle really shaped who I am and how I approach music and the arts.

“As far as moving now, it’d be hard, because I’m married, and I have two kids. I really want my kids to have a similar experience growing up, taking them to the beach, and taking them fishing.”

For his show at the McCallum, Shimabukuro is going to strip things down a bit.

“The last couple of years, I’ve been touring with a band. For this tour, it’s going to be a trio,” he said. “I have a bass player from Nashville named Nolan Verner, and I have a guitar player named Dave Preston who is a great guitarist. It’ll just be the three of us—electric guitar, electric bass and electric ukulele.”

Jake Shimbukuro will perform at 8 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 27, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $28 to $78. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

When I called Thom Gimbel of Foreigner to discuss the band’s upcoming show at Agua Caliente Casino, he was upfront about his drinking problem. In fact, he confessed that he had already started that morning.

“For a while, I was up to about two or three smoothies a day,” Gimbel said. “I was going to a bar every night … the salad bar. I was a mess. But now I’ve switched to Martinelli’s sparkling cider, so I’m doing OK.”

Kidding aside, Foreigner is one of the greatest rock bands of all time. The group has sold 80 million records, and although only one original member remains with the band—guitarist Mick Jones—Foreigner remains in high demand.

The show at Agua Caliente on Saturday, Nov. 10, will be special for several reasons. First, the current lineup will be joined by some of the surviving original members. Second, the Rancho Mirage High School choir will join Foreigner for the classic hit “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and the band will donate $500 to the choir for their appearance. The choir will also help sell CDs to raise money for The Grammy Foundation, which advocates for keeping music education in public schools.

During our recent phone interview, Gimbel, who officially joined the band in 1995, discussed playing with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, a performance Foreigner recorded and released as a live album.

“It was magnificent and nothing short of spectacular because of the size of the choir and the orchestra,” Gimbel said. “The choir alone was 60 to 80 people, and we had this massive orchestra, and we got to work with a conductor. It was a new thing for us. Plus the conductor is a rocker at heart; if you see the DVD, you can tell. He looks like a leftover of the Beatles and was trapped in a conductor’s body. We had such a good time with that. It’s not really a classical rendition; it’s still rock, but we have this icing on the top with strings and horns and vocals.”

Gimbel—who plays the guitar, saxophone and flute with Foreigner—showed an interest in music growing up.

“My parents loved music, and my brothers and sisters did, too,” he said. “My mom is very musical. … As soon as I could get my hands on drums, I was playing a drum set. When I was in fifth-grade, my dad was trying to get me work. He would say, ‘Hey, there’s a band at this bar. Why don’t you come and sit in?’ By the time I got to music college, I had already been in my high school band.”

He went on to study music at the Berklee College of Music.

“Intellectually, it was a dream come true,” Gimbel said. “I was so thirsty for knowledge and wanted to understand how all the chords and scales worked together. They answered all my questions. Then they said, ‘Now go back to being a thinking and feeling musician, and forget all that technical stuff. Play from the heart, and make melody the supreme goal.’ Melody is the absolute in music. You listen to any hit song, and it’s about the words and the melody. I learned that and even more.

“I got to work with some of the most brilliant minds there, and I had a roommate who was a world-class jazz guitarist. It was a great place for the mind to thrive. Professionally, I owe everything I have to Berklee.”

Gimbel bemoaned the weakening state of music education.

“The only thing that seems to remain strong as far as school bands is I always see the colleges having a strong marching or concert band,” he said. “It might be taken away at the elementary or high school level, but for some reason, college bands are really strong. … That’s what gives me hope for the future.”

Gimbel joined Foreigner in 1995—coming directly from being a touring musician with Aerosmith during that band’s wildly successful comeback, from 1989 to 1995.

“I saw a lot of similarities. Here was Steven Tyler and Joe Perry on one side, and then you had Lou Gramm and Mick Jones on the other side,” he said. “There was always this dynamic duo at the helm during those days. It was great, and it’s like having a couple of parents—like a mom and dad figure. I thought the Aerosmith guys would have been a bit more standoffish when it came to saxophone solos, but it was the opposite. They’d be like, ‘Why don’t you do a big giant saxophone solo with the drums?’ When I came to Foreigner, instead of them telling me to keep it down, they were like, ‘No! That’s first gear; then you need to go into second gear and then third gear. Tear the roof off the house with that saxophone.’ They both encouraged their players to take it to the next level, and that’s the sign of great bandleaders.”

Gimbel said the members of Foreigner are happy to still be in high demand.

“It’s kind of humbling to see that people still enjoy this, and we feel honored to be rocking out in this great situation where people want to see Foreigner,” he said. “That’s the ultimate reward for whatever we put into it. It feels like a wonderful treat to hear people tell us, ‘Thanks for keeping this going, and we hope you keep rocking.’ We’ll keep going for as long as people want us to.”

Foreigner will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 10, at The Show at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $75 to $150, with VIP packages available. For tickets or more information, call 888-999-1995, or visit www.hotwatercasino.com.

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?’”