CVIndependent

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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Kevin Fitzgerald

If you want to join in the fun of the annual 11-day celebration of midcentury architecture and design known as Modernism Week, we have good news and bad news.

First, the bad: The week, taking place from Feb. 13-23, has gotten so popular that a lot of events have been sold out for weeks.

Now, the good: The week, now in its 15th year, has gotten so big that there are still tickets available for an array of tours, lectures, sales and parties—including a host of free and lower-cost events.

Lisa Vossler Smith is the executive director of Modernism Week, a nonprofit organization. Smith and her team, including more than 450 volunteers, will produce hundreds of events and activities across the Coachella Valley over those 11 February days.

“This is my seventh year (working for) Modernism Week,” Smith said. “I’ve been involved with the organization since its beginning. My husband and I volunteered for years with Modernism Week before I came on staff. … It’s near and dear to my heart, and I’m really looking forward to our 15th anniversary.”

In recent years, Modernism Week has realized impressively rapid growth in attendance levels, which has led to increases in revenue—for the organization itself, the charitable scholarships and grants it funds, the vendors at the sale events, and countless merchants throughout the Coachella Valley.

“We can tell already that it’s going to be a big year,” Smith said about the 2020 events. “Our sales have been strong, and we’re on pace with last year, when we had 152,000 attendees. So we feel really confident that we’ll have at least the same size crowd or even larger.

“Over the last seven years, our (attendance) growth has been 20-30 percent each year.”

Modernism Week events are not limited geographically to the Palm Springs city limits.

“We’re in Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City, Palm Desert and Indian Wells,” said Smith. “There’s midcentury-modern architecture throughout the valley that the architects were working on in the same era. We’ve had homeowners and businesses participate by conducting tours in all of those communities throughout the Coachella Valley. That’s part of our continued growth—that we’ve been able to expand into other cities outside of Palm Springs.”

The Modernism Week team estimates that about a third of all tickets are purchased by locals, so we asked Smith for tips and advice.

“I would tell people to figure out what day they’re available, and then look at our website and sort by that date to see what tickets are available for that day,” she said. “If you’re looking to go on multiple days, then try to see a little bit of everything. Try to take a house tour; take a walking tour, and learn a little bit about the history of Palm Springs. Go to a lecture, and learn about architecture and design globally. And then certainly go to a cocktail party and have a martini by a pool at an architecturally significant house. Touch on all the cornerstones of our activities, which are all related to midcentury architecture and design throughout the Palm Springs area.”

While a single ticket to some of the swankier events can run upward of a couple hundred bucks, there are many free or low-cost events and activities—although it’s important to head to the website to get tickets even for the free events.

“Free and low-cost events are something that Modernism Week is always committed to maintaining, because we really want to invite the whole community to experience Modernism Week,” Smith said. “So whether someone’s into architecture or classic cars or vintage furniture, there’s something happening for everyone.”

If you’re convinced that you want to attend an event or two, then Smith offers this additional bit of advice.

“Always, my recommendation to attendees is that (when they arrive), go to CAMP”—that’s the Modernism Week Community and Meeting Place, located at 575 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs—“and figure out what you want to do, what tickets are available, and then you can purchase them right there at our box office,” Smith said. “Also, during the event, our website home page has a link to tickets still available for that day, which will make things easier for people to find events last-minute.”

If “free” is your favorite way to go, then take note: “I love the Modernism Week Vintage Car Show, which is a free event featuring a great selection of lectures for people who are interested in learning,” Smith said. “The show attracts a large and diverse (collection) of cars. It’s really popular, and we’ve been doing it for many years.

“Also, the Modernism Yard Sale is really fun. It’s on the last day of 2020 Modernism Week. People from all over Southern California come in and have a flea market in the H3K parking lot.”

As for lower-cost events: “All of our lectures at the Annenberg Theater or at CAMP are priced between $12 and $15, and you can see close to 80 lectures scheduled throughout the week.

“People really treat (their time at Modernism Week) like they’re going to summer camp. They show up every morning at CAMP, attend some of the lectures, and then they take off on their tours in the afternoon. It really is like having a spring break for adults. And almost every day, the Dreamboats (musical group) are playing at happy hour. They’re a wonderful throwback rock ’n’ roll band that actually gets people up dancing—even though it’s only 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

Finally, there is one event that Smith wanted to point out that’s important for the community as a whole.

“The Palm Springs School of Architecture event is a big deal, because Cal Poly Pomona and College of the Desert are going to collaborate to offer an undergraduate program in architecture at the new Palm Springs campus,” Smith said. “This event, which is free and open to the public at the Annenberg Theater (at the Palm Springs Art Museum at 10:30 a.m., Friday, Feb. 21), is actually the public announcement about that collaboration. … The collaboration with Cal Poly Pomona will not only allow local COD students to pursue an architectural degree, but it will also bring a reciprocal program with students from Cal Poly Pomona, who will be able to use the campus in the desert as a lab for architecture. So, it’s really, really exciting.

“These kinds of programs are at the very core of why Modernism Week was founded. Locally, we’ve had such a strong group of grassroots supporters for the architecture and design community that it was everyone’s dream that someday, we would have architecture students who would graduate from the desert and then come back to work here as architects in the future.”

Modernism Week takes place from Thursday, Feb. 13, through Sunday, Feb. 23, at locations valley-wide. For more information, including a complete schedule and ticket information, visit www.modernismweek.com. Below: Modernism Week’s Community and Meeting Place (CAMP), open for free to the public, should be the first stop for anyone looking to enjoy the week for the first time. Photo by David A. Lee.

The settlement that would resolve a lawsuit accusing the city Palm Desert of not complying with the 2001 California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) is not so settled after all.

The first public forum—held by the city to explain the two-district settlement, proposed in December to plaintiffs Lorraine Salas and Karina Quintanilla—gave attendees the impression that breaking the city into two voting districts was a done deal.

However, after a conversation with Palm Desert City Attorney Robert Hargreaves, I now understand that it’s not a done deal: If a resident believes that a total of three, or four, or five districts would provide a better solution to the lawsuit, then it is still possible for a resident to push for those changes.

In other words … everything is still on the negotiating table—and that negotiating table seems to be standing on wobbly legs.

“We were very displeased with the city’s offer to do one (new) district,” said Quintanilla, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit driving the city’s attempts to transition to a district-based system before the November election. “It almost seemed kind of patronizing (for the city) to say, ‘All right, fine, we know we’re not in compliance, and if we go to court, they’re going to make us do it anyway. So how about if we do just one district?’ That seemed very odd to us. … It seemed that the City Council was failing to understand that we’re a series of communities with different needs. We were not at all pleased with the settlement offer, but we felt it was best to let the public know what the city’s intentions were. It would be best to just save the tax-paying residents more (potential legal) fees by settling instead of continuing this in court. (Agreeing to settle) was done knowing that no matter what we did, it would still need to be presented in public meetings. So, we felt that this was just the very first step.”

What are the next steps from here? For example, if a more-diverse City Council is the goal, should the city consider perhaps adding a district in the northwest area of Palm Desert? According to the demographic map distributed by the city, Latino residents make up some 25 to 65 percent of the total population in several neighborhoods in that area. After all, if the plaintiffs or other residents resist the current, two-district direction, then the whole matter could wind up back in court—and ultimately, in the worst-case scenario, the court could decide to draw the map itself.

Mayor Pro-Tem Kathleen Kelly said she feels that the two-district plan puts the city on a path to a short-term resolution without litigation, and a longer-term future marked by flexibility and accommodation.

“As a resident, I would tend to favor an ‘at-large’ system, acknowledging that there could be some advantages to a ‘district’ system,” Kelly said, adding that she was speaking only for herself and not the entire council. “In response to the lawsuit, there was certainly a need to try to be accommodating, to hear the plaintiff’s concerns, and try to structure a system that would be responsive to that. What resulted was really a hybrid system, which will give us in Palm Desert the opportunity to experience, perhaps, the advantages and disadvantages of both systems. Once everyone has had some shared experience, and some basis for comparison, there’ll be further discussions that will be informed by that experience.”

Why, then, did the city seemingly create confusion and misconceptions by leading residents to believe a two-district future was a done deal? For instance, an early January postcard from the city requested residents’ attendance at the first public open house on Jan. 15. It stated, in part: “Starting in November 2020, Palm Desert will move to a two-district City Council system. … The Open House on Jan. 15 offers an opportunity for you to tell us what’s important in the transition.” Sounds like a done deal, right?

During her introductory remarks at that open house, Palm Desert City Manager Lauri Aylaian told the audience: “Our immediate fear was that we’d divide ourselves up into five districts, because we have five council members. We would have individual portions of Palm Desert fighting against one another to get the same money, to get the same resources, to be able to do the projects that they want to do in their areas. We thought we’ve been so well-served by working together; we don’t want to lose that.”

Later in her remarks, Aylaian said: “We were able to reach the terms for a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs who had filed the suit. Now, we’re on to the next part, which is how do we make the settlement work, and the CVRA work, and represent the best interests of Palm Desert? So what we came up with was completely different from what other cities have done. We have proposed a two-district solution, rather than dividing the city up into five—which is what most of the other cities in California have done. … We’ve been working on it for a long time, and we were able to implement a two-district solution.”

Again … sounds like a done deal, right? This was furthered by a slide in the onscreen presentation made by the city that read: “Today’s meeting—purpose—inform the community about the City’s New Election Process and learn from community members what’s important for them as we undergo this change.”

There’s yet another element of the city’s plans that plaintiff Quintanilla is not so sure about: a desire to move to a “ranked choice” voting system: According to Ballotpedia, “A ranked-choice voting system is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority. This system is sometimes referred to as an instant runoff voting system.”

Quintanilla said now was the time for Palm Desert residents to speak out if they don’t like these proposed changes.

“Like I said, when we received the settlement (agreement from the city), we were very displeased. Very displeased,” Quintanilla said, “But I finally came to the understanding with myself that this was a settlement. It’s not meant to be (a situation) where both parties are delighted with the process. It’s supposed to be a middle ground—not as far to the middle as we might have hoped, but again, it was our intent to make this first step and to open the door to this conversation. Now, it’s up to the rest of the city’s residents to come forward and say, ‘We don’t like this,’ and then they can speak up against that ranked-choice voting (proposal) and decide that’s not what they want.”

The city’s second open house is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 12, at a venue yet to be determined.

“It’s about taking action when it needs to be (taken), because there are greater goals to focus on,” Quintanilla said. “That’s what Lorraine and I were doing. Our city is right in the middle of Coachella Valley. We’ve got College of the Desert. We’ve got Cal State (San Bernardino). We’ve got UCR (the University of California at Riverside). We’ve got many opportunities here, and we need to be able to respond to the needs of the growing valley. So our decision was that, instead of having this tied up behind legal back and forth, and closed-door sessions and private conversations, it was time to let this (proposal) come to a community forum.”

Back in October, a mulch fire ignited at the Sun Valley Recycling Center near Thermal, on land owned by the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians. The smoke plagued schools and neighborhoods for several weeks, creating health concerns for thousands of residents in the eastern Coachella Valley.

Communities and school boards called for help—and one of the organizations that answered that call was the recently expanded Desert Healthcare District, led by newly elected Board President Leticia De Lara, and Chief Executive Officer Conrado Barzaga.

“There were funds (accessible to the DHCD) that were identified for clean air and to address some of the air-quality issues related to the fires that were burning in the east valley last October,” De Lara said during a recent phone interview. “Our CEO, Conrado, was able to identify these funds and some partners who could bring some immediate health-care resources to the residents, including Borrego Health, Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo, federally qualified health clinics, the Coachella Valley Unified School District and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians tribe. Also, (Barzaga) was able to identify some funds that were set aside to address issues like this in the future, and (allow potential responders) to avoid the chaos that resulted … (by facilitating) their coordination.”

This would not have been possible a couple of years ago: In November 2018, Coachella Valley residents voted to expand the Desert Healthcare District beyond its original, antiquated Cook Street boundary, all the way to the eastern end of the valley. Since then, seven districts were re-drawn and approved by the DHCD board, and directors were put in place for each. As 2019 drew to a close, the DHCD was starting to make its supportive influence felt in these historically underserved east valley communities.

In another recent dangerous health-related incident that drew substantial attention, the management of the Oasis Mobile Home Park in Thermal proved to be incapable of supplying reliable access to clean drinking water for its nearly 2,000 residents; the drinking water drawn from wells on the property, also owned by the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, was found to contain unacceptably high levels of arsenic. Immediate attempts to import clean water proved insufficient.

“At our December meeting, we allocated some funding to be used in partnership with the county of Riverside to address some of the water-quality issues affecting the mobile home park in the Thermal area,” De Lara said. “And we also funded a request from Martha’s Village back in October. So, those are some examples of what’s already been accomplished” in the expansion territory.

The arrival of the DHCD as a new funding option in the east valley is welcomed by established nonprofit health service providers working with east valley residents, including the Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine (CVVIM).

“It’s nice to see new things happening,” said Doug Morin, the executive director of CVVIM, in a phone interview. “There’s about $300,000 for east valley funding. So, when you consider all the (health-care-related) charities serving residents in the east valley, (the funding) is limited, but anything is better than nothing.”

Morin said he had just submitted an application for a $50,000 grant to be used to defray the costs of the east valley patient services his nonprofit provides. He hopes his proposal will get approved by the DHCD board in February. However, when compared to the roughly $120,000 annual grant that CVVIM has received from the DHCD to serve its west valley population, the geographic discrepancy in available support becomes apparent.

De Lara said the disparity comes from the fact that funding going toward efforts within the previous DHCD boundaries is not being reduced to fund efforts in the expanded portion.

“We’re continuing to provide the same level of funding for the west valley. … We are continuing to address homelessness and (work) for a regional solution,” she said. “We believe that in the west valley, there are some major gaps in services (for the homeless).”

According to the June 30, 2018, audited financial statements, the total outlay of funds to west valley grant recipients was $5,076,039 for fiscal year 2018, the last full fiscal year prior to the expansion eastward. However, efforts by the DHCD to raise comparable funds to support east valley service grants are foundering. Given this reality, it’s impossible for the grant levels to reach parity across the valley without cutting the grants to providers serving west valley residents. However, as De Lara indicated, that is not a likely scenario for the DHCD board to pursue.  

Morin sees his CVVIM as somewhat unique among Coachella Valley health-care service nonprofits, because it has served residents at both ends of the valley for years. He said the distinction and disparity between funding levels for the original DHCD territory and the new expanded territory is obvious and challenging.

“Their max funding request (for the recent proposal he submitted to serve east valley patients of his clinic) was $50,000, which is what I requested,” he said. “They don’t have that restriction on the west valley, because, of course, they have more funds for the west valley.”

How can the DHCD address this funding imbalance?

“I think we’re realizing that there’s going to be a need to include other partners,” De Lara said. “Sharing costs on some of these long-term visions, I think, is important. Also, there’s the potential to bring in dollars from the state and federal governments by communicating to them in a much better way, through our assessments and studies, where the gaps are, and how they can help us. We can put together a really strong, compelling case statement for some funding. I think the potential to bring in grants that add to our current resources is a very promising possibility for funding.”

In the past, DHCD representatives have approached Riverside County and the state government about various tax strategies designed to generate the new revenues necessary to fund the annexed east valley needs. However, that outreach has so far proved fruitless.

“The possibility of going to the voters or the county for some assessment is something that we have not discussed, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying where we’re at on that, because we’re nowhere,” she said. “But in the last board meeting (of 2019), we actually approved two positions to take the lead on exploring funds and grants to help support the work that we’re going to be doing on behavioral health. So I think that we’ll start with grants to try to generate more revenue.”

Despite the immediate challenges presented by the revenue shortfall, De Lara said she sees a bright future for her organization’s ability to enable much-needed quality health care through its grantee nonprofits.

“We have to think strategically,” De Lara said. “We have to think incrementally, and we have to think partnerships. I think that’s how we’ll be approaching the mass of the needs that we (face) now because of the additional area, as well as the district we had before. We’re one Coachella Valley. We’re one district, and we have to keep asking, ‘Are we advancing toward our mission, and are we doing it in a fair way, a smart way and collaboratively?’”

While Morin said the funding disparity is problematic, he praised the efforts the DHCD is making.

“They’re a great foundation,” Morin said. “They’re very transparent about everything that they do, and I like their plan of this ‘One Coachella Valley.’ Their (east valley) impact will be felt immediately, once we receive those (requested grant) funds. Even though I may wish that (those funds) were more, it’s a start. … Sources of funding in the east valley are somewhat limited, so this is valuable. It’s important for us, and it will allow a number of agencies to provide more services. So they’re out there doing their own fundraising, and hopefully, over the years, the amount of funding available to the east valley will increase, and that’s a good thing.”

January marks the start of the “high season” of activity at the world-famous Empire Polo Club—and before the huge music events arrive in April, the grounds will host the 34th edition of the Southwest Arts Festival, and its sumptuous display of works created by roughly 250 talented artists, from Thursday, Jan. 23, through Sunday, Jan. 26.

Josh Bonner is the president and CEO of the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce (GCVCC), the host organization of this valley tradition. He explained how artists get selected to participate.

“Artists from across the country will put in their applications to be at the show,” Bonner said. “As part of that process, they submit multiple pictures of their artwork. Also, they will submit a photo of the display they use at shows, so we can see what it would look like if they were at our art show. That all goes before our panel of judges. … Primarily, the jury pool is made up of artists, because we want (applicants) to be judged by their peers.”

The number of applications is much larger than the allotted number of spots, in part because the Southwest Arts Festival is viewed as an artist-friendly show.

“Art shows operate in two different ways,” Bonner said. “One way is (organizers) charge a very large upfront fee, like $700-$800, for the artist to come out. Then (the artists) keep all of their sales. We charge a much lower upfront fee of $350, and then they pay a small percentage commission on their sales. We do it that way, because, in our opinion, it helps the artist. If the artist comes out and has a great show, then he or she has a great show. But if they come out and they don’t have a great show for some reason, at least they’re not out that huge upfront investment.”

A lot of selling indeed goes on—Bonner said last year’s sales exceeded $1 million—and those sales do a lot of good for local nonprofits.

“The GCVCC is an interesting organization, because we are not like other chambers,” Bonner said. “We’re sort of an umbrella chamber. The GCVCC puts the festival on, but underneath us, you have the chambers of commerce from Indio, Coachella and La Quinta (among other cities), and the Desert Advertising Federation, which is an association of marketing professionals. All of those nonprofit entities benefit from the show.

“In addition, we’ll also designate two or three other local nonprofits who will benefit from a portion of the proceeds. In the past, we’ve had proceeds that benefited the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and ABC Recovery Center.”

Bonner said the 12,000 to 15,000 festival-goers can enjoy a variety of experiences.

“One thing we realized is that when you come to an art show with some 250 artists, it takes time for you to get through all those artists. People are normally on the grounds for a few hours; they don’t just show up for five minutes,” Bonner said. “So, because of that, we work with the Empire Polo Club, and every year, they help out with food and beverage. They bring in different culinary experiences. … There are several different restaurants there that people can choose from to eat lunch, or a snack, while they’re at the event. There are bars with drinks available throughout the venue as well.

“We have interactive art displays. We’ll have an area where kids can paint, and sometimes, we’ll have (hands-on experiences with) glass-blowing or metalwork. Or we’ll have live canvas painting going on, so that people can see the artistic process taking place. On top of all of that, we have live music as well. At every point during each day, we’ll have some type of live performance music going on.”

Bonner said attendees will get exposed to a lot of art with which they’re unfamiliar.

“I get asked a lot: ‘Hey, do you have famous artists?’” Bonner said with a laugh. “My answer is always, ‘No.’ But I think that’s also the allure of art festivals and to the people who like to go to them: They get to discover new art, unique art. It’s not the Picassos who everyone knows about, but these are really talented local artists from around the country who come to show their wares, and you get to see things you’ve never seen before. That, to me, is the allure of the Southwest Art Festival.

“We have a local artist, Richard Curtner, who operates out of Cathedral City. He does these wonderful collages where he takes like different newspaper (clippings), and he’ll manipulate them to form this beautiful picture. … It is fine art, and these are extremely talented artists, but the beauty and allure of it is that these are artists that you probably have never heard of before.”

The Southwest Arts Festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 23-26, at the Empire Polo Club, 81800 51st Ave., in Indio. Tickets, which are good for all four days, are $15; or $13 for seniors. For tickets or more information, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/the-southwest-arts-festival-indio-2020-tickets-76332928845.

On the sun-dappled winter morning of Dec. 12, Jane Garrison—the founder and president of the nonprofit Save Oswit Canyon, Inc.—was joined by a large group of supporters at the mouth of Oswit Canyon to announce that their dream of raising $1 million in just 5 1/2 months had indeed come true.

The funds were needed to fulfill the group’s negotiated contribution to buy the Oswit Canyon development property. Over four years of engaged activism, the group’s goal has been to keep Oswit Canyon, on the southern portion of Palm Springs, as a pristine retreat—by stopping the profit-driven housing development that had threatened the dream.

During a recent phone interview, Garrison said that even though her group’s goal had been reached, supporters should not become complacent.

“It’s a big hurdle (we’ve cleared), but we’re not there yet,” she said. “I think that’s the important thing that people need to understand: It’s not a done deal. We are not the owners of the property yet, but we’ve actually (cleared) a huge hurdle.”

So what happens now?

“(Our nonprofit is) going to be opening an escrow (account) with the developer in the next month or so,” Garrison said. “But the process is pretty long over the next couple of months. Right now, the appraisal has been completed. These three steps are the biggest: the certifying of the appraisal by the (state) Department of General Services; the approval by the California Wildlife Conservation Board for their grant; and the approval by the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy of their grant. Also, we’re getting money from the federal government through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Most of the grant money we’re getting is because of the endangered species that live on that property.”

Those endangered species have become persuasive allies in the fight.

“You have the peninsular desert bighorn sheep, and you have the Casey’s June beetle,” Garrison said. “We know that the bighorn sheep live (in Oswit Canyon), but we’re not sure yet if the Casey’s June beetles are there. The property has never been adequately surveyed. So, we are receiving the grants because of the bighorn sheep.”

More than 1,000 unique donors have contributed, in amounts from $10 to $153,000. Garrison said that while some of those donations came from addresses outside of the area, the bulk came from locals.

Finding the right approach to generate the kind of enthusiasm that would motivate people to send money proved to be a formidable challenge, Garrison said.

“Back in July, when we did the press conference, also at the entrance to Oswit Canyon, announcing that the developer was willing to sell, we thought, ‘Oh, now our story is in the media, and everyone’s going to send donations,’” Garrison said. “And when we weren’t getting the amount of money that we needed to meet the deadline of Dec. 31, we went the traditional route, like most fundraising efforts do—and we started doing mailings. Those also did not bring in what we needed.

“Then I realized that people really needed to hear what we had to gain and what we had to lose with this canyon. In talking with people, I realized that if I had some time to explain (what was at stake), and if I had time to explain about the efforts that have been put in over almost four years, and how close we were, I knew they would understand. So that’s why we launched our house parties. We did 14 house parties in five weeks, as well as about a dozen speaking engagements at various clubs and organizations—and that’s how we raised much of the $1 million in five weeks, which is astonishing. But that’s how important this issue was to the community.

“It’s really exciting that the canyon is not being saved by one or two wealthy individuals. It actually is truly a community effort.”

In a best-case scenario—if the various grant-approving boards work quickly—the land buyback will close sometime between March and July. Who will own the title?

“Save Oswit Canyon, Inc., is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit land trust,” Garrison said, “and we have also been accepted as a member of the Land Trust Alliance.”

The Land Trust Alliance is a national conservation organization representing more than 1,700 land trusts across the United States.

“So since we’re set up like that, we are hoping to be the organization that holds the title and becomes the steward of that land, because we feel no one would protect that land like we would,” Garrison said. “The city (of Palm Springs) has expressed an interest in holding the title as well. But we are working with the city in hopes that they’ll agree to let us hold the title.”

During this anxious period of time, the Save Oswit Canyon leaders have a legitimate need to keep the donations flowing.

“When we take title, we will have property taxes,” Garrison said. “Eventually, we will become exempt from property taxes, because we are a nonprofit land trust, but that exemption will take 18 months—so we would have over $100,000 in property taxes. We’ll have liability insurance (costs), and a mounting legal bill, because we’ve been fighting for four years.

“Also, we will have the cost of maintenance and a cleanup. Unfortunately, over the years, people have dumped a couch and various trash. Also, we want to create some (informational materials). We don’t want visual clutter, but we do want like a big, beautiful boulder that has a plaque on it explaining how this canyon was saved by the people of Palm Springs. We will need trail signage and such. But the biggest thing is that we need a buffer. If any of these grants fall short, we won’t be able to delay the closing process. We’re going to need to have that money in the bank to fill any gaps.”

If you are interested in making a tax-deductible donation to Save Oswit Canyon, Inc., visit www.saveoswitcanyon.org. Also, Save Oswit Canyon accepts donations of stock.

“That’s a really great way for someone to contribute,” Garrison said. “Here’s something I learned: If someone has a stock, and they have a capital gain this year, if they donate that stock to a nonprofit, they don’t have to pay the capital gains (tax). So, stock donations have been very popular for us, which is great.”

As Save Oswit Canyon stands on the brink of realizing its goal, Garrison said she sees a more valuable and exciting byproduct of the campaign.

“I feel that this canyon has brought the community together like no other movement ever has in Palm Springs,” she said. “We are going to continue to protect the environment and protect open space. It’s amazing how many people care now about the environment, and they also see that they can make a difference. That is a big issue.

“So many times, especially now in our country, people feel so helpless. But this is proof that you actually can make a difference.”

The California State Auditor’s Office recently launched a new tool, available to anyone with an internet connection: an online dashboard that aggregates, compares and ranks the financial stability of more than 470 California cities, based on detailed and publicly available information.

“For the first time, Californians will be able to go online and see a fiscal-health ranking for more than 470 cities based across the state,” State Auditor Elaine Howle proclaimed in a news release announcing the launch. “This new transparent interface for the public, state and local policymakers, and other interested parties, is intended to identify cities that could be facing significant fiscal challenges.”

The most compelling feature of this new dashboard is the interactive map of California. To uncover relevant financial details, any user can run their cursor over the geographic area correlating to any one of the 470 cities whose financial data is included. When the cursor hovers over a given city, a box opens to show the name of the city and its rankings in the 11 different indicator categories: overall risk, liquidity, debt burden, general-fund reserves, revenue trends, pension obligations, pension funding, pension costs, future pension costs, OPEB (other post-employment benefits) obligations and OPEB funding. It quickly reveals information that, until now, was difficult to obtain.

The data, however, is a little outdated: The city evaluations and rankings are based on 2016-2017 fiscal-year numbers, the most-recent complete data set available for all the cities represented.

“We are in the process of getting the 2017-18 information, so we’ll be able to provide that information on our dashboard as well,” said Margarita Fernandez, chief of public affairs for the California State Auditor, in a recent phone interview. “The (dashboard) tool is now established, so we’ll be able to put up the information for 2017-18 as soon as it comes in. Eventually, you’ll be able to look at it yourself and see trending information like, ‘Here’s how they were doing in 2016-17, and now here they are in 2017-18, etc.,’ and whether things are improving, or they’re not improving.”

Despite Fernandez’s attempt to explain the older data, some city representatives see this as a serious defect in the state auditor’s effort at transparency.

“These numbers are two to three years old, and I think that our financial state today reflects that,” said Brooke Beare, the city of Indio’s director of communications and marketing, during a recent phone call.

The nine Coachella Valley cities are, in the category of overall risk, ranked as follows:

  • Palm Springs: No. 46 (moderate risk level)
  • Cathedral City: No. 105 (moderate)
  • Indio: No. 118 (moderate)
  • Coachella: No. 121 (moderate)
  • Desert Hot Springs: No. 308 (low)
  • La Quinta: No. 434 (low)
  • Palm Desert: No. 444 (low)
  • Rancho Mirage: No. 454 (low)
  • Indian Wells: No.  466 (low)

The good news is that none of the nine Coachella Valley cities were ranked in the “high risk” category. The bad news is the three worst-ranked—Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Indio—all were rated as “high risk” in four of the 11 indicator categories studied by the state auditor. It was on this basis that the Independent reached out to representatives of each of those three cities.

As of our deadline, only Indio representatives—Beare, and Assistant City Manager and Finance Director Rob Rockwell—responded. A city of Palm Springs finance executive did reply to an email requesting a phone interview, and asked that the Independent deliver its questions via email. The Independent complied, but received no response to those questions.

Rockwell, Indio’s finance director, applauded the state auditor’s dashboard.

“I think the reporting itself is good, and I appreciate it. I think it’s useful,” he said. “I don’t think it necessarily tells the whole financial story, but I think there are bits and pieces that will allow organizations or municipalities like Indio to go back and do some double-checking on some things, which is exactly what we did in Indio.”

He discussed various actions taken in the last two years by the Indio City Council. “Two of the four areas where Indio was considered ‘high-risk’ were pension funding set-aside, and OPEB (other post-employment benefits) set-aside,” Rockwell said. “In regards to the pension funding, just this year, the Indio City Council committed $1 million to setting up a pension trust … and that money is set aside and can only be used for pension obligations. So the issue of us not having money set aside has already been addressed.

“In regard to that OPEB funding set-aside, in February of 2014, the city created another … trust that in this case is basically for retiree medical costs. We’ve been committing money to that on an annual basis, and (as of Sept. 30), it totaled $1.77 million. So, the City Council recognizes the need—but it’s not been a super-high priority, in the sense that the City Council has been focused on capital infrastructure improvements in the city of Indio.”

Given the pension-funding liabilities currently shown on Indio’s balance sheet, the $1 million currently in the pension-funding trust wouldn’t make much of a dent. Rockwell told the Independent that the point of setting up the trust wasn’t to offset the entire debt amount.

“To think that we’re going to put $50-plus million aside (to cover the amount of unfunded liabilities)—that’s a striking number,” he said. “Really, the purpose of this trust is to set up some money so that, if a recession occurs, instead of having to make cuts to services to pay our pension costs, we can reach into this trust and pay our annual pension costs for a year, or maybe two, maybe three, maybe five, and not have to reduce services (to residents) in years where our revenues might be short due to economic impacts.”

Mounting pension obligations are a concern for all of our valley cities. It was a major topic of discussion in this past November’s Palm Springs City Council elections.

“I think that most California cities, including those here in the valley, are having a tough time dealing with these increasing pension costs,” Rockwell said. “I don’t think it’s a surprise that a lot of cities are even having to face some service reductions to fund their pension obligations. I think obviously that the return on investments that were originally expected did not come through. … The obligation is real, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Cities are just having to adjust, and there are various mechanisms to do that. A lot of cities have changed their retirement formulas. Clearly, the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act (which took effect in 2013; it includes compensation limits and establishes minimum contributions by employees) has changed pension funding. I have to say that for the city of Indio, the number of employees that we’ve hired under PEPRA is occurring at a faster rate than we expected. I don’t know how much that’s going to help the unfunded liability, but I can definitely say that there’s a change taking place.”

To view the State Auditor’s Local Government High-Risk Dashboard, visit www.auditor.ca.gov/bsa/cities_risk_index.

If your holiday schedule is not yet completely packed, take note: Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre is bringing back its popular Twisted Broadway fundraiser.

What makes these revues of show tunes twisted? According to the press release, Twister Broadway “will feature a lineup of talented Broadway artists performing songs that were originally written for the opposite gender, as well as songs they always wanted to sing, but couldn’t, because they would be miscast.”

“We did it two years ago,” said Ron Celona, CVRep’s founding artistic director. “We wanted to see how people would react to it, and people had so much fun. It was a great, different way of raising money compared to the thousands of other fundraisers out there for different nonprofit organizations. So we decided to do it again this year, and in our new venue. For the first time, it will be under our own roof.

“And this time, we’re doing two shows: One at 4 p.m., and one at 7:30 p.m. In between the two shows, there will be receptions that come with each ticket.”

The funds raised will not only help CVRep continue to put on professional Equity theatrical productions; it’ll help CVRep as it expands its education programs via the CVRep Conservatory.

“We built a school,” Celona said, proudly. “Adjacent to our new theater was a Mexican restaurant. We own the whole property, so we spent the last year and a half gutting the restaurant, and building a two-room schoolhouse, basically, with a soundproof wall in between the two classrooms. We opened our first semester in the new school (a couple of months ago), and we had 80 students for that first semester, which I think is pretty damn good. Also, we’re going to have a holiday semester, and then we’ll open our winter/spring semester. My goal is to double the attendance in those winter/spring classes.”

CVRep is offering a wide range of courses, beginning with “Broadway Babies” for ages 4-7; acting for ages 8-10 and 11-14; “Stage Combat/Sword-Fighting” for daring high school students; and adult classes including “The Art of Auditioning With Monologues,” “Voice and Movement for the Actor” and improv classes.

“We get a lot of middle-aged to senior citizens in these adult classes,” Celona said. “Also included in our educational programming is our outreach program. We have teaching artists who are out teaching in the schools. Right now, they’re at Cathedral City High School. So, we go there instead of them coming to us.

“Lastly, another project we have is a comedy and improv festival that will be happening at the end of May 2020. People will apply to be a part of that from all over the country.”

Back to Twisted Broadway: Celona said he borrowed the idea from Broadway itself.

“The concept, which has been done in New York for years, (comes from a revue) called Broadway Backwards, and that is an annual fundraiser for the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fund. I got the title, Twisted Broadway, from a show done by a company in Australia that uses the same concept. I thought that was a much more fun title.

“But, ultimately, some of these concepts by other companies are just gender-bending. I thought that could become boring, so I’ve expanded the concept, and I’m including parodies of favorite show tunes, and that’s a lot of fun. There will be some group numbers that will be parodies, and then I have an individual artist, Robert Yacko, who’s going to be doing two parodies: on Sondheim, and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Then, in the arena of gender-bending, (we’ll have) a moment that comes from a wonderful show called Side Show. There are two sisters … conjoined twins who are attached at the hip, and the whole musical is about them. We’re going to have a man and a woman attached, so it’s just twisting it and making it different and, hopefully, funny. The most important part here is that all of the songs are comical.”

Celona said Julie Garnyé, who had been listed as appearing in the show, had to pull out of the production due to a conflict. “I’ve replaced her with Alyssa Simmons, who’s currently doing Frozen at Disney,” Celona said. “(She joins) Jeffrey Landman, who is doing Frozen as well. They’ll be playing the twins in Side Show. Since they already know each other, that will help the chemistry.”

Other performers slated to appear include Randy Brenner, Erica Hanrahan, Loren Freeman, Sal Mistretta, Perry Ojeda and Kristen Towers Rowles.

Twisted Broadway, a fundraiser for the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, will take place at 4 and 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 12, at the CVRep Playhouse, 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Cathedral City. Tickets are $150 to $300, and include receptions between the two shows. For tickets or more information, 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org.

For the 27th year in a row, the unique WildLights holiday extravaganza at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert will be one of Santa’s favorite stops in the Coachella Valley—so much so that plans call for him to visit the animal and environment conservatory on 16 separate nights from Nov. 26 through Dec. 28.

A visit with Santa is just one of the varied experiences being offered at the 2019 edition of the zoo’s key annual fundraising event. A sparking tunnel of lights synchronized to holiday tunes, life-sized desert-animal lanterns, and more than 1 million lights await visitors.

“There are a variety of activities that happen during WildLights on a nightly basis,” said Erin Scott, the senior manager for brand, marketing and public relations for The Living Desert. “Guests can visit with Santa. They can also just wander through the light displays around the zoo. New this year is what we’re calling ‘The Dazzling Gift.’ It’s a 15-foot-by-15-foot light installation that will be on Africa’s Savannah Landing. It’s a really big installation.”

For an additional fee, visitors can ride the Polar Express on a magical train ride through Gecko Gulch with falling “snow.” Guests can ride a carousel—specially decked out for the holidays—and make s’mores.

“We expect about 35,000 guests to enjoy WildLights this year,” Scott said. “WildLights is just an amazing community tradition. It’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit. We have local residents and members who come year after year, as well as visiting guests. It’s a great way to spend time with family and friends, and get into the holiday spirit.

“The Living Desert is a magical place. And, when you add the glow of holiday lights, it becomes even more magical. It’s just a great holiday tradition.”

The Living Desert is a zoo, of course—and visitors will get to enjoy the presence of animals that come out at night.

“Visitors will be able to see African wild dogs, cheetahs, bighorn sheep, the giraffe and zebras as they stroll the park under the lights,” Scott said. “Being able to see these animals at night adds an interesting element to anybody’s visit. Also, animal encounters will happen nightly between 6:30 and 8 p.m. in our amphitheater. A rotating variety of our animal ambassadors will be available to guests at these times. Guests will be able to get up close and meet some of our desert (animal) residents, get some good photo opportunities, and learn about these special animals. Also, there will be three ‘(zoo)keeper chats’ held throughout each evening: one at the African wild dog (station), one at the cheetah, and one at the warthog.”

The funds generated by WildLights ticket sales provide a lot of the financial support The Living Desert needs for park operations, as well as education and conservation programs.

“On an education-program level, The Living Desert welcomes about 40,000 school children each year through school field trips,” Scott said. “We partner with local schools and organizations for community outreach as well. We welcome guests of all ages to learn about and appreciate The Living Desert, as well as all the deserts of the world. We want to educate our guests about why deserts are important, and just how special deserts really are.”

What exactly does it take to stage a production of this scale every holiday season?

“It’s really a team effort,” Scott said. “The setup begins in September and continues until we’re ready for the opening in late November. There’s internal staff and external teams involved. So, it’s definitely a team effort from all sides.”

WildLights gives visitors a chance to see The Living Desert in a new light.

“There are so many activities around the zoo, and it’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit and enjoy the beauty of the desert, and offer valuable support to The Living Desert at the same time,” Scott said.

WildLights opens with a members’ only event on Tuesday, Nov. 26, and is open to all from 6 to 9 p.m. on select nights through Dec. 28 at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, at 47900 Portola Ave., in Palm Desert. Admission is $14; $12 for members; and $10 for children ages 3-12. For tickets and more information, including a complete schedule of WildLights nights, visit www.livingdesert.org/events-and-tours/signature-events/wildlights.

The Desert Ability Center aims to take the “dis” out of disability.

That’s how founder and executive director Judy May sometimes describes her personal crusade to help individuals with disabilities living in the Coachella Valley. Many are struggling to put their lives back together—and when she or other DAC team members come into contact with a person whose life is being defined by limitations imposed through trauma or genetics, they set about infusing those lives with new meaning by drawing them into the world of adaptive sports.

What are adaptive sports? Put simply, they’re sports modified in a way so people with disabilities can participate.

“For me, it’s (a matter of asking a person with a disability), ‘What sport would you like to try?’ And then we have to figure out how to adapt that sport,” said Michael Rosenkrantz, DAC’s director of program development.

When that connection is made, the renewed interpersonal engagement and physical exercise brought about via an adaptive-sports program is often nothing short of transformative.

“I had a brain-injured young woman from high school go up the rock wall at (one of our adaptive) sports festivals,” May said during a recent interview during a DAC wheelchair-tennis clinic, held at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Tennis Club in Palm Desert. “She was pretty newly injured, but she came out. And when she came off that rock wall, they got her on video for TV saying, ‘I can do anything!’ With her limited speech, she said, ‘I can do anything!’

“It’s powerful stuff. It really is powerful stuff.”

Rosenkrantz has had a hand in developing wheelchair basketball and other adaptive-sports programs since 2009, in such diverse locales as India, Nepal, North Carolina and Arizona.

“Imagine you’ve had an accident in a car, and you’ve become an amputee. That’s depressing, right?” Rosenkrantz said. “So, the first step is just getting people out of the house, and then sports are very much an entry point into leading a full life. The kids learn all sorts of life skills that they take with them forever. Getting people to see the opportunities and then to get them to participate—that’s the key.

“What Judy has really done in the Coachella Valley is develop all of these opportunities. Now the next step is creating a lot more awareness. We know that there’s an older population here, and with that come people with disabilities. But (the challenge is) just getting into the various communities where there are people with disabilities, so that they know about us, and that we have all of these sports that they might like to try, and then getting them to participate. Transportation here in Coachella Valley (can be) a huge issue.”

May, who formerly taught deaf students for 14 years, pointed out other obstacles that persons with disabilities have to overcome to play adaptive sports.

“The biggest thing holding (potential participants) back is the cost of equipment. Most families can’t afford it,” May said. “The wheelchairs run around $2,000, and the cycles run around $2,500. So, as an organization, we raise money and help get cycles for kids. Besides equipment, the other thing that holds a lot of (kids) back is that they’re not exposed or included. They’re fearful, and their parents are fearful. … That’s what the festival is about.”

The festival she’s referring to is DAC’s Eighth Annual Ability Festival, taking place Saturday, Dec. 14, at the Palm Desert Civic Center Park.

“In order to reach the entire community, we started this festival with five sports,” May said. “Now, we bring in Paralympian coaches from out of the area that do rock-climbing and rowing and all the Paralympic-level sports. They all have a disability, and they all have wonderful histories in their sports. For instance, Angela Madsen comes in and teaches rowing. She’s a spinal-cord-injured veteran, and she holds at least six Guinness World Records for rowing. She’s training for a solo row from Long Beach to Honolulu. So, these are the kinds of coaches who come, on their own time, and volunteer to teach these sports and let kids see, ‘If I can do this, you can do it.’

“It’s an event for every age and any disability. There will be archery, golf, 15 recreational games, bocce, baseball, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, rock climbing, wheelchair skate boarding and sitting volleyball. So, all told, we should have close to 30 events—partly Paralympic, and partly recreational. Any kid who comes can be adapted (to a sport). I don’t think we’ve ever had a child or adult come who couldn’t be adapted. We’re hoping to set up some competitions and get some games going where they’re keeping score.

May added: “We’ve got a lot of developmentally disabled kids, and we provide activities that they can do. I’m adding a component called ‘The Adaptive Sports Experience,’ because part of the movement that everybody’s doing across the United States is, ‘Let’s play together.’ I’m disabled; you’re not, but we can still play together.”

One of the goals of DAC’s year-round programs is to normalize the adaptive-sports experience in whatever ways possible. May likes to expose able-bodied student athletes to the unique adaptive-sports challenges firsthand.

“I bring in about 100 high school athletes, and I split them up into teams, and they go play their sport, but it’s the adaptive version,” she said. “If you’re a basketball player, then you’re going to play wheelchair basketball. If you’re a tennis player, you’re going to play wheelchair tennis.”

Rosenkrantz, who recently joined the DAC team after moving to the Coachella Valley from North Carolina, said recognizing the very real abilities of the DAC program participants is an integral part of motivating, inspiring and creating confidence.

“We know there are a number of athletes out there (in our valley who we want to reach),” Rosenkrantz said. “I think it’s really important that we refer to (our participants) as athletes. They may be in a wheelchair, or they may be an amputee, but they’re athletes—and that’s really key.

“OK, so it’s a balance sport, and you may have to use a wheelchair, because you have spina bifida. Big deal. The chair becomes part of your body. That’s all it is. The guy who has had a stroke and wants to play golf can still play golf, right? You just have to adapt things.”

Tom Ayala is a nationally ranked competitive wheelchair-tennis player who was paralyzed in a car accident more than 20 years ago; he attends the DAC wheelchair-tennis clinics regularly.

“Getting involved with DAC is probably the most positive thing (I’ve done),” Ayala said. “We’ve got the Ability Festival coming up, and I’ll be coaching the tennis. I love being involved in the program itself, because it promotes well-being and healthiness. You know, we just look for something to make us happy in life, and something to look forward to. We have sports to keep us busy, because we go through a lot of down times. So, if we have this stuff to keep us busy, that’s where we want to go. And I love teaching now. That’s what I do.”

With many achievements behind them, May and Rosenkrantz said DAC has a lot more work to do.

“We know that at least 10 percent of the total population has some sort of disability, whether it’s cognitive or physical,” Rosenkrantz said. “So, we’re just scratching the surface right now. We know there are a lot more (people we can help).”

May said she’d love to see the Coachella Valley become a haven for adaptive sports.

“Our end game is to bring competitions to the desert,” May said. “In the middle of the winter when people in the snowy states can’t go outside and do adaptive sports, who wouldn’t want to come here and (participate) in a tennis tournament? So, that’s a definite possibility.”

For more information, visit desertabilitycenter.org. DAC is in need of volunteers to help with this year’s Ability Festival and the year-round clinics; if interested, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The auditorium at the UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Center was filled with more than 150 attendees when Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez spoke at the Adult Justice System Symposium on Oct. 30.

Perez talked about the innovative programs and services now utilized by the Riverside County Probation Department to help citizens re-integrate into their communities after being released from prison—and he spoke passionately about why the issue is important to him.

He elaborated on those reasons in a subsequent phone interview.

“I’m very proud of the fact that I grew up in Coachella, and that I grew up (the child of) immigrant farm workers who did everything that they could to support their children,” Perez said. “But the 1980s and ’90s in the city of Coachella were tough. It was crazy. La Eme (the Mexican mafia in the United States) and the local gangs ran the city and ran the community. So many people were pressured to become a member of La Eme, or of a gang, and if you did not, then unfortunately, maybe something would happen to you.

“I was just very lucky. I was just very, very lucky. So that’s why (this issue) is deep for me. It’s not only about folks who were very close to me, but also even family members. I’ve got family members to this day who are in prison.”

Perez organized the event in conjunction with the Riverside County Probation Department to familiarize residents and organizations with community-based programs geared toward rehabilitation, with the intention of preventing the need to re-incarcerate those convicted of crimes.

Riverside County Interim Chief Probation Officer Ron Miller II spoke about his desire to engage the community in a recent phone interview.

“You know it’s interesting: Historically, probation has not been a ‘sexy’ department to cover,” Miller said. “For many years, we primarily did pre-sentencing reports on people who had been convicted and were awaiting sentencing. The pre-sentence report would give some background information to the court to (help them) determine an appropriate sentence. … As money in the adult world (of probation services) continued to dry up, the responsiveness to adults on probation was fairly limited.”

Then, in 2009, Senate Bill 678 became law.

“SB 678 had to do with giving funds for evidence-based practices to be developed,” Miller said. “That infusion of money into the system really allowed probation to start going from a slow-walk to a run: It allowed us to get into case-plan development, and really look at the treatment needs of adult clients and the factors that led them to a place where they were arrested. Then, we could come up with strategies to address those treatment needs.

“For us, the two words you hear a lot of are ‘previous trauma’ or ‘drama’ (that may explain) what’s gone on in this person’s life, and next: How do we get this person back to being happy, healthy, whole and functioning in our communities?”

Two years later, the state passed Assembly Bill 109, which started a process known as “realignment”: People convicted of less-serious felonies were diverted from the state prison system and instead sent to county jails.

“For all the negativity that came out of (the passage of that bill),” Miller said, “it really did push additional money into our portion of the criminal-justice system that allowed us to become more effective in reaching the adult population and creating change opportunities for them. You’ll hear a lot from law enforcement about the challenges that AB 109 has presented. But from our perspective, these were people who were coming out of prison anyway, and instead of going to parole for supervision, they now went to probation for supervision—and (at the county level), this is our community. We know the resources that are available, so we’re probably the best-situated agency to provide the level of support toward community integration.

“A guy’s coming out of prison after having served, say, five years: That’s five years out of the loop. They don’t have a bank account. They don’t have a place to stay. They don’t have a job. They get $200 exit money, and then you’re popping them back into the community. Where’s the support for success? We’re probably the best agency to try to bridge this person, from where he was (in jail or prison) to getting him back on his feet and functioning back in the community.”

Have these efforts decreased the recidivism rate? Miller said he believes they have.

“Of the main categories we look at in the field of probation, one of those is the formal probation client. That’s somebody who has been arrested, gone to court and has been sentenced to probation locally,” he said. “We have about 9,000 of those clients currently in Riverside County. Among that group, about 26 percent will recidivate (within three years), which means that about 74 percent successfully complete without a new violation. That’s the number that we focus on, the successful completions.

“Then we have the AB 109 population of about 3,000 clients, and they come in two groups. One is the group that is arrested, goes to court and is sentenced to (state) prison, but then they serve their sentence locally at a county jail. … Then we also have the group that is sentenced to prison; they go to prison; and then when they’re released, because they were there for a non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious offense, they come to probation for supervision. On average, about 43 percent of those clients recidivate.”

That apparent decrease in the recidivism rate was part of the story Perez wanted to tell at the symposium.

“Quite frankly, I was impressed by the amount of people (who attended), but regardless, that’s not the point,” Perez said. “Did they gain something from it? Are there changes that should be made to our system? And do they feel they have a voice in the system? This (symposium) is our first attempt, and this is my passion.

“In the ’80s and ’90s, the compassion did not exist in our communities, especially in communities of color. Community policing was not (born) of compassion. I think now it is changing. I think what probation is doing is creating change. Now, it’s not just about looking for people and then locking them up and throwing away the key, just because they wear certain clothing or they look a certain way. I believe that compassion is now coming, or is here.

“Also, today, we have leaders who are coming back home. They grew up in areas of the Coachella Valley that are much more forward-thinking and open-minded. Then they went off to school, and now they’re returning. It doesn’t matter what their ethnicity may be. They are very willing to work with people now. It wasn’t like that before. So we have to be empathetic and compassionate. In my opinion, that’s something that we need to strive for every day. It’s hard, but we should do that.”

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