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When you meet Palm Springs resident Dan Waddell, you immediately get the impression of someone who is gentle, affable, pleasant and relaxed—but the quintessential pianist will definitely confront you if necessary.

I met Waddell when I was producing Palm Springs Confidential, a comedy/musical revue, in the early 1990s. He came on board as musical director on the recommendation of Bill Marx, the noted local pianist and composer who had written the show’s music.

As the producer of the show, I had to keep the peace when Marx was at odds with Waddell over how some piece of music should work. There is an expression that comes over Waddell’s face when he doesn’t get his way—yet he is a consummate professional, and things always end with a harmonious result, “as long as the result is the best it can be.”

Waddell, 75, was born and raised in Tacoma, Wash., as the eldest of three. His mother played piano in the church, so Waddell studied piano as a kid, playing recitals that put him in front of audiences. He learned the organ as well, and played in church while he was in high school; he also worked gigs around town. However, Waddell did not feel compelled to make the piano part of his professional life—and is as surprised as anyone that it turned out that way.

“I had no idea I was going to do this for my whole life,” he says. “I probably assumed I’d go into a building trade. My dad was a utility engineer who did woodworking, which taught me how you can screw things up if you’re not precise.

“I got a music scholarship to college, and thought it was better than going to Vietnam. I had to play an audition for the scholarship, and they told me I should go into music education. I did what I could do best. If I had any real musical influence, it was my teacher, Leonard Jacobson. He made me want to do the work.”

Waddell furthered his musical education with post-graduate studies with the likes of Arthur Loesser, Constance Keene, Abram Chasins and Richard Faith.

Waddell became a member of the musicians’ union while still in high school and worked clubs while in college. He met his wife of 51 years, Robin, while they were students at the University of Puget Sound.

“I met her at a going-away party for her music teacher,” he says. “Robin also sang and played piano. We had just gotten married when I enlisted in the Army with a guaranteed assignment for two years—I actually enlisted for three—to go to their music school. It was once again the best way to stay out of Vietnam. The Army sent me to Arizona, and after my time was up, and my son was born, I became a lecturer in music at the University of Arizona in Tucson.”

Prior to settling in the Coachella Valley 27 years ago, Dan and Robin, along with their son, lived in lots of different places. Waddell worked cruise ships for seven years, “and I think the only place I haven’t yet been is Australia and New Zealand. I kind of fell into (playing cruise ships). I was playing at a club in Seattle, but (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) had put up such a fuss about people drinking and driving that people stopped coming downtown, so the club went downhill. I auditioned for a booker for Sitmar (Cruises), so Robin and I moved to Cuernavaca (Mexico), because it was a lot easier to pick up a ship in Acapulco, which wasn’t that far away.”

Over his long career, Waddell has played with such notables as Cab Calloway, Tony Sandler (of Sandler and Young) and Frank Stallone. He has been a featured concert pianist, music director, vocalist accompanist, organ designer, and judge for the local Virginia Waring International Piano Competition. He has also played organ and piano locally at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in La Quinta, and Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs, among other places.

“I’m a professional musician,” says Waddell. “I don’t play from some burning desire to create music. I play because people pay me to play. I’ve worked with many, many talented local people, and with the Desert Symphony at the McCallum Theatre.”

Waddell has been teaching others for more than 25 years at College of the Desert, leading students in basic and applied piano, fundamentals of music, and the music theater workshop. His advice for young musicians? “Learn as much as you can about music, taking into consideration that we all have limitations. You have to learn how to work around your limitations.

“I’d also have to say it’s important to move to a big city for exposure, and to meet people and network. I should have gone to Los Angeles and the Dick Grove School of Music, where I would have spent my time writing charts and working with really good musicians, but I got married and went into the Army. I would advise anyone serious about a music career to put themselves in an environment where they can hang out and get paid for it. That’s how you learn and sharpen your skills.

“It’s a given in any endeavor, particularly the entertainment business, that you have to do what you do well. You have to get out there. It’s all about diversity and opportunity.”

Bill Marx likes to introduce Waddell as “the best piano player nobody has ever heard of.” Waddell responds: “I hate that,” adding with a wry smile, “but he’s absolutely right!”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

College of the Desert held a ceremony on Saturday, April 22, to commemorate fallen Palm Springs Police Department officers Jose Gilbert “Gil” Vega and Lesley Zerebny at the college’s Sheriff Bob Doyle Public Safety Memorial.

Vega, 63, and Zerebny, 27, were killed on Oct. 8, 2016, while responding to a domestic-disturbance call, in what Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin described as an ambush.

“It was very touching,” said David Kling, the father of Officer Zerebny. “I really appreciate that the college would have it and invite us. The plaque is beautiful. Anything they can do like this to commemorate Gil and Leslie, I think they would really appreciate it.”

Afterward, I spoke to Neil Lingle, the director of the Public Safety Academy of College of the Desert, about the importance of the memorial to the community. Lingle is a 31-year law enforcement veteran who retired from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 2007.

Was the memorial your idea?

The COD peace officer memorial grew out of the first (COD) bond measure, when they built the buildings for the Public Safety Academy. Bob Doyle, who was the previous sheriff of Riverside County, donated $25,000 to build this memorial to honor police and firefighting personnel who have lost their lives in this county. So what we did is we went back to the first death we knew about in 1895. Every police officer and firefighter who has died since that point in time … (has been) memorialized on this wall.

What impact do you hope this memorial has on students, faculty and the community as a whole?

I think it serves as a dutiful reminder of the sacrifice that these officers made, and in addition to that, the sacrifice of their families, who have to move on without their loved ones. It’s a tragic loss for the families and the law-enforcement community. These people sign on to be professional law enforcement and firefighters to serve their communities and do good in their communities. In this instance … officers Vega and Zerebny were ambushed and killed on Oct. 8, 2016.

Is there anything you would like to personally say?

This was a ceremony for the students and the family of the deceased officers. We honor the fallen officers for their loss and sacrifice; and I meant what I said in my remarks: We do genuinely share the sorrow of these families on the loss of these wonderful human beings and public servants.

Published in Snapshot

You never know whom you might meet at a dinner party.

I was surprised when my hosts invited their excellent “caterer” to join the table. I was even more surprised when the affable young man was asked if he would sing to us after dinner. Michael Graham stood by the table and blew the group away with his resonant baritone voice in an a capella rendering of “If Ever I Would Leave You.”

We enthusiastically applauded while he modestly beamed.

Only 29, Graham is a young man who not only loves the culinary arts, but who sings his heart out with the California Desert Chorale; takes award-winning photographs; and offers personal services from organizing events to IT consulting.

“I like helping others whenever I can,” he says.

Born in Victorville and raised in Desert Hot Springs and Palm Desert, Graham now lives in Sky Valley. His motivation comes from advice he got from his mother: “She always told me to win my own race,” he says. “I judge my success in any endeavor by using my own previous success as my goalpost.”

From a young age, Graham—an only child who was home-schooled—found his voice in music.

“I was always interested in music,” he remembers. “I spent a short time in a children’s chorus. Music was in my family; my mom and grandmother were both pianists, and my grandfather, a writer, was always interested in music. I was raised on a diet of Andrew Lloyd Webber, opera, musical theater and German lieder songs. In my teens, I began to explore music from around the world. I had no confidence in my own ability to sing, but I was able to work with my grandmother when I started to learn, and that was so gratifying.”

Graham enrolled at College of the Desert. “I didn’t know what I wanted to pursue, but it was suggested I major in music,” he says.

The music program at COD offers both certificates and degrees to music majors, and includes both private lessons and public-performance opportunities.

“I had to audition, and I was so unsure about my voice,” says Graham. “There were a lot of really talented people. I took Broadway-voice classes along with jazz, and I was lucky enough to work with Mark Almy for one-on-one instruction.”

Almy is an adjunct faculty member at COD with an operatic background. He’s taught at the University of Redlands, Riverside Community College, Cal State San Bernardino and the Idyllwild Arts Academy, and has directed full operas at COD.

Currently, Graham’s passion is his involvement with the California Desert Chorale, with 60 voices of men and women between the ages of 29 and 85. The group was founded in 1986. The chorale’s artistic director, Tim Bruneau, was trained by the likes of Marilyn Horne and Beverly Sills, and has appeared as a soloist and choral singer with organizations that include the Chicago Symphony Chorus and Los Angeles Master Chorale.

“I entered the program at COD in 2009, and by spring 2010, I was invited by Tim Bruneau to try out for the chorale,” Graham says. “I was one of four interns he selected from students at COD.”

For Graham, the chorale offers a range of music that fits his background: “There is an equal mix of pop and classical music. I loved doing their program last Christmas. It had something for everyone.”

What’s ahead for young Michael Graham? “I’d love to travel and see the world. I want to know what’s out there. Music and cooking right now are more of a hobby. … I do like staying here in the Coachella Valley. I appreciate the beauty of the desert; the whole landscape is so rich once you stop to appreciate it, so I have considered my photography as a profession.”

As a man not yet 30, does Michael Graham have any advice for other young people?

“I owe so much to the great teachers at COD and to the California Desert Chorale,” he says. “I’ve been able to work with many superb people and musicians, because I learned from my family not to be limited by fear.

“It’s easy to rule something out before you’ve even tried it, saying to yourself, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ Whenever I’ve tried, I’ve found those fears are not usually valid. Try not to worry about it—just go for it!”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Here are the results of the third annual Best of Coachella Valley readers' poll!

An all-time-high number of people voted in both rounds this year—and the slate of winners and finalists represent all parts of the valley.

Come celebrate the winners with us during the Best of Coachella Valley 2016-2017 Awards Show and Celebration, presented by Renova Solar. It will take place at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 7, at Copa Nightclub—this year's Best Nightclub winner.

Thanks to all of you who voted in this year's poll!

Welcome to the Best of Coachella Valley 2016-2017.

—Jimmy Boegle, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


ARTS

 

Best Art Gallery

Coachella Valley Art Scene

 

Runners up:

2. CODA

3. Heather James

4. Melissa Morgan

 

Best Indoor Venue

McCallum Theatre

 

Runners up:

2. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace

3. The Hood Bar and Pizza

4. Fantasy Springs Special Events Center

5. The Date Shed

 

Best Local Arts Group/Organization

Palm Springs Art Museum

 

Runners up:

2. Coachella Valley Art Scene

3. McCallum Theatre

4. La Quinta Arts Foundation

5. Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre

 

Best Local Band

Venus and the Traps

 

Runners up:

2. The Flusters

3. Brightener

4. The Myx

5. War Drum

 

Best Local DJ

Alf Alpha

 

Runners up:

2. DJ Day

3. Alex Harrington

4. DJ Pwee

5. Tommy Locust

 

Best Local Musician (Individual)

Jesika Von Rabbit

 

Runners up:

2. Nico Flores

3. Keisha D

4. Kal David

5. EeVaan Tre

 

Best Local Visual Artist

Sofia Enriquez

 

Runners up:

2. Elena Bulatova

3. Ryan “Motel” Campbell

4. Marconi Calindas

 

Best Movie Theater

Century La Quinta and XD

 

Runners up:

2. Camelot Theatres

3 TIE

Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9

Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 and IMAX

5. Century Theatres at the River

 

Best Museum

Palm Springs Art Museum

 

Runners up:

2. Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert

3. Coachella Valley History Museum

4. Agua Caliente Cultural Museum

5. La Quinta Museum

 

Best Outdoor Venue

Empire Polo Club

 

Runners up:

2. The Living Desert

3. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace

4. Fantasy Springs Rock Yard

5. Palm Desert Civic Center Park

 

Best Producing Theater Company

Palm Canyon Theatre

 

Runners up:

2. Coachella Valley Repertory

3. Desert Rose Playhouse

4. Coyote StageWorks

5. Dezart Performs


LIFE IN THE VALLEY

 

Best Alternative Health Center

La Quinta Wellness Center

 

Runners up:

2. Palm Springs Healing Center

3. Desert Hot Springs Health and Wellness Center

 

Best Farmers’ Market

College of the Desert Street Fair Farmers’ Market

 

Runners up:

2. Certified Farmers’ Market Old Town La Quinta

3. Certified Farmers’ Market Palm Springs

4. Palm Springs VillageFest

5. Certified Farmers’ Market Palm Desert

 

Best Local Activist/Advocacy Group/Charity

Coachella Valley Rescue Mission

 

Runners up:

2. Palm Springs Animal Shelter

3. Desert AIDS Project

4. LGBT Community Center of the Desert

5. Shelter From the Storm

 

Best Gym

24 Hour Fitness

 

Runners up:

2. World Gym

3. EOS Fitness

4. In-Shape

5. Planet Fitness

 

Best Public Servant

Rep. Raul Ruiz

 

Runners up:

2. La Quinta Mayor Linda Evans

3. Palm Springs Mayor Rob Moon

4. Palm Springs City Councilman Geoff Kors

 

Best Yoga

Urban Yoga

 

Runners up:

2. Bikram Yoga Palm Desert-El Paseo

3. TIE

Evolve Yoga

Yoga Central

5. Bikram Yoga University Village

 

Best Bowling

Fantasy Springs Bowling Center

 

Runners up:

2. Palm Springs Lanes

3. Canyon Lanes Bowling at Morongo

 

Best Auto Repair

Palms to Pines Automotive

 

Runners up:

2. Desert Classic Cars

3. Desert Lexus

4. L&L Automotive

5. Singh’s Automotive Repair

 

Best Car Wash

Elephant Car Wash/Rancho Super Car Wash

 

Runners up:

2. La Quinta Car Wash

3. Indio Car Wash

4. Airport Quick Car Wash

 

Best Plant Nursery

The Living Desert’s Palo Verde Garden Center

 

Runners up:

2. Moller’s Garden Center

3. Vintage Nursery

4. Bob Williams Nursery

 

Best Pet Supplies

Petco

 

Runners up:

2. Bones ’n’ Scones

3. PetSmart

4. Miriam’s Poochella Grooming

5. Desert Feed Bag

 

Best Annual Charity Event

Evening Under the Stars (AIDS Assistance Program)

 

Runners up:

2. McCallum Theatre Annual Gala

3. Ramblin’ and Gamblin’ (Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Desert)

4. Dinner in the Canyons (Agua Caliente Cultural Museum)

5. Center Stage (LGBT Community Center of the Desert)

 

Best Place to Gamble

Augustine Casino

 

Runners up:

2. Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa

3. Spa Resort Casino

4. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino

5. Spotlight 29

 

Best Local TV News

KESQ News Channel 3

 

Runners up:

2. KMIR Channel 6

3. CBS Local 2

 

Best Local TV News Personality

Ginger Jeffries, KMIR Channel 6

 

Runners up:

2. Patrick Evans, CBS Local 2

3. Karen Devine, KESQ News Channel 3

4. Bianca Rae, KESQ News Channel 3

5. Gino LaMont, KMIR Channel 6

 

Best Local Radio Station

Mix 100.5

 

Runners up:

2. 93.7 KCLB

3. Jammin 99.5 FM

4. K-News 94.3

5. La Ponderosa 96.7 FM

 

Best Local Radio Personality

Jimi “Fitz” Fitzgerald, CV 104.3 FM

 

Runners up:

2. Bradley Ryan, Mix 100.5

3. Mozingo, Mix 100.5

4. Bill Feingold, K-News 94.3

5. Dan McGrath, Sunny 103.1 FM

 

Best Bookstore

Barnes & Noble

 

Runners up:

2. Rancho Mirage Public Library Booknook

3. Revivals

4. The Book Rack

 

Best Retail Music/Video Store

Record Alley

 

Runners up:

2. Best Buy

3. Barnes and Noble

 

Best Comics/Games Shop

Game Stop

 

2. Desert Oasis

3. Interstellar Comic Books and Collectables

 

Best Hotel Pool

Ace Hotel and Swim Club

 

Runners up:

2. Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa

3. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino

4. The Riviera

5. The Saguaro

 

Best Sex Toy Shop

Skitzo Kitty

 

Runners up:

2. Not So Innocent

3. Spencer’s Gifts

4. GayMart


FASHION AND STYLE

 

Best Clothing Store (Locally Owned)

Bobby G’s

 

2. Wil Stiles

3. Glossy

 

Best Resale/Vintage Clothing

Angel View

 

Runners up:

2. Revivals

3. Gypsyland

4. Penny Lane Boutique

5. Plato’s Closet

 

Best Furniture Store

Mathis Brothers

 

Runners up:

2. Revivals

3. Ashley Furniture Homestore

4. Mor Furniture for Less

 

Best Antiques/Collectables Store

TIE

The Estate Sale Co

Victoria’s Attic

 

Runners up:

3. Misty’s Consignments

4. Classic Consignment

 

Best Jeweler/Jewelry Store

El Paseo Jewelers

 

Runners up:

Leeds and Son

Hephaestus

Daniel’s Jewelers

Robann’s Jewelers

 

Best Hair Salon

J. Russell! The Salon

 

Runners up:

2. Salon 119 and Spa

3. Dishwater Blonde Salon

4. Revive Salon and Spa

5. Read Brown

 

Best Spa in a Resort/Hotel

Spa La Quinta (La Quinta Resort)

 

Runners up:

2. The Spa at Desert Springs (JW Marriott)

3. Sunstone Spa at Agua Caliente

4. Agua Serena Spa at Hyatt Regency Indian Wells

5. Well Spa at Miramonte

 

Best Day Spa (Non-Resort/Hotel)

Massage Envy

 

Runners up:

2. Desert Zen

3. Studio M Salon and Spa

4. Revive Wellness Center

5. Bliss Chakra Spa

 

Best Florist

My Little Flower Shop

 

Runners up:

2. Indio Florist

3. Rancho Mirage Florist

4. Palm Springs Florist

5. Lotus Garden Center

 

Best Tattoo Parlor

TIE

Art and Ink Tattoo Studio

The Tattoo Gallery

 

Runners up:

3. Flagship Tattoo

4. Adornment Piercing and Private Tattoo

5. Strata Tattoo Lab

 

Best Eyeglass/Optical Retailer

Costco

 

Runners up:

2. Desert Vision Optometry

3. Milauskas Eye Institute

4. Walmart

5. Old Town Optometry


OUTSIDE!

 

Best Urban Landscaping

El Paseo

 

Runners up:

2. Sunnylands

3. Downtown Palm Springs

 

Best Public Garden

The Living Desert

 

Runners up:

2. Palm Desert Civic Center Park

3. Sunnylands

4. El Paseo

5. Ruth Hardy Park

 

Best Place for Bicycling

La Quinta

 

Runners up:

2. Palm Springs

3. Palm Desert

4. Highway 74

5. Frank Sinatra Drive

 

Best Recreation Area

Joshua Tree

 

Runners up:

2. Tahquitz Canyon

3. Whitewater Preserve

4. Lake Cahuilla

5. Coachella Valley Preserve

 

Best Hike

Bump and Grind

 

Runners up:

2. Indian Canyons

3. Tahquitz Canyon

4. Palm Springs Museum Trail

5. South Lykken Trail

 

Best Park

Palm Desert Civic Center Park

 

Runners up:

2. TIE

Freedom Park (Palm Desert)

Ruth Hardy Park

4. Rancho Las Flores (Coachella)

5. Demuth Park (Palm Springs)

 

Best Outdoor/Camping Gear Store

Big 5 Sporting Goods

 

Runners up:

2. Dick’s Sporting Goods

3. Yellow Mart

 

Best Bike Shop

Palm Desert Cyclery

 

Runners up:

2. Palm Springs Cyclery

3. Tri-A-Bike

4. Joel’s Bicycle Shop

 

Best Sporting Goods

Big 5 Sporting Goods

 

Runners up:

2. Dick’s Sporting Goods

3. Yellow Mart

4. Pete Carlson’s Golf and Tennis

5. PGA Tour Superstore

 

Best Public Golf Course

Desert Willow Golf Resort

 

Runners up:

2. PGA West

3. Eagle Falls Golf Course at Fantasy Springs

4. The Golf Club at Terra Lago

5. The Lights at Indio Golf Course


FOR THE KIDS

 

Best Playground

Palm Desert Civic Center Park

 

Runners up:

2. La Quinta Civic Center Park

3. Ruth Hardy Park

4. Rancho Mirage Community Park

5. Cathedral City Town Square

 

Best Place to Buy Toys

Toys “R” Us

 

Runners up:

2. Mr. G’s for Kids

3. Target

4. Walmart

5. Big Lots

 

Best Kids’ Clothing Store

Old Navy

 

Runners up:

2. The Childrens Place

3. Tillys

4. Fallas

5. Revivals

 

Best Restaurant for Kids

Chuck E. Cheese’s

 

Runners up:

2. Shakey’s Pizza

3. Red Robin

4. Stuft Pizza Bar and Grill

5. Old Spaghetti Factory

 

Best Place for Family Fun

The Living Desert

 

Runners up:

2. Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert

3. Boomers

4. Chuck E. Cheese

5. Desert Ice Castle

 

Best Place for a Birthday Party

Chuck E. Cheese’s

 

Runners up:

2. The Living Desert

3. Boomers

4. Lulu California Bistro

5. Desert Ice Castle


FOOD AND RESTAURANTS

 

Best Casual Eats

Café 54 at Augustine Casino

 

Runners up:

2. In-n-Out Burger

3. Lulu California Bistro

4. Eureka!

5. Stuft Pizza Bar and Grill

 

Best Caterer

Lulu California Bistro

 

2. Lavender Bistro

3. Jennifer’s Kitchen and Catering

4. Dash and a Handful

5. Cello’s Pantry

 

Best Diner

Keedy’s Fountain Grill

 

Runners up:

2. Café 54 at the Augustine Casino

3. Elmer’s

4. John’s

5. Rick’s Restaurant

 

Best Organic Food Store

Trader Joe’s

 

2. Sprouts Farmers Market

3. Whole Foods

4. Harvest Health Foods

5. Clark’s Nutrition

 

Best Delicatessen

Sherman’s Deli and Bakery

 

Runners up:

2. TKB Bakery and Deli

3. Manhattan in the Desert

4. Real Italian Deli

5. Clementine Gourmet Marketplace

 

Best Custom Cakes

TIE

Over the Rainbow

Sherman’s Deli and Bakery

 

Runners up:

3. Pastry Swan Bakery

4. Manhattan in the Desert

5. Exquisite Desserts

 

Best Desserts

Sherman’s Deli and Bakery

 

Runners up:

2. French Corner Café

3. Pastry Swan Bakery

4. Over the Rainbow

5. Manhattan in the Desert

 

Best Ice Cream/Shakes

Cold Stone Creamery

 

Runners up:

2. Great Shakes

3. Ben and Jerry’s

4. Brandini Toffee

5. Creamistry

 

Best Date Shake

Shields Date Garden

 

Runners up:

2. Hadley’s

3. Great Shakes

 

Best Frozen Yogurt

Yogurtland

 

2. Beach House

3. Golden Spoon

4. Jus Chillin

5. Eddie’s Frozen Yogurt

 

Best Bakery

French Corner Café

 

Runners up:

2. Aspen Mills

3. Over the Rainbow

4. Pastry Swan Bakery

5. Peninsula Pastries

 

Best Barbecue

Smoke Tree BBQ Bar and Grill

 

Runners up:

2. Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse

3. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace

4. Jackalope Ranch

5. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit

 

Best Burger

In-n-Out Burger

 

Runners up:

2. Café 54 at Augustine Casino

3. Tyler’s Burgers

4. Eureka!

5. Smokin’ Burgers and Lounge

 

Best Veggie Burger

Native Foods Café

 

Runners up:

2. Eureka!

3. Palm Greens Café

4. Trio

5. Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge

 

Best Sandwich

Sherman’s Deli and Bakery

 

Runners up:

2. TKB Bakery and Deli

3. The Sandwich Spot

4. Manhattan in the Desert

5. Aspen Mills

 

Best Pizza

Stuft Pizza Bar and Grill

 

Runners up:

2. Bill’s Pizza

3. Giuseppe’s Pizza and Pasta

4. Piero’s PizzaVino

5. Blaze Pizza

 

Best Wings

Buffalo Wild Wings

 

Runners up:

2. Stuft Pizza Bar and Grill

3. Wingstop

4. Neil’s Lounge

5. Billy Q’s

 

Best Bagels

Townie Bagels

 

Runners up:

2. Panera Bread

3. Sherman’s Deli and Bakery

4. Einstein Bros. Bagels

5. Manhattan in the Desert

 

Best Smoothies

Fresh Juice Bar

 

Runners up:

2. Jamba Juice

3. Juice It Up

4. Beach House Yogurt

 

Best Buffet

Café 54 at Augustine Casino

 

Runners up:

2. Grand Palms Buffet at Agua Caliente

3. Fresh Grill Buffet at Fantasy Springs

4. Oasis Buffet at Spa Resort Casino

5. Potrero Canyon Buffet at Morongo

 

Best Coffee Shop for Coffee

Starbucks

 

Runners up:

2. Koffi

3. IW Coffee

4. Vintage Coffee House

5. Ristretto

 

Best Coffee Shop for Hanging Out

Koffi

 

Runners up:

2. Starbucks

3. Old Town Coffee

4. IW Coffee

5. Ernst Coffee

 

Best Tea

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

 

Runners up:

2. Starbucks

3. Teavana

4. Koffi

5. Ristretto

 

Best Breakfast

Wilma and Frieda’s Café

 

Runners up:

2. Elmer’s

3. Spencer’s Restaurant

4. Sunshine Cafe

5. John’s

 

Best California Cuisine

Lulu California Bistro

 

Runners up:

2. La Quinta Cliffhouse

3. Zin American Bistro

4. Spencer’s Restaurant

5. Trio

 

Best Brunch

Pinocchio in the Desert

 

Runners up:

2. Wilma and Frieda’s

3. Spencer’s Restaurant

4. Louise’s Pantry

5. The Tropicale

 

Best Chinese

PF Chang’s

 

Runners up:

2. City Wok

3. Wang’s in the Desert

4. JOY at Fantasy Springs

5. New Fortune

 

Best Greek

Greek Islands Restaurant

 

Runners up:

2. Miro’s Restaurant

3. Nina’s Greek Cuisine

4. Koutouki Greek Estiatorio

5. Athena Gyro

 

Best French

La Brasserie

 

Runners up:

2. Si Bon

3. Le Vallauris

4. Cuistot

5. Chez Pierre

 

Best Indian

Monsoon Indian Cuisine

 

Runners up:

2. India Oven

3. Naan House

 

Best Japanese

Kobe Japanese Steakhouse

 

Runners up:

2. Okura Robata Grill and Sushi Bar

3. JOY at Fantasy Springs

4. Shabu Shabu Zen

5. Shogun Restaurant

 

Best Italian

Mario’s Italian Cafe

 

Runners up:

2. Ristorante Mamma Gina

3. Castelli’s

4. Trilussa

5. Livreri’s Palm Springs

 

Best Sushi

Okura Robata Grill and Sushi Bar

 

Runners up:

The Venue Sushi Bar and Sake Lounge

Shogun Restaurant

Dragon Sushi

Edoko Sushi

 

Best Seafood

Fisherman’s Market

 

Runners up:

2. Café 54 at Augustine Casino

3. Pacifica Seafood Restaurant

4. Mitch’s on El Paseo

5. Spencer’s Restaurant

 

Best Steakhouse

LG’s Prime Steakhouse

 

Runners up:

2. Ruth’s Chris Steak House

3. Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar

4. TIE

Morgan’s in the Desert

Steakhouse at the Spa

 

Best Thai

Thai Smile Palm Springs

 

Runners up:

2. Thai House

3. Pepper’s Thai Cuisine

4. Le Basil

5. Blue Orchid

 

Best Vietnamese

Pho Vu

 

Runners up:

2. Pho 533

3. Rooster and the Pig

4. Watercress Vietnamese Bistro

5. Pho Na

 

Best Vegetarian/Vegan

Native Foods Café

 

Runners up:

2. Palm Greens Café

3. Nature’s Health Food and Café

4. Luscious Lorraine’s

5. Café Jasmin

 

Best Upscale Cuisine

Spencer’s Restaurant

 

Runners up:

2. Wally’s Desert Turtle

3. Le Vallauris

4. Johannes

5. Jillian’s

 

Best Outdoor Seating

Jackalope Ranch

 

Runners up:

2. Spencer’s Restaurant

3. Las Casuelas Terraza

4. Lavender Bistro

5. The Tropicale

 

Best Late-Night Restaurant

Yard House

 

Runners up:

2. Lulu California Bistro

3. Alicante

4. Smokin’ Burgers

5. Bongo Johnny’s

 

Best Mexican

La Casita

 

Runners up:

2. Fresh Agave

3. El Mirasol

4. Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill’

5. Casa Mendoza

 

Best Salsa

Las Casuelas (Original)

 

Runners up:

2. Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill

3. Las Casuelas Terraza

3. Las Casuelas Quinta

5. Felipe’s

 

Best Burrito

Taqueria Guerrero

 

Runners up:

2. Castaneda’s Mexican Food

3. Chipotle

4. Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill

5. Casa Mendoza


SPIRITS AND NIGHTLIFE

 

Best Beer Selection

Yard House

 

Runners up:

2. Burgers and Beer

3. The Beer Hunter

4. Eureka!

5. Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brew House

 

Best Local Brewery

Coachella Valley Brewing Co.

 

Runners up:

2. La Quinta Brewing Co.

3. Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brew House

 

Best Place to Play Pool/Billiards

The Beer Hunter

 

Runners up:

2. Neil’s Lounge

3. Hunters

4. Bart Lounge

5. Score the Game Bar

 

Best Cocktail Menu

Tommy Bahama Restaurant and Bar

 

Runners up:

2. The Tropicale

3. Eureka!

4. Mitch’s on El Paseo

5. Trio

 

Best Gay/Lesbian Bar/Club

Toucan’s

 

Runners up:

2. Chill Bar

3. Hunters

4. The Tropicale

5. Spurline

 

Best Happy Hour

Stuft Pizza Bar and Grill

 

Runners up:

2. Applebee’s

3. The Tropicale

4. La Quinta Cliffhouse

5. Mitch’s on El Paseo

 

Best Dive Bar

The Hood Bar and Pizza

 

Runners up:

2. Neil’s Lounge

3. Hair of the Dog

4. Red Barn

5. Score

 

Best Margarita

Las Casuelas (Original)

 

Runners up:

2. Fresh Agave

3. El Mirasol

4. Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill

5. Casa Mendoza

 

Best Martini

Sullivan’s Steakhouse

 

Runners up:

2. Mitch’s on El Paseo

3. Mastro’s Steakhouse

4. The Tropicale

5. Trio

 

Best Nightclub

Copa

 

Runners up:

2. Zelda’s

3. Hunter’s

4. Bart Lounge

5. Chill Bar

 

Best Sports Bar

The Beer Hunter

 

Runners up:

2. Burgers and Beer

3. Buffalo Wild Wings

4. Alicante

5. Village Pub

 

Best Wine Bar

Zin American Bistro

 

Runners up:

2. Sullivan’s Steakhouse

3. La Rue Wine Bar

4. Vue Grille and Bar

5. Dead or Alive

 

Best Wine/Liquor Store

Total Wine and More

 

Runners up:

2. BevMo!

3. Costco

4. Trader Joe’s

5. Fame Lounge

 

 

Best Bar Ambiance

Eureka!

 

Runners up:

2. Chill Bar

3. The Tropicale

4. Matchbox

5. Workshop Kitchen+Bar

Published in Readers' Picks

Being in charge of a college athletic department can be quite a challenge. Not only must your teams be competitive on the field; you must also make sure your athletes are doing well in the classroom.

Those tasks are even more arduous when your program has been rocked by scandal—and that’s the task Gary Plunkett faced when he became College of the Desert’s athletic director early last year.

In early 2012, one COD football player was shot to death by police in Palm Desert while in the process of committing a burglary. Several others were subsequently arrested for criminal activity. Later in 2012, then-new COD President Joel Kinnamon vowed to clean up not only the football program, but a culture that allowed such miscreant behavior to occur.

The 45-year-old Plunkett is the man charged with continuing to change that culture. The South Bay native previously spent nine years as the head women’s basketball coach at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga. At COD, he oversees 14 sports—seven each for men and women. With the exception of the football team, the COD Roadrunners compete in the new Pacific Coast Athletic Conference.

“I was coaching basketball against COD in the same conference when the issues with the football program arose,” says Plunkett. “While Dr. Kinnamon did not specifically address the past in the interview process, I was fully aware all that had transpired. I knew the challenges we faced. I took the job with the goal of meeting high standards and making sure we were in compliance both on and off the field.”

Plunkett is aware that community colleges have had a lousy reputation for “parking athletes”—in other words, bringing on athletes who are only looking to earn a scholarship to play at a four-year school, and who don’t care about academics. He said that COD is working to emphasize the academic component.

“At this level we have academic requirements,” he says. “We have a full time academic coordinator who meets with athletes weekly. Also, faculty members alert us to students having problems, and we try to help.”

The yearly athletic department budget at COD totals a little more than $300,000, not counting coaches’ salaries. A large chunk of that goes toward travel expenses.

Plunkett says coaching is one of his biggest challenges. “Our coaching staff is excellent, but with the exception of the men’s golf coach, who also a professor here, the coaches are part-time and have other jobs,” Plunkett says. “They are extremely dedicated, but they have time constraints as well. It also makes it difficult to retain coaches who have been offered full-time opportunities.”

One of the unusual things about the Coachella Valley is the large amount of retirees—including retired coaches from major sports who live here at least part-time. Therefore, Plunkett says, his coaches sometimes get some good unsolicited advice.

“My staff has some connections to these people, and every once in a while, they get a message,” he says. “They are very grateful to get advice from those who been at the top.”

As the college continues to expand, COD wants its athletic program to better reach out to the community. About a year ago, it hired a sports information specialist to work with local media to publicize events. Plunkett says he’d love to see more community and fan support to grow the Roadrunner brand.

“We absolutely want to ramp up our local outreach. When we see young kids at our events, we know that these are potential COD students or athletes,” he says. “I hear from many local people who say after attending a local event, ‘I never knew you had such a beautiful campus or facility. I am definitely coming back.’”

Plans are in the works to reach out more to local high school coaches as well. A high school basketball tournament that was played at the COD gym led to some financial problems, but Plunkett says he is open to a new tournament if arrangements can be made.

According to Plunkett, good things are ahead for the Roadrunners.

“The future is very bright. We are in a new league with a great staff,” he says. “Not only are we poised to win championships; we want to see more and more of our student athletes leave COD and compete successfully on the four-year level.”

For more information on COD Athletics, visit codathletics.com. Steve Kelly is freelance writer/broadcaster who can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Sports

When Rent opened off-Broadway in February 1996, it rocked the theater world and won instant acclaim. The death of 35-year-old composer-lyricist Jonathan Larson from an aortic aneurysm just before the show’s opening certainly added to the show’s impact, but the musical’s stark depiction of life and death in New York City in the late 1980s stands on its own.

Based on Puccini’s La Bohème, Rent—now getting an excellent production complements of College of the Desert—chronicles one year in the life of a group of poor artists living in the East Village of Manhattan. Aspiring film-maker Mark (Shafik Wahab) searches for professional recognition, while his HIV-positive songwriter-roommate, Roger (Christian Quevedo), longs to pen a hit tune before succumbing to his illness (“One Song Glory”). Soon, Roger meets Mimi (Allegra Angelo), also HIV-positive, and the two fall in love after she seduces him (“Light My Candle”).

Mark is pining for his ex-lover, Maureen (Meagan Van Dyke), a highly sexed performance artist who has left him for a woman, Joanne (Alisha Bates). Mark and Joanne sing of their mutual obsession with Maureen in “Tango: Maureen.”

Computer whiz Tom Collins (Anthony Martinez) falls for Angel (Aaron Anzaldua), an adorable transvestite inflicted with AIDS. Rounding out the principal cast is Benny (Dion Khan), Mark and Roger’s former roommate and current landlord, who is pressuring them for past-due rent.

The score is terrific, but certain numbers really stand out, including Mimi’s steamy “Out Tonight,” the tender Tom/Angel duet “I’ll Cover You,” and the best-known tune in the show—“Seasons of Love.”

I cannot say enough great things about this cast: The leads are all outstanding. I would not be at all surprised to see some of their names in lights on Broadway down the road. However, the glue that holds the show together is Wahab as Mark. His stage presence, strong voice and acting chops are perfectly suited to the role. As the tragic lovers Roger and Mimi, Quevedo and Angelo are marvelous. Their voices are terrific, and both dig down deep to bring true emotion to the stage. Their passion is palpable; both are guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye at some point.

With a cast this strong, it’s hard to do, but Anzaldua nearly steals the show as the doomed Angel. His slight build and outrageous costumes complement his superb performance. He is clearly having a blast onstage … but when the darkness sets in, the audience wants to wrap him in our arms and comfort him.

As Angel’s lover Tom, Martinez is stupendous. When he reprises “I’ll Cover You” after losing Angel, his voice soars up to the rafters. I defy any audience member with a pulse not to have chills after hearing that number.

Khan’s Benny is also fantastic. He handles his featured song “You’ll See” with great aplomb.

The chemistry between Van Dyke and Bates as lesbian lovers Maureen and Joanne is sizzling. Even women who’ve never had the slightest interest in switching teams might consider it after their erotic duet “Take Me or Leave Me.” Van Dyke has a huge future ahead of her in musical theater.

The members of the ensemble hold their own with the principals—there is not a weak link.

A lot goes on in this show—there’s a large cast, a band onstage, lots of dancing, heavy emotion, sexual themes—all of which require a director with great skill. Mark Almy has that skill; everything flows just as it should. Major kudos also go to musical director Scott Smith and choreographer Shea New. Joseph Layne’s set and lighting, and Jack Ramoran’s sound, are right on the money, as are the costumes (Rick Doerfler, Kathy Smith, Courtney Ohnstad).

The only flaw in this production is an occasional volume imbalance between the band (the excellent Scott Smith, Anthony Arizaga, Mikael Jacobson and Brad Vaughn) and the singers. There are times when the lyrics are difficult to understand—partly because the band’s a bit too loud, and partly because the singers’ diction is a bit unclear. A slight adjustment in the musicians’ volume would make a big difference.

The show is long—about 2 1/2 hours, but well worth it.

This was the first time I have seen a production of Rent. It won’t be my last.

College of the Desert’s Rent will be performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 3 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 29, at the Pollock Theatre on the COD campus, 43500 Monterey Ave., in Palm Desert. Tickets are $25 for general admission, and $20 for students. The run time is 2 1/2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-773-2574, or visit collegeofthedesert.ticketleap.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

It used to be a commonly held belief that if someone graduated high school and couldn’t get into a “real” college, they went to a local junior college.

Stereotypes included students who had barely made it through grade 12, those who had gotten into trouble, those who had little family support (let alone money), and those who hoped to make up for low grades and take courses that could eventually transfer to a four-year institution of “higher” learning.

If you still hold these views of what are now called community colleges … boy, you are behind the times.

I was recently privileged to participate in a grand tour of College of the Desert (COD), led by Peter Sturgeon, a Palm Desert resident who works on institutional advancement on behalf of the College of the Desert Foundation. The foundation was established as “a nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to provide financial support from the private and public sectors to help underwrite programs and facilities at the college that cannot be funded through other means.” In practical terms, that means influencing the community to support the school programs necessary to meet the needs of students.

COD offers programs well beyond the stereotypical “make-up” classes that can prepare students for success; students can earn certificates that qualify them to immediately seek jobs and start their careers in areas like administration of justice (law enforcement, courts, correctional facilities); agriculture (landscaping and irrigation, environmental horticulture); architecture (building inspection, drafting, construction management); automotive technology (emissions, engine management, general automotive services); business (accounting, computer systems, golf management, human resources); culinary arts; digital design and management; early childhood education; health services; fitness management; music; public safety (fire, police, EMT); and more.

My interest was piqued when we walked into the large, well-equipped automotive technology building and were greeted by instructor Dorothy Anderson. A woman in charge of teaching how to fix cars?

Anderson, 37, a Hemet resident, started taking automotive classes at Mt. San Antonio College; she wanted to change her life, so she completed her certificate there. Why automotive? Anderson had previously learned how to change her oil and rotate her tires, and she says she asked herself, “What can I take that would be interesting and save me money on my education?”

Only about 1 percent of auto technicians are women. She says she was asked if she wanted to teach at COD, particularly because administrators wanted their program to appeal to young women as well as men. That was in 2008—and she has never looked back.

“I love teaching,” says Anderson. “The teachers I had made it fun for me, and I wanted to provide that for other students. I like the fresh brains—when they think they already know what they’re doing, and you have to un-train them to get the old thinking out of their heads.”

When I asked her why women don’t tend to go into her field, Anderson says it has to be stigmatization. “I can’t see any other reason. Not all automotive work is difficult. You don’t even have to get dirty. I’ve managed not to even break my nails this semester!”

Anderson says she has been surprised at how few people can diagnose what’s wrong when their cars have a problem. “Even the guys can barely understand how to do more than just pump gas. It’s so self-satisfying when you have a car that’s running badly, and you can fix it yourself. Why should we pay someone else to do what we can do for ourselves?”

The automotive technology program, which began at COD in the 1960s, operates on several levels. Some students pursue a certificate that allows them to get the training needed to go directly into a facility and work. Others take automotive classes along with core classes that help them advance toward a full four-year college degree. The program takes about 25 students each in 20 classes, and is designed to appeal to those already working who want to advance their careers. High school juniors and seniors are also eligible for concurrent enrollment to take classes free of charge. Students who want only practical training can complete two or three certificates in two years.

When you see how well-equipped the COD facility is, an obvious question comes to mind: What kind of support does the program get from the local automotive community? Chrysler is one major partner and supporter, and other major dealerships and independent repair facilities also support parts of the program. Local businesses often hire students who have completed the programs, and there are even paid work-experience programs available while a student is enrolled in classes.

“People don’t realize how much can go wrong with cars made after 1996 because of the sophistication of the computers installed,” says Dorothy. “You’re not even supposed to jumpstart a newer car from another car. Results of computer diagnostics and operating parameters have to be interpreted, because problems may be coming from the engine, a sensor, wiring or specific components. All of it has to be taken into account, and then you have to make sure you don’t mess up another function while you’re fixing what you found.”

Where do the cars come from on which students work? Some cars are donated; for example, Chrysler has given a hybrid car. The school accepts some cars needing repair from the community—the owner will purchase the parts, and the students will do the work. However, the facility is state-of-the-art, so cars older than 10 years old are not candidates.

“We are not a shop, and we don’t want to take away from businesses in the community,” Anderson says. “Whatever we do has to fit the curriculum.”

One specialty students that can study is emissions control, based on state and federal standards. Specialized “referees” who are smog check experts working with the state are assigned to 30 stations, all located at community colleges; they determine whether cars that have failed a smog test can be fixed, or whether they may qualify to be excused from complying. Referees have to complete a 300-hour program, and they may offer students opportunities as interns. One of the referees assigned to both Mt. San Antonio College and COD, Mark Ellison, is now Anderson’s husband.

Anderson is a passionate advocate for the automotive program. “Our equipment is expensive and must be updated every year, so support from the community to keep upgrading the program is essential. I’ve worked really hard, and I love what I’m doing. I love my students. If I won the lottery, I’d donate money to the automotive department, and I would still teach.”

When pressed, she also admits, with a broad smile: “I’d also follow up my hobby and breed horses.”

COD is a valuable resource for the Coachella Valley, with locations expanding into the east valley and Palm Springs. If you haven’t been on campus for a while, you will be amazed at the varied core-curriculum courses, the comprehensive early childhood education program, the hands-on training for public safety and agriculture, the awesome kitchen for culinary arts, the arts departments, and, of course, Dorothy Anderson and the impressive automotive-technology facility.

Community support for COD is necessary if its high-quality programs are to be continued and expanded. Tours are available by contacting Peter Sturgeon at 760-773-2561.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Know Your Neighbors

What in the world were Tres Dean and the rest of the people at College of the Desert Performing Arts thinking when they decided to produce The Rocky Horror Show—with a cast and crew primarily consisting of unseasoned college students?

After all, it’s a complex musical with a large cast, challenging songs and a whole lot of choreography. At the opening-night show, my concern was heightened when a student wearing a headset took the stage and announced that the show’s start would be delayed a bit due to “technical difficulties.”

Gulp.

Heck, the name of Rocky Horror’s writer, Richard O’Brien, is misspelled on the show’s promo poster and program cover, for crying out loud.

The prospects, as they say, were looking dim.

Time-warp two hours into the future, though, and I was smiling. So were the rest of the attendees of the sold-out show as they left COD’s Theatre Too—because these talented students and their teachers had pulled it off. In every way, College of the Desert’s Rocky Horror Show is a rollicking, risqué good time.

Many elements of the show—directed by Dean, the assistant professor of theater at COD—were beyond impressive. The amazingly complex set, with multiple stairs and platforms and even a pull-down diagram depicting how to do the “Time Warp,” would have made a large-budget professional company proud; hats off to J.W. Layne, the college’s technical specialist, who acted as the scenic and properties designer. The costumes by Kailey Osgood-McAuliffe were perfect. And the five-piece band, conducted by Scott Smith, was tight. Amazing stuff.

In his introductory remarks, Dean—who noted that this is the first musical being performed in COD’s Theatre Two space in more than a decade—said he’s been emphasizing a student-first philosophy when it comes to casting and producing plays at College of the Desert, and he was proud to announce that COD students constituted “95 percent” of the Rocky Horror cast. He must have been beaming with pride after seeing what he’s helped these students accomplish.

That’s not to say all of the performances in the show were flawless. Portions definitely had a community-theater feel, and there was a wide range of acting, dancing and singing proficiency displayed throughout the cast. However, if you’re coming to COD expecting a fully professional production like you’d find a short walk away at the McCallum Theatre, you need to get your expectations in check.

By far, the most fully realized performance came from Alden Dickey, who played our bespectacled, uptight, tighty-whitey-wearing hero, Brad. This COD student can act, and boy, can he sing. If you slipped him into a Rocky Horror performance on a pro stage in New York or L.A., he’d fit right in. Michael Hadley, one of the non-student ringers in the cast—although he’s a COD alumnus who works at the college—was splendid as Riff Raff, the put-upon servant of Dr. Frank-n-Furter who gets his revenge in the end.

In that plumb role of the good Dr. Frank, Adam Genesta did well, for the most part. He sounded, sang and moved (other than some awkwardness in high heels) like the Frank-n-Furter we all know and love, even if his facial expressions seemed somewhat random at times. While Alden Dickey as Brad threatened to steal the show thanks to his amazing pipes, Genesta took it back by leaving the audience in absolute stitches during the scene toward the end when Dr. Frank slowly, oh so slowly, loses his life.

Johnny Bolth overcame some initial nervousness and wound up shining as the pipe-smoking, stuffy narrator. Briana Taylor was perfectly cast as Janet—man, she’s gorgeous. She won over the audience, even if her singing wasn’t always up to par.

Alisha Bates and April Mejia were fun as Magenta and Columbia, respectively, and Christine Michele was good during her brief appearance as Eddie. Yes, you read that right: Eddie is played by a woman, an interesting casting choice by Dean that makes the sexual dynamics of Rocky Horror even stranger. Who knew that was even possible?

Fans of abs will enjoy Raz Segev as Frank-n-Furter’s masterpiece, Rocky. I am still trying to recover from the handstand/butt-flex moves he showed off during one of the musical numbers. Alma Johnson-Lacy was amusing in during her brief time onstage as Dr. Scott, even if her wig was a bit ridiculous.

Ramon Martinez, Sergio Lopez, Courtney Pittsley, Leslie Benjamin, Miranda Hane, Ronda Williams, Brieana Holguin, Tamani Ono and Rebecca Ann Rodriguez kept the energy going as the cast’s Transylvanians and Phantoms, thanks in part to excellent choreography by Shea New.

If you’re a fan of this legendary show, by all means, go, and support the amazing College of the Desert talent that’s on display. By the time the cast concludes with an encore of “The Time Warp,” you’ll be beaming from ear to ear.

The Rocky Horror Show is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 3 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 2; there’s also a midnight show on Halloween. It takes place at Theatre Too at College of the Desert, 43500 Monterey Ave., in Palm Desert. Tickets are $30 general, with discounts for students, COD staff and seniors. For tickets or more information, call 760-773-2565, or visit collegeofthedesert.edu/performingarts.

Published in Theater and Dance

Zackary Davis always dreamed of becoming a nurse. The 26-year-old graduated from Cal State San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus in June 2012; he was the first in his family to go to college.

He estimated that he has applied to more than 100 health-care facilities since. Davis said he has had five interviews—and no job offers. Today, he works as a valet at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells.

“I’ve basically let go of the chance of getting the ER or ICU like I want,” said Davis, who lives in Indio. “I’m sure there are a ton of stories that are just like mine. It’s cruddy, but I’m trying to stay positive about it.”

He’s not alone.

A 2011 survey by the National Student Nurses Association found that 36 percent of newly licensed registered nurses did not have jobs four months after graduation.

It’s worse in California. About 46 percent of newly licensed RNs were without jobs up to eight months after graduation, according to a recent California Institute for Nursing and Health Care survey.

The survey also found that more than 90 percent of those without a nursing job blame their lack of experience, and nearly one in four were employed in non-nursing jobs.

New grads say who you know is as important as passing the board exam.

“Honestly, I only got hired because I knew somebody,” said Candice Eckstrom, 33, who graduated from the College of the Desert’s Registered-Nurse Program in May.

She began working at an Indio rehab center in October.

“Was it my first choice?” Eckstrom said. “No, but everyone in nursing knows that you have to get experience wherever you can get it, because there are no jobs for new grads right now.”

After years of investments in building up the nursing workforce, the challenges new nursing grads face is a growing concern.

“The valley has spent a lot of money developing these students, and if they don’t get a job, they may drop out,” said Betty Baluski, assistant director of COD’s nursing program. “That’s our biggest fear—that we lose them in the future.”

The nursing shortage of 10 years ago that triggered enlistment campaigns and big signing bonuses sent students into nursing programs by the droves, with the promise of secure employment.

And then the recession hit. Nurses who might have gotten out of the workforce after having a child decided to keep working. Nurses who might have retired decided to put off retirement.

“The big thing that happened was the change in the economy,” said Wayne Boyer, COD’s director of nursing. “We’re still in the throes of that. Ten years ago, they were giving $10,000 incentive bonuses and all kinds of bells and whistles and promotions. You don’t see that any more; they just went away.”

With the aging of the U.S. population and the graying of the nursing professional—the average nurse nationwide is 46 years old—the recession has masked the demand, at least for now. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020, more than 1.2 million RNs will be needed to shore up the workforce.

“When times were good, nurses retired,” said Kristin Schmidt, assistant chief nursing officer at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs. “When the recession happened, they all ended up having to go back to work to support their families. In the next 10 years or so, we’re probably going to be hurting for a lot of nurses.”

Ann Mostofi, Eisenhower Medical Center's chief nursing officer, agreed.

“We have really had no need for new nurses coming into the workforce,” Mostofi said. “As the economy improves, what’s going to happen is we’re going to have a drastic removal of nurses from the workforce.”

Nationwide, there are more than 2.6 million nurses practicing in hospitals and other settings. California has about 392,400 working nurses, while Riverside County has 18,500, according to the state Board of Registered Nursing.

Historically, hospitals have been the largest employer of nurses and new graduates. But that is likely to change when the Affordable Care Act, known as “Obamacare,” is fully implemented. As more people have access to health insurance, some nursing jobs will move to clinics, rehab facilities and specialty centers, such as those for diabetes and orthopedic surgery.

“It’s challenging to get nurses to think outside a hospital setting for their first job, but I think that’s going to be what’s called for in the future,” Schmidt said.

The valley’s three hospitals—Desert Regional, Eisenhower and JFK Memorial Hospital—employ about 1,800 nurses. Hospitals typically have a 14 percent annual turnover rate, according to national statistics.

In the past three years, Eisenhower has hired 95 new grads—nearly the same amount as those with experience, Mostofi said.

With about 100 nursing students graduating each year from COD alone, the competition for local jobs can be fierce. Each of the hospitals has a nursing program designed to give hands-on training to new grads—but it’s difficult to get in to those programs. Desert Regional had more than 300 applicants for its 24 slots this fall.

Next summer, COD will sponsor a mentor program designed to help ease new graduates into the workplace.

“It might be hard to find their first job, but once they get their first job, they’re pretty golden; they’re very marketable,” Mostofi said. “I would say that even the new grads shouldn’t be too disheartened.”

Meanwhile, Davis continues his 18-month-long nursing-job search.

“I’ve always wanted to be a nurse,” Davis said. “It’s going to happen eventually.”

Published in Local Issues

College of the Desert Superintendent/President Joel L. Kinnamon doesn't have an opinion on legislation that could radically impact 2.4 million students in California's beleaguered community-college system.

The legislation in question, Assembly Bill 955, would permit community colleges to offer self-supporting courses at increased rates during winter and summer sessions, following budgetary cutbacks—to the tune of $800 million systemwide since 2008—that have left many of these institutions incapable of meeting ever-increasing demand.

Under AB 955, students would pay tuition of about $200 per unit for these courses, reflecting the actual costs associated with providing them, instead of the state-subsidized rate of $46. A third of the revenue generated from the courses would go to financial assistance for low-income students.

Critics charge that the bill would create a "two-tiered system," in which those who can afford to pay the increased rates are able to get the classes they want and need. Proponents—including the bill's sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams—counter that systemic inequality exists now.

"If you fear a two-tiered system, I've got to wake you up: It's already here," Williams told Democratic lawmakers who had objected to the proposal, according to an Associated Press report. "There's one tier that can get in, and one tier that is locked out."

The Assembly passed AB 955 on May 20 in a 50-16 vote; it has received a first reading in the Senate.

Following a request for comment on whether College of the Desert had taken a stance on the bill, it took COD's press office 27 days to issue an awkwardly written non-statement on the legislation, attributed to Kinnamon, and transmitted by email through a "public relations technician."

"Dr. Kinnamon is certainly an advocate of actions that increase student access to the education they desire and the pursuit of the attainment of their goals," the statement read. "Providing a quality education for our students is our No. 1 mission. However, it is important that access be provided in an equitable way that adheres to the values of the community college system."

The intermediary, responding to an emailed follow-up question asking what the statement meant regarding Kinnamon's position, replied that Kinnamon did not, in fact, have an opinion on the legislation. This statement was attributed to Pam Hunter, College of the Desert's executive director, institutional advancement/Title V project director and public relations officer.

In contrast, it took Victor M. Jaime, superintendent/president of Imperial Valley College, precisely 28 minutes to fire off an email detailing his view on the legislation.

"Imperial Valley College serves a very high number of low-income minorities who are also first-generation college students," Jaime wrote. "This bill would negatively impact these students and place us back to a time when higher education was mostly accessible to those who could well afford the cost of higher education, placing low-income, disadvantaged students at the end of the line.

"I was one of those students who greatly benefited from the access provided to me as a low-income, first-generation college student. I have worked very hard for the last 30-plus years encouraging just this type of student to pursue a college degree and become role models for others in their family."

Roger Wagner, superintendent/president of Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree, made himself available for a phone call about an hour after his institution was contacted by the Independent.

"Without a doubt, it's going to be a controversial bill," Wagner said. "I think it serves people in two ways: One, it serves students who otherwise couldn't take classes. So students who can afford it, who otherwise would go to (pricier) private colleges, can take them, and then it would free up courses (during the regular term). And then my understanding is that revenues would go to financial aid for students who can't afford classes."

Perhaps the most thoughtful and nuanced picture of the legislation and its context came from Denise Whittaker, interim superintendent/president of Palo Verde College in Blythe, who was also quick to respond to the Independent.

"I can tell you this is not an easy or simple conversation or topic because of the complex nature in which community colleges are funded," Whittaker wrote in an email.

Funding for community colleges is largely based on a state formula that revolves around the aggregate number of units taken by their students, with an overall "cap." Optimally, colleges maintain enrollment at that cap, and if demand for courses still exists, any additional offerings don't receive funding.

In the past, there was wiggle room for growth, allowing colleges to exceed the cap by as much as 2 percent and still receive financial support for enrollment above that limit. The economic downturn killed that, and now many institutions can't afford to offer intersession or summer courses without state help.

Other factors impose further restrictions. Community-college budgets have been downsized over the past half-dozen years, so cuts have been made to pay ongoing expenses—like utilities—that increase annually.

And then there are "workload reductions," which mean the enrollment caps mentioned above have been cut back—meaning colleges must slash course offerings to meet the lowered caps.

"Reduced course offerings mean students have fewer courses to choose from; fewer students enroll; and slower graduation and transfer rates result, because it takes longer for students to get through when fewer courses are being offered," Whittaker wrote.

In the end, according to Whittaker, demand for classes is greater than what many community colleges are financially capable of offering.

"Fall-and-spring, traditional course offerings have generally been reduced over the past few years due to budget restrictions, shutting students out, and colleges reached their lowered cap levels without having to provide intersession or summer school," she wrote. "It is a vicious cycle."

This is where AB 955 comes in. The question, according to Whittaker, is that when community colleges don't receive funds for summer or intersession courses, "how can access to higher education be provided to students while still remaining financially prudent?" Most community colleges do not have the money to pay for the courses without state support, and AB 955 provides a possible alternative.

"However, the issue or controversy then becomes one of equity or equal access—this option only applies to those who can afford it, and most of our colleges have high-poverty students where this option would exclude them," she wrote. "I see this as being the main issue, although there definitely is a problem in that many community colleges cannot meet the student demands, and there are no good alternatives."

If only Kinnamon and his College of the Desert colleagues were as forthcoming.

Jimmy Boegle contributed to this story.

Published in Local Issues

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