CVIndependent

Sat08182018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

With a population of about 25,000 people, Desert Hot Springs is one of the smaller cities in the Coachella Valley—yet DHS has the second-most traffic accidents among the nine cities.

These accidents are often deadly: In 2016, there were seven fatal traffic collisions in DHS, while in 2017, there were eight—and the stretch of Palm Drive between Pierson Boulevard and Camino Aventura seems to be particularly dangerous.

“Our accidents are actually decreasing, but it’s still a major issue for us,” said Desert Hot Springs Police Chief Dale Mondary. “In 15 years, we’ve had at least 25 fatal accidents. It’s not as many as Palm Springs … but that’s still a lot for Desert Hot Springs.”

In an effort to curb the number of accidents, a safety-enhancement zone will soon go into effect on that stretch of Palm Drive between Pierson and Camino Aventura.

“Any fine for a moving violation is doubled in that area,” Mondary said. “That was just another part of our approach to try to get people to slow down and drive safer. There are people who don’t pay any attention to the speed limit. They think, ‘I have to be at work in Palm Desert at 8 a.m., and if I leave my house at 7:20 a.m. and drive 70 mph, I can get there in time.’ They do that instead of getting up earlier and driving the speed limit.

“This is just one way we hope to slow people down. A lot of the offenders are repeat offenders who get more than one citation in that area, so if their fine is doubled, they’re going to think, ‘I can’t afford $700 to $800 for a ticket!’ That’s a tough sell for us, because we are a blue-collar working community, and we don’t want to take money out of people’s pockets that could be spent on their families. But what if you’re driving 65 in a 45, and you run over somebody and kill them? You’re going to be criminally charged and spend years in prison.”

Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas said a recent fatality helped lead to the safety enhancement zone.

“The last death that happened was Pamela Carrillo; she crossed the street and lost her life,” Matas said. The 17-year-old was struck by a car and killed in March. “We brought the family in and talked to the family members, asking what we could do better. One of the things they suggested was putting together a speed-safety zone. We hope that signage, streetlights, stoplights and restriping the roads will work together. Do we want to cause our residents more grief when they have to pay a ticket? No, but we do want to hold people more responsible for what they’re doing. You can’t go 65 mph up a street when people are walking along the side of it.”

A lot of jaywalking takes place along that aforementioned stretch of road—something the city is also trying to crack down upon.

“Over the past couple of months, we’ve written probably at least 50 jaywalking tickets,” Mondary said. “We need more crosswalks, because the reality is if you live in this particular part of the city, the nearest crosswalk is a quarter-mile away. People are going to say, ‘I’m just not going to walk down that far; I just want to get to the bus stop across the street.’ The problem is they try to run across five lanes of traffic that are in a 45 mph zone.”

Matas said the city has been examining the problem over the past two years with surveying and traffic studies.

“When I became mayor 2 1/2 years ago, one of the priorities I wanted to set with the City Council was so many pedestrian accidents and deaths,” Matas said. “I wanted to make our roads safer. We put together a plan to prioritize the stretches of roads that were the worst. Our staff did an analysis and showed us where the problems were. … We’ve put together a plan on where we needed to put some funding and received a state transportation grant about two years ago. The bids are due by the end of July for construction, and construction (should) start late August through September. We’re going to add an additional stop light on Camino Aventura, and choke and restructure the lanes so they aren’t as wide, which causes people to slow down. We’re going to put better bicycle lanes in, sidewalks on the west side of the street, and crosswalks for the kids, given there are schools close by. We’re going to add 23 streetlights to light up the streets better, and with the new LED technology, they will point straight down onto the streets and not up into the night sky.”

Even after the changes are made, it’ll be up to DHS residents to be smarter drivers and pedestrians.

“(Pedestrians) don’t realize that even though they might have the right of way to cross the street, you’re not going to win a battle with a 2,000-pound car going 55 mph,” Matas said.

Mondary added: “The solution is people being responsible and crossing where they should be crossing.”

Matas said the state transportation grant was a huge help.

“The problem that we have is we know where the problems are; the problem is always money,” he said. “… Traffic safety has always got to be a priority. We just bought a motorcycle for our police department, because we need to slow traffic down. Whether you lose one life or 15 lives, it’s alarming either way.”

Mysterious signs that say “No Matas” have appeared near the intersection of Dillon Road and Palm Drive (see photo below); they also call for a signal light and crosswalk to be put in at Camino Aventura. They were apparently put up by an attorney with the support of former Mayor Adam Sanchez.

“This individual came in and was uneducated about what we were doing, and he tried to make allegations that the City Council wasn’t doing anything,” Matas said. “One of the first things I did (as mayor) was put together priorities of our City Council, with traffic safety being a priority, but it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to find money and put together the projects. We were already in the process of fixing that roadway long before he put up that sign.”

Published in Local Issues

If you live in Desert Hot Springs, you’ve probably heard the mysterious booms that usually happen during the night.

It turns out that those of us who live in DHS are not alone: A quick Internet search turns up stories about and recordings of unexplained noises being heard around the world. Of course, it’s unknown whether what’s happening in Desert Hot Springs is related to these weird noises elsewhere.

I’ve lived in Desert Hot Springs for a while, and anything that goes “boom,” night or day, typically becomes part of a game jokingly called “Fireworks or Gunshots?” However, these mysterious booms are unlike the typical noises heard in the night. The first time I heard one, it was late, and I was out on my back porch. It sounded as if a bomb had gone off, echoing throughout the entire city of Desert Hot Springs. Another one, a few nights later, was loud enough that I heard it over the music playing in my earbuds.

It’s been a while since I’ve personally heard one, but other residents are still reporting them, often leading to discussions among the Desert Hot Springs Neighborhood Group on Facebook. People are demanding answers from Desert Hot Springs Chief of Police Dale Mondary.

Unfortunately, Mondary doesn’t have any.

“Most of (the booms) don’t get called into the police department at all,” Mondary said. “I just notice them on social media when I’m tagged in those posts.”

Mondary said he has no idea what’s causing them.

“We have not been able to pinpoint a specific area,” he said. “Honestly, part of it relates to our geographical location: We’re surrounded by a mountain range, and the sound reverberates. People will call and say, ‘I heard it right here,’ or they post on social media, ‘I heard it right here.’ Then across the town, someone will say, ‘No, I heard it from right here.’ So that’s obviously part of our problem. When we go and check these areas out, we find absolutely nothing—no signs of any explosives going off.”

Has Mondary heard any of these booms himself?

“I have not. Some of my officers have,” he said. “I talked to one of them one night who was up in the southeast part of town and heard it and thought, ‘Ooh, I have to be real close to this, and I’m going to be able to find it!’ Someone else was on the west end of town and heard the same thing and thought it came from the west part of town. That’s just how confusing it is.”

DHS residents have put forth a wide range of theories about the booms, ranging from UFOs to something involving the nearby San Andreas Fault, and from military operations to conspiracies straight out of the Alex Jones/Infowars camp. I thought that perhaps it might involve methane gas escaping from the nearby landfill, but a friend of mine pointed out that such emissions would probably also include a great light show.

Meanwhile, residents keep asking for Mondary to calm their fears by offering an explanation.

“I have no idea what it is. I truly don’t,” Mondary said. “I can’t even speculate as to what I think it is. It can be any number of things.”

Desert Hot Springs residents can take some solace in the fact that they’re not alone—and law enforcement officials and geographical experts in the other places where similar booms are being heard are just as stumped.

The only consensus right now is: “Nobody knows.”

Published in Local Issues

Desert Hot Springs has been making headlines for years thanks to the city’s headlong charge into commercial cannabis—so much so that the city has earned the comical moniker of Desert Pot Springs.

But to those developing the industry in DHS, the business of cannabis is no joke.

Some of these people have joined forces to create the Desert Hot Springs Cannabis Alliance Network, a business association meant to provide “a responsible and productive voice for the cannabis industry in Desert Hot Springs through innovative and effective programs in development, operations, regulations and outreach.”

In October, the organization made its first splash with the first DHS CAN Conference. The event was held at Miracle Springs Resort and Spa on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 13 and 14.

But this wasn’t a typical cannabis convention. There were no clouds of smoke in the air, no DJ overtaxing a tiny PA in the corner, and no promo models—this was strictly business. Each day featured four panel discussions with titles including “Investing Options and Strategies,” “How to Have a Successful Cannabis Operation in Desert Hot Springs” and “Cannabis Industry Security.” Other topics: how to pitch cannabis business ideas, and a speed-pitch session with investors.

Of note was the utilities panel, featuring representatives from Southern California Edison, the Mission Springs Water District, CV Energy and MSA Consulting Inc., a civil-engineering firm based in the Coachella Valley. It’s well-known that infrastructure will be a major roadblock to getting Desert Hot Springs’ massive commercial grows online. Panel members discussed the realities of such a massive effort, but also talked about ways to use less energy and resources by implementing alternative-energy sources and better equipment. While the cannabis industry is quickly becoming one of the biggest drains on the state’s power grid, it appears the need to keep overhead down and implement solutions faster than utility companies (with their glacial pacing) will be an ongoing impetus for energy innovation—which will have effects inside and outside of the industry. Go weed!

The event ended with a networking “Warp Up” party next door at the Desert Hot Springs Inn. Recognizing the potential for cannabis tourism as DHS takes its place as a leader in the industry, the resort is billing itself as the Coachella Valley’s first cannabis-friendly hotel. Smoking is allowed anywhere outside, and vaping indoors is permitted. Not only is the hotel extremely dog-friendly, but visitors are free to smoke and soak in the pool’s natural hot mineral waters. OK, if you insist ...

Learn more about the Desert Hot Springs Cannabis Alliance Network at www.deserthotspringscan.org.


The Blazers Cup Is Coming!

In stark contrast to the strictly business tone of the DHSCAN event … San Bernardino will play host to the Tommy Chong Blazers Cup, on Saturday and Sunday, December 2-3.

The event—organized by comedian, cannabis legend and activist Tommy Chong—will showcase the very best of medical cannabis in California.

An estimated 25,000 attendees will enjoy live music, free samples and prizes from more than 500 vendors, and eats from more than 40 food vendors—who can satisfy even the most ravenous munchies.

On-site smoking is limited to the Prop 215 Medicated Area. To enter this area, one must be 18 years of age and possess a valid medical cannabis recommendation. If you’re one of the 20 or 30 people in the state who don’t have theirs yet, don’t panic! Medical recommendations will be available onsite at discounted rates. Out-of-state recommendations will be honored, as will out-of-state IDs for new recommendations.

Competition will feature California’s finest growers, chefs, breeders and extracts competing in categories including Best Flower (Sativa, Indica, Hybrid), Best Edibles, Best Concentrates (Indica or Sativa), Best Co2 Concentrates (Non-Solvent—Indica or Sativa), Best Vape, Best Topicals, Highest CBD Product, Highest THC Product, Best New Product and Best Glass. If you’ve ever wanted a true weed legend to try your products … yes, Tommy Chong is one of the judges.

The cannabis industry is evolving rapidly, with new products and variations appearing almost daily. The Blazers Cup is a chance to see the latest and greatest the Golden State has to offer under one roof.

The 2017 Tommy Chong Blazers Cup, an 18-and-older event, will be held at the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino. Tickets start at $35. For tickets or more information, visit blazerscup.com.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

The closing of Roy’s Resource Center in North Palm Springs—what was the western Coachella Valley’s only shelter for the homeless—has thrown many people onto the streets, and Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG) is trying to act.

However, on June 20, the Desert Hot Springs City Council voted against a proposed program that would offer 12 rental properties across the west valley for up to 90 days to those who are homeless or at risk for homelessness. The council decided to revisit the issue in September.

The proposed program is a collaboration between CVAG and Path of Life Ministries. Desert Hot Springs City Councilmember Russell Betts said that he doesn’t feel the program is a good idea.

“They keep deflecting to, ‘Oh, this is just trading a home for anyone who you’d love to have as a neighbor,” Betts said. “That’s the rapid rehousing portion of it. The part that is really objectionable is the emergency housing component: That’s where homeless (people) straight off the street get put into a house in a residential neighborhood. It’s basically putting a homeless shelter in the middle of a residential neighborhood—only it’s a homeless house instead of a homeless shelter.”

Cheryll Dahlin, the CVAG management analyst, said CVAG would continue to work with the city of Desert Hot Springs while implementing the program in Palm Springs and Cathedral City.

“The representative on the Homeless Committee for Desert Hot Springs is Councilmember Joe McKee, and he’s been very supportive of this. But he did inform us at our last meeting that he would vote ‘no’ based on the decision of his council,” Dahlin said. “The city has traditionally not contributed toward Roy’s Resource Center, and we are going to continue our outreach with the city to address any questions they might have about the program. … Our staff recommendation and the recommendation from the Homeless Committee is that we focus on getting services up and running in Palm Springs and Cathedral City.

“Councilmember Ginny Foat, of Palm Springs, and Councilmember Mark Carnevale, of Cathedral City, have been very supportive. The city of Palm Springs has put in their budget about $103,000 for this program, which was the requested amount … we made to each city in the Coachella Valley for Roy’s Resource Center. Cathedral City has put up half of that amount, and the other half will be discussed at a future meeting.”

Desert Hot Springs resident Judy Shea has tried to help by opening a rental property to house homeless veterans in Desert Hot Springs. Shea, who said she would speak to the Independent after the City Council meeting, had not returned post-meeting phone messages as of our press deadline.

Betts is not a fan of Shea’s efforts.

“Eight years ago, she volunteered that same facility as an overnight cold shelter,” Betts said about Shea. “She went down to CVAG back then and offered it, and they took her up on it. It got red-tagged because … it was an unsafe building. They had 40 people staying there, with buses sitting out front of it, idling overnight. At 5 a.m., people would go there to pick them up and take them back down to Cathedral City or wherever else in the west valley, and bring them back again later. … It got shut down, and that was right around the time that Roy’s Resource Center was getting ready to open. They moved everyone down there.”

According to DHS city officials, Shea once owned a home in Glendale and did work on it without permits; the property was eventually seized by Los Angeles County. Betts said that Shea has been doing the same thing to the property she has in Desert Hot Springs.

“She wants to put 40 people in there again. She said at the meeting that it wouldn’t be all veterans, but maybe other homeless,” Betts said. “She’s once again trying to operate a homeless shelter in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The worst thing is she has not pulled any permits. It’s common sense that when you do work on your house, you have to go to City Hall and file for a permit to go start doing this work, and an inspector goes out and has a look at it. She just started working with volunteers.”

At the June 20 DHS City Council meeting, several residents expressed concern about Shea’s efforts. Marjorie Snell was worried because Shea’s proposed location was close to an assisted-living facility.

“Caring for veterans requires trained professionals who deal with PTSD, alcoholism, addiction and anger management,” she said.

Betts also said DHS’ location on the outskirts of the Coachella Valley make it a poor location for a homeless shelter. One of the downfalls of Roy’s was its middle-of-nowhere location.

“Let’s say that you get someone; they get stabilized, and now it’s time that they go look for work,” Betts said. “They’re not going to have a car, and they’re going to have to ride the SunBus. Anyone in Desert Hot Springs knows that it can be a 2 1/2 hour ride to get to your job. It used to be 2 1/2 hours just to get to College of the Desert. If Roy’s was too remote, downtown Desert Hot Springs is even more remote. We’re six miles further away. It’s real nice that everyone wants to push this off on Desert Hot Springs, but we have so many challenges here.”

Dahlin conceded that the location of Roy’s played a role in the decision to repurpose the building into a long-term care facility for adults with mental illness.

“The location of Roy’s Resource Center was a much debated topic. I think if you talk to Ginny Foat, she’d tell you about the challenges we had over locations back then,” Dahlin said. “As we embark on what we’d be doing in this next phase, we’ve discussed some possible locations for shelters, and you do run into questions and concerns from the city and the neighborhood when you talk about a physical building. The biggest upside to Roy’s re-purposing is that it’s a long-term board-and-care facility, so the need for daily transportation has been eliminated. You don’t have clients coming in and out every day.”

Published in Local Issues

A growing number of young students are eschewing college in favor of vocational or certification programs—and as part of that trend, a new facility in Desert Hot Springs is offering classes that help underprivileged and at-risk men and women take steps toward vocational certification.

The slogan of Smooth Transition Inc., located at 13070 Palm Drive, is “Believe, Achieve, Receive.”

During a recent phone interview with executive director Robin Goins, she talked about the history of Smooth Transition, which has moved into a space where an alternative high school used to be located near Stater Bros.

“We’ve been in Desert Hot Springs providing services for about five years—but on a small scale,” Goins said. “We were working with the Department of Social Services. We started working with the (DHS) Family Resource Center, and we grew into a small class space that was down the road.

“Last August, the mayor said they had this space that was abandoned and suggested I go look at it. The rest is history. The next thing I knew, we had an 8,000-square-foot school. It doesn’t surprise me that nobody really knows about it, because we haven’t really been out in a big way until this past September.”

Goins started what would become Smooth Transition by teaching life-skills classes at a library in Riverside.

“We were founded in 2009 after the housing market crashed,” she said. “Everybody was losing their homes, their jobs and everything else. I’m a professor by trade, and I had about $17,000 worth of seed money. I decided I wanted to start training people who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity, because they financially don’t fit the model of continuing education, which I don’t really believe works for everybody. … Even community college doesn’t work for everyone; there are people who just learn differently. It started out with a small life-skills class I taught, and grew and grew and grew. I convinced the IRS that it was an emergency state, which it was at the time, and we received our nonprofit status in three weeks.

“From there, we’ve been growing. We did a lot of services in Riverside, but we’re finally putting our footprint in Desert Hot Springs in a big way.”

The age range of people who seek services from Smooth Transition is quite wide.

“The youngest we’ve ever served is 16,” Goins said. “We’ve had people in their late 70s doing computer training at the Salvation Army. I would say that the average is about 20 to 40. Some are people just starting careers, and others are people trying to start new careers and new paths.”

When I visited the Smooth Transition facility in February, I was shown the new radio-broadcasting studio that is being run by Michelle Rizzio and her local radio station, KDHS. I also peeked into some of the classrooms, where teachers were offering lessons in various programs.

“We start with a basic life-skills class, which teaches financial literacy and how to function on a day-to-day level,” Goins said. “We have GED classes, and everything else is all vocational-focused. We have computer trainings and (classes on) how to use Microsoft. We go as far as six-month certification programs and have the same accreditation as a community college. We offer certifications in radio broadcasting; we have a culinary program; we have the sewing arts; we have interior design, fashion design and merchandising. We have a new (program where) we’re bringing in people to teach how to install satellite dishes. We’re always looking out for programs people can take to get them into the workforce.”

Goins said education is currently undergoing a shift in the United States—and that shift will likely continue.

“I think the last recession showed us that corporate America cannot be something that you aspire to, and that retirement (is not something) you should aspire to or expect; we need to think of new ways to do things,” Goins said. “I see the return of small businesses and people taking control over their destinies. I also think that corporate America and other organizations realized people coming out with degrees are not always the most-suitable candidates.”

Goins said the community in Desert Hot Springs has embraced Smooth Transition.

“The community has been very supportive and excited,” she said. “You have people who don’t want to do anything with their lives, but then you have people who really do, but don’t have the resources. They don’t have transportation; they don’t have support at home; they don’t have money, or whatever. We have people coming in every day who are really interested and excited.”

Of course, the nonprofit faces obstacles as it grows.

“The biggest challenge we have right now is funding,” Goins said. “We have people who don’t have money, and we know that going in. We’re always trying to fundraise for tuition. … We will not be putting (people) in student-loan debt; I will not do that. I think that’s an atrocious thing to do. So we’re always looking for creative ways to keep our programming going.”

For more information on Smooth Transition Inc., visit www.smoothtransitioninc.com.

Published in Features

A recent review of the budgets of all nine Coachella Valley cities confirms what multiple sources have mentioned over the last several months: The costs of providing police and fire protection have been rising every year—and could soon become a worrisome financial burden.

“About 50 percent of our general-fund budget at this time goes specifically to public safety,” Coachella City Councilmember V. Manuel Perez told the Independent in a recent interview. “In the course of the last few years, public-safety expenses have increased between 5 and 7 percent every year.

“The passing of Measure U a couple of years ago, which was a 1 percent sales-tax increase, is the only reason why … we’ve been able to sustain ourselves—and we understand that these annual (public-safety cost) increases are going to continue.”

With 50 percent of the general fund being allocated to public safety, Coachella falls in the middle of the pack, as far as valley cities go. Given different accounting methods, a direct comparison is difficult to make. However, Indian Wells is at the low end, spending about 35 percent of its general fund on public safety, while Cathedral City is on the high end, around 65 percent.

This is not just a problem here in the Coachella Valley, and studies have been done across the country over the past decade in an effort to determine what’s driving the trend in rising public-safety costs, even when adjusted for inflation. But because there so many variables at play, these studies have not uncovered a single root cause.

In the Coachella Valley, five cities—Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Coachella and Indian Wells—contract out public-safety service to Riverside County and Cal Fire, while the other four cities—Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs and Indio—still maintain independent police departments. Only Palm Springs and Cathedral City have independent fire departments. Yet independence does not seem to be an indicator of how large a city’s budget allocation will be, since Palm Springs comes in on the low end at about a 45 percent budget allotment, with Cathedral City on the high end at 65 percent.

Back in 2013, Desert Hot Springs was in the midst of a financial crisis and explored outsourcing services to the county. “We were looking at our police force and what we could do either with the sheriff’s department or keeping our own police department,” said Mayor Scott Matas, who was a City Council member at the time. “When the sheriff’s department’s initial bid came in to us, it appeared that it was a couple of million dollars less. But after the interim police chief and his staff tore the bid apart and compared apples to apples, when the sheriff’s department came back for a second round, we found out it was actually going to cost us $1 million more, so it was pretty much a no-brainer for us to keep our own police department.”

Desert Hot Springs is now on better financial footing. “Recently, we actually gave a little bit back to the police department, which was cut by upwards of 22 percent when the fiscal crisis was going on,” Matas said. “It’s been nice to keep our own police force. It’s more personable when it comes to your community policing, because you have the same police officers there. When you contract out, you never know what that face is going to be. We have that issue with our county fire contract. We’re very fortunate that some of the firefighters who work in this community have been here a long time, but for the most part, they rotate in and out all the time, so you never have that same chief, or you never have the same firefighters.”

Indio City Council member Glenn Miller, who has also served as the city’s mayor, touted the benefits of Indio having its own police force.

“About 80 percent of the police officers working with us live in our city,” Miller said. “We have a large contingent that is home-grown, and then a lot of them have moved into the city, including our police chief, Michael Washburn, who came from Seattle. So they are vested in the city, and that does us a lot of good. … When they live in our neighborhoods, they get to know those communities.”

What solutions are mayors and city councilmembers looking at to keep public-safety spending in check?

“When it comes to county fire, they’ve just been given larger pay increases, which then trickles down to the people who contract with them,” said Matas, the DHS mayor. “We were hoping to open another fire station eventually, but now we’re looking at just trying to keep the staffing that we have. … It’s always a challenge with public safety. We’ve been very fortunate with our police services. Crime is down. We’ve got a great chief (Dale Mondary), and we’re working in a great direction, but with this fire budget coming up, I don’t know how we’re going to do that.”

Coachella’s V. Manuel Perez said there’s no way his city can keep pace with the public-safety cost increases as things stand now.

“We have to figure out how we can work with other valley contracting cities to come up with a long-term solution for this problem,” Perez said. “Maybe we can come up with some sort of (joint powers authority) between the cities to support an agreement to help pay for public safety.”

Newly elected La Quinta City Councilmember Steve Sanchez agreed that it’s worth exploring whether the valley’s cities should join forces … perhaps literally.

“I think that’s something we need to discuss amongst all our council members,” Sanchez said. “We need to look at all options, whether it’s (joining forces with) Indio or other cities, or if it’s just staying with the sheriff’s department—whichever makes the most sense.”

Miller said East Valley cities have already started talking about working together more.

“When I was serving as the mayor of Indio, up until the end of this last year, we discussed with (La Quinta Mayor) Linda Evans and (Coachella Mayor) Steve Hernandez the possibility of doing an East Valley coalition plan that would include combining police and parks, and … making a better community overall by working together as one. We could lower costs for each individual city by economies of scale. Also, we talked about economic development, youth programs and senior programs. Not that we were going to give up our autonomy, but we’re looking at ways we could partner up to get a bigger bang for our buck, and maybe do better for our residents by being able to provide additional services.

“With public safety, we’d look at what we could do, since we’re right next to each other, to institute a regional police force. It’s something that we’re open to. You never shut the door on any option.”

Published in Local Issues

It’s windy and quite hot out on Indian Avenue in Desert Hot Springs. But Yudit Ecsedy doesn’t mind, as the artist paints a traffic-signal control box as part of the city’s Art in Public Places program.

The idea is to turn the ugly green roadside utility boxes into works of art, painted over by local talent as part of an effort to beautify the oft-troubled city.

Ecsedy, a native of Budapest, Hungary, came to the United States as a child. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in art history, and in 2011, she retired to DHS, a place where she had been vacationing since she was a student.

“My parents and I started coming here in the winter for at least a week years ago,” she said. “The place helped my mother’s arthritis. The view, the atmosphere, the healing waters and the ‘time out’ all contributed to creating quality time for our family. I continued this tradition with my husband and four children—and now I’m part of this town.”

The Art in Public Places fund was created by the city in 2008, according to Janice Gough, president of the nonprofit Art Foundation of Desert Hot Springs.

“With utility boxes being the lowest-costing way to bring art to the city, we started getting some of these boxes painted,” Gough said. “There are 111 boxes in DHS.”

Ecsedy became involved with the project in 2013—and the City Council did not like some of her proposed works, because they had religious themes.

“I handed in my designs, some with representations of angels,” she said. “In January 2014, the City Council, after seeing my designs, brought in a law prohibiting any public art with wings. A lawyer from Virginia flew out to sue the city for forcing artists’ subject matter. I chose not to sue the city, being aware of its bankruptcy situation at the time.”

DHS has a Community and Cultural Affairs Commission which evaluates the control-box art applications. In January 2014, Gough became a CCAC commissioner—and things started moving forward. Ecsedy also agreed to do other works that did not involve wings.

“I was allowed to … start on my designs. I have painted one box so far, and have commission for two more,” Ecsedy said.

Ecsedy’s first box was commissioned for $500, and the box on Indian Avenue was commissioned for $1,200. Gough said the financial resources are accumulated thanks to a fee assessed on commercial builders, earmarked specifically for the program. However, the money is not the only motivation for artists like Ecsedy.

“What motivated me is simply helping beautify the town that I love,” she said. “To have my paintings on public display here for years and have local citizens and vacationers see them and respond to them is a special gift in my life.”

It took Ecsedy two months to paint her first box, she said, not counting weeks of preparation as she created the design on paper. The materials used are steel primer, acrylic paints and an anti-graffiti coat.

“The winds there were brutal, and often I had to come home after only two hours of painting because the paint would dry before I could apply it to the design,” Ecsedy said.

Renowned local muralist John Coleman has also painted traffic boxes throughout the valley. One of his creations can be seen on a box on Dillon Road, and though painting a traffic box is not as big of job as a mural, he said it wasn’t an easy task.

“The weather can and does make painting traffic boxes a little tricky at times,” he said. “I don’t mind the heat, but the wind is the most challenging—blowing tools, drop cloths and ladders around constantly.”

He said the reception he receives while painting the boxes is overwhelmingly positive.

“Passers-by often honk and tell me that I’m doing a great job,” he said. “Some folks stop to talk and take photos.”

Published in Features

Editor's Note: For a clarification and follow-up to this piece, go here.

The city of Desert Hot Springs has a reputation problem.

KDHS FM 98.9 hopes to be part of the solution.

The low-frequency, all-volunteer radio station is starting to garner attention thanks to community-outreach efforts being made by Michelle Ann Rizzio, who is currently running the station. She said her father started the station as a hobby back in 2006.

“I went off to college in 2009 at the University of San Francisco and immediately got involved with KUSF,” she said. “When I came back most recently, in September 2014, my dad was still operating his radio station, and still had it as a closed thing and a lot more hobby-oriented. He was getting open to ideas for having local shows and volunteers to get a little bit more of a formal radio station. I thought, ‘This is what I did in college, and I would love to get involved down here.’ He said, ‘Ok, take it over!’

“In December 2014, I started working toward revamping it and getting it branded for being an outlet for the community. Since then, I’ve been building our brand, throwing events and getting volunteers.”

Rizzio described the current format of KDHS as “free form.”

“It has in the past been a lot more alternative, reggae and metal,” she said. “In the past few months, it’s been transitioning more toward the community, and we’ve been having music meetings every week in Desert Hot Springs. There will be a handful of volunteers each time, and we’ll vote on vinyl records as well as MP3s and local bands. It’s definitely free-form.”

KDHS currently has no paid staff members. Rizzio said she is currently in the process of getting KDHS registered as a nonprofit, and she has hopes for the station to get a public space. It’s currently operated out of a studio at her family’s home in Desert Hot Springs.

“We’ve opened up our studio to volunteers and are really working to build,” Rizzio said. “I really want to get a public production space in Desert Hot Springs. I’ve been talking about it for the past seven months, and we recently just had some construction done on our private studio. It’s able to get the job done at this time, and we’re able to produce high-quality productions and put them on the air, and do trainings and one-on-ones with the DJs and volunteers, but it does have limitations. There are time limitations, and (we) can only seat one person at the computer. I want to have more spaces for the DJs to work at and have a larger facility so this can all take place.”

Running a local all-volunteer radio station is not without challenges, of course.

“As far as interacting with the community goes, I haven’t had any issue with that,” Rizzio said. “I have a lot of people who support us and a lot of people who want to get involved. I think the biggest thing has been getting our production tight and making sure everybody knows their expectations and what a volunteer radio station entails. For a lot of our volunteers, community radio, radio, production work and all that stuff is brand-new to them. It’s also about focusing and keeping my eye on the prize, which is getting a public production space.

“There are so many opportunities that come my way, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, that’s amazing!’ But then I have to remind myself to focus and build the word, continue to fundraise and train volunteers. It’s just me, and I’m training everybody and trying to build a team that can train other volunteers.”

Another issue is the station’s signal.

“We’re currently working on raising our antenna so we can be heard clearly all throughout Desert Hot Springs,” Rizzio said. “Right now, you can’t hear us in certain areas like Mission Lakes. Once we get that a little higher, we should be able to be heard toward Ramon (Road) and Vista Chino, and hopefully to Morongo. I know that some people have complained about some static on the radio station, but there’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to raising the antenna, especially with the wind out here.”

To get the word out, KDHS has started producing various events, including a recent benefit show for the station at Playoffs Sports Bar that featured Monreaux, The Hive Minds, The CMFs and Higher Heights—bringing some of the valley’s top local bands to DHS. In other words, being part of the solution.

“With how much marginalization that goes on in Desert Hot Springs and all the communities built around the void in this city, radio can create radical social change, and help with social justice issues as well,” Rizzio said. “I grew up in Desert Hot Springs, so I’m very well aware of our reputation throughout the years and how we currently are. In my opinion, there’s a lot of opportunity, and I think a radio station could serve the community quite well.”

For more information, visit www.kdhsfm.com.

Published in Features

After a nasty and bitter campaign to become the mayor of Desert Hot Springs between City Councilman Scott Matas and incumbent Mayor Adam Sanchez, Matas bested Sanchez by just 63 votes.

During a recent interview, Matas said that already being on the City Council helped him settle into the office fairly quickly.

“I think because I was fortunate enough to sit on the City Council for eight years, there really wasn’t a lot of transition for me coming into office,” Matas said. “I think a lot of times, new mayors have made campaign promises and figure out, ‘Oh my God. I got into office, and now I can’t do that!’ So I was very aware during my campaign that anything I said, I was going to be held accountable for.”

However, Matas said he wishes he’d gotten more help with the transition from Adam Sanchez.

“The one thing that’s sad is that my opponent never conceded to me. He never shook my hand; he never congratulated me, and he never transitioned me into his office,” Matas said. “I understand it was a bitter election toward the end, but if I want my programs to be successful that I’ve started, I would transition the next mayor. If I lose my next race, that’s what I plan to do—transition the next mayor into office to make sure he or she is aware of the programs I’ve started and want to see successful in the community.”

Matas said he intends on continuing some of the things Sanchez did during his two years as mayor.

“I’ve spent a lot of time running around meeting with different organizations and different people, trying to see where he started and where he left off, and to keep the momentum going. Little things he did during the two years he was mayor, I want to keep going,” Matas said. “The Martin Luther King Day event is important, and he helped build that event, so I want to see that annually continue. Some of the educational programs he helped build, like Smooth Transitions (a nonprofit that helps at-risk people find employment and education, which recently began serving DHS) … I want to help continue those programs in the community.

“Except for those couple of things I mentioned, I don’t think he accomplished a lot in his two years. One thing he didn’t do that I wish he would have done was set goals for the city staff. On Feb. 5, we’re going to have a meeting with our staff and set some direction.”

Sanchez did help the city move from near-insolvency and near-bankruptcy toward financial stability.

“When I first took office on Dec. 1, I asked the city manager, ‘Do we need to declare another fiscal emergency?’ He said no, and we’re going to have in our mid-year budget about a half-million extra dollars,” Matas said. “At the end of the fiscal year, we’re going to be up $5.2 million. There was no reason to declare another fiscal emergency. We’re healthy. We’re looking out to 2020, which is a fiscal cliff for us with the tax measures ending, so we’re now starting to plan for those measures ending and see if the cultivation of marijuana is going to help our budget overall. We also have to look at the tax measures ending and how much that’s going to take away. If we don’t have those tax revenues in 2020, we could be $4 million in the hole. We have to make sure we measure all that and plan for it.”

While Sanchez did help strengthen the city’s budget, Matas said Sanchez exaggerated his accomplishments when Sanchez claimed during the campaign that the city had accumulated $2.5 million in reserves.

“Mayor Sanchez put campaign banners up that were absolutely not true. We never had $2.5 million in reserves this year,” Matas said. “We were floating with $2.1 million that went down to $1.8 million in ‘cash flow.’ But that’s how you pay your bills: If we put $2.5 million in reserves, the city staff would come back to us two weeks later and say, ‘We have to pay some bills.’ There was no reason for him to say that. … The budget is healthier, and we have to continue to build on that.”

Potential new revenue sources in DHS include a proposed Walmart—and large-scale marijuana cultivation. Matas joked that he previously thought marijuana was consumed simply by “picking a leaf off, rolling it up, and smoking it,” and said he’s learned a lot about the marijuana business—and the healthy amount of revenue it could bring to city coffers. He said he’s also debunked the myth that marijuana dispensaries lead to more crime.

“Cultivation is going to be huge for our community. There are five cultivation operations that are in an approval stage,” Matas said. “The largest one is 1.1 million square feet of cultivation. …. There are many skilled and well-paying jobs involved, and they’re looking for space in the community to start a training program.

“We had our police chief pull numbers, and there were 30 calls for services to the two dispensaries we have open. The 30 calls for service were for things like, ‘Someone looks suspicious outside our store; can you come check it out?’ It’s not contributing to any crime to our community. On the cultivation side, one of them is planning to hire ex-military for their security.”

While dispensaries may not bring an increase in crime, Desert Hot Springs as a whole has crime issues that have painted the city in a negative light. However, things are starting to improve, Matas said.

“Our new police chief, Dale Mondary, has established himself and has good programs going,” Matas said. “The problem with us is we have positive and negative press going every day: They catch some knuckehead doing something stupid, and a press release goes out on social media; it’s a positive and a negative perception on our city. People don’t realize we have less crime than Palm Springs; we get a bad rap for crime.”

For the most part, Matas had kind words about his colleagues on the City Council.

“Yvonne Parks came back to the council after once being mayor. She’s a great ally, and she’ll be there for two years,” Matas said. “Anayeli Zavala is young. She’s 26 and new to politics. She’s probably a little overwhelmed. I know she’s probably been impacted by the community, because anybody and everybody wants to have a conversation with you. She’s made votes on both sides of the issues based on what she believes is best for the city.”

While Matas—a former volunteer firefighter—is generally even-tempered and soft-spoken, he concedes that it isn’t always easy to work with a couple of his fellow council members.

“I think the most stressful thing has been to build consensus with the other council members,” he said. “I have two very strong individuals on the council. Joe McKee is very set in his ways. Russell Betts and I have always had our little differences, but we’ve been working well together.”

Published in Local Issues

It was a simple, four-step exercise:

1. We came up with a list of 10 questions—five serious, issue-based questions, and five questions that are a little more light-hearted—to ask all of the candidates for city office.

2. We set up interviews with all of the candidates.

3. We asked the candidates the 10 questions.

That’s exactly what Desert Hot Springs resident Brian Blueskye did over the last couple of weeks. He interviewed eight of the nine Desert Hot Springs candidates (two mayoral candidates and seven City Council candidates)—everyone except Jeanette Jaime. Brian called her twice and emailed her twice; he even accepted help from another candidate who offered to put in a good word. No dice.

Now, comes the last step.

4. Report the answers to those 10 questions.

Here’s what all of the candidates have to say. We only made minor edits on the candidates’ answers for grammar and style; in some cases, we also edited out redundancies. Finally, in some instances, we did not include portions of candidates’ answers if they went completely off-topic.

Welcome to Candidate Q&A.

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs Mayoral Candidate Scott Matas

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs Mayoral Candidate Adam Sanchez (Incumbent)

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs City Council Candidate Russell Betts

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs City Council Candidate Larry Buchanan

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs City Council Candidate Richard Duffle

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs City Council Candidate Asia Horton

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs City Council Candidate Yvonne Parks

Candidate Q&A: Desert Hot Springs City Council Candidate Anayeli Zavala

Published in Politics

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