CVIndependent

Tue10232018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On Nov. 6, Desert Hot Springs voters will choose between five candidates for two City Council seats.

Incumbent Joe McKee chose not to run for re-election, while Jan Pye hopes to retain the seat to which she was appointed earlier this year when Yvonne Parks stepped down. She’s joined on the ballot by a former Desert Hot Springs mayor and several relative newcomers.

We spoke to four of the five candidates for this story. (Peter Tsachpinis didn’t respond to e-mails or phone messages.) Here’s what they had to say.


In 2015, then-DHS Mayor Adam Sanchez narrowly lost his re-election bid to Scott Matas.

Sanchez’s term started off with the city near bankruptcy. Sanchez helped turn the city around, but a feuding City Council, as well coverage by The Desert Sun about Sanchez’s ties to a Desert Hot Springs marijuana dispensary (Sanchez was later cleared of wrongdoing), put him in a negative light with many residents. Now Sanchez is hoping to earn a return to the Desert Hot Springs City Council.

During an interview at Zapopan Mexican Food, Sanchez reflected on his time as mayor.

“I started off with the City Council, and at that time, I knew we were heading for trouble, because we were overspending,” Sanchez said. “That’s the only reason I ran for mayor. After the election, it all came out that we were in a financial emergency and were living month to month. I knew it was going to happen, but when I talked to the Desert Sun back then, I told them, ‘Just because the city gives you the financials, it doesn’t mean that it’s straight up.’

“I spent two years as mayor fixing the budget. We had to downsize and find a way to live within our means, and at the same time, I was trying to work on the image of the city to go toward health and wellness. We started doing marijuana dispensaries and cultivation.”

Sanchez has been accused of grandstanding at Desert Hot Springs City Council meetings, and was associated with the controversial “No Matas” signs on Dillon Road. However, he said he deeply cares about the city.

“I saw the city going in a direction that I didn’t feel was in the best interests. So what are the options? You sit back and go to a council meeting? What’s that going to do? They’re just going to look at you, and you’re done. … You get back in.”

Sanchez expressed concerns about the construction of a new City Hall, which was approved for $6 million in 2017, and is now reportedly going to cost $8 million.

“The council is saying now, ‘We’re going to build this mini Taj Mahal,’ and that’s supposedly going to make everything better. I don’t see the reality of that,” he said. “What they are doing is making it better for city staff, but $8 million—projected? Are they serious? … (They’re doing this) instead of working on the homeless problem and getting the citizens more engaged. … Nowhere in this whole process two years ago did (residents) say, ‘Our priorities are a new City Hall.’ It was about providing safety for our residents and building sidewalks to the schools, and kids shouldn’t be walking on the street. When the young lady from the high school got killed (as a pedestrian, trying to cross Palm Drive, in March), that’s when I asked, ‘OK, what’s in the budget? What do we have?’ The city gave me a hard time and wouldn’t give me the information.”

Sanchez claimed the current budget numbers don’t add up, and criticized Matas, his former mayoral opponent.

“They’re saying they have $8.5 million in the bank, and now Scott Matas is saying due to enhancements they’re making in the city and the money they’re spending, it’s $4.5 million. Which is it?” Sanchez said, “You can’t say you’re spending $8 million on the new City Hall, and you’re building some new green park areas, so now it’s $4.5 million.”

He dismissed concerns expressed by some residents about all of the marijuana businesses, and said people needed to worry more about education.

“Eighty percent of students in Desert Hot Springs qualify for the school lunch program. That tells you that … we have the working poor, and they’re part of the city,” he said. “… We had all these parolees here through the 1960s up until recently; they just changed the law, saying if you commit a crime in Los Angeles, you stay there, and you don’t go to somewhere like Desert Hot Springs. What ended up happening is a culture developed of dysfunctional values, with kids growing up in single-parent households and growing up without role models as adults.

“You need to make sure every kid in third-grade is reading at grade level. … At the state level, corrections knows how many prisons they’re going to build based on the statistics of the kids that are not reading at grade level after third-grade. We should be developing programs with the school district to make sure these kids can have academic success by being able to read well. That’s done through the educational process. I don’t want to spend money telling kids not to smoke marijuana; I’d rather see that they get the proper educational resources. A well-educated child will make better choices.”

Since leaving office, Sanchez has remained accessible.

“I relaxed a little bit,” he said with a laugh. “After I left, I still got phone calls from people when we had heavy rains and their homes got flooded out. I spent a lot of time working with my contacts in businesses and industries to help some of these residents. I was out there helping people through their problems—immigration problems, high school students. … It’s almost a continuation of what I was doing before. Now I didn’t have to worry about the budget and could go out and talk to families and help them, through the police department, the planning department, or any other resources. It’s almost as if I became a social worker.”


When Gary Gardner moved to Desert Hot Springs from Seattle in 2016, he quickly became active in local politics.

He worked on the Measure B and C tax campaign last year and spoke out regarding the need to keep the Desert Hot Springs Police Department fully funded. He was asked by Mayor Scott Matas to form and chair the Human Rights Committee in Desert Hot Springs, and then asked to serve on the Planning Commission.

Gardner—a former radio and television personality, lobbyist and public-policy advocate—told me during an interview at The Shop Cafe about his love of motorcycles and the outdoors, his upbringing in Salt Lake City, his time at Brigham Young University, and the fact that he’s not a big fan of wearing a suit and tie.

Gardner said the city needs to properly handle the booming marijuana industry while also embracing the businesses that were in DHS before.

“We need to manage the growth here and encourage the growth, and not neglect what’s already here. It’s kind of a juggling act as I look at it,” Gardner said. “The medical-marijuana industry saved this town from bankruptcy. It put money back in the coffers; it brought new businesses looking to hire employees; and it made this town thrive. But that business is going through a lot of changes rapidly and will go up and down. We can’t hang our hat on it. If it hits a dip, this town is really going to suffer. So we need to focus not only on them, but on the places that built this town. We need to work cooperatively to make this place a very friendly, very welcoming, very clean and very safe place to be. That will benefit us in the long run.”

Gardner believes the city has the potential to become a tourist attraction.

“My vision for the city is a health-and-wellness center with our spas and our mineral water, with the marijuana industry, and with all of those kinds of things tied in with the hiking, the views, the desert—and we worked to get the Sand to Snow National Monument,” he said. “… When people Google ‘Sand to Snow,’ that will bring them to Desert Hot Springs. That will bring the revenue in for all the hotels and restaurants, and as they grow, we’ll have more growth in restaurants and retail.”

After living in Seattle, Gardner has a unique perspective on high living costs and gentrification.

“This is still the most affordable corner of the Coachella Valley. It’s one of the reasons I moved here,” he said. “It really should stay that way. Where you see an increase in property values, mainly that is in what we call the light industrial zone, which is where the marijuana farms are. It was open desert and worth pennies, and now we have legalized cultivation; the value in that area has shot up. My own home value has gone up, but not greatly. … Most of the people here rent. I’d love to see more home ownership and would love to see us encourage developers rather than scrape out whole new subdivisions. We have a lot of vacant land, and I want to figure out a way that we can offer incentives for developers not to build McMansions, but average middle-class homes.

“Coming from Seattle, they had a huge housing crisis there, but they don’t have a lot of open land. It’s surrounded by water, and there are no places to build. But we have unlimited land here.”

He’s also hoping for job growth within the city.

“So many of our citizens leave here during the day to go to work elsewhere,” he said. “I’d love to see them stay here if we can find ways to get the marijuana folks to hire people who already live here in town, or encourage (marijuana-business employees) to stay here if they’re coming from out of town.”

There are some residents concerned that the marijuana businesses may attract crime and public safety issues. Gardner does not agree.

“Being on the planning commission, we review every single business application. One of the checklist items is security. If you go and visit some of those cultivation farms, it’s like getting in and out of Fort Knox. I’ve talked with Desert Hot Springs Police Chief Dale Mondary many times, and he personally reviews the security when they get their building permits. His concern is not what’s going on here, but once it leaves here, for the potential of someone hijacking a truck.

“… The city itself has a nasty reputation for crime, but the truth is crime is down over 20 percent in the last five years, because we passed a tax measure a year ago to fully fund and staff the police department. What we need to do is get a new fire station, and we need another one on the east side, because the one fire station handles 30 calls per day, and if you’re having a heart attack or your house is on fire, they are 10 to 15 minutes out.”

He praised previous administrations for not contracting with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for police services when the city was strapped for cash in 2014.

“Our police are well-liked. We have a responsive police chief; our crime rate is down; and I think that the image of bad crime out here is by the media and the TV stations who love to say, ‘Oh, another one out in Desert Hot Springs,’” he said. “But you know what? Our crime rate is lower than Palm Springs, lower than Coachella, and lower than Indio. We have really gotten a handle on that.”

Gardner’s eyes lit up when he told me about his passion for the outdoors and motorcycles.

“I love hiking, and that’s one of the reasons I came here,” he said. “I walk out of my house and do a four-mile walk every day. I love going out to Mission Creek. My boyfriend and I have a little teardrop trailer that we take out camping to Joshua Tree or Mount San Jacinto. I learned how to ride a motorcycle when I was a kid before I could drive, and I’ve loved the traveling on motorcycles ever since. I’ve been in every state of the union on my motorcycle.”


Jan Pye kept mentioning one word during our interview: education.

The former councilwoman returned to the body earlier this year to serve out the rest of the term of Yvonne Parks, who moved out of Desert Hot Springs. During a recent interview at Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs, Pye explained why she wants to remain on the City Council.

“I like the way council was going when they were all getting along, and I wanted to get back in,” Pye said. “I wasn’t going to run, because I liked the way the council was. Then Yvonne Parks decided to move out of town, and a couple of other people I knew decided not to run. So that’s why I decided to get in.”

Pye talked about the turbulent times during her previous council tenure.

“When there was an item on the agenda to have the sheriff’s department come and be in our community (in place of an independent police department),” she said. “My concern is Riverside County was doing increases of 7 percent a year, which meant if we had the sheriff’s department, we were going to have to cut down (other budget items to pay that) 7 percent. At that time, we had police officers who were willing to stay and weren’t getting what the rest of the Coachella Valley (officers were) getting. They were good officers. We ended up keeping our police department. We also had a situation where they wanted all the retailers to have $15 an hour (minimum wage), and that was very contentious, but you have to have the power of persuasion to get the three votes.”

On the issue of gentrification, Pye said the banks could possibly help.

“Part of it goes back to what I said about education. The banks are providing some opportunities to get people into homes. You’re always going to have that with the marketplace,” she said. “… What you can do is you can create banking opportunities, and if (residents need) to pay whatever it is in rent, it might as well be to own a home—so the banking industry is going to have to do something.”

Pye said that while the marijuana industry has been essential to saving the city’s finances, she also sees the need for other economic development.

“We have to see it as another form of revenue, but not the revenue,” she said. “… Most people in business know that if you’re in it for three years, you might survive. If you’re in five years, you’re really about to survive. You have to look at it like that. Some of the marijuana businesses here are struggling, and others aren’t struggling. It’s a business that compliments us. We’re known for our spas and our waters, and medicinal marijuana falls into that plan. We have some sustainability from it here, and we have $6.8 million in reserves. At one point before that, all we had left after one year was $400.”

Pye told me that when she arrived in Desert Hot Springs, she was told by the man who rented her home to her that she probably wouldn’t like living in the city. He was wrong.

“I came here with my daughter as a single parent from Los Angeles and rented the home I live in now before I decided to buy it,” she said. “That’s when I went to city council meetings. … This town helped me raise my daughter. When I worked, and they’d see her, and she was somewhere like Rite Aid, they’d call me and ask me, ‘Is she supposed to be there?’ People were watching over her.”

Pye told me a story about something her father instilled in her while she was growing up.

“My father asked me when I was 15 if I wanted to flip burgers. I said, ‘No,’” she said. “He told me I was going to learn how to type. I wasn’t interested in that. He made me do it, and he made me practice. He made me type, no matter what my homework was, for one hour. If he left and came back, I always told the truth and would tell him if I didn’t do it for an hour. … After baby-sitting for a while at 16, my first job into the real world was as a file clerk, and I told them if I pass secretarial school, I would have the next position—and I got it. That’s how I kept going. I thanked my father then.

“I also did the same thing with my daughter.”


I met Jim Fitzgerald at Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs. The former retail manager spent 35 years in the industry and is new to Desert Hot Springs. He told me he had a four-point plan for the city—but didn’t have any information on paper when we spoke.

He told me he’s funding his campaign himself, and that he’s not putting signs up all over the city as the other candidates are doing.

“I came here a year and a half ago to remodel and fix up two houses,” Fitzgerald said. “… I looked back to 27 years ago when I was building these two houses with my father. They never sold, and we built three models. I see the emptiness after all these years, a lack of retail, and a lack of prosperity in Desert Hot Springs. I started to meet people, one of them being a councilman already, and I started asking him a bunch of questions.

“… I got (the houses) done and found myself doing nothing. I started to figure I was going to stay here after I met a lot of nice people; it’s a nice city. A lot of people are interested in this city, and the cannabis industry is a potential (way) forward, and I’ve been learning as much as I can about that. I think I can help bring retail in.”

Fitzgerald said the city has handled the marijuana industry well—although there are a lot of unanswered questions.

“I think in the old days, when there were people on the street selling marijuana, that was a criminal act,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone who has been harmed by (using marijuana). Plus, there is a medical advantage to it. I think the City Council here is doing it right. This city is very careful about it. I think it’s going really well, and it’s so brand new. … Now, all of a sudden, it’s legal. I think that’s a heck of a challenge for this state. There are all these new questions coming up. Can a spa have a phone service where someone can call up and ask for some edibles? Those things have never actually been figured out.”

Attracting new businesses is tough for Desert Hot Springs, but Fitzgerald said he knows why.

“Certainly the biggest one is crime and safety, especially up and down Palm Drive,” he said. “If you want to bring retail in … (retail managers) don’t want people concerned about going in and out of their store, especially at night. There’s been a great deal of improvement, though, recently, especially with the murders and stuff like that. One is too many, but it’s the smaller crimes that helps bring the big stuff down. … We do have a reputation, although it is getting better. Statistically, we made improvements after getting more police officers. We need to do more, but we’re going in the right direction.”

Fitzgerald talked about the increase in housing costs and rents.

“That’s a matter of supply and demand. We don’t have enough houses here,” he said. “If you have a decent house, you’re going to get $1,400 a month rent for it; $1,200 is about where it’s starting right now. It can go as high as $1,700 for a real nice house. We don’t have the $800, $900 or $1,000 apartments, because there aren’t a lot of apartment buildings. But do we want to turn into another Rancho Mirage, where there are all these beautiful estates and all that kind of stuff? There’s a new development that just got approved in Mission Creek, and it’s going to be 1,900 units, and 900 are going to be apartments. If people are doing all this work, they have to live somewhere, and it’s the people working out of the city, but they’re still going to buy Starbucks here and all that kind of stuff. But you’d much rather have them working and living here.”

Fitzgerald was quick to answer when I asked him what his priorities as a city councilman would be.

“I want to make sure we continue to get along with each other. When you see a council that’s bickering and fighting, they aren’t getting anything done,” he said. “Right now, what I understand is it could be a lot worse in Desert Hot Springs. That’s something that’s on my mind. One of the first things I’d want to do is get together with the council and come up with a growth and incentive package for retail. The other thing is find out who owns these empty buildings and find out what the issue is regarding that. If they need help fixing them up, maybe we could give them a loan, but we have to get those empty buildings filled. When retailers see empty buildings, they don’t want to see empty buildings: ‘If this is the place to go, why are they empty?’”

Published in Politics

When Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas defeated then-Mayor Adam Sanchez in 2015, the city was recovering financially after narrowly avoiding bankruptcy.

Today, the city’s finances are on solid ground—thank you, marijuana!—but Desert Hot Springs still faces a lot of challenges and issues, all of which will be on the minds of voters when they head to the polls on Nov. 6.

Matas is running for re-election to a two-year term, and he’s facing relative political unknown Stephen Giboney.

Matas says he wants to keep the city’s progress going; Giboney views the city as having many problems that have potential small-government solutions. We recently spoke to both of them; here’s what they had to say.


When I met with Matas at the RV resort that he manages, he described what he hopes to accomplish over the next two years.

“My focus will be getting the new City Hall up and running, because that’s important for our image,” he said. “Public safety-wise, I’ve been talking about building a fire station on the east end of the city for a long time. We’re finally at a point where we have a fire chief who believes we can build a fire station there. Finding the capital money to do it, I think we can do that over time, but the problem is staffing it on a regular basis at a million dollars a year. My goal before I leave office, hopefully in two years, is to make sure we’ve at least broken ground on the new fire station.

“Financially, I want to make sure we stay on the same path we’re on now. We put $8.5 million in the bank for our reserves … so if anything happens like we had happen in 2012 and 2013, where we had $400 in the bank, we’ll now have the reserves to fall back on.”

Matas touted his economic achievements.

“Economic development is really starting to build in Desert Hot Springs, and not just with the marijuana industry,” he said. “Our consultants are starting to bring businesses in, and we recently signed a contract with Grocery Outlet to bring them into our community. … A lot of politicians use quality of life as one of their points; I use youth (and) seniors, because it matters all the way up. Our senior services are better now with the Mizell Senior Center there for us. Youth services are getting better with the recreation center and youth sports. We’re working on some at-risk youth programs, and we are bringing back our PAL program.”

A lot of DHS residents are concerned about increasing rents; however, Matas said he was not sure whether the city should get involved.

“It’s tough in our community, because you can only control so much. Do you bring in rent control or not?” he said. “Our community is anywhere from 40 to 50 percent rental properties. Because of the recession, a lot of buyers came into the city and bought a lot of properties and … now they’re starting to raise the rent. My wife and I got married about a year ago, and we leased a house for a couple of years while we were getting ready to buy. We bought a house and just left the house we were leasing, and the rent on that house went up about $200. The market is there for the homeowners to raise the rent; the question is, does a city government step in and try to regulate that? I try not to get involved in that type of business.

“If the rent goes up, does that mean there are more jobs out there, and people are being paid more? Possibly. We would have to do the analysis, and it’s a tough question, because we haven’t been approached to do that yet.”

Matas dismissed concerns held by some citizens that the marijuana industry could bring in more crime.

“When it comes to the marijuana industries in the industrial area, I always tell people that’s one of the safest areas you’ll ever be in. The product growing out there, 99 percent of it leaves the community and never reaches any of our dispensaries,” he said. “The marijuana industry, when it comes to dispensaries in the city, most people are respectful; they know from the medical side of things that you go buy it; it’s in a brown bag; you take it home, and you use it responsibly or as prescribed. Same with the recreational side: You can’t walk around with it or use it on the streets. We have nothing related to crime going up based on the marijuana industry. If anything, it stayed the same or lowered because of these armed guards at these locations. … I think we have a bigger problem with heroin and prescription drugs in our community. That leads to petty crime, because people need to find ways to support their addiction.”

While Matas said this will likely be his final term, he didn’t rule out running again if he feels the need.

“My wife, Victoria, has been my rock. It’s no secret that I had a couple of marriages before her. I did a lot of good things good in my life, but some relationships haven’t been the greatest,” Matas said. “I raised my sons alone for the most part, and my youngest son was getting ready to graduate high school when I met Victoria. I never thought I’d get married again. She really energized me and thought I’d be a good mayor. I thought I was going to finish my term on the council and ride off into the sunset, because it takes up a lot of time, but she convinced me to run for mayor. But one thing I’ve learned as mayor is family is very important: I make sure Sundays are my day off. I have support from this company I work with to take Tuesdays off to go be the mayor, and we have a great staff now.

“Our City Council over the last two years has worked well together. We debate respectfully, and when it’s done, we move on. It’s not like the arguments in the past where we used to scream at each other. I love it right now.

“If I’m re-elected for two years, I’m most likely done, and that will have given me 13 years at that point of serving my community,” he said. “I spent 20 years as a volunteer firefighter, and two years as president of Food Now. My wife says, ‘Don’t ever say for sure.’ If it’s a perfect world for me in two years, I can support someone trying go in the same direction I want to leave the city. If there’s no one in two years, I might have to reconsider. But (as of) right now, after this term, I’m done, and I’ve served my community.”


Aside from a few YouTube videos and a radio interview related to the subject of geoengineering and chemtrails, there’s not a lot of information out there about Stephen Giboney—and many residents were downright puzzled by some of the things he said during a recent debate that was broadcast on Facebook.

After sitting down with Giboney at Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs, I found that he has some strong opinions on the city.

“I was tired of waiting to see some of the problems I see in this city be fixed,” Giboney said. “The city can thrive, and I don’t see it thriving. It mostly has to do with the perception of the city. Even if it’s better than Palm Springs, it’s still perceived as poor. I don’t see anything changing, and I have a real problem with the crime rate in this town. It can be handled much better than it is.

“First of all, I believe the city has to stop encouraging miscreants from coming here, and I believe (the city) encourages them to come here,” he said before delving into some confusing territory. “You get into a system that is more underground and more of a spoken system where it’s nothing you can track on paper. We know what it is. But how do we put it in terms where we can publish it? It’s happening. You see new people coming through the city all the time. When you have a city government that always wants to look good, they aren’t going to give out information that they don’t have to. We have to read between the lines as to what’s going on. The latest thing I heard from the mayor is, ‘It’s not illegal to be homeless.’ That seems to be his way of addressing it, which is not really addressing it.”

Giboney said he supports marijuana decriminalization, but he is not a fan of many elements of the industry.

“I believe in the free market. If you’re a legal business, and you’ve applied and been approved, I have no problem with that kind of business,” he said. “… (But) I believe there’s an agenda. California has been very interested in marijuana since the early 1900s, and they’ve been implementing things since the ’70s. It’s not a small industry. This is a very controlled industry, and there are a lot of hands in that industry that they don’t talk about. Eventually, it’s going to be a big-pharma thing. At the small grassroots level of the industry, I have no problem with it. I’m for total decriminalization of the product across the board. I want it to be no more dangerous of a product than tomatoes.” 

He elaborated on his views.

“Government likes to run in debt. Our federal government is in debt; our state is in debt; and our city is in debt. They may not say it’s in debt, but they have $14 million in liabilities they they’re responsible for. My belief is that if an industry is coming into a city and offering a financial supplement to the tax base, fine. But what’s going to happen is the city is going to take that income and boost it up to where they’re going to go into debt more. That gives them the freedom to go that much higher in debt. They don’t use (the new revenue) to pay down their debt; they use it to justify spending even more.”

Giboney is not a fan of the city’s taxation of marijuana, either, even though the voters approved the taxes.

“I can’t stand bullies, and I believe the government stands there exploiting the lack of information in the heads of the average voter. They exploit that,” he said. “(The voter initiative approving the marijuana tax) was passed saying they were going to tax the retail side of it and the manufacturing side. What came out shortly after the cultivators started to come in was the cultivators were writing the rules of the city. If you want to ignore the history of how government is controlled by special interests, you can say, ‘Yeah, they voted for it. Isn’t that great?’ History tells you that they have no voice.”

Giboney said he sees rising rents to be a continuing trend—and claimed there’s already a solution in place.

“There’s an exodus from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and people can’t afford to live in those cities anymore. What that causes is competition for the same houses here,” he said. “People will do the same work and move outside of a city to lower the cost of living. … Part of what’s going on is people want the same house, and they’re going to raise the prices up. That’s supply and demand, and it’s a simple concept.

“There are federal and state programs that are mandated for cities to follow to provide a certain percentage of housing to lower income. I believe that this city and its residents have been exploited, again, for their lack of understanding of these programs. There (are special) interests that live in the city. … It’s not creating a new program, just taking advantage of what’s already there.”

Giboney explained what kind of mayor he would be if elected.

“I would be a knock-on-your-door, drive-through-your-neighborhood, go-to-your-meetings mayor,” he said. “The purpose of the mayor is two things: You have to run the City Council meetings and learn the system. The second thing is you have to be a figurehead for the city. You have to go out and ask people, ‘What is wrong in your community?’ so that there is a regular back-and-forth. The mayor is a liaison between the city and the people, so that the people have an ear to tell what their problem is. If someone tells you something about it, because if you don’t do something about it, you’re not doing your job.”

Published in Politics

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

Page 1 of 3