CVIndependent

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Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Jeff Sessions has been confirmed as the attorney general along party lines, with no Republicans opposing his appointment and only one Democrat in favor. While this understandably makes the cannabis industry a little jittery, thanks to the prospect of the resumption of federal enforcement efforts, there may be some cause for cautious optimism—at least that’s the message put forth in a statement released by the nation’s largest cannabis policy group, the Marijuana Policy Project.

“We remain cautiously optimistic that the Trump administration will refrain from interfering in state marijuana laws,” said the Feb. 9 statement. “When asked about his plans for marijuana enforcement, Attorney General Sessions said he ‘echo(es)’ the position taken by Loretta Lynch during her confirmation hearings. He repeatedly acknowledged the scarcity of enforcement resources, and he said he would ensure they are used as effectively as possible to stop illicit drugs from being trafficked into the country.

“President Trump has consistently said that states should be able to determine their own marijuana laws, and his spokesperson made it clear that the attorney general will be implementing the Trump agenda. We are hopeful that Mr. Sessions will follow the president’s lead and respect states’ rights on marijuana policy.

“A strong and growing majority of Americans think marijuana should be made legal, and an even stronger majority think(s) the federal government should respect state marijuana laws. Eight states have adopted laws that regulate and tax marijuana for adult use, and 28 states now have laws that regulate marijuana for medical use. It would be shocking if the Trump administration attempted to steamroll the citizens and governments in these states to enforce an increasingly unpopular federal policy.”

The MPP’s view seems to be somewhat optimistic. Sessions’ distaste for legalization is well-documented, and when asked about enforcing the federal ban in states that have legalized weed, he’s said it is not his place to choose which laws to enforce, before adding: “If that’s something that’s not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able.” Many took this as an indication that federal enforcement could resume in the absence of action by Congress. However, parts of his oral testimony did indicate that a lack of resources might keep federal enforcement of pot laws in check, and he avoided committing to enforcement in states where marijuana is legal.

On the same day as Sessions’ confirmation, Orange County-area Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher reintroduced the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, H.R. 975. First introduced in April 2013, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act exempts individuals and entities acting in compliance with state marijuana laws from certain provisions of the Controlled Substances Act. This is the third time Rohrabacher has introduced the bill.

“I happen to believe that the federal government shouldn’t be locking up anyone for making a decision on what he or she should privately consume, whether that person is rich or poor, and we should never be giving people the excuse, especially federal authorities, that they have a right to stop people or intrude into their lives in order to prevent them and prevent others from smoking a weed, consuming something they personally want to consume,” Rohrabacher said during his speech introducing the bill. A solid Trump supporter and devout state’s rights advocate, Rohrabacher added: “My bill would then make sure that federal law is aligned with the states’ (laws), and the people in those states’ desires, so that the residents and businesses wouldn’t have to worry about federal prosecution. For those few states that have thus far maintained a policy of strict prohibition, my bill would change nothing. I think that this is a reasonable compromise that places the primary responsibility of police powers back in the states and the local communities that are most directly affected.”

Not surprisingly, the MPP supports the bill.

“Nine out of 10 Americans now live in states that have rejected federal marijuana prohibition by adopting some sort of marijuana policy reform,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This legislation would ease the tension between state and federal laws to ensure these state-level reforms are successful. It would also help states address the public health and safety priorities shared by state and federal authorities.”

The last time the bill was introduced in 2015, it received neither a hearing nor a vote, so it’s still a big maybe in a GOP-controlled Congress. Therefore, legal-weed proponents have much to fear—and are not taking “maybe” for an answer.

Washington, one of the first states to legalize adult recreational use of cannabis, is leading the resistance against federal interference. State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, has been involved with shaping Washington state’s cannabis policy since legalization in 2012.

“It is extremely difficult for anyone to pretend we can predict what the Trump administration is going to do,” Carlyle told The News Tribune in Tacoma.

Washington is preparing for the worst with a bill that would prevent local officials from cooperating with the feds in enforcement of marijuana laws that contradict state law. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he would do anything he can to sway White House opinion in favor of at least allowing states to continue down their own paths without federal interference.

“I think it would be a really big mistake for them to pick this fight, and I hope it will not occur,” Inslee said in that aforementioned article in The News Tribune.


Cannabis sprouts in Coachella

Del-Gro, the city of Coachella’s first commercial cannabis-cultivation facility, held a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 9. The facility rents turn-key grow spaces to growers, and will provide cannabis-business support including extract production, financial services, consulting, lab testing and onsite distribution.

“Opening the first cultivation operation in Coachella is an incredible opportunity for us and our partner cultivators”, said Ben Levine, founder and CEO of Del-Gro, in a news release. “We forecast that our operation will ultimately bring in over $100 million in annual revenue for us and the independent growers we work with. But greater than that, we’re thrilled that the residents of Coachella have trusted us to be industry trailblazers in their city.”

All available spaces have been rented, and Del-Gro will be open for business later this year on the property that used to be the home Ajax Auto Wrecking. Del-Gro estimates the facility could produce $3 million in annual tax revenue for the city of Coachella.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

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

While Desert Pot Springs is garnering national attention with its charge into the cannabis industry, the other end of the valley is starting to steal a little of that green spotlight: Irvine-based Cultivation Technologies has plans to open an 88,000-square-foot cannabis-production compound in Coachella.

“We saw an opportunity in the city of Coachella—an agricultural community desperately in need of economic development,” said Justin Beck, the president of Cultivation Technologies, to the OC Weekly. “After much discussion, the city said they wanted to participate, but essentially didn’t know where to start. So we helped them create an ordinance that fully aligns with (California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, three bills which became law last year) in advance of its final implementation. We now have six acres of real estate in Coachella that we’re dedicating to the legal cultivation of marijuana for our Coachella-branded cannabis.”

Yes, Cultivation Technologies is naming its product after the city where it will be produced—a city which also shares its name with that really big music festival.

The Coachella-branded operation will be unique in the fact that it will include every part of the production process, including cultivation, manufacturing, on-site lab testing and distribution. The company also plans to work with other local growers to produce extracts.

“We will also act as a third-party service provider of extracts from local producers of cannabis. We’ll also then test, distribute and transport it from our site,” said Beck.

Richard Probst, the chief operating officer of Cultivation Technologies, boasted in a news release that the Coachella operation will be unparalleled.

"Our first six acres could rank among the most state-of-the-art cannabis facilities in the world,” he said. “With our proprietary LED technology and vertical grow systems, we believe our brand will resonate with patients who want the highest quality medicine available in California."

The city of Coachella’s cannabis green zone is the area east of Dillon Road along Avenue 48, an area that is also the city’s auto-wreckage zone.

While Desert Hot Springs is rising to fame for allowing large-scale cultivation, Coachella has gone much further by allowing not only cultivation, but also permitting extract and edible manufacturing and distribution.

The six-acre facility is scheduled to open in November of this year.


Backers of Bill Proposing a Steep Tax on Cannabis Show a Little Mercy

Introduced by Marin state Sen. Mike McGuire, Senate Bill 987 would have tacked an astronomical 15 percent “user fee” onto all retail cannabis purchases in California. (McGuire also introduced SB 643, one of last year’s three aforementioned regulatory bills that made up the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act.)

Americans for Safe Access has voiced strong opposition to the bill, arguing that the bill unfairly targets cannabis patients. “We do not assess ‘user fees’ on insulin, heart medications or chemotherapy,” read a recent newsletter sent by the group.

“Imposing additional tax will be bad for public safety,” said Don Duncan, ASA’s California director. “Inflating the cost of legal medical cannabis will force some patients to buy less-expensive cannabis from the unregulated illicit market—where there are no safety standards or oversight. That is the opposite of what regulations are supposed to accomplish.”

In response to pressure from the ASA and other patient advocates, lawmakers have now amended the bill, dropping the rate from 15 percent to 10 percent, and adding an exemption for patients with a state medical cannabis ID card who can prove their income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

These changes will indeed reduce the impact on lower-income patients, but the fee will still take unjust advantage of many patients. The state of California mandates a $66 fee for the medical cannabis ID card, but counties are free to add to this fee at will. Riverside County charges a $153 application fee for the card.

The bill has passed the Senate and is scheduled for consideration by the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee on Monday, June 20. Patient-advocate groups are asking cannabis patients and members of the public contact the committee in opposition of the fee.

Committee staff requests that letters regarding the bill be faxed (!) to 916-319-2198.


Where Is It Legal to Smoke in California?

I overheard a conversation between two people in a bar the other night about how great it is that cannabis is finally becoming legal and more socially accepted. But they also touched on a subject on which I was not clear on myself: Where, exactly, am I allowed to smoke my medication in California?

It seems people smoke everywhere these days, but what’s legal? Surely these bar patrons and I couldn’t be the only tokers in Cali wondering about this. Therefore, I did some research.

As with any law, it’s more about what you can’t do. According to SB420, Section 11362.79., medical cannabis users can light up anywhere but these places:

  • Any place where smoking is prohibited by law.
  • In or within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a school, recreation center, or youth center, unless the medical use occurs within a residence.
  • On a school bus.
  • While in a motor vehicle that is being operated.
  • While operating a boat.

The bill also states: “Except as authorized by law, every person who possesses not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana is guilty of an infraction punishable by a fine not more than $100.”

I haven’t smoked on a school bus since high school anyway. I can feel my prohibition-era paranoia easing already.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

In 2003 and 2004, an ambitious group of young Latino community organizers and activists, all raised in the eastern Coachella Valley, returned home after earning college degrees.

They were known as over-achievers in their hometowns, and they searched each other out, they say, because they were determined to make a difference. They wanted to improve the lives of their friends and loved ones in the barrios and farm fields of the eastern valley, in part by gaining power via the political process.

A decade later, it’s clear: These organizers and activists, all Democrats, are making a mark and attaining many of their lofty goals.

V. Manuel Perez recently was elected to the Coachella City Council after three terms in the State Assembly. Eduardo Garcia swapped places with Perez, sort of: He just joined the State Assembly after serving as Coachella’s mayor. Maria Machuca is the president of the Coachella Valley Unified School District Board. Most notably, Dr. Raúl Ruiz is beginning his second term representing the Coachella Valley in Congress.

We talked to these young leaders about how they attained their current success—and what they have in mind for the future.


“I grew up in Cochelita, which was one of the toughest areas in Coachella Valley at the time, and we saw the injustices at an early age,” recalled V. Manuel Perez, who successfully ran for a Coachella City Council seat this year after a failed bid for the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. (He was term-limited out of the Assembly.) “Why was it that in my barrio, there weren’t any parks, so we had to play football and tag in the middle of our street, where drive-by shootings were ongoing? And why was it that my parents would come home from work as farmworkers late in the day, only to go to work early the next day so that they were too tired to help me with my homework? And why, whenever I had a toothache, did we have to wait until the end of the week to go to Mexicali to see the dentist, because we didn’t have health insurance?”

Garcia was first elected to the Coachella City Council in 2004 and became mayor two years later, not too long after finishing college. “What I remember quite vividly is that there was a group of us who happened to be returning to the Coachella Valley from other endeavors,” Garcia said. “In my case, I was returning from finishing my undergraduate work at UC Riverside. Manny (Perez) had been organizing and working in the central and Northern California areas (after his graduation from UC Riverside and Harvard University post-graduate work), and a few others were returning from college. We all got together and really started organizing community events in and around the cultural and art arena, with a specific objective to raise consciousness about issues affecting our community.”

Machuca (right) graduated from Coachella Valley High School and continued on to Cal State San Bernardino. “And I always said that my goal after getting a college degree was to come back home regardless,” she said.

Josseth Mota, the current community services coordinator for the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, introduced Machuca to the group of young men, including Perez and Garcia, who had started meeting regularly to launch a community-service organization that could make a difference in their hometowns. She was already doing work with the Fair Housing Council and the Mecca Community Council.

“They told me they’d really like to get some women involved in their group, because then, it was a whole bunch of guys,” she recalled. “They said, ‘We need mujeres (women), because when a movement is going on, it’s pretty much the mujeres who move things forward. So I was interested, but I was going to be the only girl in this group with these guys who I’d only heard of back in high school.

“I knew Eddie Garcia, because he was a year ahead of me at Coachella Valley High School. Victor Manuel (Perez), I had heard about when I was in elementary school, because he was the guy who went to Harvard, and that was huge for us. And Raúl Ruiz, I knew because when we were in high school, some of us wanted to start an Aztec dancing club, and Joe Mota said he knew this guy who could teach us how to do the Aztec sun dance. The problem was that this guy was waiting to hear if he would be accepted at UCLA to go to medical school. … Back then, really, nobody from our background made it to that kind of college.”

After teaching several lessons, Ruiz indeed went off to medical school. “The next time I saw him was when he came back after he’d gotten his medical degrees. He was working at Eisenhower Medical Center, and he joined our Raices meetings,” she said. (More on those meetings later.)

Perez has known Ruiz—whose office did not respond to an interview request for this story—since he was a kid.

“Raúl and I grew up together and played Little League ball together,” Perez said. “We were in high school for four years together, and he was always president, and I was his secretary, treasurer and director of assemblies. When he went to UCLA, I was at UC Riverside, where I was an organizer, and he was organizing at UCLA. So we would have lots of discussions, but once he went off to Harvard Medical School, I kept strong ties here locally. Then I went out to Harvard as well, and Raúl and I were roommates there for a short time. So we would talk about these issues, but as far as the strategy to run for office and build a political infrastructure in Coachella Valley, that began in 2003-2004. When Raul came home, that’s when he began to engage. That was in 2008, and that’s when he decided to run for office as well.”

By the time Ruiz returned to the valley, Perez, Garcia, Machuca and others had already started building what they called their Raices infrastructure.

“Its emphasis was to educate politically, perform community outreach, and find individuals who we can transition from the conscious to the critical consciousness—so that perhaps they recognize their self-power, their self-agency, so that they can say, ‘You know what? There are things that we can change here. There are things we can transform,’” Perez said.

However, Perez was quick to point out that Raices also stemmed from the efforts of leaders from generations before, “from the Coachella Valley Voters League organization, whose members really put an emphasis on building political capital in the eastern Coachella Valley, to the movement of Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers, in which many of our parents were engaged.”

Perez was the president of Raices when it was founded in 2004.

“I always felt while organizing that we have to hold ourselves accountable to each other, and the best way to do that is by having an infrastructure, an organization that has a mission,” he said. “Because what I’ve learned through organizing in other areas throughout California is that if you identify someone who should run for office, and if these individuals are not accountable to an entity larger than themselves, they stop working with the collective and for its goals.

“We felt we had to form an organization that would do three things. First was to build and develop the political voice of the eastern Coachella Valley; second was to develop and create access to healthier communities; and the last was to utilize the cultural arts for social activism. Those were the three points of emphasis for Raices that exist to this day.”

Machuca said the development of Raices into a fully formed nonprofit organization was the organic result of the group’s shared aspirations.

“When we started meeting around founding Raices, it was weird how we had known of each other years ago, but now we were connecting to do something for our communities,” Machuca said. “So it felt genuine; it felt real; it felt like we were going to make a difference for the generations that came after us and give them something that we couldn’t have, and didn’t have. We were meeting once a week, and then it became twice a week, and then it became almost every night, because we were that passionate about putting this organization together and getting it off the ground.”

The group was initially called Youth for Change, but the members eventually decided the movement needed to involve everyone, not just young people.

“It was at one of those meetings that we came up with the name Raices,” she said. “It was supposed to be an acronym for something, but we never came to an agreement on what those words would be.”


Garcia said a key moment in Raices’ history came when the group screened a documentary by Antonio Gonzalez Vasquez called Living on the Dime: A View of the World From Along the I-10.

“This video had to do with the growth and development of the Inland Empire and the impact of building the Interstate 10 freeway right through those communities,” he explained. “And by impact, I mean how the I-10 divided communities into east/west/north/south, how it brought about different socio-economic groups in the region, and how the political structure began to govern in a way that gave us a division between the haves and the have-nots.

“We showcased the film at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Coachella with the idea of beginning a conversation among the residents about the importance of growth and development in Coachella and the eastern end of the Coachella Valley. This was at a time when we were just beginning to see all the development and building activity that was going to occur. So that was our first real ‘action’ that triggered the discussion about responsible growth and development strategies for the city of Coachella, and whether areas of the city were being planned out responsibly to benefit both existing residents and the new residents in terms of developing public amenities like city parks and community centers.

“From there, members of the group moved on to discussions of direct involvement and representation of our Latino citizens at the government level. So, I’m simplifying things here, but that really was the first action that led ultimately to several of us running for public office.”

In 2004, Perez ran for the CVUSD school board, while Garcia ran for the Coachella City Council. Their campaigns did not go off without a hitch.

“As we started organizing some of the campaign events and actions, we began to feel the division between us and some of the elders in the community,” Machuca said. “We wanted to work with them, but it seemed that they saw us either as young and naïve, or as being in over our heads, as we were trying to change our world. At first it, it wasn’t too bad, but then as people began declaring that they were going to run for so many local positions, the division became a reality. It became: ‘How dare you disrespect us elders by running against us!’ Although it was never really said in so many words, it felt that way.”

Still, Perez and Garcia went on to win their races.

“We bonded even more during the real grassroots effort of those campaigns,” Machuca said. “We learned so much about the dos and the don’ts of campaigning and just how dirty things can get. We tried to play nice, because at the end of the day, we didn’t want the community to be divided. And we had a lot of community support, which showed in the results of the elections. We were young, had new ideas, and we grew up there. Some of the opposition ran their campaigns on platforms criticizing the fact that we left our communities to get college degrees. … But we came back!”

Despite the political wins, some of the people within Raices did not like the political direction in which the group was going. “They wanted to stick only with the arts, culture and community-building aspects of our mission,” Machuca said.

Ultimately, those dissenting members prevailed, as the original organization has been transformed into Raices Cultura.

“Today, Raices is focused on its nonprofit work and bringing about opportunities for Latino youth by utilizing our indigenous art and culture as the anchor,” Garcia said. “But everything is done with a community focus to create a critical consciousness in our youth to look at ways to improve their lives and the lives of others in their community, despite the barriers and challenges that many times exist in communities like ours. That is the focus of Raices today.”

While Perez may see more of a link between the nonprofit and the development of future eastern Coachella Valley community leaders than Garcia does, he perceived a change in direction as well.

“It’s morphed over the years,” Perez said. “When we first started, we recognized that we needed to continue to think of ways we could change things politically and change the institutions of power. But at the same time, we knew that as we grew older, eventually, the next generation will need to take the lead. So back in the day, what we would do, for example, is bring in computers and provide tutorial services on how to access higher education in the hope that afterward, they’d come back home. Now it’s more about offering instruction concerning cultural identity, and for that matter, self-love. A lot of courses are based on spirituality and the teachings of the Aztecs and the Mayans, a lot of indigenous culture … .

“Also, there’s an emphasis on trying to influence individuals toward self-love as opposed to self-hate. What we’ve seen for years is youth violence—youth-on-youth shootings, and gangs, drug abuse and domestic violence. A lot of that comes from the anger that develops in a person because of the oppression that they’ve had to endure for so many years. So the teaching that goes on today is helping to develop individuals with more positivity in their lives. That spirituality piece is really, really important.”


What’s in store for the political arm of this heavily Latino community-service collective? Perez said there’s a lot of work left to do.

“We identified people over the years who have engaged in our campaigns,” he said. “In the Ruiz campaigns and also in mine, you’d see a lot of youth out knocking on doors, passing out literature and phone-banking. So that’s kind of a training ground where the young people get to see up close what we as candidates go through. … Some of these youngsters have gone on to higher education and are now leaders with organizations that are registering people to vote, like Voto Latino, or for that matter, are doing organizing work with UFW (United Farm Workers).”

Perez said he always made it a point to offer internships to youths who wanted to learn about the policy-making process.

“What does it really mean when you work on an issue, and then pass a policy?” he asked. “How do you connect those dots? For instance, what does it mean if we pass legislation on a safe route to school that has some funding attached, but in Coachella or Mecca or Thermal, there’s a lack of sidewalks? … It’s not about an individual; it’s about a collective, a movement. And ultimately, it’s about achieving social justice through policy, organizing and developing the human being’s capacity as social capital, and to finally turn our community around in ways that are very positive.”

To accomplish those ends, the policy-making representatives of these eastern valley communities need to maintain their political presence. Garcia envisions a solidification of power in a more formal organization informed by the Raices Cultura ideals.

“The question is: Will Raices Cultura programs and participants influence the development of a democratic political structure that weighs in on issues of local, state and national significance? The answer is yes,” Garcia said. “It happens by natural progression, and I think what’s missing here is the actual organization of an official Democratic club which attributes its beginnings to the formation of Raices 10 years ago, and is a political organization and framework … able to lead the charge on issues of policy and importance to our community. I think we’re getting there, and will very soon create an organization from the eastern Coachella Valley that is strictly political and on the Democratic side of the spectrum.”

Below: Eduardo Garcia: “I think what’s missing here is the actual organization of an official Democratic club which attributes its beginnings to the formation of Raices 10 years ago, and is a political organization and framework … able to lead the charge on issues of policy and importance to our community.” PHOTO BY KEVIN FITZGERALD

Published in Politics

Music and More

Cabaret 88: Joan Ryan

Winner of Broadway World’s Top Female Cabaret Artist award of 2013, Joan Ryan has a four-octave range which has led to leading roles in Little Shop of Horrors, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Footloose, Les Miserables and Nunsense. 6 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 2 and 3. $88. Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.psmuseum.org.

Copa Events

Comedian Wendy Liebman performs at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Dec. 12 and 13. $25 to $35. The Nina Whitaker Holiday show takes place at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 20. $30 to $40. Amy and Freddy return with their holiday show at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 27; and 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 28. $25 to $35. All shows are 21 and older, with a two-drink minimum. Copa, 244 E. Amado Road, Palm Springs. 760-322-3554; www.coparoomtickets.com.

CV Symphony Presents ‘Holiday Magic’

A heartwarming holiday concert features the vocal talents of Patricia Welch performing seasonal favorites. 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 20. $25 to $25, with discounts. Helene Galen Performing Arts Center at Rancho Mirage High School, 31001 Rattler Road, Rancho Mirage. 760-360-2222; cvsymphony.com.

Ensembles Concert

This choral concert includes chamber singers and jazz singers, directed by Tim Bruneau. 7 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 4. $5 to $10 goodwill donation. CSUSB Palm Desert—Indian Wells Theatre, 37500 Cook Street, Palm Desert. 760-773-2574.

For the Children

Support the music programs sponsored by the Steinway Society of Riverside County and OperaArts. This event includes a cocktail hour, special piano concert, dinner and an “opera” dessert. Enjoy an evening of classical piano featuring some of the Steinway Society’s youngest and most talented artists; it’s a fundraiser to support music programs for students in the Coachella Valley. 6 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 7. $125. Bellatrix Restaurant and Wine Bar, 75200 Classic Club Blvd., Palm Desert. 760-323-8353; steinwayriverside.org.

Palm Springs Opera Guild’s 31st Annual Vocal Competition

Young men and women between the ages of 18 and 32 compete and are reviewed by three esteemed judges. Each finalist performs two arias. Singers receive prizes totaling more than $20,000. In addition, an audience choice prize of $1,000 will be awarded. 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 7. Free. Helene Galen Performing Arts Center at Rancho Mirage High School, 31001 Rattler Road, Rancho Mirage. 760-325-6107; palmspringsoperaguild.org.

Special Events

Coachella Christmas Parade

The city of Coachella presents its annual Christmas parade. 6 p.m., Friday, Dec. 5. Free. Sixth Street in Coachella. Coachella.org.

Coachella Inauguration of Elected Officials and Christmas-Tree Lighting

The city of Coachella and the Coachella Chamber of Commerce invite the public to attend the inauguration of elected officials, immediately followed by the annual Christmas-tree lighting, where Mr. and Mrs. Claus will be present. Complimentary champurrado and pan dulce will be served. 5:30 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 3. Free. Coachella City Hall, 1515 Sixth St., Coachella. 760-398-8089.

Festival of Lights Parade

The holiday tradition in downtown Palm Springs features a host of marching bands, performing groups, and Santa and Mrs. Claus! Lisa Vanderpump will be the celebrity grand marshal. 5:45 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6. Free. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. 760-325-5749; psfestivaloflights.com.

Gourmet Food Truck Event

Try food trucks for lunch featuring burgers, barbecue, tacos, California cuisine, sushi and dessert. Outdoor seating is available, or bring a blanket. Dabble in the local farmers’ market; listen to music provided by The Coachella Valley Art Scene; enjoy a beer garden with some of the best craft beers from La Quinta Brewing Company and Coachella Valley Brewing Company. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the first Sunday of the month. Free. Cathedral City Civic Center Plaza, 68700 Avenue Lalo Guerrero, Cathedral City. Thecoachellavalleyartscene.com.

Indio International Tamale Festival

Food Network ranked the Indio International Tamale Festival as one of the Top 10. “All-American Food Festivals” in the nation. The festival is a special occasion that kicks off the holiday season and brings the entire community together. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 6 and 7. Free. Downtown Indio. Tamalefestival.net.

Santa Fly-In

Santa arrives at the Palm Springs Air Museum to meet children and give them goody bags. 1 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 13. Free admission children 12 and younger; regular admission $14 to $16. Palm Springs Air Museum, 745 N. Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs. 760-778-6262; palmspringsairmuseum.org.

Walk for the Animals 2014

The desert tradition includes a one-mile dog walk around the park, pet vaccinations and microchipping, blessing of the animals, police K-9 demonstration, dog and puppy adoptions, pet costume contests and more. The event proceeds benefit Animal Samaritans’ no-kill animal shelter and humane-education program. All dogs must be on a leash or in a carrier. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6. Free, but donations accepted. Palm Desert Civic Park, 73510 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-835-6465; ansamswalkfortheanimals.org.

Walking Tour of the Inns

A self-guided walking tour of Palm Springs’ unique collection of boutique hotels and historic inns takes. The tour begins at any of the participating hotels, or at Palm Springs Art Museum, which will also provide free maps and flashlights. 4 to 7 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 11. Free. Neighborhoods between Ramon Road and Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs. 800-347-7746; www.walkingtouroftheinns.com.

Winter Gathering Powwow

Tribes from all over North America will compete in dancing and drumming contests, with participants ranging from 6 to 65 and older. Various times Friday through Sunday, Dec. 12 through 14. Free. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella. Spotlight29.com.

Visual Arts

Joshua Tree National Park Art Exposition

Celebrate the beauty of Joshua Tree National Park and the art it has inspired, at the historic Oasis of Mara in Twentynine Palms. Various events are staged at five cultural venues in the Oasis of Mara. In addition, a special exhibit will be on display at the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center. Various times Friday through Sunday, Dec. 5 through 7. Most events free. Oasis of Mara, Twentynine Palms. Jtnparts.org/jtnp-art-exposition.

A Grand Adventure: American Art in the West

The epic 19th-century landscape paintings of Yosemite and Yellowstone by Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran introduced the American public to the grandeur of the West. By the turn of the century, a new genre of Western art had developed. A Grand Adventurebrings together 40 significant classic and traditional artworks from private collections. The artworks span nearly 100 years, dating from the latter half of the 19th century through the early decades of the 20th century. The exhibit is on display through Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015. Included with regular admission prices. Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert, 72567 Highway 111, Palm Desert. 760-346-5600; www.psmuseum.org/palm-desert.

Submit your free arts listings at calendar.artsoasis.org. The listings presented above were all posted on the ArtsOasis calendar, and formatted/edited by Coachella Valley Independent staff. The Independent recommends calling to confirm all events information presented here.

Published in Local Fun

After the November election, California Assembly District 56 will have a new representative, because incumbent Democrat V. Manuel Perez has reached his term limit.

That new representative will be either current Coachella Mayor Eduardo Garcia, a Democrat, or Republican Charles Bennett Jr. The heavily Democratic-leaning district covers much of the north and east portions of the Coachella Valley, including parts of Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Indio, Coachella, Thousand Palms, Bermuda Dunes, Thermal and Mecca.

Bennett is a self-proclaimed political neophyte.

“This is the first anything I’ve run for,” said Bennett.

That’s not the case with Garcia.

“It’s been an ongoing process that goes back to 2004, when I ran for (Coachella City) Council. Manny (Perez) ran for the school district. We shared a vision that if we set good groundwork and assisted in electing good, quality candidates to these organizational bodies, then we could build toward a higher goal—and back then, that was the California State Assembly. Then in 2006, I ran to become the first (elected) mayor of Coachella. … I’ve been in office in Coachella city government for a total of 10 years. Fast forward, and here we are today.”

What motivated Bennett to jump into politics?

“I do security and public-safety consulting and advising,” he said. “A year and a half ago, I joined the Indio Chamber of Commerce. As I started going to events and meeting more people currently elected, or people running, I started seeing more of the political end of things, and what people were doing, and weren’t doing. Then I found who my opponent was. You know, he’s a career politician, and he wanted to move up in politics and take over the district. With his background (on) the City Council, (the district) was just going to keep going in the same direction—or down even further. So I decided to go ahead and jump in.”

The candidates have differing perspectives on the challenges facing the 56th District.

“The most important issue right now is the economy and jobs, especially in this district, because this district has the highest unemployment rate of all the districts in the state,” Bennett said.

Bennett’s correct: As of August, the unemployment rate in the district was a state-worst 16.3 percent, compared to 7.4 percent for the entire state, according to the California Center for Jobs and the Economy.

Garcia’s perspective on these numbers is slightly different: “A couple of years ago, the unemployment rate in this district was close to 20 percent, and we’ve dropped that down … (with) a significant decrease, although still not where we need to be,” he said.

Garcia is also correct: District 56 unemployment in July 2011 was actually 23.2 percent, according to the California Center for Jobs and the Economy.

Bennett said burdensome government intrusion was harming the business climate in the area.

“We have fewer businesses wanting to come here, while some are unable to expand, or some are just leaving,” he said. “I’ve talked to business owners who have been here 15 to 20 years who told me they’re just so sick of all the regulation, the taxes and just red-tape for everything, that they’re waiting for the outcome of this election to decide if they’re leaving the state or not.

“We have to work on lowering our tax rates, and pulling back on environmental regulation and permitting requirements. If we can improve those conditions, we can start drawing businesses back to California.”

Not surprisingly, Garcia has a much more positive view of business development in the district.

“We’ve been able to build an infrastructure worth $150 million to $160 million in our city alone over the course of the last six years,” said Garcia about Coachella. “We’ve been able to beautify the city and bring some national brand businesses to the city, like Big 5. There’s a new grocery market on the corner of 48th Avenue and Jackson Street that has a couple of hundred employees. We brought in some medical services, which was at the top of our economic development priorities (list). We’ve targeted these various industries and tried to facilitate this growth process at City Hall by cutting red tape and making sure they can get in and get out and start delivering services.”

What makes Bennett think he’s the best man to represent the district?

“I’m a leader,” Bennett said. “I’m not a politician, OK? Politics and career politicians have gotten us into the condition that we are now, both in the state and in this district. We need somebody who’s not afraid to bring forth new ideas, and to fight for things, politics aside.

“The time for change is now. It’s time to end politics and career politicians. Let these career politicians go get a real job in the economy that they’ve created. It’s time for leadership, and it’s time for the Democrats to go.”

Garcia answers the same question this way: “I believe I’m the best candidate based on my accomplishments and my connection to this district. As a Democrat, I recognize that this region (Coachella Valley as a whole) is, by majority, Republican. I’ve been working with my elected Republican officials as colleagues for eight years, and I want to build on that. Although I am the Democrat running for this position, the issues that are important to the Coachella Valley are not partisan issues. From a pragmatic standpoint, having someone like me in Sacramento from the party that’s going to be able to get things done is extremely important. I think I’m in a better position to deliver for this entire region.”

Published in Politics

Javier Avila and Calani Raceles are two young men with mental challenges doing the unimaginable—playing baseball.

“At first, my son didn’t even want to show up. He couldn’t catch a ball, let alone hold a bat. Through this program, his hand-eye coordination skills have improved, and he can do all those things,” says Enia Raceles, Calani’s mother. “Now he looks forward to each Friday so he can hit again and talk to his baseball friends.”

Both Javier and Calani are players in the Challenger division of Coachella Little League. The program is made up of more than 20 physically and mentally challenged young people with disabilities including autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. The division started in 2010 and is the only one in the Coachella Valley.

“As the only division of its kind here in the Coachella Valley, we want to teach everyone with a disability that you can play a sport and that it is possible,” says Esmeralda Ortega, vice president of the Challenger division.

Every Friday at 7 p.m. at Bagdouma Park, 51723 Douma St., these young people get together under the guidance of dedicated volunteers of all ages. Together, they work on the fundamentals of hitting and catching and conclude with a game against each other or against another team.

But this isn’t an ordinary game: No score is kept. There are no outs recorded, and each player must bat and record a hit before the next side can do so.

“Most teenagers get together on Friday nights, go to the movies, hang out, play video games,” says Alex Rodriguez, secretary of the Challenger division. “For these kids, this is their Friday night, getting together on a Friday night with their friends outside of school, and they play baseball.

“They’re just like me and you. They have drama, hopes, dreams. Only a disability separates us.”

Javier’s father, Jose Avila, is grateful that this program exists and wishes more programs like these were available for children like his son.

“A lot of these kids can’t do much like me and you. Programs like these help increase hand-eye coordination, motor skills, sportsmanship and, above all, socialization,” says Avila. “Here, they’re not outsiders, but just another person like me and you. Here, disabilities don’t exist and friendships are formed.”

To join or volunteer with Challenger division, please contact Esmeralda Ortega at (760) 972-9053 or Alex Rodriguez at (760) 238-2690. Johnny Flores Jr. is a reporter for Coachella Unincorporated, a youth media startup in the East Coachella Valley, funded by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative of the California Endowment and operated by New America Media in San Francisco. The purpose is to report on issues in the community that can bring about change. “Coachella Unincorporated” refers to the region youth journalists cover, but also to the unincorporated communities of the Eastern Valley with the idea to “incorporate” the East Valley into the mainstream Coachella Valley mindset. For more information, visit coachellaunincorporated.org.

Published in Features