Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Name: Yvonne Parks

Age: 79

Occupation: Former mayor of Desert Hot Springs/retired

Interview: In person

1. Describe the city’s current budget situation. How do you plan to balance the budget and take care of the city?

I think the council has done a pretty good job of just cutting everything. I would have done things a little differently had I been re-elected. What I would do—and what they didn’t do—is aggressively pursue economic development. We had five employers sitting there waiting to come into the city, and no one contacted them during these last two years. We had a hedge-fund person who was going to build a 3 million-square-foot distribution center at Interstate 10 and Indian, and a hotel that was going to go in down there, and they were also going to put in their own sewage and water. Nobody pursued Applebee’s, and they were very close to coming, and they just needed the right site. That’s the first thing I would do: Get more revenue, because there’s no problem in this city that revenue won’t help.

I’d also aggressively pursue the grant program. We wrote $5 million in grants and got $3 million out of it. You also have to have a plan, and you can’t lead without a plan; you also need a vision, and then you set benchmarks. What do you want this city to look like in five years? 10 years? We had a vision two years ago, and we knew what we wanted.

2. Aside from hiring more officers, what can be done to tackle DHS’ crime rate? 

We have to get community-based policing back—that worked! When we had that, our crime rate came down, because people got active. They participated, and we had the city separated into four quadrants with specific officers assigned to them, and the people who lived in those quadrants got to know their officers. We need to get back to that and back to where the community feels safe and connected to the police department. Also, the youth are doing a lot of the daytime crimes such as the burglaries. They should be in school, and they’re doing things while people are out at work. We need to put unmarked cars in those areas, and it’s going to show, because the crimes are reported, and (they’ll) look at this map and say, “They’re targeting this area.”

3. How do you plan to attract new businesses to Desert Hot Springs?

First of all, I would put together an aggressive economic development committee, and I would work with the chamber of commerce. They know the entrepreneurs, and they know the businesses that would be willing to come in. Work with Walmart and get them in here. Walmart is an attractor, and I don’t care what the detractors have to say. You look at all these areas in the Coachella Valley with a Walmart, and pretty soon, you’ll have Ashley Furniture, PetSmart, Kohl’s, and they gravitate there, because they know there’s going to be foot traffic in and out of Walmart, and they want to be close. They want to take advantage of it.

I also know the owners of the 70 acres at the corner of Dillon and Palm on the southeast corner. Two years ago, they were planning to bring in a nice development with Target as an anchor store, and that fell through because no one followed up. I want to bring in for the youth a (John’s Incredible Pizza); it’s like a huge building, and one half is the food and all of these little rooms where you can entertain, and on the other side for $35 a year, per kid, there’s a two-lane bowling alley, bumper cars and every kind of arcade you can ever imagine. It’s a matter of rekindling and giving those leads to the economic development committee.

4. DHS has a problem with homelessness. What can the city do to fix this?

Right now, I would venture a guess, (there are so many homeless on the streets) because our police have offered them a ride down to Roy’s Resource Center, and they refuse. You can’t make them do something that they don’t want to do. I think what we’ve got in our city are those who are on drugs and alcohol, and they don’t want to stop, and they know if they go in there (to Roy’s), they have to abstain from both.

The other population is the mentally unstable; with that group, I know they can be helped simply by giving them medication, and they can go into The Path, which is the facility down by Roy’s, and they have 20 beds there. But mentally, they can’t be in a closed room or adhere to rules and regulations. If they aren’t willing to get help, I don’t see there is much that we can do.

5. If you could challenge every DHS resident to do one thing, what would that one thing be?

I’d say be the eyes and ears on the streets for our police officers. Help identify crime before it happens. We have some of that beginning to happen, and I want it to continue. There’s nothing better than that cooperation between the public and the police to get that crime rate down.

6. Palm Drive/Gene Autry or Indian Canyon? Why?

If I’m going to Cathedral City or Rancho Mirage, I take Mountain View to Varner to Date Palm and get on the 10. If I’m going to Palm Springs, I’ll go down Indian Canyon. But Indian Canyon really needs a lot of work right now. I think we’ve got Palm in pretty good condition. Let’s get that CalTrans money and put it to work in Desert Hot Springs on Indian Canyon; bring in Palm Springs with their Measure J money; and then bring in the county to get that done.

7. Date shake or bacon-wrapped dates? Why?

Oh my goodness—date shakes, but I also love the bacon-wrapped dates, too. If I had to make a choice, first I’d have the shake, and then follow it up with a bacon-wrapped date. Dates are fantastic!

8. If someone gave you a $100 gift card to the DHS Kmart, what would you buy?

I’d probably buy my daughter some clothes, my son some clothes, and if I could find anything that I liked, I would buy some clothes.

9. If someone walked up to you and told you that DHS was the worst place to live in California, what would your response be?

You don’t know Desert Hot Springs! Desert Hot Springs has the greatest potential of any city in the Coachella Valley. We’ve got the land; we’ve got the drive to succeed; and we’ve got residents who love living here and want everyone else to love living here. If you say it’s the worst place to live in the valley, you probably haven’t even been here.

10. Award-winning water from the tap, or bottled water?

I drink from the tap. My water tastes as good as bottled water, and it’s just as tasty and cheaper than bottled water.

Published in Politics

Name: Asia Horton

Age: 34

Occupation: Tax-preparer

Interview: In person

1. Describe the city’s current budget situation. How do you plan to balance the budget and take care of the city?

Right now, I like to compare it to the emergency room: We stopped the hemorrhaging, and we’ve stabilized the condition of the city. That’s a good thing, but now we need to move it from the trauma unit to the actual ward so we can really get down to the problem. I think we can sustain ourselves, and I don’t think we’ll go into bankruptcy as it is now. We need to get some revenue-generating plans in there, and we need to produce more than we’re spending each month. That’s the problem: We don’t produce more money than we actually spend.

2. Aside from hiring more officers, what can be done to tackle DHS’ crime rate?

We need to do prevention. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Where’s the source? It’s like we’re trying to deal with crime and everything after it’s evolved. We’re not getting to the source of the crime or the gang. There is a source, and big cities go through this all the time. We need gang-prevention programs through the police department, where they’re going into the community and engaging themselves.

3. How do you plan to attract new businesses to Desert Hot Springs?

Re-branding Desert Hot Springs has always been one of my key points. I don’t think we get as much business as we could; we don’t attract the developers and the money from investors because we have a bad rap. Our rap is pretty much in the toilet. We’re known for the crime; we’re known for the drugs; we’re known for the corruption in politics, and the bickering at City Hall.

What I would like to do is push all the good things and to always present myself as if I am the city of Desert Hot Springs, and represent my city. I wouldn’t bicker with my colleagues openly on television. It just wouldn’t happen. I would want the investors and developers to see that we’re sound. If you’re going to invest in foreign currency or overseas, one of the first things you look at is the stability of the government. If they’re on the brink of war or just coming out of a war, you’re not going to invest in them. The same thing with a city—no one is going to want to come here until we show them, in terms of leadership, that we’re together.

4. DHS has a problem with homelessness. What can the city do to fix this?

First of all, we need to address it. Let’s be real: We need to talk about it publicly, frequently. We need to be talking to the organizations in our city and around our city that specifically deal with homelessness.

I think (homelessness) is unnecessary. I don’t feel there’s any reason that any American should be sleeping on the street. I think that is a responsibility that society needs to own up to. I don’t hear enough about it. Where are the homeless shelters here in town? There are none. We just kind of shuffle them around, and that’s not acceptable. You can’t cure what you don’t confront.

5. If you could challenge every DHS resident to do one thing, what would that one thing be?

Get involved. I think one of the reasons we’ve had issues in our city in the past is because we, as voters, have not been informed enough about the issues and people we’re voting for. Let’s get more involved; let’s pack City Hall and let our voices be heard. I’d like to see more people asking questions, and each and every citizen ask a question to our local government.

6. Palm Drive/Gene Autry or Indian Canyon? Why?

Neither. Dillon to the 62! (Laughs.)

7. Date shake or bacon-wrapped dates? Why?

Date shake. There’s nothing else in this world that could compare. Have you ever tasted one? That’s frozen heaven in a glass! That’s my guilty pleasure, and that’s where mommy goes without telling the kids.

8. If someone gave you a $100 gift card to the DHS Kmart, what would you buy?

I’d probably buy up all of Rihanna’s body perfume and go straight to the jewelry section and get what I could afford.

9. If someone walked up to you and told you that DHS was the worst place to live in California, what would your response be?

I’d probably laugh at them and ask them if they live here. I hear about the crime, but it’s not that prevalent to me. I sit on my porch every night and watch the sunset, and my street is quiet.

10. Award-winning water from the tap, or bottled water?

I do both, but I’ll only do tap if I have ice. If I don’t have ice, I do bottled water. 

Published in Politics

Name: Richard Duffle

Age: 34

Occupation: Stay-at-home dad/planning commissioner of Desert Hot Springs

Interview: Phone

1. Describe the city’s current budget situation. How do you plan to balance the budget and take care of the city?

There has been some recent movement in a positive direction in the budget. Obviously, there’s a whole lot more that can be done. In order to help with what we currently have with the budget, I believe whoever is sitting up there on our next City Council needs to dig down deep into our contracts that we hold as a city, and current expenditures that may have not been looked at for several years. I’m sure some money can be found in those to support some of the underfunded programs in the city. Our City Council (members) also need to be leaders; they need to be dignified when they’re sitting in City Council meetings, free of bias and respectful to each other. Often times, things get heated at City Council meetings, and I believe those heated conversations are more heated than they need to be.

2. Aside from hiring more officers, what can be done to tackle DHS’ crime rate? 

Our chief of police, who is doing a fantastic job, wants to go back to community policing. In order to combat crime in Desert Hot Springs, we definitely need the community’s help. We can’t put it all on the police department. We have to be willing to work with the police department as citizens reporting crimes, no matter how big or small they may be, and supporting our officers in the city.

3. How do you plan to attract new businesses to Desert Hot Springs?

Being professional. Cleaning up our streets is obviously something that’s going to take us a long way, but we need to change the perception of Desert Hot Springs. We have been called Desperate Hot Springs, The Dirty-D. Desert Hot Springs has a bad reputation throughout the valley and outside the valley, throughout the county. In order to attract new businesses here, we have to clean up our act.

4. DHS has a problem with homelessness. What can the city do to fix this?

With our current budget status, there’s nothing that can be done right this second. However, there are programs that can be instituted, and there are people within the community who are looking into helping with this homeless population. In any low-income city, you’re going to have a homeless problem, and every city deals with a homeless problem.

We need to get some sort of treatment facility up here for some of these people who are in and out of the prison system, and we need to find some kind of rehabilitation program and work with community leaders within Desert Hot Springs with what can be done, as well as some religious organizations that are looking to promote help for these individuals.

5. If you could challenge every DHS resident to do one thing, what would that one thing be?

I would have to say to trust our chief and report crimes. Don’t just report those crimes on Facebook to other citizens. Pick up the telephone, and report those crimes so our police department can do their job as effectively as possible.

6. Palm Drive/Gene Autry or Indian Canyon? Why?

I use both Palm Drive/Gene Autry and Indian Canyon frequently. I have a daughter who attends school in Palm Springs, so I travel those roads quite frequently for doctor’s appointments. I use Gene Autry a little bit more, given it’s closer to where I live; it’s a little bit more of a bigger road, and a bit more maintained.

7. Date shake or bacon-wrapped dates? Why?

I’d have to say date shakes. I have a sweet tooth.

8. If someone gave you a $100 gift card to the DHS Kmart, what would you buy?

I do shop at the Desert Hot Springs Kmart, but if someone walked up to me out of the blue and handed me a $100 gift card, I would probably turn around and take it to someone in the community in need, to take that gift card to purchase groceries or clothes for their children.

9. If someone walked up to you and told you that DHS was the worst place to live in California, what would your response be?

I’ve been in Desert Hot Springs since 1993, and before that, I was in Coachella. Just like any city, Desert Hot Springs has good areas and bad areas. I believe Desert Hot Springs is a wonderful community with a lot of potential. We just need help from the citizens and the City Council on getting our act together.

10. Award-winning water from the tap, or bottled water?

I would have to go with the award-winning water from the tap. I do not buy bottled water very often, unless we’re going camping.

Published in Politics

Name: Larry Buchanan

Age: 67

Occupation: Retired/president of historical society/secretary of the DHS Rotary Club/Economic Development Team

Interview: In person

1. Describe the city’s current budget situation. How do you plan to balance the budget and take care of the city?

It’s dismal. We already knew that going in, and we have had to make extreme cuts in services to the point where we were in a real service deficit. My biggest concern is the cuts to the police department. The pay is not competitive with the rest of the cities in the area. We have a really small police department; we’re getting new people in; and we’re losing people at the same time. It’s not adequate, and we need to do something about it. One of the things we have to do is find a stable funding source for our police department. It’s been funded over the past 10 to 15 years by a couple of really shaky devices: a partially dedicated property tax, and a utilities tax. Both are going to sunset by 2020. Many people no longer have landlines or (are not) tied to cable like they used to be, so the utilities tax has steadily declined. We’re working on a new property-tax formula for vacant land. Homeowners pay a lot of property tax; vacant land owners pay virtually nothing. We’re trying to even that out a bit. We have to do it now. If we wait, it will never happen.

Additionally, I have my own plan that has a little bit of support: We know that 80 percent of public-safety revenue is generated from homeowners. They use 15 percent of the public-safety dollars; 85 percent of the public-safety dollars are used by people who are renters, absentee land owners and vacant land owners, and they don’t pay their fair share. My idea is to put a surcharge on rental properties of $10 per month per occupied unit. It’ll raise enough money to stabilize this problem, and additionally anything we do. A lot of people favor a 1 percent sales tax increase, and I find it repressive; I’d rather see people who are actually responsible for spending their dollars and using their services to pay the bigger price.

2. Aside from hiring more officers, what can be done to tackle DHS’ crime rate?

I’m a big believer in community policing. I also believe we have not done a good enough job in this town of developing neighborhood-watch groups. We need to improve our communications systems, and our cops are handicapped right now with poor communications systems. I’ve done ride-alongs with police officers, and I found that it’s challenging, because they don’t even have GPS. I have GPS on my phone, and I was actually helping the sergeants I was riding with by typing the address and showing them where it was located. They have maps where they have to stop and look at them, and it slows them down. Their radio systems are also really poor. We’re on our third police department, and we’ve been very bad about sticking with something and staying with it. We want something for nothing, and we want them to cover us without paying much for it, and we can’t have that. That’s not the way it works. They can give us a 27-officer police force, but we have to pay for it, and it’s simple as that. We don’t have reserves; even if you see that on a campaign sign, that’s cash flow so they can pay people. We need to develop a better relationship with the police and the community by having more bilingual officers and more officers that look like the community they’re serving in. That’s been a big emphasis of mine, and a big one of the police chief. They need to reach out to minority communities—which are majority communities here. We have a young population and are the youngest city in the valley, and we have to work with these kids. The police force is starting to do a good job, and we finally have a solid chief.

3. How do you plan to attract new businesses to Desert Hot Springs?

A few things. … We have a Kmart, a Vons and a Stater Bros. We have virtually no retail to speak of. Even our mom and pops aren’t much. If you want to find business supplies in this town, the UPS Store stocks a little table with some supplies on it, and that’s about it. Kmart has virtually nothing, and grocery stores have a little something, but nothing really to speak of. I have to go down to Palm Springs or order it on Amazon. What do we do? Encourage more retail so people don’t have to go down valley or order online because there’s nowhere in town to get anything. A lot of our people are going to Walmart in Palm Springs to buy everything they need and spending their tax dollars down there. The worst thing about this is 60 percent of the people who work at Walmart in Palm Springs probably live in Desert Hot Springs. We need to get more retail in here.

Another is … cultivation of marijuana, and it’s going to be a big business for us, and we have businesses coming in to the industrial area on Little Morongo that are going to be bringing in tax revenue. The big shakers and movers in the grow industry are very interested us, so there’s money and a lot of jobs coming in. The jobs will be good-paying and highly technical.

We have this huge industrial area along Interstate 10 between Palm and Indian that we can’t do anything with. The reason we can’t do anything with it is because we can’t provide sewage to that area, which sits over the aquifer for the desert, and we can’t build that area up. There are businesses who want to come into that area, but we need a regional water treatment plant down on Indian, and our water district has a plan, which I’m behind. We have a lot of land and a lot of water, but we need to protect both and to make sure they’re not dumping sewage into that aquifer.

4. DHS has a problem with homelessness. What can the city do to fix this?

There are a lot of things the city can do that will marginally help the situation. The biggest issue with homelessness in our area is we have a very small law-enforcement element, compared to Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs, to chase them out. Increasing our police force is one way to address it.

The biggest problem for homeless people is mental health. We have the county medical health building, and (it is) very small compared to what (it was) supposed to be, and does only one thing: Provide mental health services to people 62 years and older. If you’re 59, nope. If you’re a young homeless man or woman, no. We have no beds for the homeless. Roy’s Resource Center, which is a unified joint effort in north Palm Springs, is constantly full. Most of the people up here don’t qualify for Roy’s, anyway, because they won’t take anyone with mental-health or drug-addiction problems. I remind (County Supervisor) John Benoit every time I see him that we had this discussion a year ago, six months ago, three months ago, and we had it a month ago, that we need to open the county medical health building up to people who are under 60 and (place a) heavy emphasis on children, people with substance abuse issues, and homelessness issues. If we do that, it will improve our situation greatly.

5. If you could challenge every DHS resident to do one thing, what would that one thing be?

I would challenge everyone to go out and clean up the vacant lot that’s close to your house. I don’t care who owns it; clean it up. Don’t be dumping your garbage out in the desert, and clean up your neighborhood. Plus. you have to get to know your neighbors. That improves the quality of life for everyone, and one of the biggest problems of the past 50 years is people don’t know their neighbors. How you going to ask people for help you’ve never met?

6. Palm Drive/Gene Autry or Indian Canyon? Why?

I can’t give a clear answer to that. If I’m going to the airport, I’m going down Palm/Gene Autry. If I’m going to Palm Springs, I’m probably going to take Indian, even though it’s in awfully bad shape between North Palm Springs and Dillon. If I’m going down valley, I’m going over to Mountain View and to Date Palm.

7. Date shake or bacon-wrapped dates? Why?

I like date shakes. I’m not a big bacon guy—I mean, I love bacon, but I’m not supposed to be doing that, so I would have to go with the date shake.

8. If someone gave you a $100 gift card to the DHS Kmart, what would you buy?

I would probably buy something electronic. Every time I have a Blu-ray DVD player break, I go over there to buy another one.

9. If someone walked up to you and told you that DHS was the worst place to live in California, what would your response be?

I hear that a lot. It depends on where you are and what your experience is, so I’d need to know more about what the problem is. My neighborhood is fantastic, and I know all my neighbors. There are renters and people who own their own homes in my neighborhood, but I know them all. We have a good neighborhood; we look out for each other, and there are a lot of neighborhoods like that. There are also some that aren’t that good, and there are some places where my concern is no one wants to go out at night here. This is a great challenge, and when we moved here, we knew what we were getting. We want to make this a better place, and the only way to do that is by being active and getting involved. Also, what I don’t understand is if you don’t like Latino people; you don’t like African-American people; and you don’t like young people, this is not the town for you, and you should consider going somewhere else. We’re a young community with a lot of minorities, and if you don’t like those kinds of people—and those are the ones we hear about this from the most, the more-affluent Caucasian people—you must invest yourself into this to make it work.

10. Award-winning water from the tap, or bottled water?

I’m a tap-water guy. I do drink bottled water when I’m in the desert, because you have to hold it in something.

Published in Politics

Name: Russell Betts

Age: 57

Occupation: Retired small-business owner

Interview: Phone

1. Describe the city’s current budget situation. How do you plan to balance the budget and take care of the city? 

The budget is balanced, and the city’s financial status is stable. I know there are people out there trying to tell people otherwise. We’ll finish up the year with $2.5 million in the bank as reserves. It’s not $2.5 million spent anywhere else, but extra money sitting in a bank account. It’s a complete turnaround for the city.

2. Aside from hiring more officers, what can be done to tackle DHS’ crime rate? 

What’s critical right now is to hire more police officers. By January, we will have our police department at full force at 27 officers. Next, we have to fund some youth-intervention programs through the police department, bringing in outside specialists and working with some of the groups like Rising Star Academy to keep the youth from going down the wrong path and causing problems.

3. How do you plan to attract new businesses to Desert Hot Springs?

The most important thing we can to attract new business is provide business service so when people come in, they can make decisions. There’s been somewhat of a convoluted system at City Hall where it’s been very difficult for businesses to come in and get established, mostly because the permit process takes so long. We are getting very close to where that’s being streamlined, and we’re getting permits over the counter same-day. It’s just an unwieldy system, and we’re working on making it much easier instead of scaring businesses away. We also have to stop this problem of steering businesses to land (owned by) people who (city officials are) friends with. When people come into this city and want to locate a business … let us know; don’t hire so and so development “because he’s my friend and makes campaign contributions to me.”

4. DHS has a problem with homelessness. What can the city do to fix this?

Our city needs to draw on research and innovative programs from across the country to develop a comprehensive plan that focuses on ending homelessness among all populations—chronic, families, youth, veterans and the elderly—in our city. Efforts by other communities have shown results.

5. If you could challenge every DHS resident to do one thing, what would that one thing be?

Come forward and cooperate with the police when they ask for help in solving a crime. Witnesses seem to be very reluctant, and even some victims seem to be very reluctant. We will all work with our police department.

6. Palm Drive/Gene Autry or Indian Canyon? Why?

I travel both. It depends on where I’m going, I suppose.

7. Date shake or bacon-wrapped dates? Why?

I’d rather have a cheeseburger at one our local restaurants.

8. If someone gave you a $100 gift card to the DHS Kmart, what would you buy?

It’d probably get burned up real quick on Legos and Nerf guns for my grandson.

9. If someone walked up to you and told you that DHS was the worst place to live in California, what would your response be?

You’ve never lived here. It’s a beautiful city.

10. Award-winning water from the tap, or bottled water?

It’s too obvious—tap water, of course.

Published in Politics

Name: Adam Sanchez Sr.

Age: 57

Occupation: Mayor of Desert Hot Springs

Interview: In Person

1. Describe the city’s current budget situation. How do you plan to balance the budget and take care of the city?

We have $1.5 million in general cash flow. We also made sure we had $1 million in case of an earthquake, or all the rain we’re going to get this year; we don’t want to be in the position to where we (need) to ask for money from the county to make repairs from a flood or earthquake. It’s our responsibility as a city to manage ourselves. We don’t want to borrow money.

Our priority was to make sure we balanced the budget, had money for cash flow—and financially we’re stable now. A lot of money we were supposed to get from grants, they were holding back because they thought we were going to go into bankruptcy. They told us to wait and see what happens. Now that’s not over our heads anymore, and we did what we needed to do to stabilize the city. We have a true budget, true numbers—and it’s all transparent now.

2. Aside from hiring more officers, what can be done to tackle DHS’ crime rate?

One solution is education. We’re going to bring in a charter school from Moreno Valley called the Rising Stars Business Academy, and they’re certified and accredited in what they’re doing. One of the reasons we’re bringing them out is because the alternative school—they told me they had 140 students there, and wouldn’t tell me what the dropout rate was. My guess is they lose 50 percent of them, because they drop out. But Rising Stars is more one-on-one, and they offer vocational training. It’s for students who aren’t going to go to College of the Desert and who are tired of school. When they’re at Rising Stars, (the school) can connect them to HVAC, being an electrician, learning how to put up solar panels, or learning how to do drywall. Then they wire you to the business community, where you work somewhere. It’s a different approach to dealing with truancy and dropping out of school; a lot of these young people end up going toward that gang culture. Rising Stars is also a nonprofit that can do gang-intervention programs.

3. How do you plan to attract new businesses to Desert Hot Springs?

We’re working on an economic development plan, and it’s working right now. We have Rio Ranch (Market) almost ready to open up. Next to that, we have three residential developments right now, and that’s bringing a lot of contractors here. It shows the market is slowly going to start coming back, and it’s a mark for us with the economy, because the builders are building again because people are looking to buy again. That fuels the economy to create more jobs.

We also have the Walmart. They haven’t finished their environmental impact report. I don’t know how much longer they’re going to wait, but all they have to do is submit that, and the planner we have will analyze it; then it goes to planning, then the council, and that land has been bought already.

We need to work more with small businesses and how can we make it easier for them. One of those things is to not charge a permit fee for a new business owner, and just waive it. The second thing we can do is be a lot gentler when it comes to signage. You have to let small business put their signage up, even if it’s just banners, and extend that from six months to two years. The government needs to get off their backs and make it easy for them to get started. We need to work on that.

4. DHS has a problem with homelessness. What can the city do to fix this?

I think right now, we’re doing what we can. People who are truly homeless and in need of help getting back on their feet will go to Roy’s Resource Center first.

Those who choose to be homeless … we need to come to a consensus in the community to where we have the faith-based (programs) and the food banks (help the homeless, rather than individuals). There are faith-based organizations providing breakfasts and lunches; if you’re homeless, and you need a place to eat, we provide that socially as a community. But one problem is there are those who continue to assist the panhandlers who will be at Del Taco, Subway, Stater Bros. or Vons. They’re panhandling on a regular basis to fuel their addiction, and the majority of it is alcohol. We as kind-hearted individuals, as a city, need to get to a point where we give instead to the food banks and the faith-based organizations. The police department is out there trying to get them off the dividers and get them to understand that if they want to be homeless, that’s the choice they have, but don’t take advantage of the kind-heartedness of the people giving you money.

We need to visit the businesses and reach out to the residents more and develop a homeless strategy.

5. If you could challenge every DHS resident to do one thing, what would that one thing be?

Work closely with Desert Valley Disposal. The reason I say that is because they handle the trash collection and recycling, but one of the biggest complaints we have now from residents is people putting too many items out at one time. Fifty percent of the homes here are either home rentals or apartments. They have a lot of individuals who will be gone in six months. What they do is they throw everything out in the alley or the empty lot next to it and are out within 24 hours. We need to find a way to hold the people who own the homes or rent the homes more accountable. The way we’re doing it now is not beneftting us as a community. The other part is educating the other 50 percent of residents as to how it really works. When they mean two large items per pickup, they mean two large items, not a dozen. A lot of residents don’t understand the process.

6. Palm Drive/Gene Autry or Indian Canyon? Why?

Palm Drive/Gene Autry.

7. Date shake or bacon-wrapped dates? Why?

I’ll take a date shake any day of the week, and I’ll get it at the Windmill Market on Indian Canyon.

8. If someone gave you a $100 gift card to the DHS Kmart, what would you buy?

Usually, when I go in there, I buy pizzas for kids at the Little Caesars. But I think right now, I’d go buy backpacks and educational materials for the kids who are really in need in the community.

9. If someone walked up to you and told you that DHS was the worst place to live in California, what would your response be?

This is the only place in the entire world where you have a fault line right down the middle of the city. Because of that fault line, you have the best-tasting water in the world, and the best hot therapeutic water in the world. No one else has that. I’m not talking about the valley, but the world. With the location here, we have the best views. At any given time during the winter, we could have snow on the mountains. View-wise, it doesn’t get any better than this. During the evenings, Palm Springs doesn’t have sunsets because of the mountains—but we have sunsets. We also have wind, which means we also have wind energy, plus we have solar energy. I consider it one of the best places in the world.

10. Award-winning water from the tap, or bottled water?

Tap! No bottled water. My wife and kids buy bottled water because they’re spoiled. 

Published in Politics

Name: Scott Matas

Age: 44

Occupation: Marketing, DHS City Council member

Interview: In person

1. Describe the city’s current budget situation. How do you plan to balance the budget and take care of the city?

The city has obviously been through a financial crisis over the past couple of years. Politically, I think it was taken out of context. There’s $2.9 million in our cash-flow account, which is to pay the bills. That’s basically what our city manager said earlier this year and said, “I need you to make sure you have enough in cuts.” We believe that the tax revenue coming in from medical marijuana is also helping. In December, we get another push from property tax. In January, we’ll do a mid-year review to see where we’re at.

2. Aside from hiring more officers, what can be done to tackle DHS’ crime rate? 

We need to go back to a community-policing model. We know Prop 47 released a lot of offenders back into the local cities without any money to counter it. The individuals doing the smaller crimes are getting released faster and going back to those crimes. Part of my plan is to build a rehabilitation center for prisoners coming out of the system. The parole department had a couple of them in the state, and I went to visit the one in San Diego; it’s very successful and has an 80 percent success rate. Youth is always a problem when they grow up in a poor neighborhood and commit crimes, so we need to focus on the youth programs. We have 50 different programs, and people talk about how there’s nothing for the youth to do. Well, parents aren’t getting them to where they need to be.

3. How do you plan to attract new businesses to Desert Hot Springs?

I sat on the Economic Development Committee for five years as a co-chair. We had an award-winning plan through the state of California, but unfortunately, the current mayor became leader of the committee, and he devastated that committee and took everyone off of it. I want to bring that plan back; I want the City Council to go out and believe in spending a couple hundred dollars to send City Council members to international conferences, and get back on track with that.

Also, we need a red-carpet program similar to the one we had three years ago. We have to roll out the red carpet and say “You’re important; we want you to come to our community; here’s the process to make sure you have what you need, and a line that you can call to someone to get through that process as quick as possible.”

4. DHS has a problem with homelessness. What can the city do to fix this?

You can’t fix homelessness. We had a bad homeless problem going back 10 years ago. We had a camp near the back of the Kmart with 20 people living in it. We had a shopping center full of panhandlers all day. We also work with Roy’s Resource Center to come up here and convince the individuals to go through their program.

The problem with homelessness is that it’s not because they want to be homeless; it’s usually because of addiction problems and/or mental illness. The mental-health services building built in DHS by the county only helps mental-health patients 62 or older. I want to go back to (County Supervisor) John Benoit and say, “We really need to do something about that, and we need your help”; 62 and older is important, but what if we opened that range up to 19 to 110? That would help everybody with mental-health issues. Roy’s Resource Center can assist them with that, but trying to get (homeless people) there is always an issue.

When you have a small encampment, it only gets bigger and bigger. We can’t just bring food and water to them; we need to offer them the services they need to get out of that lifestyle.

5. If you could challenge every DHS resident to do one thing, what would that one thing be?

Service to your community. Donate a can of food to Food Now; pick up trash with the pickup crew; or just find a way to give back; that’s all I’m asking. Our community is always in need of something, and we don’t need to start any more programs, because there are enough of them out there, and I believe the city is covered.

6. Palm Drive/Gene Autry or Indian Canyon? Why?

They are two of our main entrances. In 2007, I was elected in a special election, and later that year after the general election, Yvonne Parks was elected mayor. In 2008, she was switching the committees around and appointed me to the transportation committee. I was a public-safety guy and a volunteer fireman, and she told me, “You’ll really like transportation, and I really need you on that. We need you to help get these interchanges done.” We had over 7,000 people leaving the city every morning for work, and there was a lineup of cars from the freeway all the way back into town. It was a terrible drive. I became part of the transportation committee, and I put together a coalition that included Palm Springs and Cathedral City, and there was money being funneled back into the east end, and we said, “No, we’ve been waiting 20 years for these interchanges.” So we fought hard on these two committees and got our way: $40 million to get these interchanges done.

7. Date shake or bacon-wrapped dates? Why?

I’ve never had bacon-wrapped dates, but I had a date shake once, and I loved it.

8. If someone gave you a $100 gift card to the DHS Kmart, what would you buy?

I’m recently engaged, and my fiancée has three young daughters from ages 5-11. I also have two sons; one of them is 23, and the other just started college and is 18. So right now, after ordering books and supplies for college, I would probably take my youngest son shopping and give him $50, and $50 to my girls to buy whatever they wanted. I’m a softie when it comes to the kids.

9. If someone walked up to you and told you that DHS was the worst place to live in California, what would your response be?

I’ve had that. We just had that ridiculous RoadSnacks article. I would tell them that I was born and raised here, we went through a very hard period in the ’90s, but it’s really progressed since then. It’s been up and down when it comes to politics, and when it comes to crime, but I don’t think crime is because of the residents, but because of the state and Prop 47. Dodger Stadium can fit 59,000 people; we only have 28,000 people living in this city, which is half of that stadium. If you look at it that way, it’s manageable.

10. Award-winning water from the tap, or bottled water?

Award-winning water! My fiancée will buy the bottled water and tell me she needs to travel with a bottle of water, and I tell her, “Fill it up in the sink! It’s beautiful water!” We argue about that. I love the taste of our water, and it’s award-winning. 

Published in Politics

When I moved to Desert Hot Springs a decade ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I didn’t know a thing about the desert city when I moved here from Cleveland in 2005. However, I was soon filled in by others: DHS has a lot of crime. Meth houses. Trashy people. Corrupt government.

In the decade since, things haven’t gotten any better. In early July, a website called published a piece, “using science,” that declared Desert Hot Springs is the worst place to live in California. It made the rounds on Facebook; the piece supposedly had received 358,600 views as of our press time.

It’s no wonder Slipping Into Darkness, the wildly popular Desert Hot Springs band, included a song titled “DHS Blues” on the album Shurpedelic.

OK, look: DHS isn’t perfect. It has its problems, for sure. But my city of not quite 30,000 people is not the worst place to live in California.

Here’s why.

As one would predict, the article was not popular with many members of the Desert Hot Springs Neighborhood Group on Facebook. Several people challenged the article’s legitimacy, pointing out that the city government is improving, and mentioning no small number of new businesses that are popping up. However, some people in the group agreed with the article’s conclusions, claiming that DHS boosters were ignoring the realities facing our not-so-beloved desert city.

I reached out to DHS City Councilman Russell Betts, figuring that he might be able to offer some counter-arguments to the Roadsnacks article.

“The two people who run that website, they do one of those lists on every state,” Betts said. “They’re click-whores. They’re just doing that to build traffic. How can they possibly analyze all 50 states?”

The Roadsnacks article claimed the findings were based on population density, unemployment rates, adjusted median income, the housing-vacancy rate, education, long commute times, high crime and weather.

“For those who live there, consider these facts: The crime rate in DHS is almost the highest in California, per capita,” the article said. “Nearly one in four homes is vacant. And residents earn a paltry 32 grand a year. Which goes nowhere on a California budget. Plus, summers are miserable.”

Betts does not agree with these sentiments.

“We are about 10 minutes away from all the nightlife of Palm Springs,” he pointed out. “We’re close to all the attractions within the Coachella Valley. It’s a little quieter here, and we have cooler temperatures. The housing values are really good, so you can get a really nice house out here for a lower price. If you don’t want to be bothered with all the traffic and congestion down on the valley floor, we’re the best place to be.”

He’s right: The housing prices in DHS are definitely reasonable, and there are some beautiful parts of Desert Hot Springs.

But what about the crippling budget deficit the city faced not too long ago? DHS made national news when the town’s coffers were pushed toward insolvency.

Turns out there’s no crisis anymore.

“The biggest problem was the budget, but we got that fixed,” Betts said. “It was no small feat to get our finances stabilized. From there, we can start to build on everything else we need to take care of.”

OK, so the city government is improving. What about crime?

It is definitely a problem in DHS. In 2007, a rock, and then fireworks, were thrown through the window of the house I share with my roommate—at 3 a.m. The rock and fireworks set off our fire and burglar alarms, and the Desert Hot Springs police and fire department immediately showed up. The officers mentioned it was most likely a random act of vandalism.

“You’re not in Cleveland anymore,” I thought.

Residents who belong to the Desert Hot Springs Neighborhood Group regularly complain that their cars and homes have been broken into. Then there’s the violence: Five people were murdered in the first four months of this year. In fact, a number of residents showed up at a City Council meeting in April to voice frustrations with the criminal activity.

However, help may be on the way: While the Desert Hot Springs Police Department was racked by cuts during the budget crisis, Betts said the city is now looking to add more police officers.

“We’re trying to fill the last of seven positions,” he said. “When you get a (budget) crisis like we did, you can find yourself in a lot of jeopardy. The crime is going to be solved with getting more officers on the streets. The seven police officers are budgeted, and we have the money. The police we have are doing a great job; we just need more of them. We really need to knock down this criminal activity.”

So help may be on the way regarding crime. But what about homelessness? The city has a large, visible homeless population, and members of the Desert Hot Springs Neighborhood Group often kvetch that no one is addressing the issue. Yes, the valley has fine facilities like Martha’s Village and Kitchen, and Roy’s Desert Resource Center, but many homeless people aren’t ready, able or willing to adapt to the structured environment and the rules at these places.

As a result, DHS has some well-known homeless people. “Joseph” is known to pile rocks in patterns on various properties and has been photographed throwing objects at passing cars on Palm Drive, for example.

However, one of the things I love about DHS is that the people here care. Residents have proposed raising money to purchase vacant buildings to turn them into shelters. There are many who wish to take control of the situation.

If Desert Hot Springs is the worst place to live, it must have a terrible business climate. Right?

Just the opposite.

The restaurants of Desert Hot Springs have a lot to offer. The Capri, Thai Palms, South of the Border, Casa Blanca and Kam Lun are all notable places to eat in Desert Hot Springs, and they’re often busy.

Then there are the spa offerings in Desert Hot Springs: There are plenty of them, and the area’s waters are world-famous. Two Bunch Palms is one of the best known spa resorts in the United States and has been mentioned in films, television shows and national media.

New businesses have been opening their doors in abundance. Desert Rocks Indoor Climbing Gym, an indoor climbing facility, just opened. Other businesses that have opened within the past year include the TOP Shop, Pho Na 92 and Desert Market. Another market called Rio Ranch is being built right next to the K-Mart, and Walmart is taking an interest in Desert Hot Springs. Two medical-marijuana dispensaries are now open and bringing added revenue to the city.

Paula Terifaj, the owner of the DogSpa Resort and a member of the Desert Hot Springs Planning Commission, believes in the city’s business possibilities.

“I don’t see our city through rose-colored glasses,” Terifaj said. “I see it’s been very challenged for several reasons. We’ve been dealing with ills that have been brewing for decades. But since I’ve gotten involved, I’ve noticed we’re under new guidance. In my opinion, what we’re doing is clawing our way out of a financial disaster created by a former administration, and I’m going to call it a ‘city in transition.’”

Terifaj said she recognizes the efforts the city has been making to attract new businesses.

“The city used to be really tough on new business, but the new City Council recognized that,” she said. “They looked at the cost of business licenses and everything else. The city wants to be more business-friendly, and they’ve even talked about offering incentives for new businesses. The city has recognized that the city needs businesses; the city wants businesses, and has to attract businesses. They’re really trying to make that easier at the city level, and it’s been talked about quite a bit.”

Terifaj mentioned that the city is looking at promoting culture, too.

“One of the things the city has talked about is forming an arts district and looking at where to have an arts district,” she said. “It went through the City Council, and it went in front of the Planning Commission. It came to us and during our last meeting; most of the meeting was spent talking about the arts district. People from the public got involved in that conversation, and it was amazing.”

At the center of these efforts is Richard Teisan, a real estate agent who lives in Desert Hot Springs and is the executive director of the new Community One Foundation.

“We are going to build artist residences, so artists can come in and live in Desert Hot Springs and do their work,” Teisan said. “(We plan) 4,000-square-foot facilities where an artist can show his work, and live in the back or live above it. These are all kinds of artists—writers, musicians, sculptors—and we have furniture-makers from Honduras. These guys are so crafty, and they build this beautiful furniture. They want to come in and be artists and develop art pieces.”

Regarding home values, Teisan explained why Desert Hot Springs is desirable.

“The first thing that I tell people is that when you look at prices per square foot, the price per square foot is (one of) the lowest that you can see in the state,” he said. “The second value I always talk about is there have been waves of contractors coming through building various quality of houses. The last wave to come through built much higher-quality homes than (in) the years before that.”

There are a lot of vacant lots in DHS. Teisan sees these as an opportunity.

“The value of vacant lots has dropped drastically, so that you can buy a lot in Desert Hot Springs to build a house on for $8,000 to $15,000,” he said. “You can’t do that any place else in the state, unless you go up into the wilderness. In this place, there’s land that has water, power, gas and sewer, and you can still buy the land for under $10,000 for a quarter-acre.”

It’s true: When you look at real estate listings for Desert Hot Springs, you’ll find nice homes, in safe areas, for far less than comparable homes in neighboring Palm Springs.

So, back to the original question: Is Desert Hot Springs truly the worst place to live in California?

Heck no, it’s not. While Desert Hot Springs has its problems, the city is packed with potential, especially with people flocking from Los Angeles and finding Riverside and Redlands to be too expensive; eventually, the reasonable real estate prices here will attract them. The city is addressing issues such as crime, and is working on attracting businesses.

People who know me will vouch for the fact that I’m not much of an optimist. So believe me when I tell you that I see Desert Hot Springs as a decent place to live, that’s filled with people who care about their city, being led by a city government that’s working to solve problems.

Below: Pho Na 92 is one of the many businesses that have recently opened in DHS. Photo by Brian Blueskye.

Published in Local Issues

Coachella Valley residents who use medical marijuana must currently travel to one of a small handful of dispensaries in Palm Springs—the only valley city which has allowed dispensaries to operate.

However, two other local cities will soon let dispensaries open their doors. Last year, both the Desert Hot Springs City Council and the city’s voters OK’d dispensaries, while Cathedral City’s City Council narrowly voted in favor of allowing them.

Desert Hot Springs will initially allow up to three permits to be issued for dispensaries, with the possibility of adding more after an evaluation. Currently, 19 applications have been submitted, but there is a list of three applications that have received the highest score.

Cathedral City will allow two permits to be issued; so far, the city has rejected four applications and approved one. City Manager Charlie McClendon explained the criteria the applicants must meet.

“The ordinance laid out some fairly strict guidelines that they had to meet to qualify in terms of what zoning district they could be in, how close they could be to a school, how close they could be to a residential neighborhood, how close they could be to each other, how close they could be to a park, and things like that,” McClendon said. “So, it’s a two-pronged process. (Applications) go before our planning commission to judge that, and the first step is a test: Is the application complete? Does it meet those spacing guidelines? Did they submit all the material? If the planning commission determines that, yes, the application is complete, then they can have an open public hearing for a conditional use permit on that application. If they determine that the application is not complete, then it’s rejected.”

McClendon explained that one applicant has been approved so far, a company called Green Cross Pharma. He said most of the other applicants have been rejected due to location issues.

“There’s a provision in the ordinance that a dispensary cannot be 200 feet from Highway 111/East Palm Canyon Road, and one was rejected because it was less than that distance from the road,” he said.

Some people worry that dispensaries will attract crime to the areas where they’re located, but according to studies by RAND Corporation and California NORML, dispensaries do not raise or lower crime rates. McClendon said these studies have been taken into consideration.

“It remains to be seen as to whether or not it makes a difference here,” he said. “You can read competing evidence on that from other jurisdictions, but we have no direct experience with that ourselves.”

As for revenue, McClendon said the tax on medical marijuana that voters in Cathedral City approved will generate some money for city coffers.

“That’s a question that went to the voters, and they authorized a tax on the proceeds of the marijuana sales of up to 15 percent. It remains to be seen how much that actually generates, because we have no history yet. Based on the experience of Palm Springs, we believe there will be some revenue.”

Nicholas Longo, a licensed grower who used to live in Desert Hot Springs and who provides marijuana to dispensaries, was elated when the cities took steps to allow new dispensaries to open.

“I started growing about five years ago,” said Longo, who began using marijuana to help him with epilepsy. “At first, it was for the purpose of having the stuff on me at all times, but then it changed more into helping people than anything. I sell to the dispensaries—but what I do is make clones. I pretty much concentrate my focus on creating clones, so genetics is my thing. … You need to make sure you have good genetics.”

Longo grows about 25 plants per week that he can turn into sellable product for the dispensaries. “Every week, you put in about 25, and the ninth or 10th week, you’re harvesting.”

On Jan. 20, in Desert Hot Springs, Jason Elsasser opened up a center on Pierson Boulevard as part of his Medical Marijuana Resource Group, which based in Yucca Valley. It offers consultations and recommendations for medical marijuana cards. He said that patients don’t necessarily have safe access to medical marijuana.

“In 2013, the California Supreme Court ruled that county municipalities can zone out dispensaries,” Elsasser said. “In essence, a town can say, ‘We don’t want it!’ They can impose codes and zoning restrictions that won’t allow it. … It’s kind of like the stuff they do to strip clubs, massage parlors or tattoo parlors.”

After the market collapsed and destroyed his real estate business, Elsasser went into the medical-marijuana industry.

“I’m the one who created the situation in Yucca Valley,” he said. “In Yucca Valley, they voted in 2013 to shut down the only dispensary that was operating in town. It was left to operate kind of through a loophole. They had approved a legal dispensary back in 2008, and then some people opened a ballet studio next to it, and all of a sudden, there was a bunch of negative press about it. They pushed it to the far outskirts of town and implemented a moratorium on medical marijuana. The City Council (then) voted … to shut down the only dispensary. I said, ‘Enough is enough,’ and since I had a real estate background, I started the Yucca Valley Medical Marijuana Resource Group. I wanted to use it as a springboard to educate the town. I hired an attorney to write an ordinance and to start a voter referendum.”

Elsasser said that referendum should appear before Yucca Valley voters sometime in 2015. “We will win. I’m very confident because we have the support of the community, and we will win based on that.”

Elsasser said he believes medical-marijuana dispensaries will have a positive effect on Desert Hot Springs.

“We want to help the community,” he said. “These shops that are opening can do a lot of good for the community, and my business is just one of the businesses that are a product of these dispensaries opening. I just got my business license for my evaluation center, and we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the three (coming) dispensaries. It’s good for the economy; it’s improving the area; and we’re excited about being down here in Desert Hot Springs.”

Below: Jason Elsasser opened a medical-marijuana evaluation center in Desert Hot Springs in January. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the three (coming) dispensaries,” he said. PHOTO BY BRIAN BLUESKYE

Published in Local Issues

Nigel Dettelbach has great taste in music, as this Lucky 13 questionnaire proves. This is no surprise, considering Dettelbach is the bassist for Slipping Into Darkness, one of the Coachella Valley’s best-known bands. The group released the album Shurpedelic in August and has been spending much of November on tour throughout California and Mexico. For more information, visit Here are the aforementioned answers by Dettelbach to The Lucky 13.

What was the first concert you attended?

It must have been a good one, because I can't recall it. The best one I can remember was the Black Lips in 2007 at the Glass House in Pomona. I was with all of my friends/forefathers of the SHURP revolution.

What was the first album you owned?

If were talking vinyl, then Beatles’ Abbey Road.

What bands are you listening to right now?

Los Saicos, Black Lips, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Iggy Pop and the Stooges.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Crazzy Lirasis from Desert Hot Springs.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

Deep Purple with Ritchie Blackmore on guitar.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Money Man from Desert Hot Springs.

What’s your favorite music venue?

The Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

Any song from Spinal Tap.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

The Beatles, James Jamerson, Jaco Pastorius, Deep Purple, Spinal Tap and the original Alice Cooper lineup. Need I say more?

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

Thomas Escobar: Who woke you up?

What song would you like played at your funeral?

I'll leave that to friends and family.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Alice Cooper’s Love It to Death.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“A Minha Menina” by Os Mutantes. (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13

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