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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Local Issues

22 Mar 2018
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On the morning of March 7, a fire broke out near the kitchen of Bongo Johnny’s Patio Bar and Grille—about one hour before the Arenas Road restaurant in downtown Palm Springs was scheduled to open. The Palm Springs Fire Department quickly put out the blaze—ruled an accident, after linens and oil-soaked rags in a laundry hamper spontaneously combusted—but by then, the damage was done: Bongo Johnny’s kitchen was essentially destroyed, while smoke and water damage closed three of the four other businesses in the building: Stacy’s at Palm Springs, Mischief Cards and Gifts, and the Palm Springs Piercing Company. Only Streetbar, located at the east end of the building, remained open. More than two weeks later, those four businesses remain closed—and frustration is mounting over a Palm Springs City Council that Bongo Johnny’s general manager called unresponsive, as well as a landlord, Plaza Investment Company, Inc., that’s allegedly being uncooperative.…
22 Mar 2018
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Vacation rentals are one of the most contentious issues in Palm Springs—and on June 5, voters in the city will decide on a measure that opponents say would effectively ban vacation rentals, if approved. Measure C is the culmination of a battle that’s been brewing for more than a decade over short-term rentals, or STRs. The housing-market crash during the Great Recession created an STR boom in Palm Springs, as buyers both local and from out of town snapped up foreclosed-property bargains, and later turned them into vacation rentals. The problem is that these homes—available for weekend getaways and short retreats through Airbnb and other services, and at times the sites of rather raucous parties—are intermingled with homes occupied by full- and part-time residents. According to Rob Grimm, the campaign manager for Palm Springs Neighbors for Neighborhoods—the group that got Measure C placed on the June ballot—there are 1,986 units…
07 Feb 2018
Growing tension between California and the federal government over immigration has business owners in the crosshairs—worried about the potential effect on their enterprises, and unsure which laws they should follow. Those in immigrant-dependent industries, such as hospitality and agriculture, say conflicting messages from the state, with its new laws to protect undocumented residents, and the federal government, which is cracking down on people in the U.S. illegally, put them in an especially tough spot. “It’s a bit scary to be caught in the middle of a stand-off between the feds and local law enforcement,” said Sharokina Shams, spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association. On Jan. 2, the interim director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said California should “hold on tight,” because he planned to send in a flood of agents and conduct more actions to counter the state’s new “sanctuary” law. That law, which took effect Jan. 1, limits local…
24 Jan 2018
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Palm Desert Mayor Sabby Jonathan recently invited the public to enjoy complimentary coffee and conversation—something he plans on doing every month. During his January coffee meeting, at the Desert Willow Golf Resort, the new mayor (the position rotates among City Council members on a yearly basis) was battling the flu. However, Jonathan, who works as a certified public accountant, was kind enough to agree to answer questions on anything—ranging from the city budget to new hotels to past city-employee wrongdoing—via email. Regarding your quest for transparency—why the coffee chats? Coffee chats are a great way for the community to engage with its elected officials. They provide an informal forum where concerns of residents can be heard and questions can be answered. The chats take place monthly, throughout the year, with the exception of July and August. Is Measure T—an increase of the city’s hotel tax from 9 to 11 percent,…
05 Jan 2018
One way or another, two words are likely to dominate the complicated politics of California’s housing crisis in 2018: rent control. On Thursday, Jan. 11, state lawmakers are slated to hear a proposal from Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a Democrat from Santa Monica, that would allow cities to dramatically restrict what landlords can charge tenants year over year. The bill couldn’t even get a hearing last year amid intense opposition from landlords. But looming over legislators’ heads this time around is a potential ballot initiative supported by tenants’ rights groups that would do much of the same. If the bill stalls, there’s a good chance you’ll see the rent-control question on your November ballot. What should an average Californian know about a rent control debate poised to gobble up so much political oxygen? Here are five key points: 1. Under current state law, a wide swath of California’s housing stock can’t…
24 Dec 2017
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If you live in Desert Hot Springs, you’ve probably heard the mysterious booms that usually happen during the night. It turns out that those of us who live in DHS are not alone: A quick Internet search turns up stories about and recordings of unexplained noises being heard around the world. Of course, it’s unknown whether what’s happening in Desert Hot Springs is related to these weird noises elsewhere. I’ve lived in Desert Hot Springs for a while, and anything that goes “boom,” night or day, typically becomes part of a game jokingly called “Fireworks or Gunshots?” However, these mysterious booms are unlike the typical noises heard in the night. The first time I heard one, it was late, and I was out on my back porch. It sounded as if a bomb had gone off, echoing throughout the entire city of Desert Hot Springs. Another one, a few nights…
21 Dec 2017
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For the second time in six years, Palm Springs voters have agreed to open their pocketbooks a little wider. Measure D, voted in last November, and Measure J, approved in 2011, will bring in a total of about $20 million in tax dollars annually to the city. One problem: Millions from Measure J were given to John Wessman, the original developer of the downtown redevelopment project, and now the subject of numerous bribery indictments along with former Mayor Steve Pougnet. One question: Will the city seek reimbursements from Wessman if he is found guilty? Anticipating legal issues in the wake of the bribery scandal, which culminated in an FBI raid of City Hall, Palm Springs officials hired a new city attorney, Edward Kotkin, in April. While previous city attorneys were contractors, Kotkin was brought on as a city employee, at a salary of $206,088 a year plus benefits. Kotkin is…
19 Dec 2017
As a child, Ignacio Ochoa would jump into a car and make the trek from his home in Coachella down to the Salton Sea with his cousins. They’d sit on the playa, looking out across the vast lake and watching birds dive into the water. The waters then teemed with activity. “We would cup our hands in the water and see literally hundreds of tadpoles,” Ochoa said. “Then, it seemed like the next year, it was all so different.” Over time, Ochoa noticed conditions at the lake deteriorating rapidly. He’d return each time and find the playa increasingly covered in trash and dead fish. The air became harder to breathe. Crowds dwindled, and birds showed up in vastly smaller numbers. Eventually, his family’s trips to the sea stopped altogether. He felt as though he was losing a connection to the lake—forever. The future of the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake…
14 Dec 2017
One of the most controversial issues in Sacramento this year has been what is widely referred to as the “sanctuary state” law, which will take effect Jan. 1. It is intended to protect law-abiding immigrants from being set on a path toward deportation after interactions with local police. But in immigrant communities and elsewhere, there is confusion about how the law will work—and exactly what protection it provides. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the measure, named the California Values Act, into law after negotiations made it more palatable to law enforcers, who had protested it initially. Why do people call it the “sanctuary state” law when the senator who wrote it says the phrase is a misnomer? The author, state Senate leader Kevin de Léon, a Los Angeles Democrat, and others say the label is confusing, because the term “sanctuary” has become political—a flashpoint in the immigration debate. The phrase originated…
06 Dec 2017
A teenage girl walks the hardscrabble streets of Richmond, a Bay Area city, rapping about the challenges of drugs, violence—and diabetes. Here, she says, big dreams are “coated in sugar,” and innocence is “corrupted with Coke bottles and Ho Ho cupcakes.” She’s performing in a video by a local youth group that counts diabetes—a national epidemic that has hit California hard—as one of the killers in her neighborhood. The disease, which is spreading and driving up health costs, now impacts more than half of the state’s adults, especially people of color and the poor. Experts say it doesn’t have to be that way—that prevention programs can slow the march of the illness and save money at the same time. But efforts to legislate prevention—for example, taxing the sugary drinks whose consumption contributes to diabetes—have stalled in the face of heavy opposition by the well-funded beverage lobby. The state will soon…