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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Local Issues

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…
05 Dec 2017
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In 2001, the DREAM Act was introduced in Congress. If passed into law, the DREAM Act would grant legal status to undocumented children who were brought to and educated in the United States. Sixteen years later, the act has never been passed. DREAMers, the young men and women who would be affected by the law, received some help in 2012 when the Obama administration enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy—but in September, the Trump administration announced it was repealing the program. (See “A Nightmare for Dreamers,” Oct. 19, at CVIndependent.com.) As a result, Hugo Chavez, of Desert Hot Springs, fears for his future. Chavez is well-known in the Coachella Valley music community. He’s the drummer for local band Sleeping Habits (formerly The BrosQuitos), and is one of the many DREAMers across the country who hope to become a legal resident or citizen someday. “I was brought here…
23 Nov 2017
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It’s official: Palm Springs now has the highest sales tax in Riverside County. Thanks to newly approved Measure D, the rate will be 9.25 percent. The half-cent sales-tax hike will bring in an extra $6.7 million annually, according to estimates. Voters in November also approved Measure E, a new tax on recreational marijuana. These new revenues will be coming into city coffers along with, among other revenue sources, funds from Measure J, the one-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2011. Measure J has indirectly led to a lot of bad publicity for the city—because some of those funds were and are being used for the now-coming-to-fruition downtown redevelopment project that was embroiled in the shady dealings that led to the arrest of developer John Wessman and former Mayor Steve Pougnet on bribery charges. With an entirely new City Council taking office over the last two years, it’s worth…
19 Oct 2017
On Oct. 8, the Trump White House released a long list of demands that the president had given to Congress—demands that Trump said would need to be met in order for the fate of young undocumented immigrants, often called DREAMers, to be determined. “These findings outline reforms that must be included as part of any legislation addressing the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients,” Trump said. “Without these reforms, illegal immigration and chain migration, which severely and unfairly burden American workers and taxpayers, will continue without end.” The list of demands disappointed advocates of DREAMers—young men and women who could face deportation if Congress does not act. Hadley Bajramovic is a Riverside County immigration attorney for both the Consulate of Mexico and the Consulate of Guatemala. She said the proclamation by Trump did not surprise her. “I don’t know that it was shocking,” Bajramovic said, “but the…