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Local Issues

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…
06 Oct 2017
California leads the nation once again in a statistic no state wants to boast about. When the cost of living is factored in, the Golden State has the highest poverty rate in the country. More than 20 percent of its residents struggle to make ends meet, according to recently released Census figures. That’s nearly 8 million people. Unfortunately for Californians, this year’s poverty numbers are not an aberration. The Census began releasing state-by-state results for its “supplemental poverty measure” in 2011, in an attempt to improve upon the outdated and heavily criticized official poverty statistics. In the less sophisticated “official” measure, a family of four in San Francisco or Los Angeles or San Diego faces exactly the same poverty threshold—$24,339 annually—as a family in rural Mississippi. That’s despite the fact that you can rent a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,200-square-foot house in Horn Lake, Miss., for the same price ($850 per month)…
20 Sep 2017
Since 2007, the California Legislature has worked to encourage the development of telephone and Internet access through the California Advanced Services Fund. The fund provides financial assistance to both large telecommunications companies—including Frontier, AT&T, Charter and Cox—and independent broadband projects driven by community organizations that partner with smaller Internet service providers. Thanks in part to the fund, the Legislature has grown closer to its goal of deploying broadband Internet service to 98 percent of Californians by 2017. But as the end of 2017 drew closer, many California legislators wanted to update the broadband-support program. The result: AB 1665, aka the Internet for All Now Act, which was authored by eastern Coachella Valley Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia. After overwhelming approval in both houses, the bill now sits on the governor’s desk, as of this writing. “We know that having broadband Internet access improves the state’s economy, enhances educational opportunities, and benefits public…
28 Aug 2017
In April 2016, the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) held a rally to highlight its achievements in bringing safe, clean and potable water to schools in the Eastern Coachella Valley via its Agua4All campaign, which installed 75 clean water-bottle-filling stations for student use. For many of these local children, these stations offer the only consistent and free access to safe drinking water they have. (See “Potable Progress: Agua4All Meets Its Goal of Giving East Valley Students Access to Safe Drinking Water—but There’s Work Left to Do,” May 8, 2016.) Since then, however, Agua4All’s progress has slowed significantly. Just those initial 75 stations are operating; no others have been installed. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that the program has stalled,” said Olga Morales, the RCAC regional manager. “Originally, we had two pilot programs, in the Coachella Valley and Bakersfield. Most of our resources were utilized in those two communities. Then, we expanded…
25 Aug 2017
People in half of California’s households struggle to afford the roof over their heads. Home ownership—once a staple of the California dream—is at its lowest rate since World War II. Nearly 70 percent of poor Californians see the majority of their paychecks go immediately toward escalating rents. As of this writing, state lawmakers are debating a long-delayed housing package.Here’s what you need to know about one of California’s most vexing issues. Just how hard is it to buy a home in California? Hard. Really hard—both compared to how hard it is in other states, and how hard it was for previous generations of Californians to buy homes. While it’s always been more expensive to be a homeowner in California, the gap between us and the rest of the country has grown into a chasm. The median California home is now priced 2 1/2 times higher than the median national home.…