CVIndependent

Sat09222018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

All four of the Rancho Mirage candidates whom the Independent spoke to about CV Link—the 50-mile bike, pedestrian and low-speed electric-vehicle path that, if completed, would connect all eight of the Coachella Valley’s cities—say it’s a dead issue, because the residents of Rancho Mirage overwhelmingly voted against the proposed Rancho Mirage portion two years ago.

And then the candidates keep talking—indicating the issue may not be so dead after all.

Another indication the issue is not so dead: It’s been the most contentious topic so far in the city campaign. Candidate Michael Harrington filed a complaint against incumbent Dana Hobart after Hobart claimed in an email that the three challengers to the incumbents all want to bring the issue back up—perhaps due to the influence of former Goldenvoice chief operating officer Skip Paige, who is in a relationship with candidate Kate Spates.

Both Harrington and Spates have denied Hobart’s claims.

Here’s what four candidates told us when asked where they stand on CV Link. Hobart declined to talk to the Independent, while incumbent Charles Townsend Vinci ended our interview before we could ask him about CV Link.

Robert Mueller: “The CV Link is a big deal, and it’s been a very contentious deal. I think the way that the City Council has handled it has caused the city to become an island. The CV Link was put on the ballot for a vote by the city’s residents, and it was overwhelmingly defeated, with 79 percent of voters coming out against it. I think the voters see it as an externally imposed and expensive disruption without any redeeming benefit. I have no intention of questioning the wisdom of Rancho Mirage voters. They’ve indicated their preference clearly, and I’m not going to try to change their minds. Some candidates may try to make it a campaign issue, but considering that the voters have already indicated their preference, I think that discussing CV Link in the context of this election is an unhelpful academic exercise.”

Michael Harrington: “The Rancho Mirage voters have voted it down, and they’ve said they don’t want it, so it would have to go on the ballot again. I think some of the concerns are about cost and how to apportion those costs. I don’t look at the city in terms of the one issue of CV Link, but somehow, it has become more than just another issue. It’s become some sort of pivotal point where it’s almost become irrational. The incumbents portray it as a threat that will destroy our community. I think that’s irrational. It’s another project, and you look at it rationally and civilly with transparency. But again, the citizens voted it down. I’m open to looking at it again, but I’m not the agent for CV Link. It’s just another project to look at going forward. I’ve reached out to (the Coachella Valley Association of Governments) to discuss with them what might be done with a new City Council. What about having a bike path only in Rancho Mirage? What about cooperating with the people who want to go through our city using CV Link? We need a bike path anyway. I don’t think our bike paths now are really all that good, but we can cooperate with other cities because the riders are going to want to come through here. CVAG is not sharing our trails because of this stand-off. I’d like to look at options to cooperate with the project, even though Rancho Mirage doesn’t want the whole CV Link package, with electric cars and all that. There must be a compromise or a solution, and I’d like to work on it. But I’m not personally promoting the CV Link.”

Kate Spates: “I support the will of the people, and they’ve decided that CV Link should not run through Rancho Mirage. I’m a firm believer in democracy. So, if a wave of people decides to bring it back up, then that’s the only way it’s going to be a part of the discussion. If you ask me, it’s history, and we need to stop talking about it. Although I do receive a large amount of e-mails and calls, and hear voices of support for CV Link, I’m not sure who I’m not hearing from. There have been only a few people who have said, ‘If you’re for the CV Link, then I’m not for you.’ So let me assure (the voters) that there’s not one lone person who can revive the CV Link. And even if all five City Council members decided all of a sudden that we wanted it back, it’s still in the hands of the voters.”

Iris Smotrich (incumbent): “My biggest concerns, and the biggest concerns of the people I talk to, are public safety and property protection. I have to tell you that as a mother and a grandmother and a former chairwoman of the CVAG Public Safety Committee, I’ve heard many concerns through the last four years regarding crime, and accidents, and law-enforcement monitoring, and residential privacy. You have to remember that, according to CVAG’s projections, there will be a huge traffic flow on this roadway, and most travel will be near or in the wash, where there are a lot of communities built. Many of my friends and neighbors and our constituents think there are a lot of problems just waiting to happen. One of the biggest concerns is about homeless encampments. All you have to do is look online at (what’s happened around) similar roadways in the Bay Area, the L.A. River, the American River and the Santa Ana River, and it’s not a nice or a healthy sight to see. It’s heartbreaking, and with this roadway, there (would be) a lot of crime opportunity, drug problems, a lot of health concerns, and privacy issues, especially in the backyards and with windows exposed to the traffic flow of complete strangers going by. I can’t imagine anyone who knows all the details … wanting or agreeing to have any of this. It’s a very difficult situation, and I’m very opposed to it. But we’re going to do an environmental impact study on it for $150,000, even though our residents voted against it, because, someday, things may change. We listen to our constituents, and we listen to our visitors. We want the best for our residents, our businesses and our visitors.”

Published in Politics

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.” —attributed to H.G. Wells

When I was a small child, in a little village in Southern Germany, my bike was my golden key to exploration, adventure and new worlds. I lived in Africa between the ages of 5 and 8; I liked to wear turquoise saris and pedal my massive, maroon bike through the dusty fields and back roads. When my family moved to the suburbs of the Eastern U.S., my embarrassing orange-cream-and-white bike got me to town, to the library, to civilization.

Then came that magic age of 16, and the freedom to drive. I could go farther than the library! My bike got dusty in the garage.

Fast-forward a decade. I was 26 and had been living in London for seven years. I had no need for a car (and was too broke to have one, anyway), but was getting sick of public transportation—buses not showing up in the pouring rain, getting onto said buses with seemingly hundreds of others, etc. A good friend of mine, Laura, was using her bike as her primary form of transportation, and she convinced me to give a bike a shot. I got myself a super-cheap bike and began to cycle.

I loved it. The wind, the air, the energy, the rush of being outside and propelling myself forward to the destination! No matter what the weather conditions were, I loved it.

Then I moved to Salton City. When I first moved there, I cycled along State Route 86 between home and my job at the casino—yes, even at night. I was lit up like a Christmas tree—and it got pretty hairy at times along the highway, but it still beat sitting on my behind in a car.

I recently moved into the Coachella Valley proper, and I continue taking my trusty bike (upgraded now with slimmer wheels) out when I can. My bike played a part in my move: I figured I could cycle more and drive less—to work, to the stores, to dance class, to social gatherings, to events, and just for shits and giggles.

But … where is everybody? I do not see many other people who use the bike as a method of getting around—and I wonder why. We live in a fair climate area, with wide avenues, blue skies and acceptable temperatures at least three-quarters of the year. Many bike lanes are in place, yet they are hardly being used.

As for the few cyclists who are out there, there are predominantly two types: the poor, who have no alternative but to cycle (and take the bus); and the rich, who ride in carbon-fibered pedaling packs. Where is everyone else? Why aren’t people beyond those two extremes using bikes to get around Is it fear? Does it take too long to get places? Do people not even consider bikes as a fun and pleasurable alternative/option?

According to the National Highway Traffic Administration’s most recent National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior, nationally, only 5 percent of the people interviewed use a bike to commute to work or school.

Granted, some of the local bike lanes are funky—waaaaaay too narrow, half on sidewalks, etc.—and what’s with switching from a cycle lane to being relegated to the sidewalk every other block on Eisenhower Drive? These issues certainly need to be addressed; some cities do better than others. CV Link will benefit the whole community, but that project is still years away. Still, today, there are many bike lanes—and overall, that’s good!

Of course, bike lanes aren’t the only concern; aggressive or inattentive motorists are a huge reason why many people are afraid to cycle. Drivers need to be more educated about sharing the road with cyclists, and should understand what it feels like to be passed too closely by a car. Thank goodness the 3-foot law goes into effect later this year!

Motorists: We bicyclists are not trying to piss you off; we’re just trying to get from here to there. And don’t ever yell at a cyclist to “get the fuck off the road.” We have every right to be on the road. And to those of you who cry out about rule-bending cyclists: Please make sure you are an obedient driver who never speeds, never runs yellow lights, never texts and never breaks any other driving rules. Otherwise, you’re a hypocrite—a hypocrite who can kill me with your vehicle.

Yes, people die while riding their bikes. About 2 percent of all traffic fatalities in the United States in 2011 were cyclists. That’s too many people—but far, far more pedestrians and motorists get killed in accidents than bicyclists do.

An enormous positive aspect of cycling is health and happiness. When I drive, especially long distances, I often arrive lethargic and tired. When I cycle, I feel more positive, have more energy, and can concentrate better. I am not the only one who feels this way

Of course, bicycling is not always a viable option; there are often real reasons to take the car. But when there is not a real reason … consider trying bicycling. Your body, your mind, your bank account and your environment will all thank you.

Published in Community Voices

Residents of Thermal scored a major victory in their 16-year fight for clean air when Riverside County was awarded the funding to pave the roads of 31 trailer parks in the unincorporated communities of Eastern Coachella Valley.

The $4.1 million project is scheduled to begin as early as next summer, and should be completed within two years.

“When cars pass by, they lift a lot of dust, and it affects everyone that lives here,” said Margarita Gamez, a resident who has been active in the grassroots effort since 1997.

In 2008, Pueblo Unido, a community-development corporation, joined the fight for improved environmental conditions in the region’s trailer parks, which are typically situated in areas that lack potable water, sewer systems and basic infrastructure.

Trailer-park residents were the backbone of the organizing effort, and the idea to push for paved roads came from them, said Sergio Carranza, executive director and founder of Pueblo Unido.

“I’m just facilitating the project,” he added

Carranza said that dust and fine-particulate pollution from the unpaved roads are linked to the prevalence of asthma and respiratory problems among the many families who live in the trailer parks. The paved roads will also improve accessibility for residents and alleviate another major problem in these communities: flooding caused by heavy rains.

A Long-Awaited Opportunity

Pueblo Unido saw hope for funding when the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) began accepting proposals for environmentally friendly projects, funded by AB 1318 emission-mitigation fees from the Sentinel Energy Project. Meetings were held in number of Riverside County locations to gather community input—but many in the eastern Coachella Valley felt left out of the conversation.

“There were only public hearings being made in the western Coachella Valley,” said Carranza. “We (Pueblo Unido) made sure that the eastern Coachella Valley was taken care of, too.”

Pueblo Unido received backing for their roads proposal from Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez, who introduced AB 1318 in 2009, and Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, who co-authored the bill when he was a state senator. As a result, county officials and held meetings in the eastern Coachella Valley.

“We had a lot of public hearings all over the valley on how this money should be spent. One of the witnesses was a young boy from the eastern Coachella Valley. He had to walk to school every day of his life. He felt that the air quality affected him greatly. (His story) impacted me and other members that are working on this project,” said Benoit, who is a member of the SCAQMD governing board.

SCAQMD, the manager of the mitigation-fee funds, entered into a contract with Riverside County to pave approximately 8.3 miles of unpaved roads within 31 mobile home parks containing 483 mobile-home units.

According to Darin Schemmer, communications director for Benoit, “The actual construction may begin as early as summer 2014. The remaining steps the Riverside County Transportation Department needs to take include completing the design and CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) environmental document, (and) preparing, advertising, bidding and awarding a construction contract.”

The county, in turn, has contracted with Pueblo Unido to continue to be the liaison to the community that came together to make their needs heard.

“I advocated strongly that AQMD must provide technical assistance to grantees, and ultimately, we convinced them to do so. Another thing we did was encourage smaller, community-based grantees, to the extent possible, to partner with agencies that had the resources and capacity to present a strong application,” said Perez. “Such was the case of Pueblo Unido in partnering with Riverside County for the successful paving project.”

"Trail" Would Connect East, West Valley

More than $17 million of the $53 million mitigation fee fund total was awarded to CV Link, a proposed 52-mile multipurpose trail from Palm Springs to Mecca. Tourism leaders aggressively pushed for these funds on the grounds that the entire Coachella Valley would benefit.

Not everyone in the eastern Coachella Valley believes that would be the case.

“The road from Palm Springs to Mecca doesn’t benefit us. It only benefits wealthier communities,” said Gamez, who believes the trail is being geared toward tourists.

Perez, however, said he sees the environmental benefits of both the trail project and the paving project at the trailer parks.

“One of the things we have emphasized from the beginning is the need for an equitable distribution of grant-funding, so that many worthwhile projects and grantees would be able to use their ingenuity and community know-how to address local air quality concerns,” he said.

With the paving project now in place, Carranza said Pueblo Unido would continue listening to and organizing residents of these rural communities, in their quest for a better living environment. Future projects include a water-purification system and the opening of a learning center.

Alejandra Alarcon 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. Brenda Rincon is Coachella Unincorporated’s professional adviser. 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 Local Issues