CVIndependent

Fri09202019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The California Democratic Party no longer accepts donations from the oil industry, viewing that as politically unsavory for a party pushing to curb climate change. But that hasn’t stopped oil companies from spending millions to help California Democrats win.

Instead of giving money to the party, oil companies are donating directly to Democratic candidates and pouring huge sums into outside groups that campaign for a mix of Democrats and Republicans.

The petroleum industry has put at least $19.2 million into California politics in the 2017-18 election cycle, according to a CALmatters analysis of campaign finance data. Much of it is helping Republicans, including $2 million to the California Republican Party. The industry also gave roughly $14 million to independent committees supporting some politicians from both parties.

But the oil money helping California Democrats is significant. It includes:

  • More than $853,000 in direct contributions to 47 Democrats running for Assembly and Senate—including powerful leaders of both houses of the Legislature—and to the campaigns of Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Ed Hernandez.
  • More than $2.8 million on an independent campaign to help Democrat Susan Rubio win a Los Angeles-area state Senate seat.
  • More than $343,000 on an independent campaign supporting the re-election of Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas of Bakersfield.
  • Nearly $160,000 to a committee that campaigns for business-friendly Democrats.

In addition, oil companies and other business interests are pooling funds on campaigns supporting other Democrats running for the Legislature: Tasha Boerner Horvath of Encinitas, Sabrina Cervantes of Riverside, James Ramos of San Bernardino, Bob Archuleta of Pico Rivera, Vanessa Delgado of Montebello, Freddie Rodriguez of Pomona and Sydney Kamlager of Los Angeles.

It’s all part of a broader push by business interests in recent years to shape the type of Democrats who hold power in the state Capitol. As the Republican Party has diminished in California, and progressive activists nudge the Democratic Party leftward, big business has helped foster a cadre of more-conservative Democrats in the Legislature. This “mod squad” amounts to a bloc that can kill or water down environmental legislation.

“For years, I would have to convince the business community every election cycle that a moderate Democrat is good for them—not as great as a Republican who would do everything they tell them to, but better than a liberal Democrat,” said David Townsend, a political consultant who runs a business-backed political action committee that works to elect Democrats.

“I don’t have to make that argument anymore. It’s patently clear,” he said. “Now it’s a question of who is a mod, and how much can (business) help?”

Chevron, Valero and Phillips 66 are among the businesses working to elect Democrats through Townsend’s PAC and others like it. The companies are members of the Western States Petroleum Association, which doesn’t give political donations, but lobbies in Sacramento.

“We’re focused on bringing the conversation around energy back to the middle and away from the polarized extremes,” Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the petroleum association, said in a statement.

But many environmentalists see this kind of centrism as anathema to Democratic party principles. The California Democratic Party’s platform calls for a moratorium on fracking and a new tax on fossil fuel extraction—ideas that have failed in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

“Our fear is that if oil companies are pouring money into candidates even before they’re elected, if they are elected, what will be their moral compass when there are issues with the refineries or natural gas power plants?” said Diana Vazquez, a policy manager with the California Environmental Justice Alliance.

The group ranks legislators every year on their environmental records. One of the low-scoring Democrats this year is Salas, the Bakersfield assemblyman benefiting from big spending by the oil industry, a major employer in his oil-rich region.

The environmental group gave an even lower score to Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio—the sister of Susan Rubio, who is running for state Senate with more than $2.8 million in support from petroleum. Environmentalists are supporting Susan Rubio’s opponent, Mike Eng, also a Democrat.

Susan Rubio’s spokesman touted her work on parks funding and other environmental issues as a Baldwin Park council member, and said her sister’s track record doesn’t indicate how she’ll vote.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said that despite campaign support from Big Oil, Democrats have passed environmental measures that oil companies opposed—including legislation to curb offshore drilling and expand renewable energy.

“Does it influence individual members? I’m not sure,” Rendon said. “But as a body, I think we have a good record of standing up to oil.”

Yet Big Oil’s influence in the state Capitol is why the chair of the California Democratic Party’s environmental caucus pushed the party to ban oil-company money at the end of 2016. (The Democratic National Committee followed suit earlier this year, but, facing blowback from labor unions that rely on oil industry jobs, quickly reversed course and overturned the ban.)

RL Miller, the party’s state environmental caucus chair, said she’s not surprised the petroleum industry has found other channels for spending on California Democrats this year.

“I’ve always known that it would be a long road,” she said. “Getting the party not to take the money is a step, but the end goal here is to remove their influence in Democratic politics.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California’s policies and politics.

Published in Politics

It wouldn’t be election season without a bunch of big-money interests trying to tell you how to vote—and with hundreds of millions of dollars rolling into initiative campaigns over housing and health care, California hit a new record this year.

The $111 million campaign against Proposition 8 on kidney-dialysis clinics amounts to the most money poured into a single side of a ballot measure in the United States—at least since electronic record-keeping began in 2002, and possibly ever.

Here are three industries spending huge sums to influence your vote:

Landlords and real estate agents outraising rent-control advocates 3-to-1

Landlords are largely bankrolling the campaign against Proposition 10, which would allow local governments to expand rent control.

“They don’t want to see their property values decline; it’s that simple,” said Steve Maviglio, spokesman for the No on Prop 10 campaign, which has raised $74.7 million.

Prop 10 would repeal a 1995 state law that forbids cities from applying rent control to single-family houses, or any type of home built after 1995; that 1995 law also allows landlords to raise apartment rent any time a tenant moves out. Instead, the ballot measure would give cities the option to expand rent control to cover more homes—making it harder for landlords to turn a profit.

“It’s about their future, their bottom line. That’s why they’re spending so much,” said Charly Norton, spokeswoman for the Yes on Prop 10 campaign, which has raised $25.9 million, mostly from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Supporters say Prop 10 is necessary, because homelessness is on the rise, and a growing share of Californians spend more than half their income on rent. Opponents say it will worsen the state’s housing shortage by discouraging developers from building more homes.

Donors against Prop 10 include corporate property owners like Blackstone, Essex and Equity Residential, as well as many individual landlords. The biggest donor is the California Association of Realtors, which has given $8 million to the campaign.

The Realtors' association also has poured $13.2 million into the campaign for Proposition 5, making it the sole funder of that push to change California’s property-tax law.

Californians now generally pay much higher property taxes if they buy a new home after selling a house they’ve owned for many years. That’s because property taxes are based on the sales price of a house, not how much it’s worth as it appreciates over time. This initiative would allow three categories of homeowners—those over 55, disabled or who lost their homes in natural disasters—to keep the property-tax levels of the home they sold if they buy a new home. Real estate agents say it would encourage older Californians to sell their homes, making more houses available in our tight market. (Experts disagree.) Of course, it also would boost their commissions.

“It will give a huge windfall to the real estate industry,” said Mike Roth, spokesman for the campaign against Prop 5, which has raised about $3.2 million, largely from public-employee unions that could see cuts if the government loses tax revenue.

Steve White, president of the California Association of Realtors, insisted it’s about “meeting a need. The unaffordability of housing in California … is largely dictated by lack of availability,” he said. “We have tens of thousands of homes that could be waiting for all those tens of thousands of younger families.”

Dialysis clinics outraising labor opponents 5-to-1

The most expensive fight on the California ballot this year is over Proposition 8, which would limit profits for dialysis companies. The businesses are fighting back, pouring $111 million into the campaign against Prop 8—most of it from two dialysis companies, DaVita and Fresenius.

“Prop 8 was designed to have a negative impact on dialysis clinics in California, and that’s why the groups that are opposed are fighting it so heavily,” said Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the No Prop 8 campaign.

She said the measure wouldn’t allow dialysis clinics to be reimbursed by insurance companies for many routine business expenses. Ultimately, that would cause companies to close clinics, Fairbanks said, giving patients fewer places to seek treatment.

Workers at dialysis clinics are not unionized. A labor group that represents other health-care workers has had its sights on organizing dialysis workers, and put Prop 8 on the ballot as part of a much larger feud within the industry.

“This record amount of (campaign) spending speaks to the priorities of the dialysis corporations, which is to protect their profits,” said Sean Wherley, spokesman Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers, the sponsor of Prop 8.

The Prop 8 campaign has raised $20.3 million, most of it from SEIU United Healthcare Workers. The union argues that dialysis clinic companies are netting huge profits while allowing shoddy health and safety conditions at some clinics. Limiting the companies’ profits to 15 percent, as Prop 8 calls for, would encourage the clinics to put more money into improving patient care, the union argues.

Ambulance companies outraising labor opponents more than 600-to-1

Colorado-based company American Medical Response put Proposition 11 on the ballot and contributed most of the $29.9 million raised to support it. The measure would allow private ambulance companies to require workers to remain on call during breaks, so they can respond to an emergency even if it comes while they’re eating lunch. That’s already the common practice, but this measure comes in response to a court ruling that security guards cannot be required to stay on call while they’re on breaks. Ambulance companies don’t want to be held to the same standard.

“If applied to the ambulance industry, it would have a significant public safety risk,” said Marie Brichetto, spokeswoman for the Yes on Prop 11 campaign.

Opponents—the emergency responders who work on ambulances—aren’t raising much money; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union contributed just $47,000 to oppose Prop 11.

“This is a classic ‘big corporation against its own employees,’” said Jason Brollini, president of the United EMS Workers union that is affiliated with AFSCME.

He contends the ambulance companies’ real motive with Prop 11 is to eliminate any liability they could face from employees who sue over not getting the extra pay they’re supposed to receive when their breaks are interrupted by an emergency call.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California’s policies and politics.

Published in Politics

When I spoke to the candidates for Cathedral City’s City Council two years ago, the main concern was economic development—how to generate revenue, grow new businesses, and continue to come back from the devastation of the Great Recession of 2008.

Today, the city is undeniably in a better financial position. Revenues from the new and growing marijuana industry have been a boon—but each candidate I spoke to this year acknowledged that Cathedral City still has a long way to go.

This year’s election is being done differently: Under threat of a civil-rights lawsuit, Cathedral City—like many other California municipalities—has switched from at-large elections to district-based elections, and three of those five new district seats are up for election this year. The city is also eliminating the elected mayor’s seat; from now on, the position will rotate among the five council members. As a result of all this, two incumbents—Mayor Stan Henry and Shelley Kaplan—are not running for re-election.

One incumbent is running—Mark Carnevale is facing Juan Carlos Vizaga in the new District 3. In the new District 4, four candidates are facing off: Sergio Espericueta, Ernesto Gutierrez, Rick Saldivar and John Rivera. In District 5, voters will choose between Raymond Gregory and Laura Ahmed.

Four of the eight candidates—Juan Carlos Vizaga, Sergio Espericueta, Ernesto Gutierrez and Laura Ahmed—did not respond to e-mail requests and phone messages from the Independent. Here’s what the responding candidates had to say.


District 3

Mark Carnevale said he’s hoping to continue the work he started after being elected to his first term in 2014.

“I was a new candidate, and Cathedral City had planted the seed,” said Carnevale, who owns Nicolino’s Italian Restaurant with his wife. “There were a lot of development possibilities and a lot of empty buildings. There was a lot of work to be done, and I’ve always accepted challenges in my life. I thought I’d like to be involved in it and throw my personal background as a businessman in there, because a city is run different than a business. When the dice was rolled, we came up with a really good council.

He said the state’s elimination of redevelopment agencies earlier this decade took a toll.

“We’ve really done some good things with the efforts of the prior councils, but the redevelopment money was taken away,” he said. “We put some ideas together with a lot of goal-settings. The economy turned around; cannabis fell into our lap; the economy fell in our lap; and we started renting the buildings, so Cathedral City is moving forward. Timing is everything. We work together as a team to move forward.”

Carnevale said he’s fine with the move to district-based elections.

“It means being a little bit closer to the constituents there, and they can reach out to you,” Carnevale said. “But I’ll still represent all five districts. I don’t care if someone comes to me from District 5, saying, ‘Mark, I have a problem.’ I’ll be there. I’m going to the city manager, saying, ‘Hey, this person in District 5 has a situation.’ That doesn’t make a difference to me.”

Carnevale said he still sees economic development as Cathedral City’s key issue.

“We have to get the downtown filled up. We have to get the entryway from the Interstate 10 freeway onto Date Palm more conducive and get some building going along there,” he said. “We definitely would like to see the annex of Thousand Palms. That’s going to take some work. For me, being a businessman, if I want to build something, I’ll build it. If I want to knock down a wall, I’ll knock down a wall. But the city (red tape) is unbelievable. First, you have to get property entitlements and go through a process. If there’s redevelopment money involved, you have to get approval from their board. It could take years just to get a decision made to build. That’s frustrating. I’d like to see fast-line development here and want to see stuff grow fast.

“Cathedral City has property, and we have the lowest rents in businesses. That’s why we’ve seen 30 restaurants open over the past year and a half.”


District 4

Rick Saldivar is a newcomer to politics and was inspired by his church to run for City Council.

“I’m a pastor at a church in Cathedral City. Our main lead pastor asked a couple of the other pastors to go to City Council meetings,” Saldivar said. “I’ve lived in Cathedral City all of my life. … I love what they do for the city, and when they started doing district (elections), I decided to run for my neighborhood, because I feel I have a real pulse of the residents I live with in my neighborhood.”

Saldivar said people in his district have concerns about a lot of day-to-day issues that don’t reflect well on a city that is trying grow economically. 

“(People are concerned about) homelessness, drug abuse, youth-at-risk, and youth in general,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of senior citizens who are raising their grandchildren. That’s something that has become new to me. I think the homelessness issue needs attention, but I know that’s a valley-wide problem.”

Saldivar thinks small businesses could help solve the city’s economic problems.

“Cathedral City needs to have some sort of program or education on how to start your own business,” he said. “After all the door-knocking I’ve done, I’ve learned there are a lot of entrepreneur-minded people in our backyard—(potential) business owners who have had ideas, but have nothing to educate them on that. How can we make them self-sufficient and add a storefront to our city? I ran into a lady who does garage sales in different areas of the city with different families. She was so business-savvy, and I asked her why she didn’t have a storefront somewhere. It was because she didn’t know how.”

John Rivera is an architect who says his dedication to public service led to his City Council run. He currently serves on the city’s Architectural Review Committee, and formerly served on the Planning Commission.

“I have 25 years of service, including two years with the city of Palm Springs and 15 with Cathedral City,” Rivera said. “I was also a scoutmaster in Palm Springs for seven years with Boy Scouts of America. I tell people I am doing this because this is what my dad would have done. My dad was the type of person who did a lot for people and for family and friends. He was always the guy who stepped up to help. He would never ask for anything in return. That was just his nature.”

Rivera expressed concern about the lack of new construction in Cathedral City.

“We have a lot of growth with the cannabis industry, and that’s been a blessing,” he said. “The thing I see, being an architect by profession, is a lot of business and construction in Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert—but none in Cathedral City. I think it’s a sign that there’s something not happening, and that needs to be corrected. Being an architect and being on the Planning Commission, I’ve been at both ends of projects and have gotten them through. I know the system, and I know ways to streamline and make changes for a faster process to make things more business-friendly.”

Rivera also said the city needs to look at economic development in a more-modern way.

“In the past four years, there have been 30 new restaurants that have popped up. We’ve had a couple of big-box stores shut down, Burlington Coat Factory being one of them. The big-box stores are disappearing with e-commerce,” he said. “One of the things I’ve been focused on trying to get is what I refer to as a millennial city. We have a downtown that is made largely of vacant lots. When the city was master-planned back in the 1990s, it was done by architects in San Francisco that designed our city based on models in the 1970s and the 1960s. I think that was a waste of taxpayer money, and we need to look forward on how millennials will live in our city. They aren’t golfers; they don’t live the lifestyle that baby boomers live, and trying to tailor a new look for our city that is millennial-friendly is going to take a lot of forward-thinking and a lot of changes, but will create something that is very unique and will draw a lot of potential home-buyers.”


District 5

Raymond Gregory, running in District 5, retired in 2017 after 25 years with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

“One of the reasons I retired was because I was tired of being removed from my own community,” Gregory said. “My intention when I retired was to work on my house and work on things I felt were neglected—but also to volunteer in my community and with the city. When I retired (in September 2017), I started looking for opportunities and talking to people. People said that with (my) experience in law enforcement and (my) experience with government—and I had gone back to school, getting a master’s in business management—they said I’d be a good City Council member.”

Gregory, like other candidates, talked about how the recession hit Cathedral City particularly hard.

“Cathedral City had some challenges before, but when the recession came, a lot of the stores and businesses that the city had attracted started to close, and bigger stores moved away,” he said. “We’re left with a lot of empty storefronts. We have residential and commercial portions that were started to be developed and were never finished. … Quality of life is related to economic development, because if you’re not generating the revenue, you’re not able to build up your public safety or maintain your roads, and you don’t have the recreational opportunities such as parks. So there are a number of quality-of-life issues that need to be addressed, but economic development is the No. 1 challenge we have.”

Gregory expressed hope that tourism dollars and new businesses could come to Cathedral City.

“We need to build up a good tax base, and if I had my wish, we’d build up hotels, because it’s a good tax for the city to make revenue off of,” he said. “We’re a west valley location with a lot of the same amenities that our neighbors in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage have. I’d like to see hotels, tourism and recreational businesses. We have to continue to build on our arts and culture district and attract small businesses related to that. I’d like to see some green technology come in, and something to offer great jobs for people who live here so they don’t have to drive elsewhere to work.”

Jimmy Boegle contributed to this story.

Published in Politics

California is politically lopsided: Most of the people live in the south, but most of the political power is based in the north.

In recent years, the majority of politicians elected to statewide offices have been northern Californians—including the governor, lieutenant governor, schools superintendent and both U.S. senators.

That could change after November’s election, because a striking number of statewide races this year pit a NorCal candidate against SoCal candidate, testing the political power and competing priorities of the Golden State’s two most populous regions.

But don’t count on it.

Northern California is likely to continue to dominate for reasons that largely boil down to this: People in the Bay Area just vote a lot more than those in Los Angeles. Economic and demographic changes overlap with voting trends, together situating California’s political nucleus in the heavily Democratic region in and around San Francisco.

“There is some built-in disadvantage for statewide candidates coming from the Los Angeles area,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California. “The voter turnout and participation is disappointing in L.A., compared to the rest of the state.”

Even though Los Angeles is the state’s most-populous county, it has the lowest turnout rate for registered voters. Of the 58 counties, L.A.’s turnout was dead-last in the 2014 election and second-to-last in the June primary. Participation is so abysmal in Los Angeles County that voters there actually cast fewer ballots than voters in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area—even though Los Angeles County has 1.2 million more people registered to vote.

Turnout is better in other populous SoCal counties such as Orange, San Diego and here in Riverside, but still not as strong as in the Bay Area.

“It’s a tale of two economies. Where you have a declining middle class, you have fewer voters and less civic participation,” said Mike Madrid, a GOP political consultant with expertise in Latino voting trends.

Southern California is home to a greater share of Latinos than the Bay Area, and has many more people living in poverty—both characteristics correlated with low voting. Per-capita income is much higher in the Bay Area, and jobs there are being created faster. That not only means people are more likely to vote; it also gives candidates from the region a stronger network for fundraising.

“As the economy has separated, so has our democracy,” Madrid said. “The nine-county Bay Area is becoming whiter, wealthier and older. And that’s creating a power base that is driving the political leadership and discourse for the rest of the state.”

Of course, voters don’t always choose the candidate from their own region, and a home address in the Bay Area is no guarantee of a candidate’s success. Other factors—such as politics, fundraising and the power of incumbency—also come into play.

But with seven of the nine statewide races on November’s ballot featuring a north-south matchup, the question now is whether voters will defy the recent trend.

In the race for governor, the dominance of Northern California was clear when the primary was over in June. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, beat out two fellow Democrats from Los Angeles to face Republican John Cox of San Diego on the November ballot. Newsom is far ahead in the polls and fundraising in a state where just one-quarter of voters are registered GOP.

Given their advantage in voter registration and fundraising, Democrats—no matter which end of the state they live in—are favored to win in statewide contests against Republicans. One test will be in the race for insurance commissioner, which features a Democratic legislator from Los Angeles against a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is running with no party preference. Steve Poizner, who was insurance commissioner from 2006-2010, used to be a Republican but changed his registration to run this year. He splits his time between Silicon Valley and San Diego, and is facing state Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Los Angeles Democrat, in this down-ticket race.

Because of California’s nonpartisan election system, some races feature two Democrats, making the outcomes harder to predict. Voters could choose a lieutenant governor who lives in San Francisco—real estate developer Eleni Kounalakis—or one who lives in Los Angeles, state Sen. Ed Hernandez. They could pick a statewide schools superintendent who hails from the Bay Area—Assemblyman Tony Thurmond—or one who helped run schools in Los Angeles, Marshall Tuck. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein—a former mayor of San Francisco—is fighting a challenge from the left from state Sen. Kevin de León, a Democrat from Los Angeles.

“All else equal in terms of platform, and political leanings, if you have connections to the Bay Area, that is considered to be an advantage,” said Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the University of Southern California. “It’s both the voter strength in the Bay Area and the (fundraising) money that’s present in the Bay Area.”

The dynamic is different for legislative races—where the state is broken into districts with equal populations. Southern California’s large population means the region has many representatives in the Legislature, including the leaders of both the Senate and the Assembly.

But because of the voting trends, many SoCal lawmakers are elected with fewer votes than their NorCal colleagues. Even though Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who lives in Los Angeles County, is one of the state’s most powerful politicians, he was elected by about 89,000 voters in 2016, while several Bay Area legislators got at least 130,000 votes.  

Mike Trujillo, a Democratic political consultant in Los Angeles, said he’s hoping the energy this year over control of Congress will prompt more Southern Californians to vote. With several contested House races, the region is being blitzed by ads and volunteers reminding people an election is coming up.

“We do have a lot of those swing seats,” he said. “We’re hoping that is influential.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California’s policies and politics.

Published in Politics

The November 2018 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent—our annual Pride Issue—is hitting streets this week.

But before I discuss all of the great stuff you’ll find therein … an apology: Election Day 2018 is almost here—and I am not happy with how we’ve covered things this year.

It’s not a matter of quality; I am satisfied with the coverage that we have done. The amount of election coverage we’ve published has been substantial. Locally, we’ve covered the Desert Hot Springs city election; the Palm Desert city election; the District 28 Senate race between Joy Silver and Jeff Stone; the already-decided District 4 Riverside County Board of Supervisors seat; and the already-decided Rancho  Mirage city election. We’ve also done some coverage on election matters involving Desert Healthcare District and the city of Indio, and soon, we will have coverage of the Cathedral City election posted. Finally, we’ve published a fair amount of state election news from our partners at CALmatters.

While that is a lot of election coverage … it’s not enough. As the calendar turned from 2017 to 2018, we set an internal goal of covering all local city elections taking place this year, and we failed. I am embarrassed that we didn’t get to covering the city elections in La Quinta, Coachella and Indian Wells. I also wish we’d have been able to do more state coverage—but we just ran out of time and resources.

For that, I apologize. We need to do better, and we are exploring ways to improve moving forward.

Now, on to the good stuff.

Our special Pride print section includes two stories directly relating to the Greater Palm Springs Pride events taking place in November, and two stories regarding fantastic LGBT-related events happening later in the month. (Speaking of Palm Springs Pride: We’ll be at the festival both days—Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 3 and 4—giving out newspapers and swag, so please stop by and say hello.)

Beyond the Pride stories, we have been doing a lot of other great stuff, from our annual list of Censored Stories—important national and international stories that were under-covered by the mainstream press—to fantastic arts, food and music coverage.

I hope you enjoy what we’re doing. As always, thanks for reading, and don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or input.

One more thing … Happy Pride!

Published in Editor's Note

On this week's Dodger-blue weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles breaks down GOP fear tactics; This Modern World brings us the latest case from Donald Trump, detective-in-chief; Jen Sorenson sighs at history repeating; Apoca Clips reveals where Li'l Trumpy is getting some of his recent ideas; and Red Meat wants to leave work early.

Published in Comics

Palm Desert was incorporated as a city just 45 years ago—on Nov. 26, 1973, making it the second-youngest city in the Coachella Valley.

This November, Palm Desert is poised to become the fourth valley city to approve and regulate cannabis-industry retail sales, commercial cultivation and delivery services within its city limits—presuming voters approve the resolution put on this year’s ballot by the current City Council.

Also on the November ballot: Palm Desert voters will choose among five candidates—two incumbents and three challengers—for two seats up for election on the City Council.

The Independent recently spoke with four of five candidates. (Matt Monica, who identifies himself as a retired educator on the city’s candidate-information form, did not respond to the Independent.)

Incumbent Jan Harnik is winding up a busy year of political campaigning. Earlier this year, she ran unsuccessfully for the local Riverside County Board of Supervisors seat. After losing to V. Manuel Perez, Harnik immediately dove into her re-election campaign.

“It’s been exhausting,” said Harnik, who has served on the Palm Desert council since 2010. “But if we pay attention to the lessons, we have an opportunity to learn through these processes. It was pretty valuable in a lot of ways for me.”

Why did she decide to again run for the Palm Desert City Council?

“I’ll share with you that I’m an accidental politician,” Harnik said. “But I’ve found a great passion in doing this work, and in making a difference in our community. In 2013, I pushed for a strategic plan for our city that took over a year to complete. More than 100 community members volunteered to help us create this great plan, and now we have work to do.”

Sabby Jonathan, who is completing his fourth year on the council and this year is serving as mayor, spoke similarly of not wanting to leave work undone.

“I’ve been a resident in Palm Desert for almost 40 years, and I’ve been involved in our community during that time. Currently, my involvement is serving on council,” Jonathan said. “Right now, we’re dealing with creating good things rather than putting out fires. So one of the driving forces that caused me to seek re-election is that we have adopted a vision of what the city will look like in the next 20 years. It’s our strategic plan, which is now embedded in our general plan. We are now in the early stages of implementation, and so I feel that there is unfinished work.”

Challenger Carlos Pineda described his work experience as being in the legal field and working as a medical assistant, attending to Alzheimer’s and elderly patients. “Since January 2017, I’ve been active in attending City Council meetings in each of our Coachella Valley cities to address different issues that affect my communities,” he said. “My frustration stems from the fact that, since day one, when the new (federal) administration took over, we’ve been under attack. I’m a Latino person. I’m an immigrant, and I’m also a member of the LGBTQ community, and when we bring up issues (important to us) with the councils, they’re not listening to us.”

The other challenger is Kenneth Doran. A resident of Palm Desert for 15 years, he is retired.

“My background is in economic development (where he worked for eight years for local government agencies), and I have a master’s degree in public administration, so this is not new to me,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for a very long time, and therefore I think I can bring something.”

We asked each candidate what they felt are the priority issues facing Palm Desert.

“Economic development is one,” Pineda said. “I feel that Palm Desert has come to stagnation. They (the City Council) aren’t doing enough development. As far as the city’s support for businesses within Palm Desert, (the City Council) always focuses on the El Paseo area, but there are a lot of empty stores in the Westfield Mall, and this is affecting jobs. I understand that right now, Sears is having talks about when, and if, they will be leaving that location within the next year. That’s a big concern, because if we start losing more of the big stores, who’s going to want to go to the mall? The foot traffic will suffer. What these businesses are doing is moving to other cities where rents are more affordable, and the traffic is better so they can generate more sales.”

Pineda continued: “Another key point is affordable housing. According to the City Council, Palm Desert is the only city that has a resolution in place that says for every five acres of development, 20 percent of that space has to be allocated for affordable housing. However, it doesn’t mean that (developers) have to build it. So, they (the City Council) are bypassing their own policy. In some instances, they have accepted fees in lieu of (enforcing) the building of affordable housing. That’s a big problem for me, and it’s a big problem for the community.”

Pineda also took the current City Council to task over homelessness: “In the city of Palm Desert, they seem to not want to accept that there are homeless people. But there is a homeless population here, and I feel that Palm Desert should be a lot more active in addressing this problem in our own city. Their response to me has been, ‘Well, the best thing we continue to do is work in a coalition with (the Coachella Valley Association of Governments) and its committee (on homelessness).’ But in my opinion, each city needs to actively start doing something like they have in Palm Springs.”

Jonathan certainly sees the homelessness issue from another perspective.

“I chair the Coachella Valley Association of Governments homelessness committee,” he said. “We’ve implemented a regional holistic approach, and we’ve just received the first yearly report. It’s an evaluation of our first full year, and it is incredibly encouraging. It shows an 80 percent success rate.”

What does that “success rate” mean?

“We engage the services of HARC (Health Assessment and Research for Communities, a Palm Desert nonprofit) to conduct a third-party, objective, data-driven evaluation of the program. One of the measures was to track those who entered and exited the program to see how many have been taken out of homelessness and put into permanent housing, along with wrap-around services. The results stated that it was about eight out of 10. … It is very much a regional and holistic approach, and I’m encouraged by that success.”

Other issues that Jonathan said were priorities included the implementation of the aforementioned strategic plan, and handling the escalating cost of public-safety services.

“That cost is increasing annually at an unsustainable rate, and we’re dealing with it,” he said. “I think it’s important that we continue to address that issue to find a solution.”

Doran and Harnik both put economic development at the top of their lists.

“I want to focus on redeveloping the Highway 111 corridor,” Doran said. “What we have right now is from back in the ’50s, and it’s obsolete. It’s not fitting the traffic that we have now, so I’d like to revitalize that. Also, in terms of economic development, for the past 21 years, we’ve been trying to get a hotel over at Desert Willow (near Cook Street and Country Club Drive). We have hotel pads over there waiting for a hotel to be built. I want to see what kind of incentives we’re offering hotel developers now, and see what can be done to bring someone in there.”

Harnik said: “We recognize that tourism is the (economic) backbone of our community, and we also recognize it is absolutely necessary that we broaden our economic base. Every time we hit a downturn in the economy, we get that message, and we’re doing something about it now. We are really investing in the Cal State University, San Bernardino’s Palm Desert campus, and offering relevant education. This will have an impact regionally, and not just on Palm Desert.”

Harnik touted the council’s commitment to a digital iHub in Palm Desert.

“We’re collaborating with CSUSB and the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, and I’m fortunate right now to be the chair of the executive committee at CVEP. We three are collaborating on this digital iHub, and we are bringing over the cybersecurity-study program from CSUSB to be part of our headquarters. We found a building right near the CSUSB Palm Desert campus, and they are going to have some of their (administrative functions) in there as well as the cybersecurity program. There are almost 400,000 unfilled jobs in cybersecurity in this nation, and they’re high-paying, clean-energy jobs. This is a tremendous opportunity for our community and for the region at large.

“When a job goes away due to technology, there are many more jobs created because of that technology,” Harnik said. “So this is an opportunity for somebody in their 40s or 50s to go into a new career. We’re focusing on Palm Desert and the digital iHub, because we have the bandwidth through CENIC (the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California). It’s the only bandwidth (of this magnitude) in the valley today. With this strong bandwidth, as well as our lower cost of living when compared to San Francisco or Los Angeles, we have an excellent opportunity to attract good and different types of businesses here.”

Doran said he’d focus on “community-building” and fixing what he sees as a lack of ethics in the city’s business dealings.

“Would you give a $130,000-a-year position as marketing manager to somebody who does not have a college degree and has no experience in marketing?” he said. “Several years ago, that happened (in Palm Desert). There is a city ordinance governing how persons should be selected for positions in the city administration, and it’s done that way to be respectful to the resident taxpayers. And when it’s not done the right way, to me, it’s a slap in the face to those residents. … If I see things like that happening, I won’t just vote “no,” but I’ll let the citizens know what’s happening.”

All four candidates agreed that voters should pass the cannabis business taxation and regulation resolution on this November’s ballot.

“(The City Council) adopted that resolution that permits adult use of recreational cannabis pursuant to the state’s Prop 64,” Jonathan said. “We were very careful in drafting our ordinance to make sure that we limit the number of cannabis businesses in our city, the types of those businesses, the distances between each other, the distance from schools and so forth. The idea was to step into this new industry very carefully, and that’s what we’ve accomplished.

“We’ve approved 11 permits, and (those businesses) are all in some stage of development at this point. Six of those permits are for dispensaries. The other five are for cannabis manufacturing.”

Harnik added: “When we make a move like this in Palm Desert, we always engage the stakeholders. We had a lot of input from the cannabis industry, including growers, sellers, etc., and we’ve looked at what other cities have done. We’re being far more conservative in the cannabis business than some other cities in our valley, and we feel that going slow and measured is the better way. We’re looking to see how this market shakes out. We do not want to create a situation where all of our really valuable plumbing businesses, tile, decor and construction businesses in the north end near Interstate 10 have their landlords saying, ‘We can make more money if we have somebody growing cannabis in there.’”

Pineda gave the current City Council credit for being “progressive” regarding cannabis businesses.

“There are actually several cities in the valley that are refusing to allow this industry to come in,” he said. “But (the City Council) is estimating that if this resolution passes, it will result in up to $3 million in additional annual tax revenue for the city. That’s not a bad thing if they allocate these new funds to actual projects that are needed. For instance, one could be dealing with retirement-benefit liabilities (for city workers), where they have only $5 million in reserve, and that doesn’t seem to be enough. Or maybe some of this money could go to the police department costs. But it seems that (the council members) are afraid of a major national economic crisis, and I feel that we have to be proactively thinking of what we can do to make sure that Palm Desert doesn’t suffer too much.”

Doran said he supports the new state cannabis law.

“I can assure you that as California goes, so goes the rest of the nation,” Doran said. “Still, our law-enforcement services are having a very negative impact on the city’s financial situation. Those costs are rising tremendously, and it’s not sustainable. So we’re going to have to address that issue, and I think, in my humble opinion, (the current City Council) is trying to make marijuana taxation the solution to all their problems.”

When asked if Palm Desert’s proposed tax rate was potentially too high, Doran said it was.

“That wouldn’t surprise me one bit,” he said. “But let the citizens vote. Honestly, what I think is ultimately going to happen is that the marijuana industry will become more wealthy and more powerful, and they’ll get lobbyists and then start whipping the system, just like everybody else has. When they do, we’ll see laws change, and taxation limits will be introduced. But right now, it’s a new industry, and the city is looking at it as the savior for all its problems.”

Published in Politics

The two men competing to be the next governor of California met earlier this week for their first (and, alas, probably only) one-on-one debate.

If you didn’t see it, that’s because the showdown—which was structured more as a spirited conversation than your standard dueling-podiums-style debate—was on the radio, hosted by political reporter Scott Shafer, out of the San Francisco-based station KQED.

And if you didn’t hear it, that’s because it was on a Monday. At 10 a.m. On a federal holiday.

It’s a low-profile treatment for what may be the sole in-person exchange of ideas between the two candidates vying to become the next leader of the fifth-largest economy on Earth. But then again, few voters will have a difficult time distinguishing Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a liberal Democrat and former mayor of San Francisco, from John Cox, a conservative Republican with the backing of President Trump.

On housing, both candidates agreed that a shortage of production was to blame, but they offered very different solutions. Newsom argued that local governments often exert too much influence blocking production: “There’s a certain point where the state of California needs to intervene.” Cox disagreed, arguing that the focus needs to be on reducing the cost of adding new units by cutting state environmental regulations.

The debate over housing quickly turned feisty as Newsom pointed to his proposed solutions, including boosting the state’s low-income housing tax credit and allowing local governments to skim property-tax revenue for affordable housing. He then said that Cox offers only ”an illusory strategy where he criticizes and identifies problems” but offers no substantive fixes.

Cox countered that all of Newsom’s solutions rely on “more government.”

Despite Cox’s best efforts to keep the conversation focused on bread-and-butter economic issues and his history of “fighting against the establishment,” Shafer asked about his views on gay marriage. In 2007, Cox said that allowing same-sex couples to marry would “open the floodgates to polygamy and bestiality.”

“I’ve evolved on those issues … just like Barack Obama,” said Cox.

When asked about gun control, the candidate criticized the shift in the conversation toward “guns and all of these social issues,” arguing that he is not running for governor to change state law on those topics, but is instead focused on affordability.

Cox was happy to talk about Proposition 6, the ballot measure that would repeal the recent increase in the state gas tax and other driver fees, which he has made a crux of his campaign. Cox argued that the state’s Democratic leadership “didn’t want to do the tough job” of eliminating wasteful spending and cutting environmental regulations, so it instead raised taxes and fees. He insisted that under his leadership, the state would be able to fund necessary road repairs without the new revenue.

“We’re going to use the money efficiently and cut good deals with contractors,” he said.

Newsom once again called that plan “illusory.”

“His plan is to make things worse,” said Newsom. “You can eliminate every single position at Caltrans (the state transportation agency) … and still struggle to find the money.”

Likewise, Newsom seized the opportunity to turn the discussion of the state’s sanctuary policy, which limits local and state law-enforcement agencies’ cooperation with federal immigration authorities, into an opportunity to paint Cox as President Trump’s acolyte.

“He believes very passionately in building the wal. He believes in the elimination of sanctuary policy,” said Newsom. “Trump would have an advocate in Sacramento if he becomes the next governor.”

Cox ignored the reference to the president but said he would indeed push for a repeal of California’s sanctuary state law. “If somebody is here illegally, and they’re engaged in criminal activities, I think it’s up to public officials to kick them out,” he said.

Similarly, the two candidates also offered different views on the state’s recent criminal-justice reforms, including the recent elimination of cash bail.

“You’re replacing a private business with a lot more state workers,” said Cox, whereas Newsom called the new law “an extraordinary step forward and a civil-rights reform.”

While Newsom celebrated the state’s climate change policy, saying the state should play a “role not just nationally but internationally to lead,” Cox was more circumspect. He agreed that the planet was warming and that human activity “may very well” be partially to blame, but he questioned whether the benefit of dramatically cutting emissions across the state was worth the cost to electricity ratepayers and drivers.

The fact this year’s governor’s race will likely feature just one debate during the general election (there were a few before the June primary) is unusual by historical standards, but it likely represents the new normal. As the Los Angeles Times reported, no race for governor or U.S. Senate has featured more than one post-primary debate since 2012. That may be a consequence of the growing political polarization of the state.

“I think there’s a growing cynicism about the utility of debates, Cal State Sacramento political scientist Kimberly Nalder told the Times.

Cox’s strategy during the debate mirrored the one he has employed for months on the campaign trail. He has tried to saddle Newsom with responsibility for California’s high gas taxes, high poverty rate, housing costs and every other economic woe facing the state. As a social conservative who opposes abortion, Cox has largely steered clear of those issues.

“This campaign is about change versus status quo,” he said. “Gavin has been part of the political class that has led this state downward.”

There’s a poetic irony in the claim that Newsom should be held responsible for so many of the state’s problems, given he has occasionally griped that the post of lieutenant governor offers little in the way of actual responsibility. But as a Bay Area Democrat, Newsom certainly represents more of a continuation of current policy than Cox.

For his part, Newsom also took a familiar tact in the debate, arguing that Cox was “in lockstep with Trump and Trumpism.” To hear Newsom tell it, Cox is the president’s Midwestern alter ego: a millionaire outsider with no political experience and ideas that are both unrealistic and unacceptable to most Californians.

In short, Cox hopes the election will be a referendum on the current political direction of the state, while Newsom wants every voter to have President Trump at front of mind as they fill in their ballot.

According to a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, Newsom’s strategy appears more likely to succeed—and not just because he’s a Democrat in a blue state. Among likely voters, 61 percent disapprove of the way the Trump is handling the job. Meanwhile, by a slim 50-47 margin, more voters than not believe that California is headed in the right direction.

As the front-runner in a blue state, Newsom could be seen to have little to gain from more frequent, visible debates. In the newest Target Book Insider Track Survey, which asks consultants, lobbyists and other political players in California politics from both sides of the aisle, 37 percent of respondents said Newsom shouldn’t bother with debates because there’s no upside for him—only the risk of a downside. But 63 percent said he should debate, either because it would be a needed endorsement of the American political process (30 percent), or politically smart (8 percent), or both (25 percent).

For more on John Cox and Gavin Newsom—including video interviews and an ability to create a side-by-side comparison of the issues—explore the CALmatters voter guide. CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

On Nov. 6, Desert Hot Springs voters will choose between five candidates for two City Council seats.

Incumbent Joe McKee chose not to run for re-election, while Jan Pye hopes to retain the seat to which she was appointed earlier this year when Yvonne Parks stepped down. She’s joined on the ballot by a former Desert Hot Springs mayor and several relative newcomers.

We spoke to four of the five candidates for this story. (Peter Tsachpinis didn’t respond to e-mails or phone messages.) Here’s what they had to say.


In 2015, then-DHS Mayor Adam Sanchez narrowly lost his re-election bid to Scott Matas.

Sanchez’s term started off with the city near bankruptcy. Sanchez helped turn the city around, but a feuding City Council, as well coverage by The Desert Sun about Sanchez’s ties to a Desert Hot Springs marijuana dispensary (Sanchez was later cleared of wrongdoing), put him in a negative light with many residents. Now Sanchez is hoping to earn a return to the Desert Hot Springs City Council.

During an interview at Zapopan Mexican Food, Sanchez reflected on his time as mayor.

“I started off with the City Council, and at that time, I knew we were heading for trouble, because we were overspending,” Sanchez said. “That’s the only reason I ran for mayor. After the election, it all came out that we were in a financial emergency and were living month to month. I knew it was going to happen, but when I talked to the Desert Sun back then, I told them, ‘Just because the city gives you the financials, it doesn’t mean that it’s straight up.’

“I spent two years as mayor fixing the budget. We had to downsize and find a way to live within our means, and at the same time, I was trying to work on the image of the city to go toward health and wellness. We started doing marijuana dispensaries and cultivation.”

Sanchez has been accused of grandstanding at Desert Hot Springs City Council meetings, and was associated with the controversial “No Matas” signs on Dillon Road. However, he said he deeply cares about the city.

“I saw the city going in a direction that I didn’t feel was in the best interests. So what are the options? You sit back and go to a council meeting? What’s that going to do? They’re just going to look at you, and you’re done. … You get back in.”

Sanchez expressed concerns about the construction of a new City Hall, which was approved for $6 million in 2017, and is now reportedly going to cost $8 million.

“The council is saying now, ‘We’re going to build this mini Taj Mahal,’ and that’s supposedly going to make everything better. I don’t see the reality of that,” he said. “What they are doing is making it better for city staff, but $8 million—projected? Are they serious? … (They’re doing this) instead of working on the homeless problem and getting the citizens more engaged. … Nowhere in this whole process two years ago did (residents) say, ‘Our priorities are a new City Hall.’ It was about providing safety for our residents and building sidewalks to the schools, and kids shouldn’t be walking on the street. When the young lady from the high school got killed (as a pedestrian, trying to cross Palm Drive, in March), that’s when I asked, ‘OK, what’s in the budget? What do we have?’ The city gave me a hard time and wouldn’t give me the information.”

Sanchez claimed the current budget numbers don’t add up, and criticized Matas, his former mayoral opponent.

“They’re saying they have $8.5 million in the bank, and now Scott Matas is saying due to enhancements they’re making in the city and the money they’re spending, it’s $4.5 million. Which is it?” Sanchez said, “You can’t say you’re spending $8 million on the new City Hall, and you’re building some new green park areas, so now it’s $4.5 million.”

He dismissed concerns expressed by some residents about all of the marijuana businesses, and said people needed to worry more about education.

“Eighty percent of students in Desert Hot Springs qualify for the school lunch program. That tells you that … we have the working poor, and they’re part of the city,” he said. “… We had all these parolees here through the 1960s up until recently; they just changed the law, saying if you commit a crime in Los Angeles, you stay there, and you don’t go to somewhere like Desert Hot Springs. What ended up happening is a culture developed of dysfunctional values, with kids growing up in single-parent households and growing up without role models as adults.

“You need to make sure every kid in third-grade is reading at grade level. … At the state level, corrections knows how many prisons they’re going to build based on the statistics of the kids that are not reading at grade level after third-grade. We should be developing programs with the school district to make sure these kids can have academic success by being able to read well. That’s done through the educational process. I don’t want to spend money telling kids not to smoke marijuana; I’d rather see that they get the proper educational resources. A well-educated child will make better choices.”

Since leaving office, Sanchez has remained accessible.

“I relaxed a little bit,” he said with a laugh. “After I left, I still got phone calls from people when we had heavy rains and their homes got flooded out. I spent a lot of time working with my contacts in businesses and industries to help some of these residents. I was out there helping people through their problems—immigration problems, high school students. … It’s almost a continuation of what I was doing before. Now I didn’t have to worry about the budget and could go out and talk to families and help them, through the police department, the planning department, or any other resources. It’s almost as if I became a social worker.”


When Gary Gardner moved to Desert Hot Springs from Seattle in 2016, he quickly became active in local politics.

He worked on the Measure B and C tax campaign last year and spoke out regarding the need to keep the Desert Hot Springs Police Department fully funded. He was asked by Mayor Scott Matas to form and chair the Human Rights Committee in Desert Hot Springs, and then asked to serve on the Planning Commission.

Gardner—a former radio and television personality, lobbyist and public-policy advocate—told me during an interview at The Shop Cafe about his love of motorcycles and the outdoors, his upbringing in Salt Lake City, his time at Brigham Young University, and the fact that he’s not a big fan of wearing a suit and tie.

Gardner said the city needs to properly handle the booming marijuana industry while also embracing the businesses that were in DHS before.

“We need to manage the growth here and encourage the growth, and not neglect what’s already here. It’s kind of a juggling act as I look at it,” Gardner said. “The medical-marijuana industry saved this town from bankruptcy. It put money back in the coffers; it brought new businesses looking to hire employees; and it made this town thrive. But that business is going through a lot of changes rapidly and will go up and down. We can’t hang our hat on it. If it hits a dip, this town is really going to suffer. So we need to focus not only on them, but on the places that built this town. We need to work cooperatively to make this place a very friendly, very welcoming, very clean and very safe place to be. That will benefit us in the long run.”

Gardner believes the city has the potential to become a tourist attraction.

“My vision for the city is a health-and-wellness center with our spas and our mineral water, with the marijuana industry, and with all of those kinds of things tied in with the hiking, the views, the desert—and we worked to get the Sand to Snow National Monument,” he said. “… When people Google ‘Sand to Snow,’ that will bring them to Desert Hot Springs. That will bring the revenue in for all the hotels and restaurants, and as they grow, we’ll have more growth in restaurants and retail.”

After living in Seattle, Gardner has a unique perspective on high living costs and gentrification.

“This is still the most affordable corner of the Coachella Valley. It’s one of the reasons I moved here,” he said. “It really should stay that way. Where you see an increase in property values, mainly that is in what we call the light industrial zone, which is where the marijuana farms are. It was open desert and worth pennies, and now we have legalized cultivation; the value in that area has shot up. My own home value has gone up, but not greatly. … Most of the people here rent. I’d love to see more home ownership and would love to see us encourage developers rather than scrape out whole new subdivisions. We have a lot of vacant land, and I want to figure out a way that we can offer incentives for developers not to build McMansions, but average middle-class homes.

“Coming from Seattle, they had a huge housing crisis there, but they don’t have a lot of open land. It’s surrounded by water, and there are no places to build. But we have unlimited land here.”

He’s also hoping for job growth within the city.

“So many of our citizens leave here during the day to go to work elsewhere,” he said. “I’d love to see them stay here if we can find ways to get the marijuana folks to hire people who already live here in town, or encourage (marijuana-business employees) to stay here if they’re coming from out of town.”

There are some residents concerned that the marijuana businesses may attract crime and public safety issues. Gardner does not agree.

“Being on the planning commission, we review every single business application. One of the checklist items is security. If you go and visit some of those cultivation farms, it’s like getting in and out of Fort Knox. I’ve talked with Desert Hot Springs Police Chief Dale Mondary many times, and he personally reviews the security when they get their building permits. His concern is not what’s going on here, but once it leaves here, for the potential of someone hijacking a truck.

“… The city itself has a nasty reputation for crime, but the truth is crime is down over 20 percent in the last five years, because we passed a tax measure a year ago to fully fund and staff the police department. What we need to do is get a new fire station, and we need another one on the east side, because the one fire station handles 30 calls per day, and if you’re having a heart attack or your house is on fire, they are 10 to 15 minutes out.”

He praised previous administrations for not contracting with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for police services when the city was strapped for cash in 2014.

“Our police are well-liked. We have a responsive police chief; our crime rate is down; and I think that the image of bad crime out here is by the media and the TV stations who love to say, ‘Oh, another one out in Desert Hot Springs,’” he said. “But you know what? Our crime rate is lower than Palm Springs, lower than Coachella, and lower than Indio. We have really gotten a handle on that.”

Gardner’s eyes lit up when he told me about his passion for the outdoors and motorcycles.

“I love hiking, and that’s one of the reasons I came here,” he said. “I walk out of my house and do a four-mile walk every day. I love going out to Mission Creek. My boyfriend and I have a little teardrop trailer that we take out camping to Joshua Tree or Mount San Jacinto. I learned how to ride a motorcycle when I was a kid before I could drive, and I’ve loved the traveling on motorcycles ever since. I’ve been in every state of the union on my motorcycle.”


Jan Pye kept mentioning one word during our interview: education.

The former councilwoman returned to the body earlier this year to serve out the rest of the term of Yvonne Parks, who moved out of Desert Hot Springs. During a recent interview at Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs, Pye explained why she wants to remain on the City Council.

“I like the way council was going when they were all getting along, and I wanted to get back in,” Pye said. “I wasn’t going to run, because I liked the way the council was. Then Yvonne Parks decided to move out of town, and a couple of other people I knew decided not to run. So that’s why I decided to get in.”

Pye talked about the turbulent times during her previous council tenure.

“When there was an item on the agenda to have the sheriff’s department come and be in our community (in place of an independent police department),” she said. “My concern is Riverside County was doing increases of 7 percent a year, which meant if we had the sheriff’s department, we were going to have to cut down (other budget items to pay that) 7 percent. At that time, we had police officers who were willing to stay and weren’t getting what the rest of the Coachella Valley (officers were) getting. They were good officers. We ended up keeping our police department. We also had a situation where they wanted all the retailers to have $15 an hour (minimum wage), and that was very contentious, but you have to have the power of persuasion to get the three votes.”

On the issue of gentrification, Pye said the banks could possibly help.

“Part of it goes back to what I said about education. The banks are providing some opportunities to get people into homes. You’re always going to have that with the marketplace,” she said. “… What you can do is you can create banking opportunities, and if (residents need) to pay whatever it is in rent, it might as well be to own a home—so the banking industry is going to have to do something.”

Pye said that while the marijuana industry has been essential to saving the city’s finances, she also sees the need for other economic development.

“We have to see it as another form of revenue, but not the revenue,” she said. “… Most people in business know that if you’re in it for three years, you might survive. If you’re in five years, you’re really about to survive. You have to look at it like that. Some of the marijuana businesses here are struggling, and others aren’t struggling. It’s a business that compliments us. We’re known for our spas and our waters, and medicinal marijuana falls into that plan. We have some sustainability from it here, and we have $6.8 million in reserves. At one point before that, all we had left after one year was $400.”

Pye told me that when she arrived in Desert Hot Springs, she was told by the man who rented her home to her that she probably wouldn’t like living in the city. He was wrong.

“I came here with my daughter as a single parent from Los Angeles and rented the home I live in now before I decided to buy it,” she said. “That’s when I went to city council meetings. … This town helped me raise my daughter. When I worked, and they’d see her, and she was somewhere like Rite Aid, they’d call me and ask me, ‘Is she supposed to be there?’ People were watching over her.”

Pye told me a story about something her father instilled in her while she was growing up.

“My father asked me when I was 15 if I wanted to flip burgers. I said, ‘No,’” she said. “He told me I was going to learn how to type. I wasn’t interested in that. He made me do it, and he made me practice. He made me type, no matter what my homework was, for one hour. If he left and came back, I always told the truth and would tell him if I didn’t do it for an hour. … After baby-sitting for a while at 16, my first job into the real world was as a file clerk, and I told them if I pass secretarial school, I would have the next position—and I got it. That’s how I kept going. I thanked my father then.

“I also did the same thing with my daughter.”


I met Jim Fitzgerald at Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs. The former retail manager spent 35 years in the industry and is new to Desert Hot Springs. He told me he had a four-point plan for the city—but didn’t have any information on paper when we spoke.

He told me he’s funding his campaign himself, and that he’s not putting signs up all over the city as the other candidates are doing.

“I came here a year and a half ago to remodel and fix up two houses,” Fitzgerald said. “… I looked back to 27 years ago when I was building these two houses with my father. They never sold, and we built three models. I see the emptiness after all these years, a lack of retail, and a lack of prosperity in Desert Hot Springs. I started to meet people, one of them being a councilman already, and I started asking him a bunch of questions.

“… I got (the houses) done and found myself doing nothing. I started to figure I was going to stay here after I met a lot of nice people; it’s a nice city. A lot of people are interested in this city, and the cannabis industry is a potential (way) forward, and I’ve been learning as much as I can about that. I think I can help bring retail in.”

Fitzgerald said the city has handled the marijuana industry well—although there are a lot of unanswered questions.

“I think in the old days, when there were people on the street selling marijuana, that was a criminal act,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone who has been harmed by (using marijuana). Plus, there is a medical advantage to it. I think the City Council here is doing it right. This city is very careful about it. I think it’s going really well, and it’s so brand new. … Now, all of a sudden, it’s legal. I think that’s a heck of a challenge for this state. There are all these new questions coming up. Can a spa have a phone service where someone can call up and ask for some edibles? Those things have never actually been figured out.”

Attracting new businesses is tough for Desert Hot Springs, but Fitzgerald said he knows why.

“Certainly the biggest one is crime and safety, especially up and down Palm Drive,” he said. “If you want to bring retail in … (retail managers) don’t want people concerned about going in and out of their store, especially at night. There’s been a great deal of improvement, though, recently, especially with the murders and stuff like that. One is too many, but it’s the smaller crimes that helps bring the big stuff down. … We do have a reputation, although it is getting better. Statistically, we made improvements after getting more police officers. We need to do more, but we’re going in the right direction.”

Fitzgerald talked about the increase in housing costs and rents.

“That’s a matter of supply and demand. We don’t have enough houses here,” he said. “If you have a decent house, you’re going to get $1,400 a month rent for it; $1,200 is about where it’s starting right now. It can go as high as $1,700 for a real nice house. We don’t have the $800, $900 or $1,000 apartments, because there aren’t a lot of apartment buildings. But do we want to turn into another Rancho Mirage, where there are all these beautiful estates and all that kind of stuff? There’s a new development that just got approved in Mission Creek, and it’s going to be 1,900 units, and 900 are going to be apartments. If people are doing all this work, they have to live somewhere, and it’s the people working out of the city, but they’re still going to buy Starbucks here and all that kind of stuff. But you’d much rather have them working and living here.”

Fitzgerald was quick to answer when I asked him what his priorities as a city councilman would be.

“I want to make sure we continue to get along with each other. When you see a council that’s bickering and fighting, they aren’t getting anything done,” he said. “Right now, what I understand is it could be a lot worse in Desert Hot Springs. That’s something that’s on my mind. One of the first things I’d want to do is get together with the council and come up with a growth and incentive package for retail. The other thing is find out who owns these empty buildings and find out what the issue is regarding that. If they need help fixing them up, maybe we could give them a loan, but we have to get those empty buildings filled. When retailers see empty buildings, they don’t want to see empty buildings: ‘If this is the place to go, why are they empty?’”

Published in Politics

When Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas defeated then-Mayor Adam Sanchez in 2015, the city was recovering financially after narrowly avoiding bankruptcy.

Today, the city’s finances are on solid ground—thank you, marijuana!—but Desert Hot Springs still faces a lot of challenges and issues, all of which will be on the minds of voters when they head to the polls on Nov. 6.

Matas is running for re-election to a two-year term, and he’s facing relative political unknown Stephen Giboney.

Matas says he wants to keep the city’s progress going; Giboney views the city as having many problems that have potential small-government solutions. We recently spoke to both of them; here’s what they had to say.


When I met with Matas at the RV resort that he manages, he described what he hopes to accomplish over the next two years.

“My focus will be getting the new City Hall up and running, because that’s important for our image,” he said. “Public safety-wise, I’ve been talking about building a fire station on the east end of the city for a long time. We’re finally at a point where we have a fire chief who believes we can build a fire station there. Finding the capital money to do it, I think we can do that over time, but the problem is staffing it on a regular basis at a million dollars a year. My goal before I leave office, hopefully in two years, is to make sure we’ve at least broken ground on the new fire station.

“Financially, I want to make sure we stay on the same path we’re on now. We put $8.5 million in the bank for our reserves … so if anything happens like we had happen in 2012 and 2013, where we had $400 in the bank, we’ll now have the reserves to fall back on.”

Matas touted his economic achievements.

“Economic development is really starting to build in Desert Hot Springs, and not just with the marijuana industry,” he said. “Our consultants are starting to bring businesses in, and we recently signed a contract with Grocery Outlet to bring them into our community. … A lot of politicians use quality of life as one of their points; I use youth (and) seniors, because it matters all the way up. Our senior services are better now with the Mizell Senior Center there for us. Youth services are getting better with the recreation center and youth sports. We’re working on some at-risk youth programs, and we are bringing back our PAL program.”

A lot of DHS residents are concerned about increasing rents; however, Matas said he was not sure whether the city should get involved.

“It’s tough in our community, because you can only control so much. Do you bring in rent control or not?” he said. “Our community is anywhere from 40 to 50 percent rental properties. Because of the recession, a lot of buyers came into the city and bought a lot of properties and … now they’re starting to raise the rent. My wife and I got married about a year ago, and we leased a house for a couple of years while we were getting ready to buy. We bought a house and just left the house we were leasing, and the rent on that house went up about $200. The market is there for the homeowners to raise the rent; the question is, does a city government step in and try to regulate that? I try not to get involved in that type of business.

“If the rent goes up, does that mean there are more jobs out there, and people are being paid more? Possibly. We would have to do the analysis, and it’s a tough question, because we haven’t been approached to do that yet.”

Matas dismissed concerns held by some citizens that the marijuana industry could bring in more crime.

“When it comes to the marijuana industries in the industrial area, I always tell people that’s one of the safest areas you’ll ever be in. The product growing out there, 99 percent of it leaves the community and never reaches any of our dispensaries,” he said. “The marijuana industry, when it comes to dispensaries in the city, most people are respectful; they know from the medical side of things that you go buy it; it’s in a brown bag; you take it home, and you use it responsibly or as prescribed. Same with the recreational side: You can’t walk around with it or use it on the streets. We have nothing related to crime going up based on the marijuana industry. If anything, it stayed the same or lowered because of these armed guards at these locations. … I think we have a bigger problem with heroin and prescription drugs in our community. That leads to petty crime, because people need to find ways to support their addiction.”

While Matas said this will likely be his final term, he didn’t rule out running again if he feels the need.

“My wife, Victoria, has been my rock. It’s no secret that I had a couple of marriages before her. I did a lot of good things good in my life, but some relationships haven’t been the greatest,” Matas said. “I raised my sons alone for the most part, and my youngest son was getting ready to graduate high school when I met Victoria. I never thought I’d get married again. She really energized me and thought I’d be a good mayor. I thought I was going to finish my term on the council and ride off into the sunset, because it takes up a lot of time, but she convinced me to run for mayor. But one thing I’ve learned as mayor is family is very important: I make sure Sundays are my day off. I have support from this company I work with to take Tuesdays off to go be the mayor, and we have a great staff now.

“Our City Council over the last two years has worked well together. We debate respectfully, and when it’s done, we move on. It’s not like the arguments in the past where we used to scream at each other. I love it right now.

“If I’m re-elected for two years, I’m most likely done, and that will have given me 13 years at that point of serving my community,” he said. “I spent 20 years as a volunteer firefighter, and two years as president of Food Now. My wife says, ‘Don’t ever say for sure.’ If it’s a perfect world for me in two years, I can support someone trying go in the same direction I want to leave the city. If there’s no one in two years, I might have to reconsider. But (as of) right now, after this term, I’m done, and I’ve served my community.”


Aside from a few YouTube videos and a radio interview related to the subject of geoengineering and chemtrails, there’s not a lot of information out there about Stephen Giboney—and many residents were downright puzzled by some of the things he said during a recent debate that was broadcast on Facebook.

After sitting down with Giboney at Starbucks in Desert Hot Springs, I found that he has some strong opinions on the city.

“I was tired of waiting to see some of the problems I see in this city be fixed,” Giboney said. “The city can thrive, and I don’t see it thriving. It mostly has to do with the perception of the city. Even if it’s better than Palm Springs, it’s still perceived as poor. I don’t see anything changing, and I have a real problem with the crime rate in this town. It can be handled much better than it is.

“First of all, I believe the city has to stop encouraging miscreants from coming here, and I believe (the city) encourages them to come here,” he said before delving into some confusing territory. “You get into a system that is more underground and more of a spoken system where it’s nothing you can track on paper. We know what it is. But how do we put it in terms where we can publish it? It’s happening. You see new people coming through the city all the time. When you have a city government that always wants to look good, they aren’t going to give out information that they don’t have to. We have to read between the lines as to what’s going on. The latest thing I heard from the mayor is, ‘It’s not illegal to be homeless.’ That seems to be his way of addressing it, which is not really addressing it.”

Giboney said he supports marijuana decriminalization, but he is not a fan of many elements of the industry.

“I believe in the free market. If you’re a legal business, and you’ve applied and been approved, I have no problem with that kind of business,” he said. “… (But) I believe there’s an agenda. California has been very interested in marijuana since the early 1900s, and they’ve been implementing things since the ’70s. It’s not a small industry. This is a very controlled industry, and there are a lot of hands in that industry that they don’t talk about. Eventually, it’s going to be a big-pharma thing. At the small grassroots level of the industry, I have no problem with it. I’m for total decriminalization of the product across the board. I want it to be no more dangerous of a product than tomatoes.” 

He elaborated on his views.

“Government likes to run in debt. Our federal government is in debt; our state is in debt; and our city is in debt. They may not say it’s in debt, but they have $14 million in liabilities they they’re responsible for. My belief is that if an industry is coming into a city and offering a financial supplement to the tax base, fine. But what’s going to happen is the city is going to take that income and boost it up to where they’re going to go into debt more. That gives them the freedom to go that much higher in debt. They don’t use (the new revenue) to pay down their debt; they use it to justify spending even more.”

Giboney is not a fan of the city’s taxation of marijuana, either, even though the voters approved the taxes.

“I can’t stand bullies, and I believe the government stands there exploiting the lack of information in the heads of the average voter. They exploit that,” he said. “(The voter initiative approving the marijuana tax) was passed saying they were going to tax the retail side of it and the manufacturing side. What came out shortly after the cultivators started to come in was the cultivators were writing the rules of the city. If you want to ignore the history of how government is controlled by special interests, you can say, ‘Yeah, they voted for it. Isn’t that great?’ History tells you that they have no voice.”

Giboney said he sees rising rents to be a continuing trend—and claimed there’s already a solution in place.

“There’s an exodus from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and people can’t afford to live in those cities anymore. What that causes is competition for the same houses here,” he said. “People will do the same work and move outside of a city to lower the cost of living. … Part of what’s going on is people want the same house, and they’re going to raise the prices up. That’s supply and demand, and it’s a simple concept.

“There are federal and state programs that are mandated for cities to follow to provide a certain percentage of housing to lower income. I believe that this city and its residents have been exploited, again, for their lack of understanding of these programs. There (are special) interests that live in the city. … It’s not creating a new program, just taking advantage of what’s already there.”

Giboney explained what kind of mayor he would be if elected.

“I would be a knock-on-your-door, drive-through-your-neighborhood, go-to-your-meetings mayor,” he said. “The purpose of the mayor is two things: You have to run the City Council meetings and learn the system. The second thing is you have to be a figurehead for the city. You have to go out and ask people, ‘What is wrong in your community?’ so that there is a regular back-and-forth. The mayor is a liaison between the city and the people, so that the people have an ear to tell what their problem is. If someone tells you something about it, because if you don’t do something about it, you’re not doing your job.”

Published in Politics

Page 2 of 4