CVIndependent

Tue11202018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On Nov. 6, Indio voters will cast their ballots in the city’s first district-based elections, after the City Council moved away from “at large” or city-wide elections under the threat of a lawsuit to force compliance with the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.

Of the five districts newly established in Indio, District 2 is the home of the race that’s generating the most early interest. The final candidate pool will not be established until August, but so far, two candidates have announced an intention to run: the incumbent and current mayor, Mike Wilson, who has been on the council since 1995; and political newcomer and lifetime Indio resident Waymond Fermon.

In many respects, the two candidates are polar opposites. Wilson, a self-described conservative Republican, is now serving his fourth stint as Indio’s mayor. Fermon has worked for 17 years as a correctional officer, and has already garnered support from the Coachella Valley’s Democrats and liberal left.

Last year, Wilson drew the ire of many when, in the wake of the violent white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., he tweeted: “It doesn’t matter what POTUS says, liberals and the media will always attack him. It shows the real problem in U.S. is the libs and media!” In a recent phone interview with the Independent, Wilson explained the episode.

“What happened, which I explained right after, was that my intent was to say that (it was) the mainstream media and the Washington, D.C., Democrats, but in shrinking it down (to 140 characters), I didn’t really think about the response to it.”

The response turned out to be angry, swift and strong. Because of that, we asked Fermon—who currently lives in District 4, not Wilson’s District 2—if he chose to move his family to District 2 to set up a head-to-head confrontation with Wilson.

“I’m very self-motivated,” Fermon said. “I don’t need any specific target to have a goal. My concern isn’t (Mike Wilson) right now.”

Wilson and others have called attention to the carpetbagger appearance of Fermon’s decision to move his residence to, and run for office for, the new District 2.

“I’m in the planning phase of that (family move), and that will be over with real soon,” Fermon said. “Actually, I’m past the planning phase, and we’re in the transition phase right now. I know it’s public information at the end of the day, but I’m not willing to throw my living quarters (details) out there freely, but we’ll be moved soon.”

Assuming that the candidacy qualifications are met, we asked each candidate about their priorities and objectives.

“First and foremost, always, is public safety,” Wilson said. “As you know, I’m a retired fireman, and having a relationship with law enforcement as well, we need to grow our police department. Based on population and the ratio of one officer per every thousand residents, we are still quite a bit below where we should be.”

Next, he said: “Repairing our streets and roads and overpasses, etc., and building new ones is a priority for me. I sit on the Riverside County Transportation Commission and the CVAG Transportation Committee, so it’s one of my specialties. Over my years, I’ve had some great accomplishments in bringing federal, state and regional money into Indio to do these things. But (right now), we’re $36 million behind in street repairs, and we need about $6 million a year just to maintain what we have. (Moving forward, both Senate Bill) 1, that brought us more street and road money, and Measure X (the Indio sales tax measure that passed in 2016), should bring us $7 to $8 million this next year to put into street and road projects. This is long overdue for Indio, so one of my priorities is going to be catching up on that work.”

Wilson’s third priority: “Continuing our economic development and economic recovery in the city by maintaining forward progress in making the city attractive for new businesses, stores and new projects. We’ve had some success. We have new hotels being built. We’ve got a new theater project coming in. There’s a lot of housing stuff going on that’s positive. But on the top of the list is (the future of) the Indio Fashion Mall, which is on Monroe Street and Highway 111. That project has just been bought by Alex Haagen of the Empire Polo Grounds, and we’re working with him to completely reposition that whole mall property (so it) will be a benefit to the city for years to come.”

Fermon responded by saying that he’s “canvassing the residents” and “meeting and greeting” to learn about their concerns. We asked Fermon what he has been hearing from constituents thus far.

“One is public safety,” he said. “I just think that, at the end of the day, we all want to be safe wherever we go. Next, we need smart economic development, not only that will bring retail and different businesses, but we also need jobs.

“The homeless situation (is another issue),” Fermon said. “I am meeting with people who are concerned about the homeless and the growing problem that we have, but I’m also meeting with homeless people who want to be informed about the resources that are available to them currently, and want those resources to be made more easily available. I’m speaking with businesses about the homeless problem, because sometimes it can create a nuisance for businesses. So the communication seems to have broken down there, and I’m talking to all sides.”

Fermon said he also wants to focus on Indio youth. “In the district that I’m running in, I want to bring more activities for the youth in that area—recreational activities like sports, and other things they can do during their leisure time in that area. As we have it now, there’s really nothing for our youth to do in that area.”

We asked both candidates what message they most wanted to convey to Indio’s voters.

“I think it’s important that experience matters,” Wilson said. “We have a council right now that’s working extremely well together. We have a vision that we share, and we work together to put that vision together. We’re very respectful of each other. Looking at the last eight years, and where Indio had been and where it is today, I think that the leadership in Indio is strong. I think that this council has earned the trust of the voters in Indio.”

Fermon responded to the question somewhat philosophically.

“What I want to leave you with is what I tell the students I work with. I have mantras, or quotes, that I internalize for each week, and this week’s is: ‘The secret to living is giving.’ It’s been interpreted many times by many people, but I first heard it from my psychology teacher at Indio High School.”

Published in Politics

A new grassroots community organization wants this to be the “Year of Indio”—and the first step the group is taking to make that happen is supporting a candidate running against controversial Indio Mayor Michael Wilson.

The group, calling itself Year of Indio, announced its formation and the candidacy of Waymond Fermon during an early January news conference.

“We (in the Year of Indio group) are a group of individuals who care for the city of Indio, and want to see it thrive,” said Tizoc DeAztlan during a recent interview. DeAztlan, an experienced political campaigner who has contributed to the successful election efforts of Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz and State Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, among others, is an adviser to Fermon’s campaign for the new Indio District 2 City Council seat.

Starting with this year’s election, the members of the Indio City Council will be elected by district, rather than city-wide. This means Fermon will go up against City Councilmember Michael Wilson, who recently rotated into the mayor’s chair. To date, no other candidates have announced an intention to run in this district.

“Recognizing that Indio is a critical cog in the Coachella Valley at large, we have to take ownership of its future and create change on our own,” DeAztlan said. “So, as a collective, knowing that Indio has a tremendous amount of strength if it’s utilized appropriately, we realize that the most impactful thing we can do right now is have Waymond on the council.

“That being said, Waymond is just one part of the puzzle. There are two other council positions up for grabs (in Indio this year), and if Waymond, as well as the other candidates supported by the Year of Indio collective are elected—that’s something that can dramatically change the landscape of Indio moving forward. Waymond is a natural fit, so he’s the first move, but there will be more moves.”

We asked Fermon what motivated him to jump into the District 2 race.

“I think it started when I was a kid,” Fermon said. “Growing up, I watched my mother give her last to help other people out, and as I got older, I started to see that all of our (Indio) residents were not being treated fairly. I think Indio is a thriving city, but I think some of the communities are thriving more than others, and I’d like to even that base out.”

Fermon, 38, is a father of three who works as a California Department of Corrections officer. He attended Indio public schools including Kennedy Elementary, Hoover Elementary, Jefferson Middle School and Indio High School, before attending College of the Desert. He said that if elected, he’d focus on certain community challenges he has long worked to overcome.

“One is our youth,” Fermon said. “You affect change with the youth. If they’re going to grow and raise children themselves here in Indio, you have to have something for them to do that keeps them away from crime, like working to gain a higher education. I’ve always had a passion for working with youth.

“Second is the homeless issue. You know, last night, I went out with a couple of folks just to talk to some of the homeless people in the city. I just wanted to listen to them. I believe that putting your feet on the ground and actually seeing it for what it is—you get a better perspective on it. You can’t just keep throwing money at situations. You have to fix some of the underlying issues.”

The fact that a new group including Democratic political operatives is backing a candidate against Wilson should come as no surprise, considering Wilson is a conservative who has spoken out to criticize Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren and the media, among others. However, Fermon insisted his campaign is more than just an attempt to unseat Wilson.

“As far as I go, I don’t worry about what anybody else is doing,” Fermon said. “I have my goals and my plans and my agenda that I’d like to bring to the table. I live by a mantra which is: ‘I focus 120 percent on greatness, because failure is not an option.’ So right now, I’m focused on having a successful campaign and getting there (to the Indio City Council).”

DeAztlan said he does see a need for change regarding the City Council’s makeup.

“What we see as a big contrast (between these two candidates) is how each reaches a decision on policy matters,” DeAztlan said. “What’s your value set? What are your concerns, and what are you thinking about when you make decisions? Whether it’s public safety, economic development, education or transportation, all these things affect people’s lives directly. You want somebody who is considering you and cares for you when they are considering all the decisions before them on the dais.

“What we have in Waymond is someone who’s a family guy, connected to the community, and whose value set is in step with yours, whether you’re Republican, Democrat, independent or just someone who doesn’t vote usually. He’s talking the talk, and walking the walk. He wants more for his community than what he sees now. People are frustrated. The incumbent on the board now (Wilson) is someone who recently did some infamous tweeting that showed his concern wasn’t for immigrant families and those who are suffering, but instead, his concern was that people were attacking a president that most people in his district do not believe in and do not support.”

While DeAztlan was willing to go on the offensive against Wilson, Fermon insisted that he was going to remain positive.

“I’m about positive vibes and a positive life,” Fermon said. “And if I can bring that positivity to the City Council, and to the city of Indio, that’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to the future, and I see some great things happening.”

Published in Politics

Indio is the Coachella Valley’s largest city—and faces complex challenges due to the fact that it’s the home of Coachella, Stagecoach and Desert Trip.

In this year’s city election, seven people are running for two seats on the Indio City Council: Incumbents Glenn Miller and Lupe Ramos Watson, and challengers Joan Dzuro, Gina Chapa, Sam Torres, Jackie Lopez and Noe Gutierrez.

Joan Dzuro (right), a retired human resources consultant, cited a lack of both redevelopment funds and a concise plan for redevelopment as problems in Indio, due in large part to the state of California dissolving all redevelopment agencies back in 2012.

“One of the challenges that we have is the loss of the redevelopment funds,” Dzuro said. “… When those funds were removed by Sacramento, it became harder to find funding for that. I’m very encouraged by the hiring of (the city’s new director of economic development), Carl Morgan, because he’s able to come up with plans to talk to investors and businesses, and to try to work on options for some of that funding. You always need more funds when you have a fast-growing city. Public safety needs to be able to keep up with that, and it costs money.”

Dzuro said that her 35 years in corporate human resources give her much-needed experience.

“I’ve dealt with corporations from the business side and the employee side,” she said. “I think that’s the strength I can bring to the council, and bring in jobs and create businesses for the city, and have those businesses contribute new marketable skills to our unemployed and to the younger people graduating from college.”

Gina Chapa, a community organizer who worked for Congressman Raul Ruiz, said the lack of diverse commerce is a big issue.

“We’re struggling a lot with bringing in new businesses, supporting businesses, and actually having a thriving commercial area,” she said. “Also, I see that there’s a huge disparity between different populations in Indio. In order to feel like a complete city, we need to find a way to build bridges between the different communities in Indio. I feel that there’s a lack of ownership or participation. There’s a large population of disaffected or apathetic residents who feel disconnected to their local government.”

Chapa (right) said her roots are in Indio. “I’m a longtime community organizer and community resident. I was born in Indio and went to school in Indio. I’m raising my son in Indio, and I’m connected to various communities in Indio.”

Sam Torres, a former city councilman, said Indio’s slow economic recovery has caused problems.

“We’re starting to see some signs of (recovery in) the last few years, but we haven’t seen the robust economy we thought we were going to have,” he said. “I think that there’s another issue, and that’s the fact we’re starting to see two Indios. One is the north side and the far south side along the polo fields. The south side gets a lot of attention and is a new and dynamic community. But we’ve been leaving out the communities that have always been here. The residents in these communities are the ones who were building this economy. If you look in those neighborhoods, you can see the decay.”

Why should Indio voters put Torres back on the City Council, two years after he lost a re-election bid?

“I know the job. Now I really know this city,” he said. “I tell the truth and tell it like it is: ‘This is the problem, and this is what it takes to fix it.’ I do not bow to special interests, because the city residents elect me, and I don’t have a scheme to make money off this city.”

Jackie Lopez (right), who works as the district director for Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, said Indio’s largest challenge involves commerce.

“The No. 1 issue is places to shop,” Lopez said. “People spend their money outside of Indio. One of my main goals is better economic development. There are a lot of business owners struggling to make it. On the north side of Indio, we have a village market that could be a grocery store that’s sitting there. There are people who live across the street looking for places to shop that are walkable, and they’re getting to the point where they’re relying on their children and public transportation. Even though there are places to shop on the other side of the overpass, it’s too far for them. … I also feel that hotels are another concern with these festivals in our city; a lot of our tourists are staying outside of the area.”

Lopez said her work experience makes her a good fit for the City Council.

“I’m a lifelong resident here and have eight years working for the state Legislature,” she said. “I know how to get our money back from the state. I have worked on numerous pieces of legislation at the state level, (and worked) with our congressman to leverage funds for victims of the Salton Sea.” 

Noe Gutierrez—a behavioral health specialist, writer for CV Weekly and musician—said the city has not focused enough on small business.

“Downtown Indio hasn’t flourished like it should have,” he said. “I think smart growth is what we need—focusing on small-business owners and helping people get set up and started, as well as following them through. We all know the numbers of small businesses and when they open. Generally, they close within three years. We need to develop a plan we can follow.”

Gutierrez (right) said his experience in understanding people will serve him on the City Council.

“I grew up in Indio, and went to school in Indio, and I understand the backstreets, the different neighborhoods, the different types of people who live in those neighborhoods, and I understand their perception of things,” he said. “I have a huge amount of empathy given my background working as a social worker. My job is to put myself in other people’s shoes, so I feel I do a pretty good job doing that. … One thing I’m known for is gathering people together, getting them connected and establishing long-term relationships that are beneficial.”

The incumbents have had front-line experience dealing with Indio’s economic challenges in recent years. Glenn Miller said that while some newer areas of Indio—closer to Interstate 10—are fairly prosperous, the city’s downtown is suffering.

“Some of our older parts are taking a toll from the economic downturn,” he said. “It’s getting the actual funding availability, not only from the city of Indio, but also from our business community to invest into some of the areas that have been hit hardest due to the economic downturn, such as our downtown area.”

Miller, who has been on the council since 2008, has seen the city deal with hard financial times.

“When I first came on to the council, we had a structural $13 million deficit,” he said. “We burned through $35 million in reserves. Now we have a structurally balanced budget with over a half-million dollars in reserves, so financially, it is economically sound. But when you start talking about where you want the city to go when listening to our residents, one of the things they ask for is different kinds of shopping and business opportunities, education and investing in infrastructure.”

Miller said he should be re-elected because of his dedication to the city and the fact that he spends most of his free time working for a better Indio.

“I’m the most active and involved council member out of all the council members,” he said. “I’m very much engaged and spend all my free time working with our businesses, nonprofits and residents on what’s important to them.

“Indio will grow not only locally, but regionally. Not everyone who lives in Indio works in Indio. So the stronger the Coachella Valley is as a whole, and the more relationships we can build with College of the Desert and with our school district, it will be an advantage to the city of Indio, and I’m able to engage in those relationships.”

Councilmember Lupe Ramos Watson (right) said she’s concerned that Indio is losing out on sales-tax revenue.

“Our first and biggest challenge is to recapture some of the sales tax that is leaking out to other cities,” Watson said. “Several years ago, we conducted an economic-strategy analysis to figure out how much of our disposable income is being spent within the city boundaries to produce sales tax revenue, and how much was leaking out to other cities. We figured out that more than 50 percent of our potential sales tax revenue is leaking to other cities.”

Watson said she deserves to remain on the council due to the steps that she and her colleagues have taken regarding economic development.

“We just hired an economic development director a couple of months ago,” she said. “Because of the strategy we put together a couple of months ago, we have a plan for the downtown area that we’re completing to make sure the businesses that come into that area not only revitalize the downtown area, but add sales tax to our revenue and augment the opportunities as the ‘City of Festivals.’ With my background in planning in addition to development, I believe I’m a great asset to the city of Indio to help unfold these projects.”

We asked each of the candidates: What is the real identity of Indio?

“I believe Indio’s biggest attraction is that we’re a family-oriented city,” Dzuro said. “We emphasize our parks, the teen center and the Boys and Girls Club of America. We work together as a community with our festivals. The Tamale Festival and the Date Festival are family events. We really try to bring in the families to our community, and I think that’s what we emphasize more than anything.”

Chapa said that she feels the city government is not properly engaging with the older parts of the city.

“We know what it’s all called: ‘The City of Festivals,’” Chapa said. “That’s what it’s marketed as. It … doesn’t have just one identity. We know people understand Indio from the outside because of Coachella and the large snowbird community. As for the identity that it once had, there are many 40-plus-year residents living here who aren’t being included in the new face of Indio and the ‘City of Festivals.’ The identity is something we need to work on as a city, and (we need to) reach out to the community to build an identity so the people can feel like they’re part of the city, and that we can build our city together.”

Torres said Indio is not reaping the economic benefits it should be.

“The city of Indio is the ‘City of Festivals,’ but we used to be the second seat of the county, and we’re now in the backseat to Palm Springs,” Torres (right) said. “Any of the big events they have here, even at the casinos, they call it ‘Greater Palm Springs.’ We provide the neighbors and facilities, but the cash registers are ringing in the west valley. The local leaders have allowed that to happen and don’t have a plan to bring that identity back to Indio, and that’s where we made a huge mistake. It’s called the ‘’City of Festivals,’ but we’re really the ‘Greater Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce Backseaters.’”

Lopez said she wants Indio to once again be considered the hub of the Coachella Valley.

“We have so much potential, and we’re still growing,” she said. “On the other side of the freeway, I just found out we’re getting a Sonic and some other new places to shop and eat. The hope is to make sure we have a council member who will reinvest back into our community. We do pay taxes, and we’d like to see some of that money come back in infrastructure or attracting new places to shop and eat in downtown Indio—becoming the hub of the valley again.”

Gutierrez also said the city does not capitalize enough on the ‘City of Festivals’ label.

“There are some blinders on us,” he said. “We’re known for Coachella, but we don’t really expand on that. We’re just the site for Coachella. … We can’t rely on one-time events where people come, hang out and then leave, and probably never come back. We need a continuous inclusion of all age groups, ethnicities and everything.”

As for the identity of Indio, Miller (right) feels it has a lot to offer culturally.

“It’s the ‘City of Festivals’ and the city of culture. The city also has a bright future,” he said. “I think people see that in our rich history and being the largest city, but … multiple art developments and art pieces are going up throughout the city by world renowned artists who want to be part of the city of Indio and its culture.”

Watson said that she feels the city’s identity as the “City of Festivals” ties everything together.

“We’ve always celebrated our culture through the festivals,” she said. “It’s a community of celebration; Indio is full of hard-working individuals who work through our seasons to fulfill every need of their families, and when it’s time to celebrate, it’s done through our festivals. That is … a hard working community that understands that we need to work hard and work together to build a community that meets our needs.”

Published in Politics