CVIndependent

Tue10232018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Kevin Fitzgerald

Linda is my wife, my best friend. She’s the daughter of Annette, who had been battling cancer for years.

Fifteen months prior to this August 2016 morning, Annette, then 93, had come to live out her last days with us in our Palm Desert home. Now, Linda stood at the foot of her mother’s bed and spoke softly to our cat, who had stretched herself out across Annette’s lower legs.

“Lola, honey, come on now,” Linda cajoled. “You have to get up, sweetie. Mom-mom’s no longer here. She’s gone now.”

Lola stayed put with her chin on her crossed front paws. It seemed that nothing or no one could disturb this quiet, calm and peaceful scene.

Thanks to California’s End of Life Option Act, Annette had just left behind the painful captivity of the cancer that had progressively destroyed her quality of life.


This peaceful day came after one of the most trying 15 months of our lives.

“Mom was diagnosed as having six months or less to live, and was in hospice care when she came to stay with us,” Linda recalled. “At this point, she never had a day when she felt well. So, when the End of Life Option became legal in California,” on June 9, 2016, after being signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2015, “she decided that she wanted to participate in it. I went online and did a lot of research.”

Linda quickly learned the process was not going to be easy.

“What I found was that none of the hospitals out here (in the Coachella Valley) were participating in providing their patients with the support to obtain the life-ending prescriptions,” Linda said. “And that meant that none of the doctors out here, as far as I knew, were participating.”

Linda has directed information-research departments for major media and advertising companies—so her online search skills are well-honed, to say the least. However, she could find no local leads for resources to contact on her mom’s behalf.

“Actually, that isn’t uncommon, because doctors don’t want to advertise that they participate in this program,” Linda said. “I had been in contact with people in Oregon and other states where (medical aid in dying) had been legal for a while. That’s where I started to see what had come before: Doctors don’t want to be seen as ‘Dr. Kevorkians’ or doctors of death, so there are no lists. Even in places where it has been legal for 18 years, there’s no list for doctors who are participating. You have to talk to your own doctor.

“During my research, though, I came upon the organization Compassion and Choices, and I contacted them,” Linda said. “I asked if they had any contacts in California who could help us access this option, and they said that the only thing they knew was that Kaiser Permanente was participating—which meant, to me, our only recourse was Kaiser.”


Amy Thoma, the director of public affairs for Kaiser Permanente, recently talked to me about Kaiser’s participation.

“We allow our physicians to participate in California’s End of Life Option Act,” Thoma said. “Physician participation is not mandatory. Also, we allow it in other regions such as Washington and Oregon, where it’s been an option for a while now. We encourage our patients to have thoughtful discussions with their loved ones, family and friends, as well as their health-care providers, about their end-of-life wishes so that they can have whatever dignified ending they choose.”

I asked what Kaiser does to “market” the fact that it allows patients and their doctors to participate in the End of Life Option Act.

“Health plans in general are not allowed to market the End of Life Option Act in California,” Thoma said. “It’s prohibited by (the End of Life Option) law, so we do not market it to our patients at all.”

Thoma referred me to Compassion and Choices for a broader discussion about medical-provider systems in California and their participation in the End of Life Option Act. Therefore, I reached out to Matt Whitaker, the newly appointed California state director for Compassion and Choices. We asked him whether the lack of support by the medical industry in our area was atypical.

“I would say that the Coachella Valley is pretty unique in the way that there is really no access to medical providers supporting the End of Life Option Act program,” Whitaker said. “In most of the population centers across California, you have the few religiously affiliated hospitals and organizations that made the decision not to participate, but you don’t see the majority of health systems choosing not to participate.”

In particular, he focused on the fact that Eisenhower Medical Center, one of the major health-care providers in our valley, has chosen not to offer End of Life Option services—nor is Eisenhower permitting any associated doctors to participate.

“They are not religiously affiliated,” Whitaker said. “We know from our work in the community that they have a large number of doctors who want to participate and who were super-upset when the decision not to do so came down, because there wasn’t much stakeholder engagement at all prior to making that decision.”


Last summer, Linda began taking steps for Annette to move from her existing insurance plan and health-care network to the Kaiser Permanente universe.

“Mom had Medicare insurance, so what we needed to do was change her supplemental insurance to Kaiser,” Linda said. “Fortunately, if you are on Medicare, Kaiser offers open enrollment at any time, all year. … But before we joined Kaiser, I called them, and we went over everything. They told me that (providing End of Life services in California) was new to them, and that they were hiring an end-of-life coordinator for Riverside County who would take us through the entire process. So we cancelled Mom’s supplemental policy in the middle of the month, and by the first of the next month, she was on Kaiser. She got a senior (citizen) insurance plan that had no monthly fee to be paid.”

It became very obvious, very quickly, that the Riverside County end-of-life coordinator’s support was an invaluable resource provided by Kaiser. The two of them worked as a team on Annette’s behalf in the weeks ahead.

“Once I got in contact with the new and extremely helpful coordinator, she reviewed for me the criteria necessary for a terminally ill patient to qualify for the End of Life Option in California,” Linda said. “You have to prove that you are a resident of California; you need to have a diagnosis of six months or less to live; you have to demonstrate that you are in your right mind and not suffering from depression; and you must be able to self-administer the prescribed medications. Also, you must be able to confirm, both in writing and orally, that you are personally in agreement with the decision to follow this end-of-life course of action.”

The California law also stipulates that two doctors must be involved in the process of granting permission to obtain the life-ending medications.

“The coordinator told me that there would be a first-opinion doctor who Mom would see initially, and who would then evaluate her again at least 15 days following that initial in-person appointment,” Linda said. “During that interim period, she would have to visit another doctor in person for a second opinion.”

Because Kaiser’s operations in support of the End of Life Option Act in California were just beginning, there were no existing relationships with doctors in their network who had elected to participate in the program. Originally, the coordinator was able to find doctors—but they were hours away from Palm Desert. “I told her that Mom was in no shape to make those trips,” Linda said. “I explained to her that we weren’t in a rush, but that we needed to find doctors close to our home in Palm Desert.

“She found us the first-opinion doctor at the Kaiser Indio facility, and the second doctor was in Palm Springs.”

At this point, Annette was given a form that she had to complete in preparation for her initial doctor visit, and appointments were made for the first two doctor visits.

“When we saw the first doctor, it was not a long trip to Indio, and the visit was rather short,” Linda said. “(My mom) gave him the completed form, and he reviewed her medical history. Then he interviewed Mom to make sure that this was her choice, and that it wasn’t a case of anyone trying to talk her into it. He asked why she wanted to pursue this end-of-life option. She told him that she suffered from two types of cancer and never had a day when she felt well.

“Less than a week later, we had an appointment to see the second-opinion doctor in the Palm Springs Kaiser office. He asked her another bunch of questions: When was she diagnosed? What illness did she have? Was she in pain? He talked to her about other things to confirm that she was coherent and in her right mind, and that it was her choice to do this. Also, he asked if she was capable of self-administering the drugs.

“Finally, Annette had her return consultation with the first-opinion doctor. Shortly thereafter, he was able to prescribe the necessary medications.”

The cost of these medications to the patient can vary, depending on the type of insurance; in fact, the drugs can be quite expensive. However, Kaiser may be able to help a patient find financial aid if he or she can prove financial hardship.

At this stage, the coordinator made an appointment for Linda to meet with a Kaiser pharmacist manager for the drugs to be delivered into the possession of either the patient or his/her representative, and to review—in detail—the procedure for administering the drugs.

“In our case, I met him at the Moreno Valley Kaiser facility,” Linda said. “He explained that there would be three separate drugs to be ingested to complete the end-of-life protocol, and he described in great detail the procedure for taking them to ensure the intended result.”

Everything was ready for Annette to make a final decision. The process—from the time she joined Kaiser to the time when we received the life-ending drugs—took no longer than 60 days.

“It’s important to note that the patient can change his or her mind at any time during this process,” Linda said. “Even if they have obtained the prescribed medications, they can change their mind. It seems that only approximately 30 percent of the people who receive the medications actually follow through and take them. … A lot of people change their mind.

“It gives you the option to control your own passing, and that is a wonderful thing.”


Dr. Wayne McKinny is a retired pediatrician and a resident of Desert Hot Springs. He’s also a hospice patient, diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer.

In the last six months, he has written two opinion pieces published in the local press. Both decried the refusal of our valley’s three major hospitals—Eisenhower Medical Center, Desert Regional Medical Center and John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital—to participate in or allow any of their associated doctors to participate in End of Life Option medical support. He is currently working with Compassion and Choices on their efforts to get these large medical organizations to support the law—and their patients’ desires.

“Having this right available is emotional insurance for a dying patient,” Dr. McKinny told the Independent. “They know they have it, and that they won’t have any problem, and they can use it. Likewise, it’s emotional insurance for a person who does not choose this option initially, because they know that if they change their mind, they would be able to get the option somewhat easily.”

How can terminally ill and despairing patients in our valley get access to the right to choose the circumstances of their passing?

“The choices that have been made by Coachella Valley health-care systems are not reflective of the attitude of the people in the community,” said Whitaker, of Compassion and Choices. “That’s what we’re really trying to make sure those hospitals there know. Hospitals and health systems are a community resource like libraries, churches or community centers. They exist to serve their communities. For example, during the (statewide) campaign to get the End of Life Option Act passed into law, there was a huge amount of support out of the Coachella Valley. There were a lot of people who did organizing and advocacy to make the option available, and so I think that’s where a lot of the current community disappointment comes from. There’s this population there that clearly wants this option, but the bulk of the apparatus (of medical providers) that is there to serve the community isn’t doing it.

Whitaker said his organization has had several hundred people call Eisenhower Medical Center to voice their disappointment.

“We’ve tried to approach the issue with as much civility as possible, but it’s gotten to the point where people who are interested in pushing back should go to our website and sign up to volunteer and add their name to our list,” he said. “We will be holding rallies and community meetings. We have an organizer in Southern California, and the Coachella Valley is an area with a big bull’s-eye on it for him, because we need to get people out and empowered and making some noise about this issue.”


Neither Linda nor I will ever forget that August day when Annette, who had been sick and in pain for so long, chose to end her life

“On the morning that Mom chose to follow through on her decision, we sat her on the edge of her own bed in her own room,” Linda said. “We followed carefully the process the pharmacist had described. The first drug she took was an anti-nausea medication to ease the ingestion of the other drugs in the quantities prescribed. Then, about 45 minutes later, the second drug was taken; it was a beta-blocker intended to slow down the heart rate. Then about another 15 minutes later, Mom took a large dose of Seconal, which would cause death. We had opened up 90 capsules and mixed their contents into one half-cup of applesauce, which she ate. (It could be mixed into juice or other items that the pharmacist approves.) The pharmacist had emphasized that Mom had to follow the procedure closely, and that there was a certain timeframe in which the drugs had to be completely consumed to avoid any mishaps.

“After she finished taking the last of the Seconal, we helped her lie down on the bed and made her comfortable. I had an aide, who Mom had grown close to, helping me that morning, and it was a very good idea to have her there. It’s good to have someone there with you for support.

“Very quickly, like after 30 seconds, Mom closed her eyes and drifted into a peaceful sleep. Her breathing was a little labored, but that was pretty much normal for her at that point. And then in about 20 minutes, with no gasping for breath or anything, she just stopped breathing. And it was so peaceful. It was really incredibly peaceful. She had her favorite cat with her, and it was just a beautiful death. She wanted it to be very quiet. We had put her in very comfortable clothes, and it was very beautiful.

“It’s the way we all should die.”

To enroll in a Kaiser Permanente health plan and/or to receive information about their End of Life Option services, call 800-464-4000. For more information about the End of Life Option Act, visit www.compassionandchoices.org/california.

If you’re a casual golfer like me, you have undoubtedly seen signals that seem to portend an uncertain future for public golf courses, private golf clubs and golf retail outlets here in Coachella Valley.

When booking a tee time online, you may see more available slots—and cheaper rates—than there used to be. You may hear conversations about a certain club that’s eliminating all ladies’ golf events this season because of the dearth of female members. Then you hear about another club where revenue has fallen so low that the owners are poised to close it down and sell to real estate developers.

In La Quinta, the citizens and their City Council are struggling to create a viable community development to support the beautiful SilverRock golf course. Earlier this year, Lumpy’s, which had been serving the local golfing community for some 30 years, closed both its outlets in Rancho Mirage and La Quinta.

Meanwhile, golf remains a vital part of our local economy. Organizations such as the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership point out frequently that the golf industry’s impact on the local economic balance sheet is sizable and therefore critical to our valley’s economic stability.

In an effort to find out what’s going on, the Independent recently sat down with Craig Kessler, the director of governmental affairs for the Southern California Golf Association; he’s the organization’s resident expert on all aspects of the golf industry’s longtime presence in our valley. We asked Kessler to evaluate the health of the golf industry in Coachella Valley.

“The golf industry is enormous in this valley,” Kessler said. “This is the greatest concentration of golf courses in the United States. The direct economic impact (of golf on local annual revenue) is over $1 billion. So for a population as small as this, that’s fairly substantial.”

A study using data collected in 2014 titled “The Economic Impact of the Coachella Valley Golf Industry,” completed by Tourism Economics, stated: “In 2014, the golf industry generated the following total economic impacts in the Coachella Valley region: a) Nearly $1.1 billion in total business sales; b) $413.3 million in labor income; c) More than 14,000 jobs. These regional economic impacts also generated significant fiscal (tax) impacts at the local, state and federal levels. In 2014, the Coachella Valley golf industry directly and indirectly generated approximately $83.3 million in local and state taxes and $90.5 million in federal taxes.”

Clearly, the game is integral to the area’s economy. Can the local population continue to count on it?

“I’ll say that we’re actually pleasantly surprised by the way our industry has withstood the recent challenges here in the valley—but also we’re watching it very carefully,” Kessler said. “Almost 27 percent of Southern California’s and about 14 percent of the whole state’s golf courses are right here in this desert. For example, the city of Los Angeles, with 4 million people, has 35 golf courses within its city limits, while you have 121 here. So the role that golf plays in the local economy here is phenomenal. I think it was Sonny Bono who said, ‘No golf. No Palm Springs.’ While that may not be quite true, certainly if you take out golf and agriculture, you don’t have much to drive revenue here.”

Kessler admitted the golf industry has seen some rough times in the last decade or so—rough times that he said need to be put in historical context.

“From 1946 to 2004, the game grew every year,” he said. “That spanned wars in Korea and Vietnam, urban riots, gas lines (due to shortages), recessions, double-dip recessions, etc. Some of those years were better than others, but even in the worst economic years, golf never suffered any declines. It continued to grow for 60 years. By 2004-2005, what I just described resulted in an industry ripe for an overdue correction—and that’s what hit the industry nationally, and here in California.”

Can the golf industry address the challenges it is facing?

“Over the last 10 years or so, the golf industry has learned that it can’t just sit and hope that (the players) will come,” Kessler said. “We have to become marketers, just like every other business in the United States. But I want to emphasize that when I read stories that talk about this game being passé, that it takes too long to play or is too difficult, and that people are no longer interested in it, I disagree. The facts that the base community of players has less money than they used to have, and the game has become more expensive than it used to be, are (the factors) driving the lack of participation. All the studies done about (consumer) interest in the game … show that the numbers are through the roof.”

Due to California’s record-breaking drought, golf courses have been subjected to unprecedented environmental and conservation pressures.

“One of the encouraging things is that as a result of recent conservation efforts, you’re seeing golf courses reduce substantially the amount of turf they irrigate, and maintenance expenses in general,” Kessler said. “By lowering those costs, we can reduce the cost of the game and put ourselves more in line with the market we’re trying to appeal to.”

Where should stewards of the golf industry be focusing their attention to encourage golf’s growth, longevity—and benefit to our valley?

“There’s no doubt that the lack of millennial interest in the game of golf is the greatest problem,” Kessler said. “In my opinion, I think that lack of interest results mostly from economic and financial factors, and not cultural or social factors. Honestly, I think it’s an insult to this particular generation to assume that somehow they are uniquely suffering from short attention spans and don’t like pursuits that are difficult. What they do have is extreme debt levels due to student loans. But if we don’t get them involved at a younger age, then they won’t be retiring to places like the Coachella Valley.”

In recognition of what some observers might call the anachronistic tendencies of golf and its culture, Kessler concluded: “There is something venerable about the historical traditions of the game of golf, but they need to be updated for each generation. Its values are timeless, but the forms of those values aren’t necessarily so. Now the private clubs are starting to incorporate families—and another encouraging sign about the demographics of golf is that Latinos, who are now a (plurality) of this state’s population and include many successful business people, are attracted to golf as a family activity. Golf was that way once—and it needs to regain that focus.”

As Election Day 2016 approaches, a heated debate among City Council candidates is disrupting the tranquility of La Quinta, the self-anointed “Gem of the Desert.”

One issue fueling the controversy is the proposed 1 percent sales tax increase known as Measure G, placed on this year’s ballot by unanimous vote of the City Council. Another issue: the proposed CV Link project.

The two mayoral candidates—incumbent Linda Evans and challenger Paula Maietta, a retail-marketing business specialist and 30-year La Quinta resident—have opposing views on just about all of the important issues.

Regarding Measure G, Evans told the Independent in a recent interview”: “I supported putting Measure G on the ballot, and I am in support of the need for that 1 percent increase. That’s largely due to the combination of how the expenses for things like police, fire, flood control, insurance and maintenance on capital improvements are rising versus the timing of when revenues will come in from development. … This additional sales tax is something that will be protected locally, and should yield about an additional $6 million per year, because that’s what our current 1 percent sales tax share is yielding right now.”

Maietta told the Independent she does not think the perceived budget challenges have been diagnosed correctly.

“First of all, we need a better picture of what really is happening (with our city revenues),” Maietta said. “These financial issues are not new issues.

“I just don’t think that this is a well-thought-out-measure. I think that the proper fiduciary role for the city is to make do with what they have. … They want this sales-tax increase to build up the reserve to $40 or $50 million, which was the amount before the (Redevelopment Agency) was dissolved. Well, we’re not a savings and loan. We’re a city.”

Not surprisingly, this divide carries into the group of five candidates vying for two open seats on the City Council. Candidates Kristy Franklin (the only incumbent City Council member running for re-election; pictured upper right), Kathleen Fitzpatrick (a member of the La Quinta Planning Commission, right), Steve Sanchez (a Marine Corps veteran and businessman) and Victoria Llort (a business woman and vice president of the local nonprofit American Outreach Foundation) all support Measure G.

“The city is just like any other business: money in, and money out,” Franklin said in a recent interview. “You can’t spend what you don’t have—or you shouldn’t, let’s put it that way. So Measure G is something that (the current City Council) wasn’t casual about at all. We did our homework, and then we put together an advisory committee by asking for volunteers from the community, and 14 people said yes.”

Sanchez told us he supports the measure because the state and county won’t be able to get their hands on that money: “That 1 percent, no one can take that. I’m going to vote for it because I want to maintain that quality of life that we’re used to.”

Sanchez (right, slightly below) did have one misgiving, though: “I do wish that there was a sunset date on it so that maybe eight to 10 years from now, the residents would vote again on it.”

Llort pointed out that only 1 percent of the current 8 percent sales tax stays in La Quinta. “This (1 percent increase) would give the city 2 percent. Now, it is unappropriated, so it is a general tax. When and if the voters approve it, I would like to see a citizen oversight committee really monitor the money that goes into the general fund and make sure that it’s spent appropriately and that the rising expenses for police and fire and infrastructure are addressed.”

Fitzpatrick offered a dire view of the consequences of a vote against Measure G. “I hope that it passes, and I’ll tell you from being out there walking in the precincts that I think it’s at about 50-50 right now,” she said. “If it doesn’t pass, we’re really going to have to look at full cost recovery on fees and making some changes in the programs and services that we offer. We have a lot of fees that we subsidize for some of our programs in the Wellness Center, for instance. … We’ll look at our sports programs as well.”

Only Joseph Johnson, a retired investigator for the city of Los Angeles, sides with Maietta in questioning whether there is a pressing need to increase the sales tax.

“I don’t believe that right now, this (Measure G) is the thing to do,” Johnson told us. “If we increase the sales tax on our local businesses, we’re going to have more people not buying here, and that’s going to hurt our businesses even more.”

Johnson (right, slightly below) took issue with the 14-person advisory committee that suggested the Measure G strategy: “If you read this 14-person advisory report, it says right there that they are not taking into consideration any increase in sales tax at all.

“That means the money we’re going to get from Costco—there’s a (revenue) share split that we’ve been giving them for years on sales tax that expires in April, and that’s going to be about half a million dollars in extra revenue for the city, and that was not considered in this report. Also, we have a deal with Hobby Lobby’s landlord … for a few years … but after that, it will bring another $200,000 to $300,000 a year in extra revenue, which is not considered in that report. We’re getting a TJ Maxx and Ulta, and that’s not considered in that report. Plus there’s normal inflation.”

Regarding the valley-wide debate on the CV Link project, most of the candidates are taking a “wait and see” stance in anticipation of the environmental impact report’s impending release, sometime before the end of the year. Here’s a quick rundown of each candidate’s perspective:

Evans: “When we created the Adams Street bridge overpass, we already engineered an underneath ramp that goes below the street so that you can continue on that levee without having to cross the road. We are in the planning stages to do a bridge at Dune Palms as well. So we’re a little bit ahead of the game, in my opinion. We’ll see if it’s completely cost-prohibitive to even consider. … But the concept of what it can represent for our valley, I definitely support.”

Maietta: “I’m not against the CV Link. Certainly, I’m in support of things that get people out of the house and doing healthy things—but this is a boondoggle. Nobody even has any idea of how much it’s going to cost yet. They don’t know who’s going to maintain it, and they don’t know what the maintenance costs are. Who’s going to police it? … It’s not done yet, but as it stands right now, I can’t support it.”

Franklin: “CV Link is not a priority for me, and that’s because we don’t know how much it’s going to cost to maintain it. We’re asking for a sales-tax increase, so to ask the citizens to pay for something from now into perpetuity when we haven’t a clue what the cost is going to be, I can’t buy that. My gut reaction to this is that it’s being pushed down our throats, and I don’t like that.”

Sanchez: “In theory, I think it’s a great project. But when it first came up, I was 100 percent against it for many reasons. The costs were uncertain. Without knowing things like what the ongoing maintenance is … I need to find out what all of that is before I can make a final decision on it. The information that is out right now has changed my mind from 100 percent against to being on the fence.”

Llort (right): “We don’t know what the CV Link is going to cost. That being said, I am in support of the 2-3 mile portion that would go through La Quinta. It is placed very conveniently along the wash right behind one of the business strips along 111, but also right behind the high school. The portion of CV Link that goes through La Quinta is to be built on land not owned by the city, but by the CVWD. … I reserve the right to analyze and study everything diligently to make sure that it’s still in the best interests of La Quinta.”

Fitzpatrick: “I’m conditionally supportive of the CV Link, but we need to see the EIR. That being said, I think that it’s a project that would generate tourism. We built several bike-path kind of facilities when I worked with … Los Angeles. Those kinds of projects always bring tourists and always bring users and always prove a tremendous benefit, especially in La Quinta, where our brand is health and wellness.”

Johnson: “In general, a bike path running all the way from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea is not a bad idea. But … it’s the most ugly path you’ll ever see. They show pictures of people walking their dogs along this thing, but do you think walking dogs on concrete when it’s 120 degrees out is practical? No, it’s not. … As for funding, they say that tourism is going to increase so much that one proposal is to take any increases in (each city’s) hotel tax and use that to fund this project. That’s problematic, because when the cities need money, that’s one of the few sources of revenue that they have.”

All five candidates for the three Palm Desert City Council seats up for election this year, not surprisingly, say they’re proud of their mid-valley city.

All agree that the city’s wide roads, pleasant parks, good schools and upscale neighborhoods are virtues that continue to make Palm Desert an attractive destination for tourists and new residents alike.

However, the city is facing fiscal and developmental challenges that could threaten the future growth and fiscal stability of Palm Desert.

The Independent spoke with each of the candidates and discussed their concerns, their priority issues if elected, and their views on Measure T. The only city measure on this November’s Palm Desert ballot, Measure T calls for a 2 percentage-point increase—from 9 to 11 percent—in the city’s transient occupancy tax (TOT), charged to every traveler who stays in a hotel within the city’s borders.

On this one issue, the candidates agree: They all say they’re voting for the increase.

Incumbent Van Tanner (right), a retired insurance-company executive and former member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, is wrapping up his first term on the City Council. He was the most outspoken proponent of Measure T.

“Wherever (tourists) go to stay, they’re going to pay a TOT. Well, we’re the lowest in the Coachella Valley, and (if Measure T passes), now we’re going to be right in the middle. So the 2 percent is going to generate $2 million in additional revenue, and it is something that we need to pass. It’s not a question of how we’re going to do it; we need to do it.”

Businesswoman and local pastor Kathleen Kelly explained why she supports Measure T.

“We have the absolute lowest TOT in Coachella Valley, and there’s nothing strategically beneficial to the city in holding that spot,” she said. “We’re not gaining an advantage by being last. We’re just forgoing the opportunity to appropriately look for income to cover the added expenses that the tourism brings with it.”

Susan Marie Weber (right), the other incumbent who is running for re-election as her first term draws to a close, said she’s a libertarian who normally does not like taxation. However, she supports Measure T.

“A hotel tax is a little bit different. It’s more like a user fee, which is a voluntary tax,” she said. “We use the (TOT) money to make sure that the roads are clean, that we have public safety available to keep you safe, and we have our other amenities.

“Two years ago we tried to pass a similar measure, but it was so specific that people living here thought they were going to be taxed,” Weber said. “But this time, it’s clear that the resulting revenue will go into our general fund to be used as we (the City Council) think it should be used. For instance, the police and fire services surprised us with increases, so we sure could use a little more money to offset those costs.”

Gina Nestande is the wife of former congressional candidate and former State Assemblyman Brian Nestande. She said she hopes to contribute her fundraising and leadership skills to the council’s work.

“This one time I am—but it’s only a Band-Aid that the city needs right now,” she said about Measure T. “We can’t rely on raising the TOT every couple of years to help our budget. We need to increase revenues, diversify our economy and keep the young people here—or if they do go off to college, (we need them) coming back here to work. But that will only happen if we have the infrastructure here for them. We can’t just rely on the golf and tourism industries. Tourism is great, and we can be a wonderful tourist destination—but again, we have to think bigger.”

Jerry Martin is a former golf professional, entrepreneur and insurance agent who is the driving force (pun intended) behind El Paseo Cruise Night and several other car-centric events.

“I am in favor of raising that TOT by 2 percent,” he said. “It doesn’t really affect the residents of Palm Desert, and that added revenue is really important. We need to come up and be more in line with the rest of the cities here in the desert. You know there are a lot of additional costs (regarding tourists) involved in operating the city, especially when it comes to fire, police and ambulance service, so those funds will be really important.”

The candidates also largely all agreed on the strong need for improved cooperation among the nine Coachella Valley city governments.

Kelly (right), who moved to the valley at the age of 7, made the case succinctly: “Regional cooperation is increasingly important to our quality of life in Palm Desert. As the Coachella Valley has built out, we have increasingly become one large community. So it’s not possible to go it alone, even if someone philosophically thought that was desirable. Reaching across party lines, generational divides or other potential boundaries to inspire and facilitate collaboration—that’s my skill set.”

All the candidates voiced cautious optimism that the CV Link project—a proposed valley-long pedestrian/bike path—could be completed if no undue burdens were placed on Palm Desert’s citizens, and if environmental-impact studies raised no major concerns.

Some of the candidates identified one key issue on which they’ll work first.

“There’s the redevelopment of Highway 111, which is already in progress,” Martin said. “Many buildings along the highway will be given a facelift, and there are plans to put the stores, markets and services on the first level, with living spaces on the top levels. Younger people are gravitating toward a lifestyle where they can leave their homes and apartments and walk to shops and restaurants.”

Weber sounded the alarm regarding the potential financial risk posed by the generous pension and retirement packages being granted to city employees. “We need to complete a pension review,” she said. “We started a couple of years ago to try to change our method so that when new people were hired, they’d come in under a different pension structure, but we’re still doing like 30-some percent, you know? So if you’re earning $100,000 a year, we’re putting $30,000 aside in pension for you. Way to go, huh? That’s unsustainable, and we’re going to be in a death spiral if we don’t work on that.”

Nestande (right) highlighted education and Salton Sea protection. “I’d like to focus on fast-tracking the Cal State University,” she said. “It is our only four-year university (located in the valley), and it has limited degree programs. I’ve met with the chancellor, and they really have a wonderful agenda to try to increase the number of degree programs offered here.”

She suggested this new approach for saving the Salton Sea: “We need to think regionally and expand beyond Palm Desert. What’s been proposed is that the big stakeholders create an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District. This plan has to be approved by a vote of 55 percent of the citizens, but if it were to pass, it could raise as much as a couple of billion dollars.”

Tanner said he would focus his work on developing and implementing a new general plan for Palm Desert.

“It’s a systematic way to take our city into new areas over the next 20 years,” he said. “It deals with land use as well as economic fiscal responsibility, because we want to make sure that our tourism stays strong, and our retail sales stay strong. That’s what’s going to create the revenue for our general fund for everything that needs to be done in the city.”

Rep. Raul Ruiz upset Mary Bono Mack four years ago to become the California District 36 congressman.

This year, state Sen. Jeff Stone hopes to pull off an upset of his own.

The Democratic Party has high hopes this year. Party leaders think it’s possible to retain the presidency, regain control of the Senate, and increase the number of Democrats in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.

Given this electoral outlook, incumbent Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz is in what seems like a fairly favorable position. He garnered 58.5 percent of June’s primary vote and had raised close to $2.5 million through June.

District 36 is a former Republican stronghold that includes all of the Coachella Valley, yet Ruiz’s challenger, State Sen. Jeff Stone, attracted only 31.6 percent of primary voters in June. (Another Republican received 9.9 percent of the vote.) He had raised only about a tenth of Ruiz’s haul through June—around $250,000.

What a difference four years makes.

Stone is measured when asked about his chances for an upset this year. “I’m not presumptuous to tell you that I will be elected—but I hope to be elected,” he said during a recent interview with the Independent.

When asked about the major differences between him and Ruiz, Stone mentioned last year’s nuclear deal with Iran. “It’s my belief that the (Iran nuclear) deal, that Congressman Ruiz supported, has aided and abetted a rogue country like Iran, the largest sponsor of terrorism on the globe, to continue their sponsorship of terrorism. But more importantly, it allows them a pathway to get to a nuclear bomb.”

Of course, Ruiz views his vote differently. “I voted for the Iran nuclear agreement,” he told the Independent, “because its purpose is for Iran to never, ever, ever—not now, not in 10, not in 15, not in 20, not in 50 years, not ever, ever—get a nuclear bomb. And already, we are seeing results.”

Stone also takes issue with the way that he said Ruiz arrived at his stance on the controversial deal.

“I was in the room (in Washington, D.C.) with members of the Coachella Valley contingent when Raul Ruiz made it very clear that he was not going to support any deal with Iran that allowed them to continue with their nuclear program. He flip-flopped for reasons I’ll never understand,” Stone said. “(Ruiz) said in a subsequent Desert Sun editorial that (paraphrasing), ‘It is with great humility that I am supporting this deal with Iran.’ Well, that humility could translate into future generations of Americans being the beneficiaries of a nuclear bomb on our soil.”

Ruiz said keeping his constituents safe is a major priority.

“We’ve got to keep the pressure on (Iran),” Ruiz said. “We will continue to conduct aggressive inspections which will give us intelligence that gives us the upper hand, now and in the future, to always maintain strict vigilance and ensure that they never get a nuclear bomb.”

Each candidate shared their views on other issues of concern. Ruiz mentioned the economy.

“We have to make sure that life is more affordable,” Ruiz said. “A lot of the American people and a lot of my constituents are struggling, working hard and still finding it hard to make ends meet. We need to make sure we expand the middle class by empowering our consumers and giving them a raise in the minimum wage.

“Locally, I’ve worked very closely and aggressively in promoting and helping our small businesses. I’ve successfully brought the first and only Small Business Administration office in the entire Inland Empire right here to the Coachella Valley so that our businesses have the tools, the equipment, the information and the capital they need to expand and create more jobs.”

Stone sees border security as a major challenge.

“I believe we need to secure our border—and I’m not for doing it the way that Donald Trump has been stereotyped,” Stone said. “We need to secure our borders in the name of national security. I am so worried that we are going to have a person from the Mideast who is going to transport radioactive material that is smuggled into Mexico and then smuggled into the United States and used as a dirty bomb.

“In addition, the scourge of narcotics that is claiming the lives of so many youngsters in our country … all of it is coming from Mexico because of our porous borders,” Stone said. “I’m not an advocate of building a big wall. I believe that with technology and allowing our Border Patrol agents to do their jobs, we can accomplish these tasks.”

Ruiz weighed in on the topic as well.

“I’ve got to make sure that we secure America and that we keep my constituents safe,” he said. “We need to make sure that our military and law enforcement have the tools that they need. That’s why I have voted repeatedly and consistently to give them those tools.”

Ruiz touted his achievements in supporting U.S. veterans.

“I’m very proud that we started the first-ever Veterans University that brought in over 500 veterans, their family members and community members who care about veterans in order to give them the tools necessary to improve their access to the benefits that they’ve earned,” Ruiz explained. “We help them navigate the health-care system so that they can get the mental-health services they need to prevent suicides and reduce the effect of post-traumatic stress disorder. In terms of legislation, last cycle, one of my bills … made it into the CHOICE Act that became law.

“Locally, I’ve been working hard to expand the VA Palm Desert clinic to bring in more mental-health specialists. We just successfully brought in a mobile veterans’ center that will be making stops in Hemet, Palm Springs and Indio. But you know, I miss seeing patients in the emergency room, so I’m doctoring by seeing my constituents on the case work when they come into my office. We’ve been very successful in bringing in over $2 million in benefits owed to our veterans and cutting through the red tape to make sure they get the health care that they need, when they need it.”

Stone shared his thoughts on how to improve veterans’ services.

“To me, it’s very tragic when you have 22 veterans (nationwide) who are committing suicide every single day,” Stone said. “Now I appreciate that he (Ruiz) has got this van that’s going to provide for some mobile services. … I commend him. But my plan is completely different. It will allow people not to wait for a van in a district as large as our 36th Congressional District. If I am elected, one of my first bills is going to be to completely privatize the VA—to sell off the Veterans Administration hospitals to private-sector hospitals and to enroll every veteran into the Medicare program or a Medicare-like program that allows them the freedom of choice to get the physician they want and go to the hospital that they choose. This will eliminate the backlog of people who are falling prey to a monstrous bureaucracy within the Veterans Administration.”

We asked the candidates about the failure of Congress to approve any funding thus far to combat the increasing presence of the Zika virus.

“I think that it’s an example of the partisan gridlock that puts partisanship against the best interests of the citizens of the United States of America,” Stone said. “I strongly support funding for the development of a vaccine quickly, because we’re seeing the horrific birth defects caused as a result of the virus. I think that something needs to be done in the next 30 days. They need to sit down like adults and come up with the appropriate funding, and let’s get that Zika vaccine out there before we see an epidemic of the Zika virus … infecting a lot of pregnant women who will have severely disabled children on their hands.”

Ruiz said he’s also concerned about the virus and its possible effects on families.

“I’m concerned not only about potential stressful and emotional experiences tied to giving birth to infants with microcephaly, because that means they’ll have to cope with the burdens and emotional stress of caring for a developmentally challenged loved one for the rest of their lives, but also about the struggle with a $10 million or more financial burden for the lifetime of that loved one,” he said. “That is why I’m advocating for the full funding that the scientists and public-health experts and health-care providers have said they need.

“I am thoroughly disappointed that the House Republicans introduced a bill that only had a third of the funding necessary. Still, there are things that I can do locally. I’m holding town halls, and educating my constituents through social media and PSAs so that they know how to keep themselves safe from the Zika virus. I’ve visited the Coachella Valley (Mosquito and Vector Control District) and discussed ways that we can collaborate so that they have the resources and information that they need to move forward. I’ll encourage (Speaker Paul Ryan) not to play politics and put riders into a bill. … There is no ‘wait and see’ here, because once a child has microcephaly, they will always have microcephaly in their lifetime.”

Stone said he supports a bipartisan approach to tackling problems.

“You know, it shouldn’t depend on whether you have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after your name. If you come up with a good solution to a problem, it should be embraced in the best interests of the state of California, or if you go to Congress, in the best interest of the 339 million people living in this country,” he said. “It shouldn’t be based on just partisanship. Those are areas that I think the public is frustrated with, and I think that’s why you’re seeing the popularity of Donald Trump. I think that’s why you saw the popularity of Bernie Sanders, because people are tired of politically correct speech and people just toeing party lines and not getting things done. This is going to be a very unique election.”

Ruiz expressed optimism about his chances in November.

“I’m very excited for the opportunity to represent my constituents in my home area for another two years,” he said.

Rep. Raul Ruiz and state Sen. Jeff Stone will take part in a debate at 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 16. The debate will air live on News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2, and will be streamed live at KESQ.com and Desertsun.com.

The eastern Coachella Valley is the home of some of the poorest areas of California. Many residents don’t even have access to safe drinking water—thanks largely to years of institutional indifference.

This horrifying truth can be blamed in part on the fact that the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) was electing each of its five members at large: While each representative had to live in the “directorial division” he or she represented, voters within the entire CVWD—ranging from portions of Cathedral City, Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs southeast all the way to the Salton Sea—selected each member.

Even though a third of the voting-age residents of the CVWD are Latino, back in 2014, the entire board was white.

After civil-rights lawyers threatened to sue the district, the board moved to change the voting process, and in 2014, CVWD constituents voted to change future elections: From that year on, the residents of each directorial division would select their own representative.

That fall, Castulo Estrada, a resident and employee of the city of Coachella with a civil engineering degree, was elected as the Division 5 director. Since his arrival, Estrada has adamantly injected the voice of his constituency into all aspects of the operations of the Coachella Valley’s largest water agency.

“The fact that I was elected to the board of directors a year and a half ago has allowed us to voice concerns in a much louder way,” Estrada said in a recent interview.

Estrada explained why he felt qualified to represent the serious needs of his constituents at our valley’s eastern end.

“First, this is my community,” Estrada said. “This is where I grew up. I did come from a disadvantaged community. I used to live in Oasis with my parents under the same conditions that a lot of these folks now find themselves in.

“Second, (when elected), I was already working for the utilities department here in the city of Coachella,” Estrada said. “I went to college and studied civil engineering, so I had an educational background about water, waste water and flood control. When I came back to work for Coachella, I focused on water issues. I was involved in a lot of the regional efforts through the Coachella Valley Regional Water Management Group, which is basically a collaboration among the five water agencies in the valley. That’s how I got a glimpse into what the CVWD was doing in the unincorporated areas.”

Estrada glimpsed an effort that he—along with many of his constituents, including those involved with East Valley nonprofit organizations such as Building Healthy Communities and Pueblo Unido—deemed insufficient.

“A lot of us are trying to bring about some changes here in the east side in terms of the availability of potable water people now have,” he said.


After Estrada was elected to the board, he got right to work.

“When a new board member is elected, there’s an opportunity to form another committee that didn’t exist (previously),” he said. “So, knowing what our objectives were, I did form a new committee in December 2014.”

Estrada soon learned that working within the system can be a tedious, time-consuming process.

“Finally by the beginning of (2016), we had come up with the name Disadvantaged Communities Infrastructure Committee (DCIC), and we began meeting regularly every month,” Estrada said. “Now our DCIC goals and mission are set with two long-term and 10 short-term goals as well as three immediate actions.” (See the sidebar for an example of one of these “immediate actions.”)

“On July 19, we took these objectives to our first meeting with the CVWD Task Force, which is charged with making sure that all these goals are accomplished. … General Manager Jim Barrett is working with engineers for water, or for sewers, the environmentalists, and any other CVWD staff required to meet the goals. We wanted to involve all these key people, because we don’t want to have a committee just for the sake of having a committee. We want it to be effective.”

Part of the outcome of that meeting was a name change for the committee to reflect its new reach and wider umbrella of participants. Now called the CVWD and Disadvantaged Communities Task Force (CVWD-DCITF), Estrada and board President John Powell (pictured right)—who back in April insisted on becoming the second required director on the committee—are excited about the possibilities ahead.

“These challenges have not really ever been a directive of the CVWD in the past,” Powell said. “We (the CVWD) really just serve our customers, and as people apply for new service, typically, they pay for it (through the developers). That model has really left out those folks who don’t have that type of upfront development plan and the financing to go with it. So you have communities with excellent services, while right next to them, you find communities that don’t have any water, sewer or flood-control services. Now we have made a new priority, really due to the leadership of director Estrada, that has elevated this particular topic for the board to consider.”

The officially adopted mission statement for the newly minted CVWD-DCITF is: “The mission of the CVWD and Disadvantaged Communities Infrastructure Task Force is to secure access to safe, affordable drinking water, wastewater and flood control services in historically disadvantaged Coachella Valley regions through strategic planning, funding procurement, needs assessment and reporting—all in collaboration with community members and stakeholders.”

Estrada said it’s vital that the new task force meet its goals.

“There are a lot of folks out there living with a contaminated well that they use for cooking and showering,” Estrada said. “We want to take it a step further and make it a CVWD mission to do more.”


Estrada’s board responsibilities don’t end with helping those East Valley residents who lack proper water and sewer services.

During the June 14 CVWD board meeting, when some of the hotly contested CVWD water-rate increases were passed, Estrada became frustrated with what he called “maneuvering” by representatives of more-affluent West Valley customers—and he is not being shy about that frustration.

“Our vote (back in June) tabled the question of what the new fixed-rate level would be,” Estrada said. “(The vote) required the board to strive for a less-drastic rate structure than the one put forward in the original rate-increase proposal. The revenue we collect through monthly billings is to keep the current system operating and provide water at the actual cost of the service to each existing customer. … We have current existing water and sewer systems on the east side of the valley in Mecca, Thermal, Salton City and Bombay Beach. There are projects that need to be supported in these areas in order to maintain a quality service level. That’s what the recurring revenues are meant to support.

“Most of the pressure to reduce the fixed-cost portion of the monthly bills was coming from the landscape-customer class, which includes (homeowners associations) and golf courses, and actually makes up a very small percentage of the CVWD’s total customer base. So if we accept their objection and reduce their rate below the actual cost of the service provided to that class, then funds available to support the necessary projects across the valley—and in the east-end communities in particular—may have to be cut back.

“That’s the source of my frustration and concern. There are no golf courses or HOAs in Thermal, or Mecca, or Oasis, or Bombay Beach. So if the result is to cut the revenue coming from this one customer class by lowering their rate and thus eliminating necessary projects on the east end of the valley, that makes me sad.”

Could water politics such as this water-rate issue derail the good that can be achieved for struggling East Valley residents via Estrada’s CVWD-DCITF mission?

“We need right now to survey the situation and figure out where we are, and where we can reasonably go,” said Powell, the board president. “You know, it really takes leadership. This is how things get done in the world. Somebody needs to make it a priority. I think the fact that we now have our first Latino director on our board, and he’s a very capable person showing great leadership skills—along with others in the community, like Sergio Carranza of Pueblo Unido Community Development Center, and members of our CVWD staff—(shows) this effort is in really good hands.”

Estrada expressed confidence that his efforts will lead to much-needed changes within the CVWD.

“I’m really happy, and a lot of the community is really happy to see that the CVWD is willing to hear our concerns and has shown that they want to participate and help us out,” Estrada said. “I think that’s what we’ve wanted for a long time. Just as the CVWD has put so much effort and attention into addressing the concerns of the golf-course communities and the HOAs’ concerns, we’re happy to know that the issues of the folks out here in the East Valley are now being considered as well—at the same level.”


Getting Ready: The CVWD Is Working to Make Sure Life-Changing Projects Are Ready to Go When Funding Becomes Available

As the work of Castulo Estrada and the CVWD and Disadvantaged Communities Infrastructure Task Force truly gets started, it’s worth looking at one “immediate action” goal

“The Coachella Valley Regional Water Management Group (CVRWMG) obtained a grant a few years ago of about $500,000 to work with (nonprofit organizations) to run a survey across the Coachella Valley,” Estrada said. “People went door-to-door to identify where the disadvantaged communities surviving without safe accessible water and sewer service existed. As a result of their report, communities were identified. … So by using that work and overlaying it with current CVWD utility infrastructure maps, we’re able to start chopping off some of the low-hanging fruit.”

This process has resulted in a priority project for the CVWD’s new task force: The hook-up to proper water infrastructure of multiple mobile-home parks along Avenue 66 in the Thermal-Mecca area, which account for between 300 and 500 living units.

“There’s about $1.1 million in Round 1 funds that have been directed to the CVRWMG in our region from California Prop 1 (the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014),” Estrada said. “The CVRWMG, which is made up of the five local water agencies, has undertaken a process of reviewing various projects which have been submitted by all of these agencies. We’re trying to obtain about one-third of that $1.1 million to go toward the development of our projects.”

These state grant funds would enable the CVWD to complete preliminary engineering and environmental requirements, and acquire any necessary permits. The strategy is for the CVWD-DCITF to have projects to present that are “shovel-ready” when implementation funding becomes available.

“When all of this preparation work is done,” Estrada said, “potentially there may be other grants we could qualify for from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could equal $3 million to $5 million or more. So when we hear of funds being available, we’ll be able to submit the plans—and boom, we can qualify.”

This has been one of the most highly charged and controversial election years in recent memory.

However, all is calm in State Assembly District 56, which includes Imperial County and much of the Eastern Coachella Valley. That’s the realm of Democratic State Assembly member Eduardo Garcia, who is facing no formal opposition for a second two-year term.

In 2015, Garcia reportedly made history by becoming the most successful freshman California assemblymember ever: The Democrat authored or co-authored 14 bills and two resolutions that were signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Independent recently chatted with Garcia about his first term, as well as his plans for his second.

What would you identify as the highlights of your legislative accomplishments to date?

There were a couple of different things. There were some environmental bills. Assembly Bill 1059 was introduced by our office, but it was an idea that came from a local organization. That’s an important bill for a place like Imperial County, which suffers from some of the highest asthma rates among children because of poor air quality. It became effective this year, and it is going to put air-monitoring systems along the California-Mexico border to begin quantifying and collecting the necessary data to make the case that there are emissions along the border that are in excess of safe levels. Because of border-crossing wait times due to a lack of infrastructure, those living in this region are subjected to this poor quality of air. Although this bill doesn’t address those problems directly, it positions this region to go after greenhouse-gas-reduction funds through the Air Resources Board of California.

In the East (Coachella) Valley, a bill that stands out to me is adopting the new regulations for the purpose of installing new water-filtration systems in the rural parts of the district that do not have centralized water and sewer infrastructure. These filtration systems protect people from consuming contaminated water. In this case, it’s water with high levels of arsenic.

Jumping back to Imperial County, we passed AB 1095, the Salton Sea projects. The bill required the Natural Resources Agency to report to the Legislature by March of this year a list of shovel-ready projects that are now going to be part of the execution of the $80.5 million in funds that we successfully included in this year’s state budget.

How do you feel about whether real tangible progress is being made to improve the fate of the Salton Sea, and remedy, or at least mitigate, the dangers its dissipation would pose?

I feel good, because through our legislation, we outlined what the shovel-ready projects are, and I feel good because now there’s some money available to be able to execute those projects. Also, I feel very optimistic about the state’s commitment moving forward, because $80.5 million has been allocated. But, look: For the first time, the state of California has committed a significant amount of money to a problem in our region, in this case the Salton Sea, so there’s a lot of optimism. But there’s still work to be done, and for some of us, it’s not happening fast enough. So now our message is beginning to change, from, “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” to, “Here’s what’s going to happen over the course of the next five to six years.”

What issues and challenges concern you the most during the remainder of this term, and looking ahead into your second term?

This year, we’ve got some tough bills that ask for money. I can tell you that our parks bond, asking for $3.2 billion, is probably going to be a heavy lift for the governor to sign. He’s not a big fan of going out and borrowing money, even if the return on the investment is good. But I’m confident that the bill will get through the legislative process.

For us in the 56th Assembly District, the bill has about $45 million that will go directly to programs, projects and services in our area. One example is that there is a direct allocation of an additional $25 million to the Salton Sea restoration efforts that would be very welcome. There’s another $5-$6 million that is going into the restoration of the New River. … That’s in the final stages of executing a strategic plan to develop the infrastructure to clean up the water and ultimately to develop a parkway in the city of Calexico, which would be beneficial to the entire Imperial County. Also, there’s $10 million for the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy to address their land acquisitions for the purpose of habitat conservation in the Coachella Valley. We’re going to keep our push going over the next couple of weeks as it makes its way through the Senate. It’s a two-thirds bill, and it required me to get a few votes from Republicans to get out of the Assembly and move to the Senate. We’ve got the backing of six Republican assembly members, which is unheard of. So we have a reputation in Sacramento thus far of collaboration and (taking) a bipartisan approach, and I think that, too, has helped us.”

What are your thoughts about the famous proposed Donald Trump wall between Mexico and the United States?

Mexico is a very important economic partner to the state of California and to our nation. Mexico is also an extremely important partner in the case of our national security. Our relationship with Mexico can determine the safety and well-being of this country. For those concerned with terrorists from other parts of the world entering the United States, I would think that our foreign policy with our neighbors to the south and our neighbors to the north would be one of cooperation, collaboration and good communication, to ensure that we all have each other’s backs. So I think it’s really ridiculous to try to continue the rhetoric of alienating our neighbors to the south. Our foreign policy needs to be a constructive and productive one with our neighbors to the south—and building a wall does not get us to that point.

Close to 1,000 young boxing hopefuls and proven amateurs this week are congregating at the 15th Annual Desert Showdown at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio—all in search of a title in their weight and age class.

For one local girl, the tournament means a return to the site of her first sanctioned bout and victory in her thus-far undefeated career.

“My first fight was when I was 12, and it was at the Desert Showdown four years ago,” said Citlalli Ortiz, of Coachella, during a recent training session at her boxing home, the Coachella Valley Boxing Club gym, run by the valley’s elder statesman of pugilism, Lee Espinoza.

Ortiz started boxing because she was dragged to the gym while her sister got into the ring.

“It was my older sister, Brenda, which was funny,” she said. “I would say, ‘No. I don’t want to go,’ when she went to the gym to train.”

Citlalli—pronounced “seat-lolly”—has been trained and managed by her father, Alex Ortiz. He explained the unlikely path taken by his younger daughter to the 2016 USA Boxing National Junior Championship at 154 pounds.

“It was not intended for Citlalli to be here at this moment,” he said. “My oldest daughter, Brenda, kept bugging me to bring her (Brenda) over to the gym so she could try boxing. Citlalli just came along because we had no one to leave her with.”

Citlalli eventually entered the ring because there were no other girls around to train with Brenda.

“Citlalli would get in the ring with her older sister and be like the punching bag,” said Alex Ortiz, who works as a substitute teacher. “And then one day, my dad brought some friends over to the house, and there were two boys about her age. They found boxing gloves lying around in the house, so the boys put them on, and they were both punching her. I got really upset watching her covering up, and not punching back. So I said, ‘You guys want to box? Let’s go out into the yard.’ I told her for the first time, ‘Just do the one-two. Left, then right.’ She knocked both of them out. One of the kids even spun around as he fell down. That’s when I realized that she really had potential.”

Those earliest boxing experiences with her older sister had a lasting impact on Citlalli.

“There’s a six-year difference between us,” she said. “But I tried every time, and even if I wanted to do something different, she would always have something better to do. I guess that’s how she helped me learn, and I was able to take a beating from anybody after that.”

Citlalli has not taken any beatings since she began her sanctioned boxing career. Still undefeated, Citlalli in the past year has won championship belts and medals at the 40th Annual Gene Lewis Invitational Tournament in Mesa, Ariz.; the 2016 USA Junior and Youth Boxing Championships in Reno, Nev.; and the 2016 USA Boxing Junior Olympic, Prep National and Youth Open Championships in Dallas. In the latter two events, she defeated former national champions to claim the titles.

Despite her undefeated record, Citlalli has definitely faced some challenges since she started boxing—including a battle with her weight.

“I was over 200 pounds when I started boxing,” she said. “So every time I would ask somebody to train me, they would say they couldn’t train me, because I wasn’t going to lose the weight.”

However, she has lost a lot of weight; all of her recent title victories have been in the 154-pound weight class. Still, Citlalli and her father believe her boxing future will be brightest if she gets down to 145 pounds. When does she hope to make that goal? Like ... immediately.

“I’ve been 154 for a while now,” Citlalli said, “but for the (Desert) Showdown, my goal is to be 145.”

Citlalli’s father also teased her about the fact that she’s trying to slim down for her upcoming quinceaneara.

“She wants to go down to 141,” he said. “So that’s another motivation for her. I told her she has to be at the weight (for the tournament), because if she tries on the dress she wants now and then loses 10 pounds, that dress is going to be too big for her.”

Once she makes her target weight, what will the rest of her future look like?

“I’ve heard that they’re going to let professionals compete in Olympic boxing, and if that’s official, then we want to go pro and then go to the Olympics (in 2020),” Citlalli said. “If it’s not true, then we would rather go to the Olympics.”

As she enters her junior year at Coachella Valley High School, Citlalli is aware of the importance of her education.

“I know I have to keep up with my grades,” she said. “I know boxing is not forever, so I’m going to have to look for a career that I like. But for now, I really want to focus on boxing.”

Citlalli’s father noted that her mother has always been wary of boxing. “But she’s been seeing Citlalli’s results in the ring, and that’s what makes her say, ‘I know that you’re good at this, but just don’t forget school.’ And we’ve got to respect that. I feel that way, too. I know it’s important and that you have to have that Plan B and be prepared. Time flies.”

So far this year in the Coachella Valley, water-rate increases have gone into effect in both the Mission Springs Water District (encompassing Desert Hot Springs and northern Palm Springs) and the Myoma Dunes Water Company territory of Bermuda Dunes.

In both cases, mandatory public meetings were held—and citizens came out to protest what they saw as unfair increases.

On Tuesday, June 14, the latest domino to fall was the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD), which provides water to most of the valley from portions of Cathedral City eastward. Its board of directors was holding one final public meeting on whether to approve the controversial rate-increase plans it had been proposing for more than three months. Various local media and an overflow crowd of more than 300 customers showed up for the meeting, held under the watchful gaze of armed members of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

As expected, the board approved the first step in a five-step rate increase plan … sort of: The members voted for a rate increase in volumetric charges, effective July 1, as well as a 44 percent increase in fixed-cost charges for customers effective from July through September, with a reduction to 22 percent beginning in October.

Or did they? Heather Engel, the CVWD director of conservation and communication, told the Independent after the vote that the increase would not be quite as steep.

“For our (single-family residential) customers, their fixed charge was going to go up (on July 1) from $7 to $11.30, but now, it will be $9.26 (a roughly 32 percent increase) as of Oct. 1” rather than July 1, she said.

She said it’s possible the board could further lessen that fixed-charge increase between now and October.

“It will be revisited (in September) to see if it can be adjusted down further,” she said.

As for the volumetric portion of the customer bills, the proposed increases were indeed adopted as proposed. (To review the final approved water rates, visit www.cvwd.org/ratechanges.)

With all of the local water districts, the rate-increase rationale begins with the revenue shortfall caused by successful conservation efforts. Another undeniable factor is the cost of maintaining and upgrading the existing water-management and delivery infrastructure.

But the wild card in each agency’s deck is the State Water Resources Control Board’s new Chromium 6 abatement regulations. After initially fighting the state-regulation terms that the agency viewed as onerous, the CVWD has now decided to move forward aggressively with plans to create and maintain a massive treatment infrastructure—at an estimated minimum development cost of $250 million, with ongoing annual maintenance costs of $8 million.

At least one local lawmaker thinks the CVWD should be pushing back against the state a little more.

“If I was in the CVWD’s shoes, I’d say let’s hold off a little bit,” said Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia. “Let’s maybe spend some money on doing some designing and some engineering, but let’s hold off a little bit to see if there’s any change (in the current regulations).”

Garcia said it’s indeed possible that those Chromium 6 regulations could be changed.

“Last year, we were successful in passing Senate Bill 385, which I co-authored. … The bill gave (affected) agencies a five-year variance to comply with the new standard,” Garcia said. “That meant three things from our perspective: (We can) continue to gather scientific information that would either support or invalidate the (Chromium 6) standard … and possibly challenge that standard; give agencies the time needed to plan, design and build the infrastructure needed to meet the standards; and allow time for specific legal challenges already under way to proceed and potentially change the direction or outcome of the new standards. … But (the CVWD is) moving steadfast, perhaps because they feel there might not be any changes, and I respect that outlook and the direction they are going in.”

Garcia said it’s also possible the CVWD could get financial help from the state.

“Another area we’re looking at is money made available in the water bond, Proposition 1. Specifically, it allocated $260 million for water grants and loans for public utilities, and for addressing infrastructure needs and what have you. These dollars were originally meant for smaller utilities, but we’re trying to see if utilities with a larger footprint could potentially be eligible.”

On a related front, during the June 14 meeting, board member Peter Nelson expressed a desire for the CVWD to join a lawsuit against the California State Water Resources Control Board, being led by the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, and the Solano County Taxpayers Association. It questions the need for the stringent drinking-water regulation of Chromium 6. The CVWD board has scheduled a closed-session discussion of this possibility for July.

Ashley Metzger, the manager of conservation and outreach at the Desert Water Agency, which serves much of Palm Springs and Cathedral City, defended the CVWD’s efforts.

“CVWD fought this (Chromium 6 regulation) tooth and nail,” she said. “They really put up a strong campaign against this standard being set so low.”

Metzger also offered a reminder for all local water-agency customers: “One thing that people often forget is we’re all public agencies. We represent them. We’re not for-profit. We’re different from Edison and SoCalGas, which are private companies. Everything we do is with our customers in mind.”

Is a water-rate increase coming to the DWA?

“We are doing a rate study right now,” Metzger said. “A whole host of factors will be evaluated. It’s a very comprehensive process. We expect to see the results sometime in late summer 2016.”

Since March 24, the Coachella Valley Water District management team has been conducting a series of public presentations billed as “Water Rate Workshops.”

The managers’ goal of these presentations: Cnvince wary customers to go along with a proposed four years of considerable water-rate increases, slated to start on July 1.

The CVWD board of directors will decide on the first year of proposed increases on June 14.

At the May 2 workshop, many customers of the utility—which provides water to most of the valley from portions of Cathedral City eastward—left unconvinced about the need for the rate hikes, despite the arguments made by CVWD General Manager Jim Barrett and Conservation Manager Katie Ruark.

The CVWD cites three main factors in the increase request: a decrease in revenue due to successful conservation efforts which obviously reduced water sales; water treatment needed to meet newly adopted state drinking-water standards for chromium 6, which will cost the agency about $250 million; and system maintenance and upgrades needed to serve the 318,000 residents who rely on the agency for reliable and safe water.

Many audience members had legitimate questions regarding the proposed CVWD responses to these financial challenges.

It was obvious from the start of the state-mandated water-conservation effort in 2014 that all water agencies’ revenues would decrease if customers’ water usage decreased. The CVWD relied on budgeted reserve funds and customer over-usage penalty fees to bridge the gap, and understandably, those resources will not be sufficient to cover costs moving forward.

But are there other areas in the current CVWD budget where money might be saved? Employee-compensation costs make up 39.2 percent of the domestic-water-service expenses at the agency. Barrett mentioned that more employees had been hired in the past few years after a decrease in staff following the Great Recession, but he indicated that employee costs were not a factor in the move to increase rates.

On the other hand, in a recent interview, Heather Engel, the CVWD director of communication and conservation, recently told us: “When those chromium 6 treatment plants are built, we’re going to have to hire a lot more people, because we will need them to operate the plants.”

That leads to an interesting question regarding the proposed $250 million chromium 6 treatment plan: A customer at the May 2 workshop asked if the utility had considered pushing back or initiating a lawsuit against the new state mandate. The response: After serious consideration, the board chose not to push back, and instead to implement the costly treatment solution.

The chromium 6 situation happens to be much different on the Coachella Valley’s western end, where water customers are served by the Desert Water Agency.

“The DWA is extremely fortunate, because a lot of the (aquifer) recharge happens right in our own backyard,” said Ashley Metzger, the DWA outreach and conservation manager, in a recent interview. “One effect of that process is to dilute the naturally occurring chromium 6 levels, because the Colorado River water has no chromium 6. We’re actually below the (state’s new) 10 parts per billion threshold level, so we’re not going to have to treat anything.”

However, Metzger did express doubts about the need for the new strict state standard.

“I would argue that we don’t know if there’s a threat at all,” she said. “Our federal level is currently 100 parts per billion, and (in California), we’re now talking 10 parts. A part per billion is like if you had $10 million worth of pennies, you’re going to be able to find one of those pennies that’s different than the others. Science has evolved very quickly, and because we’re able to detect minute traces of substances, there’s a tendency, I think, to regulate based on the ability to detect. But sometimes (that tendency to regulate) is for the good of the community, and other times, all the factors are not evaluated.”

Back to the Coachella Valley Water District: Are these proposed rate increases a foregone conclusion?

“(The board has) a proven history of listening to the customers and trying to be responsive to their feedback,” Engel said. “But let me say that this is not a popular rate-increase proposal. This is going to mean that most homeowners will see an increased rate of about $6 per month, but (homeowner associations) and businesses are going to see a much more significant increase on their bills, and we know that. So we have not proposed this plan without a lot of thought and consideration from CVWD.

“The challenge that we face results from the cost-of-service studies. In order to have rates that are defensible against any lawsuits, we have to base any increase on a cost-of-service study. Our consultants came back and said that we are not charging customers what we should be.”

Do the CVWD’s domestic water customers have any real voice in this debate? They do, according to the agency’s “Important Information About Your Rates” brochure, recently mailed to all invoiced customers.

In the section titled “How Can I Participate?” there is this clause: “At the time of the public hearing, the board of directors will hear and consider all written protests and public comments. After the hearing, if a majority of the property owners of the impacted parcels or tenants directly liable for the payment of the charges submit written protests in opposition to the proposed rate increases, the increases will not be imposed. If a majority protest is not received, CVWD’s board of directors may adopt the proposed changes, though they are not obligated to.”