CVIndependent

Thu05242018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

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

A recent review of the budgets of all nine Coachella Valley cities confirms what multiple sources have mentioned over the last several months: The costs of providing police and fire protection have been rising every year—and could soon become a worrisome financial burden.

“About 50 percent of our general-fund budget at this time goes specifically to public safety,” Coachella City Councilmember V. Manuel Perez told the Independent in a recent interview. “In the course of the last few years, public-safety expenses have increased between 5 and 7 percent every year.

“The passing of Measure U a couple of years ago, which was a 1 percent sales-tax increase, is the only reason why … we’ve been able to sustain ourselves—and we understand that these annual (public-safety cost) increases are going to continue.”

With 50 percent of the general fund being allocated to public safety, Coachella falls in the middle of the pack, as far as valley cities go. Given different accounting methods, a direct comparison is difficult to make. However, Indian Wells is at the low end, spending about 35 percent of its general fund on public safety, while Cathedral City is on the high end, around 65 percent.

This is not just a problem here in the Coachella Valley, and studies have been done across the country over the past decade in an effort to determine what’s driving the trend in rising public-safety costs, even when adjusted for inflation. But because there so many variables at play, these studies have not uncovered a single root cause.

In the Coachella Valley, five cities—Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, La Quinta, Coachella and Indian Wells—contract out public-safety service to Riverside County and Cal Fire, while the other four cities—Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs and Indio—still maintain independent police departments. Only Palm Springs and Cathedral City have independent fire departments. Yet independence does not seem to be an indicator of how large a city’s budget allocation will be, since Palm Springs comes in on the low end at about a 45 percent budget allotment, with Cathedral City on the high end at 65 percent.

Back in 2013, Desert Hot Springs was in the midst of a financial crisis and explored outsourcing services to the county. “We were looking at our police force and what we could do either with the sheriff’s department or keeping our own police department,” said Mayor Scott Matas, who was a City Council member at the time. “When the sheriff’s department’s initial bid came in to us, it appeared that it was a couple of million dollars less. But after the interim police chief and his staff tore the bid apart and compared apples to apples, when the sheriff’s department came back for a second round, we found out it was actually going to cost us $1 million more, so it was pretty much a no-brainer for us to keep our own police department.”

Desert Hot Springs is now on better financial footing. “Recently, we actually gave a little bit back to the police department, which was cut by upwards of 22 percent when the fiscal crisis was going on,” Matas said. “It’s been nice to keep our own police force. It’s more personable when it comes to your community policing, because you have the same police officers there. When you contract out, you never know what that face is going to be. We have that issue with our county fire contract. We’re very fortunate that some of the firefighters who work in this community have been here a long time, but for the most part, they rotate in and out all the time, so you never have that same chief, or you never have the same firefighters.”

Indio City Council member Glenn Miller, who has also served as the city’s mayor, touted the benefits of Indio having its own police force.

“About 80 percent of the police officers working with us live in our city,” Miller said. “We have a large contingent that is home-grown, and then a lot of them have moved into the city, including our police chief, Michael Washburn, who came from Seattle. So they are vested in the city, and that does us a lot of good. … When they live in our neighborhoods, they get to know those communities.”

What solutions are mayors and city councilmembers looking at to keep public-safety spending in check?

“When it comes to county fire, they’ve just been given larger pay increases, which then trickles down to the people who contract with them,” said Matas, the DHS mayor. “We were hoping to open another fire station eventually, but now we’re looking at just trying to keep the staffing that we have. … It’s always a challenge with public safety. We’ve been very fortunate with our police services. Crime is down. We’ve got a great chief (Dale Mondary), and we’re working in a great direction, but with this fire budget coming up, I don’t know how we’re going to do that.”

Coachella’s V. Manuel Perez said there’s no way his city can keep pace with the public-safety cost increases as things stand now.

“We have to figure out how we can work with other valley contracting cities to come up with a long-term solution for this problem,” Perez said. “Maybe we can come up with some sort of (joint powers authority) between the cities to support an agreement to help pay for public safety.”

Newly elected La Quinta City Councilmember Steve Sanchez agreed that it’s worth exploring whether the valley’s cities should join forces … perhaps literally.

“I think that’s something we need to discuss amongst all our council members,” Sanchez said. “We need to look at all options, whether it’s (joining forces with) Indio or other cities, or if it’s just staying with the sheriff’s department—whichever makes the most sense.”

Miller said East Valley cities have already started talking about working together more.

“When I was serving as the mayor of Indio, up until the end of this last year, we discussed with (La Quinta Mayor) Linda Evans and (Coachella Mayor) Steve Hernandez the possibility of doing an East Valley coalition plan that would include combining police and parks, and … making a better community overall by working together as one. We could lower costs for each individual city by economies of scale. Also, we talked about economic development, youth programs and senior programs. Not that we were going to give up our autonomy, but we’re looking at ways we could partner up to get a bigger bang for our buck, and maybe do better for our residents by being able to provide additional services.

“With public safety, we’d look at what we could do, since we’re right next to each other, to institute a regional police force. It’s something that we’re open to. You never shut the door on any option.”

Published in Local Issues

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

Comedy

Gabriel Iglesias

The famously fluffy comedian performs. 8 p.m., Saturday, May 2; and 6 p.m., Sunday, May 3. $45 to $75. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage. 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Film

Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

This unique festival features an eclectic mixture of landmark and obscure vintage movies from the classic film noir era. Various times and prices, Thursday, May 14, through Sunday, May 17. Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs. Arthurlyonsfilmnoir.ning.com.

Music

Dueling Pianos

America’s top dueling-pianos show returns for one night only of energetic song, fun and audience participation by two extremely talented piano performers. What makes this show unique? The audience chooses all the songs. The audience also chooses what not to play and when to stop. 7 p.m., Saturday, May 2. $10. Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 800-838-3006; purpleroompalmsprings.com

Fantasy Springs Rock Yard Concert Series

At 7:30 p.m., full-throttle rock music fires up, and the live music continues until midnight. Friday, May 1: Tribute to Duran Duran. Saturday, May 2: Tribute to Red Hot Chili Peppers. Saturday, May 9: Tribute to Queen. Friday, May 15: Tribute to ZZ Top. Saturday, May 16: Tribute to Van Halen. Saturday, May 23: Tribute to Prince. Saturday, May 30: Tribute to Guns N’ Roses. Call for other shows. Free. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio. 888-331-5645; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

For the Love of Broadway With Carole Cook

Meet a true Broadway star, Carole Cook, of 42nd Street and TV shows The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 22 and 23; and 1 p.m., Sunday, May 24. $30. Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 800-838-3006; purpleroompalmsprings.com.

Grooves at the Westin: Hiroshima

Grammy-nominated Hiroshima creates a musical world all its own. The intoxicating mix of traditional Japanese folk music and instruments interwoven with jazz, R&B, salsa and more has been a pioneering voice in contemporary music since the 1970s. 7 p.m., Saturday, May 16. $45 and up. Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort and Spa, 71333 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage. 760-770-2150; www.westinmissionhills.com.

Vanessa Sheldon, Harpist, With PSHS Orchestra

Vanessa Sheldon will perform a variety of solo harp music and the Handel Concerto with the Palm Springs High School Orchestra. Soloists from the high school will also be featured on flute, saxophone and viola. 4 p.m., Sunday, May 10. $15. Palm Desert Community Presbyterian Church, 47321 Highway 74, Palm Desert. 760-861-0350; www.gold2ivory.com.

Special Events

AIDS Assistance Program’s Evening Under The Stars Gala

The 22nd annual Evening Under the Stars gala will feature a performance by music legend Darlene Love, followed by dancing to a high-energy band. Love has had several Billboard hits and was featured in the Academy Award-winning movie Twenty Feet From Stardom. The event includes cocktails, dinner, dancing, and silent and live auctions of extraordinary trips, one-of-a-kind collectibles, marvelous merchandise and more. 5:30 p.m., Saturday, May 9. $395 and up. O’Donnell Golf Club, 301 N. Belardo Road, Palm Springs. 760-325-8481; aidsassistance.org/evening-under-the-stars.php.

Brew at the Zoo

"Save Wildlife One Beer at a Time." Enjoy a sampling of handcrafted beers, food and live entertainment from more than 50 local breweries and restaurants. Proceeds help The Living Desert care for more than 500 animals and 1,600 protected acres, and provide scholarship programs for thousands of visiting school children. 6:30 p.m., Saturday, May 2. $50; $40 members; $125 VIP. The Living Desert, 47900 Portola Ave., Palm Desert. 760-346-5694; www.livingdesert.org/event/brew-at-the-zoo.

Discover Indio Block Party

Join the city of Indio and the Indio Chamber of Commerce to celebrate the 85th anniversary of Indio with a free community block party. Included in the festivities will be a motorcycle show, classic car show, carnival rides, food trucks, barbecue, kids activities, mini-train rides, art installations, live bands and more. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, May 16. Free. Indio Chamber of Commerce, 82921 Indio Blvd., Indio. 760- 347.0676; indiochamber.org.

The Geology of Gold and Silver

This lecture by D.D Trent, a professor emeritus at Citrus College, is part of the Old School House Lecture Series, which started in 1999 and is run in partnership with the Twentynine Palms Historical Society. 7 p.m., Friday, May 8. $5 at the door. Old Schoolhouse Museum, 6760 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms. 760-367-5535.

Memorial Day Flower Drop and Air Fair

This special day at the Palm Springs Air Museum includes a brief memorial service dedicated to all of our fallen comrades, who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms. In their honor is a fly-by and flower drop of more than 3,000 red and white carnations from a B-25 Mitchell bomber. 1 p.m., Monday, May 25. $16 with discounts. Palm Springs Air Museum, 745 N. Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs. 760-778-6262; palmspringsairmuseum.org.

Visual Arts

Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu

This exhibition of art by prominent Chinese artist Hung Liu features more than 65 works, including 34 large-scale paintings, ephemera (sketch books, photos, informal paintings) and studies from private and public collections from around the world. On display 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday; and noon to 8 p.m., Thursday, through Sunday, May 24. $12.50, with various discounts and free periods. Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-322-4800; www.psmuseum.org.

Submit your free arts listings at calendar.artsoasis.org. The listings presented above were all posted on the ArtsOasis calendar, and formatted/edited by Coachella Valley Independent staff. The Independent recommends calling to confirm all events information presented here.

Published in Local Fun

While other Coachella Valley cities tend to get more attention, it’s the city of Indio that—by a fairly wide margin—has the largest population.

With more than 80,000 residents, it’s one of California’s fastest-growing cities; it’s also the home of the Coachella and Stagecoach music bonanzas. In fact, city leaders recently gave Indio the tagline “The City of Festivals.”

However, a drive down once-bustling Fargo Street in the downtown/old town part of Indio reveals that all is not well: Most of that population growth has been in the suburbs, and the city’s core features numerous vacant, boarded-up buildings. Meanwhile, the city government’s reputation is still recovering following the 2010 retirement of Indio City Manager Glenn Southard following a series of financial controversies. (Editor's Note: Elaine Holmes wants to make it clear that she was a supporter of Southard and his "positive approach to Indio.")

But there are signs of progress in downtown Indio, too. For starters, the College of the Desert’s new East Valley Center is rising on Oasis Street, and is slated to open in a year or so. And back down on Fargo Street, the quirky Indio Performing Arts Center is drawing people to downtown for a variety of entertainment.

One of the people who is leading the charge to improve both Indio itself and its reputation is Elaine Holmes. She and her husband, Doug, gave up jobs in corporate America to move from San Clemente to Indio in 2004, when they bought PJ’s Desert Trophies and Gifts, located in downtown Indio on Miles Avenue. During her nine years in Indio, she’s gotten increasingly involved in the city leadership. She was on the board of directors of the Indio Chamber of Commerce, and 2 1/2 years ago, she was elected to the five-member Indio City Council. This year, she’s serving as the city’s mayor (a title that rotates among members on an annual basis).

The Independent recently sat down with Holmes at PJ’s Desert Trophies and Gifts to talk about the city of Indio, her involvement, the city’s future—and even medical marijuana.

So, why Indio?

The people. The people in this community are wonderful. They are very giving; they’re very generous with their own selves and their own time. They are people who are eager to see other people successful. … You just can’t help but get involved with that, and we did, and we really got engaged.

Was there something special—something different—that you noticed about Indio when you moved here that, for example, you hadn’t seen in San Clemente?

It’s a whole different way of life, and, certainly, Indio is a smaller community. It’s a tightly knit, more-close-knit community. When were in San Clemente, because we both worked in corporate America, we didn’t have time to get involved with the community, so when we moved here, we became more engaged.

What made you decide to jump into political life? Even in a relatively small town, politics is politics …

I am a businessperson—really, a small-business-person now—and I felt that I needed to be an advocate for other small-business folks in the city of Indio. That really was the first launch. Secondarily, we are involved with this old town, or downtown, and became a part of the revitalization. I saw the potential; there’s so much potential in Indio, up by the freeway, but also in this old town area, and I really wanted to be involved and be a part of it.

The first time I drove through here (downtown/old town Indio), I went: “Whoa. This looks rough,” especially the part that IPAC is on (Fargo Street). Here (Miles Avenue), it looks nicer, and you’ve got the big (College of the Desert east) campus going in just a few streets down, which is great, but, frankly, there’s a long way to go. Tell me what steps you want the city to take to get it so downtown Indio is vital again.

It’s been a work in process for several years. We began the revitalization process before the downturn in the economy, on Miles Avenue here, predominantly. … Here on Miles Avenue, we redid all of the electrical, the underground (work), the sewers, the water. We tore up the streets and created a walkable area, a well-lit area … because before you can entice business in, you have to have water; you have to have sewer. If a restaurant comes in, you have to have the ability to put in, say, a grease trap. So we put in all of the infrastructure, all of the not-pretty things, first, so we could then work on the rest of it. College of the Desert is something that’s been in the works for several years, and we’re seeing it come out of the ground.

The great thing about Indio, and about this downtown: It used to be that they called it the hub of the valley. This downtown area used to be absolutely thriving with shops and visitors and all of that stuff, and then, as things changed, and the world changed, it continued to deteriorate. … People have a perception that the area’s rough. There’s not an issue with (violent) crime. There’s theft; there are theft issues, sure, but there are theft issues everywhere, particularly now with the downturn in the economy. … We work day and night here; we always have at this store. That’s what small businesses do. We saw the fact that this was a safe place; it had just fallen into disrepair, and I when (my husband) Doug and I look at something that’s in disrepair, we think: “Ah ha! Potential. We can fix it up.”

Concrete steps: How is downtown/old town Indio going to become a place that’s vital again?

It starts with College of the Desert and the fact that there will be 3,000 students at peak enrollment in the downtown area. You need people here, day and night, in order to make an area successful, because that’s what will drive retail and restaurants and the housing component. … (On May 15), the council approved moving forward with mixed use, so there will be restaurants and retail on the bottom, and living (spaces) on top.

Where?

Right across the street from the College of the Desert, there’s an empty lot. … The new detention center’s coming up; the new county administration center is also coming up, so in the next three years, there will probably be an additional 5,000 people in the downtown area. … Both (the detention center and the county administration building already) exist on a smaller scale; both are going to be torn down and rebuilt on a much larger scale. … There will be a captive audience here.

If it were up to you, would downtown Indio become like El Paseo or downtown Palm Springs is, in the sense that they are draws for tourists and people from elsewhere in the valley alike? Or are you content with Indio being a hub mainly for people who live in the east valley?

The vision for downtown/old town Indio is that it’ll be a combination of both. There will be specialty retail and restaurants. … When you think of the number of people who come into the desert, from Canada and tourists, it will be a draw for them. As it stands now, there are (already) some eclectic and unique stores. But also, with the college and the people who live here, there will be services, so people from the east end of the valley will come here, because there is something specific here that they need. So it will satisfy both as it evolves.

There’s going to be a law school here. Ultimately, my vision is: We have the (Indio) Performing Arts Center; we have the CV Art Center. … The (Coachella Valley History) Museum is just a block away. So, if you will, it’s arts, culture and entertainment, and you’ve got that educational base. So you have people moving here, and you’ll have things to do, places to go and places to eat. That’s ultimately where I want it to be.

How does the state dissolving all of the redevelopment districts affect Indio? Did it hurt the efforts badly?

It did. It threw us a curveball, there’s no doubt about it, because the city amassed quite a bit of this property several years ago, so we could bundle or package it to developers, and they could have a large area. When the state took that over, it all came to a screeching halt. There are challenges with it. Right now, we’re trying to deal with the state of California in terms of leasing some of the building space, and looking at disposition agreements in terms of how we go about selling (the property) to specific organizations or developers for future development. It slowed things down in terms of the forward momentum.

Let’s get a past downtown for a bit and talk about the big festivals. First of all, does it annoy you that everyone calls (Goldenvoice’s biggest festival) Coachella, when it actually takes place in Indio?

You know what? It’s all part of the vibe. It would be great to have Indio in the name, but … I think most people know that the festivals are in Indio.

There was a move last year by a fellow City Council member (Ascencion “Sam” Torres) to add a large tax to Coachella tickets. That got shot down, and you were opposed to it. Since then, Goldenvoice has signed a new agreement to stay in Indio (through at least 2030, and to possibly add two more festival weeks, perhaps in the fall). What are your goals, from the city’s standpoint, in terms of the festivals—bringing people here, what Goldenvoice does, etc.?

First of all, Goldenvoice does an enormous amount with the city, particularly with the kids. I think people see the concerts, and that’s what they associate with Goldenvoice, but what we see of Goldenvoice are people who really spend a lot of time and money focused on the community. We had the (remote area medical) health thing at the fairgrounds just before the concerts. They play soccer with the kids; they support the teen center, the Boys and Girls Club, so they’re already engaged in the community, and we want them to continue with that engagement, and to an extent, become even more engaged.

People come from all over the world; that is so neat, and I want, from a business perspective, for all the businesses in the community to reap the benefits of those tourists who are in town. … I also want the world to see the city, and some people are going to move here, and to have people from different cultures, and different parts of the country and world, to move here, to me, adds more to the eclectic flavor of the city that Indio is.

How do you get the word out to the festival-goers that, “Hey, you should actually stop and look at what’s going on in Indio?”

At (the May 15) council meeting, we put together an ad-hoc committee—I did as the mayor—to look at how we can engage the tourists and the people who come here for the concerts to let them know about all the restaurants and great places to go in the city. So we’re going to be pulling together a committee, myself and Mayor Pro-Tem (Michael) Wilson, with some of the local businesses, to address that very issue, and to see how we can be creative to drive people to our businesses.

Would you like to see more businesses come in that could benefit from the festivals? From what I understand, Indio's first new hotel in decades, a Holiday Inn Express, is soon opening.

Absolutely. … It’s “The City of Festivals.” Let’s look at more festivals. Let’s look at something that the city does every month that draws people and tourists into our city that therefore drives retail, and drives hotels and motels. … The more people we have here on a consistent basis, the more of a need we have for the hotels, the restaurants and the retail, because they’ll be able to sustain themselves.

I want to specifically ask you about IPAC. It’s such an eclectic, work-in-progress venue, and they do some pretty cool stuff there; in what direction would you like to see IPAC move?

… There are three components: community theater; a learning environment, particularly for the kids, because music and the arts just aren’t in schools any more; and a place to hold concerts. There are so many local bands here; let’s have a venue for them to play and perform.

Regarding medical marijuana: Right now, Palm Springs is the only city in the valley that allows dispensaries, and a lot of medical-marijuana dispensaries and collectives are closing up shop (after the California Supreme Court ruled that local governments could prohibit them). If it were up to you, where would Indio fall in terms of allowing dispensaries or other medical-marijuana businesses?

It’s come before the council once, I think, a couple of years ago. I think all of us would look at what a medical-marijuana clinic would bring to the city. We’d look at it on a case-by-case basis and decide if that was something that would be a benefit to the city and to the residents of the city. What decision would be, I don’t know. I know that the council is pretty open-minded or is very good at taking each item that comes to us on a case-by-case basis and asking the questions … to determine if it’s something we want in our city, whether it’s medical marijuana or a business.

The story that we did for our first print-version cover story was on growth. We got some numbers from the Southern California Association of Governments that showed Indio, Coachella and especially the nearby unincorporated areas were going to see the bulk of the growth in the valley between now and 2035. With that growth comes challenges: Indio’s going to have to deal with infrastructure, new roadways, and so on. What kind of a role is the Indio City Council taking for Indio to prepare to be a city of more than 110,000 people by 2035?

We’re updating our general plan, first of all. We always look at infrastructure improvements, and we do infrastructure improvements every year, whether it’s to our roads, or whether (it involves water)—we have the Indio Water Authority, our own water agency—and we are constantly upgrading that in terms of water storage and our ability to deliver water to our residents and businesses. (Growth is) something that’s forefront in our minds all of the time. Our city has grown, for the last 15 years or so, and continues to grow, so we have to be ready for that, and we’re constantly looking at: Where do we need to make changes? Where do we need to upgrade? That’s always top of mind. …

The east end of the valley has the highest number of youth here, so the need for services and the environment for these young people to be entertained or to eat or to hang out is critical. (We need) parks. My dream would be an aquatic center—something that was envisioned several years ago, and the economy kind of took that away from us. … That’s the future … the kids. That ties in to education and the whole economic engine, to have the jobs here for these kids to go to.

One of the things I really miss in terms of living in the Coachella Valley is a full-fledged four-year university here …

It’s coming.

It’s coming? Tell me about it.

I want to defer to Jan Harnik, the mayor of Palm Desert, but what drives that is a student population to go to these schools, and therefore, when they come out of school, the ability to find jobs and careers. … As the population grows … it’s a cycle. That’s how it works. As the desert is growing, so is the need for a university.

This is your first foray into elected office. Are you content to stay on the Indio City Council …

Absolutely.

… Or might you have bigger plans down the line?

No. I am all about being involved with the city. The reason I got on the City Council, as I said, is to be an advocate for small business. I like the city; I like being an advocate; I like being a part of the growth. And that’s the beginning, the middle and the end of my political career.

Published in Local Issues

What: The salsa (with chips, of course)

Where: Rincon Norteño, 83011 Indio Blvd., Indio

How much: Free with your meal

Contact: 760-347-4754; www.rinconnorteno.com

Why: Because it’s hot—and we ain’t talking about the spice.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, well past my usual lunch time. Due to various meetings in Indio, I have not yet had a chance to eat, and I am freaking hungry.

I wander in to Rincon Norteño, and for some reason, the waitress who seats me thinks I am ordering to-go. When she comes to take my order, and I tell her that I am actually dining at the restaurant, she says “Ohhhh!” and immediately heads to … a soup warmer?

Yes. A soup warmer.

She ladles some of the contents into a bowl; grabs a bowl of chips off a nearby shelf (the chips are placed in bowls in advance; why, I have no idea); and delivers them to me.

I sniff the warm, tan-colored liquid in the small yellow bowl. It does not look all that appetizing, but I am ravenous, so I grab one of the thickish tortilla chips and dive in.

Mmmm.

Most salsas that are served around these parts, of course, are served chilled (or perhaps room-temperature), and feature tomatoes as one of the main ingredients. In this deliciously warm concoction, at least two different types of peppers (the server tells me) are instead the main attraction, with a lot of white onions backing them up. (As for the ingredients beyond the onions and the chiles? I have no idea. It’s a delicious mystery.)

While the salsa is heat-hot, it’s not all that spicy-hot—these are mellow peppers, with just a little bit of kick. The resulting salsa/sauce/gravy/soup is earthy, comforting and just plain yummy.

The combination plate I had was, frankly, pretty average. No matter; that warm salsa will keep me coming back to Rincon Norteño. It’s that good.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

What: The $5 tri-tip sandwich

Where: Neil's Lounge, 80956 Highway 111, Indio

How much: $5, of course

Contact info: 347-1522

Why: It's the best damn French-dip-style sandwich for the price that we can find in the valley.

Neil's Lounge is one of the most internally incongruent places in the entire Coachella Valley: It's a dive bar ... with a stunningly high-class bathroom. (Seriously. Go see, even if you don't need to ... go.) It's located in the depths of Indio, but it attracts a clientele from across the valley. And it's a freaking bar ... that serves one of the best sandwiches we've eaten around these parts.

When you head to Neil's for lunch or dinner, make sure you peruse both the big Western Grill menu and the smaller $5 special menu, before you go up to the kitchen to order. There's some splendid food to be had on both menus—for example, the spinach-artichoke dip ($10.50) comes with two warm, fresh miniature loaves of bread, while the dip is creamy, gooey, chunky artichoke-packed nirvana—but the real attraction, as far as we're concerned, is the $5 tri-tip sandwich. 

The sandwich consists of a healthy dose of sliced beef placed on a fresh roll, and then sliced in half. That's it—so simple. Served alongside are a creamy horseradish sauce and a small cup of a weakish au jus. This sandwich doesn't sound all that special, I concede, but the quality of the beef and the roll are top-notch. The sandwich plus a dip in the creamy horseradish plus a dip in the au jus equals deliciousness.

Oh, and the accompanying potato salad? It's fantastic. 

A word of warning: When Neil's gets busy (which can happen quite often in this high sports season), the kitchen can get a bit backed up. However, chill out; have a cocktail; check out the amazing bathroom; and watch the game. The sandwich will be out soon, and it'll be more than worth the wait.

And when the bill comes, and you're reminded that your meal was just $5—you'll barely be able to believe it.

Published in The Indy Endorsement