April 14, 2014

Leonard Knight

The Man Behind The Mountain - An Intimate Look at American Folk Artist Leonard Knight

Filed under Art,California,Coachella Valley,Religion | April 14, 2014 at 07:08 PM | Comments (1)

Who Loves Train Travel? Silver Lariat To Roll Again

You may recall that round trip train ride I took on the Silver Lariat in June 2013 from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Some photos are here. And here's the video I shot from the dome on the southbound leg. The Silver Lariat was built in 1948 and remained in service until 1980. It is now privately owned and in pristine condition.

The trip by Great Outdoors is being repeated Saturday, June 7, 2014. I won't be going this time and there are still 3 seats to fill (out of a total of 48). Who's interested? For $190 you get the most beautiful train ride in California, really excellent food (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and a really good staff (it's not Amtrak even though an Amtrak engine will be powering you). There's an open bar. There's about a 4-hour layover in Santa Barbara which is plenty of time to explore or eat some more really good food.

The passengers will be mostly older gay men, which means a very friendly time will be had. You will arrive back in San Diego at about 1 AM, so you probably want to have someplace there to crash already arranged.

Each passenger rides in the dome for one leg of the trip and the lower part of the car for the other leg. I will tell you that you want to be in the dome for the return trip so you can watch the sunset cast its golden glow on the coast.

If you are interested let me know (ronslog@rbgilbert.com) and I may hook you up. Yes, I will be screening, but that sure doesn't mean you have to be an older gay man. Loving train travel would be mandatory.

Aboard The Silver Lariat (2034)
In the dome.

Filed under California,History,Photography,Travel | April 14, 2014 at 06:49 PM | Comments (0)

Breaking Into Quadcopters Without Breaking The Bank

If you have felt the urge to get up there and start shooting aerial videos and you want to go with the right equipment like a DJI Phantom 2 with a GoPro Hero3+ Black mounted on a Zenmuse H3-2D Gimbal with live FPV (like this) and have done your shopping research, you too will have found that the whole kit is more complex and expensive than you may have thought. And maybe you found that one of the best deals is this kit at B&H which includes everything - even a hardcase (but no propeller guards) - for $2,208.95. That is, by my calculations, about $100 less than what you would pay if you bought everything separately, but with the B&H deal they assemble it for you, sparing you the task of some soldering.

And then you would have thought "Do I want to send $2,200 skyward when I've never flown anything fancier than a kite or paper airplane?"

Well, lookie here. Reader 'b' sent us that link to a page describing some toy quadcopters for less than $100 that are good for practicing and crashing with no heartbreak.

Check out this video (is that Morro Bay?) shot on a Wltoys V222. The entire kit, including built-in camera (640x480) is only $67.99! Descriptive video here.

I'm still looking for one that's mostly pink or that I can spraypaint pink.

Filed under Photography,Shopping | April 14, 2014 at 06:14 PM | Comments (0)

An Important Message About Unicorns

You all recall, of course, this photo I got of a couple of unicorns at Burning Man last year. They are more relaxed after dark and, therefore, easier to find and photograph.
Unicorns at the DMV (4861)

But some other Burner has put a lot more energy into researching the unicorn at Burning Man:

Filed under Burning Man,Photography | April 14, 2014 at 05:34 PM | Comments (0)

Instant Justice

Instant Justice

| April 14, 2014 at 10:28 AM | Comments (3)

Bar Staffer Fired, Allegedly

Fired from a bar in Philadelphia for an offensive message. And this was only a message. In front of a bar. And somebody got fired. No one seems to have come to the defense of the unnamed employee.

"In no way does Bar-Ly condone domestic violence nor do we find it humorous," a statement read. "We are sorry to everyone who was offended."

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | April 14, 2014 at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

Today In Ohio

Judge Timothy S. Black in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio has has ruled that Ohio's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed outside of Ohio is unconstitutional. Ohio has a ban on gay marriage within the state and this decision has no direct effect on that (yet). This is, perhaps, not as big an advance as declaring the ban unconstitutional, but Judge Black's decision is worth a read. The emphasis was written by the judge, not added by me.

The Obergefell ruling was constrained by the limited relief requested by the Plaintiffs in that case, but the analysis was nevertheless universal and unmitigated, and it directly compels the Court's conclusion today. The record before the Court, which includes the judicially-noticed record in Obergefell, is staggeringly devoid of any legitimate justification for the State's ongoing arbitrary discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and, therefore, Ohio's marriage recognition bans are facially unconstitutional and unenforceable under any circumstances.
It is this Court's responsibility to give meaning and effect to the guarantees of the federal constitution for all American citizens, and that responsibility is never more pressing than when the fundamental rights of some minority of citizens are impacted by the legislative power of the majority. As the Supreme Court explained over 70 years ago:
The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
W. Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 638 (1943) (emphasis supplied). This principle is embodied by the Court's decision today and by the ten out of ten federal rulings since the Supreme Court's holding in United States v. Windsorall declaring unconstitutional and enjoining similar bans in states across the country.

The pressing and clear nature of the ongoing constitutional violations embodied by these kinds of state laws is evidenced by the fact the Attorney General of the United States and eight state attorneys general have refused to defend provisions similar to Ohio's marriage recognition bans.

It all comes down to the Fourteenth Amendment again:

The Court finds that those portions of Ohio Const. Art. XV, § 11, Ohio Rev. Code § 3101.01(C), and any other provisions of the Ohio Revised Code that may be relied on to deny legal recognition to the marriages of same-sex couples validly entered in other jurisdictions, violate rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in that same-sex couples married in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is lawful, who seek to have their out-of-state marriages recognized and accepted as legal in Ohio and the enjoy the rights, protections, and benefits of marriage provided to heterosexual married couples under Ohio law, are denied significant liberty interests and fundamental rights without due process of law and in violation of their right to equal protection.

Judge Timothy S. Black was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1953, graduated Harvard in 1975, got his law degree from Northern Kentucky University and was appointed by President Obama after selection by a bipartisan commission. He was the judge who ordered Ohio to recognize one, single out-of-state gay marriage in July 2013. One member of that Ohio couple was dying, so they flew to Maryland, got married on the tarmac at the airport and flew home. This was so they could be buried next to each other in a family plot.

Ohio State Representative John Becker sent letters to his fellow state legislators calling for Judge Black's impeachment, apparently failing to realize that states cannot impeach federal judges.

Filed under Gay Issues | April 14, 2014 at 09:45 AM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2014


Yesterday I journeyed over to the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard to see the Bugattis. There were no handouts, no audio tour, and the explanatory signs mounted on the walls were often very far from the cars. Plus, as far as I could see, the only label on a Bugatti is the Bugatti name and logo itself; no model names. So I gathered very little technical information, which was okay. It meant I could move around a lot more freely because I didn't need to be organized in my photo-taking. Just look, say "wow, and get some photos.

There were docent-led tours. I did not partake because I want to take photos and when the docent-led tour group gathers around a car you can't take very many photos. Nevertheless, I did gather one factoid that I overheard from one docent concerning the vehicle pictured below.

Bugatti (4427A)
Looks like a carbon-fiber shell.

He was naming some dollar figures that sounded way, way too high for any single vehicle. I thought maybe he was talking about original design costs or how much it cost for a half dozen cars. I drew nearer and heard him say that if you bought this car in Los Angeles County where the sales tax is 9% you'd pay more than $250,000 in sales tax. I leave it to you to do the arithmetic.

Fortunately, the museum is in Ventura County so this little number could be picked up at quite a savings!

Other photos will come eventually. I just wanted to get this factoid written down before I forgot it or thought it was just a dream.

Filed under Art,Automotive,Photography | April 13, 2014 at 11:46 AM | Comments (0)


Bee in cactus flower (2140A)

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs,Photography | April 13, 2014 at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

Speaking of South Dakota

Mt Rushmore
Recognize this?

Filed under History | April 13, 2014 at 10:35 AM | Comments (0)


50 states + DC + Puerto Rico = 52

17 have equal marriage rights

29 states + Puerto Rico = 30 are in court defending bans on gay marriage.

Only five states with bans on gay marriage and they are listed above: Alaska, Georgia, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. There's an asterisk on South Dakota because they will be pulled into court soon.

Lambda Legal has a lot more details.

Filed under Gay Issues | April 13, 2014 at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2014

Coachella Ain't Burning Man

Like you didn't already know, take a look at this. $799 is effectively the cover charge to be allowed to belly up to the VIP cash bar. BYO ice & cup? Probably not.

Filed under Burning Man,Coachella Valley,Music | April 12, 2014 at 10:35 PM | Comments (0)

Venice Marmol Radziner On The Market

The seller, a writer on The Simpsons, is asking just under $3 million which is not a lot more than the $2.3 million it changed hands for in 2005.

UPDATE: Don't write that check yet! You could save about $300,000 and buy a ranch with an outdoor spa that, uh, seats? handles? ensconces? 20 people. Why, it would be like owning your own hot spring spa in Desert Hot Springs, except you'd smell the chemicals in the water and you'd be in Malibu, which is a fact that might kill the deal for some people.

Filed under Architecture,Desert Hot Springs,Television | April 12, 2014 at 10:29 PM | Comments (0)

Nevada Republicans Break Ranks

Today at their annual convention in Las Vegas, Nevada Republicans voted to remove both opposition to abortion and opposition to gay marriage from their platform.

Republicans who sat on the platform committee said they decided not to deal with social issues this year because the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts have weighed in and it doesn’t make sense for the party of "personal freedom" to have the government or the political party get involved in people’s personal lives.

I don't know what got into the water so that these Republicans finally realized that the party's libertarian history meant something more than just paying lip service to the memory of the 1960s.

Filed under Gay Issues,Politics | April 12, 2014 at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

Mono County Law Enforcement

You may recall that I mentioned the "driver's license checkpoint" in Bridgeport, California, (Mono County) on the way to Burning Man last year. I saw three or four vehicles pulled over for additional investigation (or whatever they call it) in the 15 or 20 minutes I spent in that town (I bought gas within view of the checkpoint) which is a lot more than I can recall seeing at any similar checkpoint in California. It may have been a statistical aberration, but every one of those vehicles that got pulled over while I was there was a screamingly obvious Burner-mobile, a big RV or trailer with maybe a big Burning Man symbol taped on the back or a side. Later I seem to recall some discussion among Burners on the subject who also thought that particular checkpoint seemed a little odd to them.

The biggest news story to come out of that was the arrest of a San Diego pediatrician and his traveling companion for possessing "ecstasy, shrooms and the club drug known as 'Molly.'"

Locally, this is how that story was reported. It lists all the arrests from traffic stops over a period of a few days before Burning Man. There were seventeen total. It says the pediatrician mentioned above also had GHB. Don't know how that got dropped from later stories. It also says NO ONE was cited for DUI, which means that the totally squirrelly RV driver that I followed into Bridgeport and who was pulled over for additional investigation was just a damn squirrelly driver, not stoned or drunk.

Here's a news article on the subject that includes several comments from the locals on the issue of checkpoints.

With the bigger issues of law enforcement on the playa itself and by Pershing County Sheriff's Deputies, I forgot about the Mono County story.

Well, it seems the office of Sheriff is on the ballot in the upcoming election. In a local news article about the two candidates, incumbent Sheriff Obenberger and retired LAPD Supervisor Braun, there is this: "Given the controversy in recent months over traffic enforcement during the Burning Man festival, and a perception of more rigorous (some might say more aggressive) policing under Obenberger (criminal arrests were up 89% in 2013 over 2012), the race sets up perhaps as a referendum on the type of policing local citizens want."

Really? I was surprised to hear that the handling of Burners would cause anything more than a tiny ripple in Mono County politics. But the county includes Mammoth and other touristy areas, and the banner that appeared on the playa encouraging all Burners to avoid Mono County in the future may have seemed like a threat to pocketbooks in that county.

If they would take a look at a map they wouldn't worry so much. Anyone coming from southern California has few choices in routes. We could go way west so that we could get on I-80 to Reno, skipping Mono County. Or we could go over into Nevada and take route 95, but some years ago (before my time) there was a problem with the law enforcement personnel of some Indian tribe along that route pulling over Burner vehicles and searching them without any regard for Constitutional restrictions. I think Burning Man used to have a warning up on their website advising Burners to avoid that route. I guess I could try to boycott Mono County by waiting to buy gas until after I enter Nevada.

On the FAQ page on Sheriff Obenberger's re-election campaign website question #7 is " Can you explain what happened between the Sheriff and the Board of Supervisors back in December and what it was about?" The answer describes some small bit of heat between the County Supervisors and the Sheriff. I had to go dig up the minutes of a couple of board meetings to try to find out what that was and, as usual with official minutes, they don't include a lot of juice.

December 3, 2013: there was an item about participating in a grant as part of a drug abuse enforcement program (approved 5-0). Supervisor Stump "Brought up law enforcement issue over Burning Man weekend." The District Attorney gave a legal answer. Supervisor Johnston warmed to the subject:

  • Wants an agenda item to discuss the stopping of motorists, saturation patrols.
  • These stops are subjective and potentially prejudicial; we need to have a discussion about this.
  • Personally it’s a breach of his freedom to be stopped in this way.

Supervisor Fesko backed up Supervisor Johnston. Then Sheriff Obenberger defended the operation saying it was all legal and proper. On his campaign website the Sheriff writes:

After leaving the Board room that day I felt it proper and necessary to advise the Board what their role is relating to law enforcement policy in the County and the Sheriff's Office. I drafted a letter how the Sheriff's Office is a constitutional office and that the Sheriff alone has the authority to set policy relating to law enforcement services in the county.

Sort of a "respect mah authoritay!"

A week later on December 10, 2013, the Sheriff read a letter to the Board of Supervisors and it sounds like the Supervisors heard the message. The minutes tell us that Supervisor Johnston "wasn’t questioning techniques, he stated he doesn’t like being stopped at sobriety checkpoints, a lot of people don’t. That’s his opinion. Asked Sheriff not to take offense. Sheriff has a lot of good things going on in his department."

Meanwhile, candidate Braun seems to be staying away from the issue. Her FAQ page has only two questions! (C'mon Mono-ites, you gotta ask more questions!) neither one of which refers to Burning Man or traffic stops or drugs.

Filed under Burning Man,California,Travel | April 12, 2014 at 07:51 AM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2014

He Alleges He Is Still Alive



A lot of GoPro video in this compilation.

More videos.

Filed under Photography | April 11, 2014 at 08:29 PM | Comments (0)

Carjacked Motorhome

Press Release: Officer Involved Shooting
Agency: Sheriff's Administration
Station Area: Thermal
Incident Date: April 10, 2014 Time: 5:16 PM
Incident Location: Northbound Highway 86, South of Dillon Road, Coachella


On Thursday, April 10, 2014, at about 5:16 PM, deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department responded to assist the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in the area of Highway 86 and Avenue 62. CHP advised the Sheriff's Department that a Hispanic Male adult had evaded their officers in a stolen vehicle and was armed with a handgun.

While searching for the suspect, the Sheriff's Department received information of a Hispanic male adult with a handgun, who was attempting to stop vehicles on Highway 86. During this time the suspect was able to successfully carjack a motorhome occupied by an elderly couple. The suspect forced the male driver at gunpoint to drive northbound on Highway 86. Responding deputies were able to locate the motorhome and attempted to conduct a traffic stop. The suspect threatened the driver not to stop and a pursuit ensued on Highway 86. During the pursuit, which involved the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and CHP, spike strips were deployed successfully. The motorhome came to a complete stop northbound on Highway 86, south of Dillon Road.

Shortly after the motorhome stopped, officers heard shots being fired within the motorhome. The female victim then exited the vehicle and retreated toward the safety of the officers. Shortly thereafter, the suspect appeared at the door way of the motorhome pointing a handgun at the officers. Officers from the CHP and Sheriff's Department fired their weapons at the suspect. The suspect retreated back into the motorhome. A short time later, the suspect exited the motorhome, surrendered and was taken into custody.

The male victim was airlifted to a local hospital, where he was admitted and treated for a gunshot wound he sustained by the suspect, during the course of the carjacking/kidnapping.

Investigators from the Coachella Police Department and the Riverside County Sheriff's Department's Central Homicide Unit responded to the location and assumed the investigation. The male suspect, identified as 34-year-old Coachella resident Jorge Valdez, was booked into the Riverside County Jail in Indio for attempted murder, kidnapping, carjacking, felony evading, felon in possession of a firearm, and a parole violation. The involved officers have been placed on administrative leave per Department policy. The involved officers' names are not being released at this time. No officers were injured during this incident.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Public Safety | April 11, 2014 at 04:50 PM | Comments (0)

Charles Busch on Baby Jane


Charles Busch introduced Whatever Happened To Baby Jane on TCM and was interviewed by Queerty revealing a little bit of the gay agenda in the process.

Why does this film have such enduring appeal for gay audiences?

It’s one of those handful of movies you have to see to get your gay card. There’s All About Eve, Auntie Mame, Sunset Boulevard, Valley of the Dolls, Mommie Dearest, The Women… Here, you’ve got bigger than life actresses, fabulous bitchy dialogue that’s like a big juicy steak both actresses are tearing apart with their bare teeth. [Laughs] It’s about the movies. I don’t know why, but often gay people have an interest in Hollywood of the past. Traditionally, it is one of the classics of gay cinema. It’s interesting that all of those movies, except for The Women, were directed by very heterosexual men. The two real totems are Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve were both written and directed by very straight men.

Filed under Film/Movies,Gay Issues,History | April 11, 2014 at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

A Little Better

Yet another report of an explosion and fire caused by someone making honey oil. Usually, the people who get caught this way are trying to make the stuff in an apartment building, so it could almost rank up there with terrorism if somebody wanted to bend the law a bit. But in this case the two perps (who will probably be out of the hospital soon) took their lead from Breaking Bad and did it in a trailer. Yes, yes, Breaking Bad was all about meth, not honey oil, but the similarities are there.

Honey oil, very briefly, is simply an extraction of the THC from marijuana using some solvent. Then you smoke the waxy extract. The solvents used, though, are flammable and the process requires application of heat as well...like from a burner on a stove top. It is probably also relevant that many of these people trying to make a buck by manufacturing this stuff in an apartment have diminished mental capacity and seem to be prone to lighting up cigarettes, joints, or something during the extraction process.

Here's a video of an extraction process using butane. This guy at least takes it outside, but still he's got butane flowing right above a little stove which is sitting on a plastic chair.

If you prefer your instructions in plain text, then go to this page. This author at least keeps the butane away from the flames. You do your butane thing outdoors and merely heat up some water indoors to bring outside.

Here are some instructions where they are making marijuana oil, but the process is the same. This author at least mentions alcohol and naphtha as possible alternatives to butane. Still flammable, but maybe a bit less explosive. He recommends using a rice cooker as the heat source, and then a coffee maker hotplate to finish, so there's no open flame.

Here is a video showing how the stuff is made legitimately in a lab in Denver where you still see dangerous things like extension cords running across the ceiling. I also don't see sprinkler heads, and I'm just going to make a wild guess that there isn't an invisible automatic fire suppression system set up there.

Filed under Marijuana,Public Safety | April 11, 2014 at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

The Complexity Of DJing At Burning Man

Promoter and DJ Papa Lu describes the multiple hurdles that must be jumped before being permitted to DJ on the playa:

You're also part of a Burning Man camp called The Kazbah. Is it refreshing for you to book acts and DJ without all the politics of the music industry?

For me that's one of the best parts of Burning Man. When it comes to big DJs playing our camp, or any camp for that matter, there are no contracts or agencies involved. It's just like "Hey, it would be really cool if you came over to DJ at our camp! We would all really like that." And if they feel up to it, then they do it. That must be amazing for those DJs too, because at some point, for every DJ, it wasn't about the money -- it was about the love of DJing, and the chance to share amazing music. Burning Man provides that opportunity, and I think that's why it has become such an influential part of the house music scene today. The Kazbah randomly ended up having Dubfire of Deep Dish play our camp on the final Sunday afternoon at Burning Man. I also watched Jamie Jones and Seth Troxler play back to back sets for about ten consecutive hours hopping from camp to camp. If you are really into dance music, this type of surprise is really special.

Filed under Burning Man,Music | April 11, 2014 at 08:48 AM | Comments (0)

Three Arrested By Sheriff For A Laundry List Of Serious Offenses

Press Release: Commercial Burglary
Agency: Palm Desert Station
Station Area: Palm Desert
Incident Date: April 8, 2014 Time: 2:30 PM
Incident Location: 34-500 Monterey Avenue, Palm Desert (Wal-Mart Supercenter)


On March 2, 2014, a commercial burglary occurred at the Wal-Mart Supercenter, located in the city of Palm Desert where various tools and tool boxes were taken. After conducting a lengthy investigation, officers from the Palm Desert Burglary Suppression Unit identified the suspect.

On Tuesday, April 8, 2014, at 2:30 PM, members of the Palm Desert Burglary Suppression Unit continued their follow-up investigation to the commercial burglary, which led them to a residence in the 66-000 block of 6th Street, in Desert Hot Springs. While conducting a search of the residence, officers located and recovered the stolen property related to the commercial burglary.

Additionally, a large amount of suspected methamphetamine was also confiscated, along with other stolen property originating from a residential burglary within the city of Desert Hot Springs. The Burglary Suppression officers notified authorities from the Desert Hot Springs Police Department concerning the stolen property located during the investigation. Desert Hot Springs Police investigators will be conducting a follow-up investigation regarding the residential burglary.

The following suspects were arrested and booked into the Riverside County Jail in Indio:

  • 31 year-old Desert Hot Springs resident, Alejandro Ortiz was charged with sales and transportation of methamphetamine, felon in possession of ammunition, and an outstanding felony narcotics warrant.
  • 31 year-old Desert Hot Springs resident, Virginia Ruiz was charged with sales and transportation of methamphetamine.
  • 25 year-old Desert Hot Springs resident, Jamail Hughes was charged with burglary and possession of stolen property.
Anyone with information regarding this case is encouraged to contact Deputy Rubio at (760) 836-1600, or they can anonymously call Crime Stoppers at (760) 341-STOP and refer to case T140610016.
Alejandro Ortiz
Alejandro Ortiz
Virginia Ruiz
Virginia Ruiz
Jamail Hughes
Jamail Hughes

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs,Public Safety | April 11, 2014 at 07:46 AM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2014

The GoPro Selfie

Only a minute long.

I have noticed that when the photographer shoots himself this way, with the GoPro out at the end of a handheld pole, it changes my perception of any shakiness in the image. The pole and the camera seem to be rock solid. Any apparent shaking is the responsibility of something else out there in the world outside the GoPro and its pole. Their fault.

Not that this video is shaky at all.

Filed under GoPro,Photography | April 10, 2014 at 10:38 PM | Comments (0)

DUI Driver Turns Himself In

Yes, he really did, but not in a fashion that can be recommended.

On Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 12:07 a.m. a deputy from the Palm Desert Police Department was conducting a vehicle enforcement stop at Hwy. 111 and El Paseo when his patrol unit was stuck from behind by a Chrysler Intrepid. The investigation revealed the driver of the Chrysler was traveling east on Hwy. 111 approaching El Paseo and failed to see the stopped patrol unit, with flashing lights, in front of him. The Chrysler struck the patrol unit causing the unit to move forward, striking the vehicle in front of him. All three vehicles received moderate damage and nobody was injured during the incident.

The Chrysler’s driver was identified as Mark Angleton, age 56 of Palm Desert. It is believed alcohol played a factor in this collision. Mark Angleton was arrested and later booked into the Riverside County Jail located in the city of Banning.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Public Safety | April 10, 2014 at 02:14 PM | Comments (0)

MSWD Workshop Meeting - April 8, 2014

This was a workshop where the Board of Directors discussed the process of taking what was learned from the Citizens Advisory Committee (MSWD 2.0) and turning it into concrete reality. They've discussed these subjects informally before this, but today we had a chart, a timeline and a Powerpoint; sure signs that eventually the rubber (some rubber) will hit the road (some road).

It wasn't explicitly stated today, but I think the goals are to (1) assure the continued financial stability of the district; (2) begin to accumulate some realistic cash reserves to prepare for the unplanned; and (3) to make the rates and fees more equitable, i.e., those who cause additional expenses for the district should pay those expenses themselves, rather than letting them be subsidized by all the customers of the district.

The timeline below is, of course, far from rigid. But it's a good starting point for discussion.
MSWD Strategic Plan Implementation Timeline
MSWD 2.0 Strategic Plan Implementation Timeline

The top pink bar represents those changes that can be put into effect without a 218 process. Examples of non-218 changes are changes in customer service.

The lower blue bar are the changes that do require a 218 process. The district's attorney will be looking at all the items under consideration to determine if they require a 218 process or not.

The brown bar below that says "Community involvement in rate study and results," meaning keep the Citizens Advisory Committee and other citizens involved in the process.

The final bottom green line is "Establish fiscal policies." If the district is going to accumulate reserves, how, how much and when?

The timeline indicates a rate and fee study (by an outside contractor) to be conducted in the last half of 2014. There hasn't been a rate study since 2004. While the rate study is going on, some of the non-218 changes will be implemented. Then in early 2015 (if things stick to this schedule) a 218 process is initiated to deal with changes in rates and fees, with any changes being effective later in the year. There was a brief discussion of the fact that it appeared the plan was to implement a rate change just prior to an election.

General Manager Arden Wallum began with an overview of cost-cutting measures over the last few years. He's created a Technology Efficiency Committee that discusses ways to make the district more efficient. Currently they are looking at the filing system. Since 2008 personnel have been "cut and cut." The district is down 8 positions in Operations and Maintenance. Some work has been outsourced; leak repair for example. The district is down 6 positons in Engineering. In Management 6 people took early retirement in early 2013. Three of those positions were not re-filled.

Finance Director Matt McCue led most of the discussion after that. The sources of the district's income are (1) special fees and charges, plus (2) consumption and fixed charges. The second item (consumption and fixed charges) is your water bill. The water bill is made up of (1) the consumption charge which varies according to how much water you use, plus (2) the fixed charge, sometimes known as the "meter fee." The fixed charge is supposed to be paying for infrastructure while the consumption charge is supposed to pay the expense of delivering the water to the customer.

It is believed (but it won't be known for sure until the rate and fee study is complete) that the special fees and charges and the fixed charge (meter fee) are too low to cover the district's actual costs, which means the water rates have to be higher to make up for that. Adjusting those other fees upward (if supported by the study) reduces the pressure to raise water rates.

A table was presented that listed all the recommendations from the Citizens Advisory Committee and from staff. Top o' the list were 20 items identified as "Implemented/In Progress." They are:

  1. Evaluate reducing daily site visits to wells by upgrading Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition System (SCADA System)
  2. Determine need for additional storage and incorporate that into the Master Plan
  3. Equip all storage tanks with earthquake valves - the valves have been installed on tanks where it is required.
  4. Outsource pipeline and service line replacement
  5. Identify optimum pipeline and service line replacement program that can be funded with the next rate increase
  6. Prioritize valve maintenance program - all valves are being exercised now.
  7. Upgrade SCADA System to free up resources for valve maintenance
  8. Speed up meter reading and decrease labor required - they have already cut in half the time it takes to read all meters.
  9. Evaluate outsourcing to decrease fleet size, lower costs and free up labor for core maintenance - a lot of maintenance has been outsourced to Jiffylube. The fleet maintenance crew has been reduced form 4 to 1.
  10. Separate purchasing from warehousing, or institute additional oversight control
  11. Consider expanding cost accounting capabilities
  12. Further refine and implement job costing
  13. Evaluate contracting out general building and grounds maintenance - grounds maintenance is already contracted out.
  14. Evaluate future outsourcing when need for plan check and inspection increases
  15. Consider outsourcing human resources and payroll - HR is outsourced now. It's debatable whether money could be saved by outsourcing payroll because job costing is tied in so closely with that.
  16. Reorganize staff to target areas with insufficient labor resources and for savings and efficiency
  17. Incrementally make system maintenance and replacements more proactive
  18. Evaluate additional risks and prepare for them
  19. Evaluate privatization/outsourcing/public-private partnerships on a case-by-case basis and use enhanced job costing information to compare cost
  20. Carry out planned wastewater treatment plant improvements - already being planned along with the I-10/Indian sewer proposal

Three recommendations are considered "not currently feasible." Those are:

  1. Build three new wells. Where, when, how, with what money? This will be included in the water master plan. Over the last five years consumption per customer has gone down.
  2. Consider a pumping charge of an additional 5¢/HCF for every 100 feet of elevation. This makes sense in districts where you've got some customers at a significantly higher elevation than others. DWA has this charge. But in MSWD we all live pretty much on the same slope. Also, not all our wells are at the bottom of the slope. Director Wright pointed out that if the district instituted a pumping charge, good water pressure would have to be guaranteed right up to the highest customer.
  3. Special maintenance tax on undeveloped properties. This would require a two-thirds vote of the residents of the district.

These are the staff recommendations:

  1. No inactive accounts. That is, charge the monthly meter fee regardless of whether the water is turned off or on. Currently, when an account is switched to inactive status there are no charges at all. Nevertheless, the district still has to maintain all of its infrastructure so that when the customer wants the account to become active, the water can flow into that house without delay. "Fixed costs are incurred regardless of whether there is consumption at that property." Under current policy, those who have active accounts are subsidizing those with inactive accounts. Making this change would also simplify the billing process which would save the district some money. This would also reduce the number of water meters that have to be "pulled." Currently, after an account has been inactive for a certain time, someone has to be sent out to remove the meter to prevent theft of either the meter or water. Then when the account becomes active again, someone has to go put the meter back in. These trips could be eliminated. Education will be needed to head off the mistaken impression that property owners would be paying something for nothing. Most water districts continue to collect the meter fee on unoccupied properties. This proposal might have to go through a 218 process.
  2. Accounts in property owner's name only. Currently the district will set up the account in the renter's name with the signed consent of the property owner. The property owner still has ultimate responsibility to pay the bill if the renter skips out. The front office staff spends 60% of their time dealing with renters even though they make up only about 30% of the customers. Setting up a renter's account can take up to three customer visits to the front office due to the extra paperwork. MSWD collects deposits based on the history of the account, or if the customers are new. Property owners who have been stuck by renters want MSWD to collect deposits according to the property owner's terms. Other water districts have a variety of policies on this matter. CVWD does it similar to MSWD, but in the past CVWD didn't care if the property owner was involved at all. They just set up accounts for tenants, but eventually too many bills became uncollectible. One possible way for MSWD to handle this is to charge the property owner a fee to allow the account to be in the name of the tenant. The fee would be big enough to cover the additional expenses the district incurs. DWA sets up the account only in the owners' name, but allows the bill to be sent to the tenant.
  3. Simplify handling delinquencies. Before an account is shut off for nonpayment, the district will have contacted the customer four times. There's the bill, the overdue bill, then a phone call, and then somebody goes to the house. If no one is home, then the water gets shut off. But if someone is home, they are given until 5 PM to pay the bill. Recently a service employee went out to deal with 17 potential shutoffs. 12 of those customers were at home, so they got an extension to 5 PM that day to pay. All 12 were on the delinquent list two months prior. The last time all 12 made a payment was two months ago when the employee knocked on their door. In effect, we are paying an employee to drive around just to remind a small handful of customers to pay their bill. Those who are not home and get their water shut off usually pay up within 24 hours. Then the employee has to drive back out to turn the water back on. General Manager Wallum commented on a candidate in the last election who said the district turned off a little old lady's water. He said MSWD is the kindest, gentlest district you could find.
  4. Revise backflow device policies. The law requires backflow devices have to be checked annually. And it requires the water district to maintain records of when each backflow device was checked. The backflow devices are owned by the property owners. The legal responsibility to check and repair them falls on the owner. Nevertheless, some time ago the district made it a policy to check backflow devices and to pay for the first $100 of any necessary repairs. The district charged a fee of $48/year for this. As of January 1, 2013, the district outsourced the testing. The district still bills the customer $48/year for the service (for a typical 3/4-inch device). Unfortunately, the service costs the district $60/year per backflow device. (There are about 1,000 customers with backflow devices.) This policy, even though it is an obvious money-loser, cut the district's expenses by $75,000. The district still covers the first $100 of any repairs.
  5. Move sewer fees to the property tax bill. No other water district in the Coachella Valley bills customers monthly for sewer the way MSWD does. Sewer fees are not charged to inactive accounts. If the sewer bill is put on the property tax bill, every account will pay a full 12 months, regardless of whether they have flushed a toilet or not. This would make the water bill strictly a water bill. This would change cash flow for the district, but that would not be a big change. The public might misperceive that something is being hidden in the sewer fees if it was done this way.

Here are other recommendations that can be made without a 218 process, but they may require action by the Board of Directors:

  • Make the General Manager's decision final in appeals actions.
  • Eliminate the use of door hangers for unpaid bills.
  • Elimination of the once annual courtesy adjustment for pool refills.
  • Pay back interfund loans.
  • Build adequate reserves.
  • Consider revising the way the bill is calculated for multi-family dwellings with one meter.
  • Charge customers for requested meter re-reads when the meter turns out to be correct.
  • Charge higher fees for work outside of the usual work hours.

Vice President Wright suggested that the Citizens' Advisory Committee be kept up to date on what the district is doing. Sooner than later. Director Bowman said he wanted the non-218 changes to be implemented as soon as possible, not only to generate revenue, but so that they aren't all dropped on the customers at once, especially if they are looking at changing the rates next year.

Mr. Bowman said he also would like to discuss the district's reserves and reserves policy. He doesn't want it to be just "net-net" when this process is complete, with perhaps increases in some fees and perhaps reductions in water rates. [No guarantees, no promises, folks. Nobody knows what numbers will come up until the rate study is complete.] Mr. Bowman wants the district to be in better financial shape. If the boom of pre-2008 returns, then the district might need the money to dig an additional well.

President Martin said the public will not distinguish between fees and rates. They will see it as increases month after month. Mr. Bowman said most of the fees discussed will affect mostly just the small number of abusers of the system. Moving the sewer bill to the property tax may change the perception of rates. Mr. Wallum pointed out that some of the fees would never end up on a water bill and that some proposals are reductions in service.

Ms. Wright suggested that rather than sending out a press release and letting the newspaper butcher that and write whatever they want to, the district should pay to publish an article written by district staff. John Soulliere and Mr. Wallum talked about the need for an education program, saying that the Citizens Advisory Committee understood the position of the district when they were given complete information.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs | April 10, 2014 at 01:08 PM | Comments (0)

Couple O' Boston Things

boston.curbed has put together a survey of hotel rates in Boston for this coming Patriot's Day weekend. Patriot's Day commemorates, as every schoolchild knows, the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Of course everyone piles into Boston for that! BTW, they also run a marathon on Patriot's Day.

Hotel room prices per night:

Overall Boston area: $350-$410.

Back Bay: $507-$598

Framingham (near the start of said marathon): $155-$176

Newton (for people who want to watch, but don't want to deal with the Back Bay crowds & prices, I guess): $322-$379

We don't have a real 26-mile, 385-yard marathon here in the Coachella Valley, do we? Or have I just somehow never heard of it? I'm not about to organize one, but a mid-winter marathon here could be very popular. Promote it as a way to prepare for global warming: "In The Future All Marathons Will Be In Deserts." If they wanted IAAF certification and a killer race, they should start and end it in Desert Hot Springs. But if they are willing to forego IAAF they could run it from DHS to Coachella. All downhill and ending below sea level.

The other Boston thing is this. The Downtown Boston Business Improvement District has erected two maps in a pilot program that will, if the headline is to be believed, "Mean Never Getting Lost in Downtown Boston Again." That headline is about as believable as "Hunger Ends, World Peace Declared."

Unfortunately the BDID has no information about this on their website, other than linking back to the same article I linked to. And that article has only a small picture of a map. It's not big enough to read the details, but I have already spotted a fatal error.

Check out the compass rose in the upper right of that map. You probably can't make out the N and S, but north is down and slightly to the right! Once as a tourist I encountered a map like this in the Houston airport. Inside the airport terminal building I was facing south and looking at a map with south up. If I had walked around to the other side of the column so that I was facing north I would have seen the same map flipped so that north was up. But I didn't walk around that column, I didn't know I was facing south, and I didn't notice the compass rose; so I went around Houston with an upside-down map visualization in my head. Putting the direction you are facing at the top of a map works on GPS devices where you need to know where you're going without having to do a lot of mental abstraction. But on a fixed, publicly displayed map where most people will not look for the compass rose, north should always be up. If you had just Blue Lined it from the airport to downtown Boston and saw this map while trying to get to your friend's place in the South End you might end up heading down Washington Street because it looks like it's south on the map. Ironically, going that direction would eventually take you to South Boston, which really is south of downtown, although this map shows that you start by going north.

I'm pretty sure that Einstein perfected his theories describing the curvature of space only after a visit to Boston.

Filed under Cities/Urbanism | April 10, 2014 at 11:46 AM | Comments (0)

April 9, 2014

Ski Cliff Jump

Watch this:

Did you find yourself thinking something like "That nutjob should have been wearing a GoPro"?

He was:

Filed under GoPro,Photography,Sports | April 9, 2014 at 04:12 PM | Comments (0)

Burning Man Art Project Teaches

Teaches kids about art, civic involvement and how to drive a forklift (an actual marketable skill!).

My first thought was to put all those kids on a schoolbus, drive 'em out to the Black Rock Desert and just let 'em go, but this project was probably more realistic. Story here.

Aurora 2011
This is what Aurora looked like on the playa in 2011
. Photo by James Addison. And here's a video.

Aurora will be in front of the Palo Alto City Hall for a year. A nice thing about seeing art out on the playa rather than later when reconstructed in the default world is that out on the playa you've got no curators, no art historians, no politicians to tell you the significance or meaning of what you're looking at. It's just the art, you and all that dust.

Filed under Art,Burning Man,California | April 9, 2014 at 12:03 PM | Comments (0)

April 8, 2014

Alan Simpson

Formerly U.S. Senator from Wyominmg (Republican):

Filed under Gay Issues | April 8, 2014 at 10:39 PM | Comments (0)

DHS Planning Commission - April 8, 2014

Public Comments

Tim Brophy commented on the arrest of Commissioner Gray, calling his behavior unacceptable. It was basically the same comment he made at the City Council meeting last week.

Two Bunch Palms

This was a Development Agreement and zone map amendment for the Two Bunch Palms Resort which is owned by TBP Bliss, LLC. The entire property is 277 acres, of which 200 are undeveloped. Currently that 277 acres is divided into 22 parcels (as I count them). The proposal was to redraw the lot lines so there are only 8 parcels, each one of which lies within only one zone. There will be 1 "Resort zoned" lot where the hotel itself sits now; 5 residential lots zoned either "residential low" or "residential visitor medium;" 1 zoned "residential high visitor," but which will be reserved as open space; and 1 lot zoned commercial. The specific plan approved in 2007 allows 1,338 dwelling units divided into 738 residential lots and 600 resort units. It also allows for 121,500 square feet of commercial development.

In addition, Two Bunch Palms Resort will make the resort gathering spaces available for city sponsored events up to 6 times a year. Use of the space will cost the city nothing, but the city will have to pay for any food, beverage, or catering at cost. The city will have to pay for clean up and security too.

The city agrees to give priority to processing any applications from Two Bunch Palms Resort for special events on their property. A special event permit will not be required unless the event is open to the public, admission is charged, and more than 200 attendees (not counting resort guests) are expected. A special event permit application will be processed within 10 days.

Also, the city will credit the resort $7,000 a month ($84,000/year) in TOT for the first 36 months. Chair Gerardi did some quick math and calculated that if Measure "F" is approved, the tax on the resort's vacant parcels will be in the neighborhood of that $84,000. Kevin Kelly, the owner, said the resort had already increased TOT generated by the resort considerably since last year.

"In addition to the above, TBP will pay to the City the sum of Sixteen Thousand Dollars ($16,000) per year for the first five (5) years of this Development Agreement, for funding a school crossing guard to assure safe crossing of Two Bunch Palm Trails for school children in the area of the Resort."

After a few questions and not a lot of discussion, Commissioner Gray moved to approve the proposal as presented - no changes at all. Approved 5-0.

So there may be a lesson here for those developers who don't want to be picked over by the Planning Commission. Find out how Two Bunch Palms did it, and do it the same way. It probably helps to have millions of dollars available.

Mission Lakes Marketplace Signs

Formerly the "Village At Mission Lakes," this shopping center is getting almost within sight of having actual paying tenants. So it's time for signs. The whole sign plan conforms to the city's code. There will be three monument signs. The one on the corner of Mission Lakes and Little Morongo will be 6 feet tall. One at the driveway on Mission Lakes will be 8 feet high. At the driveway on Little Morongo the monument sign will be 12 feet high. The owner, Dr. Shah, said he still had some land available and hoped to be able to put in a gas station with a convenience store and he would need that 12-foot sign for the gas station.

Dr. Shah said the 20,000 square foot fitness center will open about June 1. Others who have shown interest are a nail salon, barber, and real estate office. A cellphone tower will be erected on one of the buildings. He also said that he would make the parking lot available for music concerts. Two Commissioners from the CCAC were present and they were taking note of the sudden increase in the number of venues available.

Approved 5-0.

Discussion Of The General Plan

Because of the expense of printing large maps and the workload that staff is dealing with, Rich Malacoff proposed to schedule this topic in July, when there might be money to print maps and the new City Manager will be able to join the discussion.

Discussion Of Parks Policy

The agenda packet included a map showing where existing and planned parks are located.

Commissioner Parker said that after talking with Rudy Acosta he calculated that it would cost about $200,000/year to maintain Mission Springs Park properly. He asked how much the city budget is "$15 million? $12 million? I have no idea," he said. Acting City Manager Magaña told him that revenue is about $13 million.

"So we can't free up $200,000 out of $15 million?" Mr. Parker asked.

Chair Gerardi said this subject is more appropriate for the CCAC. [Later I asked a CCAC Commissioner when they were going to shake loose $200,000 for that park. The answer was not "Tomorrow!"]

Mr. Parker went on to suggest that Coachella had better parks than ours because they contract with the Sheriff's Department and don't have a Police Department and he thought the Sheriff was cheaper. He wanted to know how much cheaper. Chair Gerardi said that subject would be more appropriate for the Public Safety Commission.

Commissioner Comments

Commissioner Gray said "I have a statement to make. To prevent someone from drunk driving I took their car keys. That cost me a trip to jail. I have nothing to apologize for. I would do it again."

One can readily see that Mr. Gray has moved out of California and now lives in the State of Denial. His statement explains some of the steps that led to his being charged with driving on a suspended license. It doesn't explain why he got behind the wheel to drive. And it doesn't address at all how he came to have an outstanding warrant for that charge. I guess we're not even going to ask why his license was suspended. Some of us go our entire lives without getting our license suspended.

But nobody would have talked about this matter for more than two minutes if the issue was Mr. Gray having his license suspended, getting behind the wheel and driving, and not dealing with the charge so that a warrant was issued. People are concerned about a much more serious issue which I'm sure Mr. Gray was not addressing when he said "I have nothing to apologize for. I would do it again."

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | April 8, 2014 at 10:25 PM | Comments (0)

Burning Man Crime Rate

We have real numbers reported by BLM and published by Federal Times.

YearBurning Man
BLM officersDrug

"Although there are arrests and injuries and in the past deaths I think this is a very safe event and managed well with good oversight by the BLM," [Gene Seidlitz, manager for the Winnemucca district of the BLM] said.

The key to keeping the event organized and safe is the extensive communication between event organizers and the BLM, according to Eric Boik, state chief ranger for the BLM for Utah, which oversees the law enforcement activities of the event.

"It's because we all get to the table and communicate frequently and the planning for this starts for 2014 in December so we are already working hot and heavy," Boik said.

A commenter on this article from KRNV-TV Reno put together the crime stats for Carson City, whose population is similar to Burning Man's, for the same time period in 2012: "Turns out, good old God lovin', silent majority Carson City alone had 78 reported crimes including 11 DUIs..., 18 drug and alcohol violations ..., but that's not including the additional 23 reported theft/larceny and Burglaries, 16 vehicle break-ins/thefts, 2 sex crimes and 1 Arson in God fearing Carson City."

Filed under Burning Man,Public Safety | April 8, 2014 at 08:52 PM | Comments (0)

DHS Historical Society Soup Supper

Soup Supper April 2014

Thursday, April 24, 6 PM

DHS Historical Society Soup Supper

Audrey Moe presents "Celebrities: Desert Hot Springs' Secret History"

RSVP to 760-251-4549

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs,History | April 8, 2014 at 01:31 PM | Comments (0)

April 7, 2014

DHS Public Safety Commission - March 13, 2014

Public Comments

Nicole Vandal said her real name is Elaine Claremont and that she has just moved here. She said the private and public support for safety and security is pretty high in Desert Hot Springs. She has always felt safe here, even on evening walks. She said "I'm here to support her and her raising her voice." She never said who she was referring to as "her." She didn't indicate anyone in the very small audience. "She has never felt secure in her own home." "We are trying our best to empower her voice to the people who are supposed to be taking care of the things she sees wrong in her community." "Jan Pye went to her to come to this hearing, so we will be coming." "Thank you for your work. Thank you for making me feel like I can leave my daughter at home."

Dean Gray said the original purposed of the Public Safety Commission was to provide oversight of the Police Department. He said that includes operations and its costs. He said "As far as code enforcement goes we had a great discussion at last night's Planning Commission meeting." [It was actually two nights prior and readers of Ron's Log will recall there was no "discussion." It was just Dean Gray complaining about code violations, but not wanting to have to report them; while other Commissioners politely disagreed, saying he should report code violations he sees.] Once again Mr. Gray said he thought the code enforcement was for "a million dollars or something." [The amount is actually "something," or to be more specific $605,000.] He said it's not a mystery "the number of violations of the sign ordinance or code." He said there is a building that has had a banner up for two years, even though they are limited to 90 days. "That would be the laundry in the building known as 'The Boulders'."

He said there was a robbery at Eddie's Automotive (at Pierson and Cactus). He said they had video clearly showing the robber who robbed a car on the other side of their block wall. He said that even after repeated calls for over a month no Police ever showed up to take a report.

Animal Control

License inspectors started working in February. Up to March 11 they had cited 85 dog owners for 153 dogs without vaccinations or licenses.

The major incident in February was the young girl who was bitten. It was a neighbor's dog that the girl was familiar with. Her mother was present as the girl was petting the dog. Without provocation the dog bit the girl twice in her face. The dog was immediately impounded. Prior to the required hearing the dog's owner instructed Animal Control to euthanize the dog. Officer James Huffman said all of this could have been avoided if the owner had kept his dog on his property.


322 calls for service within DHS boundaries (308 from station 37 at West & Pierson). This is up 3.1% from a year ago. 263 were medical. Response time to 87% of the calls was less than 5 minutes.

The business fire inspection process is underway. City personnel changes were part of the reason for the delay. The inspection is triggered by the renewal of a business license.

Chief Tomlinson contrasted the timeliness of ambulance service with that of the fire department. He said the ambulance service reports that they have "arrived" (stopping the clock) when they arrive at the gate of a gated community, but the fire department doesn't declare itself at the scene of the incident until they are actually at the location itself, which can be one or two minutes past the gate.

Code Compliance

In February Code Compliance issued 109 citations with a total value of $36,200. 84 notices of violation were sent. Eleven demand letters were sent with a total value of $22,127. $37,736 was received.

They did 518 inspections and responded to 102 service requests. 88 new cases were opened; 106 were closed. 483 unpermitted signs were picked up. 32 tires were removed. Also removed were 7 chairs, 4 couches, 5 mattresses, a dining table, and an entertainment center. 36 instances of graffiti were reported by Code Compliance officers.

On February 19 they began a sweep of vehicles parked on unpaved surfaces. 50 cases were opened in February. In the first two weeks of March another 77 cases were opened.

65798 4th Street was vacant, but had squatters in it. On February 20 it was red-tagged for lack of utilities and illegal wiring. On February 21 someone with power-of-attorney from the deceased property owner came in. The power-of-attorney authorized him to rent out or sell the place. He said he would assure no one lived there while it was red-tagged. It's going to go into short-sale. On March 5 additional notices were issued for substandard structure, lack of building permits, fence height, garbage containers, fence condition, general trash and debris, and landscaping. The deadline for those notices was March 28.

13580 Via Real is an abandoned property with fire damage. On February 7 it was secure and in compliance. A few days later there was a fire there. The bank was notified to secure the property on February 12, but the bank did not comply. The city secured it on February 14. It was still secure when re-inspected on February 19. They are working with the bank to get the fire damage repaired.

66353 3rd Street was cited on February 14 for parking on unpaved surfaces, RV parked in the driveway, garbage containers, visual blight, and landscaping. It was reinspected on March 11. The RV had been removed and a couple of violations corrected, but the majority were not. An extension was granted until March 28.

12880 Inaja was inspected on March 7. A notice of violation was issued on March 10 for parking on unpaved surfaces, RV parked in the driveway, and garbage containers. March 26 was the deadline for correction.

12840 Inaja was also inspected on March 7. A notice of violation was issued on March 10 for fencing, garbage containers and visual blight (trash and vegetation). There was a question about an RV stored on the property, but the attorney determined that it was not in violation of code. The deadline for corrections was March 26.

66705-66727 Hacienda, a multi-unit property, had trash cans left out. A notice of violation was issued on March 5 and notices were left at each
individual unit.

13100 Ocotillo is a residential 4-plex that received a notice of violation on February 19 for dead vegetation stored alongside the garage units and no identification numbers. Neither violation had been corrected by March 13 so an administrative citation was issued.

65836 Avenida Cadena has a deceased property owner. On January 28 squatters were reported in the home. Proof of death was obtained from the County Coroner. A person at the home showed a lease with what was purported to be the owner's signature, but it was signed after the owner's death. Mission Springs Water District checked their records and found them to be fraudulent as well. Water was turned off and the city red-tagged it. The squatters left. The property was sold at auction on February 11. When there's a new owner the code compliance process has to start over. They had until April 2 to correct violations.

Commissioner Lavy asked for an update on the RV park behind Aqua Soleil. They have met with Code Compliance staff. They will be granted an extension. The property has been cleaned up a lot, but there is still exposed wiring and other issues that need to be addressed.

Mr. Lavy said that there is software that, if acquired and used, will make Code Compliance much more efficient and effective. Chief Bressler confirmed that, but there is no funding for it. It would be helpful, he said. It would cost $18,000 to get it up and running.

Code Compliance officer David Williams said that in New World (the software currently being used) it takes a minimum of 30 minutes (most take 45 to 50 minutes) to open a case. That's uploading the photos, listing the violations and printing the letters. An officer might do inspections for 5 or 6 hours and then spend the next 2 days in the office just entering data. The new $18,000 program would take 3 to 5 minutes to open a new case and then 7 more minutes to upload photos, list violations and print letters. Even better, that could all be done from the field with a tablet and a printer.

Implementation of new software would take 60-90 days because all of the parcel information has to be obtained from the county and loaded into it.


Pamela Berry said she was speaking as President of the Merchant's Association. She said businesses are getting inconsistent information from code enforcement. The theft at Eddy's Auto occurred on January 18. About two weeks before this Commission meeting she got a call from Jose Guerrera at the Police Department. He found it hard to believe that Eddy had reported the theft on January 18 and no one from the Police Department showed up. The report was taken 2 or 3 days before this Commission meeting. "Eddy had to pay a hundred-thousand dollars out of his pocket for the parts that were removed from that car."

[I suspect that "hundred-thousand dollars" was a misstatement.]

Ms. Berry asked the status of the Police cameras.

She said Roger Parks, Jr. was released from jail the prior week, accused of a murder that occurred in DHS in March 2010. She believes he is innocent. He spent four years in jail and was released for insufficient evidence.

Chief Bressler handed out corrected stats, which were not part of the prepared agenda packet. Here's what they showed for February 2014:
Criminal Homicide: 0
Rape: 0
Robbery: 0
Aggravated Assault: 4
Burglary (& Attempted): 19
Larceny: 17
Motor theft: 11
Total: 51

Violent crime YTD: 17. Last year it was 16 at this point in the year. Part 1 crimes are down 8%.

The Chief provided some budget figures to the Commission. At this point in the year they should have spent about 75% of their budget, and they're close to that, but in some areas they have underspent. Only 39% of the training budget has been used. 30% of the uniform allowance has been used. Only 41% of the fuel allocation. 38% of the vehicle maintenance budget.

The Police are down to 22 sworn officers. An officer from El Centro was expected the join DHS Police soon. Eddie Cole has been rehired as a reserve officer. There are about a dozen potential hires in background check now. Maybe 3 or 4 of those will make it through. The ones under consideration would be laterals (i.e., experienced cops from another force, no rookies). In a few months he expects to have the force up to 27 or 28.

There are now two dedicated traffic units.

Overtime was halted for a couple months. So only 52% of the OT budget and 51% of comp time has been used. The problem is not so much the budget as the officers working too much OT.

Public Safety has already put $1.2 million back into the General Fund from salary savings.

7 or 8 officers have been lost so far, 6 more are ready to go.

The city has not funded the maintenance of the police cameras, so they are in various states of disrepair.

Chief Bressler said the videos from Eddy's don't show anything the police can use to identify the perpetrator. When someone calls, the Police go. If they don't go, the Chief said, you need to call back. He doesn't know what happened that resulted in the lengthy delay at Eddy's.

Commissioner Lavy asked how the Police handle squatters. The Chief said the first thing is to get them out of the house. That may be all the Police can do, because the county jail is not going to hold a squatter charged with mere trespassing.

For people under age 18 the curfew is 10 PM to 6 AM.

In response to a question about patrolling the parks, the Chief said he has asked the officers to try to keep an eye on the parks, but as the Department gets more volunteers they can be put to use doing this. Several new volunteers have stepped up recently.

The old Police cars are being prepared to go to auction.

The Chief said that next week he would be interviewing 20 more potential officers.

Dean Gray said he didn't want to burst the Commissioners' bubbles but he said that the crime stats are not down. They only appear to be down because the Police are not taking reports. He said he can clearly make out the face of the perpetrator in the video from Eddy's. "It's just not true," he said. "You're being told things that are not true." He said we are down to 20 officers [does Dean Gray ever get a number correct? The Chief had just said it's 22.] Mr. Gray said we're going to go down to 14 officers. If we hire 2 that would be 16. "Where's 'Plan B'?" he asked. Some people refuse to consider an alternative. He said we have robberies and murders that are not being taken care of. He said Chief Bressler's answer was that we should all arm ourselves with concealed weapons and "shoot it out with the bad guys." He said evidence is in public storage and there is a problem with DNA contamination. He said the Commissioners are just cheerleaders.

Commissioner Comments

Commissioner Stephens said she has never had a bad response time from either the Police or Fire Departments. She said she has never had any issues with the Police Department. She said she was sorry what happened to Eddy, but she wished he had come to this meeting so they could have talked to him. "I'm not saying you're lying," she said. She came to DHS a week before the Police Department started. Within 6 months there was a noticeable improvement in public safety. "Now, are we slipping a bit? You bet we are. But it's not going to help anybody to throw daggers at these very people that are trying to help us." She has found Chief Bressler to always be very helpful. The answer isn't to go look for another alternative. The answer is the Commissioners need to be asking questions about the budget. An important issue is why the ambulance service doesn't arrive on a timely basis. Ms. Stephens said she wouldn't go to the Planning Commission to criticize the Planning Commissioners. A lot of necessary improvements take money and what we have is all we have. She said she is very optimistic and does not like the negativity she heard this night from just one speaker.

Commissioner Lavy said he read the contract for Animal Control and saw there was a projected revenue of about $50,000 that would come to the city from licensing. The Animal Control report did not say how much had accrued year to date. Officer Huffman said he didn't have that paperwork and deferred to Chief Bressler. The Chief said the revenues are expected to come from Animal Control's door-to-door enforcement program that they just started.

Mr. Lavy said he had met with a representative of the state Department of Housing to discuss the 5th Street trailer park.

Vice Chair Meyer said that 24 years ago he left DHS as a Police Officer and went to the Sheriff's Department. He still gets emotional about it, he said. "It's easy to say we have an Option A and an Option B, and you're right; there is an Option A and there's only Option B." But it's not like flipping a switch, he said. There are millions of dollars and hundreds of staff hours that go into this. And then there's the politics. He's been on both sides. "It's difficult and it's not black and white." It's not simple, he said. He counseled patience. The issues are vast and deep. Even if we flipped that switch today, it would be several months before it could take effect. "I'm not a rah-rah person for the department." But he thinks the Chief is taking all the right steps. Questions need to be asked first so we can find out where we stand. When we know the truth, then we can make an informed decision. There are pros and cons to both 'A' and 'B.' When you consider the revolving door at the Indio jail, it doesn't matter if we have Police or Sheriffs. The revolving door stays the same. He said the best way to get a problem with the Police Department solved is to go down there and talk to the Watch Commander. If you don't get satisfaction, then file a formal complaint. The Department is mandated to investigate that. If there are real problems and the Chief doesn't have some complaints on file about that problem, then it becomes very hard for him to look into things. When Mr. Meyer was in the Sheriff's Department he took a lot of complaints and this helped him to know which complainers were for real and which not, and also to know which of his officers were good performers and those who were not.

"Just ask good questions. Find out what the truth of the matter is. And then when it comes time to select an 'Option A' or an 'Option B' then we can do it from a position of strength and knowledge rather than emotions or revenge or politics."

Chair Bowman recalled a hotelier who had nothing good to say about the Police Department because they had a chronic problem with a neighbor. That hotelier had never attended a Public Safety Commission meeting. He said that while he could pass on his complaint to the Police, it's much more effective for the person experiencing the problem to come in and speak about it.

After he experienced a burglary at his hotel, Eddie Cole, then Sergeant, advised Mr. Bowman to install security cameras. Mr. Bowman said he didn't have the money to buy the kind of system that would give good clear images. Sgt. Cole advised him that there are only a handful of bad guys in this town and "we know who they are from how they even walk." So he put it in and it has proven to be effective when he's had to show images to the Police.

He said that the Commission will hold city staff accountable and will also hold the citizens accountable to provide accurate data.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs,Public Safety | April 7, 2014 at 09:31 PM | Comments (6)

It Was 50 Years Ago Today

That IBM introduced System/360. Just in case that simple statement doesn't strike you with awe, here's a 5-minute video made for the 40th anniversary to give you some perspective.

From System/360 we got 8-bit bytes. The least expensive version of the 360 came with 4K of RAM as core memory. This is a piece of core memory with a capacity of 1K bits (not bytes).

Filed under Technology | April 7, 2014 at 08:00 PM | Comments (0)

How The Other 99% Live

It was 92° in Desert Hot Springs today.

| April 7, 2014 at 07:29 PM | Comments (0)