« November 2011 | Main | January 2012 »

December 31, 2011

Into The Wild

I saw the movie some time ago. Now I've read the book, or at least listened to the unabridged audiobook which you can borrow from the Desert Hot Springs public library. The main differences are these:

  • The book is non-chronological, so you know right at the start that Chris McCandless died in that bus in Alaska.
  • The book spends a lot more time talking about the McCandless family. I recall a public radio interview with Jon Krakauer, the author, when the movie came out in 2007. During the time that the story went from an article in Outside magazine, to a book, to a movie he ran into some resistance from the family. Very little of that is in the movie, but you get a lot more of the story in the book. They're no more monsters than 99% of American families, but who wants the details of their family life laid out in a bestseller?
  • The book spent more time theorizing as to what actually killed Chris McCandless (AKA Alexander Supertramp); a theorizing that continued on to the making of the movie and still today.
  • And, finally, a big part of the book that simply vanished from the movie were histories of other lone individuals who have walked into the wild and died or just disappeared. This includes Krakauer's attempts to challenge the Alaskan wilderness himself when he was 23.

One of the things that drew me to the movie in the first place was that part of McCandless's journey included time spent at Slab City and around the Salton Sea. Here's a clip from the movie where he's out in the desert with "Ron" - the book tells us this is not his real name - who lived in Salton City. That sure looks like it was shot on location, and they were shooting at Slab City, so it seems likely they would shoot the Anza Borrego scenes in the area, too.

Here is a Google satellite view with Bus 142, the Magic Bus, at the center. Zoom in and you can see the bus. Zoom out and you can see how close to civilization it is. That's a subject that gets covered extensively in the book. McCandless couldn't cross over the Teklanika River in midsummer due to flooding, but within a few miles of him were cabins where he could have gotten food. It appears that he never hiked far from the bus after he got there. The cabins were badly vandalized that summer, and some people theorize that it was McCandless who did that, but Krakauer believes otherwise.

In the book Krakauer seems to suggest that McCandless had no map by choice. Here's an article by Ron Lamothe that says he did have a map. He had his ID with him too, but the Alaska state troopers who recovered his body overlooked it, so it took a few weeks to identify him. The map he had was not a good topo map, but the Ron Lamothe says the map was good enough to show a Denali park service road that would have gotten him across the river. A good topo map would have shown a gauging station on the river not far from the bus. The gauging station had a basket on a zip line that McCandless could have used to cross the river. Krakauer points out, too, that if McCandless had hiked only about a mile upstream he would have seen that the river broadens out and becomes potentially crossable on foot even in flood.

Why did he die? No clear answer is known. In the original magazine article Krakauer offered the theory that he confused wild potatoes (he was eating the tubers) with wild sweet pea, which was thought to be poisonous. Turns out the wild sweet pea is not poisonous. When the book was published, he theorized that McCandless had gone from eating the potato tubers to eating its above-ground seeds, not knowing that there are many plants with edible roots and poisonous seeds. The tests on the potato seeds were not complete at the time of publication, but Krakauer thought there were preliminary indications of swainsonine, an alkaloid, the primary toxin in locoweed. Turns out, according to Ron Lamothe, that there is no swainsonine in wild potato seeds. Krakauer then theorized that the potato seeds were moldy and the mold contained a hallucinogen.

McCandless's body, BTW, was cremated in Alaska before his parents got there (but presumably with their consent). There was no autopsy probably because it seemed obvious that he had starved to death. There's nothing to exhume.

Ron Lamothe thinks there is no need to develop a theory of a satisfactorily dramatic cause of death that would support a bestselling magazine article, book and movie. He simply starved. Unable to consume sufficient calories to support his level of activity, his body weight would have dropped to about 90 pounds giving him a BMI of less than 14 in early August 1992, according to Lamothe's estimates. A BMI of less than 15 is an indication of starvation and a BMI of only 14 means death is near. His death is believed to have come on August 18.

final photo of Chris McCandless
The last self-portrait of Chris McCandless. He is holding his SOS note`.

Lamothe puts forth the idea that rather than simply sitting there, ignorant of his options, and starving to death, McCandless had injured his right shoulder, making it more difficult for him to hunt or swim the river.

Chris McCandless with Bus 142Chris McCandless possibly with injured shoulder

In the iconic photos above, Lamothe points out that McCandless's right shoulder appears to slump, and possibly isn't even in the sleeve of his shirt.

Lamothe has made a documentary entitled The Call Of The Wild (IMDB).

Here's a theory from a non-expert that McCandless was schizophrenic.

McCandless's parents have published a book called Back To The Wild.

Going out to visit Bus 142 seems to have become almost a cottage industry. Here's a ten-minute video showing a trip via ATV down the Stampede Trail to the bus. If you want to do it yourself, here's a website that tells you how.

Plenty of photos on Flickr:
Magic Bus by Anthony Vargo
Photo by Anthony Vargo.

Marcy supertramp
Photo from a set by Jenna 1/2acre.

Me posing in front of the bus
Photo from a set by DuckShepherd.

Me at the Magic Bus
Photo from a set by ErikHalfacre.

Bus 142 Into The Wild
Photo from a set by RichardWagnerAU.

Bus 142
Photo by mannieb.

Bus 142 pano
Photo from a set by Heather Horton.

There's also a Flickr group for the Stampede Trail, which is more than just Bus 142 and Chris McCandless.

Here's a web page with a lot of photos of Chris McCandless from throughout his life.

Filed under Books,Film/Movies | permalink | December 31, 2011 at 10:48 AM | Comments (3)

December 30, 2011

iPads For Orangutans

Only at the Milwaukee zoo, currently. Like overbearing parents, the humans are worried the orangutans will break them, so humans hold them outside the cages, while the orangutans reach through to use the devices. They started them with Doodle Buddy. The orangutans also enjoy watching videos, The Seventh Seal being a big favorite [just kidding].

On the downside, they are using only iPad 1! This is because it's cheaper. Wait'll they hear that the apes in some other zoo use iPad 2 and are being taught how to use the camera. Then the shit will really hit the fan, because those primates like to do that, you know, make shit hit fans.

Photos of the orangutans interacting with the iPads here.

Filed under Technology | permalink | December 30, 2011 at 11:25 PM | Comments (0)

DHS City Council - December 20

The audio recording of this meeting of the Desert Hot Springs City Council meeting is available here.


It's rare that I highlight the invocation, but none of the usual ministers showed up, and without Karl Baker on the city council there was no one to fall back on. So Mayor Parks delivered the invocation. I think this was the first I'd seen her do that, so here it is:

I do want to have the higher power here to direct us and to give us guidance in making this the best city in the Coachella Valley. With the cooperation of the community, the staff, and the council, I'm sure that this could be accomplished. In Jesus' name, amen.

Closed Session

There was no reportable action on any of the items on the closed session agenda, but an urgency item was added: something to do with the labor negotiations with the Police Officers Association. Attorney Duran said that there hadn't been enough time to finish that item, so the council would return to closed session after the open session.


Mayor Parks presented certificates of recognition to Catherine Romero (Planning), Elizabeth Versace (Planning), and Mary Hutchinson (Community & Cultural Affairs). She also had certificates for Charles Garland (Architecture & Landscape Review), Karen Proksel (Planning), Tim Young (Public Safety) and Jeanne Jussila (Community & Cultural Affairs), but they were not present.

The Mayor also had a belated certificate of recognition for Michael O'Keefe who was not present. She said he had taken Cabot's Pueblo Museum and really put it on the map. "For some reason I failed in my job to recognize him when there was a change in management of that facility." He had been recognized for his philanthropy, but not for his hard work and dedication to the museum.

Then Mayor Parks presented a certificate of recognition to Eddie Johnson for his work, leadership and fundraising to bring the Vietnam Memorial Moving Wall to Desert Hot Springs. In turn, Mr. Johnson presented the city with a mounted & framed collection of mementos of the days when the wall was here.

Holiday Decorating Contest Winners

Photos can be seen here. Sweepstakes award went to 66236 San Juan, David Woodall. First place was 66170 5th Street, Rosalia Luna. She had brought her entire family, which occupied about a quarter of the seats in the Carl May Center. Second place was 10365 Cactus, Manuel Sandoval. Honorable Mention went to 11600 Verbena, Cleveland Hope. The Mayor's Award went to 13860 Hermano Way, Caesar Oviato (not sure of that last name). He was not present for this, which is too bad. I got to meet him while George Fisher and I were photographing the winning homes, and he's very nice. Each of the winners received a certificate and a Christmas tree ornament bearing the city seal.

CCAC Commissioner George Fisher thanked his fellow commissioners for their help and Mayor Pro Tem Jan Pye for stepping in at the last minute when the Mayor couldn't make it to the final judging. He said that next year they might add a "People's Choice Award." Dot Reed made the tree ornament gifts.

Public Comments

George Fisher said the fourth annual Shake, Rattle & Roll earthquake expo would be Saturday, February 25, from 10 AM to 2 PM at the high school. It might be scaled down a bit this year, but there will be more presentations from different organizations.

Dot Reed said this would be the last council meeting of 2011. "The last four years have been fabulous," she said. She said we need to be thankful for all of the improvements that have taken place. "With a very positive attitude, kindness and respect" we can continue that way in the future, she said.

Maria Theresa Dobrev said she was seeking advice. She had a serious problem with the "head of code enforcement." She got a letter saying she had to pay $300 with no explanation. Her mother is in the hospital dying. She has to work every day and spend every night with her mother. Two years ago at the same property, she said it had been vacant for six years, and she is charged for trash collection which she says is an injustice. Her last tax bill was doubled due to trash collection. She has had trouble contacting them [DVD, I assume] by phone. She sent them a letter and got no response. Yesterday she got a call saying she got an extra charge because three years ago somebody lived at that address. Ms. Dobrev says no one lived there. She went to DVD to ask them to pick up trash at her house and she has been told that they don't pick up there. Nonetheless, she has to pay the bill. She wanted advice on what to do. She was hoping to find Chief Williams there [he was late to this council meeting]. Some person whose name she did not recall told her to be at city hall at 6:30 AM on a Monday about a year and a half ago. She showed up, but of course no one was there. When the first employee showed up about 7 AM, that employee told her to go home, "he's not going to be here." Ms. Dobrev said she had a meeting scheduled with five people including the Chief of Police and wanted to wait. No one showed up. At 9 AM the man she had planned to meet came in. She got no answer from him and needs an answer.

City Manager Daniels said he would take responsibility for getting the matter resolved. I believe I saw Commander Singer speaking Ms. Dobrev later.

Pamela Berry said she wast at the study session about Cabot's the previous week and found it very enlightening. She wanted to know if the public could have access now to the list of 1,500 items that Terry Chapman has cataloged. She also wanted to know if Ms. Chapman has any help. She said that Jason Simpson said he had shown the location of the artifacts to Chief Williams and "three other people. He did not mention who those three other people were." [What Mr. Simpson actually said was "I have shown the police chief where everything is at. There were more than one person who knows these items. There are about four people. Also, I identified to the city attorney where these things are at." Four people who include: (1) Jason Simpson, (2) Chief Williams and (3) Attorney Duran. Doesn't take much guessing power to guess that the the fourth person should be City Manager Daniels.]

Here's the recording of Jason Simpson speaking about that at the earlier study session:

Ms. Berry asked if any of the council members are one of the people who know where the archives are stored. "And if not, why not?" She also said she understood that Mr. Daniels' contract would be coming up for review [this is not correct information] at the January 7 study session where, she said, the council will discuss whether Mr. Daniels is eligible for a 3% salary increase. She said his base salary is $215,000 and calculated that 3% is over $6,400. She talked to people who became upset and angry at that news.

Paul Tapia is the president of the Police Officers Association. He talked about the breakfast with Santa event held by the POA and firefighters over the previous weekend. He said it was the best Christmas event the city has ever had. Over 1,000 children attended. Chief Williams and several other officers rushed to Indio to get more toys at the last minute. Over 2,000 people attended. 3,000 cookies, pastries, milk & coffee were served. He thanked Councilmembers Sanchez, Betts and Pye. He thanked Mr. Bickford "and Jim" [Provance?]. They used a ballroom at Miracle Springs Spa. All the volunteers made it possible. He hopes there will be another one next year. He said the officers of this city make sure the city is safe, so it can be the best city in the valley. The contract negotiations are moving forward and he hopes they are resolved soon.

[He didn't say, but I imagine that with 2,000 guests, they are glad they didn't try to squeeze them into the Senior Center.]

Dave Johnson, program director from Food Now, thanked everyone for their assistance during the holiday season. Because the chili cook off was postponed, they had a cash shortfall. In the week before Christmas they are expecting to feed at least 750 families. The support of the city council, city staff and residents of the city make this possible, he said. He specifically thanked Radigan Management, Desert Valley Disposal, Playoffs, Glossys and Mission Lakes Country Club. He also thanked Dillon Roadhouse for providing catering at the Chamber Mixer in December. The third annual Chili Cook Off will be at Dillon Roadhouse, and they know that they have to get proper permits for that. The permits have been applied for and he believes all issues have been resolved. He thanked Paul Tapia and Miracle Springs Resort for donating unused milk and cookies after their holiday event.

Consent Calendar

Marilyn Heidrick blew the consent calendar and our dreams of getting out of this meeting early by asking to speak on every item on the consent agenda except the first one. The items were:

  1. The 2012 meeting schedule. Regular council meetings on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays. Study session to be held on the Monday following the first Tuesday at 4 PM. The schedule does not include a regular second study session (or fourth meeting) each month.
  2. An extension of the contract at the same rate with Gee Whiz for street sweeping from October 1, 2011, to November 30, 2011.
  3. A first amendment to the agreement with Office Team for an additional payment of $35,000 (on top of the previous payment of $30,000) and to extend the agreement through June 2012.
  4. A first amendment to the agreement with Municipal Professionals LLC for an additional $10,000 (on top of the previous amount of $30,000 - or was it $70,000?). The staff report says the current contract amount is $30,000. But in the agreement itself it says "The first amendment amount shall not exceed Ten Thousand Dollars and no Cents ($10,000.00) for additional consulting services for a total agreement amount of Eighty Thousand Dollars and no Cents ($40,000)." It extends the contract through June 2012.
  5. A first amendment to the agreement with ProStaff for Associate Planner services for an additional $120,000. This is in addition to the current $30,000 [or so it says]. Everything seems to match up, providing a total of $150,000. The contract is extended through June 2012.
  6. A first amendment to the agreement with AccountTemps for auditor services for the Transient Occupancy Tax. This would add $35,000 to the current $30,000 contract for a total of $65,000. It extends the contract through June 2012.

Ms. Heidrick asked if Gee Whiz had been working without a contract for two months and did they do their usual work during those two months. The report says they were getting paid $48 per mile, but the new contract with Tri Star is for $75 per unit, which is supposed to be a savings. The amendment says Gee Whiz was paid $52/mile in their initial 2008 contract. In the two-month extension they are being paid $48/mile.

Jason Simpson said there is indeed a savings with the next contract. He needed to verify the numbers to explain further. Ms. Heidrick was understandably dissatisfied with that answer. Mr. Simpson said he would speak with Ms. Heidrick later on the subject. City Manager Daniels took a stab at it. He said that Tri Star's bid was $20 lower per mile than what the agreement had been with Gee Whiz. At the December 6 city council meeting the information showed that the bid from Tri Star was $75/"unit." The estimate linear distance was 75 miles. 75 x 75 = $5,625, which was Tri Star's monthly rate. The staff report in the December 6 council meeting said the city had been paying Gee Whiz approximately $88,000 per year. That works out to about $97.78/mile, which is close to double the $48/mile in the two-month extension amendment. So, if I had to guess (which I'm doing) the "unit" referred to in the Tri Star bid is both sides of the street for a mile, while the $48 in the Gee Whiz contract means $48 for one side of the street per mile. But that would seem to be an unusual way to look at it, since this is street sweeping, not trash pick up. In the latest bids, Gee Whiz bid $184 per mile!

Councilmember Betts pointed out that the staff report on this item says the total is $14,688. That comes to $7,344 per month or $97.92. This does not square with the $48/mile in the amendment. It is, however, consistent with the rate paid in the prior contract.

Councilmember Sanchez thanked Ms. Heidrick for her comments.

On the amendment with Office Team Ms. Heidrick had a question about this sentence in the amendment: "The first amendment amount shall not exceed Thirty Five Thousand Dollars and no Cents ($35,000.00) for additional consulting services for a total agreement amount of Six Five Thousand Dollars and no cents ($65,000.00)." Clearly there is a typo.

Jason Simpson offered to give a staff report on all four items. He explained that the city uses these services to fill out staff as necessary at less expense than hiring full time city employees with pension and health benefits.

Rick Daniels pointed that total city staff has been cut from 122 people down to 62 over the period from late 2006 to the present. Those numbers include an increase of 13 police officers. Temporary hires, he said, guarantee that the necessary work still gets done, but at the absolutely lowest possible cost.

Ultimately, the consent agenda was approved 5-0.


Councilmember Betts said that in meetings with residents of Rancho Del Oro he has learned that one of their concerns is that students from Painted Hills Middle School are walking through the wash, not following the streets like they are supposed to.

He suggested that a better PA system should be obtained by the city for events like the Christmas tree lighting.

He said the toy give away was fantastic. He said Councilmembers Pye and Sanchez were there. He said he thought the Senior Center would have worked just as well as Miracle Springs. He made the point that the council has always gotten along in closed session, out of sight of the public. He thanked his fellow council members for that.

Councilmember Matas answered Pamela Berry's questions: he thought it had been said at the study session that some on-line access would be provided for the 1,500 cataloged items at Cabot's. Mr. Daniels clarified that issue would be brought back to the council. Mr. Matas said he thought it was possible Ms. Chapman would need help photographing and cataloging. She would probably need someone whose qualifications are similar to her own. He was not present when items from Cabot's were put into storage. He had no comment on the city manager's contract.

Mr. Matas gave an update on the Youth Council which is very active. They are planning a trip to Sacramento for the high school members in May or June.

He said that our city manager is not a grinch. He said that Mr. Daniels and our city staff have brought the city up to a level that no one else could. The actual emails from Mr. Daniels asked "what can I do for you," and never said "no, I won't do for you."

Councilmember Sanchez said he isn't on any commissions so he doesn't have a lot of work to report on. He asked if councilmembers can invite individuals to do the invocation. Mayor Parks said yes, that the city has worked with the Ministerial Association, but with Christmas they were all busy.

He said we want to be the best city in the valley and we do that by working as a team. He said he wants to find a way to get Michael O'Keefe working in DHS again. He said he was glad when he heard that the Police Officers Association wanted to do Christmas With Santa Claus, because "I haven't had a Christmas with Santa Claus that I can recall for at least a couple years."

Councilmember Pye also answered Pamela Berry's questions. She said she has seen some of the stored items, because she volunteered at the museum in 2000. She cited, as examples, a couple of full Indian headdresses and Cabot Yerxa's military jacket. The first appraiser appraised values totaling up to $5 million. The more people who know exactly where those items, the greater the risk. Leeds & Sons Jewelry was robbed by a gang from Los Angeles when they were located in Palm Springs. Now they are on El Paseo in Palm Desert, but have been robbed by a gang from San Diego. She does not feel comfortable broadcasting the location of items that are worth more than $5 million.

She said that she attended the Police Officers Association toy give away and that initially only Councilmembers Betts and Sanchez were invited. Councilmember Betts and Sanchez invited Mayor Parks, Councilmember Matas and Mayor Pro Tem Pye on the Friday before the event.

Mayor Parks said she was under the weather on the 17th, so she was unable to attend either the Santa Breakfast or the Christmas Store.

Ms. Pye said there were two questions from Ms. Berry that she did not answer. She said that Ms. Chapman is working alone now. That's one of the reasons Cabot's Foundation needs to raise funds. On January 7 the council is not reviewing the city manager. They are doing two things: an ethics workshop and then a goals setting strategy. Also, every councilmember got an email on the subject of only individuals, not corporations, are endowed with Constitutional rights. She asked if other members of the council would like this item to be agendized at a future meeting. No other council members could recall seeing the email, so Ms. Pye said she would send a copy to the city manager who could then forward it to the council.

Mayor Parks said she has seen the Indian blankets at Cabot's,but doesn't know where things are stored and doesn't want to know. She says anyone who has valuables does not want the whole world, "every thief in town," to know where the valuables are. Ms. Parks asked Ms. Berry if she had answered her questions. Ms Berry said that if the January 7 council meeting [the actual dates of the next council meetings are January 3 and January 9] is not to review the city manager's contract, she'd like to know if there is one and if she has the date wrong.

[Here's a link to my posting of January 13, 2011, that summarizes the main points of the city manager contract. After January 1, 2012, the council may give him a 3% raise. There was a little more discussion about that at the city council meeting of January 18, 2011, where the contract was approved.]

Mayor Parks repeated what Ms. Pye said, that the first study session in January will be on the two topics of ethics and goal setting. Ms. Berry asked if it's scheduled for another meeting. "Not at this time," Mayor Parks answered.

Then she said...

I'm going to do a little thing here which I don't normally do. The word "transparent" has been used many times in the past few weeks and I would like to make a statement regarding being transparent. Transparency is the providing of information that is factual and not misleading. We have had an incident recently that facts were given under the guise of transparency. You determine for yourself if the facts represent the truth. In late November the Senior Center manager was contacted by the Police Officers Association to use the facility for the toy collection give away and breakfast. The Senior Center manager notified the city administration for approval. After reviewing the request, the city manager was notified that the facility might not be large enough to hold this event. The city manager sent an email, and I'm going to read the email so that we are all transparent. And this email was in response to a Police Officers Association board member.
Thanks for your note. It is admirable that your group is undertaking this event in the community. Unfortunately, the Senior Center is not designed to handle 600 people at once or even over the many hours of the event. I would suggest that you look to one of the larger churches, hotels or schools to hold the event. I would be glad to assist you in making contacts with some of those facilities. Additionally, are you accepting contributions for this event?
Never even taking into consideration the parking at the Senior Center. The parking at the Miracle [Springs Resort] where they had it, I'm sure that lot and the lot in between and maybe as far down as the [DHS] Spa [Hotel], but in the email that I got late Friday, I was told that I had to park on 12th Street and walk down. So, I think even at the Miracle, it was pushing it as far as a thousand kids plus their families.

So, anyway, the POA president sends an email to a local TV news media:

Hello Philippe, (Philippe is with Channel 3) question for you. How do you think the public would feel if they knew that we could not use the Senior Center for our Breakfast With Santa Toy Give Away all because the city manager declined our request due to political reasons like our endorsement of Councilmen Betts and Sanchez. Their excuse is that the center cannot accommodate 600 kids. It has never been an issue in the past four years. And we never planned on having 600 kids inside. Instead, we planned on forming lines and allowing only so many to enter at a time. How is that for an excuse? How pathetic is that? Especially when our POA is presently in negotiations for our police contract with the city. That they would make even you run from the other way and send the city back to what it was three years ago. Just a question and some info. Thanks.

After the interview was conducted, local media labeled the city manager a "grinch." The following week the city manager and staff were invited by the Senior Center manager for a Q & A session. The meeting had many concerns brought to the attention of staff, including the ridiculous allegations of city staff not allowing the POA and fire department to hold their event at the Senior Center for political reasons. Absolutely nonsense.

December 13 a member of the Senior Center put flyers on the table saying Rick Daniels was a grinch who would not allow the children of DHS to have a toy give away at the Senior Center. The Senior Center manager asked that this not take place and was challenged by a Senior on the reason why. She wanted to see the policy why she could not do this, escalating the situation to a very uncomfortable situation. The police department had to get get involved. A council member and local media felt they needed to confront the Senior Center manager also. I have never been more disgusted by the actions of the individuals for the lies and truth-twisting in all the years as mayor of this city. Our city manager and staff are productive, honest, hard working individuals, and to say they would stop a toy give away for political reasons is just wrong. It is time we unify as a city, stand strong as a community. As mayor I have had the pleasure of working with a productive city administration, council and community leaders to give the citizens of Desert Hot Springs tens of millions of dollars worth of projects and programs that have improved the quality of life for all of us. There is a political force in this city trying to unravel all that has been done. I am asking that it stop and we work together for a productive 2012. Thanks you.

Councilmember Betts said he wanted to make a couple of comments. He said he didn't know what the point of rehashing all that was. [It may have been a rehash for him, but this was the first time I heard all that laid out as the Mayor did.] He said he organized a line going through Miracle Springs, and it was like an assembly line. He can't figure out why the Senior Center would not have served for the purpose. He said this is normal for contract negotiations. He said the problem was that at the last minute the POA and firefighters were told they couldn't use the Senior Center. The answer is not to say the building can't be used, but to find a way that it can, to say yes, not no.

He went on to say that he has to presume he is the council member that Mayor Parks referred to as showing up at the Senior Center. He said he just stopped in to meet and greet the Seniors. When he walked in it was peaceful. He witnessed a game of Yahtzee. Then somebody told him about a flyer. Then he said hello to the manager who told him she wasn't have a great day. Mr. Betts explained "this is Desert Hot Springs" and things blow over. "If you're pointing some kind of fingers at me as to starting some kind of ruckus down at the Senior Center, I think the people involved are capable of starting whatever kind of ruckus they want to, and I certainly had nothing to do with it."

He went on to say that there will always be different ideas on what people want in this city, but everybody wants it to be unified. "I don't think the speech you just gave is doing anything towards unifying the city." He said some of the things said were unfair and he doesn't think the city manager is a grinch. "I think that speech you just read was way out of line."

At this point Attorney Duran weighed in saying that the council is bordering on a Brown Act violation by discussing what is turning out to be a potential item of city business. When it starts to be a back and forth, you risk violating the Brown Act. He asked the council to refrain.

Whereupon Councilmember Sanchez turned on his microphone and said "Mayor Parks, I want to amplify on what Mr. Betts had to say." This produced a mild uproar from the citizens in attendance and some turned heads on the dais. Mr. Sanchez went on "I want to speak to the event one more time, not speak to any of you at all."

[It was not clear to me who Mr. Sanchez referred to when he said "any of you." The council? The public? Staff?]

He said he did Cops With Kids Day and he did Christmas With Santa Claus in the past. He's done it at the Senior Center "for years and years." He said the intent was to help kids. He said it could be done at the Senior Center tomorrow. He said it could be done at any capacity in any facility. "You opened up this dialogue, and I think in the future we need to be more careful about how you attack us here at the dais."

Mayor Parks said she didn't attack anybody. "Methinks you protest too loudly," she added.

City Manager Daniels said the Cabot's collection has probably never been as safe as it is today. It's not lying on the ground out there like it had for the last 30 years. He has seen all of the most significant pieces. They deserve to receive the broadest visitation by members of this community, he said. The problem is tens of millions of dollars and the time to build facilities that are suitable for displaying and protecting the items.

Sales tax receipts are up 46%. This increase exceeds every other jurisdiction in Riverside County. The actual increase was $95,000, which was more than the increase in La Quinta, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, Cathedral City, Banning and Beaumont.

Property values have increased 13.9% since 2010. There are 80 zip codes in Riverside County. Only 8 zip codes had a higher increase than 92240.

The solar farm at Dillon & Little Morongo will be a $10 million investment.

The new Film Commission under the sole guidance of Courtney Moe has already issued two film permits. He's gotten a couple of volunteers to assist him, including Russ Martin who Mr. Daniels dubbed "Assistant Film Commissioner" right there on the spot and promised to double his pay. [They don't get paid, I should probably clarify for those who don't get the joke.]

In response to requests from Seniors, some improvements have been made at the Senior Center: fans in the restrooms and a higher toilet.

The city has also helped some Seniors who were unable to care for their property. At one house they hauled away 9 pickup truck loads of trash and debris. Mr. Daniels thanked the Good Works Crew for that.

The police department got a Shiny Apple Award from the school district.

The city manager began to talk about incomplete subdivisions around town with performance bonds that the city has been having difficulty calling in. The city is having to initiate litigation.

Here Councilmember Betts interrupted to ask the city attorney if this was getting close to discussing a closed session agenda item. Mr. Duran conferred privately with Mr. Daniels. Mr. Duran said this was a closed session agenda item some months ago and it had already been reported out of closed session, so the information is already public. The city is already in litigation and more can be expected.

[Indeed, here is my write up of the August 8 city council meeting where it was announced and here you can find a PDF of the filing related to Agua Dulce. Now, maybe the city council has been discussing something even beyond these lawsuits, but if that's the case, it was Mr. Betts who just telegraphed it, not Mr. Daniels.]

Mr. Daniels went on to list all the intersections where new striping would be applied to the pavement during school break.

Chief Veik announced that there would be a planned burn of old buildings at Indio High School. He invited only the city council and public safety commission.

Chief Williams said it was important to add some information about the toy give away. This year, the management of the Senior Center was contracted out. As part of that, the Senior Center was placed under the supervision of Chief Williams. Strict adherence to city rules is required. Around the last week of November he learned that an event, the toy drive, at the Senior Center was being advertised. He asked the liaison to the Senior Center to contact the Senior Center manager to be sure that all appropriate process had taken place. He learned that nothing had been done. No paper work had been submitted to reserve the site or to support the event. He requested a meeting with two board members of the POA, the Senior Center liaison and the Senior Center manager to discuss it. The POA had had a conversation with the SC manager, but had taken no action. This was only 2 or 3 weeks ahead of the planned event. "There's nobody in the room here that doesn't think that having a toy drive makes sense," he said. In 2010 they did Shop With A Cop at Kmart. In prior years the police and firefighters drove around to deliver gifts. It has not been a routine event at the Senior Center. The POA board members were interested in a fee waiver. To get that, it would have to be made a city event. So the POA board wrote a letter to the city manager which resulted in the CM's response which was read out by the mayor. "You can't just show up and use a city facility without a process," the Chief said. "I will not allow it as long as I'm overseeing it." He said he's very proud of the men and women in the police force and he's very proud of the event that took place.

Councilmember Betts said he had a question for the chief. Mayor Parks said we would have no bantering. Mr. Betts said "I wasn't bantering, I had a question." Mayor Parks permitted him to ask his question. Then Mr. Betts directed his question not to the chief, but to the city manager and city attorney. He asked if when somebody wants to use a city building, could the event be made a city event, and would that cover the insurance and permit fee. Mr. Daniels said yes, it can be done, but only the city council has authority to waive the fees, and it would go to CCAC first. Mr. Daniels suggested that further discussion of this item could be agendized for a future meeting, if the council wanted to discuss it. Mr. Betts continued, saying that groups should know that the council is open to waiving fees for future events. Mr. Daniels said he would schedule this subject for a future council meeting.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | December 30, 2011 at 10:58 PM | Comments (9)

The James Dean Story

A 1957 documentary by Robert Altman. The film seems to actually be in the public domain. A lot of people who know nothing about public domain will assert that anything they can get their hands on is in the public domain. You can watch the entire film on Youtube or download it in any of four formats from the Internet Archive.

Filed under Film/Movies | permalink | December 30, 2011 at 11:18 AM | Comments (1)

Owens Valley

Owens Valley
Photo by Echo_29 on November 21, 2011.

Filed under California,Photography | permalink | December 30, 2011 at 10:24 AM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2011

DHS City Council Special Meeting - December 29

The audio recording of this special meeting of the Desert Hot Springs City Council is available here.

The city council immediately went into closed session, coming back after a little more than half an hour, whereupon Jason Simpson distributed a staff report. Here's my PDF scan of the report out of closed session. The city will probably get a nice clean copy out soon, but for now this is what you get.

Officer Tapia came to the podium to comment. He said it's a great day and his members of the Police Officers Association are happy. It was a long and stressful negotiation, he said, but "we now move forward." He said we can be sure the city is safe and united.

City Manager Daniels said the negotiations had gone on for months "if not a year." He described the agreement as fair and reasonable that meets the needs of the city. He thanked Officer Tapia and his board members for their work. Pension reform has been achieved. Costs have been cut.

Councilmember Matas moved to approve the MOU and Councilmember Betts seconded. Approved 5-0.

The agreement extends through June 2013 and provides an estimated net savings to the city of $402,451. The biggest part of the savings is $429,466 from the officers picking up their 9% employee share of CALPERS. Also the Uniform Allowance is suspended ($50,112), adoption of a 14-day/84-hour base beyond which overtime is paid at 1½ (saving $122,479), and incentive pay has been frozen ($22,000). Increases include a 4% raise in base pay ($217,015) and implementation of citywide health program ($44,591). The MOU also includes a preference for internal candidates for promotion to Sergeant. The city will "explore the possibility" of a corporal classification.

City Manager's Report

On the court decision on redevelopment: "You can whine and complain about stuff, or you can accept it and move on." Staff will provide analysis of the decision to the council at a future time. Since 2008 the redevelopment agency has invested $27 million in this city. The assets and liabilities of the RDA will pass to a successor agency. Staff will work on coming up with other means to achieve the city's objectives.

City staff has analyzed the Kmart situation and in the opinion of city staff the Desert Hot Springs Kmart store is performing in the top half of Kmart stores and will likely survive the announced cuts. City staff is meeting with the local Kmart to try to strengthen its position.

Today city staff was in contact with a "new operator" of the former Flamingo hotel [would it be possible to assign numbers to each of these Flamingo owners as they come and go so we can keep track of them?]. Again, this new owner hopes to be able to bring that property on line.

Mayor Parks asked about the new sign at the "old rock hotel" [I call it the "Flintstone" hotel - I believe the new sign calls the place "Hyundae"]. Mr. Daniels said the new owner has put up the sign without a permit and started construction without obtaining any permits. The owner has been duly notified of the city's requirements and says he does not care.

[Where do these people come from? Are there developers spreading a rumor that DHS is some sort of anarchic free-state?]

They have obtained no approvals from the health department, nor from any other regulatory agency. Chief Williams said that code enforcement has met with the hotel owners. They have not been cooperative. There will be another meeting after the first of the year and our code enforcement has contacted other regulatory agencies too.

Councilmember Sanchez asked if the city had an employees holiday party. Mr. Daniels said they had a potluck on the last work day before Christmas.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | December 29, 2011 at 09:33 PM | Comments (0)

Hillary Clinton's Remarks On International Human Rights Day

Which happened oh, you know, way back on December 6, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Those diplomatic speeches can go on foooooooooorever, especially when they're in Europe where people still have educations. So our Murkan State Department has brought out this version for us:

If, however, you are a fan of PBS and/or NPR, you could probably push yourself to watch this 13 minute version:

For everybody else, here's the full transcript in written English.

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The Government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.
The third, and perhaps most challenging, issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn't cultural; it's criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

Filed under Gay Issues | permalink | December 29, 2011 at 08:23 PM | Comments (0)

Romney is a "Homosexualist"

Yeah, you didn't know that?

Filed under Gay Issues,Religion | permalink | December 29, 2011 at 07:11 PM | Comments (0)

Cal. Supreme Court Upholds The Legislature's Right To Put Its Head Way Up Its Ass And Sit Down

The Supreme Court ruled today that, yes, the legislature could terminate redevelopment agencies, but struck down the other law which would have allowed redevelopment agencies to continue so long as they kicked a share of their bucks up to Sacramento. The end result: no redevelopment agencies; no extra money for Sacramento. The money will go to the counties who can use it, if they want, to pay for the jail beds that the state won't pay for.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who first proposed eliminating redevelopment agencies to help solve the state's fiscal crisis, expressed satisfaction with the court's decision, noting that it "validates a key component of the state budget and guarantees more than a billion dollars of ongoing funding for schools and public safety."

Filed under California | permalink | December 29, 2011 at 05:37 PM | Comments (11)

The Sheriff's Department Reminds You...

It is rude and quite disconcerting to your neighbors to fire your pistol, rifle, shotgun, or AK-47 into the air. Bazookas too. Worse, it makes you look like one of those Middle Easterners we see on the news all the time who appear to either get all their ammo for free, or who live in terror that any living bird shall ever fly overhead.

Press Release: Public Announcement

Agency: Southern Coachella Valley Communities Services District

Reporting Officer: Sergeant Jeronimo Contreras


The Southern Coachella Valley Communities Services District Team would like to remind the public that discharging their firearm into the air during the holidays is not only dangerous, but is also illegal. California Penal Code section 246.3 states "Any person who willfully discharges a firearm in a grossly negligent manner which could result in injury or death to a person is guilty of a public offense and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison."

The Southern Coachella Valley Community Services District funds deputies to increase the level of proactive enforcement in the southern end of the Coachella Valley. Anyone with information regarding the negligent discharge of firearms within the Southern Coachella Valley is encouraged to dial 9-1-1, or call the Valley Crime Stoppers program at 760-341-7867 (STOP).

| permalink | December 29, 2011 at 05:08 PM | Comments (0)

Busy Boy In Two Counties Gets A Forced Rest Period

Donald Elmer
Donald Elmer



INCIDENT: Grand Theft

DATE OF INCIDENT: Period of November 23 thru 29, 2011

LOCATION: Construction Site - Palm Drive and Interstate 10, DHS

ARRESTEES: Elmer, Donald Bruce; White Male 48 years old 5'-07" 240 lbs, Black/Blue, Resident of Fontana, CA


Between November 23 – 29, 2011 Elmer and another unidentified subject went into the Palm Drive / I10 overpass construction area and stole approximately $53,000.00 worth of construction material. Elmer used an older model bus to transport the material, which he later sold. On Thursday December 29, 2011, Detective Sandoval of the Desert Hot Springs Police Department contacted Elmer at the San Bernardino County Court where he was being arraigned for a similar theft he committed in San Bernardino County. Elmer was taken into custody and transported back to Desert Hot Springs. He was later booked at the Riverside County Banning Jail.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs | permalink | December 29, 2011 at 04:46 PM | Comments (0)

One More Reason To Visit Pocatello

Pocatello, Idaho, is already well known for its rich culture, summarized on Wikipedia thusly:

In Pocatello, it was against the law not to smile. Today, this law is remembered with the annual Smile Fest.

On December 10, 1987, representatives from the American Bankers Association declared Pocatello the "U. S. Smile Capital."

The Idaho Gateway Chorus, a barbershop singing group, is based in Pocatello.

The Pocatello Zoo features only native Idaho species and is located in Ross Park.

The North American Vexillological Association ranked Pocatello's flag 150th of 150 city flags in its 2004 American City Flags Survey.
Pocatello flag

And now, as if all that weren't enough for one town to bust its britches, there's the Museum Of Clean. Owned by Don Aslett, the museum includes "A horse-drawn vacuum dating back to 1902; a collection of several hundred pre-electric vacuum cleaners; a Civil War-era operating table; a 1,600-year-old bronze pick that was used to clean teeth, and an antique Amish foot bath."

TMI: "Mr Aslett's mother taught him the importance of clean, explaining to him that it was why she married his father. She said: 'The reason I married your dad is because he was always clean, he always washed his hands, he always had clean clothes.'"

He's got a website for his business too: Don Aslett's Cleaning Center. And then there are his books.

| permalink | December 29, 2011 at 09:14 AM | Comments (0)

The Worst Of Kansas City

The Pitch entertains its readers with a year-end round up of the dirtiest public restrooms in Kansas City. These are about evenly split on the Missouri and Kansas sides, so I give them points for objectivity.

Now here is a scene. This Shawnee bar (which offers karaoke every night of the week) is not so much a party venue as it is a magnet for lost souls and dashed dreams. The bartenders eye strangers with suspicion, and the DJ/MC announces the next singer in line with the hollowest enthusiasm. Yes, the burden is on you and your group to bring the fun. You may also consider bringing sanitary items, such as a Health Gards toilet-seat cover, or maybe a diphtheria vaccine, because the restrooms are atrocious. Last time we stopped in, we discovered the following: the women’s toilet seat pictured here; a sink spotted with yellow stains that we pray to Jeebus were not urine; stripped, filthy, garagelike flooring; and the sentence “Please stop throwing toothpicks in the toilet … the crabs have learned to pole vault!” etched in Sharpie on the wall.

| permalink | December 29, 2011 at 07:20 AM | Comments (0)

Arrested For Armed Robbery



INCIDENT: Robbery, Resist Arrest, Parolee at Large Warrant

DATE OF INCIDENT: December 28, 2011

LOCATION: In front of 12775 Palm Drive AM/PM gas station (NOT the business)

SUSPECT/ARRESTEE: Baltazar Sanchez (51 years of age)


December 28, 2011 at approximately 6:00PM Baltazar Sanchez a resident of Desert Hot Springs was arrested for armed robbery, resisting arrest and a parolee at large warrant. Baltazar approached a customer of the AM/PM gas station who was in the process of pumping gas and demanded money from the victim while exposing the handle of a handgun he had concealed in the waistband of his pants. The victim gave Baltazar one dollar. Shortly after the robbery, officers located Baltazar a short distance away from the AM/PM. Baltazar fled on foot from the officers. During the foot chase Baltazar discarded a handgun (later determined to be a replica air soft pistol). Baltazar was eventually caught and later booked into the Riverside County Sheriff’s Larry Smith Correctional Facility in Banning.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | December 29, 2011 at 06:56 AM | Comments (0)

December 28, 2011

California Redevelopment Decision On Thursday?

If I read this PDF correctly (and there's no guarantee I have), then the California Supreme Court will publish its decision on CALIFORNIA REDEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION et al. v. MATOSANTOS et al. tomorrow, Thursday. If it's good news, then the sooner the better.

Filed under California,Desert Hot Springs | permalink | December 28, 2011 at 09:10 PM | Comments (1)

Gay Marriage 2011 - you can catch up on all the news here

There was lots of news good and bad on both gay marriages and civil unions in the United States and worldwide. Who could pay attention to it all? Only a very few people. Fortunately for us, some of those few people who paid attention have put together this article and video summarizing everything.

Filed under Gay Issues | permalink | December 28, 2011 at 12:02 PM | Comments (0)

What To Do With An Empty Big Box Store

What with the news that up to 120 Sears and Kmart stores will be closing soon, people should be wondering what do with empty big box stores. Fill them with other retail options? Turn them into skating rinks? Host raves?

Here's what's going to happen in an empty PetSmart store:

Last week the Covina City Council unanimously approved a Skyzone trampoline park to occupy the 25,608 s.f. building. Here's the website for Skyzone Indoor Trampoline Parks. They will charge $12/hour at the Covina location which is midway between the 10 and 210 on Azusa Avenue, near the AMC Covina 30.

Responsible persons will be pleased to note that the Skyzone trampoline park will be only 13 minutes from the nearest emergency room, according to Google maps.

Their website indicates they are planning to open facilities in Riverside, Glendale, Ontario, Torrance, and San Fernando Valley. Currently, you can find them in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Sacramento as well as several other cities across the U.S. and Canada. The Boston location is in Readville, an easy walk from the commuter train stop.

Filed under Shopping,Sports | permalink | December 28, 2011 at 11:42 AM | Comments (2)

Whitewater Trail Meeting (i.e. the $53-million trail?) January 5

The South Coast Air Quality Management District will hold a public meeting at the Carl May Center in Desert Hot Springs on January 5 at 2 PM to discuss the proposed hiker/cyclist/electric vehicle trail that would span the entire valley. There is a second meeting the same day at 6 PM at the COD campus in Mecca.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs | permalink | December 28, 2011 at 09:40 AM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2011

Waddaya Gonna Do?

Imagine you're a firefighter and are called to the scene of a car accident. It turns out the vehicle involved is one of those pinko, tree-huggin', ecological cars that runs on sunshine or dope smoke or sump'n. Smoke is coming from underneath and there's a strange fluid dripping that you're not sure is tree sap or liquid hydrogen. Trapped inside the car is the Grateful Dead fan who bought it, along with her grandma (who is a Veteran), two infant children, a kitten, a puppy, a bag of Christmas gifts and a box of canned goods for the food pantry. You're a firefighter, but still merely human, and are unable to store in your head the operating manuals for every damn electric/hybrid/CNG/fuel cell/biodiesel/cow chip car that's on the road these days. But clearly the situation demands immediate action.

Waddaya gonna do? Check your damn iPhone?!

YES, that is exactly what you're going to do, if you had the foresight to download the QRG app, developed by the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium. With that you can drill down through vehicle make, year and model, to find diagrams that will tell you if it's tree sap or liquid hydrogen and where those dangerous and flammable things are on the car.

This first responder quick reference guide, developed by the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC), is a tool for emergency personnel who need to access information about alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles at an accident scene. This app contains information on advanced technology vehicles such as hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery, and fuel cell electric vehicles, as well as vehicles powered by alternative fuels such as biodiesel, ethanol, natural gas, propane, and hydrogen. You will find detailed, vehicle-specific information including identification mechanisms, disconnect procedures, and other special concerns. Although similar, each vehicle has distinct differences that make it unique, and first responders need to know and understand these differences. The NAFTC understands the hazards that alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles could pose to emergency personnel, and this app, along with our entire suite of First Responder Safety Training products, provides first responders with the information needed to safely respond to an accident involving one of these vehicles. This app can be used on both the iPhone and the iPad.

| permalink | December 27, 2011 at 04:56 PM | Comments (3)

Unintended Consequences

Well now, here's a very interesting idea. You may recall that one of the issues decided by the California Supreme Court in the Prop 8 case was whether it was actually a Constitutional amendment, as presented, or a Constitutional revision. A revision would have required approval by the legislature as well as a vote of the public.

amendments are defined as "an addition or change within the lines of the original instruments," but revisions go further. A revision is considered a "change in the basic plan of California government," which alters the power of any branch or the relationship between them.

In analyzing Proposition 8, the state Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Ronald George, laid out those definitions and concluded that the measure was properly thought of as an amendment, for though it did great and noxious damage to the rights of gay Californians, it did not reach the structure of government itself.

With that in mind, what well known California Constitutional amendment actually did change the basic plan of California government? Proposition 13. And on that basis a lawsuit has been "brought by Charles Young, the longtime and highly regarded former chancellor of UCLA, and the lawyers are led by William A. Norris, a retired U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge and a leader of Los Angeles' civic and legal community."

Proposition 13 has altered power in the Capitol and appreciably weakened the ability of the Legislature to pass new taxes, which sounds an awful lot like a "change in the basic plan" of state government. It also has had important political consequences. Because Republicans hold just over one-third of the seats of both houses, they have enough votes to block any tax increase if they band together; those willing to break ranks on tax increases have leverage to get their legislation or projects approved. If the necessary margin were changed to a simple majority, Republican power would evaporate overnight.

Filed under California,Gay Issues | permalink | December 27, 2011 at 03:40 PM | Comments (0)