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May 30, 2014

Time Has Stood Still For Texas Republicans

The Texas Republican Party has refused to allow the Log Cabin Republicans to have a booth at the Texas State Republican convention this year.

"Overall, Log Cabin Republicans of Texas has found incredible support within the Republican party — Texans, like the rest of the country, are evolving on LGBT rights issues," said Log Cabin Republicans of Texas Chairman Jeffrey Davis. "The Republican Party of Texas has even welcomed many of our members as delegates to the Texas State Republican Convention. However, the party has denied our several attempts to host a booth in the convention exhibit hall, citing archaic language in the party platform to support their actions. We deserve to occupy a booth just like anyone else, and it's time that the Texas GOP's hypocritical policies and procedures are replaced by new ones that match the general opinion of Texan Republican voters."

Here is the archaic language cited in the Texas Republican Platform:

Homosexuality ― We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country's founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable "alternative" lifestyle, in public policy, nor should "family" be redefined to include homosexual "couples." We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction or belief in traditional values.

This is not simply opposition to marriage or to an anti-discrimination law. The Texas Republican Party wants to roll time backwards a few decades.

Filed under Gay Issues | permalink | May 30, 2014 at 06:43 AM | Comments (0)

May 29, 2014

Do you suppose...

...that Donald Sterling is bothered to learn that his L.A. Clippers, which have been in existence since 1970, is worth only two-thirds as much as Dr. Dre's Beats Music which has been around since January?

Filed under California,Music,Sports,Technology | permalink | May 29, 2014 at 06:31 PM | Comments (0)

The New 1997 Police Department

Police Dept - Desert Sentinel - June 12 1997
From the June 12, 1997, Desert Sentinel
, courtesy of the Desert Hot Springs Historical Society.

  • Phillip Heald, Lieutenant
  • Chris Roberts, Police Officer
  • James Butzbach, Lieutenant
  • Ryan D. Monis, Police Officer & K9 Unit
  • Larry Gonzales, Reserve Captain
  • Richard Mosely, Sergeant
  • Dave Foster, Police Officer
  • Larry Kington, Police Officer
  • Larry Essex, Patrolman
  • Tom Raso, Police Officer
  • Sigfredo "Fred" Molo, Police Officer
  • Gabino Avila, Sergeant
  • Steve O'Connor, Police Officer
  • James Miyashiro, Sergeant
  • Joe Hensley, Detective

Filed under Desert Hot Springs,History,Public Safety | permalink | May 29, 2014 at 04:04 PM | Comments (0)

"Is that communism?"

That's the rhetorical question asked by TheStreet in reference to (get this!) Costco.

The Glassdoor survey of Costco wages show a pretty flat salary curve, with pay ranging from $10-$23 an hour for cashiers and just $22-24 an hour for supervisors. No position averages much more than $22 an hour, but none averages less than $11 an hour either. Even the guy who checks your receipt and the woman who sells the cheap hot dogs take home a decent wage.

Yes, every time I see that case full of big roasted chickens at only $5 each I say to myself, "This must be communism!"

The article says cashiers at Sam's Club are paid as little as $8/hour while supervisors get an average of $25/hour.

Here are a few of the Costco wage ranges listed in the Glassdoor survey:

  • Cashier: $10 to $22
  • Supervisor: $20 to $24
  • Food Court: $10 to $15
  • Pharmacy Tech: $12 to $22
  • Pharmacist: $58 to $62 (this is the highest pay at Costco)
  • Cashier Assistant: $11 to $13
  • Cart Pusher: $11 to $12
  • Hearing Aid Dispenser: $23 to %$30
  • Licensed Optician: $23 to $28
  • Meat Cutter: $22 to $24
  • Meat Wrapper: $10 to $14

North Korean Chicken
This is what a communist chicken looks like. It takes one Supreme Leader and two high-ranking military officers to kill a communist chicken.

Filed under Shopping | permalink | May 29, 2014 at 11:59 AM | Comments (0)

Red Cactus Flowers

Cactus Flowers (2296)

| permalink | May 29, 2014 at 10:59 AM | Comments (1)

Got A Wind Turbine Fetish?

Or just curious?

EBOLI (SA) Italy - 22 May 2014 . Available today, the app Windfarm Locator offers a global wind farm monitoring platform to iPhone and Android users.

Thanks to an algorithm mining info on the internet one of the biggest wind farm database has been created and made available to the apple and android mobile users (iOS 5.1.1 or later and Android 4.1 or later). More than 12,000 wind farms have been listed up until now! For each wind farm site in the database, atmosphere is hourly modeled at wind turbines hub height and wind farm production esteemed at the specific site based on the wind farm technical specs.

App features include:

  • A detailed global map of installed wind farms
  • Wind farm comprehensive technical informations
  • An estimate of how many MWs each plant supplies to the grid realtime, update hourly.
  • Easy to search any location in the world.

"Since we implemented the first algorithm we have thought about a tool everybody can understand. Yes, we maintained a technical description but we converted all the data also in a more readable form such as how many homes each wind farm feeds each year in the specific country the farm is installed," said Francesco Paraggio, core developer of the app.

Further, everybody using the app can contribute improve the database by taking a photo of a wind farm. Each month one of the contributors will be rewarded with a fantastic handheld anemometer.

Wind farm locator
"Hey Ma, this app says we're standing right under a wind turbine!"

The Android app is $3.66.

Filed under Technology | permalink | May 29, 2014 at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)

Up In San Jose

Desert Hot Springs' big sister city San Jose is about six months ahead of DHS in developing medical marijuana regulations. Like DHS, San Jose banned dispensaries. In December 2013 the City Council directed staff to begin to put together a plan to permit them. Here's a staff memo that summarizes the history and the issues.

Although there are some differences between San Jose and Desert Hot Springs (we don't have a single Vietnamese restaurant!), one thing we would now have in common is developing good regulations on marijuana dispensaries in the current legal climate with the experiences of other California cities to refer to. It could be that their much, much larger staff and legal team will have already invented some wheels that we could use here.

And to cap it off, the voters of San Jose will be presented with a parcel tax on the June 3, 2014, ballot. Not that that has any direct bearing on marijuana dispensaries, but is an interesting coincidence.

| permalink | May 29, 2014 at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2014

Opulent Temple Wants A New DJ Booth

To help fund that, they've got a Kickstarter where the goal is $30,000. The video gives a little history of Opulent Temple and shows you what it has been and what they hope it will be.

Filed under Burning Man | permalink | May 28, 2014 at 08:30 PM | Comments (0)

MSWD Workshop - May 12, 2014

Directors John Brown and John Furbee were absent from this meeting.

Customer Account Policy

One of the principles formulated by the Citizens Advisory Committee was to "Decrease policies and practices that subsidize groups or individuals, or result in unrecovered expenses for MSWD." One of the first steps is to try to streamline customer service at the front desk.

The current policy is to allow renters to open accounts in their own name with their landlord's agreement. The district has about 2,700 accounts like this. This practice consumes a significant amount of time and expense. The district has calculated this work load to equal as much as 2.75 full-time equivalencies per year. 1.5 FTEs are at the front desk and 1.25 FTEs are in service department and accounting time. Tenant accounts consume half of the front desk's work time. This tenant workload costs the district an additional $300,000/year (average $10/month per tenant account) but the district receives no additional compensation from tenants or landlords to cover this expense. Depreciation, vehicle expense and equipment costs are not included in the $300,000 figure.

Alternative #1 would be to maintain the status quo, but implement a new fee on the tenant accounts. That fee would need to be about $10/month to recover expenses.

Alternative #2 would be to change the policy so that accounts would be only in the property owner's name. The district would not deal with tenants at all. This would allow the 2.75 FTEs to be re-allocated to work that is more productive.

Alternative #3 would be like #2, but if the owner also wanted a copy of the bill sent to the tenant, the district would do so for a fee. Anybody can pay the bill, but only the owner can request the water to be turned on or off. The fee would probably in the range of $2 to $3/month.

Whichever method the board chooses, the implementation process would be fairly quick. One idea is to establish a deadline of 6 months (that is, 6 months notice). During those 6 months any new or changed accounts involving tenants would be treated under the new policy. Staff estimated this could be 10% to 20% of tenant accounts. A new application for an account would be requested from the property owners whose units had not already come under the new policy. When the 6-month deadline is reached, all accounts would be switched to the new policy.

Staff considered Alternative #3 to be the most acceptable. The three directors present also supported #3. Staff will prepare the necessary paper work and bring it back to the board as quickly as possible for their review and approval.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs | permalink | May 28, 2014 at 01:18 PM | Comments (0)

Got Yer Marijuana Food Truck Right Here

Unveiled at last month's Cannabis Cup in Denver, was MagicalButter's food truck "serving peanut butter and jelly, pulled pork and grilled cheese sandwiches along with tomato soup."

MagicalButter sells a device that makes extractions of marijuana in any edible oil.

Filed under Food and Drink,Marijuana | permalink | May 28, 2014 at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

Meanwhile In Manhattan Beach

They've got a new City Manager, Mark Danaj. He gets base pay of $250,000, $15,000 moving allowance, $3,500/month for three months for temporary housing, $400/month car allowance (I think we give CM Martín Magaña $600/month, so take that Manhattan Beach!), $17,500/year into his 401(a) plan, and a "$1.7 million home loan with a 0.73 percent interest rate for the first three years." I thought that sounded rather excessive until Zillow informed me that the "median home value in Manhattan Beach is $1,629,100."

Okay then, Mr. Danaj will just be Joe Middle-class in Manhattan Beach, I guess.

Filed under California,Desert Hot Springs | permalink | May 28, 2014 at 11:36 AM | Comments (2)

N.S. Sherlock Lives!

Hold onto your hat, in September 2014 the U.S. Census will release an unprecedented report that those same-sex married couples we've been hearing about are, like, married! The mind boggles at trying to visualize the endless, heated conference room meetings to come to this point.

Filed under Gay Issues | permalink | May 28, 2014 at 11:21 AM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2014

Kraken

Every year there are 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 big art projects on the playa that draw a huge amount of attention (in addition to the hundreds of others). Clearly, the developers of the Kraken intend to have one of those this year. And they'll probably succeed. And then we'll burn it!

Filed under Burning Man | permalink | May 27, 2014 at 10:03 PM | Comments (0)

Things Will Be A Little Duller In Pleasant Hill

The elected City Clerk in Pleasant Hill has resigned her position after some controversy. Her resignation letter:

From: Kim Lehmkuhl
Sent: Monday, May 19, 2014 1:38 PM
To: June Catalano
Cc: Timothy Flaherty
Subject: Resignation, effective immediately

June and Tim,

Following up on my email to you last week regarding my job interview in Washington, DC, I have been offered and accepted the position. Consider this email notice of my formal resignation, effective immediately.

This has been an atrocious, incredibly depressing, and mind-numbingly inane experience I would not wish on anyone. I wish the City the best of luck in finding some schmuck eager to transcribe every last misogynistic joke, self-indulgent anecdote, and pathetic pandering attempt by Council, and every tinfoil hat conspiracy theory, racist aside, and NIMBY asshattery from the lovely Council meeting frequent flyers, without which, surely our democracy could not flourish. June, also best of luck with your imminent unfunded pensions scandal, that is going to be a rough one.

Kim

Filed under California | permalink | May 27, 2014 at 09:32 AM | Comments (0)

New Mural at South Of The Border

John Coleman has completed another mural, this one on the south wall of South Of The Border at Palm Drive and Second Street.

South Of The Border Mural in progress (2291)

South Of The Border Mural (2329)

The owner and artist (photo by John Coleman)
The owner and the artist
.

More photos.

Filed under Art,Desert Hot Springs,Food and Drink | permalink | May 27, 2014 at 09:17 AM | Comments (3)

Kinda Out There

There are a lot of regional Burns now, and a lot of them look pretty good. But Yurt Fest, where they melted an Ice Man, is probably the most extreme in terms of location and climate:
Yurt Fest Map
Yurt Fest location
- just head toward Greenland and turn left.

Look! There's a video!

Filed under Burning Man | permalink | May 27, 2014 at 08:03 AM | Comments (2)

May 26, 2014

GoPro In Norway

Crazy Norwegians have a more sophisticated video style than crazy Russians...IMO.

Multiple camera angles. This is like the I Love Lucy of climbing videos.

Filed under GoPro,Photography | permalink | May 26, 2014 at 09:14 PM | Comments (0)

Bluetooth Audio For GoPro

This is a great improvement for audio for a GoPro Hero3 or Hero3+. a special backpack allowing a Bluetooth microphone to be used with your GoPro: $98.95 via Amazon. The range is 100 meters. This is a great improvement and it allows you to buy yet another waterproof case ($39.95 via Amazon) and/or another frame case ($19.95 via Amazon).

Here's a test on motorcycles and it sounds good. Apparently Sena makes motorcycle audio systems, because all the tests I'm finding involve motorcycles.

Here's a more fun review.

The Sena device has two settings: normal and "ultra HD." They refer to "ultra HD" as "CD quality." Weeeell, which is it? "Ultra HD" or "CD quality." I don't think any audiophile would consider CDs to be "ultra HD."

With this device it finally would be practical to replace the whole video set up at the City Council meetings with a single GoPro mounted on the ceiling with this Sena Bluetooth device. Another Bluetooth transmitter connected to whatever computer is handling the audio in the Carl May center would send all the audio to the GoPro. It's true there would no longer be close ups, but we all must sacrifice something. There's also going to be some work later to get the video out and uploaded. But live streaming would be possible.

On a related subject, if you just want better sound in your GoPro and wires are okay for you, then here's the video for you. He talks about only the Hero3 and Hero3+, but this works for the Hero2 as well, but you would use a different cable. He recommends the Olympus ME-51S Stereo Microphone which is the exact same one I've been using for a couple of years. Great minds! He uses electrician's tape to fasten the microphone to the modified case, which works okay for him because he's mounting it inside race cars. My race car is still in the shop, so I've been using mine mounted on various other things. The problem is that when you get a rigid connection between the microphone and anything else, you will pick up the sound of any little creak, tremble or knock in whatever it's attached to. It took me a little research to come up with a solution: a Scotch Brite Scouring Pad. Use gaffer tape to attach one end of the pad to your tripod or whatever and then clip the microphone to the free end of the pad. The pad is stiff enough to hold the microphone up, but flexible enough that random unpleasant noises will not be transmitted to the mic. And it's cheap as hell.

Filed under GoPro,Photography | permalink | May 26, 2014 at 02:08 PM | Comments (0)

Medical Marijuana In Desert Hot Springs

Tomorrow (Tuesday, May 27) the City Council meets in a study session where the two topics will be medical marijuana dispensaries and food trucks. On the subject of food trucks, my suggestion is that we permit only those who have already earned more than 4 stars on Yelp. That ought to reduce the number of complaints.

I also have opinions on the subject of medical marijuana. I think we should permit one (possibly two) dispensaries in a retail zone. Other than that, we should closely follow the Palm Springs ordinance since (1) it obviously works well, and (2) if our two ordinances are very different someone will try to work the angles and loopholes to someone's disadvantage. Keep everything on the same level playing field. Palm Springs puts their dispensaries in industrial zones, but they have a few light industrial zones scattered around the city, so their dispensaries are still easily accessible. DHS has that one industrial zone around Two Bunch and Little Morongo, which is a bit isolated. There's greater safety where there are more people.

I do have to point out an error in the staff report. There's a table of taxes assessed by different cities and one column is labeled "SALES TAX." I can say with 100% assurance that in Palm Springs there is not a 15% sales tax assessed on medical marijuana. It is a tax assessed only on marijuana dispensaries. I can't speak with as much assurance about the other cities listed, but my guess is that none of them assess a "sales tax." There are good reasons for this distinction.

  1. A "sales tax" is that percentage collected from the customer at the point-of-sale which is then sent to Sacramento, who then sends some of it back to the jurisdiction where it was collected.
  2. The Palm Springs dispensary tax is collected by the city from the dispensaries monthly. It never goes to Sacramento. It is not collected from the patient at the point of sale, but is assessed on the dispensary itself.
  3. While the rate of the real sales tax can vary from one jurisdiction to the next, nothing else about it varies. The same things are taxed and the same things are exempt in every jurisdiction. IOW, if any city really imposed a 15% sales tax, it would be 15% across the board for every taxable thing, not just marijuana.
  4. You call it a "sales tax" and some dispensary will try to test that in court, arguing that marijuana edibles should be considered food, or all their product should be treated the same way as a prescription drug; i.e., not taxed.

Palm Springs even has a provision in their ordinance stating "The Cannabis and Marijuana Tax provided for under the provisions of this Chapter is not a Sales or Use Tax." That oughta resolve any ambiguity.

My only point being that the tax should not be referred to as a "sales tax," but as what it is: a medical marijuana dispensary tax. I recommend adopting the same tax plan as Palm Springs which, as my readers surely know, is not just a simple 15%. The ordinance allows the City Council to set the tax rate up to 15%, but allows them to vary the rates and make exemptions for ANY REASON they want. This is just genius. Not only does it free the City Council of worrying about a lot of technicalities, it gives them good, flexible power to regulate dispensaries. Currently, Palm Springs assesses the full 15% only on illegal dispensaries. Legal dispensaries (four are authorized in Palm Springs) pay only 10%. That's a good starting point and time will tell if the rates need to be adjusted further.

The staff report says one provision of the Palm Springs ordinance is that "No medical cannabis cooperative or collective shall be located on any property that is occupied with a commercial retail use where such use is the primary use on such property." This means, I think, that a dispensary couldn't be located in the Vons, Stater Bros., or KMart shopping centers (and a few others too). This is a dead letter in Palm Springs, since they aren't permitted in retail zones anyway. But I wonder at its intent. Why would it be preferred, for example, to locate a dispensary in the little shopping center at West and Pierson rather than the Rancho Grande Carniceria shopping center? I mean, other than the fact that the shopping center at West and Pierson is right across from the Police department.

The staff report includes a list of various rules from other cities that all have their good points. I especially like the San Francisco rule banning "tumultuous" behavior. Sounds like something you'd run across in a collection of old New England ordinances. Imagine being hauled into a court and charged with "causing tumult."

I see the report is also incorrect on the operating hours in Palm Springs. They can operate seven days a week. Would it have killed somebody to get a copy of the current Palm Springs ordinance?

This is listed as a Palm Springs rule: "No cooperative or collective shall conduct or engage in the commercial sale of any product, good, or service." I'm not sure what that means, unless there is an understood legal concept that "commercial sale" means sale for profit. Or is this part of the concept that the dispensary is the "primary caregiver" who holds onto the patient's marijuana temporarily; the patient then compensating the dispensary for their expenses with a "gift" when the patient gets his marijuana. The dispensaries in Palm Springs do offer for sale (or maybe these are "gifts") some pipes, papers, maybe a bong and/or vaporizer, probably vape pens, too. Heck I bet you could buy a lighter there, too.

The staff report is also out of date on the credit card requirement in Palm Springs. Now the dispensaries are permitted to accept cash as well as credit cards. When this was discussed by the City Council it was acknowledged that the old rule forbidding cash was widely ignored and the original reason behind this provision (to make it more likely that all sales could be accounted for) was unnecessary.

The rule on signage in Palm Springs is a good one: name of the business only. You can pick out the illegal dispensaries in Palm Springs by looking for the green cross. The green cross violates this rule, but when you're illegal anyway who cares about one more rule.

San Francisco has a rule requiring the statement "Only individuals with legally recognized Medical Cannabis Identification Cards or a verifiable, written recommendation from a physician for medical cannabis may obtain cannabis from medical cannabis dispensaries." This is to satisfy that segment of the California population that thinks nobody grasps the obvious unless you put it into legalese and spread it around so widely that nobody ever reads it. My quibble with the San Francisco rule is that the height of the text must be at least two inches! There are no exceptions, unless you count the requirement for six-inch high letters on "general advertising signs" to be an exception. The two-inch requirement applies to flyers, newspaper and magazine ads. Here I have created a sample of cannabis advertising with this San Francisco requirement in two-inch high letters on 8½x11 pages and saved it as a PDF. Two inches is about 215 points using the Times New Roman font. The statement runs for 16 pages. I made it landscape orientation to try reduce the number of words that had to be broken across multiple lines, but that didn't help much. Until now I thought I understood what "two inches" meant, but in San Francisco it must mean something entirely different. Maybe the next time I'm up there I'll ask a few of the residents to "show me two inches" and see what I get.

Los Angeles has a rule (and I thought Palm Springs added one, too) that require legal dispensaries to display a sign saying they are legal. I like that one because I (and probably many other people) would prefer to deal only with a legal dispensary.

No alcohol or tobacco consumption or sale on the premises. Those rules seem to apply everywhere. Some cities specify that cannabis consumption is not permitted within a certain distance from the dispensary's entrance. Public consumption is generally forbidden anyway, but the consumption of edibles is difficult to police.

Oakland has a few interesting rules relating to power consumption. One of them says "the cultivation and manufacturing facilities must ensure that: (a)Total utility usage is below the utility provider's total power capacity." That's got to be written wrong. The utility provider's total power capacity (they're talking about PG&E, but we would be talking about Southern California Edison) is gigantic; sufficient to power multiple large cities. I don't think any grow facility would even make a dent in "total power capacity." If they meant "the utility provider's ability to deliver power to the facility" then that's what they should have said.

I see that West Hollywood consistently misuses the word "verbally" when what they mean is "orally." "Verbally" simply refers to words and can mean either written or spoken. "Orally" is, of course, only spoken. If anyone wants to get picky, I consider sign language to be the same as oral.

There are requirements for air filtering for odor control. This is something that needs to be policed. For some months the dispensary in Palm Springs on Ramon was leaking so much odor that I could smell it just driving past in the far lane of Ramon. I haven't noticed that for a while, so maybe they got it fixed.

Filed under California,Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs,Health,Marijuana,Public Safety | permalink | May 26, 2014 at 12:32 PM | Comments (2)

May 25, 2014

Yes On Measure F

The Desert Hot Springs city government has never in its history been swimming in money. Sure, every city has to carefully allocate its resources, but it's always been tougher and leaner in Desert Hot Springs...because we're a bedroom community. That description "bedroom community" is heard a lot, but I don't know if everyone knows its full meaning. It means we don't have sufficient commercial or industrial development to employ our citizens, so most have to travel across the freeway to work. Insufficient commercial and industrial development also means less income to the city. Commercial and industrial development pay higher taxes than residential development. Generally, they also make fewer demands on the city. With more commercial and industrial development more of our residents would work here and spend more here, making both themselves and the city government a little bit wealthier.

On top of the "bedroom community" problem there's that recession, which seems to be easing everywhere except Desert Hot Springs. The recession means lower tax income to the city.

And then, just when the city thinks it might be doing well enough to scrape by for a while, the damn state government starts carting funds away by the carload. And they killed the RDA, which covered a lot of our city's expenses.

So, pretty sad state of affairs, eh? But that's not all.

Our residents quite justifiably want all the same city services at the same level of quality that they could get in any other decent city in southern California, including excellent police protection, adequate fire services, well-paved streets, sufficient parks with green grass, clean and attractive streetscapes, happy well-trained efficient city employees, and some kind of little fiesta now and then.

How to resolve these two powerful conflicting forces: inadequate funding and a demand for a full city government? A few ways:

  • Economic development - this is the real, long-term solution. Long-term. We can't order investors to develop businesses and industries right now when we need them. It takes money to make money and then we have to wait. The city has to keep itself looking commercially attractive; like a place people want to shop. That means safe and clean. And at least a little bit of money has to go into an effort to get the attention of developers. We will not turn the heads of investors by just talking amongst ourselves.
  • Higher taxes and fees. This is the short-term solution. If we want all the same city services that Palm Springs, for example, provides, but we don't have as many hotel beds paying TOT, and we don't have as many businesses collecting sales tax, and our assessed property values remain lower, then where does the cash come from? We could put up a toll booth on I-10, but we'd have to negotiate with CalTrans on that and we don't have the money to send anybody to Sacramento, so that's out. What's left is higher taxes within the city.
  • Magic. We close our eyes, hold our hands behind our backs with our fingers crossed, and repeat "I do, I do, I do believe!" and Glinda The Good Witch Of The North will make a pile of cash appear at the end of the yellow brick road.

For now, for the short-term, the City Council has put forward Measure F that would increase the parcel tax on vacant land temporarily (6 years). Most residents of Desert Hot Springs consider themselves to be overtaxed. Considering what I said above about being a "bedroom community," I think we're undertaxed [it's interesting that my computer's spelling dictionary has "overtaxed" in it, but not "undertaxed"], but I'm just one person and we are talking about putting a tax up for a public vote, so the majority opinion carries all the weight. For those reasons the City Council did not consider increasing the parcel tax on residents, nor increasing the utility tax, nor imposing a 911 fee, nor upping the sales tax (which would have had to be raised by 3 percentage points to theoretically get the money the city needs), nor increasing the TOT (our one goose laying golden eggs).

Let's run through some of the assertions from the "No On F" crowd:

  • It won't create jobs and will slow job growth - that's from the Small Business Action Committee" (here's their website which has little information). One of their big supporters is "Americans for Responsible Leadership," who gave them $11 million. Americans for Responsible Leadership is an Arizona organization that got in some trouble during the last elections because they were part of a donation laundering scheme that helped funnel money from the Koch brothers into the California election. But setting that aside, the jobs that Measure F will create (or maintain) are the jobs of city employees and those who contract with the city. More than that, the approval of Measure F will allow the city to maintain its services and public safety which are absolutely required for a good employment climate.

  • The city needs to tighten its belt. The only people who say this seriously are those people who don't know anything about what the city's been doing the last few years. Here's something from the Urban Futures report from June 2013:
    Over the past few years, the City has balanced its budget through a combination of cost reductions (including layoffs, furloughs and labor concessions), transfers from other funds, and use of unallocated fund balance. The City is lean and getting leaner. DHS has gone through four rounds of employee layoffs, which resulted in a total of 60 issued layoff notices, resulting in an overall 50% reduction in force. All City departments have made changes to reduce costs. For example, training budgets have been virtually eliminated. This has helped save costs, but is not sustainable in the long term because the City needs to have highly skilled and trained employees, especially when there are fewer of them. Other examples of cost savings are the move from printing meeting agendas to posting them electronically, resulting in an annual savings of over $10,000. Many employee positions have been eliminated and others have been held vacant.

    The city does have a complete list of further "belt tightening" measures that will be considered if Measure F fails. I list some of those below. I think there may be a point where the belt is so tight you would have to take off your pants to make it any tighter - which would be okay with some of us, but not some others.

  • Dot Reed says Measure F will hurt home values. I've been turning that one over in my mind trying to imagine the reasoning behind it and can't figure it out. There is a mid-range (I'd hate to call it a "sweet spot") on both taxes and government, where the taxes are not too high and not too low in order to support a government that's just big enough to do what it needs to do. That's a necessary element for economic growth and prosperity. To one side of the "mid-range" you've got a government too small and weak to do what it needs to do; on the other side you've got oppressive taxation that stifles development. Our city government is close to shrinking into something too small and weak to maintain public safety or the value of anyone's property. One option that is NOT ON THE TABLE is to do nothing, defeat Measure F, and then just keep going along happily like nothing's wrong.

  • Too much, too fast. People of that opinion suggest it would be better to gradually raise the parcel tax rate on vacant land over a few years. The result would end up being the same level of taxation as Measure F, but the city would be starved of necessary funding for however many years it's being ramped up. That's the practical problem with it. I see a moral problem, too. When it was proposed to cut city staff salary by 22% to 35%, I don't recall anyone getting up to say "Too much, too fast" except the attorney from the Police Officers Association. There were no proposals to cut pay by, say, 5% this year and another 5% next year and so on, until the city budget looked better. No, it was just like "Whack! Here's your smaller paycheck." So why should the owners of vacant land get more consideration than our employees, most of whom are public safety employees.

  • The Howard Jarvis Association and the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association both make the claim that Measure F is a threat to Prop 13, which of course is false. Worse, both HJTA and INTA know it's false, so they are just dirty dog liars.

  • Too fast, not enough discussion. Oh, hell no. We've known crunch time would come eventually. In June 2012 Councilmember Betts suggested considering raising the parcel tax rate on vacant land. The Finance Committee was formed (or broadened out to include a wide array of residents) in late 2012 because we all saw the writing on the wall and knew a leaner budget had to be produced. They discussed all potential new income, including an increased parcel tax. In June 2013 at a meeting of the Public Safety Commission City Manager Daniels said the parcel tax rates on vacant land need to be "revisited." (He also predicted $2 million in reserves on July 1, 2013, while the really real number turned out to be $3,155,703; and he reminded the Commission that in 2010 it was predicted that the city's budget would "hit the wall" in 2013.) In September 2013 there was a joint meeting between the Finance Committee and the City Council where the possibility of increasing the parcel tax was mentioned. Tim Brophy himself pointed out the inequity of the much lower parcel tax on vacant land. Finally, raising the parcel tax rate on vacant land was on the City Council agenda for a study session on November 12, 2013. All of that is intended to show that there were many signs that there would be serious discussion of an increase in the parcel tax. It didn't start at a City Council meeting in February 2014, but long long before that. The assertion that there wasn't enough discussion is usually accompanied by suggestions that if we had just taken more time we could have gotten the vacant land owners to come up with some unspecified means of helping the city financially that would be less burdensome than this tax. Maybe something very creative and helpful like Desert Valley Disposal did. But have we heard any specifics at all on what sort of suggestions the vacant land owners will bring forth? I've heard nothing.

    One should be aware that if Measure F passes, that does not mean the voters have pegged the parcel tax rate on vacant land right at $372.68. Measure F empowers the City Council to increase that tax to as much as $372.68. The door is never closed for vacant land owners, developers, or anyone to come to the city with a creative and less painful way of funding the city. Let those great ideas (whatever they might be) come forth and be discussed, so that the City Council can set the tax rate somewhere lower than $372.68 while still funding all necessary city services.

  • The Desert Sun editorialized against the tax increase with the headline "Measure F is not the best answer for DHS," but then they don't let us in on their secret tax which would be the best for DHS. I wonder what it might have been. When you try to examine their reasoning - which reminds me of trying to beat one of those chickens that plays tic-tac-toe at state and county fairs - about all you'll find is that they think it's a big increase. They even call it exorbitant. Well, when the existing tax is a super-bargain-basement rate of $29.80/acre then any increase that's going to do any good is going to look "big" in comparison. If the proposal were only to double the vacant land rate the Desert Sun would be yelling that doubling a tax was an outrageous thing to do, and still it would provide the city only a pittance. Back when the parcel tax was first imposed (2000? 2001?) it went from zero to whatever the starting rates were. Any middle school student could do the math to show that increase was an infinite percent! An infinite percentage increase in any tax is sure to upset the Desert Sun. My point being, that going from zero to $100 can be made to appear exorbitant. Vacant land owners, who have been cruising along nicely for 14 or 15 years getting every service from the city they need and request at a bargain, bargain price may now be taxed at a rate more comparable to that paid on developed land.

  • Owners of undeveloped property will be forced into foreclosure. Foreclosure? Yeah, I guess if you have a mortgage on your vacant land and you stop paying your mortgage after the parcel tax is increased, then you'd eventually be looking at foreclosure. But I don't think that would hurt "economic development or job creation." The scenario would be that some vacant land might be foreclosed on, which means it passes into the hands of some financial institution which doesn't want it. It does not mean that vacant land will necessarily become blighted, like a foreclosed home. The dirt and the creosote bushes will do fine whether the original owner has possession or some bank has taken it over. The bank will, of course, try to sell the land. Depending on how much selling is done as a result of an increase in the tax, the price of vacant land in DHS could drop. But that would not have a noticeable effect on the value of developed property...unless this is a suggestion that an increased parcel tax will generate a wild construction boom that creates a glut of new homes that can't be sold, which might work to lower the value of currently developed property. Or it might increase the value of currently developed property. Probably would be a mixed bag, but I doubt that this wild scenario will come to fruition. New buyers of vacant land will probably want to delay their purchase until they are sure they ready to proceed with construction. Again, that could work to lower the price of vacant land, but it might mean the likelihood of stalled, partially completed developments would decrease.

    Like I said above, the status quo is not an option. It's not like the vacant land owners can just sigh in relief if Measure F fails and then sit back and continue waiting. How much of a drop in the value of their land will occur if the city dissolves?

  • The city was "slow to respond to critical budget issues." This one I can agree with. More people should have listened to the few who advocated for increasing the parcel tax on vacant land in 2010, but the vacant land owners got another four years of low taxes. Time to fix that.

  • One owner of 10 vacant acres has owned it since 1953, all the while believing in the city's potential. What're the chances that in those 61 years this parcel made no demands on any city services? On this mailer from the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association they describe this property owner as "resident." Resident of where they do not say. Googling turns up repeated hits on a person with exactly the same and age who lives in Glendora, not Desert Hot Springs. How stupid does the IETA think we are?

In this agenda item at last Tuesday's City Council meeting Finance Director Amy Aguer says that the "bare bones" budget prepared for next fiscal year has a deficit of $311,615. But if Measure F is defeated, an additional $1,811,615 will need to be cut. Here you can see an outline of the "bare bones" budget being proposed for the next fiscal year. I draw your attention to page 2 where public safety revenues are estimated to be $4,946,328. That comes from the parcel taxes and utility tax. The total estimated expenditures for public safety will be $9,565,996, which means $4,619,668 has to come out of the general fund to maintain public safety. The current tax delinquency rate in Desert Hot Springs is about 10%. Ms. Aguer says 25% is a conservative estimate (meaning in reality it will probably be lower) of the delinquency rate from vacant parcels if Measure F is approved. Taking that into account, she estimates the revenue produced by Measure F will be $2.85 million/year.

In case Measure F fails, Ms. Aguer has prepared a list of optional items in the city budget that could be cut. I don't know what you call a budget that was "bare bones" and then is cut more. "Broken bones?" In any case, here's that list. I think anyone who plans to vote against Measure F is obligated to go down this list and highlight the items he or she wants to cut, making sure that the total comes to at least $1,811,615. I'm sure this will be a simple task for the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association, the Small Business Action Committee, the Palm Springs Realtors Association or any other group who represents out-of-town owners of vacant parcels. It might be a little tougher for people who live here and have to deal with real people every day.

I will highlight a few of the optional items that are on this list:

  • The International Council of Shopping Centers convention, which is important for economic development. $3000
  • Desert Valley Builders Association meetings, also for economic development. $650
  • CVAG $17,000
  • Televised Council meetings. $35,000
  • Strategic planning workshop. $5,000
  • Training and travel for the City Clerk. $5,700
  • Records management which is outsourced. $4,000
  • Vacation rental compliance, another outsourced service. $12,000
  • Increasing the emergency/contingency reserve to $500,000. $300,000
  • A/C repairs and electrical training for Public Works employees. $20,000
  • Repairing ramps and steps at city hall. $30,000
  • The CCAC budget. $8,000
  • The Senior Center. $147,900
  • Wardman Park pool. $20,400
  • GIS consultant to install software we already own. $10,000
  • Repair the plotter. $5,000
  • Visitor Center. $50,000
  • Fam Tour (probably the cheapest, but effective economic development we've got). $4,000
  • Furbee Aquatic Center. $59,000
  • Boys & Girls Club. $250,000
  • Medic squad. $860,767
  • Cabot's Museum. $109,750

There is the matter of fairness, but I don't mean the fairness of vacant land owners paying a larger portion of public safety expenses. I mean the fairness to city employees. The only reason the city has made it this far is that huge cut to payroll made in December. Have you looked at what a 22% to 35% pay cut would mean to you? The changes you'd have to make? And the resentment you would feel at this breach of contract? And yet, most employees are still with us. We've lost some of our best police officers, but some of our best are still here - and we know that's not because they couldn't get a better paying job in some other city as easy as pie. They've suffered, but they've stayed and we still function as a city, thanks to them. And now the City Council turns to the residents to ask for a tax increase that is the least painful possible tax increase. Any other tax increase would cost 99% of the residents of DHS a lot more. Or, we could defeat Measure F and then wait to see what happens to city staff. Why would any of them stay in a city that doesn't want to tax itself enough to pay them what it has already agreed to pay them?

Three ways it could go, as I see it:

  1. Defeat Measure F - then it all goes down the tubes and the city becomes just a sort of ghost of a city - less than a skeleton. Maybe you could pray for a miracle. Why not.
  2. Approve Measure F.
  3. Approve Measure F and then lobby the City Council members like mad to find ways to set the parcel tax on vacant land at something less than the fully permitted amount. As times goes by and prosperity returns (that's gonna happen, right?) lobby the Council to lower the parcel tax more. I know it sounds unlikely for a city government to lower a tax, but if enough people make enough noise and offer other means of balancing the budget, then it could happen.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | May 25, 2014 at 11:37 PM | Comments (19)