February 26, 2021

Lantana Bloom

Lantana Bloom (3356)

Got a new Canon macro lens and this is one of the test shots. Here's the album with other test photos.

permalink | February 26, 2021 at 05:12 PM | Comments (0)

January 5, 2021

Four at Sunnylands

All were shot at Sunnylands using Ilford HP5 Plus film.

Sunnylands (13)

Sunnylands (9)

Sunnylands (10)

Sunnylands (2)

permalink | January 5, 2021 at 09:15 PM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2020

Four At The T Cross K Guest Ranch

All were shot with Lomography Potsdam 100 film. The T Cross K Guest Ranch remains are in the Mission Creek Preserve on the west side of Desert Hot Springs.

T Cross K Guest Ranch (4)

T Cross K Guest Ranch (7)

T Cross K Guest Ranch (1)

T Cross K Guest Ranch (3)

permalink | December 29, 2020 at 03:28 PM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2020

Four From All Over

Dedication of First LGBT Veterans Memorial - May 2001 (3)
Patricia Nell Warren (left) at the dedication if the first LGBT Veterans memorial
, Kodachrome, 2001.

Ruggles Station (2)
Ruggles MBTA Station, Boston
, Kodachrome, 1987.

Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach
, Kodachrome, 1986.

Historical Homes
Ektachrome, 1987

permalink | December 27, 2020 at 02:18 PM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2020

Four From The Living Desert

All of these were shot at the LIving Desert on Rollei Retro 400S film.

Nolina - Living Desert (17)
A nolina

Cholla - Living Desert (30)
A cholla

Creosote Blooms - Living Desert (27)
Creosote with blooms

Living Desert (33)

permalink | December 10, 2020 at 03:37 PM | Comments (0)

December 7, 2020

Four Almost Random Photos

50 Years - Living Desert (36)
At The Living Desert
, Rollei Retro 400S film.

Full PsΨcle (2)


Big Barn
Kodachrome 1991

permalink | December 7, 2020 at 03:50 PM | Comments (0)

December 6, 2020

Four in Palm Springs

What's For Lunch

Palm Springs in Sculpture – Past & Future (2)
"Palm Springs in Sculpture – Past & Future" at Union Bank in Palm Springs

Public Art (2)

Union Pacific at Amtrak Station (1)

permalink | December 6, 2020 at 02:40 PM | Comments (0)

December 5, 2020

Four Palm Springs Photos

Bank of America (2)
The Palm Springs Bank of America

Graffiti (3152)
Graffiti in Palm Springs

Pongsprings (3147)
Palm Springs

Chairs on Palm Canyon Drive
On Palm Canyon Drive

permalink | December 5, 2020 at 03:26 PM | Comments (0)

December 4, 2020

Four Photos At North Shore

These were all shot on LomoChrome Purple film using my Yashica Mat-124G

Salton Sea Sunset, North Shore (2)

North Shore Beach & Yacht Club (2)

Lots For Sale - North Shore

Salton Sea Sunset, North Shore (6)
Looking north toward Mt San Jacinto and the Banning Pass

permalink | December 4, 2020 at 05:38 PM | Comments (0)

December 2, 2020

Two Old, Two New

Saguaro National Monument 1988 (1)
Saguaro National Monument
, 1988, Kodachrome.

Saguaro National Monument 1988 (3)
Saguaro National Monument
, 1988, Kodachrome.

Copa (3128)
Copa in Palm Springs
, September 2020.

Discard (3153)
A discarded shoe in Palm Springs
, September 2020.

permalink | December 2, 2020 at 01:01 PM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2020

Desert Hot Springs Candidate Forum

The video is available on YouTube.

Scott Matas, current mayor,
Adam Sanchez, past mayor
Robert Griffith, city council member
Russell Betts, city council member
Jessica Gilbert, running for city council
Steve Giboney, running for city council
Jason Moore, running for city council
Jonathan Laura, running for city council but absent from this forum

Diana Soto, moderator, Vice President & Director of Public Policy for the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce

Skilled lip readers might enjoy watching Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Giboney whose muted jaws were flapping much of the time when others were speaking.

I've tried to summarize what each speaker said, but when they're spewing nonsense that was impossible and I had to resort to simply typing out their words verbatim. Text in [square brackets] represents my opinions.


BETTS: We want the city to look good and inviting. The city is on a stable course to more economic growth. City finances have recovered from 2012 and there is money in reserves. DHS is not facing financial difficulties as bad as other cities. We must fight to keep cannabis businesses and jobs that other cities are competing for. The cannabis taxes are too high. There has been continued progress in public safety. There is tremendous momentum on city beautification. Parks have been renovated. Two new parks on the way. Two sidewalk projects are on the way.

GIBONEY: [Momentarily off-screen] "It's time for some people who are now [not?] part of a tight-knit group in our city to try to break into our city clique and nucleus." Mayor Matas has tried to build leadership out of a small circle of people. Infrastructure for the future is being built. Something hidden from people is an offense to him. It is done on a regular basis. The council needs someone in touch with blue collar workers. There need to be more people who know what it's like to raise kids. He will bring a whole different perspective. The clique that we have is not diverse. Some of the attention that is shown to economic growth needs to be shared with the community. "I don't care about money. I don't want to ever deal with it. Money is no object." He wants to help people. He doesn't ask anybody for money. He says he does this at a grassroots level. It is time that a difference of opinion is "allowed" into the city council. His only campaign promise: "I will tell you everything that I can legally tell you that is going on within our city council."

GILBERT: New to politics. A resident here for 28 years. A full-time Realtor for 25 years. Raised three children here. Sat on the boards of DHS Boys & Girls Club, DHS Chamber of Commerce, Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce for DHS, and Advancing DHS. Member of the Elks Lodge and DHS Rotary Club. Helped start Early Act in elementary schools a couple of years ago.

GRIFFITH: Mayor Pro Tem currently. Managing Director of El Morocco Inn. President of the Hoteliers. A member of the Hot Springs Business and Trade Association. Has worked in insurance and financial services. Had a Series 6 license to work on investment products. Has worked in retail, health care and had his own business. (And he has a cat.) Was on the Planning Commission. It's important to keep the city on a stable financial footing. It would be an error to cut revenue streams.

MATAS: Has worked for consensus. The past two councils have improved the city's infrastructure, image and administration. The city has more financial reserves than ever before. Pubic safety and community programs are strong. The unemployment rate (pre-COVID) was 5.6%. New businesses over the last 5 years have created 2,300 new jobs in DHS. Median income is rising. When he became mayor we did not have a good credit rating. Today our credit rating is A+. Seven years ago the city treasury was down to only a few hundred dollars. Now there is an $11.7 million fund balance. The new City Hall has been built without using general fund money. Crime is down again this year by 20%. Two more fire stations will be funded. Animal Control has been brought back to the city. The code compliance team has grown.

MOORE: He has no personal issues with the current city council. He likes and respects those members of the council he has met. He has heard that it is hard to do any kind of business in DHS. Contractors say it is difficult to pull permits here. Cannabis businesses have complained about their tax rates. Parents want more things to do as a family. He is a board member of DHS Eagles football league where families have complained about the fees to play. Kids want to be on swim or basketball teams. Kids have to skate and ride bikes in the street where there are no sidewalks. He said a $10 million city facility was built. He said no ongoing youth activities are supported by the city's parks and recreation department. [The city has no parks & rec dept.] The IT infrastructure at city hall cost $1 million. The sidewalk around the new city hall cost $160,000. He wants to be a catalyst for change.

NUÑEZ: 46 years old. Worked for 20 years for the county. Was on the Coachella Planning Commission in the aughts. He described that as "small-time politics." When he was on the Planning Commission he made sure developers brought in bigger homes on bigger lots. He was on the Youth Advisory Committee in Coachella. He moved to DHS three years ago. He says he has seen big city politics in a small town. The youth are lost here in DHS. The Boys & Girls Club is gone. The community center doesn't service the community, but only a certain clientele. His son in high school plays football. He was rejected from the community center. He was told he had to be 18. The city hasn't given a pathway to the youth, especially at-risk youth. He sat on a human rights commission somewhere in the Coachella Valley. He was President of the Coachella Valley Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce. He brought it back from failure. He has coached soccer. [He continued speaking and bringing up new subjects for 33 seconds after the "Times up" signal from the timekeeper. BTW, the sign should have said "Time's up."]

SANCHEZ: [His volume was extremely low, you may have to really crank it up to hear him.] He is disappointed we can't have local debates in DHS. He moved here in 1997. He worked as a special projects director for the city. He was involved with the team that created our police department then. He said that when he was mayor he really pushed to keep the police department. He claims to have been involved in an $18-million effort to build the Health & Wellness Center. It needs to be restructured to serve the community. "It's the best in the whole Coachella! It's all about health and wellness. We need to embrace that along with our tourism to create a community that's inclusive with diversity and more importantly our youth need to have more programs along with our children." We need to create future programs to keep kids off the street.

Q & A

The questions were provided by the Chamber's Business Legislative Advocacy Committee. All the candidates had them in advance.


SANCHEZ: The City of La Quinta is the most progressive city in dealing with COVID. They provided funding for small businesses. It's important to work with the business community. In DHS we didn't develop a plan to do the same thing as La Quinta. He described La Quinta as a "small mountain community in the cove." [La Quinta's 2010 population was 30% greater than that of DHS, and its median income was $72,099. DHS' median income was $32,883.] DHS' budget is fine. "There's always a way to help businesses and take some money out in order to keep that economic development going." Every city should develop a strategic plan on how to engage the business community, residents, families. [He provided no specific suggestions for what should be in the plan.]

BETTS: He recalled how seniors and youths came to the city council during the city's economic downturn around 2012 and asked the council not to cut their programs. The most important thing is to make sure your financial books are in order. You don't cut the services people rely on first. In 2012 expenses at city hall were cut. We should conserve dollars now.

GIBONEY: He read back the question verbatim. Various departments would sit down and collaborate and evaluate what was available. He was criticized in his previous campaign for having no plan. This is because he doesn't make assumptions or promises based on things he doesn't know. He doesn't know where "they" stand at this point. He can't project where we'd be at another point. In a crisis or a problem, where he fits best is figuring out strategic plans to get out of the crisis. It all depends on what's available and what's needed. He can't answer unless he's given the facts. Budget shortfalls won't happen if he is elected. He would be the "vocal voice" of where the city stands financially. If something was getting close to overspending, the people could show up at a city council meeting and object to it. [To summarize: he doesn't know where the city stands financially, he doesn't know what the city needs, he thinks that one person on the council can control taxation and spending, and he would do nothing but talk about it.]

GILBERT: Believes DHS is in good financial shape. She would work with city staff and the council to "meet fiscal restraint and responsibility." If finances were threatened she would work to reprioritize city services to protect the core services of public safety and infrastructure. She would render commonsense governance. She would look for creative ways to fund non-core services.

GRIFFITH: The city council has learned from past mistakes. We had a $300,000 shortfall this past year. We have a diverse business base. We're not 100% tourism. The hospitality industry is not expected to get back to full levels until 2023. We need the federal government to step in where city's cannot do the job.

MATAS: He provided many messages on the help available for businesses. The $300,000 deficit in 2019/2020 was covered with our reserves. This fiscal year the deficit will be about $750,000. We will be able to use reserves again to cover that. We collected $4.7 million in cannabis taxes last year. There will be no cuts to city programs and projects.

MOORE: "Essenital service" may be a misnomer. All of the businesses are essential for providing a tax base. To protect the city you must protect the businesses and their income. The cannabis industry supplies 27% of the city's tax income. He said the Governor's office said we will be in this crisis for five to seven years. We should make sure businesses don't move to other cities.

NUÑEZ: He's very disappointed with how the city handled COVID. He is constantly driving through every city in the valley. "When the pandemic hit, for the first couple months you see social media, you seen little highlights here and there, but after that it just went dormant. And it would just seem to please the Board of Supervisors, at one point, and after that they just dropped the ball." Other cities put up electric signs saying "Hey, Wear A Mask." He didn't see that in DHS. He didn't see a billboard telling people to protect themselves, protect their families, protect others. He sees a lot of billboards now. A pandemic has never happened before. [Yes, it has.] We need to see what people need when we are out of it. Unemployment will be high. Mental health services will be affected. We should maximize our services. He would look to county, state and federal funding. He would collaborate with other cities. [He ran on for 37 seconds after his time was up.]


NUÑEZ: "Yes and no." "I see Desert Hot Springs a blank canvas for housing, for commercial, for residential, mixed-use residential, a downtown, mixed-use residential." We need to capitalize on the blank canvas and not rush in developers or "cookie-cutter projects." Be smart and responsible. He was disappointed in the KMart building. If you told him we were going to start a cannabis college, he would be on board. "But we lost a big commercial - two big commercial property pieces right there. [KMart is only one commercial property and the new use is commercial as well.] "We lost it to cannabis." We could have used it for two big projects. He says residents are unhappy that developers are able to come in, build twenty homes and leave the rest empty. [AFAIK, that happened only after the crash twelve years ago, not now.] "Affordable housing hasn't been addressed in many years." This is because "they" changed the standards for the housing coalition and Habitat for Humanity.

SANCHEZ: "We shot ourselves in the foot. When I left the mayor's office in 2015, I told our council and mayor 'There's only two things you really need to pay attention to so make sure we don't shoot ourselves in the foot for development and community development.' And that is this: we knew when I left office that we had annexed land from the I-10 all the way down to Dillon, even Little Morongo. And that was county land back then and we knew, when I took office, we had a six million dollar budget deficit that I inherited from the previous administration. And so, for that fifth, so that 13 and 14, you know, we really didn't have money because we're operating month to month, but we found a way to restructure our budget finances and we went before the voters to pass, you know, the first cannabis ordinance in southern California. And 72% of the residents [sic] voted for it. Now, many voted for the one cent, but it was a clear sign that people didn't want more taxes in Desert Hot Springs. And so, we knew that moving forward we had to do that nexus study, otherwise we're going to end up in a lawsuit which we have right now with Coachillin' business park. A hundred and sixty acre park, the largest in California, and we ended up in a lawsuit with them and that's totally unacceptable. We can't run a city while we're in a lawsuit. [There is never a time when the city is not involved in a lawsuit.] So right now the council, the mayor, they have no input on this because it's all in the lawyer's hands. We can do better Desert Hot Springs, we can't have lawsuits that is costing us economic development." [Can anyone figure out what the "two things" were he told the council and mayor?]

BETTS: There always is more you can do on the economic development front. He said the new business in the KMart building will create a hundred new jobs paying $42,000 and more. The cannabis industry has provided jobs on a regular schedule. But it's too cumbersome for small businesses to open. It's the city's responsibility to make sure new businesses open up. It's not the responsibility of the businesses.

GIBONEY: Again, he felt the need to read back the question verbatim. "First answer is no." The city is not headed in the right direction. First, because it is not organic. The growth is being dictated by larger groups that are up above, umbrella organizations above our city. The designs for our city are just about the same as for any other city our size or larger. It's all mixed use and all European designs passed down to us. It all leads to the same end point. It's not our growth; it's being given to us, dictated by us. We can't be a one-industry town. The city lost its auto body shop "when the one trick industry moved into town." "Our spas are failing." We have to diversify our growth. "Jobs are not going to be growing." AI is taking over.

[I want to point out here that DHS was a one-industry town (tourism) until the cannabis industry came along. Now we're a two-industry town. Auto body repair was never a major economic driver in this city. We have never had an auto repair neighborhood like Cathedral City has along Perez Road.]

GILBERT: We are headed in the right direction. Last December the city hired one of the best economic development people. Royal Emerald just opened. The Grocery Outlet opened in July and hired locally. A new dog groomer/animal day care business opened. A new chiropractor opened her office here. Forbes recently included a DHS resort on their list of six glamorous hotels opening soon in California. Real estate prices are up. Homes are being built in Skyborne. Rolling Hills is building out the rest of its lots. Her goal is to try to get more young families into home ownership. Rents are skyrocketing. The county has great programs for first-time home buyers.

GRIFFITH: There's always room for improvement. We just updated our General Plan and zoning. We updated our housing element. He believes we are headed in the right direction. Now mixed-use is permitted in commercial areas. The Planning Commission will consider next week a 400-unit condo complex that includes some affordable units. All the developments that were stalled by the recession have restarted, including Agua Dulce, Rolling Hills and Skyborne. Grocery Outlet's opening has provided some jobs. Royal Emerald expects to have over a thousand jobs in five years, and they have committed to fund some of our youth programs.

MATAS: Yes, but there is always room to improve. He said his State Of The City address would be available soon and it would include exciting announcements. We have hired an economic development manager. Multiple restaurants and commercial developments are in the pipeline. Tyson Ranch is still moving along. 2021 will be a very strong year for DHS.

MOORE: There's always room for improvement. The people who don't pay attention to the city council have the opinion that the city council doesn't have a future vision. He sees the city being reactive not proactive. The city moves from project to project based only on whoever comes before them at a council meeting, or "things that are happening on social media about what's happening in the city." He is looking for a future vision that includes fairness and access for all citizens. Cannabis will continue to drive growth in DHS. The city must show support to businesses. The city should not find ways to squeak in extra little taxes on our businesses. If there is a clear vision he would like to see it. [The last taxes approved by the voters here DHS were the parcel and utility taxes; before that it was the cannabis taxes.]


MOORE: The city has addressed the needs of Seniors quite well. The needs of youth are not being adequately addressed. "Where is the youth center in our plans?" Where are the sidewalks? We have great athletic programs for youth. The city does not have a parks and recreation department. The recreation center sits idle after 6 PM. The Furbee pool sits idle from September to June. Those facilities should be in use year-round. He has not seen community policing in DHS. [When Pat Williams was Chief of Police we had community policing.] He works at an elementary school and the police never visit the school unless the school calls them. He has never seen a police officer in his neighborhood.

NUÑEZ: "I haven't seen the city do anything about social justice." He hasn't seen the police engaged or involved in the community. He's lived here three years, but no one has welcomed him to the city. He expects someone from the city council or city staff to come and welcome him. [That, IMO, is a bizarre expectation.] The police officers just seem to punch in and punch out. They don't live here or work here. [I'm pretty sure the police officers consider their jobs to be work.] They don't eat here. They don't play here. He says that is true for some of the (non-sworn) city staff too. DHS lacks a sense of community. How many staff members live in the city? How many shop and dine here? He wants the police officers to volunteer their time. He wants to build a partnership with the parks and rec department in the east valley. [He is probably referring to the Desert Recreation District.] Kids are doing yoga in the east valley. [He continued to talk for 25 seconds after the "Times up" signal.]

SANCHEZ: "Who is Desert Hot Springs?" The median income is around $30,000. In the schools 75% of the children are Latino, and 75% of that 75% qualify for the federal meals program. When Anayeli Zavala, who is Latino, resigned from the council she was not replaced with another Latino. "So that tells me that there's no leadership at the mayor's office cause she shoulda had diversity. She shoulda had equitably. I mean, you should've put another woman or gentleman of Latino there on the council. It was like a no-brainer. But that's the leadership you get at city hall. They don't want you to be represented by people who live in this city and so you don't have that type of social justice." [By law, every member of the city council lives in Desert Hot Springs, and that has always been so.]

BETTS: His goal has been to help and be an advocate for every resident who is economically disadvantaged. He's gone to bat for tenants who are being bullied by their landlord. He has done ride-alongs with the police and seen how they interact with the public. We've had community policing, but it is expensive. The Health & Wellness Center is for youth. We should open it up and use it. But the building is paid for.

GIBONEY: Once again, he read the question out verbatim. "Social justice" can be defined different ways, so we should talk about where the problems are coming from. "When you have a system that is feeding these fatherless homes - when you have a system that's actually supporting mothers to have more children that stay on welfare section 8 they have no incentive to get out into the world and they raise children in a home where there's a father missing. So when you talk about kids getting involved in crime and needing community policing, you're omitting where it's originating. So I can't talk about how to deal with it until we talk about where it's coming from. It's like the whole cancer debate. We're not talking about where cancer's coming from. It's always 'buy a pink badge for cancer.' So 'social justice' is a term that was created for people to get, you know, angry at something. I know there are problems and I know there are bad cops. But community policing is not the answer because that's disarming the cops and what do criminals do to cops that are disarmed? They attack them, so you're creating more problems by going into community policing. So, affordable housing, I pointed this out earlier, affordable housing the best situation is Coachella Valley is the number of units cost to build it $680,000 for affordable housing. Someone's making money. And there's a waiting list of seven years for it." He re-read the question "AS A COMMUNITY HOW IS DESERT HOT SPRINGS FARING WHEN IT COMES TO EQUITABLY SUPPORTING THE NEEDS OF RESIDENTS?" and answered it, "Terrible." They need more information, he said. [I don't think Giboney knows what community policing is.]

GILBERT: She began with what she said was an off-topic comment: "Everyone needs to attend city council." You can watch on YouTube. You can get involved. We can't expect the city council or city staff to come and welcome us. That's what the Chamber of Commerce is for. She thinks the police department is doing a good job. She would like to see us work on a marketing program to get more volunteers (COP officers) to help the police. Affordable housing is lacking badly. Over half the residents of our city rent their homes. Currently a one-bedroom/one-bath rents for $900 or more. "That's crazy. It's just crazy." A three-bedroom/two-bath house rents for $1,900. We have section 8 programs. We used to have programs with Habitat for Humanity and the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition. We are lacking in our housing. DHS is doing the best it can, there's just so much need.

GRIFFITH: THe police department has had several town halls. He attended one. There are many demands on the city, but right now we have to get through this pandemic. We have a lot of very active people and businesses. Now that we have finished our housing element, we can qualify for grants for affordable housing. Coachella Valley Housing Coalition has several infill homes in progress. We have Food Now. The Chandi Group twice has served meals to thousands of people. Royal Emerald has given thousands to Food Now. "We are focusing slowly, but surely, and in the right direction."

MATAS: The city is very diverse. Over the past five years we've had little division within our city. He meets with people who have needs the city can meet. He talked about meeting with the family of the girl who was killed in traffic at Palm Drive and Camino Aventura. Subsequently they had a town hall and, ultimately, the city changed its priorities and redirected funding so that a traffic signal could be erected sooner at that intersection. We should continue to focus on job creation. More than 2,300 jobs have been created in DHS in the past five years.


MATAS: Most cities focus on the continued progress of their vision. "The vison for Desert Hot Springs in cannabis, commercial development, public safety, community programs and fiscal stability is strong." Hew wants another term to make sure the vision stays on track.

MOORE: We need a clear and definable vision. We need to take care of businesses increase the quality of life for residents. Taxes must be kept to a reasonable standard. We need to offer incentives for businesses to come to DHS.

NUÑEZ: Don't sell out the city. He repeated his "blank canvas" metaphor. We should make sure growth is responsible. Put families and community first and the rest will come. CVLink should be extended to DHS. We should capitalize on our hiking trails. "I'm not against cannabis, but we have a dispensary on every corner." We have no strategy for our youth. "My kids especially, your kids, to get out of that, you know, systemic. It's just ridiculous the city hasn't strategized a pathway for kids not to be using, you haven't invested in anti-drug use, billboards, social media. You know, we're big on social media at city hall. Why not send a message? We can't lose our kids to cannabis. And it's not going nowhere, it will be here. It's going to be here long, you know, as long as it can sustain. But we shouldn't subject our kids to be future...we're not cultivating users. I'm not. So let's be responsible."

SANCHEZ: We have to look at the strengths in our community. It's the diversity of the people who live here. You have to engage the residents. Develop a strategic plan on where we should be in 10 years.

BETTS: In every community where he's lived the common denominator that made things better was good-paying jobs. One of the biggest challenges for youth is an impoverished family. The incumbents do have a vision for the city. The city is gradually getting better. We're bringing in businesses and jobs that will provide the base for future changes.

GIBONEY: A man of unbreakable habit, he re-read the question verbatim. "Get rid of the city council monopoly and diversify the minds of the council by getting rid of their groupthink." Residents should be allowed to participate in the direction of the city. [He did not explain what the city council monopoly is. The only monopoly they have that I'm aware of is the same monopoly held by every other city council: a monopoly on legislative power on local issues within the city.]

GILBERT: If the council continues to be fiscally responsible. Health care is the most important issue for her. We should have at least two urgent care centers. We desperately need more youth programs. "Not just sports, but music, arts, police activities league, build on Rotary's Early Act and Interact."

GRIFFITH: If its city council continues on the path they have set over the past several years. Fiscal stability has improved. Roads have been improved. More and better street lights are being installed. We can continue progress only if we make decisions that don't jeopardize our revenue stream.

permalink | October 10, 2020 at 11:43 AM | Comments (2)

June 27, 2020

MSWD Board Meeting, June 11 & 15, 2020

This report combines the two meetings of the Board of Directors of Mission Springs Water District on Thursday, June 11, and Monday, June 15, 2020.

Video of the June 11 meeting.

Video of the June 15 meeting.

Water Standby Assessments

Annual assessments on those parcels that don't have a meter, but have a water line running in front of them. Approved 5-0.

Sewer Standby Assessments

Annual assessment on those parcels that are not hooked up to the sewer system, but have a sewer line running in front of them. Approved 5-0.

Addition of Delinquent Accounts to County Tax Rolls

There are two lists of what appear to be delinquent accounts in the agenda packet. There was no discussion of this item, so no one said what the difference was between the two lists, but adding the amounts on both lists gives a total of $57,404.82. Approved 5-0.

Budget for FY 2020-2021

Approved 5-0. Any discussion took place at the budget workshop earlier this month. Video here.

Appropriations limit approved 5-0.

Employee classification plan (no changes from last year) approved 5-0.

Professional Services Contract for Sanderson Landscape Solutions

This is a contract to maintain landscaping and irrigation at 37 sites in the district. Bids were received from four companies:

  • Sanderson Landscape Solutions: $74,520
  • So. Cal. Land Maintenance, Inc.: $77,700
  • JP Tree Care: $91,120
  • Mariposa Landscapes: $96,169

Approved 5-0.

Professional Services Contract for Southern California Fleet Services, Inc.

This is for maintenance and repair of all 78 district vehicles and other equipment units. The amount of the contract is $100,000.

Approved 5-0.

Contract Agreement with Tryco General Engineering for 8th Street Sewer Line Repairs

The storm drain project on 8th Street, which is a flood control district project, not a water district project, will include a full pavement resurfacing of 8th Street. The water district has inspected its sewer lines (not the newly built storm drain) under 8th Street and found it in need of some repairs. This project is to get those repairs done before the repaving project so that (1) the street looks nice afterward and (2) the water district doesn't have to pay for the repaving.

There were two bids received for this:

  • Tryco General Engineering: $84,890
  • Tri-Star Contracting II, Inc.: $85,785

Approved 5-0.

West Valley Water Reclamation Facility Update

This is the new sewage treatment plant that the district will be building south of Dillon Road along Little Morongo Road. Plans are still being reviewed. The district is cooperating with the city, although it is not required to get permits from the city. There are plans for a regional conveyance line which would carry wastewater from somewhere (but not from the Horton Wastewater Treatment Plant) to the new plant. The district needs to acquire easements for this and some of the easements would be on Coachella Valley Conservation Commission land which was described as "not impossible." But partnering with the city for a road easement would be faster and easier.

Director Grasha said he wanted to schedule a meeting of the Engineering Committee (which consists of Director Grasha and Director Sewell) to raise some questions and get some answers. President Wright suggested a workshop so that all five directors could be involved. Director Grasha said he wanted to put together a list of concerns and questions and not feel like he has a timer running against him.

There are no timers at board meetings. If a director has a million questions on an item a board meeting is the place for him to get a million answers, but Director Grasha has been habitually shy about disclosing his opinions in regular board meetings.

Director Grasha expressed his paranoid fear that President Wright didn't want him to have a meeting. Why he allows his perception of President Wright's wishes to control his behavior he has never explained. President Wright said that in addition to a workshop any director can simply telephone staff and get answers to any questions. Director Grasha replied, "Because of the hostile work environment that you've allowed to be created down there, I find it difficult to allow some certain staff members to be around as the popularly-elected director on the board I think I have to protect the public as well as myself and staff. We have a situation that we're better served meeting like this."

At the Monday meeting Danny Friend provided more information. The total cost for the project will be around $50 million. Every month he reports on the two major components of that project which are the plant itself and the conveyance line. Initially, the conveyance line will provide startup flow for the new plant. The line does not, however, connect the two plants.

President Wright repeated her desire for a workshop rather than an Engineering Committee meeting to discuss the plant.

President Wright then moved on to the next item on the agenda, the consent agenda. When she requested a motion, Director Grasha raised his hand, requesting recognition.

Director Grasha: "Hello! Excuse me. Thank you. This has somehow turned into a staff meeting and not a board meeting. Let's try to remember this is a board meeting and not Arden's staff meeting. And that nobody that you spoke about a minute ago is going to be the one to approve or authorize this funding." [No one had been speaking about anyone. The discussion was solely about the new plant.]

"Since the day I got here you've told this board that without this new plant the stress that's on the existing plant is going to overwhelm the system with new connections. Now we're being told that we're not going to be able to use this new plant for that purpose." [The board had heard nothing of the sort.]

"So everything we've heard it's almost like this new bit of information comes in right under the wire after a new 3-year contract is issued and I'm telling you it's offensive to me and if the ratepayers knew what you just did, it would be offensive to them, and it should be offensive to every board member." [There was no new bit of information and "what you just did" was unanimously approve the contract with Tryco General Engineering.]

"You should all be running through that building with on fire after what just happened." [No censorship on my part, either the video recording or Director Grasha dropped a word.]

President Wright: "I don't understand what you're talking about."

General Manager Wallum: "We can explain that. It does take some stress off the plant."

Director Grasha: "Without a conveyance line, you can't connect them." [What a genius he is! This is exactly why the district is building a conveyance line, as the board was just told.]

GM Wallum: "The conveyance line will be built."

Director Grasha: "I'm not and no member of this board should vote to put these ratepayers into debt if you can't connect those two plants. And it would be simple to explain that, but with the microphone off and you going on to another item I can't ask a question about what is exactly the hold up between being able to run that line and how do we overcome that."

GM Wallum: "We'll explain that in the meeting."

Director Grasha: "Then when will the Engineering Committee have the meeting? Do I need to set a time and date, or do you guys want to do it? Because I don't want Nancy running the meeting with Dori Petee with her finger on the mute button. I'm sick and tired of this nonsense."

President Wright: "You know what, we can't talk about it or actually discuss this workshop. I don't know if we can right now, about when or where to have it or if anybody who else wants it besides you..."

Director Grasha: "Why are you so afraid of a committee meeting? You guys have your meetings all the time. I'm not allowed to go to those."

President Wright: "What meetings?"

Attorney: "Hold on. So the board, as I understand it, the decision's been made you're going to have a workshop on this. And then you can have the drilldown at that time, but the Board President is in control of the meeting, and under your rules, runs the meeting. So, it sounds like move on to the next agenda item."

Director Grasha: "I want to have a committee meeting. If she wants to chime in on the Zoom later or even listen on the side she can."

Attorney: "My understanding is you're going to have a workshop on this."

Director Grasha: "And a workshop is run by the President. A committee meeting is run by the chairman of the committee. That would be me. I've got a lot of questions and it's just opening bit of questions"

Attorney: "Well, that's why it's being done as a workshop, because presumably..."

Director Grasha: "Because that way you get to call the cops and escort me out of the building. Nonsense!"

President Wright: "Oh, come on. So we'll have a workshop and we'll decide when later."

Director Grasha: "Add ten grand to the pile I send out in mail against you people. It's disgusting! It's disgraceful, what you're doing."

President Wright: "I'm assuming all the other board members would also like to partake in the workshop. I have not heard any of them say 'No, no!'"

Directors' Comments

Just as President Wright was about to adjourn the Thursday meeting Director Grasha had something to say. "I can't imagine how you would be so calm when he just told you that he won't be able to connect the two plants. You're going to have two isolated plants. Based on what we were just told tonight, 70% of the reason why we're building this plant has just been wiped away, in my view. Not comfortable in getting this community with a hundred-million dollars worth of debt or whatever it is you guys are going to come up with, with a new district headquarters, and all of this other stuff, when you can't interchange between the two facilities. It's ridiculous."

President Wright: "That would be concerning to all of us."

Director Grasha: "Well, I would think so, but you don't seem to show any concern at all. You go through these meetings and as long as Steve doesn't get to talk then that was a good meeting. So here we are, six months from an election and you've got three guys who are probably going to be out on the curb because they won't take their hands off their own necks."

President Wright: "Do us a favor and bring your questions on Monday." She continued to speak, but I couldn't make out what she said because Director Grasha spoke over her.

Director Grasha: "I think we'll do it at the engineering meeting when it's been called."

I'm not going to sit here with a stopwatch to confirm it, but I would estimate that over the past 18 months the one director who has spoken far more than any other director during board meetings is Steve Grasha.

permalink | June 27, 2020 at 07:49 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2020

Mission Springs Water District Final Public Hearing on Elections by Division, June 24, 2020

TL;DR: The Board of Directors chose Map 2.

The video of this meeting of the Mission Springs Water District Board of Directors can be viewed here.

Elections by Division

The only significant change from last week's hearing is the presence of the proposed ordinance to put elections by division into place. The ordinance also includes the voting order which will be:

  • 2020 - Divisions 2,3 and 4
  • 2022 - Divisions 1 and 5

The three proposed maps:
MSWD Board District Draft - Map 1-1
Draft - Map 1

MSWD Board District Draft - Map 2-1
Draft - Map 2

MSWD Board District Draft - Map 3-1
Draft - Map 3

Public Comment

Susan Warner commented via telephone. She wanted to know if the proposed divisions were encompassing communities. She said she has lived here only 9 months and doesn't know the area really well yet.

Next, written comments from Chuck Parker were read aloud. He urged the board to slow down. He asked what methods have been used to inform the community of this process. He thinks the process should be stopped until another hearing "several months in the future." He says people will feel left out if the process is rushed.

I'll point out here that this was the second request from the public for the board to go slower. Both requests were made by white men and neither of them acknowledged that slowing the process would mean that the current inequitable system where we elect Directors at-large would continue for another two years. OTOH, the board could approve one of these maps now and things would be much improved for the 2020 election. If there are refinements needed, those can be done when they redistrict in 2021.

Director Grasha made the point that no one asked for this to happen. "It's a mystery to me, how it became before us today. I don't think we'll ever find out the truth."

That's very strange. Director Grasha has been present at every board meeting where elections by division was discussed. He was present for all four of the public hearings. He voted along with the rest of the board in favor of every step of the process along the way. He must have had his memory erased.

He also asked if the board approved elections by division, could that be reversed later.

You don't need a lawyer to answer that one. It's an ordinance. If the board approves an ordinance, the board can also revise or repeal that ordinance...and face the consequences.

Director Grasha said he thought the ordinance itself constituted a change in the maps.

[If the maps are changed, then the board has to publish the revised maps and wait at least seven days for another hearing.]

He said this particular provision in the ordinance is the change: "In the event a vacancy occurs before the expiration of the term of a Director in office at the time this Ordinance takes effect, a person who is appointed or elected by special election to fill such vacancy may reside anywhere within the District." [emphasis added] All of the current members of the board represent the district at-large. If any of them have to be replaced before their terms are up, they will be replaced by another at-large Director. This provision dies a natural death after the 2022 elections, and would only come into play before then if a Director leaves the board.

The attorney clarified these issues in answering Director Grasha. He said that in answer to the question "Who asked for this," it was Director Grasha who asked for this. He was the one who suggested elections by division. President Wright pointed out that Director Grasha had bragged online that he was somehow solely responsible for initiating this process.

Director Grasha said he was happy that this process has moved forward, but he did not bring it to the board. "It was delivered to the board...by, I don't know who. It was brought to the board right after I was called on the front page of the Desert Sun a 'racist'." He believes the other four members of the board have pursued elections by division as part of a scheme whereby they could "chase him off the board." He did not say how this would be accomplished, nor why he thought he would be more effectively chased if there were elections by division. He said there was "egg on every face on this screen," without explaining what that meant.

Director Sewell said that he recalled MSWD started this process right after Desert Water Agency had completed their conversion to elections by division. The MSWD board decided to be proactive and not wait for the inevitable letter from the attorney.

Director Grasha brought up a comment made by President Wright at the previous hearing which was that it was important to keep Mission Lakes Country Club in division 1, which is mostly county. Mr. Grasha said he lives in a [proposed] division where there is only one voter in one square mile. "I'm the only voter," he clarified. I believe Mr. Grasha lives in the Two Springs RV Resort on Indian Canyon. He did not say if he means he is the only registered voter there or that he's the only one who actually votes there. He wanted to know why, if it was important for one community to be in the mostly county district, it was not important for another community to do the same?

The easy answer is that if they created a division that included all the county areas west of the city, the population numbers would be too far off from the constitutionally permitted deviation of 5%. Also, it would put both President Wright and Director Grasha in the same division. If he is trying to say that he would like to run against President Wright, he never makes that clear.

Director Grasha went on, "No one should doubt what is really happening in here. What we're really attempting to do is carve out entire sections of the community from this election cycle to protect one favored board member from having opponents file against him. And those opponents would come from a particular area that have now been written out. They won't have any ... they won't be able to run for office. They won't be able to vote. And I think it's offensive that this board is doing it for that reason. There's no doubt that's what's happening in here. There's no doubt that the reason this is before us is because this district's attorneys caused another district to go in a direction they were forced to go in by our own counsel. And I find that offensive. And I find it offensive we're paying him two-hundred thousand dollars this last month to dump us in this trash can. It's a dumpster fire. It's your fault. And now you're going to have to live with it and for me, all I have to do is drag my trailer across the street."

President Wright had been trying to interrupt him for a while, and finally the attorney brought his rant to an end.

Director Grasha has never made any suggestions or motions to revise the process, to slow it down, or to revise any of the maps. The board has voted unanimously every step of the way, so he is at least 20% responsible for where the board finds itself. I don't know who the "favored board member" is but if I had to make a bet, he's probably referring to Vice President Duncan. How going to elections by division will protect any individual board member, I have no idea and Director Grasha never said. I don't know where this geographical area is that he thinks all the candidates would come from, nor why he thinks they would be denied the right to run and vote in their own division. I think every one of the five divisions has intelligent, interested people who might run for the board now that they know they only have to carry their division, not beat out everyone in at-large races.

The attorney asked the demographer "Mr. Ely, did you create the maps that you created in order to protect one particular board member of Mission Springs Water District?" Mr. Ely answer, "No, I was completely unaware of where any of the board members lived when I created the drafts. The modifications that I made to the drafts were extremely slight in order to put each of the incumbents into a separate district."

The attorney then stated, "That is apparently not an issue and it's not based on fact, that allegation."

Director Grasha, addressing himself to President Wright, said, "I can run in any of the five districts or any of the two districts in this two years and believe me, you're going to have the run of your life. Cause I got nothing else to do, except sit around and figure out ways to stick you with toothpicks."

Director Martin moved to select Map 2. Seconded by VP Duncan. President Wright called for the vote, but Director Grasha wanted discussion. President Wright said that when he's given time for discussion he just rants and raves, so she insisted on the vote. Director Grasha kept trying to talk, so the attorney intervened to remind everyone that the President presides and she had made her decision. Approved 5-0.

Director Grasha moved to approve the ordinance, but wanted to delete the provision whereby an at-large board member would be replaced by another at-large board member, if necessary; and he added a provision to spend up to $25,000 to to inform every resident of the district what division they reside in and that all registered voters are eligible to run, including a copy of the map.

His motion died for lack of a second. The attorney pointed out that the provision to inform the voters doesn't necessarily have to be in this ordinance. The board can approve that later.

Vice President Duncan moved to approve the ordinance as written. Seconded by Director Martin. Approved 5-0.

Notice of General District Election

The standard resolution that every political body in the state has to issue in order for their elections to happen. Approved 5-0.

permalink | June 25, 2020 at 08:57 PM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2020

MSWD Public Hearing on Elections by Division, June 16, 2020

This meeting was the third (of four) public hearings on the subject of electing Mission Springs Water District board members by division.

Here's the video.

The three draft maps (PDF) are available here.

  1. First
  2. Second
  3. Third

The next, and probably final, hearing on this subject will be Wednesday, June 24 at 5 PM. The board will probably select the final map then, and the divisions will be in place in time for the elections in November this year.

To help myself get a quick overview of the differences between the three draft maps, I whipped up this GIF:
MSWD District Map animation

David Ely, the demographer, gave an overview of the process, citing the data shown below:
MSWD Board District Draft Map 1 data
Draft Map 1 data.

MSWD Board District Draft Map 2 data
Draft Map 2 data.

MSWD Board District Draft Map 3 data
Draft Map 3 data.

You will see that in all three draft maps there are two Latino-majority divisions, 4 and 5, whether you count by total population, population of voting age or citizen population of voting age. In draft maps 1 and 2, divisions 1 and 3 have white majorities in citizens of voting age, while the biggest demographic in division 2 is whites, they have a slim lead over Latinos. In draft map 3, divisions 2 and 3 have a white majority in citizens of voting age, while in division 1 the white population (citizens of voting age) is 45.9% and Latinos are 38.9%.

The demographer explained that any attempt to create fewer than two Latino-majority divisions would land the water district in federal court.

The overall maps for the entire district can be found in the three PDFs linked above, but all the variations occur right in the city, so the maps below exclude the western part of the district and some of the unpopulated northern area. Here are those three maps:
MSWD Board District Draft - Map 1-1
District Draft - Map 1

MSWD Board District Draft - Map 2-1
District Draft - Map 2

MSWD Board District Draft - Map 3-1
District Draft - Map 3

The underlying map used by the demographer has some old street names on it and he uses those names instead of the names we know. "16th Street" is Mission Lakes Boulevard, although west of Indian its name is "10th Avenue." "14th Avenue" is Two Bunch Palms Trail east of Little Morongo.

The demographer pointed out that the borders between divisions are a bit simpler and straighter in draft map 2 than in draft map 1.

Draft map 3 shows greater variation from the other two. In draft map 3 Mission Lakes Country Club goes from division 1 to division 2. Division 1 is extended into the city center so it encompasses the area around Palm and Pierson.

Public Input

Susan Werner submitted a written comment which was read aloud to the board. She resides on Avenue Ladera, which is in division 1 on draft maps 1 and 2, but in division 2 on draft map 3. She prefers draft map 3 because it unifies the communities north of Mission Lakes Boulevard.

Russ Betts also commented. He said he thought this process had been halted by COVID-19. He said this hearing came about rather abruptly, short-circuiting the public hearing process. He said this appeared to be a matter of trying to beat the clock so they could get the decision made in time for it to be effective for the next election. He said it appeared the board was rushing the matter.

Then he raised the issue of whether the directors were carving out divisions that were best suited for themselves. [At this point in the process the directors have had no say in how these draft maps were drawn. The demographer drew them himself, and the demographer is not going to run for the board.] He pointed out an area in draft maps 1 and 2 where the boundary along Mission Lakes Boulevard takes a short detour north to include the houses on the north side of the street between West and Santa Cruz. Mr. Betts said it looked like this had been carved out to include the residence of one director. He did not say (and it never came up later) that he knew with certainty that a director lived there. He called this gerrymandering.

As often happens, Mr. Betts is living inside his head while reality continues around him unnoticed. This process, to establish elections by division, never halted. I have no idea why he thinks that. There were two public hearings before this one and then we were told there would be a gap while the demographer prepared his maps. All through the process the board has made it clear they intended to wrap this up in June so it would be in effect for November.

He objects to rushing this matter, but he must be forgetting the underlying issue that is driving agencies to switch from elections at large to elections by division; and I don't mean the California law that allows a law firm to send a letter and then collect $30,000. No, I mean that across the entire state, people of color have been denied their full voting power by elections at large, when white people constitute the majority in almost every city, county or special district. As an example of the racial bias in at-large voting we don't have to look any further than the board of directors of the Mission Springs Water District. Has any non-white person ever been elected to that board? Certainly none while I've been living here. To avoid "rushing" this matter is to tell the Latinos who live in this district that their voting rights can wait while we dither over just exactly, precisely where we should draw the lines - even though all three of the draft maps as presented meet constitutional muster. Any one of them could be approved and the voting rights of people of color in this district would be improved. But Mr. Betts sees little need for that.

And as for "gerrymandering," if he thinks that's gerrymandering, he has no idea what gerrymandering is. Here are a couple maps focusing on the area of his concern. On these maps it looks like the line follows a road that's between Mission Lakes Boulevard and Avenue Ladera, but that's only the alley behind the houses along those two streets.

Draft 1 close up
Draft 1.

Draft 2 close up
Draft 2.

The demographer said he prepared rough draft maps with no direct input from any board member and without knowing where any board member lives. Then he looked at board member's residence addresses and made minor changes to boundaries so that no two sitting board members would be in the same division. He said this required shifts of no more than a couple hundred people. He said this is common practice and legal. He did not say (and no one ever said) if a board member lived on the north side of Mission Lakes between West and Santa Cruz.

There are some distinctions between cities (and probably counties) and special districts in terms of redistricting. Cities (and counties?) are more restricted in what they can do.

Director Grasha had a question, but he can't just ask a question. His "question" had so many pauses, circumlocutions, tangents, explanations and excuses before he got to his stumbling point, I could have gone and done something useful with my time, like make a sandwich, and missed nothing. Once election by division is set up, if someone wants to file a recall petition, do the petition signatures have to come from that board member's divison only, or from the entire district?

The answer seems pretty clear to me. The signatures would have to come from within that board member's division, otherwise you could have the voters from the other four divisions running a recall against a possibly ethnic minority board member in another division, and that would turn into a federal case real fast. The official answer was they thought the signatures had to come from within the division, but they would check that to be sure. However, all five current board members were elected at large, so until each is re-elected in their division, a recall against one of them would seek signatures from throughout the district without regard for division.

Director Martin said he preferred draft map 2 because the divisions are more geometrically simple, using main thoroughfares for boundaries. Vice President Duncan said he had no preferences, but he liked Director Martins' views on it.

Director Sewell suggested the district put out something like a social media post to encourage district residents to submit their opinions in writing before the next public hearing on the 24th. He like draft map 3, where Mission Lakes Country Club is in the same division as its neighbors to the east, but draft maps 1 and 2 are acceptable to him. President Wright prefers draft map 1, but says draft map 2 is okay. She pointed out that Mission Lakes CC is in the county, and putting it in division 1 which is mostly county would make sense. Division 1 in draft maps 1 and 2 also more closely aligns with Supervisor Hewitt's district than in draft map 3.

Director Grasha asked about a situation where a voter might end up NOT being able to vote for a director through two election cycles. The situation could come up if a voter lives in a division that is not electing a director in November 2020; then the 2020 census data arrives and the district has to adjust the division lines to reflect that; and that voter now finds themself in a different division that had its election in November 2020, so no election in November 2022. That voter would not get to vote for a director until November 2024. The answer boiled down to that's just one of those things that can happen when any district switches to election by division right around the time of the census. It's too bad, but legal and accepted.

Wasn't there a U.S. Supreme Court decision where they said something like the Constitution guarantees elections, but doesn't guarantee perfect elections?

Then Director Grasha asked about the hypothetical case of the division boundaries being redrawn after the new census figures come in, in such a way as to exclude an incumbent director from running for re-election. The attorney dismissed that, saying he didn't think that would be an issue.

No director suggested any changes to any of the three draft maps.

At the next hearing on June 24th (5 PM) the board will, in addition to selecting a map, decide on the chronology of which divisions will be up for votes this November and which will wait until 2022.

My Opinion

I prefer draft map 2 for the same reason as Director Martin, but I would find draft map 1 acceptable. I don't like draft map 3 because it takes division 1, which encompasses a large area that is county, but excludes Mission Lakes CC from it, and then to compensate for the lack of Mission Lakes CC the division dives right into the city center. If we thought, for some reason, that every director had to have some areas in the central urban areas of DHS, then draft map 3 would do it, but nobody expressed any desire to have the divisions laid out that way. To me it seems draft map 3 takes an urban neighborhood that is primarily people of color and dilutes their voting power with the mostly white western areas of the district.

permalink | June 17, 2020 at 10:10 PM | Comments (0)

May 31, 2020

Some Recent Photos (on film)

Mustang (0001)

Gas Blvd Dispensary (0028)
The city's newest marijuana dispensary.

11360 Palm Drive (0026)
On Palm Drive at 5th.

5th Street Trailer Park (0024)
The trailer park on 5th Street.

Swimming Pool (0010)

permalink | May 31, 2020 at 05:17 PM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2020

A few more infrared shots

Heavy Equipment (0636)

Pipes (0634)

Heavy Equipment (0631)

Las Palmas Mexican Cuisine (0648)

Lantana (0628)

Junk Car (0657)

Christian Center (0646)

permalink | April 13, 2020 at 08:02 PM | Comments (0)

April 1, 2020

Photos from around town

Not Social Distancing (2927)
Not observing social distancing in Desert Hot Springs

Mailbox (2912)

Lantana (2903)

IVTHC (2847)

Empty Skatepark (2967)

Bougainvillea (2929

Bougainvillea (2869)
The bougainvillea growing along the south side of Las Palmas restaurant

11522 Palm Drive (2850)
New dispensary at 11522 Palm Drive (4th Street)

permalink | April 1, 2020 at 09:21 PM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2020

Mission Springs Water District Board Meetings, March 12 & 16, 2020

This is a report on the MSWD Board meetings of March 12 and 16, 2020. I did not attend the meeting on Monday, March 16, and base that part of my report on the video.

Video of the Thursday, March 12 meeting.
Screen Shot Thursday study session

Screen Shot Monday session
Video of the Monday, March 16 meeting.

At both the Thursday and Monday meetings, Director Grasha participated via telephone. Vice President Duncan was absent (excused) from the Thursday meeting.

The Monday meeting began with Grace Gardner speaking by phone. She was not introduced, other than to give us her name, nor was her presentation agendized. Ms. Gardner summarized the federal, state and local rules about dealing with COVID-19. It is now possible for the entire board to participate in board meetings via telephone.

Sewer Connection Financial Assistance Fund

This will be similar to the fund that was set up for AD12, but this one can apply to all future assessment districts. It will be started with $250,000. Loans will be available for both residential and commercial customers. The maximum loan for one residential property is $6,000. The resolution doesn't state a maximum for commercial customers. The board can approve a higher amount. The length of the loan can be up to ten years. The resolution says "Payments shall be included on the utility bill of the improved property." I take that to mean some amount will be added to the water bill monthly. The interest rate will be 5% or the Local Agency Investment Fund yield rate, if higher. Delinquencies will be assessed a 7% penalty and all of that will then go on the tax bill.

Approved 5-0.

Water Supply Assessment For The DHS 109 Industrial Park

The DHS 109 development is east of Little Morongo, west of Atlantic Avenue and north of 16th Avenue. If you know where the self-storage business is on the west side of Little Morongo (in the county), DHS 109 will be east of that, on the other side of the wash. It will include 5.4 acres of light industrial, 17.5 acres cannabis cultivation, 6.6 acres for a power plant (no info on what kind, but I'm guessing it will be natural gas), 25.7 acres of landscaping, 5.7 acres for detention basins and a whopping 49.36 acres for streets and parking. Total water demand will be about 1,800 acre-feet/year, but the developer will set up a water recycling system which will reduce the net water demand to 910 acre-feet/year. The district has sufficient water to supply that.

Approved 5-0.

Public Safety Power Shutoff

The board had asked for an update on Edison's policies on public safety power shutoffs, so Edison sent a couple of reps to explain. This included a visual presentation, so if you want to see that go to 10:15 in the video of the Thursday meeting. Edison is installing more HD cameras in high fire-risk areas. Currently they have about 200 cameras installed. By the end of 2020 they should have camera coverage of 90% of their high fire-risk areas. They are also installing more weather stations. Now they have 400 weather stations. By the end of 2020 they will have over 850 set up. In the past Edison has cleared vegetation back to create a 4-foot buffer. Going forward they will make that a 12-foot buffer. They've begun hardening their grid. That means replacing wooden poles with composite poles in high fire-risk areas. Also, they are beginning to insulate all their bare wire. Insulation will reduce the probability of an ignition point creating a fire by 60%.

Edison has 7 to 10 meteorologists on duty at all times whose job it is to assess threats. They also have fire experts on board who used to work with CalFire or other fire agencies. When winds in an area reach 32 MPH and wind gusts reach 47 MPH then Edison will focus its attention on that area. They try to look four to seven days ahead, if possible, and may "sound an alarm" seven days ahead of an expected event. If a weather event is expected in three days or less, then a team is activated in the emergency operations center. Edison will then begin to notify local agencies and pinpoint a "period of concern." Up to about a year-and-a-half ago Edison did not directly notify water districts, but trusted the local city or county to pass the word on to them. But someone has since pointed out to Edison how important water is for fighting fires, so now water districts get the same notification as cities and counties. Notification is sent out to all customers on any circuit one and two days before any event that Edison thinks may require that circuit to be cut off.

The "period of concern" is when Edison thinks it is most likely that power will be cut off. If power does get cut off, customers should not count on power being restored until 24 hours after the period of concern ends. During those 24 hours Edison will be repairing and inspecting lines.

But, of course, if conditions are moving too fast (such as a wildfire), all those timeframes could be shortened.

With sufficient warning the district can fill reservoirs and move generators to power wells and pumps. The district has permanent generators located at the Horton wastewater treatment plant and at district headquarters on 2nd Street.

Director Martin asked about "hell hydrants" which are temporary water supplies that fire fighting aircraft can use. Staff said MSWD had used something like that in 2006 during a fire in the western part of the district. Here's an article about a fire-fighting base in the Santa Monica Mountains that uses water "pumpkins" that seem to function as I imagine hell hydrants might.

New Meters Project

A little more than 4,700 new water meters have been installed which is about 37% of the total. There are 12 installers and they still expect the job to be completed in June (but that's probably not allowing for any delays that may be cause by the pandemic).

Meters are designed so they cannot overread. As they age, they will tend to underread. This means when a customer gets a new meter, it may look like their consumption has increased, but in reality they were just getting some free unmetered water from the old meter and going forward they will get no more free water.

General Manager's Comments

At the Monday meeting the changes the district was making to deal with COVID-19 were announced. One of the changes was to divide the staff into two halves. Each half would work from home during alternate weeks. MSWD will not shut off any customers, but all the usual billing rules still apply (IOW, there are still late fees, etc.). Director Grasha said he supported this, but thought it could be a slippery slope.

Director's Comments

Director Grasha thanked the staff for their work during this pandemic, and he warned them to try to stay safe.

Director Martin raised the issue of how dirty cash can be, saying he was going to pay for everything using his debit card. Then President Wright made the rather startling revelation that she has no ATM card.

Vice President Duncan said he wanted to remind everyone that what one board member does reflects on the other. He used Director Sewell for an example, saying that if he went out and got a DUI it would look bad for the whole board. It also reflects badly on staff, management and the attorney. If staff does badly, it reflects badly on the board. Then he had a statement to read:

This past Monday, March 9, Steve Grasha posted on Facebook his intent to run against Manny Perez for county supervisor. During the thread of conversation the gentleman told Steve simply "Fix the water," to which he replied "The agency is too corrupt to be fixed. It needs to be disbanded and rolled into the Desert Water Agency. That will be my recommendation to the public." Normally I comment on these things at this point. I'm not going to today because I included this in my defamation of character lawsuit which will be heard tomorrow afternoon, Palm Springs Municipal Court. Secondly, I apologize for the upcoming language, especially to the ladies but I really want everyone to get a true picture of who's representing us. After several pages of comments on that post Dana Reed, a council member from the Indian Wells commented on the conversation by simply saying "That loud noise you hear are cheers from Supervisor Perez's office." To which Grasha replied, and, again, apologize here, "You're one of the morons I want to make sure never gets close to the ribbons of power in this country. You are the most corrupt motherfuckers that ever walked the face of the earth." Didn't say "face," sorry. "Ever walked the earth." That comment was made on Indian Wells council member who has no service with us and has no jurisdiction over us. He simply commented to the Facebook post. That entire conversation also caught the attention of Manny Perez, the current supervisor for the county, who contacted Victoria asking about that conversation and I'm sure wanted to know what the heck was going on here at the district. Again, what one of us do, reflects on us all. Both of those comments made by Grasha are out of line and completely unacceptable. I would like to recommend to this board that we consult with our attorney to find some way to sanction Grasha for these despicable words and actions. This has gone on too long. We cannot leave this the way it's going.

Attorney Pinkney said he would not comment on that.

As President Wright was about the wrap up the open session, in anticipation of moving to closed session, Director Grasha piped up without waiting to be recognized.

I'm glad to know that it's okay with the director that drinking and driving is okay, but having a discussion with a director from another community is not okay.

permalink | March 23, 2020 at 07:18 PM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2020

Shot in the Coachella Valley: "They Made Me A Criminal"

I just happened to run across They Made Me A Criminal (from 1939) on the local OTA movie channel one night a couple of weeks ago. I was surprised to see a sequence that was obviously shot in the Coachella Valley, as Mt. San Jacinto can be clearly identified. I got the DVD from Netflix and grabbed that short bit to share below. After walking to a date grove, star John Garfield settles in romancing the blonde lady who owns the grove and teaching some east coast juvenile delinquents (played by The Dead End Kids) boxing. All is paradise until Claude Rains shows up.

IMDB identifies the shooting location as "Palm Desert, California," but nothing of Palm Desert existed in 1939.

permalink | March 18, 2020 at 05:11 PM | Comments (0)

March 9, 2020

MSWD Board Meetings February 13 & 18, 2020

Director Grasha was absent from the meeting on Thursday, February 13. No reason for his absence was given during the roll call. During Director's comments, Director Martin asked if anyone had heard from him with a reason for his absence. No one on the board had, but Attorney Pinkney said he had talked to Director Grasha who told him privately why he would be absent. He went on to say that nothing in the communication indicated this would be an excused absence.

After the meeting I saw that Director Grasha had been posting on Facebook, so, since he seemed to be well enough to deal with a keyboard I asked him via Facebook why he had been absent. His response:

I’m not sure I can adequately explain this to meet your expectations but it’s my belief that senior staff at the district including certain members of the board need to be allowed the breathing room necessary so that they can consider the trajectory they are on by removing my presence In hopes that it will relieve the pressure that they must feel by my presents for a few days. I hope this action will help facilitate them having the emotional space needed to adequately address the obvious personnel issues at the district.

At the meeting on Tuesday, February 18, an email from Mr. Grasha was read out. The message said that he would be absent from this meeting because he would be working with the Trump visit to the valley. However, Mr. Grasha showed up at the board meeting just a few minutes later.

Also at the Tuesday meeting, President Wright announced that Richard Cromwell had passed away the day before. Rather than the usual prayer, she called for a moment of silence for Richard.

Public Input

Russell Betts lectured the board on the purpose of public comments. He said they are for "business before the board, not for people's personal squabbles." He said it was the board's responsibility to police the comments of the public so that only those that deal with water district business are presented. They should not permit political squabbles to be expressed during public comments, he said. He also suggested the board meetings be scheduled at 6 PM rather than 3 PM.

Well, of course, Mr. Betts is waaaaaay off base in his remarks about public comments. For the edification of those who need it, here is the text of the first amendment of the Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It is not in the government's power nor is it the government's responsibility to tell the public what they may or may not say in their remarks to public officials. Public Comments is the time for elected representatives to Shut Up And Listen for three minutes. It is the public that decides what is said during public comments, not the government. Mr. Betts should know this well because any time the subject comes up at City Council meetings the attorney makes it very clear that the City Council cannot censor what the public says. The Mayor may request a respectful tone, he may ask that no individual council member be the focus of criticism, he may tell the speaker to address him directly rather than the crowd in the room, but those are all mere requests that the members of the public are free to observe or ignore as they see fit.

As requested by Director Martin, Attorney Pinkney had his say on the issue later in the meeting (Mr. Betts didn't wait around to hear this). The Brown Act restricts the board to discussing only the items on the agenda. Members of the public are NOT restricted by the Brown Act. They can raise any issue. The board cannot regulate the content of what the public says. He cited Reed v. Town of Gilbert (a Supreme Court decision from 2014) which had to do with a sign code that had content-based restrictions. That is, sign regulations varied depending on what someone was trying to communicate via the sign. "Almost all the time, the effort by the government to regulate the content is going to be struck down." He also cited a section of the Brown Act: "The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs or services of the agency or the acts or omissions of the legislative body." He added that it's most important to protect the public's right to free speech when they are being critical of government. Director Martin brought up the "rules" the city attempts to apply to public comment. I think if he asks he city's attorney about that, she will confirm the rules are mere requests, regardless of what any members of the City Council may think. Attorney Pinkney said that the city of DHS is not alone in what it does, but he considers it a risky path to attempt. President Wright asked if they had to tolerate profanities. The answer was "that's debatable." There is no clear, objective definition of what is profanity.

Anyone who has followed the City Council for a few years will recall that there have been several chronic commenters who criticized individual city council members, and the occasional attempts to rein them in were fruitless.

Members of the public, however, are not permitted to interfere with the progress of the meeting. They can say their three minutes worth, but after that they have to sit down and be quiet.

Philip Bettencourt spoke next. He owns 21 acres at the intersection of Dillon Road and Highway 62. He has been preparing for some development and now he is prepared to deal with MSWD.

District Elections - Public Hearing #2

No member of the public had any comments to make. The board had the demographer come up and repeat his presentation from January. If the process can be completed before June 1 or thereabouts, then it will be in effect for the November 2020 elections. At the next public hearing on this matter we should see proposed maps.

Retaining A Sacramento Lobbyist

General Manager Wallum said that historically the district has not had any representation or involvement in the political process in Sacramento. This statement seems to me to contradict some of what I've learned in MSWD board meetings over the years. I believe MSWD has been involved in Sacramento politics sometimes. For a water district to have NO lobbyist or political involvement in the state capital seems woefully naive to me. Nevertheless, that's what the GM says. But the staff report in the agenda packet says that the contract with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck for governmental services expired in January 2020. This item before the board was to authorize a month-by-month relationship with BHFS at $10,000/month, expiring July 2020.

Approved 4-1, with Director Grasha voting no.

Repair Of The Administration Building Roof

The bid for just roof repair (not repair of any damage to the interior, just strictly the roof) came in at only $72,480 which is considerably less than some of the numbers that had been guesstimated. This item before the board was to augment the capital budget by $105,000 and authorize $91,050 ($72,480 plus a 25% contingency amount) for the roof repair. Staff had requested bids from six different companies. Only two companies submitted bids. The others said the job was too small or they were "just too busy." R & R Roofing & Waterproofing was the low bidder. The other bidder, PuroClean Services, bid $130,682.53.

A bid of less than $60,000 to do interior repairs has been received, but not yet accepted. If the work were to include renovation of a restroom, that bid would rise to a little more than $70,000.

Approved 5-0.

Drywells For Wells 27 And 31

Currently, at wells 27 and 31 any wastewater drains into a detention basin which does not have adequate capacity now. One result of using a detention basin is that vegetation will grow there and that means MSWD has to spend money to control the vegetation. In the long run, drywells make more sense. The low bid for this project came from Weka, Inc., in the amount of $239,891.

Approved 5-0.

District Counsel Comments

The attorney had some reminders based on the recently approved Board Handbook. The meetings are conducted according to Robert's Rules of Order as a guideline. At the Tuesday meeting, a different attorney (I don't know her name) said that the board uses Rosenberg's Rules of Order. The President of the board decides all points of order and is responsible for maintaining order and decorum. No one is allowed to speak who has not first been recognized by the President.

Director Sewell asked about Director Grasha's reference at the prior month's meeting to some litigation concerning the Board Handbook. the attorney said there is no such litigation.

Directors' Comments

Director Martin responded to Mr. Betts' suggestion that board meetings be held at 6 PM. He said the district has had a number of meeting at night and there was "no appreciable difference" in the number of people that came out. There his memory is just wrong. The only evening meetings of the MSWD board that I can recall were public hearings for setting rates and they were very well attended. The usual public attendance at the 3 PM meetings is just one or two people. Sometimes as many as half a dozen might show up for a Monday business meeting. In addition, Mr. Martin cited the cost of overtime for having the staff stick around late into the evening, calling it a waste of money and resources. Somehow that expense was never a consideration at the city which has not until recently been as financially secure as the water district. And the city pays staff overtime not just for the city council meeting, but also for the meetings of its three commissions.

Vice President Duncan asked about the final page of the Board Handbook, where each director was to sign. When was that going to be made available for signatures? The reply was that the handbook, having been approved by the board, is in full effect whether they do the signature page or not.

permalink | March 9, 2020 at 06:59 PM | Comments (2)