October 17, 2021

Kittens


The mother cat started showing up around my house a little more than a year ago as a kitten. I never fed, petted or otherwise encouraged her to stay around, but I also didn't chase her away. At some point my neighbor began to feed her, but she still liked to hang out in my yard (and kill birds) a lot. She has gone into heat at least two or three times, bringing the loose male cats to my yard. But this is her first litter. I had no idea she was pregnant. Yesterday morning I heard plaintive, squeaky meowing and followed it to its source. The mother had hauled her two kittens to a sheltered spot by my A/C unit and left them there while she ate food over at the neighbor's. Today I set up a motion-activated security camera pointing at this spot and got several videos, but this is the only close up of a kitten so far. At night she returns them to her hidey-place under a trailer in my backyard which is where I'm sure she gave birth.

permalink | October 17, 2021 at 06:53 PM | Comments (2)

October 14, 2021

Video Inside Desert Hot Springs's Biggest Cultivation Facility

Video inside the San Jac marijuana cultivation facility in Desert Hot Springs. They say this is the largest such facility in DHS. The story is broken into four segments, so keep viewing to the end to see all of it. I'm impressed with the audio in this little documentary. Everywhere they go inside the facility there is overwhelming white noise from the ventilation system (640 tons of A/C we are told), yet the voices are always clear enough to be understandable. (The first 2½ minutes are just intro that you can skip).

permalink | October 14, 2021 at 01:23 PM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2021

Reefer Madness Alive In The Republican Armpit Of Riverside County

Residents of rural De Luz (just west of Temecula) are hauling out all the old shibboleths in their arguments against the first legal marijuana cultivation in Riverside Count outside of an incorporated city. Fine. Let 'em object. Send those developers over to Desert Hot Springs.

"Vikki Havins said she worries robbers will think her van is full of cannabis from Fuego Farms." Because that's just how they do it after spending millions to build a cultivation facility, they assemble a fleet of used Ford vans to drive their valuable cargo around rural backroads.

It would be very interesting, but terribly unethical, if someone who wanted to keep the marijuana cultivation real estate market high were to support a misinformation campaign to encourage the uninformed citizenry to panic. That would be the sort of thing Russia would do.

permalink | October 13, 2021 at 08:34 AM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2021

Subaru Uses Nude Bowl For Commercial Advertising

Did they get a filming permit from the city? I doubt it.

Direct link if the embedded video is not appearing for you.

permalink | September 25, 2021 at 12:44 PM | Comments (0)

September 14, 2021

Ruth Olay, 1924-2021

From The Desert Sun:

Jazz singer Ruth Olay, who performed with Duke Ellington, dies in Desert Hot Springs at 97

Brian Blueskye
Palm Springs Desert Sun

Ruth Olay, a jazz vocalist who performed with Duke Ellington and Benny Carter, died at her Desert Hot Springs home on Sept. 3 at the age of 97.

According to her publicist, Olay died of natural causes, and there are no current plans for a memorial service. She's survived by her daughter, Amy, from her first marriage to Lionel Olay and a son, Adam, from her marriage to music producer and manager Lee Magid.

Olay was born on July 1, 1924, in San Francisco to a Rabbi father — who eventually became head of research at Warner Brothers — and a professional choral singer mother who sang for film musicals and at the Hollywood Bowl. Olay was a piano prodigy during her childhood but became interested in singing due to her mother's work.

She worked as a secretary at Twenty-First Century Fox as a teenager while taking singing lessons with Florence Russell, who also taught actress and singer Dorothy Dandridge.

While performing at many jazz clubs in Los Angeles, she met Ivie Anderson, who was a vocalist for Duke Ellington's band. Anderson had come out of retirement and was singing every Sunday at the Streets of Paris club on Hollywood Boulevard. One night at the club, Olay made her live debut following an introduction by Anderson.

Olay landed her first professional job as a singer in jazz saxophonist Benny Carter's orchestra in 1951 using the moniker Rachel Davis, which was assigned to her by Carter to avoid troubles that might arise as a white Jewish woman traveling with a mostly black band.

Due to her dark complexion and short curly hair, it was assumed she was Black, but Olay was of Hungarian ancestry.

Following her four-week stint singing in Carter's band, she worked as a singing waitress at Cabaret Concert Theatre before being discovered by an arranger named Bill Hitchcock. He offered her the opportunity to record an album on Zephyr Records. Her debut album, "It's About Time," was released in 1956. She later signed to Mercury and released "OLAY! The New Sound of Ruth Olay" in 1958.

The success of "OLAY! The New Sound of Ruth Olay" led to several appearances on TV shows such as "The Merv Griffin Show," "The Steve Allen Show" and "Playboy's Penthouse" with Hugh Hefner. She appeared with Duke Ellington on the "Jackie Gleason Timex Show" and performed with him again on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."

During her later career, she recorded for the labels Everest, ABC-Paramount and Laurel. Olay was also a regular performer at the Vine St. Bar and Grill in Hollywood.

permalink | September 14, 2021 at 01:16 PM | Comments (1)

September 12, 2021

8/24/2021 Planning Commission and 9/7/2021 City Council - Desert Hot Springs

I had not been planning to write up the recent Planning Commission meeting (August 24) and City Council meeting (September 7), but the problems in the Planning Commission have not been resolved and old political games seem to be afoot, so here we go. There are a couple of Planning Commissioners who are just not up to the job. Both of them have voted "Abstain" several times, usually without any explanation. As a resident and voting citizen of Desert Hot Springs I find that offensive. If a Commissioner needs more information or clarification I expect to hear them ask for it. If they think there should be more discussion I expect to hear them ask for recognition and then discuss. If a Commissioner thinks an item should be continued to a later date, I expect to hear them try to make that motion. In any case, if a Commissioner decides to abstain from a vote, I feel he or she owes Desert Hot Springs (not their fellow Commissioners, not the city staff, but the residents and citizens of the city) a brief explanation. But often we don't get that. And that becomes especially maddening when one Commissioner recuses, leaving only four, but two of them want to abstain. In such a stalemate all motions fail and nothing gets done. There's a real city outside of the Planning Commission with real planning needs, and two Commissioners paralyzing the Commission without so much as a word of explanation are doing no good service for their city.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, unless you've already watched the August 24 Planning Commission meeting which was a Zoom meeting.

The agenda for that meeting had three non-controversial items plus an appeal of a determination made by the Community Development Director. That appeal came from Blue Dream Crossing which will be in the Coachillin' development on Indian. Commissioner Grant was about two minutes late to the meeting, joining in after the agenda had been approved.

As Chair Griffith was introducing the first item he was interrupted by Commissioner Grant who wanted to make a motion to re-arrange the agenda. She asked to move the third item on the agenda ("Conditional Use Permit No. 21-8: Veterans High Risk Security Solutions") to the top of the agenda, and to move the fourth item (Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance amendments) to the second spot. "If all applicants are here and available at this time," she added. It was reported that the party involved in the Veterans High Risk Security Solutions had not yet joined the Zoom meeting, so Chair Griffith decided to move to the Accessory Dwelling Unit item.


Amending the Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance

Attorney Mizrahi made the staff presentation on this item. The three changes presented here are intended to bring DHS city code into line with rapidly changing California state housing laws. For example, DHS city code says "attached accessory dwelling units shall be located in such a fashion so that it is concealed from public view." The proposed amendment adds some language to the effect that this restriction can only be applied so long as it does not prevent the accessory dwelling unit from being built. Also, current DHS city code requires that a "junior accessory dwelling unit" must have a shared entrance with the main residence on the parcel. That was "questioned" by the California Department of Housing and Community Development and city staff couldn't come up with a good reason for it, so that provision would be removed by these proposed amendments. And, third, a new state law requires emergency shelters to provide sufficient parking to accommodate all staff, so long as that is not more than required for other residential or commercial uses. The amendments would align DHS city code with state law on that subject.

Commissioner Nindel asked if DHS has emergency shelters and if so, where. The answer from Juan Carillo on planning staff is that we have no emergency shelters.

This was a public hearing, but there was no one to comment. Chair Griffith asked for a motion. Commission Grant asked if other commissioners had questions or discussion. No one had. Vice Chair Duffle moved to approve, seconded by Commissioner Nindel. The vote was 4-1 to approve with Commissioner Mayrhofen voting no. He had not participated in the discussion at all, asking no questions, sharing no observations, but he voted no and apparently felt no need to explain himself to the residents and citizens he supposedly represents.

Representatives for Veterans High Risk Security Solutions had joined the Zoom meeting at this point, but seemed unable to unmute themselves (or maybe they were just away from their computer/phone), so the Commission returned to the first item. It was never clear to me why Commissioner Grant had requested the agenda re-arrangement. I've seen agendas re-arranged when they include a controversial item that we expect could lead to a long, down & dirty discussion, followed by one or more uncontroversial items that might include applicants or representatives who may have traveled some distance to come to the [physical] meeting and who have no need to sit through a multi-hour Desert Hot Springs ordeal. In that case, the body (the Commission or the City Council) will move the easy out-of-towners up on the agenda, and push the controversial item to the end of the agenda. But the staff had already taken that into account in this agenda. The only controversial item on the agenda was already in last place. The item for amending the accessory dwelling unit ordinance had no applicants, no attorneys, no representatives, no comments, so moving it up higher on the agenda did a favor to no one. And as for Veterans High Risk Security Solutions, they hadn't joined the meeting yet, so it didn't sound like they had asked Ms. Grant to request the agenda shift. So why the agenda shift? WTF knows, except Commissioner Grant and she never said.


Time Extensions

The first item was for

  1. A time extension for a CUP (Innovative Investment Company LLC);
  2. A time extension for a tentative parcel map (Innovative Investment Company LLC); and
  3. A time extension for a tentative tract map (New Green Acres LLC).

All three involve, of course, marijuana cultivation facilities. The Innovative Investment Company LLC site is on the northeast corner of the intersection of Little Morongo and San Gorgonio Lane. The New Green Acres LLC location is a long, narrow site running north-south that fronts on Dillon, approximately 750 feet east of Little Morongo. I don't know why two different sites with two different applicants were bundled together in one agenda item. There may have been an intent to create some efficiency, which might have happened if the Planning Commission had no questions or comments and was just going to rubber stamp the item, but that never happens. So it generated some confusion among the Commissioners and required more than one simple vote.

Commissioner Grant said she had noticed there were handicapped parking spots indicated on the plans and she wanted to know if that was accurate and sufficient. Staff replied yes and yes. Then Ms. Grant asked if one spot would be van accessible and staff replied "Always!" Danny Porras stepped in to say that when a developer submits for plan check, staff would require all ADA requirements to be met according to current law, regardless of what may have been in the documents when it got its first approval from the Planning Commission.

There was a representative for Innovative Investment Company who had joined the meeting, Chris Brizuela. His only comment was to thank the Commission and staff. Commissioner Mayrhofen had a question about whether there would be enough parking for all the harvesters during harvest time. Unfortunately, Mr. Brizuela said that would be a question for the operational side, and he deals with entitlements, but the original plans conformed to the DHS city code for parking requirements. IOW, if it's not enough parking, look to our ordinances, not the developers, for the solution.

Vice Chair Duffle moved to approve the items for Innovative Investment Company. Seconded by Commissioner Nindel. Approved 5-0.

Then Mr. Duffle made a motion to approve the New Green Acres item. Also seconded by Mr. Nindel. Also approved 5-0.

Representatives for Veterans High Risk Security Solutions seemed to be having communication issues, so the Commission proceeded directly to...


CUP Amendment For Ryan Csaftis/AMP Industrial Park

This is a planned marijuana cultivation site on the northeast corner of Little Morongo Road and 13th Avenue which is immediately north of the MedMen facility. Undeveloped 13th Avenue lines up with Hacienda Avenue. The CUP previously approved was for three buildings totaling 168,532 square feet of floor area. The amendment proposes to change that to eleven buildings with a total of 257,604 square feet of floor area. This item also includes a tentative tract map for condominium purposes.

The proposal includes 177 parking spaces of which six are ADA accessible.

Michael Shadman, who identified himself as the architect and developer, was present to testify. No one had any questions, so Chair Griffith closed the public hearing, whereupon Ryan Csaftis immediately spoke up, identifying himself as Michael Shadman's business partner. So Mr. Griffith re-opened the public hearing. Mr. Csaftis had a question about requirement number 33 in the conditions of approval. That item requires (among other things) half-street development on 13th/Hacienda Avenue, which he didn't think was necessary because city staff had told him there were no plans to extend Hacienda across the wash to connect directly to Little Morongo. Danny Porras explained that the plans show a gate on 13th/Hacienda which indicates that traffic from this facility might exit onto 13th/Hacienda, and in that case it must be paved (to a half width). If they simply removed that gate from their plans, then they would be freed of this expensive burden. Mr. Shadman, the architect, commented that they intended to grade 13th/Hacienda Avenue, put down decomposed granite and "use it for overflow parking." He said this innocently, obviously unaware of what the DHS city code has to say about such a plan. I clutched my pearls. Mr. Porras said doing that would be completely different from operating 13th/Hacienda as a public street. Mr. Duffle pointed out that the city also does not permit parking on decomposed granite because it is permeable. Mr. Csaftis said they hoped to begin construction before the end of the year. In that case, they should just drop this parking on DG idea, because otherwise it's more money and time with planning staff before this item could come back to the Planning Commission again.

Vice Chair Duffle noted a 1'8" gap at the top of the trash enclosures that could allow wildlife and humans to dive in. If you take a drive through our industrial area you'll see that other cultivators have filled in that gap with fencing or grillwork to keep out any scavengers.

Below is part of the plans showing the trash enclosure. I've tried to highlight the open gap Mr Duffle is concerned with by coloring it sort of cyan (or is it teal?). Clicking on the image will get you a bigger version. If you want to download a much higher resolution image (2.2MB), click here.
Trash Enclosure Detail for Ryan Csaftis-AMP Industrial Park

The applicant readily agreed to make this change on the trash enclosure.

Chair Griffith asked for a motion. Commissioner Grant asked "After hearing the applicant and their concerns with [requirement] 33, is there anything before we make a motion that we need to...need...that maybe we need to table it, do we need to table it, do we need to modify it or something like that first before we make a motion?" Mr. Duffle answered that it was his belief that as it stands, the applicant will be responsible for paving one-half of 13th/Hacienda. Mr. Porras confirmed that to be correct. If they want to get rid of that gate on 13th, then they can bring that to staff later and be freed of the requirement to pave 13th/Hacienda.

Commissioner Mayrhofen asked if this facility was for cultivation. Yes, he really asked that. Even if he doesn't understand that the ONLY developers coming into our industrial zone are marijuana cultivators, the first sentence of the staff report identifies this is a cannabis cultivation facility. Mr. Griffith confirmed that this is for marijuana. Mr. Mayrhofen said that as a marijuana facility they will have security guards, so it's okay to leave an open gap on the trash enclosures. Yes, it makes ever so much more sense to pay to have humans sit and watch a trash enclosure 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, rather than put a couple hundred dollars worth of fencing over the gap. It is a credit to the professionalism of planning staff and the rest of the Planning Commissioners that after this incredibly dumb pronouncement, not a single jaw dropped.

Mr. Mayrhofen continued with another question about "this off-street parking on Hacienda, who's going to be responsible for it? That should come back to the Planning Commission at the time that they make that change. Who is deciding if that street is going to go all the way through eventually or not go all the way through. I believe we need to keep that street open and make it go all the way through, and I'm not saying the applicant should pay for it all, but what I'm saying here is we may need that street for future use with the growth of the city and to redirect traffic in a different direction. So I disagree with those two issues." Clearly he had been unable to follow the discussion on 13th/Hacienda. I wonder, too, if Mr. Mayrhofen is aware of the multiple species habitat conservation zone that lies between Little Morongo and the western end of paved Hacienda.

Mr. Griffith said that ravens will get into trash enclosures and if there is more trash they can access we will get more ravens who also enjoy dining on endangered young desert tortoises. Mr. Mayrhofen said he disagreed. He said he hasn't seen any ravens around in a while. This is the same reasoning used by people who argue that vaccinations for measles, mumps, tetanus and diphtheria are unnecessary because we never see anyone with measles, mumps, tetanus or diphtheria. Mr. Mayrhofen doesn't see ravens because the city makes sure all trash enclosures are secured against wildlife, which includes everything from ravens and coyotes to rats. Maybe Mr. Mayrhofen would be even happier if this development just put their waste in plastic bags and set it out by the roadside to await pickup. They could have their security guards stand and watch it. Nothing could make more sense, right?

Vice Chair Duffle moved to approve with the modification to the trash enclosures so that a gap of no more than three inches remains. Seconded by Commissioner Nindel. Approved 4-1 Mayrhofen voting against.


Veterans High Risk Security Solutions

Veterans High Risk Security Solutions is an existing business that has been operating out of the pre-cannabis industrial area northeast of Indian and I-10. Specifically, their address is 19020 N Indian Canyon Drive, Unit 3A. They have a website. They want to transport cannabis and city code requires them to get a CUP for their existing location to do that, even though there will be no cannabis at that site at any time. They do not seem to be planning to operate a small time retail operation that might bring deliveries to your door. I believe the market they are entering is the business of transporting larger quantities from cultivators to whomever takes it from the cultivators.

Mr. Duffle moved to approve. Seconded by Mr. Mayrhofen. Approved 4-0-1 with Commissioner Grant abstaining. She gave no explanation of why she abstained. She had asked a couple of questions (have you operated in DHS before, are you going to change your name). So we, the residents and citizens, are just left in the dark.


Appeal From Blue Dream Crossing

As Chair Griffith was just introducing this item, Vice Chair Duffle interrupted him to say "Mr. Chair, if I may, this is Vice Chair Duffle. I will be recusing from this item and so you can please excuse me." Later, a couple people have claimed they missed this detail, even though it was quite clearly stated.

Mr. Griffith also called for a 5-minute recess just then.

Desert Hot Springs annexed that large area between I-10 and the old city limits in 2010. If we were an average well-funded city our General Plan would have been up to date and we would have proceeded to zone the new area and to do a nexus study for development impact fees (DIFs). But as you well know, I'm sure, we were not well-funded and the attempt(s) to update our General Plan that had begun well before any of us had ever heard of Rick Daniels had made little progress. The city adapted the Riverside County zoning to city zoning as a temporary measure. No DIF nexus study was done. But now, of course, it's an entirely different story in our city that while still not average, is well-funded. The General Plan has been updated and a nexus study for DIFs has been done and almost completed. I assume zoning perfection is coming along someday too. The DIF nexus study is currently being reviewed by the Desert Valley Builders Association. After it comes back from them with comments, staff may make some changes, and then submit it to city council for approval. But until that magic moment occurs, DIFs in the annexed area are in a sort of limbo. DIFs will be required, but the amounts are still unknown.

This has been a point of legal contention with the Coachillin' development which is in the annexed area. Until the nexus study is finalized, staff has been inserting this paragraph as a condition to any development permits in Coachillin':

With respect to the Development Impact Fees (“DIFs), and in recognition of the need for improvements causing impacts of any development within the 2010 Annexation Area, the applicant/developer and/or Project shall mitigate such impacts by paying the City’s DIFs to provide funds for maintaining and augments improvements and other facilities and needs for the Project. These DIFs shall be in addition to any other required mitigation measure. The DIFs shall be payable upon the completion of the updated Nexus Study identifying the appropriate DIFs for properties in the 2010 Annexation Area, which includes the Project.

It's that paragraph that triggered the appeal from Blue Dream Crossing.

Chair Griffith asked staff if, since the Planning Commission has no jurisdiction over DIFs, is the Planning Commission the right place for this, or should it just be bounced upstairs to the City Council which does have jurisdiction over DIFs. Commissioner Grant said she had the same question.

Attorney Mizrahi said the city code is silent as to whether or not the Planning Commission could simply kick this upstairs. Any appeal of a Planning Commission decision goes to the City Council anyway. She said she would have no objection to the Commission deferring this item to the City Council.

Commissioner Grant made the motion to send the item to City Council. The attorney for the applicant requested to be recognized. Attorney Lenny Asaro appeared on screen. Chair Griffith asked Attorney Mizrahi if it was necessary to open the public hearing. Ms. Mizrahi said she thought so, but she wanted to ask Mr. Asaro first "Just a yes or no, Mr. Asaro, do you object to that?" Mr. Asaro thought a while and then stumbled out with "I'm not here to be interrogated or questioned by you." So, we can readily see what good terms the city is on with Coachillin'! Commissioner Grant withdrew her motion and the Chair opened the public hearing.

Mr. Asaro said the city code says that appeals from "the Director" [of Development, presumably] go to the Planning Commission, so that's why this appeal is here.

The Commission had basically three choices:

  1. Uphold the Community Development Director's decision to include that paragraph;
  2. Overturn that decision and remove that paragraph; or
  3. Some third way.

Commissioner Grant asked if the item could be tabled. The Chair shook his head.

Attorney Asaro spoke. He interpreted the first part of the paragraph in question ("With respect to the Development Impact Fees, and in recognition of the need for improvements causing impacts of any development") to be a determination and he wanted to know who had made that determination. He said the only person(s) who could make that determination would be the consultant who did the nexus study. Throughout his appearance he consistently referred to them as the "undisclosed nexus study consultant." He said that without the nexus study the City Council would have no basis for imposing DIFs or calculating their amount.

Attorney Asaro is conflating two issues there. One is whether there will be impacts that will require payment of DIFs; the second is the amount of the DIFs. To legitimately claim that there are no impacts requiring DIFs, Coachillin' would have to simply hold this piece of land as the empty desert it was when they acquired it. If you do nothing to a piece of property, then there are no impacts. However, my unscientific observations when I drive down Indian are that Coachillin's is far from doing nothing. They are developing the site in such a way to invite visits by ordinary people in the future. That alone is a traffic impact, requiring a DIF. You'd have to be dead from the neck up - or be an attorney - not to be able to see that.

The written staff report included this sentence: "If the Director's decision is overturned, the City would not receive Development Impact Fees for this project." Attorney Asaro said the sentence is not accurate. He did not explain how it was inaccurate, but returned to asking why there hasn't been an updated nexus report. He did propose some alternative language: "The Mitigation Fee Act applies, the city has rights under the Mitigation Fee Act, and the applicant/developer has rights under the Mitigation Fee Act." He says he has proposed this before, but apparently city staff finds that less than adequate for our needs. Then he said that no one had made that "determination" ("With respect to the Development Impact Fees, and in recognition of the need for improvements causing impacts of any development"); this after asking repeatedly who had made that determination. I got the definite feeling that this attorney thinks he gets paid by the word. He repeats himself quite a bit, asks pointless rhetorical questions, reads quotes from city code that are not relevant and just generally tries to put on a show for his client. He even read off the eight different categories of impacts as defined in the city code.

At some point while Mr. Asaro was speaking, the lights went off in the room from which Commissioner Mayrhofen was participating. You could still see him, sometimes only as a dark profile, a nice visual effect, but unusual.

Ted Mayrhofen
Portrait Of A Commissioner

Mr. Asaro said that "the city has been informed" that the city had prevailed in its most recent litigation with Coachillin' on this subject. He said this is not accurate. The court, he said, did not consider Coachillin's arguments on their merits because Coachillin's complaint was filed later than the 90-day deadline. Okay, a weird defense for an attorney, saying they didn't really lose because his law firm screwed up and didn't get the work filed on time. In any case, DHS still prevailed in that case. It's like if you go to court to contest a traffic ticket and the officer who wrote the ticket fails to show up, you win! It doesn't mean you can go out and start bragging about how safe and legal your driving is, but you win the case, nevertheless.

Mr. Asaro said that if the Commission does not move to replace the offending paragraph with his proposed language "this will be appealed." IOW, he'll take it to the City Council. I don't think all the attending Commissioners fully grasped this point. If they wanted to bounce it up to City Council, Mr. Asaro had just told them all they had to do was affirm the Community Development Director's decision and, voila, Mr. Asaro would see that it went to the City Council. Any Commissioner hoping to get this off their backs and onto the backs of those who are actually responsible should have been eager to make a motion to uphold as soon as the public hearing was closed. But if they had done a sensible thing like that, what would I have to write about?

Mr. Asaro even went to far as to threaten to file the appeal within the required 90 day period! Wow, I guess that trick won't work a second time.

Then there was a comment from the applicant herself who was represented on-screen only with the name "Katherine Benet..." so I don't think that's her complete last name. There is a Katherine Dickerson in the paperwork, but I don't find a Katherine Benet.... She encouraged the Commission to go with Mr. Asaro's proposed alternate language. Chair Griffith asked if she had gotten married, and she said she had, so this must have been the former Katherine Dickerson, but we still didn't get an expansion of her current last name.

The public hearing was closed (for just the first time).

The Chair said he knew that the nexus study had been promised for last fall, but that COVID had interfered, so he asked for the status of the nexus report. Deputy City Manager Doria Wilms gave the answer. She explained (as I said above) that the nexus study is currently with DVBA for review.

In response to another question from the Chair, Attorney Mizrahi summarized past litigation. One item was pretty much as Attorney Asaro had reported (Coachillin' filed the complaint too late). There was an earlier litigation that came to a real conclusion, but the city doesn't have a specific, complete determination from the court regarding the language of the paragraph that the city is using. Both decisions were favorable to the city.

At no time did any Commissioner ask Attorney Mizrahi the question I would have asked if I were a Commissioner. "What would be the effect if the Planning Commission replaced the paragraph in question with the language proposed by Mr. Asaro?" Would it cause no harm to the city? Great harm? A medium amount of harm?

Chair Griffith asked "Does anybody else have any questions of staff?" Then, after a long silence, "Any discussion on any of this?" Commissioner Mayrhofen asked "Chairman Griffin [sic], were you referring to as 'anybody else' the Commission or the general public or who are you referring to." Mr. Mayrhofen has obviously lost the thread of the meeting. In a public hearing item, after the public hearing is closed, the only people who can ask questions of staff and discuss the issue are Commissioners. There weren't even any members of the "general public" present, unless you count Mayor Pro Tem Betts who did not even want to make a public comment. A Commissioner who's paying attention and doing his job knows that his time to act is after the public hearing is closed. He doesn't have to wait for a specific invitation from the Chair. He just needs to ask to be recognized.

Chair Griffith explained that he did, indeed, mean the Commissioners.

Commissioner Grant said "I think we need to discuss our options. I think we need to discuss them thoroughly. And we need to make a decision, unless we have any other options outside of the ones that are presented because it is in front of us right now within the scope of what we do. I still have my option and how I think we need to proceed forward but I'm only one Commissioner. So, I think we need to discuss this." She then offered no discussion.

Then Chair Griffith did invite Commissioner Mayrhofen to contribute. Mr. Mayrhofen said, "There's two sides to this story and this Commission with the exception of perhaps you, Commissioner Griffin [sic & sic] being a former Councilmember, you're the one who really has been following along with this. I've only had three days to look into this. And this is an ongoing thing here with the number of years. It's true, the city has taken a long time to get these development fees put in place. I'm not sure what has taken place, what will happen in the future, and that's all I have to say."

The Chair asked Commissioner Nindel if he had anything to say and he did not. Then the Chair invited Ms. Grant to say more, and she replied "My thoughts are still where they were initially and originally. The only things that I have would be what's already been presented in front of us with the annexation, with the DIF fees, and other things like that. But I don't think it is my place to get involved with any more conversations in regards to that as a Commission."

What the hell does that mean? I guess I would translate that as her mind has not changed (her initial opinion, I think, was to send this to the City Council) and it's not "her place" to discuss it any further. That's the best I can do with it.

Chair Griffith said he doubted that it would take another three years for the nexus study to be completely finished (Attorney Asaro had suggested another three years as a time frame for the nexus study). He noted that the appeal stated the city had not updated its General Plan, which is, of course, incorrect. Further, he pointed out that the Coachillin' Specific Plan specified that the developer would pay all fees, and the 'F' in DIF stands for 'Fee.' While the degree of impact remains undetermined without a nexus report, "it's a little disingenuous to say that there is no impact or no proof of impact." He pointed out the not-yet-in-use traffic light on Indian as evidence that we all expect there to be traffic going in and out of the Coachillin' development. He said he is reluctant to come to a decision that would be financially disadvantageous to the city.

Attorney Asaro had raised his hand while Chair Griffith was speaking. After a while Commissioner Grant pointed that out to the Chair. The Chair said he was not going to debate with the attorney, but he was willing to re-open the public hearing to hear what Mr. Asaro had to say.

Mr. Asaro had two points to make. First, DIFs must be based on a nexus study. There was no need to re-open the public hearing in order to hear the attorney repeat this already acknowledged fact - this is a game he played repeatedly. Second, that during some of the litigation the city refunded "a couple hundred-thousand dollars or more" of DIFs that had already been paid by Coachillin'. I don't see how that is relevant to the subject of this agenda item at all. But if you're an attorney getting paid by the word...well, maybe.

Katherine Benet... also had a comment. She wanted to ask the city's attorney about her attorney's proposed alternate language. Does that alternate language preserve the city's right to collect DIFs after the nexus study is finished? In public hearings, the public (in this case, Katherine Benet... specifically) is to offer testimony to the Commission which listens. It is not an opportunity to quiz the city's attorney for legal advice. Attorney Mizrahi sat silently.

The Chair closed the public hearing, whereupon Commissioner Mayrhofen said he had a question for the applicant. So the Chair re-opened the public hearing. He wanted to know how the applicant determined the amount of DIF to pay if there were no guidelines in place. Attorney Asaro responded that, of course, the amount of those DIFs were determined by the city, not by Coachillin'. The city based those fees on the 2008 DIF nexus study which was made before the 2010 annexation, obviously. Mr. Mayrhofen responded "The Riverside - Riverside did before it was annexed." Mr. Asaro repeatedly explained to Mr. Mayrhofen Riverside County had not done a nexus study, that the city of DHS had done one, but that was in 2008 and did not cover the area where Coachillin's is because it was not part of the city."

Mr. Mayrhofen expressed confusion because, he said, in 2008 the area where Coachillin' is was not part of the city. WTF?

The Chair closed the public hearing and the city attorney tried to explain the chronology of events again at a level simple enough for Mr. Mayrhofen to be able to grasp.

Mr. Mayrhofen asked if the 2008 DIF study was sent to the Riverside Board of Supervisors as part of the application to annex the area. [Dear gawd! Where does he get his notions? Why does he keep trying to bring Riverside County into this?]

Commissioner Grant asked "How often do most cities complete a nexus study." Attorney Mizrahi said she didn't have an answer because many factors feed into the decision as to whether a nexus study needs to be done or updated.

Deputy City Manager Wilms described the conditions the city has had to struggle through from 2008 to the present which made it difficult for the city to undertake a DIF nexus study.

Commissioner Nindel asked if there was an inkling of a date for the completion of the nexus study. Ms. Wilms said they had already said it would be available last fall, and since that deadline is long past she did not want to go out on a limb to pick another date. But she did seem to suggest it might be just a few months.

Mr. Porras said the city is in the second round of review with DVBA. The first round took about a month, so he expects this round to take about a month. Staff is talking like DVBA will come back with only minor suggestions which the staff can handle quickly and then bring it to the City Council. But if things don't go all that smoothly, it could run longer. As I recall, there was something the DVBA (or some other third party) strongly objected to in the 2008 DIF nexus study. I seem to recall it had to do with parks, but I could be wrong on that. So the city's compromise was to go ahead with the other seven DIF changes while holding that one DIF at the old level. Since then they must have completed more of that nexus study so that we were able to update that one final DIF.

Mr. Nindel wanted to know how this matter happened to come to this August 24 meeting rather than months earlier or later. Ms. Wilms said it was triggered by the issuance of the Administrative Development Permit (with the language in question) which was then appealed by Blue Dream Crossing and then it's incumbent upon the city to provide due process as expeditiously as possible, and that meant calling this meeting now.

Commissioner Grant asked if one would be permitted to make a motion other than three already presented (uphold, overturn, or use the language from Mr. Asaro). Lordy, this isn't her first day as a Commissioner. A Commissioner can make just about any kind of motion they want. In the unlikely event something illegal is moved, I'm sure the attorney will speak up. In the event something just insane is moved, we can hope it will die without a second. I suppose in the event the motion didn't actually deal with the question of this development permit, then the Commission would, after dealing with Ms. Grant's motion, look for another motion to deal with the matter at hand.

Commissioner Mayrhofen asked "We're voting to either uphold the Directors; a No vote to turn down the Director's appeal." Holy-moly, no motions had been made yet, so no one could say what a No vote would do; and, obviously, the Community Development Director has not filed an appeal.

Chair Griffith explained it depends on what the motion is.

Ms. Grant said "I want to say this because it's important I say this. I've been looking forward to this project. That's really important for me. I'd like to see this be resolved, however it's resolved. But I have to do and vote in the interests of our city, and our community, in what legislation has put in place, so Chair ..."

Chair Griffith asked if she wanted to make a motion. She answered that if she made a motion it would be to move this item to "the other body" (AKA, the City Council) "but that's not something I'm at liberty to do right now." But yes she was at liberty to do just that. She could have moved to uphold, the Planning Commission would have approved it, and Mr. Asaro would have taken it to the City Council. The Commission would have protected the city's interests AND kicked this upstairs where it belongs, win-win. But she seems to have failed to recognize that.

Chair Griffith moved to uphold the Community Development Director's decision to include that paragraph. Seconded by Commissioner Nindel. The vote was 2-0-2 with Grant and Mayrhofen abstaining. Who knows why Mayrhofen abstained, but it seems pretty clear that Grant abstained because she didn't understand the process.

Ms. Grant asked if it was just possible to wait until the nexus study was complete. That is, she wanted to table the item to a date uncertain. The last sentence in the paragraph in question reads "The DIFs shall be payable upon the completion of the updated Nexus Study identifying the appropriate DIFs for properties in the 2010 Annexation Area, which includes the Project." The condition goes away as soon as the nexus study is finished. At that point there would be no need for the Planning Commission (or City Council) to make a decision on the appeal, so tabling it at this point would simply mean the Planning Commission decided not to do its job. Period. And for Blue Dream Crossing, it would mean they couldn't do any development while waiting for the nexus study. I suspect that might get Mr. Asaro to actually take it to court to try to force the city to make a decision on the appeal. His client, Blue Dream Crossing, obviously has due process rights and they have the right to develop that site and the city (in the form of the Planning Commission) can't just decide to sit on its ass and not do its job in order to "win" this appeal.

Ms. Grant made a motion to continue the item until after the nexus study is complete. There seemed to be no second. Attorney Asaro was waving for attention again, and Commissioner Mayrhofen said he had a question. "If we vote on this, would the applicant be able to continue their project?" Attorney Mizrahi replied that development could continue...but as she said more it became clear she was interpreting his question as "If we vote to overturn, would the applicant be able to continue." I think, however, that Mr. Mayrhofen was asking about the motion that Ms. Grant had just made. But Chair Griffith really should not have taken Mr. Mayrhofen's question while waiting for a second to Ms. Grant's motion. Or the Chair could have ruled that her motion died without a second, so that the discussion should continue.

Chair Griffith said he would open the public hearing again, but he promised he would not permit a back-and-forth to drag on all night. Mr. Asaro wanted to address Ms. Grant's motion. After that he began to repeat himself again.

Commissioner Mayrhofen directed a question to Attorney Asaro. He asked if the applicant was willing to delay this until January. Mr. Asaro had just explained why he didn't want a delay to a date uncertain. The only improvement here was offering him a date certain which would have just same effect. Mr. Mayrhofen proposed the January 2022 Planning Commission meeting date. Attorney Asaro pointed out that the decision had already been delayed a long time, and there was no guarantee that the nexus study would be complete before January.

Mr. Mayrhofen tried to ask a clarifying question, Ms. Mizrahi began to interrupt him, Chair Griffith attempted to close the public hearing, Katherine Benet... who had her hand up tried to say something, and finally it was Ms. Mizrahi who prevailed. She explained that either upholding or overturning the Director's decision as presented in the staff report would both allow development to continue.

Chair Griffith closed the public hearing.

Ms. Grant said "Chair, I think in all fairness at this particular point that we need to sit and discuss this amongst ourselves, once you close this, until we have a resolution on which way or make a motion to, like our city attorney said, to either uphold or overturn. We need to hash this out right here and right now. In a discussion." She had no discussion to contribute beyond that.

Chair Griffith re-explained the simple choices before the Planning Commission.

Mr. Mayrhofen asserted that with a continuance the applicant could still continue to develop their project. So, obviously Mr. Mayrhofen had not understood any of the several explanations that already been given. Attorney Mizrahi explained again that either decision to uphold or overturn would allow the project to proceed. A continuance would do neither of those things and would prevent development from progressing.

Chair Griffith pointed out that when people file an appeal of a city decision, those people have to adhere to a strict timetable in filing their appeal; and he felt that the city bore an equal responsibility to deal with the appeal in as timely a fashion as possible.

Ms. Grant commented "In that case, Chair, if you don't mind, I would agree with you, but given what we're facing and what we're looking at, I'm sorry, but I think that we need to consider all possible and available options and we need to do our due diligence on behalf of the city and on behalf of the applicant and do our very best to basically discuss this out until we decide that we're going to either uphold, overturn, or move forward with another decision. So, as it is on the table and now we have it what is any other Commissioner have any other thoughts because I've had several with the three days since we've had this agenda and appeal." And that was all the discussion she had to add. I would label Ms. Grant's style of "discussion" as "meta-discussion." She chimes in with remarks saying the Commission needs to discuss this, but then she doesn't discuss it. We know the opinions of Griffith and Nindel at this point. It's Ms. Grant who was holding up the decision at this point. Mayrhofen was a lost cause, since he obviously wasn't following the discussion. Rather than trying to encourage other Commissioners to discuss, Ms. Grant should have been making up her mind or letting the Commission know what information she needed in order to make up her mind. Her earlier failed motions to bump it to City Council and to continue it were just indications that she hadn't made a decision and, IMO, didn't want to make a decision...even though a motion and vote to uphold would have accomplished what she first said she wanted.

Chair Griffith invited a motion and this time Commissioner Nindel made the same motion that Chair Griffith had made earlier, to uphold. Seconded by Mr. Griffith. The vote this time was 3-0-1 with Mr. Mayrhofen abstaining, again with no explanation, but Ms. Grant voted Aye.


Directors Comments

Commissioner Mayrhofen went first. He said he had asked for a study session. He said that if there had been a study session the Commissioners would understand what has happening with Hacienda [there's nothing happening with Hacienda] and they would understand what's going on with the DIFs. "Worrying about trash cans that have lids on them is just irrelevant to all that's going on." He said he has asked his fellow Commissioners to visit the industrial area and "take a look at what's going on over there. And that hasn't happened."

I'm curious how he can say that hasn't happened. Commissioners may go to the industrial area and take a look around, but then they would be unlikely to report back their findings to Mr. Mayrhofen because that could develop into an illegal serial meeting. Only if it came up at a Commission meeting and every Commissioner volunteered information that they had complied or not with that general and vague request would he be able to ascertain the truth of his assertion.

Mr. Mayrhofen began to express his concern about the traffic on Little Morongo in the industrial area. At about this same time Mr. Duffle returned to the Zoom meeting. Mr. Mayrhofen referenced parking on Two Bunch Palms.

He went on to ask "Chairman Griffin" to close the meeting in accordance with Rosenberg's Rules of Order (PDF, 10 pages) because he had a bit of a hearing problem. This strikes me as an odd request. I've got a bit of a hearing problem myself, but no matter how any Chair closes any particular meeting, I've had no trouble understanding it. It comes after every item on the agenda has been dealt with (usually) and if the Chair has a gavel, you might hear the gavel bang, and then the dead giveaway is everybody begins to stand up and leave the meeting, literally or virtually. I mean, who really cares how a meeting is closed. There are so many other points in the meeting where it's important to adhere closely to the rules, but not the closing. Some of Mr. Mayrhofen's questions and actions suggest he has only the weakest grasp on Rosenberg's Rules himself.

Mr. Mayrhofen rambled on, "As far as the developers go, I was curious about what the developers are really asking for, where they're at, so I did an in-depth study of real estate development, and, as you say, the area the city annexed in 2010 if they don't know what the fees are how do they go to the bank? How do they get their finances in place? They need to know what those fees are. And if we have a free-for-all basically, you can put as many gas station as you like, or liquor stores as many as you can get licenses for - liquor licenses for, that makes it hard for developers also. There's no guarantee of anything for the developers when they come with the way we have it. And I'm not going to take the time to go into detail right now, but I really feel the issues need to be addressed by this Commission. That's all I have to say."

Well, it's reassuring that Mr. Mayrhofen does indeed understand that DIF amounts have not been established in the annexed area and he knows that because of his "in-depth study of real estate development" because he didn't seem to understand it from the information in the agenda packet or the discussion of the Commission. But he seems to be under the very mistaken impression that DIFs are the basis on which all our planning and zoning are based. Zoning still applies and building permits still must be acquired from the city, regardless of the status of DIFs.

I wonder why Mr. Mayrhofen won't go into detail. This is his opportunity to speak to the entire Commission (and to the residents and citizens of the city) legally without violating the Brown Act.

Commissioner Grant said she wanted the meeting to follow Robert's Rules of Order. Long ago the City Council voted to adopt Rosenberg's Rules of Order over Robert's because the results from both are basically the same, but Rosenberg's Rules are about 50 times shorter than Robert's (maybe 500 times shorter) and much easier to comprehend. She went on to say that there have been several instances where the Commission's findings have not been written accurately. I'm just going to type out what she said, because I can't summarize it. "Chair, if I may, for this particular agenda, and there's been a few, I guess, a few before. I really would like for us to follow what is written with Robert's Rules. Also with basically how for us to be in compliance as [unclear] Commissioners. Actually look at findings, because there has been several instances where our findings are not written accurately and it seems like we're in a rush job in having you from our last meeting in July say that you were ready to leave at a certain amount of time. I don't know if you were joking or not."

Ms. Grant was referring to a remark made by Chair Griffith during Commissioner comments at the July 13, 2021, meeting of the Planning Commission. It was a short meeting (38 minutes). If you want to hear the remark in context this link will take you to the 34-minute point in the video of that meeting; about 30 seconds later the Chair interrupts himself to say "Yes, I'm disappointed. It's after 6:30, so there." I don't know what it means or who he was speaking to. It was as if he was orally responding to a text message from someone unseen. If you want fuller context (but it still doesn't help clarify the Chair's intent when making that remark), you can scroll back to this point in Mr. Mayrhofen's comments. He had been discussing sidewalks being required for new houses and staff began to try to answer his questions. After that he began to attempt to make various motions as the Chair and staff explained to him (also repeatedly) that he could not make motions during Commissioner comments. It was like talking to a block of wood.

But to return to Ms. Grant's comments during the debacle of August 24: "But that was a concern for me and how we looked in front of the community. Also, additionally, how we're perceived as a city, as a Commission, in working with our community, with our developers, with business owners, that we need to just basically do our job in reading that agenda, looking at the findings, going over those conditions of approval. And basically for tonight with the Development Impact Fees, if an applicant is not aware of why we have Development Impact Fees and even though this is not for us to even discuss but I think that it's the concern if we do not write the findings correctly then that's going to be an issue. A lot of the time the findings are not listed as saying one thing for us as Commissioners and I've read it and I don't want to say that my issue is with [unclear] I guess want to say Commission but it could be with staff. Sometimes that we need to basically go back and have them explain and write out what exactly in detail are their findings. I mean, in detail. Because they're not detailed enough for me. So I just need to get that off my chest right now in regard to what's going on and taking place on our Commission."

Commissioner Grant seems to have confused her terminology. The Planning Commission makes findings. Planning staff makes reports. When she is referring to "findings" I think she is referring to the staff reports and the documents provided in the agenda packet. She wants more detail in those reports. In the agenda packet for this meeting there were 88 pages of information on the appeal from Blue Dream Holdings. Now that that hearing is completed and the vote taken - now, Ms. Grant says she needed more information. More information that she did not seem to ask for during the hearing when she really needed it to make the proper decision. And she sees this as a failure of staff or the Commission.

Deputy CM Wilms reminded the Commission that staff offers and encourages standing meetings with Commissioners where agenda items can be reviewed prior to the Commission meeting. She said most members attend those meetings, but not all do.

Mr. Mayrhofen asked to "respond." The Chair permitted this, even though Commissioner comments is not the time for a back and forth discussion of non-agendized items.

Mayrhofen: "Those staff meetings are great. But if the proper information and the proper time was allotted for us to read over this stuff, it would be a shorter meeting. I know that I've been guilty of not making some of those meetings because in the past I've asked questions and I haven't gotten the answers. Not even at the meeting. And the questions that I have are the same questions that the general public should be listening to and listening to it to not only the Commissioners' questions but the response from the city staff so that they understand what's going on. So I agree that there's some things that we should be discussing with the city staff before we come to the meeting, but the majority of it can be taken care of during the meeting."

I want to interject here that I have never felt myself to be qualified to be a Planning Commissioner. I've never been any kind of Commissioner. I've never gotten Commissioner training or training on the Brown Act. I don't get to have one on one meetings with city staff to review the issues. I'm just an English major (just a BA) retired from a career as a low-level bureaucrat within the Social Security Administration. But I can read and understand the entire agenda packet (311 pages) between its release and the Tuesday meeting. If Commissioner Mayrhofen can't read and comprehend the agenda packet and won't seek out staff support and won't ask necessary questions during the meeting, maybe the problem doesn't lie with city staff but with Mr. Mayrhofen.

Commissioner Grant, not even waiting for any sort of recognition, spoke again (and the Chair silently permitted it). "Additionally, please excuse me, these agendas items that have been two-fold that's I'm looking at, some of them need, they need to really be separated because when you're going to make a motion like we've had these two earlier, we've had another one. I think it was the JADU that one, I believe, should have been separated. Those are just all things that I know maybe in the interest of time that they're being combined. But this should not continue."

That was a subject the Chair addressed earlier in the meeting and staff (Ms. Wilms, specifically) agreed strongly and said it would not happen again, so Ms. Grant is just being repetitious here.

Mr. Mayrhofen began to speak again and the Chair did nothing, seemingly resigned to letting the meeting degrade into a conversation pit.

Mayrhofen: "And, I have one more question. Why did Commissioner Duffle leave the meeting tonight?"

Finally, Attorney Mizrahi stepped into the vacuum the Chair Griffith had allowed, saying this agenda item was for Commissioner comments only, not discussion items. She began to address the Brown Act when Commissioner Grant interrupted her.

I'm going to make the point here that the two Commissioners who complained, saying the Chair should follow Rosenberg's (or Robert's) Rules of Order are the same ones who ignore Rosenberg's/Robert's rules about requesting recognition from the chair.

Grant: "May I ask something then? May I withdraw my vote? Is it too late to withdraw my vote? I want to withdraw my vote." Having decided that she does not need to listen to staff, Ms. Grant wants to return to obstructing the meeting entirely.

Attorney Mizrahi said "It's too late to withdraw. The public hearing has already closed."

Here's what Rosenberg has to say on the subject:

There is a special and unique motion that requires a bit of explanation all by itself; the motion to reconsider. A tenet of parliamentary procedure is finality. After vigorous discussion, debate and a vote, there must be some closure to the issue. And so, after a vote is taken, the matter is deemed closed, subject only to reopening if a proper motion to consider is made and passed.

A motion to reconsider requires a majority vote to pass like other garden-variety motions, but there are two special rules that apply only to the motion to reconsider.

First, is the matter of timing. A motion to reconsider must be made at the meeting where the item was first voted upon. A motion to reconsider made at a later time is untimely. (The body, however, can always vote to suspend the rules and, by a two-thirds majority, allow a motion to reconsider to be made at another time.)

Second, a motion to reconsider may be made only by certain members of the body. Accordingly, a motion to reconsider may be made only by a member who voted in the majority on the original motion. If such a member has a change of heart, he or she may make the motion to reconsider (any other member of the body — including a member who voted in the minority on the original motion — may second the motion). If a member who voted in the minority seeks to make the motion to reconsider, it must be ruled out of order. The purpose of this rule is finality. If a member of minority could make a motion to reconsider, then the item could be brought back to the body again and again, which would defeat the purpose of finality.

If the motion to reconsider passes, then the original matter is back before the body, and a new original motion is in order. The matter may be discussed and debated as if it were on the floor for the first time.

Ms. Grant should have known (if she were informed on Rosenberg) that she would have needed to make a motion to reconsider. At the July 13 Commission meeting, city staff and the Chair were making the point that no one could make any motions during Commissioner comments because there is no agendized subject, but Ms. Grant's request on August 24 is different. The appeal from Blue Dream Crossing was definitely an agendized item, and this meeting had not yet adjourned. If she had spent the time needed to review all seven pages of Rosenberg (there's also a title page, an index page, and a final page with copyright info bringing the grand total to ten pages) she would have known she could (I think) have made a motion to reconsider. And the city attorney should have known that too. That said, I think it's pretty poor form to reconsider a vote on a public hearing after all the participants in the public hearing have left the room. Somebody's going to feel they got screwed over if the results change. But Rosenberg's Rules aren't the only rules that apply. There may be a provision in the Brown Act that prevents a motion to reconsider a vote on a public hearing. I have no idea about that, but any informed Commissioner or Council member should know, right?

Commissioner Mayrhofen continued his discussion without asking for recognition. "I'm sorry Jennifer [Mizrahi], I am not asking for a discussion. I'm asking for an explanation as why our Commissioner had to go."

Vice Chair Duffle spoke up (Chair Griffith remained sitting passively). "Jennifer, I'm not quite sure what's going on, what I walked back into."

Mr. Mayrhofen interrupted him to say "Glad you're still listening, Commissioner Duffle - Vice Chair Duffle." Just as if they were having, one might say, a discussion.

Duffle: "...Mayrhofen, I was requested to come back. I actually recused myself from the last public hearing that was heard tonight just prior to the bathroom break. So I was not involved in the last public hearing that took place. I came back for the Commissioner comments and walked into what I can only describe as quite a mess, if I may. I'm going to forgo my Commissioner comments this evening, now that I've answered your question, and Mr. Chair I'd like to hand it back over to you."

Mayrhofen: "I don't believe - it's not up for discussion. I don't believe that's an answer. Thank you for coming." But no, he doesn't want to discuss it. If Mr. Mayrhofen had been sharp enough to ask the question he meant to ask ("Why did Vice Chair Duffle recuse himself?") he might have gotten a different answer. But he only asked why he left the meeting, allowing Mr. Duffle to reply with an accurate, but unsatisfying for Mr. Mayrhofen, answer.

Finally, Chair Griffith spoke! He said he had no comments. He asked Commissioner Nindel, who also had no comments. Meeting adjourned.

Meeting's over, but the video was still recording so it became Mr. Mayrhofen's chance to yet again spout off. "Thank you for using. That is not the way Rosenberg's Rules of Order say but the meeting's over. Maybe the city attorney can get with you [Chair Griffith had already logged out] and explain it to you. Thank you." You can watch the video as every other Commissioner and staffer logs out while Mr. Mayrhofen sits there, as if he is expecting a response...but not a discussion.

And I still have no idea why Commissioner Grant requested re-arrangement of the agenda. Any guesses?


September 7 City Council Meeting

Less than ten days after that hot mess of a Commission meeting, the agenda for the September 7, 2021, City Council meeting was posted. It contained among its entertaining items, three especially relevant to the Planning Commission:

  1. In closed session: "CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL – ANTICIPATED LITIGATION
    Significant exposure to litigation pursuant to subdivision (d)(2) of Section 54956.9: The facts and circumstances involve issues pertaining to a certain City Commissioner who has threatened litigation against another certain City commissioner, although no formal claim or action has been filed."
  2. In public hearings: "An Ordinance Amending Certain Sections of Chapter 17.104 "Hearings and Appeals," and Section 17.112.020, of the Desert Hot Springs Municipal Code to Implement a More Streamlined Process for Appeals of Directors' Decisions". It would revise the city code so that all appeals of development permits will go initially to the City Council rather than the Planning Commission.
  3. The very last item on the agenda: "Current Planning Commission Appointments
    Recommendation: Discussion and possible action regarding changes to the make-up of the current Planning Commission."
    IOW, shall heads roll?

Before we go any further, let's be sure we know who the players are.

City CouncilPlanning Commissioner
They Appointed
Mayor MatasCommissioner Nindel
Mayor Pro Tem BettsCommissioner Mayrhofen
Councilmember GardnerChair Griffith
Councilmember NuñezCommissioner Grant
Councilmember PyeVice Chair Duffle


Invocation

Councilmember Jan Pye delivered the invocation, which she read, with no apparent problem.


Closed Session Report

Attorney Mizrahi said that Mayor Pro Tem Betts recused himself from parts of the closed session meeting on the basis that the discussion was outside the scope of closed session.


Councilmember Comments

Mayor Pro Tem Betts said that the city had initiated an economic development effort for a new hotel in the city. He wanted to know if there was any program being put in place to do this for other hotels. Councilmember Pye said she would talk about it during her comments.

Councilmember Pye [her comments begin at the one-hour mark in the YouTube video] began by saying "What I wanted to say is when I talk to someone in the council meeting, I'd like for you to listen to me. Same thing happened with Gary Gardner not knowing what I was talking about." She continued, trying to make a point about the economic development effort Mr. Betts had referred to, but her speech was halting. She seemed to say the wrong words or mispronounce words frequently, would pause to apologize for that, and try again, not very successfully. Any suspicions as to whether or not she was suffering some sort of medical issue were confirmed when she discussed Rosh Hashanah, pronouncing it "Rosa Hacienda." She then looked across the room, apparently calling on Attorney Mizrahi, to ask if she had said it right.

I had never seen anything like this occur at any meeting and wondered how it could be dealt with. Obviously, she needed some help, but at the same time she was still owed all the rights and respect that are due a Councilmember, and she's entitled to privacy regarding her health. The Mayor couldn't stop her from speaking and demand to know what was wrong.

Ms. Pye concluded her comments after making some remarks about Labor Day. Mr. Nuñez helpfully added that this "Ron Hashanah" marked the "five-thousand-seven-hundred-and-eighty-oneth year." Google says it is year 5782 now, so he is correct as to the count.

Mayor Matas made his comments as quickly as possible without appearing too rushed and then declared a "5-minute break." This was pretty early for a break, but you can watch on the video and see Mr. Matas walk over to Ms. Pye immediately. The microphones are off, but his hand gesture seems to say "Can I talk to you outside?" Ms. Pye grabbed her bag and walked out with all the other City Council members, unassisted.

That break actually lasted about 33 minutes. When they came back Ms. Pye did not return and Mayor Matas said that she had given him permission to announce she had had a medical emergency and was on her way to Desert Regional under the care of CalFire and/or AMR. He said her vital signs were good and she was still speaking.

The Mayor said that the last item on the agenda, Current Planning Commission Appointments, was put on the agenda based on a decision Ms. Pye had made, so the item would now be tabled.


Appeals Process Amendment

This is intended to spare us some of the suffering we saw at the August 24 Planning Commission meeting by moving most of those appeals from the Planning Commission to the City Council.

Attorney Mizrahi said that not all appeals of the Community Development Director's approvals would go to City Council under the new provisions. She said there were exceptions for appeals based on architecture, design or landscaping. Those would continue to go to the Planning Commission for the first appeal. She said that, but that's not in the text of the amendment as shown in the agenda packet. She said the revised amendment with those exceptions had been distributed to the City Council. Mayor Pro Tem Betts said a "substantive change like this" (the exception for architecture, design and landscaping) should be given proper 72-hour notice. I would hardly call this substantive. The Planning Commission has been the body that got appeals based on architecture, design or landscaping, so this is not a change. The change is that all the other appeals would go directly to the City Council, and that had already been properly noticed. The "tweaks" (as Attorney Mizrahi termed them) reduced the substantive change of the amendment. Councilmember Nuñez said he thought the "verbage" would be "very, very important." Really? How complex a sentence would it take to write "except for issues of architecture, design or landscaping." The public didn't get to see what the revision looks like, so if Mr. Nuñez thought it needed correcting he could have read it out to the public so we'd know, too. Councilmember Gardner said it didn't look to him to be any more substantive than an amendment that might be offered during City Council debate. If this change were made at the initiative of a member of the City Council the meeting would not be postponed. Mayor Matas mentioned that it was sent to them in the afternoon, so they all had had some hours to look it over. He went on to point out that like all ordinances, it will come back to the Council for a second reading and the Council can revise it then, if necessary. And, if you want to know how the revised text reads, just wait until the next Council meeting and read it in that agenda packet.

It was at this point (before the Mayor opened the public hearing) that Mr. Betts suggested the meeting be continued "in light of what's happened tonight it might be a good idea to continue the meeting." Mayor Matas said there were two items that would be easy to get through and opened the public hearing. Planning Commissioner Chair Griffith came to the podium to testify. He said he was glad to see this before the Council, but if they were going to continue the item, he'd rather wait to make his comments. The Mayor said he was going to continue the item to the next meeting, so Mr. Griffith decided to wait. Mr. Betts made the motion to continue it to September 21; Mr. Nuñez seconded. Approved 4-0.


First Amendment to Building Department Plan Check Professional Services Agreement with Scott Fazekas and Associates

This would extend the contract with Scott Fazekas and Associates (SFA) for three more years at a rate of $500,000 annually with a contingency amount of $200,000! The city usually has contingency amounts of 10% or so on many contracts so that a small cost overrun doesn't bring work to a halt while staff goes back to City Council to ask for just a little more money. But I've never seen anything like a 40% contingency amount. That sounds like the sort of contingency you'd want if you were about to venture forth into some great unknown, like taking a trip to Mars, for example. Who knows how much that would cost, better include a 40% contingency. The taxpayer can be a little reassured, I suppose, in knowing that all of these amounts are paid by developers, not by taxpayers.

Mayor Matas asked about the large contingent amount. The explanation from Erick Becerill, a new "Building Official" on staff (they gotta come up with a better title than "Building Official" - how about "Building Wrangler?") is that they are expecting some significant projects to come before the city that will really eat up that $500,000. Why not just ask for $700,000 outright with, say, a 5% contingent amount? Finance Director Buchheim said contingent amounts usually are in the 5% to 20% range, but he was okay with this 40% amount because the city expects to be using a large amount of plan check services. The Mayor asked why not go for $600,000 with a $100,000 contingent amount. Mr. Becerill said that they do hope to keep the expense within the $500,000, but they would like to have the flexibility to exceed it if there's a bigger building boom.

He made numerous points about the good service provided by SFA. They consistently turn around initial plan reviews in 10 days and rechecks in five days. He said no other city in the valley could provide such good service to developers.

Mr. Nuñez asked if the fees were higher for a larger project. A hard-hitting and perceptive question. Perhaps you will be surprised to learn the answer was Yes, bigger plans cost more to check. And, even though it sounds like we are getting stellar service from this Irvine-based consultant, Mr. Nuñez said he would prefer a Coachella Valley consultant. He also said that he didn't want rechecks to run out to nine days, apparently not hearing the discussion about rechecks taking only five days. He wanted language in the amendment to guarantee that. Deputy City Manager Wilms responded that Mr. Becerill himself is qualified to do plan check, so when there are small items to be checked on small projects, he can just do it in house faster than the consultant.

Mayor Mataas moved to approve, but reduced the contingent amount to $100,000. Seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Betts. Approved 4-0.


After dealing with a delegate for the annual conference of the League of California Cities and instructing staff to develop a dumping ordinance with high fines, Mayor Matas began to move on to an item Mr. Betts had pulled from the Consent Calendar, but Mr. Betts was having none of it.


Current Planning Commission Appointments

Mayor Pro Tem Betts said he didn't believe this item had been tabled. Mayor Matas asked the city attorney if he had the authority to table an item. Ms. Mizrahi said it did require a motion to table an item. Mr. Matas moved to continue the item to the next Council meeting, September 21. It wasn't announced who seconded it, but it must have been Councilmember Gardner. The vote was 2-2 with Betts and Nuñez voting against.

Mayor Matas again tried to move on to the item from the Consent Agenda. Mayor Pro Tem Betts pointed out that since the motion failed, the Council now had to take up the item. Mr. Matas said that Ms. Pye had asked that any items that she helped place on the agenda be postponed. Mr. Matas announced that earlier. "You agreed to it in the back and now you're saying you're not," he said to Mr. Betts. Mr. Betts denied participating in a "serial meeting." The Mayor said it was not a serial meeting. He had announced to everyone [on the Council, during the long recess] that Ms. Pye would be leaving and he wanted to either table or continue this item.

Councilmember Gardner supported the Mayor's position, saying that this is an important item for Councilmember Pye and she is obviously unable to participate. It would be only fair, he said, to allow her to make her statements on this issue.

The Mayor said that in closed session the majority of the council voted to hear this item in open session. That vote was 3-1-1. Ms. Pye was one of the three voting in favor. We know the abstention was Mr. Betts, so the no vote must have come from Mr. Nuñez.

Councilmember Gardner moved to adjourn. Seconded by Mayor Matas. The vote was 2-2. So we see now that the Planning Commission's "problem" is not the Planning Commission's problem. It stems from the City Council's own problems. Mr. Betts having spotted a sudden opportunity to try to get the upper hand on Mr. Matas, intended to milk Ms. Pye's medical issue for all he could get.

After some discussion of the stalemate with the attorney, and with Mr. Betts trying to claim the obvious stalemate was not a stalemate, Mayor Matas decided to move on with the item pulled from the Consent Agenda, and then returned to this item.

Mayor Matas said that it was the behavior of Planning Commissioner Mayrhofen that caused the Mayor to place this item on the agenda. The Mayor said a little bit about the history of removing Commissioners and then asked Mr. Betts to say what he would like to say about his nominee, Mr. Mayrhofen. Mr. Betts pretended he hadn't heard the Mayor and had nothing to say. Mr. Betts began to make a motion. Mr. Matas asked him how he could make a motion when they are still in discussion and they hadn't even heard public comments yet. Mr. Betts said he didn't know what they were discussing - after voting twice to keep this item on the agenda for discussion. The Mayor said they were considering the possible removal, suspension, censure or nothing of Commissioner Mayrhofen. "On what grounds?" Mr. Betts asked, "I don't even know what this is about."

Councilmember Nuñez said "Just a quick question. There should be a correction. This is not has to do with Jan Pye's appointee, it has to do with Ted Mayrhofen, so this is why I continue - I think we should continue to hearing this item. It had nothing to do with Jan Pye's appointee." I wonder what his question was? No one had said or suggested this had anything to do with Jan Pye's appointee, Vice Chair Duffle. All references were to Commissioner Mayrhofen, so I don't know where Mr. Nuñez thinks the correction should be made...unless it's in his own mind.

As the meeting progressed it became clear that it does have something to do with Mr. Duffle, Jan Pye's appointee. The Council members shouldn't state that explicitly because (1) it's technically a personnel matter and (2) Mr. Duffle's involvement was discussed in closed session. But it will strongly appear that Mr. Duffle is the one who wrote something that the city attorney interpreted as a threat of possible litigation and that triggered the closed session item.

Mr. Betts said that he watched the August 24 meeting and he saw the letter that Vice Chair Duffle wrote (Mr. Betts did name Mr. Duffle explicitly). Mr. Betts asked the Mayor if he were trying to remove Mr. Mayrhofen from the Planning Commission. "I'm trying to figure out what the point of this meeting is," Mr. Betts said. Here he was pretending to be stupid on top of his usual stupid. If Ms. Pye were there, she would have provided the point. Without her, we're left with this half-assed nonsense. For about the fifth time, Mr. Matas explained the issues again. He said the contents of Mr. Duffle's letter (he did not name Mr. Duffle) are not available to the public, there was a threat of litigation, it's still a subject for closed session.

Mr. Betts said he thinks Mr. Mayrhofen has been doing "an excellent job." I ask the residents and citizens of Desert Hot Springs if they think Ted Mayrhofen excellently represents them and their interests on the Planning Commission. Or, is he in fact, intellectually overwhelmed by the task of being a Planning Commissioner while being more interested in finding fault with staff or other Commissioners than in trying to improve his own grasp on the subjects before the Commission?

Councilmember Gardner pointed out that this is a discussion item on the agenda, the Council does not have to take action. The phrasing on the agenda itself is "Discussion and possible action." Mr. Gardner said this item was finished, in his opinion.

Mr. Betts pointed out that he had earlier suggested adjournment, but the meeting rolled on. He resented being called callous. Few people like to have their own callousness pointed out to them. "But I'm not hearing any case for whatever is being suggested." Well, nothing, in fact, was being suggested. The Mayor introduced the item. Mr. Betts refused to discuss it at first. Mr. Nuñez asked his unnecessary "question." And Mr. Gardner said he thought discussion was done. No one was making a case for anything "suggested" because nothing was suggested.

Mr. Betts pointed out that the word "action" is in the agenda. Good reading, Mr. Betts. Maybe sometime soon you'll learn how to read and understand adjectives. It says "possible action."

Mayor Pro Tem Betts moved that Mr. Mayrhofen should remain on the Planning Commission; i.e., the fourth choice, nothing. Mr. Nuñez seconded.

Planning Commissioner Grant was waiting in Zoom to make a comment. "I just would like to hear what's happening, presently, before, I don't know if I have another opportunity to speak. But I'd like to know what's going on with our Planning Commission. That's the reason why I came tonight, because I saw that we were up. And then I saw the first agenda item, it might have been number three, so I don't know. I've had a struggle with my internet. All I could see was like the city seal, so I don't know if the Zoom had been working. I could hear, but I don't really know if it was working. So I'd like to hear what's going on with our Commission."

Mayor Matas replied by summarizing the history of this meeting very briefly. Then he handed her remaining 30 seconds back to Ms. Grant. "Can I discuss what's going at that Planning Commission?" That took 4 seconds and the Mayor reminded her that she had 30 seconds, but then granted her 60 seconds of time to speak. She said "Since I've been on the Planning Commission I've seen some cause for concern, and I would like to discuss that. Perhaps we could have had a study session clearly for the item that you guys first had on the agenda in regards to the Directors and how the appeal process would work. But there are several issues and violations that I've seen that I think that if I had more of an opportunity of rundown for you I have a complete list that might be helpful. And I don't know how this would impact myself as a Commissioner but I do care about the city and I think that it's important to discuss these things in public." Another meta-discussion, but this time actually a meta-comment. She spends her precious public comment time to tell us that she has things to tell us. End of public comment. Maybe someday she will tell us those things.

Then Commissioner Mayrhofen came up to the podium at the meeting to comment. "I don't understand what's going on here. Nobody sent me a letter. Nobody from city staff. I come here to this meeting tonight. Somebody in the audience tells me that a Commissioner is suing me. I have no knowledge of that. What am I being accused of? How come...you're all sitting there talking about removing me from the Commission and I've done nothing wrong. As a Marine I played a small part in American freedom and that small part is gone. What are we doing? I don't understand this. As a Marine I've always been taught to do things according to the book and that's what I've done as a Planning Commissioner. To the book. I've requested that we do the meetings according to Robert's Rules of Order [you will recall, of course, that he actually requested the meetings use Rosenberg's Rules of Order] which isn't happening. I don't want to write letters about other Commissioners and mistakes they're making on the Commission because they're not following Robert's Rules of Order. They're going around making comments like I'm going to be sued. What about defamation of character? What are you folks accusing me of? I don't understand it. What have I done wrong to bring this forth, for my name to come out in a public meeting where everybody in the city can hear it, when I've done nothing wrong? Please tell me here what I done wrong in those meetings. Tell me what meeting I did it wrong and explain it to me. The only thing I've done is voted yes or no on items that I believe should be voted yes or no on. Some of those items were what the City Council or city staff has brought forth as an agenda item and I didn't agree with it. I understand if the City Council has an ordinance that you can just dismiss any Commissioner for whatever reason. But that puts in the back of a Commissioner's mind, if I vote no on something that city brings, or another applicant brings will I be removed from the Commission. And apparently that's true. Because I've done nothing wrong. But yet, here we are, Mayor Matas, with you wanting me off the ... or discussing me being removed from the Commission. What have I done wrong? That's what I would really like to know tonight. What is this other Commissioner accusing me of? Why if there's a letter, why haven't I seen it? And why hasn't this other Commissioner's name been brought up in the public by the Commission tonight? [It had, his appointer, Mr. Betts brought it up.] Only my name's being brought up. Thank you."

First, no one has a right, constitutional or otherwise, to be a Commissioner. They are not elected. They are appointed and technically serve as at-will employees. The Commissioner has no due process rights regarding his dismissal, suspension or censure. No one has defamed his character in public. The letter from Mr. Duffle has been kept in closed session because it exposes the city to liability, not the Commissioner. If Mr. Mayrhofen wants that letter to be made public, then maybe he'll find out what defamation really is, depending on what's in the letter. And we'll find out what making that letter public does to the city's legal defenses. If Mr. Mayrhofen had been paying even the least attention, he would have heard that the current motion before the City Council is to keep him on the Planning Commission, but as we've seen at Planning Commission meetings, listening is not his strong suit.

Planning Commission Chair Griffith came to the podium. He said that the individual who had been named by Mayor Pro Tem Betts reported an incident to him one time. "Something" occurred between him and Mr. Mayrhofen. He said he has full faith in "the individual who wrote that letter" because he has worked with him for three years. He went on to say that he felt that an issue of this weight should be discussed with the full Council present.

Mayor Matas replied to Mr. Mayrhofen saying that he wasn't prepared at this time to get into the details of why his name is being discussed because of Ms. Pye's unexpected departure from the meeting. "You represent the City of Desert Hot Springs. You represent the City of Desert Hot Springs as a Planning Commissioner. You say, and you stand up there, that you've done nothing wrong. On the contrary, with what I've seen over the last six months, I do feel you've done a few things wrong. I'd be happy to sit down and talk man-to-man in my office, your office, wherever you call, and tell you what I've seen. I'd be happy to do that. That wasn't the reason for this item completely tonight. This item was brought forth based on a complaint made against you. I don't know who told you you were being sued. Again, it's conspiracy and talk among people that probably don't know. And so at this point I have no idea what you're talking about. [A common state of mind for people who try to listen to Mr. Mayrhofen.] To come up here and say you've done nothing wrong, is fine. But I also have my opinion as the Mayor of the City of Desert Hot Springs and what you represent when it comes to the full gamut of what the city needs to accomplish. I know there's other Council members up here that don't feel the same way I do. I've had many conversations with you over the years. I have no problem with having another conversation with you. But there are certain reasons we are here today. A decision cannot be made tonight, most likely, based on the information that's here today. It might not have been made even with a full Council. But it's our responsibility as a Council to make sure that our Commissions and our Commissioners represent the best interests of Desert Hot Springs. There was another comment made tonight about a study session. I mentioned it when I came to your Commission to speak as the Mayor that I respect that decision to be made. What I've tried to do is follow some leadership training that I've received where it's usually you give the new people in a company or a commission or a committee about six months to kind of feel each other out, see if they can work together, and then you can call a bigger meeting with everybody and that's what I stated to you at a meeting that I think you showed up late to and you might not have heard it, so maybe you are right, maybe you didn't hear this, or whomever brought that up. But a study session with the City Council and the Planning Commission is something I told you I would have after our summer break. That was something I was getting ready to schedule. Maybe there is some direction you need from the City Council. But what I don't understand is why we can't be professional at the Commission level. That's what I truly don't understand. And we are not running under the Robert's Rules of Order. We're under the Rosenberg's Rules of Order. So, please, when we make that comment -- is that correct? Am I correct? Because I've asked this question multiple times and keep getting heads shaking. I keep getting two different answers - not from our staff, but by Commissioners and Councilmembers. We'll do better. We'll try to do better. But I just don't understand the issues on the Planning Commission, I really don't. There's a lot of... I watched six months worth of meetings. I've watched some very hostile behavior in [Commissioner] comments that worry me. Truly does. Truly worries me. But I'm not ready to make a decision tonight. I'm not ready to make a decision without a full Council. And if it comes down to a motion, it really, at this point, wherever it ends up, we'll just go from there. Whatever it is."

Councilmember Nuñez said it was really early in the game to start making decisions. He said it would have helped if the City Council had at the start made sure that the Planning Commission and the City Council were on the same page. Well, everybody in every city always wants that, but he didn't suggest any means of achieving that elusive goal. He said the only the reason he wanted "this item to continue" [and by that he meant he wanted to continue discussing this item, not that he want to continue this item] "only because of the fact it had nothing to do with the appointee of Jan Pye." Really? That's the only reason? His only reason. And, yet, the item does have something to do with the appointee of Jan Pye. I can't tell if Mr. Nuñez is not paying any attention or if he's just lying to himself.

Oddly, at this point the camera cut to show Councilmember Pye's empty seat. Who's running the AV system in the new City Hall? Are we still using the contractors we had before, or is the system so simplified in the new building that somebody on city staff can handle it now?

Mr. Nuñez said said that this shouldn't have even been an agenda item. But he said nothing about that when it was time to vote to approve the agenda. It was approved unanimously. He said there will be litigation, so either he has some sort of precognition, or he has revealed a little bit of something from closed session.

Councilmember Gardner said he agreed with Mr. Nuñez and the Mayor, that the Council didn't have sufficient information to make any kind of decision "which is why we wanted to postpone it." Mr. Gardner went on to explain the meaning of "continue" to Mr. Nuñez. After Mr. Gardner finished speaking, Mr. Betts had the floor and felt the need to engage in a longer discussion of the meaning of "continue" and what he thought Mr. Nuñez had meant when he misused the word. Mr. Gardner began to speak over Mr. Betts who then asked Mayor Matas "Mr. Mayor, may I have my time please?" Mayor Matas responded, "You can. You've interrupted a lot of people so I gave him some leeway on that one." Mr. Betts responded "Here's what I don't do, I don't interrupt people. I sit here and I wait to see when it's my time." Mayor Matas laughed loudly at this as did I in the privacy of my own home. Mayor Matas remarked "Oh, that wasn't a joke?! I'm sorry, I thought you were joking!"

Mayor Pro Tem Betts easily holds the record for interrupting other Council members. He built up quite a strong lead in that competition in his earlier years on the Council, but he has improved his behavior in the last few years. He still interrupts, though. Every meeting. You can bet money on it, if you can find someone who will bet against you.

Mr. Betts then proceeded to lecture us all on Robert's Rules of Order. Ya know, this is a lot like the Trumpsters and Grashites. They cite the rules all the time, but they have no real understanding of how those rules work in practice. Betts, Mayrhofen and Grant make the most noise about Rosenberg's Rules of Order (or Robert's Rules of Order on odd-numbered days) and those three are the ones who ignore those rules most chronically, walking all over their fellow Council or Commission members to try to make some point.

Mr. Betts repeated his assertion that Mr. Mayrhofen is doing "an excellent job" on the Planning Commission. "The job that I would want any Planning Commissioner to do up there." I wonder what was his most excellent moment. Was it excellent when he argued against the screening on the trash enclosures that the applicant had already agreed to? Or was he being most excellent when he voted No on that massive marijuana cultivation project because they had agreed to screen their trash enclosures? If my arithmetic and tax knowledge are correct that cultivator will be paying well over $2-million/year into our city's treasury. Was he being excellent when he asked a developer how the developer had calculated the DIF amount? Did his excellence reach its peak when he carried out his Planning Commissioner duties by abstaining from the vote on the appeal from Blue Dream Crossing? Was his excellence on best display when he voted No on the amendments to bring DHS city code in line with state housing law; that is, when he voted to keep our laws in conflict with the state requirements after not participating in the discussion at all, asking no questions, and without a single word of explanation. We need to pinpoint his excellence so that all other Commissioners can study and learn from him.

OMG, just go watch the video of that Planning Commission shitshow and if you see Mr. Mayrhofen doing an "excellent job" then, by all means, be sure to vote for Mr. Betts when his re-election comes around, and he'll guarantee you more of the same.

Mr. Betts objected to the fact that staff interrupted Commissioners during their Commissioner comments. He did not, however, object to Mr. Mayrhofen interrupting Mr. Duffle's comments.

The lack of respect for others at the Planning Commission can be laid at the feet of Chair Griffith, IMO, as he does nothing to try to stop the interruptions or to stop the comments from turning into discussions. But that's a separate matter from Mr. Mayrhofen's failings. Maybe they both should do their jobs better, but that doesn't somehow make Mr. Mayrhofen "excellent."

Mr. Betts brought up Planning Commissioner Grant's request to change her vote. "So she asked, can I change my vote? The quick answer was 'No.' That's not Robert's Rules of Order [the Planning Commission and the City Council use Rosenberg's Rules of Order]. It was an instant 'No, you can't change your vote.' So what happens in that instance? It's already the vote's been recorded, they've moved on, and now somebody wants to change their vote. And I have seen that happen in many boards and commissions where I serve. And the chair says 'Is there any objection?' Seeing no objection, the vote is changed. [Well, that may be how it's done under Robert's, but certainly not under Rosenberg's Rules.] If somebody speaks up and there is an objection, then there is a vote. And it's a vote that's not debatable. That's Robert's Rules of Order. That wasn't done at the last meeting."

My problem with Commissioners Mayrhofen and Grant's frequent calls to follow the proper rules of order is they are never specific, except for the two times that Mr. Mayrhofen pointed out that he doesn't like how Chair Griffith closes the meetings. Just repeatedly saying "Please follow Rosenberg's Rules of Order" will not get you what you want unless you are specific about what violations of the rules you think are going on. One can safely assume that Chair Griffith thinks he is, in fact, following Rosenberg correctly. If they have a problem with interruptions, say it's interruptions. But at the same time, don't complain about interruptions when you yourself are guilty of frequent interruptions.

Mr. Betts continued to ramble on about Robert's Rules of Order which are not relevant to the meetings of either the City Council or the Planning Commission. I thought he was building up to making some sort of comparison with Rosenberg's Rules, but he never did. Either he still does not grasp that the city uses Rosenberg's rules, or he pays too little attention to his word choice when speaking. Flip a coin.

Then Mr. Betts brought up the fact that he had not noticed Mr. Duffle had recused himself from the meeting for the Blue Dream Crossing appeal. When he recused, Mr. Duffle switched in a photo of himself as a placeholder in the Zoom meeting. Mr. Betts also did not notice this. All of the Commissioners except Ms. Grant show themselves live while they are at the meeting. Ms. Grant occasionally substitutes a still photo of herself. If you're paying as much attention as Mr. Betts claims he does, it's not hard to see who is present and who is not. I had no trouble following the process as Mr. Duffle recused himself and then the Chair called for a recess. Vice Chair Duffle's statement starts here (at 1:00:24) and it took about nine seconds for him to say it quite clearly while (miraculously) no one else was talking or trying to interrupt. Clear as a bell, there it is.

I don't see how Mr. Betts's failure to pay attention can be the basis for the criticism of anyone at the Planning Commission. Mr. Betts said the "proper procedure" is to state why you recuse yourself. That certainly is the usual practice and, I think, the best practice, but I don't know if the Brown Act requires one to state the reason for recusal if the reason is not a financial one. Mr. Betts accused Mr. Duffle of "going off" when questioned by Mr. Mayrhofen. Go here (at 2:30:53) and watch Mr. Duffle's calm, level-voiced, polite answer to Mr. Mayrhofen's question. He didn't even show any irritation when Mr. Mayrhofen interrupted him. If every Commissioner would behave as professionally as Mr. Duffle (and some already do), we'd have a stellar Planning Commission and you wouldn't be reading this!

Mr. Betts claimed Mr. Mayrhofen got cut off when asking Mr. Duffle why he was absent. He said "City attorney jumped in and said 'Well, sorry we've got to follow Robert's Rules of Order. You're getting into a discussion."

Here's how that really went down (at 2:30:04).
Mayrhofen: [without asking for recognition] "And, I have one more question. Why did Commissioner Duffle leave the meeting tonight?"

Mizrahi: [not interrupting, Mayrhofen had finished his question] "Mr. Chair, members of the Commission, this is just for Commissioner comments. This is not discussion items. Again, we're kind of falling a little bit outside of the Brown Act." No mention of either Robert's or Rosenberg's Rules.

Grant: [interrupting Mizrahi] "May I ask something then? May I withdraw my vote?"

Mr. Betts got something right when he said "It's a discussion when a bunch of people from staff and other Commissioners start blurting out and jumping in on the meeting." Yes. Exactly. And if you watch the video of the Planning Commission meeting you will see that the Commissioners who chronically interrupt or don't ask for recognition are Mayrhofen and Grant. Staff, too, does speak, trying to address the issues raised, but that's going on because the Chair has let a leadership vacuum develop. It should have been the Chair, not the attorney, answering Mayrhofen's question. But when two Commissioners are dragging the meeting down into a mess and the Chair is doing as little as possible to stop it, staff does step in to try to protect the city.

Mr. Betts addressed Mr. Mayrhofen directly. "Ted, I am so sorry that you are going through this. And your words were very poignant when you stepped up to that podium and said 'What did I do? You're smearing my name all over this town and I don't even know what I did.'"

Then Mr. Betts shifted to his whiny-baby mode; always a strength of his. "I watched and I saw the Planning Commission - you know, there's an item comes through and they had a lot of ex parte communications with developers which, you know one of my Planning Commissioners absolutely refused to have an ex parte communication with a developer, an applicant coming to their project. That's where the developer says 'Hi, I want to talk to you about this project, so, you know, you can understand it before we go in the public hearing.'"

Mayor Matas: "You're off track."

Betts: "I'm not off track."

Matas: "This is about the Planning Commissioners..."

Betts: [speaking over the Mayor] "This is about the Planning Commissioner. This is certainly about what's going on at the Planning Commission."

Matas: "I'm just letting you know for the record I've made a ruling that this is not on topic."

Betts: "Okay, so I called for a vote...what do you want to do, end debate? What are you talking about?"

Matas: "I didn't say that. I just said you're off topic."

Betts: "Well, you don't have the authority to end...to tell me."

Matas: "I didn't end anything. I just wanted to advise you you're off topic."

Betts: "Okay, well, that's your opinion. I'm about to make my point, except now you've interrupted... You know, you're doing the same thing to me that the rest of the Commission does to Ted. When he's there... When he's in the middle of making..."

Matas: "It's my job as a chairman. I don't see any committee or commission I've ever served on that would not listen to the chair or Mayor or commissioner that is in charge of that committee when they said you're off topic. If you disagree with me, fine, but I'm putting it on the record that you're off topic."

Betts: [speaking over part of the Mayor's statement above] "Scott, please, quit interrupting. It's not your job to interrupt a Council member. So what was I talking about that was off topic, now that you've got me off topic?"

Matas: "You were talking about a developer and a Planning Commissions."

You can see that it was Mr. Betts who interrupted himself. When the Mayor first said "You're off track," Betts could have simply said "I'm coming to my point" and flowed right on with whatever he had to say, but instead suddenly a shiny object appeared and that shiny object was a chance to bicker with the Mayor. Do I need to point out that it is VERY MUCH THE JOB of any meeting Chair to 'interrupt' when the meeting begins to go off track, otherwise you could just dispense with the Chair outright.

Betts: [speaking over the Mayor] "Okay, so one of the things that Commissioner Mayrhofen has brought up that people have expressed as objectionable is he doesn't want to go into staff meetings and talk all about the item and then go to the Planning Commission meeting and just talk about it and then just vote on it. And he made that point during the last Commission meeting. That's one of the things that somebody watching the meeting might think is disagreeable if they don't agree with these points. But the conversation is supposed to take place in public. It's not supposed to take place where everybody gets together with staff, here's how you should vote on this, here's how everything should go, here's all the information and then they just go in and nothing gets questioned or worked out."

Here Mr. Betts has simply invented a story out of thin air. Mr. Mayrhofen has complained repeatedly that he doesn't have enough time to study the agenda and all the issues between the time the agenda is posted and Commission meets on Tuesday night. The very same complaint, BTW, that Mr. Betts has made himself, many times. After a couple of complaints staff will remind the Commissioners generally (they never single out Mr. Mayrhofen) that they are available before the meeting to go over any agenda items. Staff suggests regularly scheduled meetings to discuss planning issues arising with the city. Some of the Commissioners do have these scheduled meetings. The City Council does this very same thing, and it's my impression that most, if not all, of the City Council participates in meetings like this, including even Mr. Betts. These are not Brown Act violations - it's one Commissioner/Councilmember at a time. Staff does not tell the Commissioner/Councilmember how to vote or how to think. If a Commissioner or Councilmember never questions, that's not on the staff, that's a problem with the Commissioner or Councilmember.

Mr. Mayrhofen's choices are:

  • Figure out a way to study the agenda and related issues thoroughly before the meeting without the help of city staff;
  • Continue to complain at meetings that he doesn't understand and he doesn't have enough information; or
  • Get more information about agendized items and related issues by scheduling meetings with planning staff.

It is entirely Mr. Mayrhofen's responsibility to choose how he is going to proceed on the Planning Commission. I suspect he will choose the second option, make no changes and continue to complain, while delivering less than a full Commissioner's job.

Mr. Betts has a fantasy that Commissioners Mayrhofen and Grant are asking tough questions to reveal important information to the public; information that for some unstated reason is being withheld from the public by staff and the other Commissioners who, I guess, are "in on it." Nothing could be further from the truth. Once again I ask you to watch the video of the August 24 Planning Commission meeting. Commissioner Grant almost never gets around to asking a material question, preferring her meta-discussion instead. And Commissioner Mayrhofen is alternately silent or engaged in some kind of WTF behavior like arguing that a cultivation site should employ live humans to keep ravens, coyotes, and nefarious punks out of the trash enclosures rather than use the far cheaper and more practical method of simply screening them, an insane notion introduced by that loose cannonball Mr. Duffle. If you've read this far, you know I don't bother to label my sarcasm for the benefit of the slow.

Betts: "He's made the point at that last meeting that 'I want to...I want this out in the public. The public has a right to hear this stuff, we're not going to do all this stuff, you know, outside the public hearing process.'"

Mr. Mayrhofen never made any such point, unless Mr. Betts is referring to Mr. Mayrhofen's total misunderstanding of the discussion about the paving of 13th Street alongside that new cultivation site which triggered him into trying to have a discussion about paving Hacienda all the way out to Little Morongo.

Betts: "The Chair needs to exercise a whole lot more control and procedure on how it's run and sometimes it might seem awkward, but I think the Chair, and I know he's capable of doing that, I just think, I don't know if he's being afraid to tell say 'Hey, be quiet until it's your turn to talk.'"

He said he thought it was extremely unfair to cast aspersions against somebody "doing an excellent job." No one had cast any aspersions that I heard. Not in the meetings, anyway. I've cast aspersions, but I'm just a voter and entitled to cast aspersions on any and all elected or appointed officials or paid city staff. I cast my aspersions as I see 'em.

Why are aspersions always "cast," but never thrown or tossed or delivered or even insinuated?

Mr. Betts eventually stopped and Mayor Matas once again recited the few facts that are true and available to the public. Some Commissioner wrote something that had to be considered in closed session; the Mayor put an item on the open session agenda to also deal with that item if necessary, anyone can read the description of the item on the open agenda. He "implored" people to go watch the Planning Commission video. "I will tell you right now that the Chairman runs a good meeting. The Commissioners, for the most part, all have a good part in that meeting. I have no problem with any Commissioners, except for the way at the end that Mr. Mayrhofen acted." He went on to say that he wasn't going to make a decision on this item this night because he didn't have all the facts because of Ms. Pye's departure from this meeting.

Mayor Matas continued, apparently intending to address Mr. Mayrhofen, "Your assumptions up here were based on what he [the Mayor gestured toward Mr. Betts to indicate that's who he was referencing when he said 'he'] told you and only he told you, and that's not right, Mr. Mayrhofen. You represent the City of Desert Hot Springs not just the person who appointed you. And I hope that you see that in the future because I respect you and I hope you respect me. You've confused the situation multiple times by saying Robert's Rules of Order or Rosenberg's Rules of Order. All I was doing is correcting the fact that we run under the Rosenberg's Rules of Order which you corrected the Chair at the last meeting. I wasn't trying to be flippant. I wasn't trying to call you out. All I was trying to do is correct the information that had been put out here. Mr. Betts has said multiple times that Robert's Rules of Order and then Rosenberg's Rules of Order. So it's been confused by a lot of different people. I have no problem with Ms. Grant. I don't know why she's being sucked into the situation that was discussed tonight which was just about you. I have no problem with the Chair, the way he runs his meeting. If you watch the meeting, yes, staff stepped in a couple times to answer questions, it seemed like. I don't think they overstepped their bounds. Yes, sometimes you're seen by the Chair when you're a staff member to be recognized and other times they might just jump in and say something. Maybe if you're the Chair of the meeting you won't like that, you'd tell staff."

He continued: "You're appointed Commissioner. All I ask is that all Commissioners do their best to represent Desert Hot Springs. It's not my position to tell you to go visit with staff. I would encourage you to, to visit staff, and know all the reasons to the agenda item. It's not my position to sit here and call you and tell you you're doing a good job or a bad job, which I know there is a Council member that reprimands all of the Commissioners that they don't do what he feels is important. And I think that's harassment. I think there's a lot of daisy-chain going on there. And I think there is law being broken by that. Especially when staff members are called and harassed during the meetings, when Commissioners are called and harassed during meetings, when a Council member goes around and talks to multiple Council members (which is against the law) on issues that are facing the Planning Commission. I think there's a lot of proof to all that, but we're not here to listen to that tonight. We're here to talk about what was on here which was a Commission appointment which was discussion or possible action. I think we've discussed it to death. I don't think there's going to be a decision tonight. Don't think there needs to be a decision tonight. If there is a decision tonight, doesn't mean this item can't be brought back in the future if there's another problem and we have a problem with the Chairman and we want to bring it back and have a discussion on him. So be it. We can downplay it and act like it's everybody else's fault, but the person that's being talked about tonight, or we can just have a professional conversation here, which is, I don't think the decision's going to be made tonight on anything. It was put on here as a placeholder, depending on what was done in closed session. One of the people in closed session had to go to the hospital. I don't think a decision will be made tonight."

The Mayor reminded everyone there is a motion on the floor to retain Mr. Mayrhofen as Commissioner. He said he didn't know why that motion was made because there hadn't been any discussion about removing him from the Commission.

Mr. Betts spoke up [don't be silly and think he asked to be recognized first]. "Mr. Mayor, you certainly alluded and ..."

Matas: "I did not. Please don't put words in my mouth. [Mr. Betts continued to try to speak.] Please stop right now."

Betts: continues to try to talk

Matas: [sternly!} "You are not going to control this meeting. You are not going to tell me what's in my brain. [Mr. Betts stopped talking.] You had your time. Everybody sat here and listened to you. Do NOT tell me what I'm thinking. I am tired of you harassing me. [Betts tried again to speak over him.] I'm tired of you being a bully. And you're not going to bully your way into a decision tonight."

Betts: "Scott, there's not going to be a decision..."

See how it is? Rosenbergs's/Robert's Rules of Order only apply to Betts when he wants them to apply. At all other times he can interrupt and freely say whatever the hell he wants.

Matas: "Please stop. [Betts continues.] Pleases stop. [Betts continues.] Please stop harassing me. [Betts tries speaking away from the microphone.] Please stop harassing me, Mr. Betts."

Betts shuts up. You can observe that blessed moment at 3:10:34.

The Mayor called for the vote. A roll call vote was taken. Mayor Pro Tem Betts was called on first and he said "What's the motion?" It's his own goddamn motion, fer chrissake! Mayor Matas pointed out that the motion was displayed on their screens as "Mayrhofen remain on PC." The vote was 3-1 with Councilmember Gardner voting no.

The Mayor apologized to the public for the outbursts and the way this meeting was handled. He apologized to city staff. "If you've been harassed by a Council member, please see HR."

Meeting adjourned...but we'll probably never get Mr. Mayrhofen's opinion on whether the meeting was adjourned in the correct way.

It seems fairly likely that this item will re-appear on the agenda sometime after Ms. Pye returns to the dais. Then we'll hear her views on the matter and maybe even her views on the disrespect shown her by Mr. Betts, especially, although Mr. Nuñez should bear equal responsibility.

The next meeting of the Planning Commission will be Tuesday, September 14. It will be available via Zoom, but if you have no comments to make, it's probably easier to watch it live on YouTube. Here's a link to the city's YouTube site.

permalink | September 12, 2021 at 08:46 PM | Comments (2)

September 8, 2021

DHS Planning Commission

In case you are thinking of believing the hogwash that Betts served up at the September 7 City Council meeting, here is the August 24 Planning Commission meeting. Watch it and see what a dumbass Mayrhofen is in reality.

permalink | September 8, 2021 at 02:46 PM | Comments (0)

September 7, 2021

Four With Tri-X In Desert Hot Springs

All of these photos were shot in Desert Hot Springs on Tri-X film.
66018

Hydrant (1)

Mailbox (2)

Desert Hot Springs COVID Vaccination Site (2)

permalink | September 7, 2021 at 07:54 PM | Comments (0)

September 4, 2021

Four Infrared Shots In Desert Hot Springs

Dollar General Construction (1060)
Dollar General construction viewed from the gate on Fourth Street
.

Bougainvillea on 12th Street (1049)
Bougainvillea on 12th Street
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Aqua Soleil Resort (1021)
Aqua Soleil resort
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Wardman Park Playground (1039)
Playground equipment in Wardman Park
.

permalink | September 4, 2021 at 07:04 PM | Comments (0)

August 28, 2021

Angelica Marie Mendez Arrested

It all started with this video shot and narrated by Mendez at the Palm Desert Costco (my Coscto!) in which she made certain baseless assumptions, called the police and then got the community all excited. Today she was arrested and charged with providing false information to a police officer and knowingly filing a false police report. AND (surprise, surprise) she's from Desert Hot Springs.

On Friday, August 20, 2021, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department (Palm Desert Station) received information from a citizen that a female juvenile was a victim of child neglect and sexual assault. These serious allegations set in motion hundreds of staff-hours, by several law enforcement agencies, in two separate states.

There were four independent investigations related to this incident. All four of the independent investigations concluded the allegations were false. It appears the reporting person had seemingly made up the allegations and had no supporting evidence to substantiate her claims. Her claims, both to law enforcement and publicly had numerous inconsistencies.

Because of the horrendous nature of the allegations there was significant public outrage. This outrage sparked countless calls to our Dispatch Center, city, and county officials. All the while the four independent investigations were fully staffed and tracking accordingly.

The countless calls to our Dispatch Center took up valuable call time for other citizens who were in need of emergency services. The Sheriff’s Department would also like to explain that if this were a legitimate criminal incident, the frivolous aspects and misinformation would have hindered the investigation and ultimately the welfare of the child. Not to mention the adverse effect on any future prosecution efforts.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department would like to remind the public that not all information that is on the internet or on social media is accurate and can be very misleading. While we appreciate the understandable outrage with child-crimes, we encourage the public to be engaged and helpful toward law enforcement, so it can be a community effort when combating crime.

The case was presented to the District Attorney’s Office and they deemed it to have probable cause that a crime had been committed by the original reporting party, Angelica Mendez. An arrest warrant was issued by the Riverside County Court.

On Saturday, August 28, 2021, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department arrested Angelica Marie Mendez, 21-years-old, from Desert Hot Springs for providing false information to a police officer and knowingly filing a false police report.

permalink | August 28, 2021 at 07:01 PM | Comments (0)

Kam Lun Scores 95/A With Health Department

A couple of local restaurants reported in the Press-Entperise.

Kam Lun Chinese Food, at 66610 Eighth St. in Desert Hot Springs, which failed an Aug. 3 inspection with a 74/C and was closed because of a rodent infestation, was permitted to reopen Aug. 23. The restaurant is now on probation after three failed inspections and two closures in less than two years, and it passed its first probationary inspection with a 95/A.

Santorini Gyro, at 190 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, was inspected Aug. 19 and received a failing grade of 83/B with one critical violation. Multiple containers of food — cooked meat, hummus, yogurt dressing and soup — had been left out at room temperature overnight. Among the 11 other violations, the facility had an unapproved exhaust hood and didn’t have a grease interceptor, and was told to stop preparing food that generates grease and oil or uses equipment that requires a hood — which it had previously been told in June. Also, exposed piping in the ceiling was dripping in an area where food is prepared, utensils were being stored in dirty standing water, food was being stored in the janitorial area and another room not approved for food storage, the meat shaver handle was held together with duct tape, the water heater didn’t appear to have enough capacity, and there was an unapproved sink and unapproved wood laminate shelving in the facility. The restaurant failed two inspections in June and now faces a permit suspension/revocation hearing.

permalink | August 28, 2021 at 09:26 AM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2021

"UFO" Spotted In DHS Was A Blimp

Here's the article with video. The driver is headed south on highway 62. You see a blimp heading west through the Banning Pass with Mt. San Jacinto as backdrop. I've seen the Goodyear blimp fly through there just like that. It's clearly way too big to be a "surveillance drone" as someone suggested.

permalink | August 25, 2021 at 09:23 PM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2021

Death In (Near?) Mission Creek Preserve

A Desert Sun article about a death in Mission Creek Preserve where we are, once again, left confused as to the actual location. The Coroner's press release about this death gives the location as 605500 Mission Creek, Whitewater which I thought must be a typo, but Google maps puts that on Mission Creek Road east of the gate into Mission Creek Preserve. Apple Maps puts it clear down at the intersection of Mission Creek Road and Highway 62. Bing Maps does the same as Apple. So maybe it is a typo.

The part that really confused me was this sentence in the Desert Sun article: "The gate leading to the preserve's headquarters building, which is owned by the Wildlands Conservancy along with the adjacent Whitewater Preserve, was open and several deputies were nearby." There is no headquarters building in Mission Creek Preserve...or at least none that I've ever seen or heard of. HQ is over in the Whitewater Preserve. Mission Creek Road leads to a shelter in Mission Creek, but no HQ. This had me wondering for a bit if the body was actually found over in Whitewater, but I don't think the Sheriff's Department would get that so wrong. Easier to believe that a Desert Sun reporter just doesn't know what's in the Mission Creek Preserve.

28-year-old man found dead in Mission Creek Preserve near Whitewater; sheriff investigating

Christopher Damien Palm Springs Desert Sun

A 28-year-old man was found dead in Mision Creek Preserve last week, according to preserve leaders and law enforcement, and a cause of death investigation remains open.

Riverside County Sheriff's Department said Wednesday that Matthew Jernigan, 28, was found dead in the preserve on Aug. 10.

Preserve Manager Kerry Puckett said that one of his staff rangers traveled to the preserve early that morning for regularly scheduled monitoring of the 4,760-acre property just east of Highway 62 on Mission Creek Road.

The gate leading to the preserve's headquarters building, which is owned by the Wildlands Conservancy along with the adjacent Whitewater Preserve, was open and several deputies were nearby.

Puckett said the deputies had been dispatched after a hiker had reported seeing the body about 30 feet south of the road leading to the building. The deputies told the ranger, Puckett said, that the deceased person was believed to be homeless.

Puckett added that the body was found unclothed and that clothes and belongings were found strewn in the brush on the opposite side of the road, about 50 feet away.

The Riverside County Sheriff's Department has not yet determined what caused Jernigan's death, but it remains under investigation.

Kelly Jernigan, Matthew's aunt, said that the family has been informed that there were no signs of trauma found on the body, but that not much is known about what caused his death.

"Matthew was loved," Kelly Jernigan said by phone.

She added that he had been living with family in the area for the last couple of years, and had been struggling with homelessness.

Puckett said that preserve staff occasionally are involved in rescuing injured hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail, which hikers can access from the preserve. But in his seven years as preserve manager, he's never had a body found on the property.

"This is a rare occurrence, and the public shouldn't be worried about the safety of wilderness areas," Puckett said.

Jernigan's is the second unclothed body found in a remote area in the Coachella Valley by a hiker within a month. The body of Ty Alan Everroad was found July 13 by a hiker along the train tracks in northern Cathedral City, about 10 miles east of where Jernigan was found.

Cathedral City Police Commander Julio Luna said in a statement issued the following week that Everroad appeared to be homeless and that there was no evidence of foul play. The Riverside County Coroner's Office has not yet publicly released Everroad's cause of death.

Thomas Gerling, who found the body, said that he was concerned about how Everroad's neck appeared to be at an extreme angle and looked to have maybe been broken.

Puckett added that Jernigan's possessions were left in the brush after the body was taken by the coroner's office.

"We found it odd that the clothing wasn't removed from the scene," Puckett said. "We don't feel it's our place to dispose of them. We're working to get the belongings to the department in case any family members want them."

permalink | August 19, 2021 at 07:35 AM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2021

MSWD Response To Uken Report

Background: Back in October 2020, when flows to the Horton Wastewater Treatment plant were especially heavy because so many people were staying home due to the COVID pandemic, the crew at the Horton plant built a temporary holding pond for treated wastewater. "Treated wastewater" is what you get after sending sewage through primary and secondary treatments. It's clean enough under federal and California law to discharge back into the environment; i.e., allowed to percolate back into the groundwater (as at the Horton plant) or discharged into a body of water, if you've got such a thing. The dike forming the temporary holding pond was breached and treated sewage flowed out of the Horton plant and into the neighboring residential area. It was cleaned up within 24 hours and no private dwellings were damaged.

In the General Manager's Report submitted to the MSWD Board of Directors at the November 12, 2020, and November 16, 2020, board meetings, GM Arden Wallum wrote:

The Horton WWTP experienced a breach of a temporary containment area for secondary effluent from the percolation ponds. Staff had been pumping the water out of a pond into the temporary basin to expedite the cleaning and preparation for the pond to be put in use sooner. The water that left the plant flowed into the Dos Palmas service area. Once staff was notified of the situation, all necessary measures were taken to clean up the area and prevent any further flow from leaving the plant. No major damage occurred during this spill.

That paragraph from Mr. Wallum is the entirety of public information voluntarily provided by the MSWD staff and board until Director Grasha began making some noise about it a few months ago. I do not believe I have missed watching any public meetings of the board since October 2020. There was no larger press release to fill in the details of the rather vague paragraph that Mr. Wallum provided.

For those not familiar with Director Grasha's style of handling himself on the board, imagine a Donald Trump who is less intelligent, lies more, has no political sense at all, is frequently unable to organize his thoughts, and is unable to control a childish level of anger that pushes him into a frustrating speech impediment accompanied by screaming. How could such a fool get elected, you should ask. Because there were a few thousand voters who didn't do even the most basic research into the candidates; a few thousand voters who suddenly became very defensive when the Desert Sun published an article shortly after the election exposing Grasha for what he is. Hint to the Desert Sun: publish that kind of shit before the election next time, ya worthless asshole of a paper.

Anyway, a few months ago Director Grasha began spewing BS nonsense from the dais about the spill. He did this at more than one meeting. There are four other directors on the board. NONE of them challenged Director Grasha's word salad. NONE asked GM Wallum to provide an honest description of what had occurred. NONE used their comment time to try to explain to the public what had really happened. So while Grasha was obviously the lying asshole, all four other directors were at least passively complicit in letting this go on unchecked.

Basically, MSWD staff and the Board of Directors created an information vacuum and laid down a red carpet, virtually inviting Grasha to sit at the dais and publicly spew lies. The apparent lack of curiosity on this subject shown in the board meetings by the four other directors strongly suggested to me that staff had informed the board about the spill, and they were all sufficiently satisfied with what they knew. But I am mystified why none of them recognized the need for someone at MSWD to provide accurate information to the public.

Director Grasha became the sole source of info for the general public about this treated wastewater spill, and I knew that nothing he said could be believed.

But then came this article in the Uken Report dated July 20, 2021. If that article disappears from the Uken Report website, I have a copy I will share. With a headline like MSWD DIRECTOR CLAIMS MISSION SPRINGS WATER DISTRICT'S 'INTENTIONAL ACT OF DUMPING RAW COVID-INFECTED SEWAGE' INTO THE NEIGHBORHOODS KILLED PEOPLE, you can pretty well guess where it's going. It's an outlandish chunk of hyperbolic fiction.

"This," I thought to myself, "has to get some kind of response from MSWD," and it did. Hence, the August 16, 2021, MSWD Board Meeting. YouTube video here (it's only 45 minutes).

The meeting had been called by President Nancy Wright whose intention was to write and submit to Uken Report a letter rebutting Grasha's madhouse claims and setting forth the facts of the situation. She could have done this unilaterally as President of the Board, but thought it wiser to consult with the other board members to seek their support.

Director Grasha was absent from this meeting which is consistent with some of his previous acts of cowardice.

President Wright began by summarizing the Uken Report article and said that the author, Cindy Uken, did no fact checking. Uken contacted neither MSWD nor the Regional Water Quality Control Board which has jurisdiction over matters like sewage spills. Uken simply reprinted Grasha's baseless assertions.

Wright said "When a public official intentionally lies to the public and makes a false claim to any law enforcement person or agency, that is a crime and the truth needs to be told." She continued, "Mr. Grasha received the same information as the rest of the board, including MSWD's response to the notice of violation from the regional board."

Wright is also the chair of the RWQCB. She was appointed to the board by the Governor. She has recused herself from any RWQCB dealings with MSWD, including, of course, this spill.

After reading her opening announcement, Wright had the Desert Sun article from November 14 [after election day], 2018, displayed. The article is readable in the video starting at 5:28 or here on the Desert Sun's website where it does not seem to be behind the paywall.

President Wrights proposed draft response to Uken is included in the MSWD agenda packet that was posted online 15 minutes before the meeting, at the same time a copy was made available to all the board members. For anyone who might be a virgin at reading government board meeting agenda packets, the agenda always comes first, and then you scroll down to read all the rest of the supporting documentation for the meeting. The draft response is six pages long, so I will not include it here. If you'd prefer not to do all that reading, you can listen to GM Wallum read it all aloud and verbatim in the video beginning at 6:55.

A few highlights:

  • I agree completely in uncovering facts that are important to my community; but I draw the line when "facts" are distorted, manufactured and deceitful. Please share with your readers the following, all of which I believe is verifiable and accurate, regarding the District's inadvertent discharge of treated wastewater that occurred in October 2020. Had you taken the time to contact the District or the State regulatory agency over accidental spills of treated sewage or assumed the ethical responsibility with which all journalists are charged, you could easily and quickly have verified the facts before you published this article. Unfortunately, very little of the information you reported bears any semblance to the truth.
  • There was no "intentional" act of "dumping." On October 3, 2020, TREATED effluent, which was permitted and tested prior to its discharge, ACCIDENTLY overflowed via a breach in a temporary holding pond. This was not a "long term" or "ongoing release of COVID-infected Sewage." The accidental release was discovered and restrained within just a few hours, when District staff immediately began to notify neighboring residents and initiated the cleanup process. No private dwelling was damaged or affected, and the cleanup was accomplished in less than 24 hours. The treated effluent was not raw sewage. It had been treated to a standard which allowed it to be discharged from the wastewater treatment plant into recharge basins. The "spill" also did not "kill" or, to our knowledge, make anyone sick. These facts could have been easily verified by a simple call to the District's General Manager.
  • This barely intelligible reporting appears to confirm a number of unsubstantiated, uneducated claims. Mr. Grasha, who was given a comprehensive tour of the wastewater treatment plant following his election in 2018, seems to have forgotten most of what he was taught. The statements attributed to him in this article suggest that he remains uninformed and unfamiliar with the operation of wastewater treatment plants or the regulatory agencies with jurisdiction over their operation.
  • The above statement attributed to Mr. Grasha confirms that even after more than two years as an elected official of the District he remains completely ignorant of how wastewater treatment plants work. He should know, for example, that "disposal records, truck weights and trips" only indicate the volume of solids removed and are mostly associated with loading to the treatment plant and not the treatment levels or effluent standard. More important is the fact that the District tests its effluent for certain constituents and has always met the strict standards set by the RWQCB.
  • If Mr. Grasha had even a rudimentary understanding of the wastewater treatment process and the wastewater system operated by the agency for which he is an elected Board member, he would have known it is impossible to impose a "water use restriction" on wastewater. For someone who described himself on election materials as a "water systems engineer," his statement demonstrates his complete lack of understanding about water and wastewater operations.

Public Comments

Janet Wilson went first (via Zoom, there are still no public permitted in the small, possibly insufficiently ventilated board meeting room), and asked where she could find the draft response letter on the website. This went on for a bit as staff repeatedly told her exactly where it was and she repeatedly denied it was there. It was there. I had downloaded it just 15 minutes earlier myself. This was what IT politely refers to as "operator error."

I will add my comment that MSWD has just about the simplest and easiest to use access for its meeting agendas. You first click on "About Board of Directors" and then click on "Board of Directors." There you will find a simple reverse chronological listing of meetings with agenda, packet and minutes available for download, as appropriate, for each meeting. The packet includes the agenda. The agenda does not include the packet.

Ms. Wilson went on to ask if President Wright was saying that Director Grasha had potentially committed crimes. Wright answered that she was making a general statement about falsehoods and crime. She said she does not know if Grasha made false statements to law enforcement. Ms. Wilson said that President Wright had said it was a crime (Wright had not said that) but now didn't seem to know if it was a crime (Wright had also not said that).

Vice President Russ Martin said that it is illegal to make a false report to police or the district attorney. While Uken Report asserts the Grasha did make false statements to the district attorney, a proper investigation would be required to determine if he made those false reports and if that did constitute a possible criminal action.

For some reason, President Wright and the MSWD attorney allowed this forbidden back-and-forth conversation in public comments to continue.

Ms. Wilson also wanted to know how the district knew that Grasha wrote the article. She was referring to the sentence in the description of this item on the agenda: "It is recommended to authorize the Board President to issue a response to Director Grasha's July 20th article related to the spill at the Horton Treatment Plant and give direction to the General Manager to distribute the response." Wright responded that she had never said it was written by Grasha, but it sounded like it was written by Uken using information provided by Grasha.

Then Ms. Wilson wrapped up with the unusual request "Anybody else want to add anything?" as if she were now chairing the meeting. Russell Betts chimed in uninvited - this is the slippery slope you can get on if you allow back-and-forth conversations in public comments. Wright advised him to wait until he was called upon. But then Ms. Wilson came back with another question [somebody needed to hit the mute button, IMO] asking again for the link to the agenda packet.

Then Councilmember Betts was called upon. He asked if the district had gotten word about any potential fine to be assessed by the RWQCB. The potential maximum fine would be over $9-million, but no one is anticipating anything close to that. GM Wallum responded that they had not yet heard anything about a fine. Then Mr. Betts helpfully summarized the important events about the spill - this was the first time these were announced in public at an MSWD Board meeting.

  1. A holding pond was constructed without an initial permit,
  2. And that holding pond breached,
  3. MSWD did NOT inform the RWQCB immediately.

GM Wallum responded, "Yes, I mean, I think basically that's what happened." So, at the time of GM Wallum's November General Manager's Report he knew that the district had waited past the deadline to report the spill to the RWQCB, but he did not include that in his report to the board. [Man, if I was a Director I'd be calling for a closed session evaluation of the General Manager, unless perhaps he was keeping the board informed in the background about the potential fine while keeping that information out of the public's eye.]

Suddenly, Ms. Wilson came back into the meeting uninvited [if necessary I could loan MSWD a hammer, if that would help them hit the mute button when they need to] claiming whatever link she found for the agenda packet was not good. More minutes were wasted in attempting to hold her hand and guide her to the easy-to-find packet. It took two people telling her multiple times that she needed to scroll past the first page of the agenda to find the draft letter. Upon this revelation, Ms. Wilson wanted to know if it had been there some 18 hours earlier. The answer was no (and my answer would have been "Who cares?"). It was available before this meeting began. Ms. Wilson said she thought it would help things if they could makes things "as accessible as possible." The only way to make it more accessible than the very accessible way it is already made available would be for Ms. Wilson to be elected to the board. Then MSWD staff would deliver the agenda packet to her directly so all she would have to do is open her mailbox.

Board Discussion

VP Martin said that disagreement and diversity of opinion on the board were okay and expected, but that personal attacks, threats or intentionally making outrageous lies to inflame public opinion for political gain or to intimidate fellow board members were not acceptable.

Director Sewell said he completely agreed with the response as written and that he is hopeful the lies in the article are going to be corrected on the Uken Report.

President Wright called on Director Grasha at this point, possibly on the chance that he had come into the meeting late. He was not present.

Director Duncan recounted how he had to deal with Grasha's lies frequently while he was board president. He said none of those incidents sank to the level of the article in Uken Report.

President Wright agreed with Duncan, saying the district and the board had ignored several of Grasha's lies published in various media.

VP Martin moved to issue the response, seconded by Director Duncan. I had hoped the motion would include a stipulation that someone first correct the misspellings and small grammatical errors in the response, but now that it's been voted on, those are all set in stone.

Approved 4-0 with Grasha, obviously, absent.

permalink | August 17, 2021 at 01:19 PM | Comments (4)

August 14, 2021

Hyundae Resort Closed By City

The city worked with this owner for years to try to let him bring his property up to full code compliance.

Desert Hot Springs hotel shut down by city over code violations

BRIAN BLUESKYE AUGUST 13, 2021

Hyundae Resort and Spa in Desert Hot Springs was shut down and its operating license was revoked on Aug. 6 following a July hearing for code violations.

According to city documents, the violations include hotel personnel giving room keys to unauthorized individuals and granting access to any hotel room on the property, fire hazards such as locked fire exits and other hazardous activities by hotel occupants, inoperative vehicles on the property, and many dispatch calls for criminal and gang activity and illegal drug use.

The condition of the hotel and its exterior were also included in the violations.

The hotel is owned by Charles Yeh, of Los Angeles, who testified at the hearing and said his intent was to provide housing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yeh also said he wanted to improve the conditions of the hotel, but avoided opportunities provided by the city, adding it would cause a financial hardship to close. He said he had one line of credit he could access to correct the violations, however.

During a recent visit to the property, there were signs on the door and at the front desk saying there weren't any available rooms. A front desk employee said he would connect The Desert Sun to Yeh and his attorney, though neither party immediately contacted the Desert Sun.

A spokesperson for the city of Desert Hot Springs, Doria Wilms, said the city became aware of the issues after calls from residents reporting public safety issues and the "substandard conditions at the hotel."

"That is what made it abundantly clear this was not being utilized as a hotel, it was being utilized for long-term tenants," Wilms said.

permalink | August 14, 2021 at 01:50 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2021

Surprising Population Jump In Desert Hot Springs

Not surprising that our population grew, but that it grew so much and that somehow, the census was actually able to capture it! According to this article in the Desert Sun, the population rose from 25,938 in 2010 to 32,512 in 2020, a 25.3% increase. This puts us above the 30,000 line which some say is a magic number for attracting more investment from retail chains. Also interesting is how much the white population dropped; from 15,053 in 2010 to 11,115 in 2020. That's a 26.2% drop. The black population grew by 23.6%, from 2,133 in 2010 to 2,636. The Hispanic/Latino population grew from 45.7% in 2010 to 61.2% in 2020! Here are all the race numbers as reported in the article:

11,614other
5,520two or more
785Asian
2,636Black
11,115White
31,670total identified
842unidentified
32,512grand total

That seems to be a pretty high number for "other" which usually encompasses Native Americans and other indigenous people. We might have Australian aborigines or native Hawaiians living here, but not in such high numbers.

Census 2020: Desert Hot Springs is the fastest-growing city in the Coachella Valley

ERIN RODE AUGUST 12, 2021

Desert Hot Springs is the fastest-growing city in the Coachella Valley, according to new data released by the U.S. Census on Thursday.

Desert Hot Springs's population grew from 25,938 in 2010 to 32,512 in 2020, representing a 25.3% increase. Nearby cities Palm Springs and Cathedral City grew by just 0.1% and 0.6% respectively over the same time period, the Census said.

"I am very happy to see us pass 30,000, that's what we've always been focused on to try to bring retailers and businesses into the community. That's going to help us in the future with our economic development," said Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas.

Matas said that in the past, the city has tried to bring in businesses only to hear that major chains look for cities with at least 30,000 people.

The new data shows that Desert Hot Springs has grown at an even faster rate than previously estimated. The California Department of Finance reported an estimated population of 30,086 for Desert Hot Springs as of January 2021.

Matas attributed the city's new status as the fastest-growing in the Coachella Valley to housing affordability.

"You go 15 minutes over the freeway and you're spending half a million dollars on a home that you can buy for $350,000 here — it just comes down to affordability. There's not a lot of the services here such as retail, but with a 15-minute drive over the freeway you can get to those services, and own a home for $150,000 to $200,000 less than what you were looking at in other cities," said Matas.

Demand for housing in Desert Hot Springs recently kickstarted the long-dormant Skyborne community on the west side of the city. Homebuilder Lennar finalized a deal earlier this year to build homes on 187 lots at Skyborne.

As its population has increased, the city has also become more diverse. The number of white residents has decreased over the past decade, while the number of people identifying as Black, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic or Latino, two or more races, or other has increased.

The number of white residents dropped from 15,053 in 2010 to 11,115 in 2020. About 34.2% of Desert Hot Springs residents identified as white in the 2020 census, down from 58% in 2010.

The number of Black residents grew by 23.6%, from 2,133 in 2010 to 2,636 in 2020, making up about 8% of the city's total population.

Hispanic or Latino residents make up 61.2% of the city's population, with an increase of 45.7% from 13,646 people in 2010 to 19,887 in 2020. The city's Asian population has also increased by 16.3%, from 675 people in 2010 to 785 in 2020. Residents identifying as American Indian saw a large percentage increase of 119%, from 357 individuals in 2010 to 783 in 2020.

The number of people who marked "two or more races" while filling out their 2020 Census form grew by 326.9% to 5,520 people, up from 1,293 in 2010. The number of people marking "other" also grew by 83.1%, with 11,614 people, or 35.7% of the population, marking "other" in Desert Hot Springs.

In a press conference Thursday, U.S. Census officials noted that the country experienced unprecedented multiracial population growth over the past decade, with 33.8 million people reporting being of more than one race.

Matas said the city's increasingly diverse population will play a role in what types of services and retail the city should work on attracting.

"If you have a large Hispanic/Latino population, or a large African American population, they need services that fill their needs, which can go anywhere from social services to retail services like 'I want to buy these types of goods here in the city,'" said Matas.

Matas said the city could potentially hold a town hall focused on the specific services and businesses that community members want.

"We also want to know if they're driving to get their goods, are they needing to drive 30, 40 minutes to get things that we could instead try to attract to our cities? The makeup of your community is going to push the retail services and social services that you provide in the future," said Matas.

permalink | August 13, 2021 at 10:02 AM | Comments (0)

August 7, 2021

Do Not Eat At The DHS Spa

Selected from the Press-Enterprise.

Desert Hot Springs Spa, 10805 Palm Drive in Desert Hot Springs, was placed on probation July 29. Riverside County Environmental Health officials said there were repeat violations at the facility, including inadequate handwashing, improper food temperatures, improper cooling of hot potentially hazardous foods and evidence of cockroach and rodent infestations.

Kam Lun Chinese Food, 66610 Eighth St., Desert Hot Springs
Closed: Aug. 3
Grade: C/74, failing
Reason: Rodent infestation. After a complaint was filed, an inspector found rodent droppings and flies in the kitchen and a food storage area. The inspector also noted that employees were not sanitizing surfaces properly.

Barrel District, 35939 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City
Closed: Aug. 5
Grade: Not graded
Reason: No hot water. An inspector found the hot water temperature to be well below the minimum 120 degrees. The inspector also noted finding rodent droppings in the dining room.

I know problems like cockroach or rodent infestations are challenging for a restaurant to deal with and eliminate, but the issues that arise from employee misbehavior (e.g., "inadequate handwashing, improper food temperatures, improper cooling of hot potentially hazardous foods") should be immediately and permanently correctable with decent management and adequate employees. The fact that the DHS Spa has had these problems going on for months is very telling.

permalink | August 7, 2021 at 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

July 31, 2021

Bad Police Work in Desert Hot Springs

Here's an article in the Press-Enterprise about the false charges brought against Roger Wayne Parker after DHS Police detectives did a poor job of trying to elicit a false confession from him.

He continued in the memo: "Many of these questions cannot be answered by 'further investigation.' There were many mistakes made during the investigation of this case. These mistakes cannot be undone, nor can many of them be remedied by further investigation. Forensic evidence hurts our case against the defendant and illustrates the mistakes made by law enforcement during the case investigation. It creates very reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt. Therefore, it is recommended that this case be dismissed."

Ross' lawsuit sums it up this way: "The facts demonstrated extremely shoddy police work that coerced a confession from an innocent man with significant intellectual disabilities who plainly knew nothing about the crime. The evidence, in fact, pointed to another individual as the guilty party."

Desert Hot Springs Police Chief Jim Henson declined comment on the quality of the police work and why the case remains unsolved. Henson, coincidentally, was one of the lead investigators on the Stevenson murder case.

permalink | July 31, 2021 at 09:16 AM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2021

Rick Daniels Makes The Front Page Of The L.A. Times

Rick Daniels, the former city manager of Desert Hot Springs, has been city manager of Needles since he left our fair city. The city is the water purveyor there. Water came from four wells until three of them were shut down for high levels of magnesium. The city has not adequately maintained infrastructure and doesn't have the $1.5 million to dig a new well. MSWD pays a lot more than that for a new well, but Needle's water table might be a lot higher, being right on the Colorado River.

One of America's hottest cities is down to one water well. What happens if the taps go dry?

By RALPH VARTABEDIAN
JULY 20, 2021 5 AM PT

NEEDLES, Calif. — Rick Daniels lies awake at night worrying about a rusty contraption in a forlorn field, littered with discarded pipes and fire hydrants.

It is the only water pump in Needles that meets state water quality standards, running 23 hours a day to keep up with demand, according to Daniels, the city manager. That's a thin margin in one of America's hottest cities, an urban speck in the desert near California's border with Arizona.

If this lone pump fails, 5,000 residents face the ultimate risk of taps running dry, as temperatures soar past 120 degrees and people need to gulp as much as two gallons daily. In June, a transient person died while sitting on a curb midday, one of about 10 people a year who succumb to heat, city officials say.

Across California and the West, the current drought is causing many wells to dry up, but few other communities are looking at their single water lifeline going to zero.

"We are incredibly vulnerable," Daniels said. "We are talking about life and death."

The Colorado River flows right through this isolated historic railroad town, carrying about 6 million gallons every minute. But under western water laws, the city can't pull a single drop from the river.

Historically, the city has depended on four wells that draw from the river's nearby aquifer.

That worked fine for decades until late last year, when California's water authorities notified the city that three of its wells failed to meet state standards because of a naturally occurring mineral — manganese — that affects health. A May citation found the city had violated state water law and ordered a corrective plan by the end of this year.

The city says it can't afford a fix, which would include a new well for $1.5 million.

So, Needles' single well works around the clock. The city has three tanks that could keep water flowing for 24 to 36 hours if the pump stops — assuming everything else were to go just right. By comparison, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California requires its member water agencies to have a seven-day emergency supply.

Needles officials say state officials don't appreciate their desperate situation and protested that the order could jeopardize public safety. The city wants to keep the decommissioned wells as a backup in case of emergency.

Eric Zúñiga, the district engineer at the State Water Resources Control Board who signed the citations, said the board is encouraging the city to make its system more redundant, either by filtering or treating the bad water or by finding new sources. In an email, he added that his citation does not forbid the city from using wells contaminated with manganese if it notifies customers, but city officials believe they will be forced to physically disconnect them.

It is doubtful that, in an emergency, the city would facilitate a mass casualty event by not somehow supplying water — even contaminated water or water taken unlawfully from the Colorado River. But it has entered unknown territory, a zone of risk where few other cities venture.

Daniels agrees, but adds, "This citation was outrageous, insensitive and out of touch."

By all accounts, the city's water system is decrepit. In 2020, a 16-inch city water main burst at a bridge abutment over I-40 and dumped roughly 500,000 gallons on the freeway, a main freight route from California ports. The spill halted eastbound traffic for hours until one lane was opened. It took days to remove 3-foot-thick mud.

A lot of California water agencies are in tough shape, because of aging infrastructure, drought, rising temperatures and political priorities lying elsewhere. Jay Lund, director of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, said that California has about 9,000 regulated water utilities and that as many as 1,000 of those systems have problems of some type.

Decision-making authority is diluted. Municipal water managers make most decisions and report to regional water boards. The regional boards are overseen by the state water board. The Department of Water Resources controls the supply of surface water. The California Public Utilities Commission oversees rate setting and service. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has some jurisdiction over state operations. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation controls the Colorado River.

"We have quite a few chiefs looking over this deal," Lund said. "If you are a regulator, you have all these systems all over the place, and you don't have much staff."

Needles, among the poorest communities in California, has always prided itself for persevering. But now an inhospitable climate is becoming unbearable in so many ways.

"Every time there is a heat wave, Needles is up there among the hottest temperatures of the day," said Brian Lada, an Accuweather meteorologist. A ranking of the nation's most blistering cities by Lada didn't include Needles because it is too small, he said.

A housing survey found that 55% of the residents are on some form of welfare assistance. There isn't a grocery market in town, though a well-stocked liquor store has a few aisles for canned goods and frozen food. A handful of cannabis dispensaries and shuttered 1950s-era motels cluster around the main drag, the historic Route 66.

The city's economy and its tax revenue are hurt by its proximity to Arizona, which is right across the Colorado River, and Nevada. On a recent day, gasoline was selling in Needles for $5.19 a gallon, but across the bridge it was under $2.90. A Walmart is 12 miles up Highway 95 in Bullhead City, Ariz.

Many of the highly paid in Needles live in Nevada or Arizona, spending their California income out of state. BNSF railroad has a crew station in Needles with about 500 employees, but the vast majority live in Nevada or Arizona, city officials say. Indeed, nearly all cars in the BNSF employee parking lot have Arizona or Nevada license plates.

Calling Needles "remote" would be an understatement. The city is more than 200 miles from the county seat, San Bernardino. Its state senator lives farther away in the Central Valley. The nearest major California city is Barstow, 140 miles away. Las Vegas is 100 miles away. It isn't clear what friends it would have in an emergency.

Even now, after begging for intervention, the city hasn't gotten much help. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state legislators and its congressional representative either didn't respond to letters or don't offer much, according to Needles officials.

"We need help," said Rainie Torrance, a city utility manager.

A nonprofit coalition of labor unions and contractors, known as Rebuild SoCal Partnership, has taken up the city's cause. It has helped contact state officials and prepare grant requests. Marci Stanage, the group's director for water and environmental relations, said she is surprised that nobody has responded to the city's problems or her group's efforts.

After visiting Needles to advise them on a new well, Dave Sorem, an engineer on the group's board and vice president of a Baldwin Park construction firm, said: "The city is in more trouble than it realizes. California has a $76-billion budget surplus, but it can't help out for a million-and-a-half-dollar well? Come on."

The city's single pump could fail for any number of reasons. Water wells have intake pipes at their bottoms, with screens to allow the water to flow into the pipe. The screens can collapse and plug the well, according to Bryan Hickstein, the city's chief water operator. The steel well casings can collapse, he said, or the motor can burn out, as it did last year. The city had a spare motor, and a contractor rushed out from Anaheim with a crane.

The city's problems began last November when the water board put the city on notice that three of its wells showed manganese levels above the maximum allowable level of 50 micrograms per liter. Then in May, the water board issued a citation, requiring a corrective action plan by the end of 2023.

Daniels said he complained about the list of requirements in the citation, and shortly after, the board issued a revised citation that moved the corrective action plan deadline to the end of 2021. Zúñiga, the water board engineer, said the original date was a typographical error and had nothing to do with comments from the city.

Manganese, not to be confused with magnesium, is a metal abundant in the Earth's crust. At low levels, it is an essential nutrient for humans, but at elevated levels it poses undefined risks. The state established a maximum allowable level, citing "aesthetic" issues with high concentrations, which stain clothes, sinks and stucco. It also leaves water with a bitter taste. Iron was another aesthetic problem in the wells, but it is generally not high enough to be harmful.

Water toxicologists say there is growing evidence that at higher concentrations manganese can cause neurological disorders, particularly in young children.

"We are moving toward a regulated level," said Donald Smith, a recognized national expert on manganese and a toxicology professor at UC Santa Cruz. "It is unclear whether a level of 50 micrograms per liter causes neurological effects. My professional opinion is that there is reason to be concerned. We don't know what level is safe and what level is unsafe."

California may be the only state to regulate manganese. Minnesota has a guidance limit of 100 micrograms per liter, twice California's level. Zúñiga said he is not aware of any other states that regulate the metal.

Janice Paget, a board member of the Needles Chamber of Commerce, said most people in town aren't aware of the manganese issue.

"I don't even know what kind of side effect it causes," she said.

Cost is a more common complaint, Paget said, noting that she and her husband, the only surgeon in Needles, had a water bill of $174 in June.

Drilling a new well would be one solution for Needles. The city hired a hydrologist who identified a site unlikely to be contaminated.

But the city doesn't have the roughly $1.5 million needed to dig the well, Daniels said. As it is, utility customers are more than $300,000 behind on their bills.

permalink | July 20, 2021 at 07:40 AM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2021

Dollar General

About half of what this video claims are the conditions that Dollar General looks for when selecting a location do not apply in Desert Hot Springs, but they're building a second one here anyway. IOW, the selection process is more refined than the WSJ says it is.

permalink | July 18, 2021 at 01:20 PM | Comments (0)