Councilman Russell Betts, Desert Hot Springs, California

65959 Pierson Blvd.
Desert Hot Springs, CA

(760) 671-4693

Commissions and Appointments

Desert Hot Springs
- Mayor Pro Tem
- Economic Development Sub Committee co-chair

Coachella Valley Association of Governments Energy & Environment

Southern California Association of Governments Transportation

SunLine Transit Agency
 - Board of Directors
- Finance Sub Committee

Riverside County Airport Land Use Commission



September 26, 2014

Human rights, awareness and fostering unity

A post on a Facebook group caught my attention. The author suggests the deaf community is offended by a city commissioner’s use of the words "hearing impaired" and he is so offended he has taken to filing a complaint.

A Commissioner on a Cultural Affairs Commission has offended the Deaf Community and a State-level Association of the Deaf was notified. This Commissioner called a person 'hearing impaired' and asked why that person did not get a Cochlear Implant to fix their 'hearing loss'. Should someone serving on a Cultural Affairs Commission be allowed to serve if s/he has no knowledge of Deaf Culture and refuses to learn? Would you want him/her to remain if s/he offended your Culture? Is this something to be addressed by a Committee sworn to defend equality or left alone?

The charge of of using the words "hearing impaired" does not rise to the level of complaint or offense.

The National Association of the Deaf takes up the issue on its website by explaining the term "hearing impaired" was at one time preferred, largely because it was viewed as politically correct. Rather than continuing to call someone deaf or hard of hearing, the Association explains, society adapted and accepted the new preferred reference of hearing impaired.

Thinking on the subject in the deaf community has changed and now "hearing impaired" is no longer preferred, says the Association, because it focuses on what people can’t do instead of what they can do. “It implies that something is not as it should be and ought to be fixed if possible."

Good point and fair enough.

As for how to handle the situation, the Association suggests when in doubt ask the individual how they identify themselves. It also points out that the terms “deaf” and “hard of hearing” once discarded as politically incorrect are not now considered negative by many in the deaf community.

It other words, there has been a change in thinking. There is nothing wrong with the rest of us following along with that change. But for someone to suggest the use of “hearing impaired” is so offensive it rises to the level of a formal complaint and reason why a commissioner should "not be allowed to serve" is not only not justified, it is way over the top.

Our Mayor recently created a committee on human rights. Its taking root in our city is a good thing. It will raise awareness even more than it already is in a community that has been most accepting. But for this committee to bring people even closer together, it can’t allow itself to be used as a vehicle to whip up wild complaints where none are justified. That will only move people apart.


September 15, 2014

Update 3: Mission Lakes Marketplace - Not Yet!

The object is jobs and new retail shopping. The answer from the city council at Tuesday's council meeting is not yet when it comes to the Mission Lakes Marketplace and Five Star Gym.

The shopping center owner was hoping to get in front of the city council one more time at last Tuesday's council meeting for reconsideration of a city council decision to require full payment of development impact fees owing on the project.

Development impact fees are (as they sound) put in place to negate negative impacts on the community caused by new traffic and calls for police and fire services from a new shopping center. The impact fees are necessary.

My position has been the developer that took over a stalled mess and by cleaning up that mess has already negated a giant negative impact to our city. It sat unfinished and blighted for five years. I was willing to forego the impact fees. In other words, giant negative impact eliminated; consideration given.

That represents a departure from my years-long efforts to end the kind of undo favors on developments that have resulted in so many development messes in our city. The distinction is we are cleaning up a mess the city had a hand in creating and not that we are creating a new mess.

Had the first developer been required to pay the impact fee before construction none of this extensive community debate would be taken place, proving an old axiom it is easier to create a mess than to clean one up.

There are other challenges with this project. It is not in an ideal situation to attract retailers needed to make it a vibrant and busy shopping center. Homes that were to surround the center have not yet been built and likely won't be for years.

One thing this shopping center does have going for it is an anchor to bring traffic those homes would have provided. The Five Star Fitness gym with 300 members signed up and ready to exercise will bring traffic other retailers will need to justify locating in the shopping center.

That helps but does not solve the problem entirely. That's another reason why I see it is better to free up funds to attract retailers than any good that goes toward putting the funds in a restricted development impact fee account at city hall. The impact fee money, after all, is going to sit in restricted city account for years. That's non productive if the immediate goal is jobs and retail now.

My position did not win out.

That left me to work on making sure everything else that has held up this shopping center is checked off the list. To that end I encouraged an inspection of public improvements (curbs, gutters, expanded roads and sidewalks). Even though those improvements were completed months ago the city inspection still had not been done.

I also contact the Health Department that must inspect the juice bar that is part of the Gym. I let them know how important it is for our challenged city to get this shopping center open. That resulted in the Health Department agreeing to schedule an inspection earlier than had been scheduled.

The community is rightly concerned that undo favors should not be done, especially over delay in payment of development impact fees. That is a battle I have fought for years precisely because of the problems we see with the shopping center.

If there is an upside in this delay, this is it. Some of my fellow council members that have for years been willing to agree to  undo favors are now singing a much tougher tune. And through this discussion the public is very much aware of the problem created when we don't hold the line.

Be forewarned, however, two projects coming to the council soon will likely seek a delay in the payment of impact fees. There is also a project that is four years late on a $200,000 impact fee payment. Last year the council granted another extension. That project goes to the planning commission in November.


September 12, 2014

Update 2: Mission Lakes Marketplace

Power has now been restored to the Mission Lakes Marketplace thus making it possible for inspections the city requires to take place. Two inspections require power but could not take place because the city instructed to SCE to turn off power to the shopping center.

The Heath Department was scheduled to inspect the Juice Bar that will be part of Five Star Fitness. That inspection was scheduled to take place four weeks ago but had to be cancelled. One of the inspection points by the Health Department is to test the temperature of the water. No power, no hot water, no test, no inspection.

The Fire Department requires a test of the fire alarm system. That could not take place with the electricity turned off, thus delaying the inspection. The Fire Department also requires sprinkler engineering plans. Those were first submitted in August but required some corrections. The corrections were submitted on on September 2 and received approval from the fire department on September 8. Except for the inspection to test the alarm, all is good to go with the fire department.

For this past week I have worked to determine what needed to be done and what was holding things up. The electricity which is one of the significant issues on the check list was turned on this morning. On Monday comes the push to get the final inspection done.


September 8, 2014

Update: Mission Lakes Marketplace

Short update on the Mission Lakes Marketplace. I learned today that despite the public improvements along Mission Lakes Boulevard and Little Morongo Road having been completed months ago the city still has not gotten this inspection done.

For those not familiar with what public improvements are, they are the curbs, gutters, sidewalks, storm drains, street lights, paving, lane markings, road widening and more (see picture below). All of which you can see are complete but the city engineer has not managed to get out there.

The city inspection of the (completed) public improvements is one of the items that needs to be completed before the shopping center can open. Stay tuned.


September 5, 2014

Mission Lakes Marketplace - Open for business?

The city's economic development slogan is Open for Business. In a city starved for retail shopping options and jobs, it is a good slogan even if as a city we are still struggling to bring a full compliment of retail options to our city.

In front of the city council - three times - is a project that represents the single biggest new retail project in the city in the last 15 years. Not since KMart opened has our city had such potential for a new retail shopping options.

The Five Star Fitness gym that will serve as an anchor to the new Mission Lakes Marketplace shopping center is complete. It is a top shelf gym with steam rooms, rooms for exercise classes, a juice bar, state of the art exercise equipment and 300 city residents signed up and ready to exercise.

Section of Mission Lakes Boulevard in front of Mission Lakes Marketplace
gets curbs, gutter, sidewalks and paving.

For five years this section of Road was dirt when the project was abandoned by the former owners.

It is that last feature, the 300 members of the gym that have signed up, that is the most significant. Those are 300 bodies going in and out of the shopping center on a frequent basis. In other words, it is the start of foot traffic to the shopping that is essential to making a shopping center successful.

Successful for our city means other stores open, retail shopping options are expanded and so are retail sales tax dollars to the city, sales tax that help relieve other taxes directly paid by our residents.

The transformation of the property has been wonderful. Those like myself that drove past the blighted eyesore (previously called the Village Shopping Center) continually asked when it would ever be finished.

As the shopping center looked for five years. Abandoned.

It is now finished. The owner of the shopping center is ready to open.

I trust people have been following this discussion closely enough to know the shopping center is embroiled in controversy. The objective to get jobs and retail and get this long stalled shopping center open has been lost in the political turmoil. It is clear people are working harder to keep the shopping center closed than to open it.

The effort to keep it closed has gone so far as to suggest a chain link fence be erected around the entire property to keep everyone out. That would be the same type of fence that can be seen in the picture above and surrounded the unfinished mess for five years. That suggestion, by the way, was made by a former owner that left the abandoned mess behind.

A city with a reputation for being extremely difficult to deal with and a slogan that says Open for Business needs to start putting more emphasis on being open for business than on being difficult.


August 26, 2014

On the agenda - September 2 Council Meeting

Political Signs - Discussion and possible action by the City Council to put regulations in place regarding political signs. At the top of my list is keeping them off the light poles at the shopping centers where they create such a mess.

Decommission Wardman Pool - Suggestions on how to deal with the pool range from filling it in with dirt, effectively destroying this city asset to draining the water and covering it over with a platform. The second option may require a re-plaster job when the pool is put back into service.

Sports Field Policy - There are not enough parks in Desert Hot Springs. Combine that with many kids wanting to use those fields for sports and problems arise over scheduling.

Furbee Aquatic Center Maintenance Contract - A contract for maintenance of the pool was let out to bid. The Council is expected to award a contract for pool maintenance for the coming year.

Repeal Safe Housing Ordinance - The Safe Housing Ordinance was the brainchild of former City Manager Rick Daniels but three City Attorneys (two past and our present city attorney) have determined the ordinance as written is impossible to administer. The police department made a similar determination 18 months ago and stopped all attempts to enforce it.

MSWD Agreement to water the parks - The city spends buckets of money to water city parks. Mission springs water district spends shovels of cash on city permits every time it wants to dig in a city right-of-way. This agreement will establish a trade-off whereby the city will not pay for water and the water district will not pay for digging.

POA Fact Finding Report - The Police Officers have instituted a lawsuit against the city. This fact finding report is a part of that process. The fact finding panel that consisted of one neutral panel member, a member selected by the Police Officers and a member selected by the City unanimously found against the Police Officers. It is legally required for the council to deal with this item at an open public meeting.


August 22, 2014

Presentation by the Riverside County Sheriff
(June 17, 2014)

I received a couple emails from residents asking when the Riverside County Sheriff will be making a presentation to the city regarding its proposal to provide day to day management of our city police department. The answer is the presentation was made at an open city council meeting on June 17, 2014. It seems many people missed the presentation. It runs 1 hour and 17 minutes (40 minutes of presentation and 37 minutes of question and answer by council members regarding the proposal).

You can view the presentation on the city website or on YouTube at this link.


August 17, 2014

$600,000 no-bid contract

Very disappointed is the only way I can describe my reaction to a council vote at the last city council meeting to award a $600,000 contract without putting the contract out to competitive bid.

The benefits of the competitive bid process are well documented. Existing suppliers either sharpen their pencil and submit a winning bid that saves the city money or another qualified bidder offers a competitive winning bid and the city saves money.

The vote to award a $600,000 no-bid contract was 3 to 2 (Mayor Sanchez and Council Members Matas and Pye voting yes).


August 15, 2014

The public safety funding problem

The public safety issue in our city comes down to money and how to get the most out of the city's limited resources.

The discussion on how best to manage our police department has so far focused on a central question: Is the city better able to manage its police department or is management of the police department more efficiently handled by the Riverside County Sheriffs Department?

If the city stays with a city managed police department, funding must be found to cover the added costs. The present funding is woefully inadequate to do the job - and considerably more expensive than the proposal by the Sheriff to run our police department.

To dispel some misconceptions in the present debate, I'll cover a few points here.

Under the plan for a Sheriff manage department, officers will continue to operate out of our existing police station. The proposal is not a situation akin to County policing in the unincorporated County areas. The police station at Pierson Boulevard and West Drive will remain open and operating.

The officers now reporting for duty at the Pierson station will continue to report to the Pierson station. Most of our fine officers will remain on duty in Desert Hot Springs. Those officers will be driving cars that are marked Desert Hot Springs Police and they will continue to wear uniforms that identify them as Desert Hot Springs Police officers. 

Car at the bottom says "Served by the Riverside County Sheriff Dept."

There are suggestions floating about the city will see increases in cost each year with a Sheriff managed police department. That is correct. What is missing from that discussion, however, is there will also be increases in the cost of a city managed police department.

It is highly disingenuous to point to an increase in one option and not point out yearly increases are also contained in the other. A city managed police department is projected to have significant cost increases over the next five years. Even under optimistic projections, those increases amount to more than five percent per year.

The city has been notified of significant increases in pension costs and other mandated insurances. And our officers will also expect increases in salary and benefits over the next five years - indeed the Officers have brought a lawsuit against the city seeking increases and back pay amounting to over $1 million.

There are also cost savings. On worker's compensation insurance, the city was notified by its insurance carrier the city will save $300,000 a year without the liability of a city managed police department. Expenses for legal liability also drops significantly - the city is fully indemnified against legal liability with a Sheriff managed department.

Are the costs of the two options the same?

There are suggestions the cost of the two options is the same. This is not true. The proposal from the Sheriff is lower than the present operating budget for our city managed police department. The number from Finance Director Amy Ager shows the city saving in excess of $900,000 per year with a Sheriff managed department.

Those suggesting the costs of the two options are the same are using only the departmental budget in their comparison. The departmental budget does not include all costs the city incurs with a city managed police department. The departmental budget for FY 2014/15 is $6.1 million. The Sheriff proposal - including extra first year transition costs - is $6.1 million. Significant administrative and other overhead costs, however, move the cost of a city managed police department to just over $7 million - those added costs are contained within the Sheriff option.

A significant question is what will a Sheriff managed police department look like? We don't have to guess. The question is answered by looking at other cities that manage their public safety by utilizing the full resources of the Riverside County Sheriffs Department. The City of La Quinta Police Department serves as an example.

Web page of City of La Quinta Police Department with drop down menu showing service level.

Patrol staffing levels

A Sheriff managed police department calls for a total department of 27 with 22 officers on full time patrol consisting of six patrol sergeants on and 16 patrol officers. The city budget also provides for a 27 person department. However, with administrative duties that must be attended to, the number of officers available for patrol is 16 augmented with patrol sergeants having to split their time between patrol and administrative duties.

The bottom line is a city managed police department is more expensive to operate and maintain. If we are to keep a city managed police department, money to fully fund it must be found. It is not acceptable to compromise public safety over an inability to properly fund a department, especially when another option is available that will meet the public safety needs of our city - as it does in La Quinta and many other cities.


August 6, 2014

Cabot's Archive Project

For the past two years Cabot's Museum Foundation has directed a detailed effort to catalog the personal belongings and other rare findings of Cabot Yerxa. It is a project that is coming to an end due to budget cuts.

City council members are reviewing the collection and the cataloging process this week - my two and a half hour presentation was yesterday.

Since taking over the effort, the Foundation has done an excellent job to document, catalog and preserve the thousands of items collected by Cabot during his life. For those not familiar with Cabot Yerxa, he led an amazing life not to mention being the most celebrated of Desert Hot Springs early founders.

Pictures and aging photographic negatives have been preserved with consultation of specialists in negative preservation. Slim slide out file drawers house heaps of Cabot's collectables - a wood fish hook from his time in Alaska caught my eye in one drawer.

Imagine all that you have collected and held over the years of your life and the treasures someone might find tucked away in boxes, stored in closets and anywhere else we manage to stuff things away. In Cabot's case, add to it a life time of association with very significant figures in history and brave adventures to far off lands.

I'll leave the history of Cabot to those better able to tell it. The report here is to say I left the presentation impressed with the work the Foundation has done and also with the realization the cataloging work should not stop.

Suggested read: A cowboy modernist on Miracle Hill.


August 1, 2014

City Council meeting Agenda (August 5, 2014 meeting)

The Agenda has been posted for August 5, 2014 City Council meeting and can be found at this link. The agenda contains 27 items for open public session and seven items to be taken up by the Council in closed session.


When is a contract extension not a contract extension?

A contract extension that increases a contract from $218,800 to $640,800 is not a contract extension. It is a new contract. A contract increase the triples the amount of the original contract, in this case by $400,000, calls for the contract to put out for competitive bid.

The amount of increase represents a significant change in contract scope and one that is far afield of the contract that was originally put out to competitive bid.

On the agenda of the August 5, 2014 council meeting is Agenda Item 16, a request from City Staff that asks the council "to authorize the City Manager to execute a First Amendment to the Profession Services Agreement with Hill International, Inc. for engineering services for an additional $470,000.00 for a new total not to exceed amount of $684,800.00."

Through the competitive bid process our city saves money. Our city denies itself the benefit of the competitive bid process when it does not go out to bid. Every time we have put a contract out to competitive bid we have realized significant savings.

There are qualified engineering firms ready to bid, especially on a $640,800 contract and especially in this economy. A contract for $680,000.00 is not an insignificant contract. There are also many competent and qualified engineering  professionals available to hire this position in house.

"One of the goals of seeking competition is to foster honest competition to enable your government to obtain quality commodities and services at the lowest possible cost. Seeking competition also guards against favoritism, extravagance and fraud, while allowing interested vendors a fair and equal opportunity to compete." 

- New York Office of the State Comptroller

In case you have not figured out my position, my vote will be as it has been every time a recommendation like this has come before our Council. Allow me to repeat: Through the competitive bid process our city saves money. Our city denies itself the benefit of the competitive bid process when it does not go out to bid.

July 28, 2014

Fact finding report released - DHSPOA vs. City

Today a fact finding report was released in the matter of The impasse between the City of Desert Hot Springs and the Desert Hot Springs Police Officers Association. The 16 page report is available at this link.  By law, the report must be posted on the city website which has been done.

The report was issued as part of an ongoing lawsuit brought against the city by the Police Officers. The officers have now taken the city through two costly legal processes: this recent fact finding process and an earlier Superior Court appearance where the officers sought an injunction against salary reductions and restoration of back pay.

The superior court and now the fact finding panel have rejected the officers position.

The Officers proposed closing the Health and Wellness Center and the Boys & Girls Club so funds that pay for those programs could be dedicated to Officers salaries. The fact finding panel rejected the Officer's proposal but did say the City should increase fees paid by parents for use of the Boys and Girls Club and at the Health and Wellness Center to raise revenue for the Officers pay.

The fact finding panel report recommends the officers concede the cuts and characterized the Officers continue pursuit of salary restoration and back pay as a "pyrrhic victory" in which the Officers lose as much as the City. The report concludes such action would necessitate the city having to close its more costly police department in favor of the Riverside County Sheriffs to run its city police department.

The fact finding report also recommends a new tax measure be placed on the ballot as a way to increase Officer's salaries and benefits.

Meanwhile, the legal bills of the legal action brought against the city by the Officers continue to mount.

The Officers have directed their attorney Wendell Phillips to suspend the Officer's lawsuit against the city only if the City Council agrees to place a tax measure on the ballot that dedicates all new tax revenue that is generated towards the Officers.

In retrospect, the best time for the Officers to have taken action to secure their salaries, benefits and job security was three years ago when they were told that excessive spending by the city was placing their salaries and jobs in jeopardy. Instead of taking that advice, the Officers chose to ignore it.

As the Superior Court and the fact finding panel have concluded, there is no money and the declaration of a fiscal emergency is justified. The costs of the continued lawsuit against the city by the Officers, meanwhile, continues to drain available city funding.

City legal bills in connection with the Officer's lawsuit are over $100,000 in only the early stages of the litigation process.


Swim program jeopardized over funding problem.

Saving Lives: City swim program now includes children's swim lessons.

A city swim program that is supposed to continue uninterrupted from Memorial Day to Labor Day is now facing a cutback over funding. The City Council will take up the funding issue at its August 5 open council meeting.

An amount of $16,000 is needed to fund the program through Labor Day as planned.


July 23 2014

"Material Weakness" x 5

Two words you do not want to see in a financial audit are "material weakness." In the final auditor's report just released, those words don't appear once but five times. The city auditor identified five material weaknesses in the city's past financial management.

Identified by the auditor as the source of the inaccurate reporting of the city's financial position was the city's prior city manager - not Interim City Manager Bob Adams but former City Manager Rick Daniels who the auditor said purposely overrode internal controls that make sure financial data is accurately gathered and reported to the council.

The city finance department, an integral part of data gathering and budget, were excluded from the budget process.

The auditor reported that his job to dig into the numbers was also made difficult by Daniels, making it impossible to verify the numbers as being accurate. So bad was the problem, said the Auditor in his report to the city council at its June 17, 2014 council meeting that his firm considered walking off the job.

"We actually considered resigning because of management integrity issues" is how Ken Pun of Pun and McGready explained it to the council.

To put in perspective how serious a material weakness is in audit report, below are rankings of possible findings (in order of lesser to most significant) along with descriptions of each type of audit finding.

  • Control Deficiencies. These are at a level they are not likely to lead to a problem but should be cleaned up.

  • Significant Deficiencies. The city council needs to be made aware of these deficiencies and they should be corrected. These are the types of deficiencies that end up making headlines but generally can be corrected to avoid serious financial problems.

  • Material Weakness. An example would be someone in the process through their actions are causing significant risk to the financial health of the city. This comes when management and staff are not following their assigned roles. For example, instead of insisting a Finance Director  and city accounting staff be involved  in financial report preparation, actions are taken to purposely exclude these personnel from the process. The result of a material weakness if not corrected can cause a serious financial problem not necessarily to occur but likely to occur.

In plain language, actions of the former city manager in excluding finance department and audit personnel from the financial reporting process caused significant risk to the financial health of the city that resulted in a $6.9 million suprise deficit, a deficit that amount that equals half of the city's annual general fund revenue.


July 17, 2014

Correcting Misinformation

"One of the things that people did not read between the lines on is that there is not a savings (with the proposal by the Sheriff). When push comes to shove there really wasn't a savings"

That comment at a recent Public Safety Commission meeting needs to be corrected along with a few other comments that were made on the subject of the Sheriff's proposal.

The belief the Sheriffs proposal does not contain a savings is based on an inaccurate reading of the proposal. It is based on a misunderstanding that the Sheriff's Department is not recommending the lowest of the four policing levels it proposed. 

The Sheriff's Department established a minimum deployment level after spending six week assessing public safety needs in our city. The recommended level is identified in the proposal as the "minimum patrol deployment." In other words, the minimum number of officers needed to insure officer and public safety.

Instead of identifying the basic option as Option 1, the Sheriff's proposal identifies the first option as "Min. Patrol Deployment" and then shows option 1, 2, and 3 above-and-beyond that level. Using an analogy, think of it as buying something and then adding on extra options. This is likely the cause of the confusion.

The question is easily enough settled. When the Sheriff appears before the Public Safety Commission, the first question should be What is the minimum deployment your are recommending for the city?

The answer will not be Minimum Deployment Level plus Option 1.

As an aside on this point, extra option 1 provides three officers, one that is available through other channels and two paid for by outside agencies. In other words, there is no need to extra Option 1.

The study session begins

"Why this one huge thing we have not studied. Are you kidding me? It was just thrown out there with nobody having a chance to weigh in on it." Are you kidding me is a good response.

The Sheriff provided an hour long presentation to the city council followed by another hour-long public council meeting session. The full 25 page proposal has been provided to each of the Public Safety Commissioners and the council asked the Public Safety Commission to hold a public meeting with the Sheriff present.

In other words, it was "not thrown out there with nobody having a chance to weigh in on it."

It is now the Commission's job to further open this process up to the public and for the public and the Commission to dig into the proposal and ask questions. When that meeting takes place (as yet to be noticed by the Commission), dig in and ask lots and lots of questions.

A copy of the 25 page proposal is available to the public at City Hall or feel free to write me and I will be happy to provide it to you.


July 12, 2014

The budget - next year's look

The city council adopted a budget that put to rest the immediate financial crisis. It keeps the city operating. Considering the extent of the financial problem faced in November 2013, that was a significant accomplishment. The numbers for next year, however, show there is still work to be done to shore up city finances.

A mistake made by other cities that experienced similar financial crisis was to adopt a position all is well financially once the immediate financial crisis was solved. Those cities found themselves in trouble again. Our city can't afford that mistake.

Using present numbers, the city faces a need to find further reductions or new revenue in the amount of about $1 million - this even before we start to build back city reserves. We now have some time to work the problem but it needs to be solved well before budget time in June, 2015.

On the revenue side, there is an expectation that increased property values will bring some increased property tax revenue to the city in the next fiscal year. That whittles down the $1 million. But there is also upward pressure on costs. The city has received notice that employee insurance, pension and other mandated benefit costs will increase.

Also looming large is how to deal with salary and benefit increases for our police officers. No cost of living adjustment has been budgeted this year. It should not be anticipated the police officers union will be willing to accept a second year without upward wage adjustment.


Super commissioner

Taking a fresh look at an old problem is Public Safety Commissioner Cliff Lavy who put the 5th Street trailer park in his sights. Conditions at the park are horrible and we have an absentee trailer park owner that has for years ignored park conditions and city warnings to correct them.

The city no longer has enforcement over mobile home parks in the city. That was taken away by the State Department of Housing and Community Development after a spat our former city manager got into with that department. HCD now has enforcement jurisdiction.

Commissioner Lavy has over the last five months dogged HCD to take a look at the trailer park. Last week it agreed.

By way of background, below is a brief recount of city code department effort to correct conditions at the trailer park.

  • October 21, 2009: The 5th Street trailer park was inspected and the owner contacted by the city with a list of violations.

  • November 12, 2009: Follow up inspection on November 21.

  • December 9, 2009: The Code Department reported to the Public Safety Commission that it had photographed the park and that 33 of the 88 spaces had violations.

  • January 17, 2010: The Code Department reported the number of violations had increased to 100 and the department was in the process of notifying the owner of the trailer park.

  • May 13, 2010: Public Safety Commission was updated by the Code Department with a report of continuing progress. Code staff notified the Commission it will be dealing with the individual trailer owners about violations at their individual trailers.

On July 17, 2014 and at the urging of Commissioner Lavy, a formal site visit will take place by HCD, State elected representatives and other officials.

The problem has been and is to this day an absentee owner of the trailer park. A drive through the park shows complete and total neglect. That is about to change thanks to a very hard working public safety commissioner.


July 6, 2014

That was fun!

A whole lot of people came together to make the July 5, 2014 Independence weekend concert and fireworks possible, not to mention the very generous private contributions big and small that funded the event. When asked people said Yes!

The humid weather during set up made for brutal work conditions. Thanks to all that helped and endured.

Thanks also to the Desert Hot Springs wind that blew out the humidity at show time even if it did take out the stage back drop two hours before show time.

Thanks again to those winds for dying down in time for the fireworks. During the show the fire marshal let me know the wind speed was very close to the limit that is allowed to set off the fireworks and that the fireworks show might be a no-go. We got the all-clear just 45 minutes before launch time.

Three people that worked with me for the past three months to put on this event deserve a special note of thanks. Be sure to give a big thank you to Pamela Berry and Richard Finn (still taking care of final details even now) and Carolyn Gaines for intermission show planning and many other details.

Thanks also to my fellow council members for the June 17, 2014 vote giving the final green light for the event, the work of city staff, Desert Hot Springs Citizens on Patrol, and the PD for keeping the event safe.


June 27, 2014

Quantum leap for art

Art took a quantum leap in our city with the installation of a new sculpture installed at our city's Health and Wellness Center. The kinetic piece is the work of Steve Rieman of RiemanSculpture in collaboration with Roger Hopkins who assisted with the stone work base. Both are highly accomplished and very well respected.

The work is a kinetic design that takes advantage of our city's breezes to provide motion. You can see the sculpture in motion in a YouTube video at this link. I'm not sure the music with the video is the best accompaniment but its what I had playing in my car at the time I took the video. Besides, I happen to like B.B. King.


Financial crisis to financial health

In November our city council was presented with a $6.9 million deficit that represented half of the city's revenue and notified that if it did not take quick action the city would run out of money by March 2014. The council acted to work the numbers and drastically reduce spending. By April, the council was notified its bank account had just $450.00.

On Thursday and 13 budget sessions later the council arrived at a balanced budget. The city's finances are stabilized. The next step in the effort towards financial health is to build reserves. Until those reserves are built, the city will remain in a precarious position.

The intensive effort to stabilize city finances was a distraction - albeit is an unavoidable one. With some breathing room, however, the council can now and should focus its efforts on building a stronger economic base. An effort with a focus on building economic activity that brings revenue to the city without taxing our residents and one that raises our resident's personal income is the best course ahead to a financially healthy city.


June 22, 2014

The budget

Anyone that believes the way to make government efficient is to cut it off at its financial knees is seeing a test of the limits of that philosophy. At its last meeting, the council made several cost cutting passes through next year's budget and ended up with $1.7 million in additional cost reductions.

A month before the vote on Measure F, the Administrative Services Director said its going to get ugly if Measure F does not pass. It's getting ugly.

Not funded so far as the council works on next year's budget is the Senior Center, the swim program, city participation in the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, watering of Mission Springs Park, the visitor center and maintenance of a city owned building on the National Register of Historic Sites, Cabot's Pueblo Museum.

Even after slashing $500,000 from the police department budget, the items above still are not funded along with many others that got the axe in previous budget sessions. That should provide ample appreciation for just how big a problem was discovered eight months ago in November.

A proposal at the Thursday's budget meeting was to have the council take one quick pass through the numbers and then hand  the budgeting responsibility to a newly formed finance committee that would consist of 3 to 5 committee members with instructions to produce recommendations to the council by no later than July 30, 2104.

This was, by the way, mistakenly heralded by some in the audience as a balanced budget. The council rightly recognized it was kicking the can down the road. The proposal was rejected. Over the next few hours the council arrived at the $1.7 million in spending reductions.

Just over $300,000 in additional spending reductions to what is called the "bare bones" budget will provide the funds to keep open the Senior Center and the summer swim program, the Visitor Center, maintain the Cabot's historic pueblo, keep Mission Springs Park green and maintained along with a few other critical items.

The council has had 12 budget sessions. Tuesday night another budget session will take place. Call it Round 13.



June 17, 2014

A truly balanced budget

The same approach to budgeting that delivered this city one giant financial mess has incredibly been offered up again as our city council works to adopt a budget for fiscal year 2014-15. It is the height of budgeting and financial irresponsibility.

In case anyone needs a reminder, it was budgeting based on one-time money and reliance on speculative income that never materialized that contributed significantly to our city finding itself with a $6.9 million surprise hole in the budget last November and on one giant financial mess.

Proposed by a fellow council member at last night's council budget session is a proposal to do exactly what got us into financial trouble, to rely on $600,000 of new taxes that has not yet been put to the voters, has no guarantee the voters will approve the taxes and that will put the city into a very serious financial shortfall if the tax measure does not pass.

The taxes proposed, by the way, hit homeowners and renters. The question to the voters will be are you willing to tax yourselves more? Of course they will is the reasoning, we can bank that money right now.

So enshrined is this thinking it has even been suggested the city can borrow against the tax receipts to get the money even earlier than the revenue would otherwise hit the city's books. Tax, borrow and spend is what is being proposed.

I've spent six years on our city council pushing a fiscally conservative approach to city finances. It would have served us well. In the context of our present budget discussions and in light of past mistakes, the approach translates to this.

  • Do not rely on one-time money for budgeting and to plan city finances.

  • Budgeting based on income that has not been received and is speculative is irresponsible and reckless.

Any budget proposal that relies on one-time money or irresponsibly relies on speculative revenue will not get my vote. The responsible option to see our way through this budget challenge is to adopt a truly balanced budget.

Going forward and once a balanced budget is adopted, other guidelines give our city a good chance to make its way out its present financial morass.

  • The city must always aggressively seek competitive bids on city contracts to obtain the lowest price. Incredibly, in tonight's budget we again have a proposal to extend for two years a large contract and not go out to bid.

  • Pursuing projects without thinking them through, especially ones that involve a large amount of money, carries significant risk of costly financial failure. It was that method of project management that brought us a music festival debacle.

  • When hiring people to perform critical city functions, hiring must be based on an applicant's qualifications to bring the best and brightest to our city management.

  • Excessive spending must be curtailed in every instance. Every taxpayer dollar must be treated as a scarce resource.

None of this is rocket science. It is basic conservative fiscal management. It works - or will work if responsible budgeting is adopted as the council works to adopt a budget for next year.


June 16, 2014

Programming note
Council meeting tonight

The City Council will meet today, Monday June 16 at 6 p.m. in the Carl May Council Chambers. The topic of discussion is the city budget. The public is welcome to attend and to offer comment. You can find the agenda at this link.

The City Council will also meet on Tuesday, June 17 at 6 p.m. in the Carl May Council Chambers. This will be a regular meeting of the council with several items on the agenda which you can find at this link.


June 15, 2014

Balanced Budget

The council has managed to get the city through to the end of the year.

In November, the city manager, the finance director and the city auditor advised the council that the city would be out of cash by mid-March and immediate adjustments were needed to avoid that from happening.

The council took immediate action. While it got very close financially - the city bank account was down to just $450.00 in April - the city has made it through to the end of the year financially intact. We made it through the immediate crisis.

The next step in the financial management of the city is for the city council to adopt a balanced budget, the result of which will be to put the city in a financial stabilized position. From there it can then work to start building revenues and working towards further operational efficiencies.

Adopting a balanced budget is the next critical step towards financial recovery and the ultimate goal of a city that is in a good financial position. To that end, city council members agreed that each council member would come to the June 17, 2014 regular with their proposed balanced budget.

Below is the budget I propose as a balanced budget.


Budget adjustments FY 2014/15 (working notes)

As of 6-16-14







Other programs / projects













Visitor center operation

No restoration of prior cuts




Staff training

All departments














Reception / secretarial

City staff support function




Video tape council meetings






Community events





Tourism bureau dues




Summer swim program

Memorial day to Veterans Day





Operations & maintenance




Senior center program

No reduction in hours




Tourism promotion - city






Community policing / COP








Sub total








Deficit FY 2014-15





Total Deficit

Add-ins plus deficit FY2014-15












Less adjustments to bare bones budget - cuts








Restructure code department

2 field techs / 1 admin




City vehicles driven home

Discontinue practice (1 vehicle)




City council salaries

Suspend until reserve target met




Phones / tablets (city)

4 tablets and 8 cell phones




Mission Springs Park

Lease default




Police Department

Budgeted at $6,099,310.00




Contract engineering

Replace $450,000 contract




Salary/pension reductions

To be negotiated




Animal control contract

Reduce contract costs




B&G utility costs savings

Cost picked up by other sources




Adjust for present reserve plan

Backed out of original number








Sub total








Total - suplus (deficit)









Future revenue through initiatives dedicated to rebuilding reserves with $5 million target reserve.

Registrar certifies Measure F election results

The Riverside County Registrar's office has now certified the election. The final vote count on Measure F was 1,446 in favor and 906 opposed. Had just 109 people voted Yes instead of No, Measure F would have passed.

Several factors determine an election's outcome. It can be said with certainty, however, that had Council Member Scott Matas, former Mayor Yvonne Parks and a few others not campaigned against Measure F, it would have passed. Inarguably, Matas and Parks succeeded in pulling enough votes away from Measure F to defeat it.

Final result: 61.48% vs 38.52% with 2,345 turning out to vote.


June 15, 2014

Public Safety Costs

With the release of the Sheriffs proposal several people have expressed an interest in the numbers that go into the comparison between the Desert Hot Springs Police Department operated by the Sheriff and city maintained. Here are some of the numbers with more to follow as time to post permits.

By way of brief explanation, the city council working with both city managers, Bob Adams and Martin Magana, developed a cost to operate the city's police department. As a matter of course, the numbers included some estimates but mostly were derived through council member inquires to specific budget questions with numbers provided in response by the city finance director.

The general question over the past six months as the council worked through the financial crisis is what are city administrative costs to maintain our police department above and beyond the $6.6 million budget number developed by the police department command staff. Below are those numbers.

Police Department Budget Summary Comparison DHSPD-RSO vs DHSPD-City As of: 6/11/14
                Replaces 5/5/14
Desert Hot Springs Police Department - City operated  
  Departmental Budget - Patrol & Field     Proposed - Includes salary & benefit reductions $6,653,783
  Department Administrative Expenses     Police Dept Share of Allocated Expenses - not all inclusive  
    Insurance Premiums        FY 14/15 Estimate by PERMA $357,842
                Less PD budget insurance reimberse ($221,000)
                Long-term savings as loss experiences improve.  
    Communications       68% of Communications, incl MDCs, etc $65,960
    Labor Law - PD       Billings April 1, 2013 - March 31, 2014 $165,000
                Sub total $7,021,585
  City Administrative Expenses - PD maintenance (estimated)  
    Reduce / Reprioritize Human Resources Specialist hours                35,000
    Reduce / Reprioritize Information Technology hours                60,000
    Reduce / Reprioritize Public Works hours - DMV for police vehicles, etc.                20,000
    Reduced costs for dedicated copier                      15,000
    Less purchases / replacement of hardware & software - $10K for new server in FY 14/15                10,000
    Tablets / cell phones (PD)   (1 tablet and 17 cell phones)                14,364
    Vehicles driven home by PD 8 vehicles at average 75 miles round trip and .86 per mile.                68,869
    PD vehicle fuel                        115,000
              Total Cost (does not include cost of living increase / pension)           7,359,818
Desert Hot Springs Police Department - Serviced by Riverside County Sheriffs Department  
  Mininimum Recommended Deployment (34 total department / 27 sworn w/24 on patrol) $5,937,050
    Add city administrative / police station maintenance              162,260
                Sub total (RSO quote, city admin., Police station maint.)           6,099,310
  Savings over DHSPD City Operated                 1,260,508
  Less: FY 14/15 costs          
    Cost to continue ERICA JPA obligation per year.              120,000
    Cost to maintain lease payment on DHSPD police vehicles (if unable to break lease)              124,281
  Net savings (with ERICA and PD vehicle lease FY 2014/15).           1,016,227
  Notes: ERICA - potential cost up to $319,445 for FY 14/15, whether we go with a contract agency or not.  
      Ford Motor Credit lease payment of $124,281 due 10/1/14. These costs are included in the  
      $6,653,783 Police Dept budget. City Attorney's office is reviewing the Ford Lease (transfer or discount)  

The Riverside County Sheriff's Department Proposal can be viewed at this link. For abbreviated reference, page 17 of the report shows a summary of options and costs associated with each option.


June 7, 2014

Final thoughts on Measure F (from me anyhow)

Thought one: The last two updates out of the Riverside Country Registrar of Voters show the numbers on Measure F have slipped in the wrong direction. While the vote in favor is still over 61%, considered a landslide result in any election, I'm still hearing from those that are holding out hope Measure F will pull out a victory.

Between now and the time Registrar certifies the final result the outcome will be the same. Measure F will have garnered a significant majority of the votes but will not have met the 66.61% threshold needed for passage.

Election Night Result

Yes 1,220 62.92%
No 719 37.08%
Total votes 1,939

Update 6/5/14

Yes 1,341 62.08%
No 819 37.92%
Total votes 2,160

Update 6/6/14

Yes 1,398 61.78%
No 865 38.22%
Total votes 2,263

Thought two: I have received a several emails from residents asking if anything can be done to change the requirement that a tax measure must get 66.61% to succeed. Any such change would be an end run around Prop 13. I would never support such a change. Measure F was in perfect keeping with Proposition 13.

Getting out of a financial mess is not all about spending cuts

Getting out of a financial mess is not all about spending cuts. A perfect example is a recent announcement that Desert Hot Springs has been chosen for a major Little League playoff tournament.

It may make perfect sense to some people that turning off the water at the city's Little League ball field and other parks is a way to save money. Given the severity of the city's financial woes they can hardly be faulted for that thinking.

In December and January when the financial crisis was at its peak, however, the city council made it very clear the grass at the ball fields and parks was not to go dead, brown and crunchy. It was to be kept green for good reason. That decision to maintain our city commitment to Little League and our parks paid off.

In case you missed the announcement at last Tuesday's city council meeting, it was because of the commitment demonstrated by our city towards Little League that the district director decided to locate this years Little League regional playoffs in our city.

Visitors are coming to our city. They will eat in our restaurants, check into our motels, shop at our stores and spend. That will translate into revenues coming into our city.


June 4, 2014

City Council Budget Sessions

The city council schedule calls for two budget meetings to be held in regular session on Monday, June 9 and Wednesday June 11. The plan is to be able to adopt next year's budget by June 17.

As with all regular council sessions, these meetings are open to the public. Meeting location is the Council Chambers at the Carl May building.


June 1, 2014

From: Yvonne Parks @ Inland Empire Taxpayers Association
"Let's repeat what got us into financial trouble in the first place."

I can't think of anyone less qualified to advise the city on financial matters than former Mayor Yvonne Parks who as much as anyone else is responsible for the financial troubles of this city. Yet she has done just that via a campaign email blast urging a no vote on Measure F.

The email, by the way, was sent by the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association. That's the organization running the no on F campaign. Parks agreed they could use her name.

Besides urging a no vote, Parks offers two suggestions to fix the city's financial troubles. Both represent the exact  same financial plan that landed the city in dire financial straights.

Illegal use of development impact fees

Her first solution is to obtain an advance on Development Impact Fees from developers to "fully fund our city reserves and fund competitive salaries for the personnel in our city departments and police force over the next two years."

The problem with this suggestion is it is an illegal use of development impact fees. Impact fees are for the purpose of providing new or expanded public capital facilities. The use of impact fees are restricted. They can't legally be used for salaries or to build the reserves in the city's general fund (Section of applicable law cited below).

Her suggestion is either a purposeful deception to the voters or a misunderstanding on the legal use of impact fees.

Philosophically what Parks is suggesting is borrow and spend; borrow ahead on impact fees and spend the money to cover immediate financial problems. Borrow and spend is not sound financial policy.

Impact fees are for civic improvements such as new parks, improved roads and fire stations. In effect, her suggestion is to spend money designated to for future new parks, roads and fire stations, spend that money today and leave those future civic amenities unfunded for our children's future.

Borrowing to get out of financial trouble compounds financial trouble.

Borrowing to get out of financial trouble compounds financial trouble. It's how politicians avoid solving government's money problems. The approach is particularly shocking coming from the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association that claims to have responsible government as the reason for its existence. Howard Jarvis would not be amused.

Yvonne Parks offers a second suggestion. It too was a hallmark of her financial strategy as mayor. Her suggestion is to use on one-time money to balance the city's budget.

Her suggestion is to hire a grant writer.

Grants have their place in city government. But not for budgeting purposes. A city that counts on one-time money from grants to cover the cost of government finds itself in serious financial trouble when those grants don't materialize.

Grants that were relied upon at budget time and that did not materialize contributed significantly to the city's present financial problems.

Measure F is not perfect but for a city that found itself with just $470.00 in the bank in April it is necessary. Nobody should be under the illusion Measure F will solve our city's financial problems. Even with Measure F further cuts will be necessary. It most certainly does not provide enough revenue to restore city salaries and pensions that were cut by 22 percent six months ago.

The longer range goal for our city must be to return to financial stability, achieve a balanced budget that does not rely on borrowing and one-time money to make ends meet, building the city's rainy day savings reserves to provide for emergencies and start building other sources or revenue that do not rely heavily on residents to pay for city services.

We must also require a fair and equitable distribution of the public safety parcel tax burden as Measure F is designed to do. Everyone needs to pull for public safety, not just homeowners, renters, small business and our hoteliers.

Above all else, we must reject any suggestion that calls for our city to return to financial irresponsibility and vow that never again will our city finances be managed by the reckless borrow and spend philosophy of the past that created one heck of a giant financial mess.


Laws governing development impact fees

66008. A local agency shall expend a fee for public improvements,
as accounted for pursuant to Section 66006, solely and exclusively
for the purpose or purposes, as identified in subdivision (f) of
Section 66006, for which the fee was collected. The fee shall not be
levied, collected, or imposed for general revenue purposes.

66006. (a) If a local agency requires the payment of a fee
specified in subdivision (c) in connection with the approval of a
development project, the local agency receiving the fee shall deposit
it with the other fees for the improvement in a separate capital
facilities account or fund in a manner to avoid any commingling of
the fees with other revenues and funds of the local agency, except
for temporary investments, and expend those fees solely for the
purpose for which the fee was collected. Any interest income earned
by moneys in the capital facilities account or fund shall also be
deposited in that account or fund and shall be expended only for the
purpose for which the fee was originally collected.

(Bold emphasis mine)



May 21, 2014

Swim program insurance coverage

I've received two calls following last night's council meeting regarding the insurance coverage that is to be provided by FAST, our swim program provider.

If I received two calls all that quickly, there must be more people with the same question so I will address it here.

The swim program will open on time, this Memorial Day at 1 p.m. and the insurance the city requires from FAST will be in place. The city is not taking a risk. FAST will provide coverage in the amount of $6 million.

The city's insurance carrier said it believes the coverage amount should be $10 million. Based on that advice, we required FAST to come up with the extra $4 million in coverage which they have done.

The extra $4 million in coverage will go into effect on May 30, 2014 bringing total coverage to $10 million.

At no time will the city operate the pool without adequate insurance coverage.


Home prices up provides limited budget help.

Higher priced non-distressed property sales now dominate housing market. Median home prices are up.

That information bodes well for our city trying to work through a severe budget problem. It was a drop in property values with the real estate market crash in 2008 that caused property tax receipts to the city to fall significantly.

As home prices rise, the city will eventually start to see more revenue from property taxes. Any real gain depends on the market. Next year's budget (yet to be approved) shows a modest increase in property tax revenue.

That's the good news. Then there are the downward forces on home values.

  • In April, 13.5 percent of homeowners owe more on their house is worth.

  • Institutional Investor purchases of homes are down 36.9 percent from last year.

  • Cash sales of homes are down 21.4 percent from last year.

  • Flip sales were down 21.5 percent for the year.

On the foreclosure front, foreclosures are down 32.4 percent from a year ago and foreclosure inventories continue to trend gradually lower, down 17.6 percent for the year.

The bottom line for the city's bottom line is that while increased home values are helping the city's bottom line, in the year ahead the added home values are not significant enough to enough to have a significant impact on the city's budget deficit.

Foreclosure sales and notices

Source: Property Radar


May 19, 2014

City Council Meeting

The city council will meet tomorrow. May 20, in regular session starting at 6 p.m. Here is a look at two items on the agenda.

Budget Recap

The council will receive an updated budget recap. As you look at the budget issue, think in terms of two budgets:

  • The bare bones budget which is not yet balanced. It attempts to cover only the most basic of city services but will require more cuts.

  • The optional budget covers city programs that are considered "extra" but contains some very critical city services. This side of the budget is nowhere near funded.

  • The budget can be viewed at this link (scroll down to Item 8).

At a council budget study session last week it was decided to wait to see the results of Measure F so the council would know exactly how much money there is to work with.

Insurance requirements for swim program provider

The city has a new swim program provider and both city swim pools will be open for the summer swim season starting Memorial Day and ending Labor Day. The program provider, FAST, provides an excellent program as.

On the agenda is a question regarding the amount of insurance FAST must carry. The issue has been resolved with FAST securing the required amount of insurance. The issue had threatened to delay or cancel altogether the summer swim season.

Here is a look at the program FAST provides. The hope in Desert Hot Springs it to develop the same program. FAST has been operating for 50 years. If there are any future Olympians fin our city's future, this is the start.

It was a very open bid process that finds our city with both city pools open instead of just one and at a lower cost. Last year only the Furbee Aquatic Center pool was open. It did not meet the needs of senior water aerobic or toddlers and small children learning to swim. The city saved $50,000 in the bid process.

May 15, 2014

Proposition 13 and Measure F protect homeowners

Proposition 13 was intended for all taxes to be treated uniformly.” That's a message that appeared in the latest campaign mailer of the interests opposed to Measure F.

While the authors of the mailer did not intend it that way, their statement above supports Measure F exactly.

Measure F is a modification to the existing Public Safety Parcel Tax with the specific intent to make sure all property in the city is treated equally. That is not the case now.

Homeowners pay a present rate equaling just under $600 per acre. Vacant land owners now pay just under $30 per acre. There is nothing fair or equal about that. While Measure F does not make all rates equal, it does move closer to applying the Public Safety Parcel Tax uniformly.

Homeowners will still be paying pay twice the rate of vacant land owners even if Measure F is approved by the voters.

Measure F helps to makes sure all property owners in the city pull for public safety. By doing so, Homeowners and vacant land owners see their property values increase by contributing to make our city clean and safe.

The mailer also misstates the position of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association by implying that Measure F on the June 3 ballot "is an end-run around Proposition 13."

I have long been a supporter of Proposition 13, specifically because of the protections it affords homeowners. That's why this statement jumped out at me. So I called the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association directly to confirm what I already know about Proposition 13.

My call confirmed that Measure F is exactly in keeping with Proposition 13.

“When Proposition 13 was originally approved by the voters it preserved the protections of the voters to approve local tax measures. That was specifically written into Proposition 13.” – Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Southern California Office.

That is as it should be. The decision is now up to the voters. Your decision on June 3 is to decide if everyone pulls for public safety or if vacant land owners continue to get what amounts to a free ride.

My purpose in writing as your council member is to assure you that our city council did not operate outside State law or do an end-run around Proposition 13 when we placed Measure F on the ballot for you to decide.

Our council followed the letter of the law – and the spirit and intent of Proposition 13. The proof of that is that Measure F is your decision.


May 12, 2014

No is not a solution

What are the alternatives to Measure F and why didn't the council study this more carefully? That question has been asked of me more than a few times.

At the root of the question is an absurd statement by my fellow council member, Scott Matas, that the council did not study Measure F carefully along with several other options before it put Measure F to the voters to decide.

I've covered this subject here already but here is more detail.

Below is a table taken from a city consultant's report to the city council. The purpose of the report, presented on May 28, 2013, was to specifically provide the council with options to the present financial situation.

If you take a careful look at each option in the table below provided in the Urban Futures report, you see every option has a common denominator - they all would require homeowners, residents, renters, motel operators and other small businesses to pay more.

Not one of the options above would be paid by out-of-town vacant land speculators.

These alternatives favored by Councilman Matas as an alternative to Measure F place an  added burden of those already carrying the cost of public safety and leaves vacant land owners paying nothing.

The utility user tax adds to residents phone bills, internet bill, electric bills and other utility bills. The sewer and sanitation tax would apply the utility user tax to your sewer bill and your trash bill. The 911 communication fee would add to your property tax bill. The paramedic subscription program is a fee only residents pay.

The proposed increase to the transient occupancy tax would increase room rates, thereby slowing an economic recovery our small boutique motels are now enjoying. A sales tax is paid by residents.

Measure F places no added burden on residents. Measure F does require those that have not been contributing to public safety, large out-of-town vacant land owners and speculators, to help with public safety costs.

It was on that basis and with careful consideration over the course of many months that the council voted to put Measure F before the voters as the best option.


May 8, 2014

New City Manager

I received an email that sums up as well as any comments I've seen the selection of Martin Magana as city manager.

Great guy, cant say anything negative about him. Known him for a long time. He avoided favoritism and therefore worked very well with everyone on all sides. I think that this is the key to a successful city manager in a small town like DHS. And he has it down pat. He also sees the vision. Few are born with that talent. Very compassionate man.

The council had been through a long search with 60 applicants. That number was narrowed down to 12 finalist. The interviews took place while former Interim City Manager Bob Adams was still working at the city but as his time to depart was drawing near.

Due to retirement Bob could work only 960 hours for the city without impacting his retirement.

The interviews went well but the list dropped from 12 to 11 when one of the candidates notified us he had accepted another offer. With only a couple of exceptions, every candidate that was interviewed was well qualified.

The council worked very well together through the process. All council members were careful to give particular consideration to making sure a candidate would be a good fit for all council members. Decision by simple majority was not in the final selection criteria.

Eventually a single candidate was agreed upon and the city attorney was instructed to work out the contract details. That process took several weeks but never came together.

During this long period of negotiations, the council continued to work through the seemingly endless challenge of getting through this budget mess. That necessarily involved a lot of interaction with Martin and progress was made.

Our city is moving towards the goal of becoming financially sound. The question for the council in selecting a new city manager has always been two fold. Who as city manager can help the council get to that necessary goal and who can also navigate the council?

Martin has master's degree in public administration, years of municipal experience, a detailed working knowledge of our intense financial situation and several weeks as acting city manager working well with all council members.

All of that is key to a successful city manager in a small town like Desert Hot Springs.

The contract with the city manager is available on the city website at this link. Here are the key details.

  • Salary of $152,000 with no automatic adjustments.
  • Six months severance if the council decides to terminate the agreement without cause.
  • An evaluation at six months then once every year thereafter.
  • Benefits are consistent with all other city employees.
  • Must meet and confer with the council on hiring of department heads.




Budget time for hot water promotion draws near

The city has for several years provided marketing money to our hoteliers and they have done a good job. I attended the Hoteliers Association meetings as the city council laison for four years. That experience helped me considerably to understand the hoteliers concerns.

Few realize that through the economic downturn where hotels across the region were seeing rates on occupancy drop drastically, our boutique spa and hot mineral water motels remained busy - its about the water.

As the economy comes back the picture is even better. The bed tax the hoteliers collect on behalf of the city is up 30 percent. Their efforts and the city's small amount of assistance is paying off.

It is paying off in more ways than increased bed tax for the city. Two new natural hot mineral water properties are starting up, Vista Ventana Spa and Resort and YK Spa. A major expansion of Two Bunch Palms Resort is also underway.


April 18, 2014

Teens looking for work and job training.

I met a teen during a break in a council meeting a couple of weeks ago and we struck up a conversation. He was looking for work and he asked if I knew anyone hiring. He just called back this morning to follow up. I had handed him my card.

"Everyone says I need experience to get a job but I can't get experience if I have not yet had a first job," he said. His appearance is presentable and no tattoos.

I ended the call telling him I'll do some asking around in the next few days. He's going to call back. I went back to my morning paper and coffee.

The thought then crossed my mind what would his situation be if the prior city council had not rejected a job training program that wanted to come to our city. That program operator was ready to take over the empty building at Wardman Park.

That was over a year ago and by now the nine month program would have graduated its first 25 students. Had this young man been one of those graduates he would have job-search-valuable technical training.

He also would have a much better prospect for not just a first job but a good job. The job placement rate of the program is 80 percent.

It was a major mistake to reject that program. That opportunity is lost with that program provider. It used the funding in another city. We have to find another.


Measure F rushed?

A suggestion has has been forwarded that Measure F on the June ballot was rushed by the council. That is political spin of those campaigning against Measure F. Don't buy into it.

The idea of bringing equity to the city's public safety parcel tax was first proposed five years ago in response to a suggestion that the tax on homeowners should be doubled while vacant land speculators see no increase.

It was also studied in depth two years ago at budget time. Then, the council was looking at 11 options to raise revenue. Applying equity to the public safety parcel tax was one of them. Every council member was part of those discussions.

This year it was decided the only option to make up a $2.1 million budget deficit the city faces next year is Measure F. No other option will raise the amount of money needed to put away that deficit.

Measure F was placed on the ballot for the voters to decide after careful and detailed consideration by the council. The suggestion it was rushed is bunk. Anyone making that suggestion, especially a council member, is purposely trying to deceive the voters.


Abandoned construction sight - finally - cleaned up.

Not all the letters council members get are like this one (it is okay to complain too). My reason for posting it is not to amplify the praise. It is because this letter illustrates a point I have been making for six years as your councilman.

The resident (whose name I will leave off) had been asking for since 2011 to have construction debris and abandoned construction vehicles removed from a stalled residential development. He looked at it daily. Homeless were making homes out of the abandoned vehicles by propping plywood and boards against the sides of the vehicles.

In 2011, I pressed to get this construction sight cleaned up, including asking our code department to address the issue when they appeared before the city council.

As it turns out, while I was pressing to get the construction sight cleaned up our former city manager was sending a different signal. His instructions were not to cite the owners of this property. The messes lingered.

It is a new day in Desert Hot Springs. When a mess at a stalled construction sight is causing grief for residents, dragging down the neighborhood and dragging down the the value of our homes it is going to get cleaned up.

Mayor Pro Tem Betts,

I could not believe my eyes this morning. A lowboy truck arrived and is in the process of removing containers. I guess he will return for the others including the abandoned Water Truck and Water trailer. I cannot thank you enough.

And yes it was the Public Safety Commission meeting. The property was discussed and 5-0 send their recommendations to the Council. Mr. Williams of Code Enforcement after a lengthily discussion stated that the previous administration had directed Code Enforcement to not site certain code infractions.

If you want to hear it go to the meeting and Code Enforcement-Williams Item 4 A at the 1 hour and 50 minutes mark.

"Past City Manager dismissed any complaints".

Thank You!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


April 15, 2014

Council votes to approve conservation plan to protect habitat and provide certainty to future development.

Map shows area to be annexed into the conservation plan. Area show as Desert Hot Springs represents city boundary prior to the I-10 annexation. Green shaded areas shows conservation set-aside. Blue shaded area shows future Riverside County Flood Control channel.

After seven years of working to get development in our city back on track, the Multi Species Habitat Conservation Plan was approved by our city council. It was a very good day, a long awaited day getting our city back moving towards development certainty.

This plan is supported by the Building Industry Association and Conservation groups because it provides certainty to the the development process. As the map above shows, it is clearly defined where development can take place. The permit approval process is now streamlined.

If you believe what others have been saying about the plan, you would believe our city's inclusion in the plan takes 47% of our city's land. Some have even suggested it is bad for the city. They are alone.

With your own eyes you can see in the map above the conservation plan does not take 47% or our land. Of added note, much of the land in the conservation plan is exactly where a future flood control channel will be built. Nothing can be built in a flood control channel.

It was a very good day for our city's future development last Tuesday. Businesses looking to invest in our city now knows clearly where they can build. They can feel certain they will not be bogged down in a long and arduous development approval process.


Two Bunch Palms Resort Expansion

This item went to the city council at this past Tuesday's council meeting and was approved with some slight modification. I did not vote in favor of the item even with the modifications.

I'm happy to see the expansion of Two Bunch and the investment being made in our community. It is a good thing. My concern was with the details of the agreement and insufficient time to review it and fix it. For certain the 30 years granted for the development agreement is too long.

On the TOT issue that was of concern to several residents that contacted me, the original proposal was modified. Two Bunch will not be getting a discount on existing TOT. It will get a discount on new TOT it generates as a result of its expansion.

A benefit of the project is that it improves what was approved by a prior council. Specifically, the density of the project is greatly reduced with about 400 less homes and the inclusion of much more open space.

The new plan provides for a much more upscale concept and gets away from a tract home approach.

Before construction that is proposed can go forward, it must come back through the regular planning process. That is where those with concerns over actual construction plans will want to watch for the specifics. Keep an eye out for planning commission agendas.

Finally, on the accommodation made by the council for events at the resort, I had quite a few calls on this due to the noise of a past event. Tranquil is in their plans, not any more loud bashes like the event that took place last summer. And there is still a noise ordinance in place that can be applied no matter what was approved Tuesday.

If you have questions on this item, feel free to contact me.

City bank balance

The city continues to face significant financial strain. The city was able to make payroll this past week. However, the city bank balance after meeting payroll and other obligations is just $450.00. That is not a typo.

Public comment at council meetings

l am always troubled when I hear a member of the public saying during public comments at a council meeting "Thank you for providing me this time to speak." Speaking at a council meeting is your right. It is not something the council grants permission for you to do.

A few other thoughts on the subject of public comment.

  • Plan your three minutes. Out of necessity, your time at the public speaking podium is limited to three minutes. Use your time wisely and take a practice run through your comments before hand by actually reading them out loud to yourself to make sure they fit the three minute limit. A good rule of thumb is to time your comments to 2 1/2 minutes. This will insure you don't run out of time.

  • What comments can be made during public comment? You can speak on any subject you like. There is a general rule however. If you are offering comments on a general subject not covered in an agenda item, then make your comment at the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting. If you have a comment on a specific agenda item, then make your comment when that agenda item is announced.

  • The time is yours - uninterrupted. The three minutes is yours. You hold the floor. The Mayor does preside over the meeting and may ask you to hold your comments for any number of reasons. For example, to restore order of the meeting or if you are talking on an agenda item that will come up later in the meeting and your comments are properly made there. If you are asked to suspend your comments, however, because someone finds them objectionable, that is not valid reason to interrupt you.

  • The council can't engage in a dialog with you. The City Council is governed by open meeting laws that require all topics of discussion be placed on a agenda with adequate notice provided to the public. If you raise a question that requires council discussion, the council can't engage in that conversation with you. That does not mean the subject your raise can't or will not be addressed by the council. Rather than asking for a direct response to any question you raise, instead ask the council to schedule the topic to be placed the agenda of a future meeting.

  That is by no means is a complete discussion.



April 6, 2014

City bank balance

The city continues to face significant cash flow difficulties. Last week the council received a report from the city finance department that cash on hand was just over $193,000. To put that in perspective, city payroll every two weeks is approximately $250,000. In other words, there was not enough money in the city general fund to be able to make the upcoming city payroll. The finance department said it will find a way to make payroll next week.

POA preliminary injunction decision

The Police Officers Association sought an injunction to reinstate salary cuts made by the council last December. Had the POA prevailed, the city would have been required to reinstate salaries to the level they were at prior to the cuts and to pay pay back wages. The city dodged a significant financial bullet when the judge in the case ruled in favor of the city.

Had the city lost at the hearing and the been ordered by the court reinstate wages with back pay, the city would not have had the funds in its account to make the payment.

Next year's budget

The city council begins work next month to prepare a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1, 2014. The city faces an approximate $3.7 million budget deficit. The city once had cash reserves of about $5 million but those reserves have now been consumed.

The council faces one of two situations, both hinging on the outcome of Measure F, a ballot question city voters will be asked to decide in June of this year.

Measure F is expected to raise about $3.5 million dollars. If voters approve the measure, the budget for next year will still be tight. If Measure F does not pass, the council will be faced with making additional cuts of $3.7 million.

The city council has finally adopted a zero-based budgeting approach, an approach I advocated the six years that I have been on the council. The council will be presented with a budget by city staff that represents only what it takes to keep the doors open at city hall. The council will then decide what else to spend money on.

That, of course, presumes there is any extra money. If Measure F does not pass, then the council will be faced with a significantly different challenge, that being how to keep the city open.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues covered above in more detail, please give me a call or feel free to email me at


March 21, 2014

Two Bunch Palms Resort Expansion

Two Bunch Palms Resort is at the start of a major expansion. After a lot of planning, it's owners came before the city council with the first step in the city approval process.

An issue arose over application fees charged by the city. Those fees are normally $20,000. The fees are to cover the city's cost to process the application, including review of plans and legal work.

In the agenda item before the council, Two Bunch Palms Resort requested the fee amount instead be set at $10,000, this to more accurately reflect the city's costs in reviewing the application. Two Bunch Palms had absorbed some costs that otherwise would have been incurred by the city. The council approved the fee reduction to get this project started.

February 27, 2014

Transportation -
Southern California Association of Governments

Our city as represented in the corridor outside the board meeting room at SCAG

SCAG is the nation's largest metropolitan planning organization, representing six counties, 191 cities and more than 18 million residents. Through an appointment by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, I serve on the Transportation Committee dealing with issue related to freeways, rail transit, goods movement through rail and truck and other transportation planning issue.

Most of the policy discussion and planning set long range direction, plotting a course for the six county region as far out as 20 years.

My service at SCAG is without cost to Desert Hot Springs taxpayers. Issues do come up at SCAG that involve our city and as they do I provide updates at our city council meetings.

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