History of Recent News Reporting – in the City of Desert Hot Springs
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – One person is spinning a revision of the history of the news reporting in town. It’s unfortunate that some inaccurate information has been thrown around. Now I am going to set the record straight.
In 2001, soon after moving to Desert Hot Springs, I started paying attention to city related issues. Bits and pieces of what seemed to be important subjects were inconsistently covered by the daily newspaper, The Desert Sun and less occasionally on television news. I started attending meetings of the city council but it took a few years for me to get a handle on things and speak at Public Comments.
The most informative source of information was the Friends of Desert Hot Springs website run by Gabriel King. It was a mash-up of local news mixed with Gabriel King’s right wing politics and views on gun control. I contributed with comments to voice my concerns in a free for all forum of unmoderated comments that lacked focus but still had a powerful investigative nature providing the consequences of exposure.
In 2006 or 2007 another website focused on the city appeared. Run by Bill Effinger, it provided comments moderated by Effinger, a gentleman experienced in shopping center development and city planning. He had an extensive knowledge of government due to his having served as mayor of Buena Park. His forum for discussion provided a more focused dialog serving to identify problems and to examine solutions.
In about the latter part of 2007 I began writing a few articles about the city that were published in the Valley Breeze, a small town bi-monthly city newspaper run by Buzz Gamble. He printed about 1,000 copies of a folded tabloid which were distributed in hotels and restaurants in the city. The style was more a newsletter than a newspaper.
Buzz did not pay me for what I wrote but he had a strong interest in publishing local news. We did not agree about everything but one thing we agreed about was the importance of annexing the vacant land from the then city limits all the way to the freeway. Buzz was quite particular about what he published in the Valley Breeze and was most comfortable with his popular articles about the Senior Talent Show and Pets on Parade.
A reluctance to report news about city management was made clear at an fund raising event at Cabot’s Museum where Buzz said, “I don’t do city council news.”
Still, Buzz was always writing little puff pieces about a select group of friendly incumbents serving on the council and making digs at those he didn’t like. Buzz had a way to deal with disagreement. Buzz was also a photographer and he would simply crop certain people out of his photographs to highlight his personal favorites as another way to ignore those he disagreed with.
I was hopeful to be able to shed some light on city problems so that the problems could get some attention to get fixed. The city had long suffered being ignored by the daily newspaper, The Desert Sun, except for some extraordinary disaster or the weather.
One of my favorite articles I wrote that Buzz published was an examination of what the city would be like once the freeway overpass was completed and also informed people of the impending nature preserve known as the Multi Species Habitat Conservation Plan lingering on the horizon.
The proposal for a nature preserve was inevitable moving in a steamroll fashion spearheaded by other cities in the Coachella Valley and it was clear to me it would effect the future of the city. However no one in the city seemed aware of it, much less the council who expressed no interest. When I brought it before the city council it was one of those “deer caught in the headlight” moments which told me once more they didn’t have their thinking caps on.
Shortly after the beginning of 2008 I wrote an article about a secret homeless shelter that opened up in the middle of a residential neighborhood that was operated by CVAG and had been established on the property of one of our city’s spas, over on Mountain View Road.
Diesel buses were spewing noise and fumes starting up at 4:00 AM to haul people out and returning after dark to truck people in.
This interested Buzz since he was familiar with the doctor who had run the business as a health retreat and physical therapy center. The doctor was beloved by Buzz and many other residents since he did not charge much if anything for his medical services.
In my follow-up article I wrote that the homeless people were unsupervised and wandering away from the facility causing a mini-crime wave to happen in the neighborhood. This was discovered by my doing a door to door survey of more than 50 residents living adjacent to the homeless shelter.
Homeless people were being bussed in from as far away as the cities of Yucaipa and Indio. This made the hair on the neck of Buzz Gamble the newspaper publisher stand up. The city already was suffering a crime problem due to being inundated by homeless people and parolees and it just did not make any sense for the city to be encouraging more.
But what happened next was another surprise.
I had discovered the minutes of the CVAG meeting proving that Mayor Yvonne Parks had not only agreed at the CVAG meeting that Desert Hot Springs serve as the dumping ground for homeless people of the region, she also made the motion for it to be voted upon. Not only that, but Yvonne kept the homeless shelter secret from the police chief, the city council and the city manager. No one knew anything about what was going on.
As for the crime wave, many of the victims were Hispanic with a distrustful fear of making a report to the police. Armed only with my statistics and interviews I informed newly elected councilman Russell Betts who accompanied me to the residences of some of the homeowners in the neighborhood alarmed by the turn of events in order to find out what was going on.
Soon the news people arrived from television. These were the local network affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Univision, Spanish language TV. They also canvased the neighborhood doing interviews with residents and councilman Russell Betts, made videos of the night-driving buses for broadcasting the news story.
Not one word about the matter was ever published in The Desert Sun. That news censorship was generally attributed to Laura Green, who was then working as the administrative assistant to then new city manager Rick Daniels. Laura Green was the wife of Rick Green, the editor of The Desert Sun.
Needless to say, Yvonne Parks was incensed over the entire matter even seeing the light of day as a result of the story published in the Valley Breeze. After all, there was a reason it was kept secret. Everyone knew the neighbors would complain.
I calculated that there were fifty people who had something to say and if they all showed up at a city council meeting to speak at Public Comment for their 3 minutes each that it would take close to 150 minutes or over 2 hours to sit thru. I told councilman Betts that I would be helping to organize the neighborhood to attend the next city council meeting about a week away.
Instead, a special meeting was scheduled prior to the regular council meeting to address just this one subject alone. When people started arriving at the special meeting they were greeted by then councilman Al Schmidt who told them the meeting was canceled because the secret homeless shelter had closed up that very day.
While that certainly appeared to be a victory for the free press and validating of the power of information it was upsetting to Buzz when Yvonne called him to complain. Buzz responded without apology.
“Dean, I’ve never had such a call from anyone on the city council,” Buzz said, “I just can’t take that kind of pressure with Yvonne [Mayor Parks] being upset with me. This can’t go on. I can’t do this. You’re not writing for the Valley Breeze anymore.”
And so with that I needed a new publisher.
Next… Max Lieberman of the Desert Local News
Followed by… Founding the Desert Valley Star
For over 40 years Dean has been published in a variety of small newspapers and magazines. As publisher he founded an alternative city weekly newspaper in 2008 and published over 200 uninterrupted issues over 4 years to over 20,000 readers via 800 locations (and online) before selling the business.
Dean is a Master Carpenter and the author of the biography of Hilda M Gray, desert homesteader.
In 2014 he was appointed Planning Commissioner for the city of Desert Hot Springs, California.
Dean M Gray is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors and lives in Desert Hot Springs, California.