Following are key excerpts from interviews with the candidates by Desert Star Weekly. While our transcripts have been edited for length, redundancy and organization, the context of every response highlighted here has been preserved.
Sanchez on DHS Now: “We’re in a financial crisis. This year, the council approved a budget of $18 million knowing there’s only $16 million or less in revenue. I voted no for the last two budgets I’ve been on council; I’ve only been on council a year and half. The first year, they had to borrow $3 million from the CVP Sentinel Energy Project to balance the budget. I said, ‘You don’t use one-time money to balance the budget, because we’re going to be hurting the following year.’ Which is now.
“Making matters worse is that they put in there that there was going to be $1 million in new development this year. It’s not going to happen. So that puts the (budget shortfall) at $3 million. And to make things even more dire is the operations budget of the Health and Wellness Center. To be conservative, we could probably do it with about $600,000 when it should cost $1 million to run the whole thing. The pool’s not open because we haven’t renewed the contract. So you’re looking at $3.5 million (in total budget shortfall).”
Sanchez on Developing Business: “One of the great things that happening right now is that the state just (overhauled) the enterprise zone program. They’re going more regional with it, and Coachella has been fortunate because, through the Department of Commerce, they’re putting out grants now…. We’ve got to do the same thing, because our unemployment rate is anywhere between 16 and 20 percent. So if Coachella is able to get that kind of money from the Department of Commerce, the Department of Economic Development… we need to do the same thing.
“The corner of Dillon and Indian, where a manufacturing center is planned, is the hub of our future. That’s where the manufacturing jobs and larger companies are going to come to provide opportunities for our residents. The positive side that we have is, Riverside County, especially with the board of supervisors and (Fourth District Supervisor John J.) Benoit, they have a department of international trade and export. Riverside County is number one in the state in attracting businesses internationally.”
Sanchez on Promoting Tourism: “Other than the hot water spas, what we really have to work on is marketing and promoting Cabot’s Museum. It’s the first homestead in the Coachella Valley, and it’s one of the more unique places not only in the state, but in the country. The history there is rich. It needs to be more commercialized as a tourist attraction, where people maybe can go up there and dine and get that whole experience of Cabot’s.
“Next to that, we need to clean up the city. We really need to develop a plan to keep Palm Drive beautiful, because it’s the entrance of the city and the first impression. What it’s going to take, and I’ve been working with Code Enforcement and Desert Valley Disposal, will be cleaning up neighborhoods — and we’ve been doing it now for six months. It’s going to take time and effort, but we’ll do it with volunteers.
“There’s no other place like Desert Hot Springs — with 20 boutique, unique hotels and hot water and great drinking water. You’ve got tourists coming from all over, internationally, who get that ‘Wow’-ness feeling from the hot water, and it serves as a place for them to kind of get their lives back together. But why is it that we, as a city and a community, cannot bring that together for ourselves so we can be proud and move forward?”
Sanchez on Reducing Spending: “First of all, we need to reduce all of the contracts the city has — the total, together — by 15 percent, and you’ll get about $900,000 dollars. We always approve (contracts) for three years, but we need to review them every year. Especially now, when they’re waiting for the new audit to start but they’re also waiting to get the results from the past audit.
“Second of all, we need to do some restructuring where we can at City Hall when it comes to salaries. It’s almost unconscionable that we’re one of the poorest cities in the state, yet we’re probably amongst the top five when you add up the salary range for the whole community. When you look at the salaries at City Hall and the police department, they’re way too high. The challenge is, you’ve got the unions here, and then you only have the administrative salaries of staff that you can really go to.
“You also have to look at extending the pay scale of employees even longer. At the same time, any new hires will have to be under a different formula…. You have to cut at City Hall first before the taxpayers can even think that you’re in a total financial crisis.”
Sanchez on Passion for Leadership: “When I first arrived in Desert Hot Springs, I worked for City Hall for two years as Senior Center director, Community Services coordinator and grant writer. It gave me a good look at City Hall and how it operates. I spent 10 years with the Boys and Girls Club, where I was engaged in the total community, and I’ve been involved in every commission in the city except the Police Commission. I’ve been the president of the Rotary Club and belonged to all the service organizations. I understand the dynamics of the community.
“With a year and a half being on the council, that really just brought it all together for me. But what really drove me to run was the fact that I could no longer go along with budgets at the end of the year that are not balanced.”
Sanchez on DHS Tomorrow: “We’ve got the worst image in the valley and we don’t deserve it. We’ve got beautiful views; the city is small and it’s unique. It’s really a beautiful place to live. But we’re carrying this image of being dysfunctional — where somehow can’t get the city going in the right direction, and keeping it in that direction. It’s almost like we have to apologize for living here. That’s something we have to change.
“You can’t take the mayor’s office lightly. It’s a tremendous amount of responsibility; you’re now the spokesperson for the city. And you have to find a way to work with everybody — from the developers that are coming in… to those people who actually represent the community, like the working poor. That’s why we have the Borrego medical clinic coming in, because we have a lot of people who need that kind of healthcare. You have the less fortunate, and then you have the fortunate — but we’ve never been able as a community to make sure everybody feels represented, to engage them as part of the cleanup.
“It’s about trying to get everybody to work together. We’ve been so divisive… but I think I can create a better working unit as a team.”