Long before cityhood, Desert Hot Springs was a center for health and wellness. Legend has it that in 1913, human-rights activist Cabot Yerxa hand-dug a well to supply water to his 160-acre homestead, unearthing a cache of hot mineral springs. Yerxa dug a second well nearby and stumbled upon the pure, cold water of the Mission Springs Aquifer. The two happy accidents gave the area around his homestead a moniker that lives on today — Miracle Hill.
Today, travelers from around the globe make pilgrimages to the “Spa City” to soak in therapeutic mineral waters at resorts ranging from pet-friendly to Hollywood trendy. Residents benefi t from a water supply that has won more medals for quality and taste than any municipal purveyor in the world. Mission Springs Water District now boasts 14 water wells and 24 reservoirs, serving an area of 35 square miles.
Mayor Adam Sanchez intends to honor the past and build for the future with multiple collaborations through the Desert Hot Springs Health and Wellness Initiative. Joining other valley civic leaders, Sanchez supports the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters Initiative, which works to improve health and well-being by activating individuals, communities, and organizations to make meaningful contributions to the health of others.
The mayor wants to foster a communitywide initiative that brings together such components as pedestrianfriendly streets that encourage walking and biking, healthy food offerings via grocery stores, restaurants and special event promotions, and joint-use agreements to increase available indoor and outdoor exercise and recreation opportunities for the public. “Desert Hot Springs can be the first city in the valley to localize health-based programs to achieve significant positive outcomes for our residents. We already have the community resources. We just need to focus on collaboration,” Sanchez says.
The list of partners in the city’s effort is impressive. Two Bunch Palms spa resort is a well-established destination for healing arts practices. It has made a 30-year commitment to expand its oasis setting with options for senior living and more access to hiking trails. Riverside County just opened the Desert Hot Springs Family Care Center, which offers a variety of social service programs. The Chamber of Commerce brings food and fun together with local businesses during its Salsa Blast, featuring tasty salsas for a healthy diet, good music for a healthy spirit, and dancing for a healthy body.
The Desert Healthcare District made a $5 million investment in the $20 million Desert Hot Springs Community Health and Wellness Center, which features health screening facilities and a Boys & Girls Club, which includes a teen activities center, indoor gymnasium/basketball court, cardio fitness center, and community room with full kitchen. The Furbee Aquatic Center sports a competition-size swimming pool, shade areas, lockers, and shower rooms.
Community support is happening at every level. A resolution designating Desert Hot Springs as a Healthy Eating Active Living City lays the groundwork for festivals, fairs, and public outreach activities aimed at residents and visitors alike. GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit solar installer, helps reduce the community’s carbon footprint by providing solar electric systems to low-income homeowners while training workers for well-paying jobs in the burgeoning solar industry.
Civic boosters know that community pride is an important part of community health. A public art campaign spearheaded by the city’s Community and Cultural Affairs Commission netted three large murals by artist John Coleman, which led to an additional neighborhood beautification project. Says Commission Chair Paula Terifaj, “People were stopping to talk to John, and we noticed there was often litter in vacant lots nearby. We partnered with Desert Valley Disposal and launched a weekly ‘Pickup Crew’ of volunteers. This fall, we’ll place five large collection bins around town and ask students to submit designs to decorate them. It’s all about getting residents to take responsibility and generate pride in their neighborhoods.”
Says Mayor Sanchez, “We see a direct link between our physical environment and public health. By bringing a diverse group of citizens together with our Public Safety, Planning, and Community and Cultural Affairs commissions, we can maximize our resources in tandem with our police department, Chamber of Commerce business community, school district, and other organizations.”
Having a balanced city budget in place, Desert Hot Springs continues to brand its strengths in exceptional real estate values, proximity to the unique desert ecosystem for outdoor recreation, and a genuine hometown sensibility. In 2013, the city increased its sales and transient occupancy tax income more than any other valley community. Studies show there is an unmet demand for millions of dollars of retail sales annually within the city’s boundaries.
One of the entrepreneurs working to satisfy demand is developer Suresh Shah. His 6.5-acre Mission Lakes Marketplace is a mixed-use plaza anchored by Five Star Gym & Fitness Club. Plans include two sit-down restaurants, six fast-casual restaurants, and a variety of retail stores to make the center a handy destination for the 3,000 homes along the city’s western edge.
With the largest parking lot in Desert Hot Springs, the center will serve as an outdoor venue for concerts and community events. “New houses continue to be built on this side of town, and those residents need somewhere to shop and get together with friends,” Shah says.
As people make their way to the desert communities for vacations or business meetings, they’re discovering the attractive cost of living in Desert Hot Springs. Longtime visitors become weekenders and eventually full-time residents. Nowadays it’s easy for new folks to connect quickly using social media. Mayor Sanchez hopes to harness the energy and enthusiasm of new residents to help build on the momentum already in place. “We’re still small enough that we can get it done,” he observes.
— Gayl Biondi
Adam Sanchez Sr.
Joe McKee, Jan Pye, Scott Matas