People have been flocking to Desert Hot Springs for decades to hike in the nearby foothills and soak in the therapeutic mineral waters at one of its many spas. Tim Robbins famously lounged in the spa at Two Bunch Palms Resort in the Robert Altman film, The Player. Thanks to the innovative City Council, sometime soon a new breed of tycoon could be chilling out in this desert paradise. The city, known for its stunning views, is gaining international recognition as the first city in California to legalize the large-scale cultivation of medical marijuana.
Mayor: Scott Matas
Mayor Pro: Tem: Joe McKee
Council Members: Russell Betts, Anayeli Zavala, Yvonne Parks
Year Incorporated: 1963
Desert Hot Springs is moving full-steam ahead with this new industry, hiring a project manager to work with applicants, and streamlining its permitting and approval process to expedite operations. At the same time, the city’s police department has weighed in, mandating that specific security processes and measures are in place to regulate the new industry and ensure public safety. Says Chief of Police Dale Mondary, “Each business is unique and requires specific security measures. We’re working with the cultivators to create measures for them to conduct their business safely without undue oversight.”
TOP PHOTO BY DONNA POYUZINA; BOTTOM PHOTO COURTESY OF SEED TO SOUL FARMS
(Above) Mayor Matas and the Seed to Soul cultivators blaze new trails; (Below) Southern California Cultivation Partners LLC marks their groundbreaking with a golden shovel;
As it stands today, licensed medical marijuana retailers must rely on small, indoor grow operators who work in the shadows largely unregulated under the California Compassionate Use Act. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which provides a licensing program and guidelines for commercial-scale cultivation and ancillary businesses. State licensing is set to begin in 2018, but would-be marijuana entrepreneurs first must prove they are licensed in the cities in which they’re located.
Bob Selan, managing partner and legal counsel for DHS Facilities LLC, hopes to have his operation on Little Morongo Road (the “main drag” of what city officials hope will become a burgeoning site of commercial cultivation facilities) under construction by the end of the year. “We’ve created a coalition of cultivators to share information and communicate with the city as a unified voice to keep projects on track,” Selan offers. “This is not as easy as hiring some guys to put up a building. We are bringing in expertise from many business sectors, including cultivation, real estate development, legal, lobbyists, branding and marketing experts, along with a fully regulated model for the cannabis industry. We continue to work very closely with the city, on the projects we represent individually, as well as collectively, as DHS CAN the new trade association of cultivators and property owners we have created.”
More than a dozen applications currently are in the review process, representing nearly 2 million square feet of taxable business enterprise. The cultivation warehouses will be restricted to an approved industrial area, and will look like any other large commercial buildings. The city will tax growers $25 per square foot annually for the first 3,000 square feet, and $10 per square foot for more. All told, it could add up to a lot of green.
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For its part, Desert Hot Springs views supporting the medical marijuana cultivation effort as an extension of its long-standing health and wellness identity. “The benefit of this new industry to the city,” observes Mayor Scott Matas, “is the significant tax revenue it will generate to help fund parks, public safety, streets and sidewalks, and general quality of life services for our residents.”
In addition to the new cultivation industry, the city is working with a variety of public and private sector partners. Desert Hot Springs is a city on the move. Residential construction is underway on several projects offering everything from townhomes to resort homes in gated communities. Park improvements totaling more than half a million dollars are also in process. A new branch library has been approved by Riverside County, and the Coachella Valley Association of Governments is assisting with major road improvements. Sunline Transit Agency has upgraded its bus service to get students from Desert Hot Springs to College of the Desert in 30 minutes. The $20 million Community Health and Wellness Center continues to be a hub of activity with a busy Boys & Girls Club, full size gymnasium, fitness center, dental clinic, and aquatic center.
TOP PHOTO BY CHRIS MILLER/IMAGINE IMAGERY; PHOTO AT RIGHT BY GREGG FELSEN
Desert Hot Springs residents can expect to see major park and community enhancements in the future thanks to more than $500,000 in renovations. Right: The John Furbee Aquatic Center, part of the city’s Community Health and Wellness Center, is a popular outdoor recreational facility.
Last year, Desert Hot Springs was one of only two cities in the valley that saw a reduction of crime. “With a commitment from the City Council to fund a long-range policing plan, we’ve been able to hire and retain the right people for the job,” reports Chief Mondary. “Our officers are involved in the community. Several of them live here and many of them volunteer with youth sports. We also have an officer going to the FBI Academy. We are fully integrated into the community and we’re actively working with citizens to keep the streets safe.”
PHOTO BY GREGG FELSEN
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, now included on the National Register of Historic Places, continues to draw tourists and is a testament to the city’s cultural heritage.
Meanwhile, Desert Hot Springs continues to draw tourists to the natural hot mineral spas for which it is known. Urban millennials are the newest visitor demographic group to discover the laid-back vibe and small town atmosphere. Europeans flock to the desert in summer to escape the crowds and finicky weather back home. The venerable Two Bunch Palms Resort is embarking on a multimillion-dollar expansion even as it generates its own solar power to reduce its carbon footprint.
Desert Hot Springs’ proximity to Joshua Tree National Park has drawn many visitors to the city over the years. That symbiotic relationship got even stronger when President Obama designated the foothills above the city as part of the 154,000-acre Sand to Snow National Monument with some of the most dramatic hiking trails in the Coachella Valley. City Council representatives are working with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to recruit volunteers to clear and maintain trails that invite hikers to walk from the national park directly into Cabot’s Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs.
Bruce Abney, owner of El Morocco Inn & Spa, came to Desert Hot Springs 16 years ago, and his business has grown every month, year after year. After working in big hotels and smaller inns for most of his career, he decided to put down roots with his own establishment. Says Abney, “I love being in a small community. We happily recommend great local restaurants to our guests, I’m president of the hoteliers’ association and we have open access to the mayor and City Council whenever we need it. We feel like we have a voice in the future of Desert Hot Springs.”
PHOTO BY DONNA POYUZINA
With stunning views of the nearby mountains, the city offers a perfect mix of natural beauty and small-town charm.