Were trusted and respected political leaders behind Palm Springs COD Campus Derailment?

Behind-the-Scenes of COD Campus DerailmentPALM DESERT — Former College of the Desert Superintendent/President Joel L. Kinnamon announced in December 2020 that he was stepping down to spend time with his mom who he had learned probably had a year to live. He retired on March 31, 2021. Almost immediately, it appears wheels were put in motion to derail the COD campus planned in Palm Springs in favor something in Coachella.

Kinnamon’s ill mother’s declining health appears to have served as a springboard for others to hatch a plan of their own. Was Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez the ringleader?

Less than a month after Kinnamon retired, Perez invited Interim Superintendent/President Jeff Baker; Dr. Annabelle Nery; Perez’s Chief of Staff Steven Hernandez, who also serves as mayor of Coachella; Board Assistant Esmerelda Perez; and Board Assistant Amy Cuen to a Zoom meeting at 3 p.m. on April 14, 2021, “to discuss COD East Valley Opportunities,” according to public documents.

You may view the Zoom invitation and some other public documents Uken Report has obtained by clicking here.

Perez has not returned Uken Report’s repeated requests for comments.

By June, Kinnamon’s mother’s health had deteriorated quickly, and she died on Aug. 27, 2021.  His mom lived with Kinnamon and his husband, Chris Parman, for six years as she suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.

Kinnamon has said he was “very grateful to be able to spend those five months with her towards the end.”

Against this backdrop, plans were hatched to derail the Palm Springs COD campus.

Behind-the-Scenes of COD Campus Derailment

Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez

In a recent interview about this issue, Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez said, “What is politics? I remember in my first lesson from my political science teacher, he said, “What is politics?” He said, “We live in a world where resources are finite and politics becomes who gets what, when, where, how and when.”

So, the politics began.

Who was involved? Based on public documents and emails, were any of these people, whose names appeared repeatedly?

Politicians allegedly involved

  • Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel “Manny” Perez
  • Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez (also Supervisor Perez’s Chief of Staff)
  • CVUSD School Board Member Jesus Gonzalez (former mayor of Coachella – left office in scandal, mentor to Supervisor Perez and Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia)
  • COD Trustee Ruben Perez (son of Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, Field Representative to State
    Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia)
  • COD Trustee Aurora Wilson (widow of the late Supervisor Roy Wilson). State Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia and Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez endorse her in the 2022 election.
  • COD Trustee Beatriz (Bea) Gonzalez (works at CVUSD, woman of the year award by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia)
  • Attorney Carlos Campos (represents City of Coachella, represented COD from April 2021 to
    December 2022, brother-in-law to CVUSD School Board Member Jesus Gonzalez

COD Bond Funds at Stake

  • $40 Million from Measure B (2004)
  • $346.5 Million from Measure CC (2016)
  • $5.7 Million from potential sale of former COD West Valley Campus land in North Palm Springs

Understanding Coachella politics
The city of Coachella is the hometown to most of the politicians and is comprised of mostly Latino
families with low-to-moderate incomes, often first-generation immigrants from Mexico, according to a source who asked not to be identified. Controlling the political landscape and hence increasing their own political power, requires local politicians to garner government grants, bonds, tax dollars, and private investments for their districts. In particular for the city of Coachella, no large-scale private investments would come to their downtown without major government investments.

Modus operandi for political power
The modus operandi for the leaders of the East Valley political machine is to elect enough family members, friends, and confidantes to local and regional governmental boards, commissions and councils to take a majority control. Once a majority is established, they often pass or take over bond measures that are worth tens of or even hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the source. This gives them enormous power over where government bond money will be spent (their districts) and who receives the bond money through construction contracts. Bringing the “bacon” home gives credence of their political power with their constituents.

Failure to disclose
All good politicians attempt to bring home their fair share of the “bacon” to their districts. There is
nothing illegal about that; in fact, it is encouraged by their voters. However, federal and state laws
require a politician to “disclose” and even “recuse” him/herself in the voting of, or the discussion of, a government action if the politician has a conflict of interest, such as a financial investment associated with or in close proximity of the government action before him/herself. At least three politicians, Supervisor Manny Perez, Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez, and CVUSD Board Member Jesus Gonzalez have allegedly either failed to disclose their property investments that are within 1,000 feet of government funded projects or failed to recuse themselves in the discussion and/or voting on government contracts in downtown Coachella, according to public documents. These government contracts have the potential to vastly increase the value of their own personal real estate investments nearby.

Politicians’ properties owned in downtown Coachella and their alleged conflicts of interest:

Jesus Gonzalez

  • 722 Vine Street (Alleged conflict with COD toured properties for potential leasing, purchasing)
  • APN 778111004, 1254 7TH ST, Coachella, CA (Palm View Elementary – $30 million over budget)

Supervisor V, Manuel Perez

  • Lot on Seventh Street between Vine Avenue and Grapefruit Boulevard – APN 778-100-010 (Alleged Conflict with New Coachella Public Library, COD Leasing New Public Library, Old Public Library, Senior Center, and COD tours of nearby properties)

The commercial lot is located within 500 feet of the new $29 million Coachella Library.  He fails to list this property on his Forms 700s from 2015 to his last day as a Coachella councilmember on May 11, 2017.  However, he does list it the very next day, May 12, 2017 when he files his Form 700 assuming office for county supervisor and downtown Coachella is no longer under his discretion.  He paid the property taxes on time, twice a year, for this commercial property.

Manny Perez was a Coachella City Councilmember from December 2014 to May 11, 2017.  He was appointed by Governor Newsom to finish the term left by the death of Supervisor John Benoit.  He then ran against Jan Harnik for a full term of Supervisor in November 2018 and won and was re-elected in 2022.

While he was on the City Council of Coachella (December 2014 to May 11, 2017), he voted as a councilmember on numerous contracts for the new public library in downtown Coachella when he owned property less than 500 feet from it.  He failed to disclose the property investments on his Form 700s every year as a councilmember and even on the day he left office as a councilmember.  The very next day (May 12, 2017) when he became the appointed Supervisor, he suddenly remembers and discloses that he owns property in downtown Coachella as it is listed on his Form 700 as supervisor.

Did Councilmember Manny Perez violate the Fair Political Practices Act when he failed to recuse himself from discussion and/or voted on the following dates during council meetings about the new Library:

Here are copies of his financial disclosure forms. Financial disclosure 1, Financial disclosure 2, Financial disclosure 3, Financial disclosure 4. 

  • 9/23/15 — Library conceptual design vision presented to Council in public meeting.
  • 5/25/15 — City council voted to authorize intrafund transfer for acquisition of the new library site.
  • 6/8/2016 — City council voted to proceed with advertisement of design build for new Library.
  • 3/22/2017 – Vote to fund $800,000 and select ProWest constructors for demolition and site improvements for new library.
  • 4/12/2017 – Council voted to approve library architecture plans.
  • 4/26/2017 – Council voted to use CA Climate Investment Urban Greening Program grant funds to improve the Library Park Plaza

PuroCoachella, LLC – Steven Hernandez is a controlling officer

  • 807 and 809 Orchard (Alleged conflict with COD leasing new and old public libraries, Mission Viejo Apartments, Downtown Fire Station, COD attempts to purchase land – Cree or Rosa Lucas)
  • 1460 5th Street, Unit A (Alleged conflict with COD leasing new and old public libraries, Mission Viejo Apartments, Downtown Fire Station, COD attempts to purchase land – Cree or Rosa Lucas

Stay with UkenReport.com for more on this developing story.

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Image Sources

  • Welcome to Coachella: City of Coachella
  • COD Schematic drawing: COD