Seismic activity felt from president’s office to Board of Trustees and beyond College of the Desert
PALM DESERT — The question for some College of the Desert leaders isn’t so much what did they know and when did they know it, but better, what did some know and why did they not disclose it?
In less than two months, questions have shaken the offices of President Martha Garcia, Trustee Rubén AríAztlán Pérez, Trustee Bea Gonzalez, and Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez. Make no mistake. Questions are circling others, too.
One of the biggest questions surfaced this month at the Board of Trustees Meeting for Desert Community College District. Trustee Joel Kinnamon publicly stated that he and his husband, Chris Parman, were visited in at their home by two special investigators from the District Attorney’s Office “wanting to talk to me about any potential crime related to land deals in Coachella.”
The pair of investigators were from the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, Public Integrity Division. They wanted to meet with Kinnamon and Parman regarding, “We want to preface our intrigue with the issue of the proposed land deal for a campus in Coachella.” They visited Kinnamon and Parman on Aug. 5, 2021.
The Public Integrity Unit (PIU) is an investigative unit within the District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigation. The PIU investigates allegations or complaints of potential misconduct by a public official or a public employee in the course of their official duties. PIU receives complaints from the public or from a government agency. They can receive complaints from multiple sources in various formats (phone call, email, etc.).
“PIU conducts an independent investigation and determines if possible criminal charges should be filed,” Amy McKenzie, director of communications for Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, told Uken Report. “We cannot comment on the details of any active Public Integrity Unit investigation.”
Kinnamon also alleged that a prominent county elected (official) contacted the interim president to talk about the East Valley and to discuss shifting resources of the East Valley.
Is that prominent elected county official Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez?
In a series of public documents Uken Report has obtained there is an invitation from Perez inviting 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.”
You may view the Zoom invitation and some other public documents Uken Report has obtained by clicking here.
Uken Report reached out to Perez by cell phone, email and through his office. He did not return any of the messages.
It’s one more question rattling the educational world of College of the Desert.
Lynne O’Neill, who identifies herself as a retired attorney from Thousand Palms, has spoken during public comments at the last two COD meetings. Earlier this month, she asked pointed questions about land deals in Coachella. Is that why plans for the West Vallley Campus went off the rails so quickly?
“Anybody have a relative that jumped the line?” O’Neill asked. “If they did, did you disclose it? If you didn’t, why not? In terms of your present mayor, Steven Hernandez, he has two interesting things to me. One, the role he took in leading the walkthroughs for his political friends for COD properties at a time that you were not disclosing it.”
“Folks, what can I tell you?” O’Neill continued. “You can do anything in this world if you disclose anything, but you chose not to disclose. Why? You either didn’t think it was anyone’s business … or you knew it had the appearance of impropriety. Or you live in a bubble so much you just thought no one would notice.”
Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez claims O’Neill is “affiliated with an organization that is adamant about trying to just take out East Valley politicos, boys and girls, and whoever’s not with them is against them. That’s just who they are, and they’re led by Raul (Congressman Ruiz), they’re led by (former Coachella Councilmember) Megan Beaman-Jacinto, they’re led by Jacqueline Lopez, and they’re lead, obviously by Lynne O’Neill. … And my God, she’s right and she knows what’s right for all of us. So, this is an extension of last year’s politics in today’s environment.”
Hernandez alleged that even though the East Valley has a large majority of the kids that are going to College in the Desert, that are taking classes, Palm Springs and the industry and everybody out there has basically stolen and taken the bond money.
“We got trailers that were built in, what was it, 2008?” Hernandez said. “And we should be happy with that. And any attempt by any official to try to get resources to East Valley are somehow sinister. To me, this is probably one of the most xenophobic and just racists views, and if you ask me. One of the biggest ways in which they try to discredit people of color, particularly brown colors, is to try to say that their efforts are somehow nefarious.”
The bond measure itself, you can read it, is very clearly defined, Hernandez said. Different campuses are defined.
“But the bond money has been allocated, Palm Springs is getting their Taj Mahal, but the East Valley didn’t get shit. And you can quote me on saying that, and I want you to say it that way, that the East Valley did not get shit. And anybody’s attempt to try to ensure that there’s equity in the distribution of the funds is sinister.”
Did he have walk-throughs with people? Hernanez said, yes, he did. He said he even walked Kinnamon around downtown.
“Since 2014, I have been talking to Kinnamon. I’ve walked them around downtown, and absolutely I’ve talked to him. I’ve talked to their staff; I’ve talked to them as mayor of the city. That is my job. You walk the people around downtown. So, what’s the issue? When (Palm Springs City Councilmember) Christy Holstege goes around and walks around their downtown with Kinnamon, that’s OK? But in Coachella it’s a problem? But here’s the interesting thing, Christy Holstege bought property in downtown Indio next to the college. Why didn’t she talk about that?”
Hernandez alleges Kinnamon “bamboozled” parents, children and community leaders when he was the president, saying that there was going to be money for the east.
“Not one penny has come. We got trailers. What we got is trailers. And when we try, ‘Oh, it’s sinister. You’re not waiting in line.’ You know what? We don’t need to wait in line. We’re tired of waiting in line. ‘You’ll get your turn, son.’ To me, we’ve heard that. It never comes. It never comes. And there’s so many people that don’t even realize they’re doing that. They don’t even realize the privilege. And that to me, is what’s upsetting.”
Hernandez vows to keep fighting.
“I know I make people uncomfortable because I say the things that I say. I’m not the best politically with my words. And I can be more of a statesman. I can be a smarter politician.”
We feel the tectonic plates shifting and it’s going to be epic.
Already you have the following:
- A trustee at the center of an ethics probe.
- Seeds being planted for a recall of Trustee Bea Hernandez
- a complaint filed with the State Attorney General’s Office requesting prosecution of criminal misuse of public resources for political purposes and is requesting prosecution.
The questions keep coming. The earthquake is imminent. The only questions left are how big will it be and when?
uken report cod
- Steven Hernandez: City of Coachella
- College of the Desert: College of the Desert