Were Coachella Voters Hoodwinked in 2018 when They Approved an Expanded Healthcare District?

In Nov. 2018, voters approved Measure BB, which opened the door for the Desert Healthcare District to more than double the size of the community it covers and create two additional board seats. However, expanding the healthcare district provided no additional funding from the annexed area thereby reducing the amount that the previous district area would receive prior to the vote.

The District and Foundation operates on an annual budget of more than $7 million. Budget revenue is comprised of funds from a small portion of property taxes already paid in the western valley, the lease of Desert Regional Medical Center and other properties, and donations.

The majority of budgeted funds for grants and programs have been allocated in the western valley since the District’s origin in 1948. It is important to acknowledge that, while residents throughout the Coachella Valley pay the same property tax assessment to Riverside County, only the western region’s amount is allocated toward the District’s needs.

Voters overwhelmingly approved Measure BB to expand the District’s boundaries to cover the entire valley, including La Quinta, Indio, Coachella, the remainder of Palm Desert and Indian Wells, and unincorporated communities such as Bermuda Dunes, Thermal, Mecca, Oasis and North Shore.

Some 80.60% of the voters, or 44,063 approved the expansion while 19.0% or 10,603 voters did not, according to results from the Riverside County Registrar of Voters.

The vote to expand the district was only decided by those in the potentially expanded area.  Since then, a significant amount of money collected from the west side of the district has been flowing to the east side.  Again, the east side pays nothing into the district.

“The previous district is getting a lower level of care as they must share the limited revenue with the east side of the district,” an insider told Uken Report.

The District receives property tax revenue from property owners west of Cook Street. None from property owners east of Cook Street.  The percentage equates to approximately 2% of the approximate 1% property tax paid to the county of Riverside by property owners west of Cook Street.

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, who is not seeking re-election in November, was the architect of the Assembly Bill 2414 allowing the expansion of the Desert Healthcare District. Garcia is from Coachella, which the expansion coincidentally favors.

It is estimated that the new annexed area would need somewhere between $8.4 to $9 million to come from the new annexed area to provide the same level of service that the original district had, according to Herb Schultz in 2017.  See Figure 6.2 on p.13 here: https://ukenreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/Healthcare-District-Expansion.pdf. It shows how the expansion would become unfavorable to the district without any additional revenue.  This was a 2017 report.  We know much of the money has been shifted.

Look at the following graphs.

The pdfs show the totals by year, east vs west, and their percentage of grant distribution.  The pictures are the line-by-line highlighted grants.  Yellow highlighter is East focused, Blue highlighter is CV Link, and Red highlighted are new or expansions of existing grants to cover the newly annexed area. The graphs do not account for the Social Services Grant Funding that was previously in the Yellow block highlighted.

Healthcare District Expanded with No Additional MoneyAs you can see in 2018 when the expansion first was allowed, the West got nearly 99% of the grant distributions, in 2019, it went down to about 60%, 2020 went down to 22%, 2021 went up a little to 22.5%, 2022 went up to 40%, but by 2023, it is down to 26%, according to public documents Uken Report requested.  Keep in mind that only property taxpayers in the previous area pay for these grants, but those in expanded areas are receiving a disproportionate share and paying no property taxes into the Desert Healthcare District.

It now appears that the Board is attempting to mitigate the East versus West by removing its intentions of moving money to the East, sources say.

On January 5th the District sent out a news release detailing its new strategic priorities, pulling from its strategic planning session which had yielded updated priorities and strategies for 2024.

About two hours later, the District issued a corrected release with this added: “Note: The strategic plan goals and strategies mentioned above are applicable to the entire Coachella Valley. The word “East” was removed from an earlier version.”

The board’s clear intentions during planning sessions were recorded and documented in planning documents. The initial press release had it right. All that changed is the “messaging” they will now use to make things more palatable for the public in the face of recent scrutiny.

While goals and strategies mentioned may be “applicable” to the entire Coachella Valley, the board intention and direction has been clear and consistently focused on the East Valley.

image001At the left is a screen capture for one goal from the plan showing what has been funded, note the clear focus on the East Valley.

Measure BB had no funding and only those in the annexed area got to vote for the expansion.  Is it surprising that 80% said “Yes” to free money and benefits without having to pay for it?

Image Sources

  • Grant Spending: Public records
  • Desert Healthcare District: Desert Healthcare District