Rubén Pérez is the grandson of immigrant farmworkers
PALM DESERT — Rubén Pérez, first elected to the College of the Desert Board of Trustees in 2018, is seeking another four-year term in the Nov. 8 election. He currently serves as chair of the board representing Trustee Area 1.
Rubén Pérez is the grandson of immigrant farmworkers and son of first-generation college graduates. He attended local public schools and later earned B.A.’s in Political Science and Chicano Studies from the University of California, Davis.
In 2018, he handily defeated two opponents capturing more than 47,25% of the vote, or 4,646 votes, according to the Riverside Registrar of Voters. Pérez is the first locally born Trustee to serve from the city of Coachella. He is also the first locally born Latino to serve on the board.
College of the Desert, which serves more than 400,000 residents of nine Coachella Valley communities and three unified school districts — Palm Springs, Desert Sands and Coachella Valley — is among California’s fastest-growing community colleges.
This year, only one opponent has surfaced. She is former COD student trustee Larissa Chavez Chaidez. Trustee Area 1 represents the Eastern Coachella Valley.
Uken Report (UR) reached out to both candidates with a series of identical questions and a deadline. Pérez responded, Chaidez did not.
Following are Pérez’s responses.
UR: Who, or what, motivated you to run for a seat on the Board of Trustees?
Rubén Pérez: I knew that I wanted to use my degree to serve my community. Education has opened up many doors as well as access to opportunity for my family and myself. I want to ensure others in my community have that same access to opportunity that I have been so fortunate to have. Four years ago, the community asked us to run in order to improve the presence and relationship College of the Desert had with the Eastern Coachella Valley. I am happy to report, that we have made great progress, especially over the last year.
UR: What qualifications specifically do you bring to the board?
Rubén Pérez: I am a person of integrity with a deep love for the community that raised me. Every decision, that I make is with them in mind and at heart. I also serve as a policy advisor for the California State Assembly where I am seeing and dealing with policy that directly affects higher education locally and statewide.
UR: What specifically makes you a better candidate than your opponent?
Rubén Pérez: My campaign comes from a place of positivity and love for the community. Unfortunately, my opponent’s campaign went negative from the beginning. Maybe because her campaign lacks substance or maybe because I am doing a good job of advocating for my district. Either way, we do not serve from a place of hate or spite. We serve because we could not see ourselves doing anything else. We are public servants at heart and act through love.
UR: How much do you plan to spend on your campaign?
Rubén Pérez: Whatever it takes to get our message out to the community. We have managed to do a lot of good work for the Eastern Coachella Valley. It is important for the community to be aware of all the services we are now offering that we were not four years ago.
UR: Your campaigns are reportedly the most expensive races in the college’s 64-year history, and campaign finance reports support that. Why so much? Are you trying to buy a seat?
Rubén Pérez: The only reason why my campaign is so expensive is because quite frankly, Joel Kinnamon has an unlimited number of resources, and he is bank rolling my opponent. We need to be prepared for him to spend upwards of $100,000 on my opponent just as he has spent on his own campaign.
UR: A prominent and well-educated Coachella Valley resident won’t discuss this race on the record because he said it is such a “tangled web.” How on earth did College of the Desert get to this point with stories of lawsuits to get public records and more.
Rubén Pérez: Honestly, a lot of the division and negativity starts and ends with Joel Kinnamon. Without focusing too much on him, that is not what I am about, he started a lot of the lies and misinformation that have been spread. He lied about the Superintendent hiring process; he lied about the timeliness of the PS project; he lied about who would be at the decision-making table for said project; he lied saying the project would not happen —the project has made great strides in the last year despite the negative media attention. There are plenty of other examples of other lies as well.
UR: What will you specifically do to lower the temperature and get COD moving forward? You are only one member the board?
Rubén Pérez: I am confident November 8th will be successful, and once we move past the election, I think we will really be able to start making strides in the community. This election has been a culmination of all the misinformation that was spread throughout the year, coupled with what I would say is unfair, negative media attention. That has festered into these negative-fueled campaigns that have to some extent divided the East and West Valley. The results of this election will determine a lot for the future of the College of the Desert and the Coachella Valley. I am committed to serving the students and doing whatever it takes to serve them well. I am prepared to meet and speak with whoever I need to.
UR: What additional campuses/programs need to be built, where and why?
Rubén Pérez: We need to build a West Valley Campus for our students in the West Valley and although I may sound like a broken record, I am committed to doing so. We have made great strides for the construction of that campus over the last year. Contrary to misinformation spread, we’re much closer now, than we were in 2018, but not as much as in 2011 where COD had shovels in the ground and were asked by the city of Palm Springs to consider the mall property in downtown, which caused further delays. However, we must construct a campus that will not bankrupt the college district. It is my fiduciary responsibility as a trustee, to ensure that that does not happen. This West Valley Campus was initially slated to be constructed for 3000 students, the College had a feasibility report done by a third party, using data from the Southern California Associations of Governments (SCAG), the study reported the College would be lucky to get 300 students in year one. Which means, how are we going to fill those seats to pay for the operating costs? The last thing we want is to be financially upside down like San Francisco and San Mateo Community College Districts, who overbuilt. Quite frankly, the feasibility report should have done years ago for a campus of this magnitude. These are the questions I need to consider when having these discussions. I will work with our staff to ensure we have a campus of dignity for our students in the West Valley.
We also need to enhance our East Valley Campus off Avenue 62 in Thermal. It’s a shame that the previous administration didn’t deem this campus worthy of investment when it would have been cheaper, but I have begun preliminary conversations with Coachella Valley Water District Director Castulo Estrada to discuss ways in which the college may be able to connect to water and sewer infrastructure in order to allow for future growth. Every one of our students are worthy of investment.
UR: In 2019, the College conferred more than 1,576 degrees and certificates, a 50 percent increase over the previous four years. With all the negative press and headlines, the infighting, lawsuits, and the ugliness of this campaign, is the image of the College being tarnished? What will you do to ensure it’s not and/or how will you help repair it?
Rubén Pérez: Despite all the negative press last year COD still graduated, transferred and certified a record number of students. I honestly think the students have much more important stuff to worry about than, “Dr. Garcia’s hiring practices,” or whatever headline is in the Desert Sun that week. These are students with real-world issues like taking care of their children or getting them to school so they could get to school themselves — balancing their life, work, and their children’s lives. We will be there to assist them whichever way they need. College of the Desert will continue being that beacon of hope in our community that it has been.
UR: This is an important race, as you know. What would you like to add that we perhaps did not ask. (Note: This is not the time or place to thank supporters or urge residents to vote for you.)
Rubén Pérez: I just want to stress the importance of voting, not just for this important election, but all. What an amazing right that we have as Americans, we must take advantage of it. Thank you, Ms. Uken, for the opportunity and as always thank you for your service to this country.
- Rubén Pérez: Rubén Pérez