Voters in Cathedral City will select three city council members on Nov. 8 and also decide whether to back a ballot measure that would raise property taxes in exchange for parks and recreation services.
Seats for Districts 3, 4 and 5 on the city council are up for grabs, but only District 4 has a contested race.
Mayor Ernesto Gutierrez is running for re-election alongside challengers Rick Saldivar and David Koslow. Council members Mark Carnevale and Raymond Gregory, representing Districts 3 and 5 respectively, ran unopposed.
Also on the ballot is Measure K, which would tax landowners in order to fund membership in the Desert Recreation District. The neighborhood would in turn provide the city with parks and recreation services, as Cathedral City does not have a department dedicated to them.
Meet the District 4 Candidates
Ernesto Gutierrez, 54, works in real estate and owns the restaurant Tortillas. He has been a member of the cathedral city council since 2018. He is currently mayor, a position that rotates among council members.
Gutierrez previously told The Desert Sun he’s proud the city has decided to phase out short-term rentals by 2023, pull out of Desert Community Energy, and develop the Ofelia Bringas Memorial Bridge during his tenure.
If re-elected, he said he would focus on keeping schools and the community safe, increasing funding to fix streets and attracting new businesses to boost tax revenue. Some of his other goals would be to build a community recreation center — he’s supporting Measure K to fund it — and to help develop an area north of Ramon Road, behind 7-Eleven near the city’s western edge.
Gutierrez also talked about wanting to “beautify” Cathedral City, which would mean addressing city code violations that are causing neighborhoods to burn. An example would be removing damaged cars that haven’t been moved in months, he said.
“Our city deserves to be as clean and beautiful as possible,” he said.
The mayor is known to push the Cathedral City Police Department to address these violations. He said he hears from residents who report problems and have not gotten results, and he escalates those complaints to the police branch.
But these demands have ruffled feathers. Jesse Borrego, president of the union representing city police officers, said the number of times Gutierrez has called on police to enforce municipal code violations has become a nuisance.
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Although he endorsed him in 2018, the union, the Cathedral City Police Officers Association, is now campaigning against Gutierrez.
The group did not endorse any other candidates, but posted signs and billboards throughout the city urging voters to support the police department by not voting for Gutierrez. He will also send letters and go door-to-door to inform residents of their campaign as Election Day approaches.
Borrego said the union believes the issues Gutierrez wants police to address — people leaving Christmas lights on, trash cans left behind, vendors selling on the street — should be addressed through code enforcement.
“We were obviously spread out because of COVID and because of staffing levels, and it just felt like he was kind of interfering with our day-to-day operations,” Borrego said. “It really wasn’t such a big topic at the time, of what he wanted us to do as a police department.”
Borrego added that Gutierrez’s relationship with Sgt. Corwin De Veas influences the campaign. De Veas has alleged in council meetings that the police department is retaliating against him because Gutierrez shared conversations they had with each other.
Gutierrez and De Veas are close friends, according to the mayor.
In response to the union’s campaign, Gutierrez said he was disappointed and would “not stand back and just suffer their personal abuse.” He said it was his responsibility to find what was best for the city and address residents’ concerns.
“(The city) should look as clean as possible, but it takes a team…and a lot of them, among our officers, don’t want to be part of the team and they blame me for being too picky,” he said. “It’s a direct insult to our residents, because they are the ones calling me with these complaints.”
Enrique “Rick” Saldivar, 48, who is an outreach pastor at Destiny Church, is also seeking the seat. He previously ran for the District 4 seat in 2018, losing to Gutierrez. He said he had great success with grant writing and wanted to share that expertise with the city so it would be well funded.
“I don’t run my campaign on issues,” he said. “I run to strengthen my city.”
He added that he also wants to strengthen local businesses and improve the city’s relationship with community organizations and nonprofits. Saldivar is familiar with the nonprofit sphere due to his work with Destiny Church.
Saldivar said he served less than a year in prison in the mid-1990s on criminal charges related to the drug addiction he struggled with in his youth. Full details of the case were not available in Riverside County Superior Court records.
But Saldivar said those struggles have allowed him to be effective in his current field and make communities safer.
“I understand the underlying problem, the root causes,” he said.
Saldivar also supports Measure K. He said there had been virtually no youth programs in the city for years, recalling that he had to take his children out of town so they could participate in none.
“If I can spend $300 on a few dinners, I can spend $300 on a tax that will do something for young people,” he said.
David Koslow, 72, is retired from a career in the art industry and law.
He is running for city council for the first time, but has said he will not spend money on campaigning. Everyone should have the right to stand for election, he said.
“I’m part of the group that thinks democracy should be priceless,” Koslow said.
He criticizes a number of council decisions and Gutierrez. He said the mayor destroyed the relationship between the police department and the city council.
“We need to promote and provide fully adequate funding for police and firefighters,” Koslow said. “Without them, we are nothing.”
Koslow opposed the city’s decision, backed by voters, to ban short-term vacation rentals. His other concerns include the K measure and the city plans for the Dream Homes Park.
“To raise taxes on our properties during this recession is absolute madness,” he said. “How the hell did the city council think of doing this? It does not mean anything.
Dream Homes Park is funded by an $8.49 million grant and is slated to open in 2025. Koslow asked how the city would fund its maintenance if Measure K did not pass.
“I know the money was hung in front of them, and like they did with the cathedral city library, like they did with the town hall, they grabbed the money without thinking about the long-term consequences of building these monstrosities,” he said. .
Koslow resigned from practicing law with disciplinary charges pending in 1989, according to the State Bar of California website.
He said the disciplinary charges were without merit and he quit because he couldn’t continue emotionally after his in-laws were murdered. The California State Bar Court did not have details of the disciplinary case as Koslow resigned before she reached court.
What is the K-measure?
If approved by a two-thirds majority, landowners in Cathedral City would pay a tax that would fund membership in the Desert Recreation District. The measure also includes a $39 million bond — $6 million for improvements to the city’s existing parks and $33 million for the construction of a community recreation center.
According to its website, some recreation programs offered by the district include swimming lessons, arts and sports activities. City Manager Charlie McClendon said the city would seek feedback from the community on what it wants from a recreation center if the measure is approved.
Taxes would vary in cost depending on the type of property. Owners of single-family residential properties would pay up to 15 cents per square foot of building. This means that a resident with a 1,500 square foot home would pay $225 per year.
Other properties would be taxed as follows, according to an August 3 city council staff report:
- Secondary suites would cost up to $123 per unit
- Residential condominium properties would cost up to $196 per unit
- Multi-family residential properties reportedly cost up to $172 per unit
- Non-residential properties would cost up to $734 per plot
McClendon said town councils over the past eight years have spoken about the lack of local recreation services.
“When I first came here in 2014, one of the first goals adopted by this council was to explore ways to improve leisure services in Cathedral City because basically we don’t offer anything” , McClendon said.
Ani Gasparyan covers the western Coachella Valley towns of Desert Hot Springs and Cathedral City. Contact her at [email protected]