Life in the Desert
written by Laramie:
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The Coachella Valley is an area south of Los Angeles, California, in Riverside County, made up of the communities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, La Quinta, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio and other slightly smaller communities. It is home to some half-million full time residents, plus another 100,000 winter month visitors, called "snowbirds", that hail from Canada and some of the colder northern areas in the U.S. A sign on the I-10 Freeway leading into the Valley could soon read PRISON TURN OFF 1 MILE. And farther down the road another sign reading GAY COMMUNITY EXIT 1 MILE might appear. That could come to pass if certain developers and the State of California Department of Corrections have their way.
Riverside County officials have proposed to construct a 7200-bed regional jail just off the main entry route leading into Palm Springs and the surrounding cities. The officials cite the creation of jobs as a positive result that the construction and maintenance of the jail would have. The jail would be visible from the freeway and the inmates would constantly be shuttled back and forth by bus to area courthouses for arraignments and trials. Local residents, business leaders, and the Chambers of Commerce, restaurants, and hotels, all include many who oppose the plan.
In the first place, tourism into the Valley generates close to $1 billion worth of revenue. To treat the gateway to the Valley as a "dumping grounds" for criminals would, to say the least, not be an attraction for tourists. First impressions made to potential home buyers or prospective business owners driving into the Valley and seeing directions to the detention complex on the freeway roadside, and so close to their destination, might make them think twice if they knew that the jail housed inmates that included gang bangers and other like elements of society. Reading articles in the local newspaper, The Desert Sun, about riots, stabbings, and shootings, that do happen in the larger jails, would not sit well with the many retired families and tourists in the Palm Springs area if the plan to build the 200 acre, $300 million detention center comes to pass. In a San Francisco State University study, a conclusion drawn was that "jails in rural areas have significant negative impact on economic development despite rosy predictions of increased spending by jail visitors." One prediction was that there would be a $90 million loss in tourism revenue if the jail was built. The old adage, "Image is everything", would seem to apply to this situation. The truth is that few people, if any, want to live, visit, or retire in a location that might well become famous as the site of a huge jail, as did the northern California city of Folsom.
At the same time the "Coachella Valley Jail" is being planned in the outskirts of Palm Springs, a different sort of complex is being organized for downtown, where 33% of the population claim to be gay. One ex-Mayor is a gay African American, and in adjacent Cathedral City, there are numerous gay bars, hotels and restaurants available to handle any overflow of visitors during the several gay celebration events in Palm Springs. And now, just down the road, the City of Rancho Mirage is rumored to be the site of a planned retirement community to be built primarily for gays. One hundred acres would eventually contain some 700 home floor plans that would easily "cater to and accommodate diverse lifestyle needs" of the gay buyers. One of the architects plans a neighborhood where "homes flower upward and bloom outward to create and exist with a space that blurs the boundaries of public and private." I'm not quite sure I understand what that means, but boundaries are certainly very often blurry. To many, I'm sure, it sounds like a strange goal to have for a prospective area of retirement homes. To say the least, it's an unfamiliar statement to the non-gay person.
The developers of the community are making plans for pathways, plazas and walking trails, an entertainment complex, a boutique hotel, a gym and spa and a wellness center. Also in the works are restaurants, outdoor cafes, nightclubs, a meditation center, children's playgrounds, a climbing wall, a swimming pool, movie theater and an outdoor market. The 100 acre project is going to cost in the neighborhood of $250 million.
Thinking about this separate, somewhat restrictive community, although I'm not sure if it will be walled like many developments around Palm springs, I'm wondering if the idea seems far distant from a hope of integrating gays into the mainstream of society, of being accepted and treated like everyone else, if that's even what gays who would move into the community desire. And I wonder whether the pathways and trails will tempt radical protestors to hassle or attempt to verbally abuse or even resort to violence towards such a concentration of gays. What will be the methods used to avoid this? Will there be fulltime police patrols within the community? The history of gay bashing does not speak well for the plan as outlined. Walled, semi-secured developments like golf courses or residential homes seldom attract violent protestors. But individual gays are often subjected to abuses, let alone hundreds gathered within a few city blocks, 24 hours a day. Would the residents of such a complex really want their home to be known like Little Tokyo, or Chinatown is, or in this case some name with the word gay in it? And how would the issue of public displays of affection be handled, when gays would surely feel more at home in "their town" and maybe more apt to feel very comfortable with their inner feelings and maybe more willing to express them. Is that part of the scheme, to have a place where there are fewer restrictions on the "diverse lifestyle needs" of gays? Would there be different behavioral laws inside the community than outside?
To me there's just something wrong with the picture. Would it really be a good idea to have little cities for gays, little cities for Blacks, little cities for Italians, for Jews, or any group that had the funds for such a venture? How about Catholic cities, Protestant cities, and the like? The list never ends. That kind of situation has danger written all over it. Would that scenario make the Coachella Valley a better place to live for all the residents?
Hopefully, the powers that be will take a hard, long look at the variety of ramifications of a centralized gay living-complex and make no final decisions before all the facts and figures are out in the open and every eventuality is explored. The non-gay community deserves this consideration.
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