Valley voters appear split on incumbents as remaining vote count trickles in

With tens of thousands of votes remaining to be counted in Riverside County, La Quinta voters seem set on phasing out short-term vacation rentals, and a former Palm Springs mayor may be headed to Sacramento.
Voters in La Quinta appear to have voted in favor of phasing out short-term vacation rentals in their city.

While tens of thousands of ballots remain to be counted in Riverside County, the Coachella Valley’s results are starting to solidify.

Voters across the Coachella Valley braved the rain and wind to turn in their ballots on Nov. 8, joining others who mailed theirs in before Election Day. The latest results show they may have elected to do away with short-term vacation rentals in La Quinta, re-elect some but not all incumbent mayors and city council members, and secure the valley’s state-level offices for Democrats.

The Riverside County Registrar of Voters had processed 100% of the ballots cast in county precincts by 2 a.m. Wednesday morning. On Tuesday the county announced it had received approximately 50,000 additional timely postmarked ballots since Election Day in addition to 67,000 that were still to be counted.

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As the vote count continues, Coachella Mayor Steve Hernandez continues to hold a slim lead over challenger Denise Delgado, and incumbent City Councilmember Josie Gonzales still trails Stephanie Virgen and Frank Figueroa, who would each earn one of two open seats if the results hold.

In Indio, incumbent Elaine Holmes appears well on her way to retaining her seat. She still holds a roughly 300-vote margin over challenger Jonathan Matthew Becerra.

In Palm Springs, the sole incumbent running for re-election, Mayor Pro Tem Grace Garner of District 1, still trails TV personality Scott Nevins by 56 votes. Small business owner Jeffrey Bernstein and Palm Springs Pride President Ron deHarte hold wide margins over challengers in districts 2 and 3.

In Cathedral City, Mayor Ernesto Gutierrez is still well ahead of two challengers for the District 4 city council seat. In the only contested city council race in Desert Hot Springs, incumbent Jan Pye is well ahead of challenger Adam Sanchez, a former mayor, 59% to 41%.

As for the two College of the Desert (COD) Board of Trustees seats up for grabs, the districts are split, with one appearing to favor incumbent Rubén Pérez over former student board trustee Larissa Chavez Chaidez, 60% to 40%, and the other selecting former COD Superintendent and President Joel Kinnamon over incumbent Aurora Wilson, 54% to 46%.

Kinnamon and Pérez have publicly been at odds over the ongoing controversy of the COD Palm Springs campus. Kinnamon also financed Chavez Chaidez’s campaign but now may have to work with her opponent. 

One of the valley’s most contentious issues, short-term vacation rentals (STVRs), was up for a referendum in La Quinta, where the latest vote tally showed 51% of voters were still choosing “yes” on Measure A, electing to change city law to phase out permits for non-hosted STVRs eventually.

Also in La Quinta, Mayor Linda Evans handily won re-election, garnering 72% of the vote. Incumbent City Councilmember John Peña also appears headed to victory, besting four challengers and holding 41% of the vote.

La Quinta resident and real estate broker Tom Campagna said he thought long and hard about his decision on Measure A, but ended up voting in favor of it. 

“I live across the street from the big music festival, and short-term rentals have had a tremendous impact on our neighborhood,” he said Tuesday. “It was a very difficult decision to make.” 

In California State Assembly races, the 47th District has drawn to a near tie. Current Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege has a roughly 1,100-vote lead over Republican Greg Wallis. Incumbent Democrat Eduardo Garcia in the 36th District has a 7,300-vote lead against his Republican opponent.  

Nationally, the newly formed 41st Congressional District, which has been the subject of national attention after it was redrawn to include much bluer portions of the county, has gone to incumbent Republican Ken Calvert. At last count, he is besting Democratic challenger Will Rollins by roughly 6,500 votes. Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz had no trouble beating Republican challenger Brian Hawkins in the 25th District .

Voters we spoke with last week said they were motivated by various issues, ranging from familiar national talking points and statewide concerns to hyperlocal debates. Others were proud to take part in the tradition. 

“You can tell I’m very patriotic,” said Tom Campagna of La Quinta, gesturing to his hat and shirt featuring American flags. He said he was excited to make his voice heard on big topics like inflation and the cost of living. The ex-Peace Corps volunteer said he’s never missed an election.

Added Kathleen Wanner of Indio: “When you learn about everything the suffragettes went through for us to get the right to the vote, it makes me think that no woman should sit out of an election. We can’t take that for granted.”

In Indio, Debbie Chapa Bautista outlined her priorities: “I want more funding for kids and the school district. Right now, a lot of kids are out in the streets because there aren’t any after-school activities. La Quinta has a skate park. It’s great. It brings out the kids and parents to a safe environment. We need more things like that.”

Future voters were also learning the importance of the democratic process on Tuesday. Diana Ortiz explained the voting process to her 9-year-old son Noah outside of Indio City Hall after casting her ballot. Before she could answer her biggest voting issues, Noah chimed in with a surprisingly well-informed answer: “The water supply!” 

Diana agreed and said she was concerned with the state’s direction. 

“Our state is in really bad shape,” she said. “We have really high taxes. They tax us for everything, and it’s really hard to afford living here anymore. It’s tough.”


More information: Track the Riverside County results for all races and propositions here.

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