New developments surrounding a repaving project in Cathedral City have prompted inquiries into the process and transparency of the decision-making. The project, which was greenlit by the city council, has sparked concerns due to its proximity to a councilmember's business.
The public alleyway near Ramon Road and Cathedral Canyon Drive was earmarked for a $128,012.50 repaving project, approved by the Cathedral City council in June. The controversy lies in the fact that the request for the project was made by Councilmember Ernesto Gutierrez, who owns the restaurant "Tortillas," located adjacent to the alleyway.
The approval of the project, added as a last-minute inclusion to various other priority projects, has led to questions regarding its route to consideration by the council.
Chip Yarborough, a Cathedral City resident and head of the watchdog group "Eye on Government," uncovered revealing emails through a public records request. An email dated April 12th from Councilmember Gutierrez to city staff indicated his request, citing complaints from "2 business owners" about the deteriorating asphalt in need of repair. However, the city says it has no record of these business owners or their grievances.
The city manager responded by confirming that the project would be included in the upcoming paving contract. But the assistant city manager raised concerns, asking, "Can we discuss this? How are we adding in a new project that didn't go to council as part of the budget?"
"It reflects poorly; it shows that if you're a council member, you get special treatment," Yarborough said.
"It's really obvious that it's because a council member had the ear of staff, that they decided to add this project in," said Councilmember Raymond Gregory.
Gregory also expressed worries about the project's impact on other pending initiatives that require funding. "This seems to be seen as acceptable by some people for a council member to rush in with a pet project and actually take funding that was intended for other projects," he said. "What I would like to be done is for staff and my fellow council members to wake up, and to put equity and fairness above all."
Gutierrez did not respond immediately to News Channel 3's request for comment.