Dorothy Anderson and the Automotive Technology Department Illustrate How Far College of the Desert Has Come

By Anita Rufus

It used to be a commonly held belief that if someone graduated high school and couldn’t get into a “real” college, they went to a local junior college.

Stereotypes included students who had barely made it through grade 12, those who had gotten into trouble, those who had little family support (let alone money), and those who hoped to make up for low grades and take courses that could eventually transfer to a four-year institution of “higher” learning.

If you still hold these views of what are now called community colleges … boy, you are behind the times.

I was recently privileged to participate in a grand tour of College of the Desert (COD), led by Peter Sturgeon, a Palm Desert resident who works on institutional advancement on behalf of the College of the Desert Foundation. The foundation was established as “a nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to provide financial support from the private and public sectors to help underwrite programs and facilities at the college that cannot be funded through other means.” In practical terms, that means influencing the community to support the school programs necessary to meet the needs of students.

COD offers programs well beyond the stereotypical “make-up” classes that can prepare students for success; students can earn certificates that qualify them to immediately seek jobs and start their careers in areas like administration of justice (law enforcement, courts, correctional facilities); agriculture (landscaping and irrigation, environmental horticulture); architecture (building inspection, drafting, construction management); automotive technology (emissions, engine management, general automotive services); business (accounting, computer systems, golf management, human resources); culinary arts; digital design and management; early childhood education; health services; fitness management; music; public safety (fire, police, EMT); and more.

My interest was piqued when we walked into the large, well-equipped automotive technology building and were greeted by instructor Dorothy Anderson. A woman in charge of teaching how to fix cars?

Anderson, 37, a Hemet resident, started taking automotive classes at Mt. San Antonio College; she wanted to change her life, so she completed her certificate there. Why automotive? Anderson had previously learned how to change her oil and rotate her tires, and she says she asked herself, “What can I take that would be interesting and save me money on my education?”

Only about 1 percent of auto technicians are women. She says she was asked if she wanted to teach at COD, particularly because administrators wanted their program to appeal to young women as well as men. That was in 2008—and she has never looked back.

“I love teaching,” says Anderson. “The teachers I had made it fun for me, and I wanted to provide that for other students. I like the fresh brains—when they think they already know what they’re doing, and you have to un-train them to get the old thinking out of their heads.”

When I asked her why women don’t tend to go into her field, Anderson says it has to be stigmatization. “I can’t see any other reason. Not all automotive work is difficult. You don’t even have to get dirty. I’ve managed not to even break my nails this semester!”

Anderson says she has been surprised at how few people can diagnose what’s wrong when their cars have a problem. “Even the guys can barely understand how to do more than just pump gas. It’s so self-satisfying when you have a car that’s running badly, and you can fix it yourself. Why should we pay someone else to do what we can do for ourselves?”

The automotive technology program, which began at COD in the 1960s, operates on several levels. Some students pursue a certificate that allows them to get the training needed to go directly into a facility and work. Others take automotive classes along with core classes that help them advance toward a full four-year college degree. The program takes about 25 students each in 20 classes, and is designed to appeal to those already working who want to advance their careers. High school juniors and seniors are also eligible for concurrent enrollment to take classes free of charge. Students who want only practical training can complete two or three certificates in two years.

When you see how well-equipped the COD facility is, an obvious question comes to mind: What kind of support does the program get from the local automotive community? Chrysler is one major partner and supporter, and other major dealerships and independent repair facilities also support parts of the program. Local businesses often hire students who have completed the programs, and there are even paid work-experience programs available while a student is enrolled in classes.

“People don’t realize how much can go wrong with cars made after 1996 because of the sophistication of the computers installed,” says Dorothy. “You’re not even supposed to jumpstart a newer car from another car. Results of computer diagnostics and operating parameters have to be interpreted, because problems may be coming from the engine, a sensor, wiring or specific components. All of it has to be taken into account, and then you have to make sure you don’t mess up another function while you’re fixing what you found.”

Where do the cars come from on which students work? Some cars are donated; for example, Chrysler has given a hybrid car. The school accepts some cars needing repair from the community—the owner will purchase the parts, and the students will do the work. However, the facility is state-of-the-art, so cars older than 10 years old are not candidates.

“We are not a shop, and we don’t want to take away from businesses in the community,” Anderson says. “Whatever we do has to fit the curriculum.”

One specialty students that can study is emissions control, based on state and federal standards. Specialized “referees” who are smog check experts working with the state are assigned to 30 stations, all located at community colleges; they determine whether cars that have failed a smog test can be fixed, or whether they may qualify to be excused from complying. Referees have to complete a 300-hour program, and they may offer students opportunities as interns. One of the referees assigned to both Mt. San Antonio College and COD, Mark Ellison, is now Anderson’s husband.

Anderson is a passionate advocate for the automotive program. “Our equipment is expensive and must be updated every year, so support from the community to keep upgrading the program is essential. I’ve worked really hard, and I love what I’m doing. I love my students. If I won the lottery, I’d donate money to the automotive department, and I would still teach.”

When pressed, she also admits, with a broad smile: “I’d also follow up my hobby and breed horses.”

COD is a valuable resource for the Coachella Valley, with locations expanding into the East Valley and Palm Springs. If you haven’t been on campus for a while, you will be amazed at the varied core-curriculum courses, the comprehensive early childhood education program, the hands-on training for public safety and agriculture, the awesome kitchen for culinary arts, the arts departments, and, of course, Dorothy Anderson and the impressive automotive-technology facility.

Community support for COD is necessary if its high-quality programs are to be continued and expanded. Tours are available by contacting Peter Sturgeon at 760-773-2561.

Will California Finally Allow Death With Dignity?

By Anita Rufus

My friend in Indian Wells was in his 80s, a retired executive and published author suffering from a recurrence of cancer. He had successfully fought it for several years, even entering an experimental drug program—but it was finally clear the cancer could not be beaten. As his ability to move around freely diminished, he realized he would not be able to write nor to pursue his voracious reading habit much longer.

He called and asked if I would meet with him to talk about his end-of-life choices, because of my long work on such issues; I immediately said I’d be there. He laid out his concerns and had clearly thought through his options—including shortening his own life. He felt the quality of his life quickly ebbing away. With no spouse and no children (though he had other close family connections), he finally did make the choice to end his life—secretly and very much alone.

He’d wished he’d had the strength left to move to Oregon, where there is a death with dignity law in place; I wish he’d have had that option, too. Alas, he didn’t. (A broad article about death with dignity ran at last week, and is the cover story in the March Independent print edition.)

First, the bad news: Nobody is getting out of here alive.

Now, the good news: California may finally join five other states—Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico—where doctors will not be held criminally liable if they assist a mentally competent, terminally ill patient who makes a conscious choice to shorten the dying process. Also, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled in February that those with terminal illness who are experiencing suffering have the right to a physician’s assistance.

The Options at End-of-Life Act, Senate Bill 128, was introduced in Sacramento in January; the bill is similar to the laws in Oregon and Washington. There is also a pending California lawsuit to protect physicians who assist a dying patient from the state’s ban on assisted suicide. That lawsuit, brought by a cancer patient and five doctors, would mean that “physicians who provide such assistance are not helping the patient commit suicide but are giving them the option of bringing about a peaceful death.” 

Assisted dying became legally available in those five states either through voter support, legislative action or via the courts. The requirements under those laws are that two doctors must certify that a patient is within six months of probable death and is mentally competent for decision-making; the patient must then get a prescription and self-administer it. Safeguards in Washington prevent third-party abuses.

When Californians last considered “Death With Dignity,” it was via Proposition 161 on the 1992 ballot (the product of Americans for Death With Dignity, an organization of which I was then president). In spite of polls showing widespread support for the concept, the initiative garnered only 46 percent of the vote after well-financed opponents scared voters with ads featuring a nefarious-looking doctor heading down a dark hallway, needle in hand, with a voiceover warning that abuses would put the vulnerable at risk. Churches throughout the state preached from the pulpit that parishioners must help defeat the initiative.

The California Medical Association also opposed that 1992 effort, insisting that assisting in a death is a violation of the “do no harm” doctrine. Those who support a right to the choice of a death with dignity assert that extending one’s life artificially once the death process has begun may, in fact, be the real harm. A recent Medscape survey of 21,000 doctors found that 54 percent of doctors nationwide now support an option for assisted dying—and would want that option for themselves.

Compassion and Choices is a national organization that offers end-of-life information and consultation services, where trained individuals provide information and support to guide someone through the process, working with the patient, medical professionals and families. One such volunteer is Dwight Moore, a psychologist from Washington who spends half the year here in the Coachella Valley. Now that SB 128 has been introduced in Sacramento, Moore has been named co-chair of the Coachella Valley Action Team, communicating with and organizing local individuals to support passage of the Options at End-of-Life Act. He has enlisted more than 300 local supporters.

To those involved in death with dignity, the differentiation between “assisted suicide” and “assisted dying” is clear.

“Suicide is a traumatic resolution to a precipitating event,” says Moore. “Assisted dying is about the patient’s autonomy when the process has already begun. In fact, many people who qualify to receive a lethal prescription don’t even use it; the sense of empowerment is often enough for them to feel a sense of control over the process.”

When a request comes in from someone considering exercising their right under the Washington law, Moore’s support team meets with the patient, investigates the appropriate application of the law, gets the participation of the doctors involved, and supports the patient and the family throughout the process. They may even help prepare the medications—but the patient must self-administer.

“Even if we get a liquid prescription because someone has a feeding tube, the patient must inject the drug—we cannot help,” says Moore.

Regarding fears of abuse of these laws: When Washington’s voters approved their law, and the court ruled in Montana in 2008, Oregon already had 11 years of data and “an unblemished record.” Moore’s experience has been overwhelmingly positive. “The difference this can make for individuals and their families is amazing,” he said.

There are unresolved issues—yet the concern of people with disabilities that they may be pressured to end their lives is in direct contradiction to the safeguards written into the laws. People with dementia would not qualify under the laws since they would not be considered mentally competent, even if they had previously given specific directions in an advance directive. People in situations in which they are not able to self-administer would also not be eligible under the safeguards.

I certainly want the option of making the choice of how I die, and I want to be sure I have all options available to me. I want my doctor to not only do everything possible to fix whatever’s wrong, but to be honest and have the ability to support me if there’s no fix—and to assist me if I don’t want to drag out the process. 

We don’t talk very openly in our society about death and dying—but nobody is getting out of here alive. We need to have these conversations.

I just wish I could have been there when my friend ended his dying.

The Coachella Valley's Cannabis Culture 
By Anita Rufus

I began smoking marijuana in the 1960s, when my memory says it was cheaper, purer and more fun.

Of course, we know what pot does to one’s memory.

Pot-smokers tend to know other pot-smokers, so even when you move to a new area, you manage to find each other. When I returned to the Coachella Valley in 2007, after seven years away to attend law school in San Diego, I had a local friend who, likewise, had a friend. I sometimes cadged from a pal in Los Angeles. In spite of the difficulty of getting pot, I resisted even thinking about getting a “license.” Then I talked to someone who had one—and I realized I was being silly. (Besides, I don’t plan on ever running for public office again.)

This is not a rah-rah endorsement of smoking pot. It’s not natural for lungs, and it can impair driving. Like liquor or voting, it should be restricted by age. It can lead to harder drugs in those who have a propensity toward addiction—but such people will find what they’re looking for regardless, whether it’s via glue or aerosols.

While I can understand wanting to zone pot stores—much like “adult” bookstores and bars are not allowed near schools or churches—many people fear that dispensaries will bring criminal behavior, and they use that to justify taking a stand against pot outlets in their locale.

Let’s establish some reality here: Legalization reduces youth-crime rates, since simple possession is then considered a misdemeanor, similar in severity to a speeding ticket. Fears about a link between adult crime and cannabis use are overblown. A study done by the University of Texas at Dallas found that “legalization of medical marijuana is not an indicator of increased crime. It actually may be related to reductions in certain types of violent crime … namely homicide and assault."  If you know pot-smokers, you know this is true. Statistics also show that traffic deaths go down with legalization, as do with alcohol purchases. 

California was the first state to allow medical marijuana use in 1996. Currently, a total of 23 states, plus D.C. and Guam, allow legalized use of medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington passed ballot measures legalizing recreational use in 2012. Alaska and Oregon voters also approved recreational use in laws slated to become effective this year. A D.C. ballot initiative legalizing marijuana was overwhelmingly approved by voters, but is still subject to congressional review, since D.C. is run by Congress.

It may be true that almost anyone can justify a “medical” reason to use cannabis products—but how do you measure the relief experienced by those undergoing chemotherapy, or someone whose lowered anxiety level may prevent a stroke?

I began my journey into local cannabis culture by calling a local doctor, who was referred by a friend. He’s a formerly retired M.D. who wanted to get out of the house and needed the money. His routine is comprehensive; he documents everything you say in response to very specific questions about your health, and he makes sure that the state rules are followed to the letter. He is personable, supportive, nonjudgmental and professional.

After a 30-minute consultation, I received my officially stamped document that allows access to a dispensary—and proves to a policeman that I’m not criminally in possession, at least not by California rules. Cannabis is still listed federally under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug—considered “highly addictive and having no medical value.” 

By the way, when’s the last time a doctor spent 30 minutes with you?

As I was leaving the doc’s office, I asked if he knew where I could get local help for purchases. “Oh, sure,” he said. “There are business cards out on the counter.” I grabbed three and zeroed in on the one that delivers.

Having pot products delivered is way cool. When I called for my first delivery, I was asked to show my license, and then a display of about 20 cannabis varieties was unveiled, each labeled with a creative name: Purple Crack, Girl Scout Cookies, Blue Kush, Martian Green. (I have no idea what the names mean or who chooses them, but they are definitely inventive.) My delivery guy even brought me laced chocolate for Easter!

Once I decided to visit a dispensary in Palm Springs, I walked into a large waiting room, decently furnished, with three other waiting people. I walked up to the window and gave them my picture ID and my pot license. Those items were copied and returned to me, and I was asked to wait.

As I sat down, a man who was also waiting said, “You’re not by any chance the lady on the radio, are you?”

“Yes,” I said. “How did you know that?”

“I recognized your voice—I listen to your show.” What a place to be recognized as a local celebrity!

When my name was called, I was admitted through a locked door into a small anteroom, where I waited while a beefy guy locked the first door and then unlocked a second door, leading into a large room with a long counter behind which three other people were waiting on other customers.

The array of products available was astounding, including food items. Imagine—pot butter! I asked questions and got detailed answers about whether strains were indica, sativa or blends. Prices vary somewhat, but are not outrageous when compared to buying in the underground marketplace. The employees were courteous and helpful, and the atmosphere among the customers was cordial and friendly. “Oh, that one’s good!” said another customer, trying to be helpful. The other customers were far from seedy—quite the contrary. They were neatly dressed, of varying ages, and basically looked just like any of my neighbors.

If you oppose legalization, or resist the idea of medical marijuana, you are way behind the times. We’re no longer in the dark ages of Reefer Madness, the 1936 movie made to frighten people about the “evil weed,” in which drug-dealers lead innocent teenagers toward hopeless addiction, suicide, hallucinations and madness.

By comparison, the third-leading cause of death in the U.S is legal access to alcohol, responsible for over 75,000 deaths yearly. Alcohol destroys families, foments violence and costs society greatly in public health and safety.

I’ve never known anyone on pot who got violent. Did some of my friends get lazy? Some were pretty laid back anyway, but they were also lawyers, business executives and good parents. Pot made us laugh, nosh, groove and generally live in the moment. Pot also alleviates nausea, stimulates appetite and diminishes symptoms of anxiety that accompany many medical conditions. Of course we need restrictions and oversight, but marijuana is not something to fear.

The Coachella Valley has a thriving cannabis culture, including your law-abiding neighbors—like my 91-year old friend whose granddaughter gives her pot brownies to control cancer symptoms. The times, they are a-changin’

Links to Other Articles

by The Lovable Liberal

The Lovable Liberal


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