Coachella is a city in Riverside County, California; it is the easternmost city in the region collectively known as the Coachella Valley (or the Palm Springs area). It is located 28 miles (45 km) east of Palm Springs, 72 miles (116 km) east of Riverside, and 130 miles (210 km) east of Los Angeles.
Known as the "City of Eternal Sunshine", Coachella is largely a rural, agricultural, family-oriented community in the desert and one of the state's fastest growing cities in the late 20th century. When it first incorporated back in 1946, it had 1,000 residents, but the population was 40,704 at the 2010 census.
The eastern half of the Coachella valley is below sea level, and the area's average elevation is 68 feet (35 m) below sea level. The Salton Sea, a saltwater lake located about 10 miles (16 km) South of Coachella, lies 227 feet (69 m) below sea level.
The city also lends its name to the Coachella grapefruit; the town's stretch of State Route 111 is named Grapefruit Boulevard in its honor. Harrison Street or State Route 86 is declared historic U.S. Route 99, the major thoroughfare that connects with Interstate 10 a few miles north of town.
The city was originally founded as Woodspur in 1876, when the Southern Pacific Railroad built a rail siding on the site. In the 1880s the indigenous Cahuilla tribe sold their land plots to the railroads for new lands east of the current town site, and in the 1890s, a few hundred traqueros took up settlement along the tracks.
The origin of the name Coachella is unclear, but in 1901 the citizens of Woodspur voted on a new name for their community; at their town hall meeting, the homeowners settled on "Coachella". Some locals believe it was a misspelling of Conchilla, a Spanish word for the small white snail shells found in the valley's sandy soil, vestiges of a lake which dried up over 3,000 years ago.
Coachella began as a 2.5-square-mile (6.5 km2) territory gridded out on the mesquite-covered desert floor. Not until the 1950s did Coachella begin to expand into its present range, about 32 square miles (83 km2), an area which contained large year-round agricultural corporate farms and fruit groves, particularly of citrus (lemons, oranges, grapefruit) and date palms.
Coachella became a city in 1946. During the incorporation voting process, the first city council was tentatively elected: Lester C. Cox, T. E. Reyes, John W. Westerfield, Lester True, and Paul S. Atkinson. Also elected on November 26, 1946, were City Clerk Marie L. Johnson and City Treasurer John C. Skene. John Westerfield was appointed mayor at the first meeting.
By the 1980 census, Coachella's population had reached at least 10,000 due to relative slow population growth. Due to a high percentage of Hispanics in the city, Coachella was a scene of Chicano political activism including protests and visits by United Farm Workers leader César Chávez in the 1960s and 1970s.
Coachella is served by the Coachella Valley Unified School District, based in Thermal, California. Its main high school is Coachella Valley High School (with 2900 students) followed by a new high school Desert Mirage High School about 5 miles to the south; its two middle schools are Cahuilla Desert Academy and Bobby Duke. Elementary schools include Cesar Chavez, Palm View, Peter Pendleton, Valle Del Sol, Valley View, Westside and Coral Mountain Academy.
The Coachella Valley Adult School, in operation since 1952, is the third largest adult school in Riverside County. It offers seven levels of English as a Second Language (ESL), and has offered citizenship classes for over 20 years. In the last ten years, over 1,500 people completed citizenship classes at the school and submitted N-400 forms.
The California Desert Trial Academy School of Law was approved by the California State Bar as an unaccredited fixed facility law school in Indio and is expected to open for classes in September 2012.
The film director Frank Capra is interred in the Coachella Valley Cemetery. The agricultural area surrounding Coachella was where the United Farm Workers union staged strikes and protests, including visits by UFW leader César Chávez. Migrant labor activist Sam J. Maestas has a home in the rural outskirts of Coachella.
Downtown Coachella is under renovation as the area experiences an economic boom which has brought increasing numbers of people in the city — Pueblo Viejo (the old neighborhood) as locals of Hispanic origin sometimes call it. Despite its image for Mexican immigration, a large percentage are US citizens, born and raised in Coachella. A multi-generational Mexican American subculture has taken root in the town.
Much of its population consists of younger Latino families (an estimated 90 percent of Hispanic origin) and, in the outlying areas, migrant farm workers. The city is officially bilingual in the English and Spanish languages, although city council meetings are nominally spoken and performed in English. Historically, Coachella was predominantly Mexican/Latino (including Central America) and/or Native American, but had other ethnic groups like Arabs, Armenians, Filipinos, Italians, Japanese and recent immigrants from Southeast Asia and the former Yugoslavia.
Three popular fiestas are celebrated each year in town: Cinco de Mayo (May 5), the 16 de Septiembre Fiestas Patrias (Mexico's Independence from Spain) and the 12 de Diciembre (the patron saint of Mexico, Santa Maria de Guadalupe) to celebrate the Virgin Mary.
Near the city limits of Coachella are three casinos on Indian reservations: Fantasy Springs Resort and Casino, Spotlight 29 Casino, and Augustine Casino, which are owned and operated by Native American tribes — the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, Twentynine Palms Band of Mission Indians, and Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians, respectively. These small but highly profitable tribes have representative councils to ensure self-reliance as a community. Coachella is also home to a significant Southwest Indian (Apache, Hopi, Navajo and Zuni) population, though not indigenous to the California desert region.
In the 1953 Warner Brothers cartoon Bully For Bugs, Bugs Bunny misses his "left toin at Albuquerque" and pops up in a Mexican bull ring, where he asks for directions to "...the shortest route to the Coachella Valley and the big carrot festival therein?"
In 2001 Huell Howser Productions, in association with KCET/Los Angeles, featured Coachella in California's Gold; the program is available as a VHS videorecording.
According to a 2006 state-funded economic survey, Coachella ranks third lowest in average personal income of any California city, and one of ten poorest cities in the state. The city's remote location from urban areas can be responsible for the high poverty rate.
Coachella has dealt with socioeconomic issues which produced a history of above-average crime rates. Coachella received negative local media attention as a city riddled by youth gangs, drug trade activity, massive movement of undocumented immigration and racial separatism. Much of the non-Hispanic population moved away in reaction. However, the 2006 FBI crime statistical release placed Coachella at the lowest crime rates in all of the Coachella Valley and Riverside County.
In 1995, state and federal officials designated Coachella as part of the Coachella Valley Enterprise Zone to boost economic activity and entice businesses to relocate to this rural city which was once home to several fruit shipping plants.
Near Coachella, a new four-lane expressway State Route 86 was built for international trucking from Mexicali, Mexico to Los Angeles or Arizona. Referred to as the "NAFTA highway" (in reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994), it replaces an older and less safe two-lane road known as the "killer highway" where over 400 auto accident fatalities took place since 1980.
In 2006 mayoral elections, 29-year-old Eduardo Garcia became the city's youngest mayor ever. Garcia was a lifelong Coachella resident and a 1995 graduate of Coachella Valley High School. He attended the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, California.
Also in 2006, the city council passed a resolution (No. 2006-34) opposing the Clear Air Act and Sensenbrenner Bill (H.R. 4437), then pending in the U.S. Senate.
Today, retail and commercial properties appear on Coachella's two main streets: Harrison Street (formerly U.S. Route 99) and Grapefruit Boulevard (State Route 111), along with a new retail development on Avenue 48 and Jackson street. Since 2000, thousands of single-family homes and multi-unit apartment complexes are being built at a fast pace, as the city's population soars, having more than doubled in the last decade.
In 2010, a Coca-Cola bottling facility was added to the city's new light industry facilities, a boon in the rapid-growth community which has a currently troubled economy
The future of Coachella could be linked one day to tourism as well as agriculture. Coachella expanded recreational and social activities for which residents once had to drive ten or twenty miles (32 km) west. The city has a recreation center, a Boys and Girls Club center, and a boxing club in Bagdouma Park. There are two dance clubs and the Corona Yacht Club located near Spotlight 29 casino; two new golf courses (Desert Lakes and the Vineyards) attract many retirees, RV owners, and local business people.
Events and points of interest
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department now serves the city from the nearby Thermal Regional Station. (The original Coachella Police Department was disbanded in 1998.) The City also contracts out for fire protection and emergency medical services (EMS) with the Riverside County Fire Department through a cooperative agreement with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). The County Fire Department currently staffs 2 paramedic engine companies out of Station 79 with plans for another station in the future.