Avenue 51 in Indio to be renamed after Haagen family, music festival landlords

Avenue 51 in Indio will be renamed to honor the Haagen family, which owns several properties in the city — including the Empire Polo Club, the site of the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Stagecoach country music festival. 

The City Council on Wednesday approved a request from Alex Haagen IV to rename the Avenue 51 right-of-way stretch, half a mile west of Monroe Street, to Haagen Way.

But ahead of the vote, a few residents spoke in opposition to the change, citing what they say are negative repercussions in the city from the festivals the Haagens host.

“(It’s) these festivals, along with some City of Indio policy, that has led to locals like me being priced out of the kind of neighborhood I grew up in,” said Vanessa Rivera, adding that she lives with her parents in an “ungated neighborhood” where she’s seen houses listed anywhere from $800,000 to $900,000.

“Many Indio houses for sale aren’t marketed to local residents anymore,” she said. “They’re advertised as ready for short-term rentals for the festivals. …This proposal to change the street name feels like a disconnect to this crisis.”  

Jonathan Becerra, who is currently running opposite Councilmember Elaine Holmes to represent District 3, also called the renaming of Avenue 51 a “disconnect” from residents’ needs. He said that during his campaigning, locals have identified the “Coachella Festival (rental) houses” and AirBnB’s as adding to the housing crisis. 

“(The Haagens) don’t need this extra piece that we’d be giving up to them. …What we name our streets is important, it reflects our culture, our community as a whole and it should be consistent in that way,” Becerra said. 

In a brief overview of the renaming process, Public Works Director Timothy Wassil said his department had reached out to property owners that would be impacted by the name change and they’d all been supportive. 

Councilmembers Lupe Ramos Amith, Glenn Miller and Holmes voted in favor of the change, with Holmes crediting the Haagens as community members that shifted Indio from a “sleepy town” to an area with “economic vitality.”

Miller added: “It’s being renamed in the name of an individual that owns that area and also, at the same time, brought in international recognition to the city.”

Mayor Waymond Fermon was not present at the meeting as he was traveling to Washington, D.C. The only opposing vote on the matter came from Mayor Pro Tem Oscar Ortiz.  

While Ortiz said he didn’t think the renaming would diminish the importance of local housing issues, he expressed concern in prioritizing the Haagen name over that of historical figures when renaming a street. 

“(Indio doesn’t) have a Martin Luther King Boulevard, we don’t have a Cesar Chavez Street. There are also a lot of very important community figures that we failed to name in these streets and I just think it’s a different priority that I’m comfortable with,” he said.

Ortiz also pointed to the city having streets named after past slave owners, saying he would rather focus on changing the names of those streets first. 

Avenue 51 will be renamed to Haagen Way on Nov. 21, 2022.

Eliana Perez covers the eastern Coachella Valley. Reach her at eliana.perez@thedesertsun.com or on Twitter @ElianaPress. 

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