Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

On the morning of March 7, a fire broke out near the kitchen of Bongo Johnny’s Patio Bar and Grille—about one hour before the Arenas Road restaurant in downtown Palm Springs was scheduled to open.

The Palm Springs Fire Department quickly put out the blaze—ruled an accident, after linens and oil-soaked rags in a laundry hamper spontaneously combusted—but by then, the damage was done: Bongo Johnny’s kitchen was essentially destroyed, while smoke and water damage closed three of the four other businesses in the building: Stacy’s at Palm Springs, Mischief Cards and Gifts, and the Palm Springs Piercing Company. Only Streetbar, located at the east end of the building, remained open.

More than two weeks later, those four businesses remain closed—and frustration is mounting over a Palm Springs City Council that Bongo Johnny’s general manager called unresponsive, as well as a landlord, Plaza Investment Company, Inc., that’s allegedly being uncooperative.

“My No. 1 goal is to rebuild, as soon as possible,” said Robb Wirt, the owner of Bongo Johnny’s. “The landlord is hindering that. At this time, it’s literally unknown when that will be. … They’re saying they aren’t responsible for the structure of the building. They are!”

Mark Hewitt, Bongo Johnny’s general manager, explained what was happening with the insurance companies, the landlord and the other three businesses.

“I don’t know if ‘fighting’ is the right word to use here,” Hewitt said. “When things like this happen, everybody has their own insurance company. Everyone needs to come to the table here, because at the end of the day, their building burned. Our business burned, and (the landlord’s) business burned. Unfortunately, the stance the landlord is taking is, ‘It’s all your fault,’ and they don’t want to bring their insurance company into it, because they want our insurance company to pay for everything. That’s not how the insurance game works.”

Plaza Investment Company, Inc., did not respond to an interview request as of our deadline.

Wirt said cleaning needs to get started at Bongo Johnny’s so the other three closed businesses in the building can reopen.

“The other businesses have smoke damage, and basically we just need to clean so they can start their process and open up while (Bongo Johnny’s) is under construction,” Wirt said. “We all share an attic space, so if we start cleaning, it’s just going to get dirty again, because the dust will go through the vents.”

Hewitt said they’ve appealed to the Palm Springs City Council for help. “I spoke to Mayor Robert Moon, and he told me, ‘I don’t want to get involved.’ He got involved in Wang’s (in the Desert) over vandalism, but he’s friends with the landlord, and that’s probably why he doesn’t want to get involved.

“It’s a nightmare. I’m under the impression that the City Council’s role is to help small businesses, because we bring in money to the city. I haven’t gotten any help. Geoff Kors hasn’t returned my calls; J.R. Roberts hasn’t returned my calls. I feel like the landlords don’t care. All of the tenants on Arenas pay rent to the same landlord, and (the landlord) hasn’t given back a single dollar to the LGBT community. Yet they take millions of dollars from us, and we all just pay our rent and taxes, and we get nothing out of it.”

Bongo Johnny’s will be closed for months. However, Stacy Louis, the owner of Stacy’s at Palm Springs, expressed hope that his bar could re-open by the end of March.

“There are so many things I’m dealing with, and I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before.” Louis said. “I’m more of the guy who goes with the flow and doesn’t create problems. But when we can’t get action immediately after we’ve had a fire like we did … I am frustrated.

“I actually paid my cleanup company, who was waiting for the landlord to authorize, which took four days and through a weekend. … I could get this going if I have (an asbestos) test, and it comes back at a little less than 1 percent—which it did. I had to wait four days for the second test to be done, because the landlord wouldn’t approve it. My cleanup person paid them out of his pocket to get this second test done so I could get going. I shouldn’t have had to sign a contract with my cleanup company to get started because I’m waiting for one insurance company to work with the other—and I just gave them $5,000 out of my own pocket.”

Stacy’s suffered damage from both smoke and the firefighters’ efforts to put out the fire.

“I have a few holes punched through my restroom, probably from the axes of the firemen, and I have water that’s come in through that same restroom and into the offices and the bar itself,” Louis said.

The employees of both Bongo Johnny’s and Stacy’s are being paid their hourly wages for the time being, Wirt and Louis said, but for Bongo Johnny’s, there’s a race against time: The insurance company will only pay for two months of wages, and Wirt said he is paying his staff what they would normally make in tips out of his own pocket.

“On his own accord, Robb has decided that the little bit of personal cash that he has, he’s going to use to make sure the employees are whole first,” Hewitt said. “But what we’re getting from the landlord is, ‘If you can pay your employees, why don’t you just pay for everything else?’ Three days after the fire, we got all of the employees together and said, ‘We want you back, but we don’t know how long this will be for as of today.’ We’re going to continue to pay them for as long as we can, which is not the narrative you want to give someone sitting at home thinking, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen in two months?’”

Louis said his employees have benefited from the kindness of his fellow Arenas Road business owners.

“I said to (my employees), ‘I will pay you for your hours, and if any of you need help because you’re not making your tips, you can come to me, and I will take care of you until we get this figured out.’ But I think the kindest thing that happened was (at Streetbar). Dick Haskamp, the owner of Streetbar, passed away a few days before the fire. The employees of Streetbar came to me and asked if it was OK if (Stacy’s bartenders) could fill in during the memorial service. I can’t even tell you how many tears that’s brought to my eyes. So we made it all happen. We got a schedule together, and they trained them. … During this (service), all the sales would be donated to Stacy’s, on top of the tips that they would make.”

Wirt said he’s been overwhelmed by messages of support from Bongo Johnny’s customers.

“I’ve been getting e-mails from people on Yelp, Facebook and through my website,” Wirt said. “They’re saying, ‘I just landed; I’m on my way.’ They get there; they find out we’re closed; and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I always start my trip in Palm Springs at your restaurant.’ Bongo Johnny’s has been there for 12 years, and it’s iconic for the LGBT community. It’s their first stop when they get off the airplane, and I didn’t even realize that until this happened. Now they’re going somewhere else.

“People bring their dog because we’re dog-friendly. … (Customers) come in on a Friday night—and I can guarantee you they’re not eating anywhere else, because of how they might be dressed. They feel safe. Now that’s been taken away from them, and it’s a detriment to the community that we can’t reopen quicker.”

Following publication, we received this response from Geoff Kors:

I was surprised to see the statement that I didn’t return a call from the manager of Bongo Johnny’s, especially as your reporter never reached out to ask me about this issue or whether or not I received a call.

The fire occurred on the day that my husband’s mother died, March 7. We left for Scotland a few days thereafter and returned Tuesday night, March 20. During that time, I checked with our city manager about the situation and also spoke with a friend whose business was impacted due to the fire. I was told that both the mayor and Councilmember Middleton were working on the issue, and I would be briefed upon my return.

I never received any communication from Bongo Johnny’s, and checked with staff at City Hall today and was told that the only call that had been to the mayor, and it was from Rob Wirt. No message was left for me, and I was never informed of a call.

Published in Local Issues

On Nov. 7, voters who live in the city of Palm Springs will go to the polls to select two new members of the Palm Springs City Council.

This election will mark a complete changing of the guard, so to speak, after the indictment of former Mayor Steve Pougnet and a couple of developers on corruption charges two years ago. The two new members will replace retiring City Council members Ginny Foat and Chris Mills, and joining three new members who were elected two years ago: Geoff Kors, J.R. Roberts and Mayor Rob Moon.

With City Manager David Ready, this new council will help guide a city that is enjoying the best of times … and, at the same time, suffering through the worst of times.

The city is more popular than ever as a tourism destination—yet it is enduring the aforementioned scandal involving its huge, signature downtown development project. Some areas, such as the Uptown Design District, are enjoying a resurgence—yet the homelessness problem continues to worsen.

The Independent’s Brian Blueskye recently spoke to each of the candidates about these various issues and more. He asked them about the issue of homelessness; the new vacation-rental ordinance; the lack of affordable housing in the city; ethics and transparency;the downtown redevelopment project; and the city’s relationship with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Finally, he asked each candidate whether the city is opposed to fun—a charge against the current council leveled by some, including the Cactus Hugs website.

Here’s what each of the candidates had to say.

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Christy Holstege

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Glenn Flood 

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Henry Hampton

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Judy Deertrack

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Lisa Middleton

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Robert Julian Stone

Published in Politics

Of the six candidates running for the Palm Springs City Council this year, Robert Julian Stone is certainly the most blunt.

The author, film critic and community advocate certainly was not shy about sharing his views during a recent interview—including a conspiracy theory regarding the current City Council and two of his opponents.

But before we get to that … on the subject of homelessness, Stone was rather thoughtful and analytical. He told me the recent film The Florida Project was helpful in exposing the national problem of homelessness.

“The solution everyone talks about is the ‘housing first’ solution,’ Stone said. “It’s the best solution for a certain number of people who find themselves without homes. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that there are three things human beings need to be productive in society: They need food; they need shelter; and they need clothing. If you take any one of those things away from them, they cannot be a productive member of society. That’s the challenge that we’re facing: We must provide shelter, but how you go about doing that is a very expensive proposition, because (homelessness) numbers continue to grow. The ‘housing first’ solution works best for people who are living one paycheck to another. When you fall out of your housing, and you’ve lost your job, or you have a ruined credit rating because you’ve been evicted, or you’re unemployed—what it takes to get back in is the first month’s rent, a security deposit and employment. If that’s not immediately available to you, you’re out on the streets. The ‘housing first’ model works really well. because (these people) aren’t used to living on the streets, don’t want to live on the streets, and want to get back into a stable situation.

“If you’re talking about the people who don’t want four walls and a roof over their heads, or have addiction and mental health issues—those people are more difficult to handle.”

Stone said the vacation-rental situation in Palm Springs has been poorly handled.

“Airbnb is not going to go away, and it’s here to stay. The thing that we need to do is figure out the best way to manage it,” he said. “I don’t think creating a $1.7 million-a-year bureaucracy to handle the problem was necessarily the right way to go. When Palm Springs did their big vacation rental ordinance, they did not run it through the Planning Commission; they didn’t hold public hearings over a period of time. It was mostly Geoff Kors and J.R. Roberts in a back room coming up with this proposal, which went through a tumultuous unfolding when they got slapped with petitions to recall them and recall this ordinance if they didn’t change it. It was badly handled, and the biggest thing they missed was they didn’t do any density controls, and there’s nothing that prevents 98 percent of the homes next to your home from becoming short-term vacation rentals—and that’s a problem.”

Stone didn’t mince words on transparency—especially involving the funding for Measure J, a 1 percent sales and use tax approved by voters in 2011 that was slated to go toward city services, maintenance and redevelopment.

“They’re certainly transparent on the general-fund portion, but there are dozens of other side funds that don’t appear anywhere in the public forum for the city’s residents to understand or (figure out) exactly what’s going on with that money,” he said. “The city budget is $110 million; the other dozens of other funds make up an aggregate of another $110 to $120 million—things like the airport fund, the Measure J fund, the utility tax fund, the gas tax fund—and they’re run like a sideshow. They’re controlled by the city manager, who dips into those funds to transfer into the general fund as he sees fit, or to transfer from the general fund into those funds when they have shortfalls. Some have income; some of them, like the golf course fund, have income and expenses. We never really get a true picture of what our budget is, because half of it is run behind a curtain, and that’s a problem.”

Regarding the city’s relationship with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Stone said the city needs to work with the tribe in a more cooperative fashion.

“That’s a very difficult question, because the city has taken a position that changes from day to day depending on the subject on the table,” Stone said. “Sometimes, they say, ‘They’re a sovereign nation; we have nothing to do with them.’ I’ve heard Ginny Foat articulate that many times, saying they don’t get involved in their business. At the same time, we have a master plan … a bilateral agreement that both sides signed and should be adhering to. But when it comes down to enforcing it, the city never tries to. We need to invite them to the table. … If you look at the history of Palm Springs and the tribe, it’s very checkered. We need to have a better agreement with the tribe; we need to have one that is neutrally supportive. With the way the downtown (redevelopment) project was handled, and the 31 counts of corruption which relate directly to the downtown plan, we can’t really take the moral high ground when it comes to the tribe’s property, given the way the city handled their own downtown development.” 

Stone is not happy with the downtown redevelopment project.

“I think the hotel is a scar on the landscape. It will always be that,” he said. “If you look at the very first building near Tahquitz (Canyon Way) and Palm Canyon (Drive), that building which will house the Starbucks, that’s exactly the scale we were promised: It’s single story; it’s a tall building, and it’s a nice addition to the neighborhood. Then you look at these other buildings, and they’re horrible. It’s better than what we had, because what we had was terrible, but it’s so much less than what we deserved.”

What does the city need to do to be more transparent? Well, here’s where that conspiracy theory part comes in.

“The first thing that we can do is elect me,” Stone said with a laugh. “I also want to talk about where we’re headed if the Lisa (Middleton) and Christy (Holstege) train pulls into the station: We are going to be doing old-school Chicago politics with Councilmember Geoff Kors in the role of Mayor Richard Daley. We’re going have two people seated solely because of the support and the campaign management and campaign contributions that came from a sitting councilmember. Lisa’s campaign is being run by Geoff Kors’ husband. … They are the chosen two—so Geoff Kors will have the two votes he needs if they are seated, and then all bets are off, because it’ll be government by Geoff Kors, for Geoff Kors and about Geoff Kors. If you think that those two women are going to do anything to oppose what he wants, you’re too naive to be talking to—because that’s what we’re going to get, and that’s very troubling, because that’s not good for democracy.”

When I asked Stone whether he thinks the city is opposed to fun—a criticism some have made against the current City Council—his answer, much to my surprise, involved the ethnic makeup of the city.

“They are so not fun,” Stone said with a laugh. “Hell to the no on that! I’m sorry, but we have too many white people living in this town. I lived in San Francisco, and I’m used to living in a very diverse city where Caucasians were the minority. I was born and raised in Detroit, which was largely an African-American city. That’s the kind of demographic I’m used to. I’ve lived here full time for the past 12 years, so if you don’t mind me mixing metaphors: I know where the bodies are buried, and I can hit the decks running when I sit in that chair. I understand the demographic that lives here, because I’m a part of it, but I always wish there was more diversity in the community and diversity on our City Council. I’m sorry—I’m a white male, and I can’t help it.”

After our interview, he emailed me additional thoughts that were a bit more measured.

“Las Vegas has glitz, but Palm Springs has chill,” Stone said. “And chill is cool, sophisticated, and somewhat fragile. We can’t let (the city) be dragged into the vortex of beer bongs and guzzler helmets. So if the City Council may seem a bit stodgy on some points, I think it’s because they have an intuitive understanding of what makes our city special, and a commitment to maintaining it.”

Published in Politics

The year 2015 was not easy for Palm Springs government, especially after City Hall was rocked by an FBI raid targeting documents related to then-Mayor Steve Pougnet’s relationship with various developers and businessmen.

Then came a contentious and at times ugly election season, which ended with businessman and former military man Rob Moon defeating City Councilmember Ginny Foat by 11 percentage points in the eight-way mayoral race—a result that shocked many political insiders.

The Independent recently caught up with Rob Moon at Townie Bagels to talk about his first three months in office. I asked him if anything had surprised him about being mayor.

“The only thing that’s been difficult has been keeping up with the e-mails,” Moon said. “I probably get 150 a day, maybe 200. Just reading and responding to the ones I need to respond to, forwarding the e-mails I need to—it’s vastly time-consuming. Even my executive assistant finds herself 200 to 300 e-mails behind. It’s crazy!”

However, he said nothing really surprised him regarding city government.

“I’ve been following the city for a long time and haven’t missed more than three or four City Council meetings over the past few years,” he said. “I attended Planning Commission meetings, and I was chairman of the Measure J Commission. I had my finger on what was going on.”

Right from the get-go, Moon and the revamped City Council—newcomers Moon, Geoff Kors and J.R. Roberts joined hold-over incumbents Foat and Chris Mills on the five-person council—have been hard at work. Of course, downtown redevelopment has been a major focus.

“The very first night when I took over, we had to vote on the historic designation for Tahquitz Plaza, which we did. That had been hanging for years, and we resolved that our first night,” he said about the Hugh Kaptur-designed midcentury modern buildings at 600-700 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, which once were targets for demolition. “Then we worked on the downtown development project.

“At the last City Council meeting, the staff wanted us to do a public hearing and take public testimony and continue it to a time indefinite. As a council, we said no. It wasn’t fair to the developer, to the residents or the downtown businesses to drag this out. We wanted to make decisions—which is what we were put in office for. We had a meeting that went until 1 in the morning and voted on every single outstanding issue, with the height of the buildings and all that stuff. We did vote after vote after vote. It wasn’t all unanimous, but we did our job that night.”

One of the things the council took action on was the ever-controversial downtown development being built by John Wessman. The council frustrated the developer by limiting the height on one of the proposed buildings.

“We settled the height of the hotel at the City Council meeting, and that’s going to be 49 feet. It’s not going to overwhelmingly large, and it’s a compromise,” he said.

The spirit of compromise shown by Moon and the other new council members has eased the concerns of some community activists, who were afraid Wessman was getting whatever he desired from the previous council.

“It hasn’t really been a struggle,” Moon said. “We made decisions, and we took a good compromise and the developer didn’t get everything he wanted. (Advocates for Better Community Development, led by Frank Tysen) and other activists who didn’t want to see the development done didn’t get everything they wanted, either, but we reduced the density by 40 percent, and we widened some of the streets. So needless to say, everybody got something.”

The Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club—which had been operated by developer Richard Meaney, one of the primary targets of the FBI investigation—is now shuttered, with no revival seemingly in sight. It’s likely to be one of the new council’s major headaches.

“The Hacienda is something I can’t really comment on, because we’re in litigation now, but the previous City Council agreed to give them $250,000 as an incentive, and apparently they did not use that money for what one would expect—to pay their contractors—and no one knows what they did with it,” he said.

Moon said the city budget is a constant concern for him and his fellow council members.

“Any city, state or federal government has concerns about budget, because you can’t do everything you want to do,” Moon said. “We’re really understaffed at City Hall; we have a serious problem with the homeless; we have infrastructure (work) that needs to be done and roads that need to be paved. The library needs to be redone, and City Hall has a leaky roof. There’s a massive amount that needs to be done. We did pass the Measure J tax that adds the 1 percent sales tax that brings in $13.1 million a year; $3.5 million of that goes toward the bond for the downtown development project, which leaves close to about $9 million a year right now to do additional capital projects.”

Moon said one of the biggest challenges for the city is the homelessness issue.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “Councilwoman Foat has a task force she’s working on to get services to homeless people who want services, but what about the people who don’t want services—the ones who don’t want a place to stay, don’t want help, and just want to live in empty lots, panhandle and be a burden on society? That’s a challenge, and I don’t know how to address it. One of our problems is we have a lot of open land in Palm Springs, which the other cities don’t have, which makes it more difficult for us.”

Moon said the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which is currently making plans to redevelop the Spa Resort Casino, continues to have a good working relationship with the city of Palm Springs.

“I had lunch with Chairman Jeff Grubbe a few times, because we have a good relationship, and I’m working very hard to make sure we have a relationship of trust and respect between him and me, and that helps when reaching out to the tribe,” Moon said. “… Chairman Grubbe told me, ‘What’s good for Palm Springs is good for all of us.’ I think that’s important. The tribe only has 400 members and owns half the land in Palm Springs. A lot of the members don’t live here and live elsewhere. They have a very complex governmental organization. What I want to do going forward is make sure we have better communication with them to where we talk to them about what we’re doing, and they talk to us about what they’re doing, and we work together.”

Moon said he’s committed to keeping the workings of the city government transparent.

“Transparency, like democracy, is messy and takes a lot of time,” he said. “We have City Council meetings going until midnight and beyond, because we’ve been debating things in public … and not passing through things quietly. We’ve been bringing it out in the open and discussing these things. Councilman Geoff Kors and I are also heading up a new commission to write some new rules in regard to transparency. We’re both on the finance committee as well and are scheduling public meetings about the budget, and residents can come down and talk about the budget and how they’d like to see their tax dollars spent. We’re also going to have a separate meeting for the City Council where they debate the budget instead of doing it as an agenda item on the regular meeting.”

Published in Politics

It was a simple, four-step exercise:

1. We came up with a list of 10 questions—five serious, issue-based questions, and five questions that are a little more light-hearted—to ask all of the candidates for city office.

2. We set up interviews with all of the candidates.

3. We asked the candidates the 10 questions.

That’s exactly what Palm Springs resident Jimmy Boegle did over the last couple of weeks. He interviewed every one of the 14 Palm Springs candidates—eight mayoral candidates, and six City Council candidates.

Now, comes the last step.

4. Report the answers to those 10 questions.

Here’s what all of the candidates have to say. We only made minor edits on the candidates’ answers for grammar and style; in some cases, we also edited out redundancies. Finally, in some instances, we did not include portions of candidates’ answers if they went completely off-topic.

Welcome to Candidate Q&A.

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Guy T. Burrows

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Robert “Rob” Moon

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Ricky B. Wright

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Bob Weinstein

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Ginny Foat

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Bill Gunasti

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Mike Schaefer

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Ron Oden

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs City Council Candidate Anna Nevenic

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs City Council Candidate Paul Lewin

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs City Council Candidate David Brown

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs City Council Candidate J.R. Roberts

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs City Council Candidate Jim King

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs City Council Candidate Geoff Kors

Published in Politics

Name: Geoff Kors

Age: 54

Occupation: Legislative policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights

Interview: In person

1. When you stand at the intersection of Tahquitz Canyon Road and Palm Canyon Drive, and look northwest, what comes to mind?

On one hand, I see Palm Springs moving forward and developing a downtown. I’m not seeing the old, vacant Fashion Plaza. That makes me smile, and I think turning this into a downtown with streets running through it, versus replacing it with another mall, was a really good decision. I have concern when I look at what will be the West Elm building next to the Hyatt; that the setback is far into the street. I want to make sure that when significant changes such as that are proposed, they return to the commission structure we have so we can get input from the public before a decision is finalized. I think having 3-D models of major developments, which is something I’ve seen in other cities, including Las Vegas, would really help the public and the Planning Commission and the council better visualize a project. While I think architects can look at a drawing and visualize what it is, that’s harder for other people. Even when you’re at City Council chambers, let alone watching on TV, it’s very hard to visualize any project from these diagrams that are on the back wall.

2. Does Palm Springs have a crime problem? If so, what should be done about it?

Unless there was no crime, there’s a crime problem. I’ve lived in a number of cities, and I’ve never lived in a city where the residents, businesses and police department have as good of a relationship as they do in Palm Springs. Having the police come to every neighborhood association meeting, every business (group) meeting, and be accessible and build relationships with residents really makes a difference, and I’m fully supportive of having us keep our own police department instead of contracting out, as some other places do. Currently, the police department is down 13 patrol staff. There are another five or six who are retiring this year. We need to fully staff our police department. We need to put some money into recruitment so we can get the best police officers possible to come and work in this police department. I went into Los Angeles with the city police department to L.A. Pride as part of a recruiting effort, and I will partner with the city and the police department and the fire department to go other places to help recruit people to come and work in paradise.

3. What, if anything, should be done about alleged corruption in Palm Springs city government? Be specific.

When I was first thinking about running and met with the folks I was hoping would be part of my campaign team, one of the three issues I said I was going to run on was changing our ethics and our transparency laws and making our government more inclusive. That was back in January and February before any of the current scandal was reported on. I believe very strongly in having an open, transparent and inclusive government. When I first announced, I said I would request that the City Council create an ethics and sunshine task force to look at best practices in other cities, to bring experts and residents together and to come up with a new ordinance to move our city in the right direction. I’ve since proposed eight specific ideas that I would like the task force to consider, and I will work with that task force and help draft that legislation.

When it comes to inclusive government, which people aren’t really talking about, we want as many people to participate in government as possible; it makes for a better city, more engaged residents, and people have more faith in government. Right now, the majority of our boards, commissions and committees meet during the workday. As a result, if there’s an issue you want to testify about, and you work 9 to 5, you can’t. So schoolteachers, my gardener—him and his wife and their two kids who are in elementary school here—he can’t participate. If there’s something at the Planning Commission that affects your neighborhood, you can’t testify. In addition, younger people, working people, can’t serve on boards, commissions and committees, so the vast majority of people in those positions are either retired or self-employed. We need to do a much better job of diversifying our government, and by moving our commission meetings to 5 p.m. or later is one way to do that.

The other way is to make sure that when there are vacancies, we’re going to the neighborhood organizations, and saying, “We have vacancies.” Right now, the way it works is, someone tells friends, “Hey, there’s a vacancy.” We can do better. Second, if someone has a legal conflict, an elected or appointed official, they need to raise it ahead of time to the city attorney, and the city attorney needs to determine if it is a conflict or not. We want to make sure anybody who has a conflict is recusing themselves, but we also don’t want people recusing themselves when they don’t have a conflict to avoid voting on something. People (also) have to disclose the specifics of their conflict, what the conflict is. Just saying you have a business relationship is not enough. In addition, right now, if you work on a nonprofit, for a nonprofit, that has a grant from the city, you have to recuse yourself. That makes sense. But if you’re on a board of directors, where you have a fiduciary relation to the organization, you don’t. There’s a clear conflict: If you vote against the grant, you’ve broken your fiduciary obligation to the organization. If you vote for it, you’ve broken your trust to the voters. We need to fix that. You can find all of (my ideas) at

4. What specific steps will you take to help solve the city’s homelessness issue?

You have to look at short- and long-term solutions, and we need to understand that if we do everything right, we’re still going to have homeless people. But we can do a lot to reduce that number and help people. So first, to the extent there are criminal-justice issues—that’s a small minority of homeless people and can be dealt with through the criminal-justice system. But the vast majority of the issue is poverty, a lack of affordable housing, mental health and people who have fallen on hard times. Short term, we need to have the one shelter we have open 24 hours, and all the beds funded to be utilized. To have people forced to leave the shelter in the morning, and taken back to Palm Springs in 115-degree heat, is inhumane.

Second, we need to try to prevent more people from becoming homeless. Rents went up last year 19 percent. If you’re on a limited income, especially seniors and persons with a disability, and you get a 30-day notice of a close to 20 percent rent increase, you’re going to find it very hard … to find another apartment. What I propose is if the rent increases more than 25 percent over the cost of living, you have to get at least a 60-day notice, or, if you’re a senior or a person with a disability, you get a 60-day notice, minimum. One thing we know is that if someone ends up homeless, if you can get them into rapid rehousing within 30 to 60 days, you can keep them from becoming chronically homeless. After much longer, they are now chronically homeless. I believe the city should find a motel or some existing structure where we can help people and put them in rapid rehousing. I think we can seek government funding from state, county and federal, and foundation funding, which I’ve done a lot of, for this kind of project. Long term, we need to look at housing first programs, which have worked in other places. They work for 80 percent of the people, and they cost a lot less than shelters and arresting people for nothing other than being homeless. Those programs provide usually single-room occupancy for homeless people. They don’t have to be clean and sober first; they don’t have to have a job. But the studies have shown that once you give someone the dignity of a place to live, and (get that person) off the street, and a place to shower and a bathroom, 80 percent of them will end up becoming clean and sober, and getting a job. That’s a longer-term solution, but you know, we have land in Palm Springs. There are corridors where we could build these kinds of projects, and I think we need to really be aggressive about finding funding to do that.

5. Do you support electing City Council members by district, or do prefer the current at-large system? Why?

I’ve proposed that over the next two years, we have community meetings to discuss electoral reform. One of the issues is district elections. I see pros and cons to it, and I’m undecided, and I want to hear from the residents on what they think makes sense. The pros of district elections are you have one councilmember you can go to for something in your district, and people can run campaigns that are purely grassroots, because if it’s just a district, you can go door to door; you can spend less money; and I think it would give more diversity to the council.

The downside is in a small city, you can more NIMBYism. We can get a situation where people feel only one of five people is who they want, instead of right now, they get to vote for everyone. It’s something I really want to explore. We used to have district elections in Palm Springs, years ago, when the city was first formed, so I’m very open to it, but I think it’s a discussion, and then something that would have to go on the ballot, to the voters, and I would support allowing the voters to make that decision.

But there are other things we should do. We shouldn’t be electing a mayor with what could be 20 percent of the vote. We should have a runoff system, and whether we do that through rank-choice voting, like San Francisco and Oakland do, or a second runoff between the top two, as Los Angeles does and we do in statewide elections, is something we should explore. … Another thing I propose, which sort of fits this and ethics, is that I’ve requested that the city should post people’s form 700 financial-interest statements, and their form 460, campaign-contribution statements with names, amounts, employer and occupation, on the city website. I posted mine on my website, so people can see mine. I think it’s really important to have transparency.

6. If you were not running for this office, which of your two opponents would get your vote? Why?

I’m going to answer it this way, which is: Whoever else is elected, I’m going to work with. I have decided not to support anyone else, because I think it’s really important to have a good working relationship with every member of the council.

7. A dear friend is in town for just one night, and asks you where to go for dinner. Where are you sending this dear friend?

Obviously, it would depend on the friend, and their budget. We have wonderful restaurants in Palm Springs, and I frequent many of them. I’ll tell you some I frequent: I frequent Trio. I frequent Lulu. I frequent Zin. Going out to a nicer dinner, I like our new Eight4Nine. I like Johannes. I like Le Vallauris. We have just a whole bunch of restaurants at different price levels, and I go to many more than that—especially now that there’s no time to cook at home during an election.

8. Name one business or service that you wish Palm Springs had (but currently does not have).

I’d like to see restaurants open later. I would like to see the Buzz bus, which has been a great addition for Palm Springs … instead of coming every 15 minutes, it came every 20 minutes, and it took a route that went down Sunrise and Ramon to Palm Canyon, because we have a very large number of retirement communities and residents in assisted-living facilities on that route, and if we could provide free transportation, especially to people who don’t have other transportation, it would be a really good thing for the city to do. I’d like to see us have better public transit … so people can easily get from one place to another, especially in a city that has so many seniors who otherwise are relying on (transportation) once a week from an assisted-living facility, like my dad. My dad’s 88; he lives in an assisted-living facility in Palm Springs, and I’m here, so I can take him where he wants to go, but that’s not true for a lot of other people … .

Since we’re on seniors, I’m my representative for my neighborhood on Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs, and I serve on the Code Enforcement Committee, and the traffic, bicycle, pedestrian safety committee. Our crosswalks are set so the average person, walking quickly, can make it across the street (with every green “walk” sign). I can’t make it across Sunrise at Baristo or Ramon with my dad when I’m with him. He’s too scared to go out without me. We either need to adjust our crosswalks so people who walk slower, or with a walker, or (are) in a wheelchair can get across the street. Or on big streets, we need to have a bench and a hand that tells you how long you have, and a place for people to wait halfway. But seeing elderly people with walkers trying to get across the street, where they could fall and get hurt, needs to change.

9. Which annual Coachella Valley event or festival is your favorite? Why?

My favorite event that’s a really big event here is the (Palm Springs International) Film Festival. I see films I would never otherwise see; I think it brings visibility to our city and has dramatically changed our brand. And it’s a lot of fun. I also love the Festival of Lights Parade. As a little kid, my grandfather took me to the Thanksgiving Day parade at Macy’s in New York, and I’ve loved parades since—and my husband loves them even more than I do. I think I love them because he almost jumps up and down when the lights are coming down Palm Canyon, so I find that really exciting and fun.

10. If the FBI was about to raid your home or office, which personal item would you grab to make sure it didn't get broken?

My mom, who passed away eight years ago, loved elephants. I wear no jewelry except my recent wedding ring, and often an elephant bracelet that I bought in memory of her. When I moved things out of my folks’ house in Palm Desert, when my dad moved in to assisted living in Palm Springs, she had her favorite glass sculptural elephant, which I keep on my night table, and I’d be crushed if that broke.

Published in Politics

Everybody knew the U.S. Supreme Court would be ruling on the gay-marriage question sometime in late June.

However, nobody was sure what the decision would be—and nobody was sure when it would be announced.

Of course, now we all know: On Friday, June 26, in a narrow 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for states to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying. The ruling means that, effectively, same-sex marriage is now legal in 50 states.

How fitting it was that the ruling was announced on June 26—the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2013, struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and legalized (for the second time) same-sex marriage in California by effectively throwing out Proposition 8. It's also the same day that in 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional. 

On Friday night, hundreds of people showed up at Francis Stevens Park in downtown Palm Springs for a rally that had been planned for weeks—albeit with the date TBA—by the LGBT Center of the Desert. Below is a gallery of photos from the momentous celebration.

Photos by Tommy Hamilton/Tommy Locust photography.

Published in Snapshot

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