CVIndependent

Wed11252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Riverside County businesses may soon be allowed to further reopen—and San Diego County businesses may soon be forced to further close.

Those are some of the takeaways from yesterday’s weekly update of the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” statuses.

To recap: Every county in the state has been placed in one of four “county risk levels,” depending on the COVID-19 test-positivity rate, and the case rate per 100,000 residents. Riverside County is currently in the most-restrictive “Widespread” category, for counties that have a positivity rate higher than 8 percent, and more than 7 new daily cases per 100,000 people. The next less-restrictive category, “Substantial”—San Diego County’s current tier—requires a positivity rate between 5 and 8 percent, and between 4 and 7 new daily cases per 100,000.

As of this week’s update, Riverside County’s positivity rate is listed as 6.4 percent, with 6.7 daily cases per 100,000—which would put us in less-restrictive “Substantial” territory. However, per the state: “At a minimum, counties must remain in a tier for at least 3 weeks before moving forward.” So … that means Riverside County could possibly move into the less-restrictive “Substantial” category as of Sept. 29.

San Diego County’s numbers, however, are moving in the opposite direction: As of yesterday’s update, the adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 was 8.1—higher than the “Substantial” threshold, even though the county’s positivity rate is a quite-good 4.5 percent. According to the state: “If a county’s metrics worsen for two consecutive weeks, it will be assigned a more restrictive tier. Public health officials are constantly monitoring data and can step in if necessary.”

Got all that? Good.

The difference in the tiers is quite substantial. That’s why in San Diego County—which, again, remains in the less-restrictive “Substantial” category for now—personal-care services (waxing, nails, etc.) can currently operate indoors. Churches can be open for indoor service at 25 percent capacity. Gyms can open indoors at 10 percent capacity. Movie theaters can open indoors at 25 percent capacity.

None of that can happen in Riverside County yet.

Meanwhile, county leaders in both places aren’t happy with the state’s criteria. San Diego County officials say their spike in numbers has to do with San Diego State University, and asked the state to not count the college’s numbers in their county metrics. The state said no to that request.

Here, local business leaders are clamoring for Riverside County to open faster, no matter what the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” metrics say. The state is very likely to say no to this request, too.

Stay tuned, folks.

Today’s news links:

• The big local news today: The arena that had been planned for downtown Palm Springs will now instead be built near Cook Street and Interstate 10. The Agua Caliente tribe is no longer involved; instead, the Oak View Group will partner with The H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation. From the news release: “The Seattle Kraken’s AHL Franchise, led by David Bonderman and OVG, will play in the new arena once construction is complete. Groundbreaking and construction are scheduled for 2021. The arena is expected to open in the last quarter of 2022.”

• It’s been a fascinating and completely insane couple of days for followers of college football. The Big 10 Conference today announced it would begin playing football this fall after all—as soon as Oct. 23. Then the Pac-12 Conference—the only remaining power conference not to announce plans to play in the fall—announced plans to play in the fall. All of this happened the day after LSU’s coach told the media that most of his team had contracted COVID-19 … amid increasing questions about the virus’ long-term effects on athletes. Repeat after me: Nothing makes sense anymore.

• In the aftermath of this week’s terrible shootings of two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, the actions of the department are raising a whole lot of concerns.

• Good lord, this is awful: A whistleblower has come forward with claims that detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody have been subjected to questionable hysterectomies. Key quote, from NPR: “The complaint says that several immigrant women expressed concerns to Project South about a high rate of hysterectomies and that (whistleblower Dawn) Wooten and other nurses at the facility questioned the number of women undergoing the procedure as well as their ability to fully understand and consent to it. According to the complaint, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five women at the facility who received hysterectomies between October and December 2019 and said they “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” ICE officials have denied wrongdoing.

A group of gym owners is suing the state over COVID-19-mandated closures. According to The Associated Press: “The suit accuses state and Los Angeles County officials of requiring gyms to close without providing evidence that they contribute to virus outbreaks and at a time when staying healthy is critical to California’s residents. The prolonged closure is depriving millions of people the ability to exercise as temperatures soar and smoky air from wildfires blankets much of the state, said Francesca Schuler, a founding partner of the (California Fitness Alliance).

• According to Yelp, 60 percent of pandemic-related business closures are now permanent closures. CNBC explains.

• Some people who have been jobless since the first stay-at-home order are about to exhaust their 26 weeks of state unemployment. What’s next for them? The San Francisco Chronicle explains.

Don’t expect a widespread SARS-CoV-2 vaccine until the middle of next year. So said the CDC director today.

• The Los Angeles Times recently decided to test the speed of first-class USPS mail delivery. The verdict? It’s definitely slower these days.

Both climate change and forest management are responsible for the hellfire blanketing the West these days. A professor of history from the University of Oregon, writing for The Conversation, says: “Management policies have created tinderboxes in Western forests, and climate change has made it much more likely that those tinderboxes will erupt into destructive fires. A third factor is that development has expanded into once-wild areas, putting more people and property in harm’s way.”

• From the Independent: When Palm Springs Pride announced tentative plans for a car caravan as part of an otherwise primarily online celebration in November, some people freaked out—unjustifiably, perhaps. I recently spoke to Pride president and CEO Ron deHarte about what Palm Springs Pride 2020 will look like. Key quote from deHarte, regarding that caravan: “We’re not creating assembly points. … This is being made for TV. The idea is to really show people who are at home, not participating; they can tune into YouTube or the livestream on Facebook. There are not going to be things for people to see—but if somebody was to go sit alongside the road, there are going to be at least 10 miles of roadway where anyone who is conscious of what’s going on in society today can social distance themselves. … But we just don’t see (people gathering) happening. It hasn’t happened in the 17 cities that we’ve been modeling from.”

• Take rising interest rates off your list of things to worry about. Per CNBC: “Projections from individual members (of the Federal Reserve) also indicated that rates could stay anchored near zero through 2023. All but four members indicated they see zero rates through then. This was the first time the committee forecast its outlook for 2023.”

• NBC News looks at the influence YouTube is having on the presidential election this year. Key quote: “YouTube, founded in 2005, has often been overshadowed by the likes of Facebook and Twitter as a place where political campaigning happens online, but this year is shaping up differently, and the fall promises to test YouTube’s capacity to serve as a political referee.”

• Finally … I know I could use a drink, and wine actually sounds quite lovely right now. Here are some fall wine suggestions from Independent wine columnist and resident sommelier Katie Finn.

Happy Wednesday, all! Thanks to everyone from reading. Please help the Independent continue producing quality local journalism—and making it free to everyone, without paywalls or fees—by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return on Friday.

Published in Daily Digest

Palm Springs residents in two of the city’s five newly created districts will select representatives in this November’s election—meaning the city will finally turn the page on its transition away from at-large elections, as mandated by the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.

In District 5, nobody filed to run against incumbent Lisa Middleton, meaning she will return to the City Council, barring any upstart write-in candidacy.

In the District 4 race, incumbent Christy Holstege is facing two challengers: Dian Torres, a local health care worker; and certified public accountant—and former Palm Springs City Councilmember—Mike McCulloch.

The Independent recently spoke to the three candidates running for the District 4 seat. We asked each of them the same set of questions, ranging from what future city budget cuts could await residents, to the health of the city’s relationships with small businesses. What follows below are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

Christy Holstege

Attorney, Palm Springs City Council incumbent

What is the most important single issue facing the city of Palm Springs in 2021?

The most important issue facing the city in 2021 is facing the global pandemic and keeping our residents safe, as well as ensuring our recovery from both the health crisis and the economic crisis that we’re facing as a city and as a community. We’ve been working for almost the last seven months on both these fronts, and I’m proud that we were the first city in Southern California to issue a shelter-in-place order. We did that before the state of California did, and that’s because our residents in Palm Springs are particularly at risk for COVID-19. I’ve worked on leading the task force for reopening and ensuring that we do that safely. I’ve worked directly with local businesses to ensure that they can keep their workers safe, keep their customers safe, and stay open, if possible. So we’ve worked to expand their footprint into parklets, parking lots and areas outside. We’ve closed a portion of Palm Canyon (Drive) to have a pedestrian experience so there can be more social distancing, and so that businesses can move outside.

Moving into 2021, we need to make sure that our residents stay safe and stay healthy. When a vaccine is released, we need to work in partnership with the county to make sure that our residents can get tested, get access to good medical care, and get access to the vaccine. We need to work to rebuild our economy after the hit that the economic crisis has caused.

Given the economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it’s possible the city may need to make further budget cuts in the future. If that became necessary, what cuts would you propose?

We’ve all been personally affected by the economic crisis, and the city is no different. Initially, we had projected over a $75 million deficit over the last fiscal year and this upcoming fiscal year. However, it’s very difficult to make projections during this time, and actually our (city income) numbers are much, much higher than we initially expected as our worst case scenario. We’ve worked really hard to build our reserves and have almost doubled them over the last few years to where we had over $40 million sitting in reserves for a rainy day like this. So I’m proud of the work that we’ve done in responding to this immediate economic crisis, while still retaining key services for our residents. We’ve retained city staff who provide services directly to residents, like parks and recreation services, public safety and all of the services that are important to our residents.

Looking forward, we’ve moved to a “rolling budget” model, since it really is impossible to predict a year out at this time, because no one knows what the economic situation will be a year from now. So I asked, and we successfully moved to a “rolling budget” model where the council will get an update each month at council meetings for the public. That way, we can assess where we are in terms of revenue and spending, and make quick changes if we need to. So my hope is that, in that way, we can plan accurately. If we do need to make further cuts, we’ll know that ahead of time, and we won’t need to do it in one sitting, in a way that might not be accurate six months from now.

So, regarding what we’d need to consider cutting, we’ve already made a lot of creative solutions instead of cutting staff. We issued an early retirement program to have city staff retire if they were able to. We froze positions instead of laying off people, and we actually moved to different models of providing services that have saved the city money. In the future, if we do have to make additional cuts, we will have to look at staffing levels for the city, but ensuring that we protect and preserve the most important services for our residents.

Some small businesses in town have complaints about uneven, unfair and harsh code enforcement. Are those complaints valid? Do you think the city is friendly to small business?

Serving on City Council for the last three years, I’ve worked really hard to make sure that the city is business-friendly, and that everyone knows that in Palm Springs, we are open for business. I have served o, and led our city’s subcommittee on economic development and business retention. We brought forward new business incentives like a façade-improvement program so that businesses can invest in the façades of their buildings to attract more customers. Also, we brought forward and successfully passed an incentive program for small hotels, so that small local boutique hotels could benefit from business incentives and invest in rehabilitating their properties. And we worked successfully to get consumer data directly to local businesses and startups to help them attract customers. So I’m really proud of my record of supporting local businesses. My husband’s family has owned two small local businesses here in Palm Springs for multiple generations. Some are on their third generation. That’s a key issue for my campaign, and also for my service as a City Council member.

So we work hard to support all of our local businesses, and as a council member for District 4—which has a different business district than just our city’s downtown—I have heard both residents and business owners say that we focus too much on just the downtown and that we need to invest (in) and encourage businesses and economic development throughout the city. In District 4, we have the Smoke Tree (area) and the whole corridor down Highway 111, and those are important businesses to support. We have vacant buildings throughout the district as well as through the city that need economic development.

In terms of code enforcement, we’ve really stepped up our code enforcement at the request of residents, because people were going downtown or into local businesses (while) not wearing masks. We’ve enforced social distancing. We passed a lot of legislation to make that required in the city of Palm Springs, and to support businesses so that they didn’t have to do the enforcement. Right now, code enforcement is going out to local businesses about 100 times a week or so. They’re not finding that many violations. Overall, people are really being compliant. So I think we’ve done a good job on code enforcement, but we can always do better, and we can always make sure that it addresses all businesses equally.

Palm Springs is considered a favorite getaway spot for more than 1.5 million tourists each normal year. However, should the city be backing a visitor-outreach effort right now, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19?

Palm Springs is a unique city, because we are so heavily reliant on tourism. I’ve participated in regional, statewide and national efforts around COVID-19 and the impacts to the city budget, and I have yet to find a city more impacted than ours, because we are so reliant on tourism. Since we issued the shelter-in-place order back in March, we’ve worked really hard to ensure that Palm Springs residents stayed safe, and that we didn’t have an influx of tourists who might be bringing the virus with them. Initially, the numbers that were reported showed that Palm Springs had higher numbers (of infections) than other Coachella Valley cities. At one point, in the first few days (of the pandemic), we had a third of the deaths in the state of California. So we worked really hard to issue a shelter-in-place order, and make sure we were on the forefront of keeping our residents safe and our businesses safe. And (we did that) because our economy can only thrive if we defeat this pandemic and if we keep our residents, businesses and workers safe. So we’ve been doing that really hard work of balancing our community’s health with all of the other impacts like loss of income, evictions, mental-health impacts and all the effects that we’re seeing. Also I led the reopening task force with the mayor (Geoff Kors), and we’ve also participated in a regional effort on tourism. We’re not initiating that right now, but we’re planning for when it will be safe to reopen tourism, and how we can do that safely and in a coordinated way.

We have to work regionally, because if Palm Springs does one thing, and Cathedral City or the county is doing something different, it is not effective from a public-health standpoint. So we’ve been working with other cities and the county directly to balance the needs for the economy with the public health. As of right now, our efforts have not been to attract a lot of tourists during this time, and we still have a lot of businesses closed. Riverside County is on the (state’s) watch list and in the worst possible category for the virus right now. So I think our plan is to reopen when we can safely, but also recognize that tourism is the lifeblood of our economy, as well as of our local businesses that support tourism.

One issue in my platform is diversifying our economy and making sure that we aren’t so reliant on tourism, so that in downfalls like this or others, we do have diverse revenue streams and businesses that are operating and aren’t completely shuttered by a stall in tourism.

Is there a topic or issue we should have asked you about?

One issue that I hear residents talk about again and again is homelessness and housing. When I first ran for City Council in 2017, that was the No. 1 issue for our voters. I’ve worked hard over the past three years to prioritize that issue and achieve real results. So in the last few years, we have spearheaded a new innovative program on homelessness for the city of Palm Springs. We found outside funding from the Desert Healthcare District to fund employment services for people who are homeless. We’ve funded crisis-response teams within our police department, so that behavioral-health workers are going out with our police to provide services to (homeless) people they encounter. Also, we’ve obtained $10 million from the state of California to address homelessness, specifically in Palm Springs. I’m really proud of our work on that with Assemblymember Chad Mayes. We went to Sacramento and talked to our representatives about how important homelessness is to our residents, and how much it impacts a small city like ours. Typically, only the 13 largest cities in our state get a direct allocation for homelessness, but because of our work, we were able to be the only small city in the state of California to get that direct allocation. Now we’re working in partnership with the county to turn that $10 million into tens of millions of dollars’ worth of investment to build housing. The solution to homelessness is building enough housing for all of our residents, and making sure that housing is affordable and attainable for everyone. So I care most about the homelessness issue, and questions about what the city had been doing. Right now, we’re working on a motel conversion by purchasing a property in order to convert a blighted hotel into permanent housing with services.

Currently, I chair the Coachella Valley Association of Governments’ regional committee on homelessness, since homelessness is a regional issue, not just a city issue, and I’m proud to work in partnership with all of our cities to make sure that we do have services in the west valley, and that we work as a region to truly solve homelessness once and for all.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during the COVID-19 pandemic?

My favorite shelter-in-place activity has been growing a baby. I’m eight months pregnant right now, and we’ll be having our first baby this fall. So we’re very excited. My husband is a third-generation Palm Springs resident, and actually he’s the third generation of his family to live in our house in Sonora Sunrise. So our son will be a fourth-generation resident, born at Desert Regional (Medical center), just like his dad, and he’ll be the fourth generation of our family to live in this home here, which is great Palm Springs history. It’s cool to have those roots here in Palm Springs. That’s primarily what I’ve been doing outside of serving on City Council, and running my re-election campaign.


Mike McCulloch

Certified public accountant

What is the most important single issue facing the city of Palm Springs in 2021?

The city is facing a $75 million budget deficit. In last year’s budget, the council transferred into the general fund from other funds, about $14 million. That money will not be available again this year, so it’s going to be even more difficult going forward to try to get a balanced budget. That’s the No. 1 issue, and what I bring to the table that I think is lacking with the current council members is that I’m a CPA with an economics degree from UCLA, a master’s in business administration from UCLA, and I’m a certified public accountant who’s been practicing in Palm Springs since 1987. That’s over 30 years that I’ve been a small-business owner in Palm Springs. With that background and experience, I’m an expert in financial matters, and I can bring that to the City Council, where it’s desperately needed.

Given the economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it's possible the city may need to make further budget cuts in the future. If that became necessary, what cuts would you propose?

Well, I think one of the things that we have to do is prioritize our spending. I’m a big supporter of public safety—the police and fire departments. Those (areas) need to be prioritized. Recently, one of the things the council did that I disagree with is that they spent $3 million to finish off the park downtown. While we all want to have the park built out according to its original design, now is not the time to make that expenditure. We currently have over a dozen unfilled police and fire department spots, where we had police and fire fighters before, and do not have them now. I would have spent that $3 million to keep the police and fire departments fully staffed, so that we will have someone to respond in an emergency.

We’re in the COVID-19 crisis, and in any crisis, there’s opportunity. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Winchester House, but that’s a house where the Winchester heir kept on adding rooms, because she thought it would keep the spirits away. So she ended up with this house having doorways that lead to nowhere, and stairwells where you step right off into space. I think that because the city government has been cobbled together over decades, it’s not as efficient as it could be. So I think we can start from the ground up to rebuild a modern City Hall, with a vision for 2020 and forward, where we can have much more efficiency, and remove redundancies in there which will save us money. We can re-think the entire structure of the city and create an efficient model that can operate with fewer personnel. I’m not talking about the physical plant—which I guess is a nightmare due to a lack of money for maintenance, which is kind of a problem for the people working there—but I’m talking about the whole city organization, and I think there are a lot of things that can be done to operate more efficiently within a budget. It’s not necessarily about cutting things, but I’m looking for a more efficient city government. We don’t have to fire people, because they’re already furloughed, or they’re going to leave by attribution. So we can re-organize (our operations) in a more efficient manner that will save us money.

Some small businesses in town have complaints about uneven, unfair and harsh code enforcement. Are those complaints valid? Do you think the city is friendly to small business?

I think the city is friendly to small business. I am not aware that there is uneven treatment, but no one on that council has any experience in running a business, as far as I can tell from looking at their resumes. I think that the $5,000 fine levied against the La Bonita’s restaurant recently was draconian. In fact, it’s a death penalty. Essentially, a struggling business downtown is still going to have to pay their rent, and still have to pay the incumbent charges and costs including their city license fees, so I would have looked for a way to scale back that $5,000 fine. For a struggling restaurateur downtown or uptown, that $5,000 fine is a death penalty. I don’t know how you survive that.

Palm Springs is considered a favorite getaway spot for more than 1.5 million tourists each normal year. However, should the city be backing a visitor-outreach effort right now, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19? 

I think we want to continue to attract tourism here, and part of that is an outreach. The expenditures are an investment in generating transit occupancy tax, or TOT, which the city is dependent upon. I think we can trust the businesses, the restaurants and the hoteliers to make sure that they have the proper COVID-19 procedures and policies in place, so that we can safely reopen our city to tourists. And, once again, it’s an opportunity, because people have been homebound for months now. They need to get out, and they need to get a little bit of a break. I think Palm Springs is a close destination to millions and millions of people in Southern California, and we should do everything we can to safely reopen. And I think it can be done.

Is there a topic or issue we should have asked you about?

We’ve got a real problem in Palm Springs with homelessness. It appears to me that Palm Springs and Indio seem to bear the burden of resolving the homeless issue. For instance, Riverside County had five locations chosen to spend money from the state to convert hotels into permanent housing for the homeless. One was in downtown Riverside, and three of the hotels were in Palm Springs. Now, we’re talking about (a program for) all of Riverside County. There needs to be a valley-wide solution to the homelessness issue. And with the hotel being proposed to be converted into permanent housing, there’s no guarantee that it will house people who currently are homeless in Palm Springs. The county can bus in homeless people from anywhere in Riverside County to live in this converted hotel. So we need to look at a valley-wide, regional solution to the homelessness issue.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I dusted off my guitar, which I’ve been playing off and on—mostly off—since I was 12 years old. And I’m taking guitar lessons on Zoom. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to (performing at) the open-mics, that I enjoyed singing and playing at before COVID shut everything down, with an improved level of guitar-playing skills.


Dian Torres

Health care worker

What is the most important single issue facing the city of Palm Springs in 2021?

I have to say it is more than just one. I have two: housing and the budget. Given where we are right now, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic that’s happening, it is very important that we take care of our community, as a lot of people are being displaced. In my opinion, this is really very important, because it’s the community here that really holds us up. I mean, we get tourism and all of that, but we can’t forget about the people who live here and make up this community.

Given the economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it's possible the city may need to make further budget cuts in the future. If that became necessary, what cuts would you propose?

This is going to be a pretty hard one, and not very well received or liked, but I’m going to say it anyway, because I’m a straight shooter: First off, I would ask the city leaders who are making an incredible amount of money—their salary is over $200,000—to take a pay cut. I think it would be a due diligence to the community to know that these people are in, and that they care about community. In the interim, it can be for a (specific) timeframe, but I think that until we can get settled, it makes absolutely no sense that these people are getting paid what they’re getting paid while other people are suffering. The inequities are just not right.

That should be first and foremost, because I think that by doing that, it would really mend a lot of what has happened in the community since 2014. That’s the elephant in the room. I believe that people are still very wounded by the deceit that went on, and I think that it has been really glossed over. And there’s leadership that’s still in (their positions) and being paid who were here when this whole thing came out. It’s beyond me how that could have been happening, and no one saw it. It took an outsider coming in to really recognize it. I mean, come on. Let’s have a little integrity. This is something that happened to our community. For leadership to not take responsibility and then continue to ask the people to sacrifice, it’s no wonder that we are in the dire straits that we’re in. Where and how do people feel really safe, and trust again? What is leadership really doing to indicate that they are, in fact, for the people and the community?

I’m not a politician. I’m just a citizen. I’ve never run for political office. I’ve only ever volunteered, and I’ve been on the periphery. I always did kind of the work that no one else wanted to do. I live here now full-time. Prior to this point in time, I’ve never really been able to (run for office) due to work, and then moving, but now that I’m here, I’m invested in our community. I hope to be the change that this city needs in leadership.

Some small businesses in town have complaints about uneven, unfair and harsh code enforcement. Are those complaints valid? Do you think the city is friendly to small business?

I saw an article this morning (about La Bonita’s restaurant being fined $5,000 for allowing customers to dine inside), but to be honest, I haven’t been able to read it yet. My understanding is that they got fined because they went inside. So, what would make somebody feel that they would have to break the rules, other than not feeling supported on some level? So there’s obviously some contention.

I went online and took a look at the codes, compliance complaints and so forth. Most of the compliance penalties were on vacation rentals. They showed inspections on restaurants, but there very few actual penalties or fines. So, honestly, I am not aware of what the inequities (in local code enforcement) are, other than whether every business is being treated the same. To me, it seems there’s partiality and a lack of consistency across the board that’s creating division among business owners, some of whom feel (they’re) treated unfairly.

We need a task force of code-compliance people. I think we could get volunteers and do a training. And I think if (code-enforcement personnel) had more visibility, then these businesses would really feel that they’re being protected, and it could make a big difference in enforcing COVID-19 regulations. People coming in from out of town leave their mess here, and we have to pick it up. That’s wrong. It’s just not the way it should be. From that perspective, I agree that (our businesses) need to have better support.

Palm Springs is considered a favorite getaway spot for more than 1.5 million tourists each normal year. However, should the city be backing a visitor-outreach effort right now, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19?

My immediate reaction is that we need to create a stronger infrastructure before we reopen. And again, it’s about having a task force in place for fines for people who may not be complying (with restrictions). Now that we have the color code (ratings for county COVID-19 statistics) that the state has issued, it’s very clear what we need to do. It’s a question of how, in fact, we are implementing. Fines are great, but who is enforcing these guidelines? Who is out there in community making sure that people are following the rules? To create this task force, let’s say that one person in each business for every shift has the opportunity to enforce (guidelines) as a representative of this code-compliance group. There’s a way to create this task force collectively, so that when (visitors) come in, they will visually see it. But I’m of the mindset that, until we are able to get our numbers down, we have absolutely no business bringing people in to infect the people here in our community if they’re being irresponsible. So it’s kind of like a domino effect. If we don’t have the infrastructure in place, and we’re not reinforcing it, then we’re just perpetuating the madness.

Is there a topic or issue we should have asked you about?

Not really. I think that due to the COVID-19 pandemic that’s happening, for our health and safety, we need to get an infrastructure in place. We need to bring our numbers down. This is the biggest and most important issue right now. Our numbers are not going down. I’ve been watching them in the newspaper, and it’s frightening. And it’s like, ‘Why?’ I mean, the writing is on the wall. We’re not doing enough. We’re not doing the right things. And if, in fact, there’s a larger entity of people from the CDC, the health industry, people who have worked in other cities, and given the technology, we should be able to create a plan. Why don’t we have an active plan? Again, we have fines, but there’s nothing posted on a weekly basis when these (infection-rate) numbers come out, other than in the newspapers. But they’re not (displayed) on billboards downtown. They’re not visible, so people don’t get that we are serious. They should be visible in our main downtown areas where people are traveling, so that they can be seen. And there should be notices. I mean, the notices about putting the masks on are fine, but if we’re not enforcing it, then thank you for sharing. And again, what numbers and statistics do we have to back up that even when these numbers come down, that we’ll be able to bring more people in safely? We want visitors to be able to buy into this (pandemic-prevention effort), and not be the place where, “We can go there because they’re not going to harass us.”

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Well there are a couple. It’s been happening for so long that I’ve been reading a fair amount, and I got my sewing machine back out, and I’ve been making masks. And I am learning to play the keyboard. It’s just a little outlet. During all of this, I ordered an electric keyboard online, and I got it. I’ve never played, but I love singing and music, and I thought this will be a great therapeutic means for me.

Published in Politics

For more than five years, Palm Springs residents and business owners have waited for the arrival of a showplace downtown park. In 2018, the Palm Springs City Council approved plans to deliver the attraction by the fall of this year—plans which were derailed by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve taken a long time to get to this point,” councilmember Lisa Middleton told the Independent, “and I want to see a completed project there.”

Pretty much everyone agrees with that statement. However, there’s significant disagreement about how the project will be completed—which became apparent after a contentious 3-2 vote at the Aug. 6 Palm Springs City Council meeting.

The short version of the controversy is this: Councilmembers Grace Garner, Christy Holstege and Dennis Woods voted to proceed with the original, fully funded plans for the park—overturning a decision made two months prior to scale back those plans and save the city about $3 million. Middleton and Mayor Geoff Kors disagreed.

The longer version is much more nuanced and complicated.

“As a council, we recognize that we are in a fiscal emergency,” Kors told the Independent. “With the decision to reduce staffing dramatically by cutting 80 staff positions in fire, emergency medical, police, facilities, planning and permitting, there’s no department that didn’t have substantial cuts. I’ve been out there advocating for more funding (help) through communications with the White House, with our member of Congress and with our state elected officials. But at a time when we see businesses closing and people unemployed, we should not be spending money to the extent called for by the original downtown park design, when every other capital-improvement project has been stopped, including road re-paving and money for our community centers and our neighborhood parks. So I supported doing a modified park, as the majority of council did previously, rather than funding the entire park right now.”

Holstege—in the middle of a re-election campaign against two opponents—explained her vote to proceed with the fully funded park plan.

“In the budget discussions (in June), the majority of council had tried to defund $3 million from the existing park project, and save those funds for reserves, while building a temporary park in the meantime.

“I, along with a (different) majority of the City Council, decided that it would be more prudent to go forward with the initial park design, because the city has already spent $3 million in building the initial design. So if we were to pause or cancel or change the park, much of that $3 million would be wasted. There are $600,000 in parts that we’ve already purchased for the water feature that would have been wasted. Already, there’s been a lot of underground work for the water feature and other parts of the park. We have an active contract with the contractor, so we were looking at roughly $400,000 in delay and cancellation fees. That’s already $1 million in waste of taxpayer dollars.

“Then we were looking at probably $1 million in city funds just to put in grass and decomposed granite, which is basically dirt, and there would be very little shade. I think that’s an unusable park. And then one day, it would probably cost another $1 million to rip that grass out to put in the future park. Then we got an estimate that it might cost us double to build the rest of the originally designed park at a later date, as opposed to right now while it’s in construction.”

What caused the sudden shift in support for the park within the City Council? Most notably, city staff members shared news at the Aug. 6 meeting that a previously unexpected $3 million in Measure J sales taxes was projected to arrive during the 2020-2021 fiscal year—money that could offset the $3 million in costs planned to be returned to the city’s ledger.

Another contributing factor may have been the admirable salesmanship displayed by the park’s renowned architect, Mark Rios. As one can see in the video of the meeting on the city of Palm Springs website, Rios touted the benefits in store for tourists and residents thanks to the park’s ambiance and appearance, backing his belief that the City Council should stick with the original full park construction plan regardless of the widespread financial pain.

Middleton said her decision to vote on Aug. 6 against the fully funded original park plan was strictly budgetary.

“At this point, we do not know how long the COVID-19 crisis will continue,” Middleton said. “So I felt that the prudent thing for us to do was to wait and get some more months of revenue in to see where we’re going to be in terms of finances.”

Kors said he voted against the fully funded original park plan on Aug. 6 because of the process.

“Several months ago, we stated that we wanted the park to be reviewed and have alternatives for a reduced park brought back (for council consideration),” Kors said. “When the (2020-21 fiscal-year budget vote) came, the majority voted to reduce the park funding by $3 million and requested that different options to do that come back to council. So, on the (Aug. 6) agenda, there were six different options—and none of them was to overturn the prior vote and approve the original design. So, neither council nor the public had any indication that this was going to be brought up. Given the transparency and new rules that we’ve passed over the last few years, I thought if that discussion were to be had, it should have been properly noticed so that people were aware of it.

“The public had no idea that there was any extra money. It wasn’t on the agenda, and if we’re going to put more money back in the budget, then that needed to be noticed in the agenda, so that the public and the council were aware—and then we should have discussed what the top priority was for that funding. For me, I would have put it into public bathrooms at community centers and neighborhood parks. That was the unanimous recommendation of the Measure J Commission as to what we do with that money. So I thought that the vote was dismissive of the commissions. It was dismissive of community-member comments who were involved in the original park design. It was dismissive of what the downtown businesses said was best for downtown. And I think it was improper to delegate money that hasn’t been confirmed for certain, without the public even knowing that this was a possibility.”

On Aug. 13, the controversy received fuel in the form of an open letter from the directors of three Palm Springs business organizations—the Main Street Palm Springs Downtown and Uptown Business Association, the Palm Springs Hospitality Association, and P.S. Resorts—opposing the fully funded original park plan.

“What happened at last week’s City Council meeting was focused discussion on returning to the original $9.5 million park design,” said the letter, in part. “This was not the discussion noticed in the published agenda. The agenda detailed six less expensive park options. As such, it was questionable and non-transparent; it provided no opportunity for residents and stakeholders to express their opinions. … As community leaders, we call for an open and inclusive discussion on shared community priorities, with updated and accurate budget information. We call on the mayor and councilmembers to hold a special public meeting to discuss how the $3 million of newly available funds should be spent, and to pause any action on the downtown park.”

Holstege said everyone is not “sharing the same set of facts” about the park.

“I was a bit concerned to see some facts in that op-ed that were not true, and were different from the facts that were presented to council,” she said. “We’re in very difficult times as a city and a country, and we’re all facing difficult personal times. I think it’s important to come together as a community and work from the same set of facts, disagree with respect, and understand where each other is coming from. I think some of that is missing in our civil discourse right now because of where we are as a country. … I reached out already to the business community when I saw their op-ed. They want a private space for private events, and the Marilyn (Monroe) statue downtown in a location that’s visible. So I think we can keep working together to achieve everyone’s goals, and we don’t have to be opposed.”

Both Kors and Middleton said they hoped the matter would return to the City Council for another vote.

“Whether this could come back as a budget discussion, and if one of the people who voted for it think it’s appropriate to bring it back so the public can have more input, are questions the city attorney will have to answer,” Kors said.

Published in Local Issues

It was an insanely busy news day, so let’s get right to the links:

• First, a correction: In the emailed version of yesterday’s Daily Digest, I had the month portion of the date wrong for the city of Palm Springs’ “Restaurant, Retail, Hair Salon & Barbershop Re-Opening Guidance for Business Owners” webinar. As a few eagle-eyed readers pointed out: The webinar is taking place at 9 a.m., May 28—in other words, tomorrow. Get info here, and please accept my apologies for the mistake.

• Other Palm Springs news: The City Council voted yesterday to extend the eviction moratorium through June 30.

• While this news is certainly not surprising, it’s an economic bummer for sure: Goldenvoice is reaching out to artists slated to perform at the already-delayed Coachella festival, and trying to book them for 2021 instead. Translation: A Coachella cancellation announcement may be coming soon.

If you’re going to read only one piece from today’s Daily Digest, please make sure it’s this one. Yesterday, we talked about the appalling lack of journalistic integrity NBC Palm Springs showed by airing an unvetted fluff piece—multiple times—provided by Amazon talking about all the great things the company is doing to keep its workers safe. In reality … at least eight workers have died. Today, the Los Angeles Times brings us the story of one of those eight fallen workers. Grab a tissue before you get to know the story of Harry Sentoso.

• Gov. Newsom announced today that more information regarding gym/fitness center-reopening guidelines would be released next week, as the state moves further into Stage 3.

• The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership just released a new survey of local businesses regarding the impact of the pandemic … and the only word that comes to mind is “yikes.” One takeaway: 99 percent of businesses have experienced a reduction in revenue—and 56 percent of those declines were between 91 and 100 percent

• It’s well-known that a number of COVID-19 antibody tests are flawed, but now there are concerns about the accuracy of the diagnostic tests. NBC News looks into the matter.

• Well, this could be interesting: President Trump, angry that Twitter placed a fact-check notice on an obviously untrue statement of his, apparently plans on taking some sort of action against social media companies via executive order. Will tomorrow be the day our democratic republic comes to an end? Tune in tomorrow! 

• In Pennsylvania, Democratic lawmakers are accusing GOP lawmakers of covering up the fact that a lawmaker had tested positive for COVID-19—possibly exposing them in the process. Republicans say they followed all the proper protocols … but didn’t feel the need to tell Democrats about the positive test, because of privacy. Jeez. The barn-burning video of Rep. Brian Sims expressing his extreme displeasure is horrifying.

• From the Independent: While tattoo shops remain closed (at least legally) across the state, they may be allowed to reopen soon, as we move further into Stage 3. The Independent’s Kevin Allman spoke to Jay’e Jones, of Yucca Valley’s renowned Strata Tattoo Lab, about the steps she’s taking to get ready.

• An update on what’s happening in Imperial County, our neighbors to the southeast: A coronavirus outbreak in northern Mexico is causing American citizens who live there to cross the border for treatment—and overwhelming the small hospitals in the county. The Washington Post explains how this is happening, while KESQ reports that packed Imperial County hospitals are sending patients to Riverside County hospitals for care.

• Don’t let the headline freak you out, please, because it’s not as horrifying as it sounds, although it remains important and interesting: The “coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine,” explains The Washington Post.

Nevada casinos will begin coming back to life on June 4. The Los Angeles Times explains how Las Vegas is preparing for a tentative revival.

• Another business segment is also making plans to reopen in Nevada: brothels. The Reno Gazette-Journal explains how brothel owners are making their case to the state.

• Given that Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody issued the nation’s first stay-at-home order, it’s 1) interesting and 2) not entirely surprising that she thinks California’s reopening process is moving too quickly.

• Some of us are naturally inclined to follow rules; some of us bristle at them. University of Maryland Professor Michele Gelfand, writing for The Conversation, explains how these primal mindsets are coming into play regarding masks and other pandemic matters.

The Trump administration is still separating migrant families—and often using the pandemic as an excuse to do so, explains the Los Angeles Times.

• The New York Times reports on the inevitable upcoming eviction crisis. Eff you, 2020.

Some Good News, John Krasinski’s feel-good YouTube series, has been sold to ViacomCBS. Here’s how and why that came about.

• Finally, here’s an update on increasing evidence that sewage testing may help governments stop new coronavirus outbreaks before they blow up.

That’s all today. I am going to now go raise a toast to the life of Harry Sentoso and the other 100,000-plus Americans this virus has claimed so far. Please join me if you can. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Today is Jackie Robinson Day, the anniversary of Robinson taking the field in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947—shattering the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

Robinson’s uniform number, 42, was retired throughout Major League Baseball back in 1997, with one exception: On April 15, every player wears the No. 42.

For all sorts of reasons, Jackie Robinson Day means a lot to me. Robinson is the main reason I became a baseball fan (and a Dodgers fan); at one point in elementary school, I was assigned to read a biography, and somehow, I wound up with Jackie Robinson. I was inspired—and Jackie Robinson has been a hero of mine ever since. In fact, a poster with Jackie’s photo, with the definition of the word “courage,” hangs just to the right of the unbelievably cluttered desk at my home office.

cour•age n. 1. The mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty. 2. Valor.

Of course, Jackie Robinson Day can be celebrated only virtually today, because there is no baseball in this country on this April 15.

Please forgive me for feeling a bit sad right now. I am keeping things in proper mental perspective. Take, for example, what Jackie Robinson had to endure on a daily basis back in 1947, when he was literally risking his life to play baseball—and carrying the burden of knowing that if he failed, either on the field or off, he could potentially set back a whole movement. Me? I merely have to stay at home for a while, wear a mask when I have to go somewhere, and tighten the budget belt for a bit.

That’s what my mind says. But my heart aches due to the fact that there’s no baseball on Jackie Robinson Day, nor will there be anytime in the immediate future. (The same goes for a lot of things, of course.)

For now, I’ll suck it up, maybe cry a little, and remember that definition of courage: the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.

Here are today’s links:

• You know those antibody tests that are starting to appear? They’re not necessarily reliable right now. The nice way of putting it: “They’re a work in progress.”

• From the Independent: Anita Rufus points out that not only should you consider setting up an advance directive (living will) if you don’t have one; if you do have one, you may want to revisit it, given what we now know about COVID-19.

• Also from the Independent: Our Kevin Carlow encourages you to cut down on food waste by pickling or otherwise preserving vegetables before they go bad. And yes, you can even use the ends, stems and skins that you’d normally throw away.

• Speaking of vegetables, all of this uncertainty is leading people to start growing their own food.

• The state is taking better steps to get help to people who have not yet gotten their unemployment, plus independent contractors and undocumented immigrants, according to Gov. Newsom.

• The Washington Post reports on the strategy being developed by FEMA and the CDC to begin reopening the country. Take from it what you will.

• So … the president apparently insists on having his name on the physical stimulus checks being sent to people, even if it delays them being sent by a few days. Now, where did I put that bourbon?

Some government agencies are not being as open with information as they should be during this damned pandemic. This is a very bad thing.

• Now this, actually, would not be a bad thing, if 1) true and 2) it’s shown that most infected people have at least temporary immunity: One study suggests that there may be 10 times more COVID-19 cases in California than the number being reported. However, a lot of smart people don’t buy this conclusion.

• You know that thing going around on social media where people post their high school pics and say where and when they graduated, ostensibly to support current high school seniors who won’t get proper senior years and graduations? Uh, well, you probably shouldn’t do that.

• Rolling Stone looks in depth at the deep damage the pandemic is doing to the live-music world.

• Damn, the lockdown is even driving Martha Stewart to get hammered.

• The city of Palm Springs has set up a hotline for people to report violations of various COVID-19-related rules.

• OK, let’s get to some happier stuff, shall we? For starters, the Los Angeles Times offers up this list of 13 things you can do to stay sane during this highly annoying time.

• Jake Tapper has a Twitter-thread story that starts awful, but has a hopeful, happy ending.

• Finally, I find this oddly reassuring, even though they never, ever should have budged on “over” being an OK substitute for “more than”: The Associated Press Stylebook now has guidance on COVID-19.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Submit your virtual events to our online calendar. Please help us continue to do local, quality journalism, free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have the means to do so. Wear a mask when you must go out in public—if not because it’s the right thing to do, then because someone may call the city of Palm Springs and report your irresponsible self. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

It’s been a crazy-busy day here at Independent World Headquarters in rainy downtown Palm Springs—for some very exciting reasons.

Because the day has been so busy, and because there’s so much news to get to—much, but alas, not all of it, good—I am going to keep this intro brief. And tomorrow, I’ll share the exciting news—I promise.

Today’s links:

• Regular readers know we don’t focus too much on the numbers and stats here, for two reasons: First, the numbers don’t always tell the full story; and two, you can get the numbers everywhere else. However, here are the countywide numbers. And now, the full story, courtesy of resident expert Dr. Laura Rush: “You all are doing great here in Coachella Valley so far. And we are coming up on eight days with no doubling of cases yet. No new cases in PS last 24 hours. … Keep it up; it’s working!” So, keep staying at home and wearing masks and #flatteningthecurve!

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: Gov. Newson has touted reliable COVID-19 antibody testing as a key to helping California get back to something resembling normal. However, that’s not as easy to accomplish as it sounds.

Eisenhower Health posted a fantastic update on Facebook yesterday, detailing all the numbers and information regarding how the hospital is faring during the COVID-19 crisis. While there are a lot of big numbers, there’s also a lot of encouraging news within.

• Excellent news: The Desert AIDS Project has started telephone and drive-up COVID-19 screening. Get the details here.

• Former Independent wine columnist (and good friend) Christine Soto has joined forces with all sorts of other amazing people to found Keep Shining Palm Springs, “a fund helping the hands that feed, imbibe and provide for us—small business in Palm Springs and beyond. Learn more about the fundraiser—which includes some really awesome apparel—here.

• The IRS is warning everyone about scammers emerging as the stimulus money starts to arrive in people’s bank accounts. Here’s what to be aware of, via the AARP.

• Speaking of shady dealings: The Conversation points out how government agencies are using the pandemic as an excuse to keep more things secret—and this is a very bad thing.

• And speaking of shady dealings and very bad things and government secrecy: The president has canned the person responsible for overseeing how the Trump administration spends the trillions of dollars in pandemic relief money.

• And speaking of … well, all that stuff above, this story from the Los Angeles Times explains how “the federal government is quietly seizing orders, leaving medical providers across the country in the dark about where the material is going and how they can get what they need to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.” Yikes!

• Your Women’s Circle, a fantastic local business group that connects lesbians to lesbian-owned businesses, has launched a hotline for local lesbians in need of assistance. Learn more here.

• The city of Palm Springs is holding a town hall webinar “for local residents impacted by COVID-19, featuring information on worker benefits and resources related to tenant rights, mortgage relief, evictions, unemployment benefits, utility relief, food and local volunteer resources,” at 9 a.m., Thursday, April 9. Register here.

• College of the Desert would like to remind you of its Partnership and Community Education program, where you can take relatively inexpensive online classes—and do some learnin’!

• Stay-at-home parents and guardians who are dealing with stressed-out kids, or who are struggling to explain what’s going on to their young ones: Check out this fantastic resource library from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Apps that anonymously track the spread of coronavirus have been used successfully in other countries—and could help us get back to normal here. But there are privacy concerns, as you may expect. NBC News explains.

• June’s Splash House, to nobody’s surprise, is cancelled. However, former Independent scribe Brian Blueskye explains in The Desert Sun that organizers are holding out hope for the two scheduled August weekends.

Lady Gaga is doing some cool things. Not only is she helping arrange a worldwide virtual music festival for April 18; she’s raised $35 million in a week for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

• We have reached the “Let’s get weird!” portion of the Daily Digest. First off, this headline from the Los Angeles Times: “How a Discovery That Brought Us Viagra Could Help Those Battling the Coronavirus.” (It’s actually a fascinating story on how nitric oxide is being used as an experimental COVID-19 treatment.)

• The hubby sent me this link with this comment: “Art Museum for Gerbils.” ‘Nuff said.

That’s it for today! Get us your submission for the Coachella Valley Independent coloring book project. If you’re able and appreciate what we do, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can keep doing what we do—honest, reliable local journalism. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

The California State Auditor’s Office recently launched a new tool, available to anyone with an internet connection: an online dashboard that aggregates, compares and ranks the financial stability of more than 470 California cities, based on detailed and publicly available information.

“For the first time, Californians will be able to go online and see a fiscal-health ranking for more than 470 cities based across the state,” State Auditor Elaine Howle proclaimed in a news release announcing the launch. “This new transparent interface for the public, state and local policymakers, and other interested parties, is intended to identify cities that could be facing significant fiscal challenges.”

The most compelling feature of this new dashboard is the interactive map of California. To uncover relevant financial details, any user can run their cursor over the geographic area correlating to any one of the 470 cities whose financial data is included. When the cursor hovers over a given city, a box opens to show the name of the city and its rankings in the 11 different indicator categories: overall risk, liquidity, debt burden, general-fund reserves, revenue trends, pension obligations, pension funding, pension costs, future pension costs, OPEB (other post-employment benefits) obligations and OPEB funding. It quickly reveals information that, until now, was difficult to obtain.

The data, however, is a little outdated: The city evaluations and rankings are based on 2016-2017 fiscal-year numbers, the most-recent complete data set available for all the cities represented.

“We are in the process of getting the 2017-18 information, so we’ll be able to provide that information on our dashboard as well,” said Margarita Fernandez, chief of public affairs for the California State Auditor, in a recent phone interview. “The (dashboard) tool is now established, so we’ll be able to put up the information for 2017-18 as soon as it comes in. Eventually, you’ll be able to look at it yourself and see trending information like, ‘Here’s how they were doing in 2016-17, and now here they are in 2017-18, etc.,’ and whether things are improving, or they’re not improving.”

Despite Fernandez’s attempt to explain the older data, some city representatives see this as a serious defect in the state auditor’s effort at transparency.

“These numbers are two to three years old, and I think that our financial state today reflects that,” said Brooke Beare, the city of Indio’s director of communications and marketing, during a recent phone call.

The nine Coachella Valley cities are, in the category of overall risk, ranked as follows:

  • Palm Springs: No. 46 (moderate risk level)
  • Cathedral City: No. 105 (moderate)
  • Indio: No. 118 (moderate)
  • Coachella: No. 121 (moderate)
  • Desert Hot Springs: No. 308 (low)
  • La Quinta: No. 434 (low)
  • Palm Desert: No. 444 (low)
  • Rancho Mirage: No. 454 (low)
  • Indian Wells: No.  466 (low)

The good news is that none of the nine Coachella Valley cities were ranked in the “high risk” category. The bad news is the three worst-ranked—Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Indio—all were rated as “high risk” in four of the 11 indicator categories studied by the state auditor. It was on this basis that the Independent reached out to representatives of each of those three cities.

As of our deadline, only Indio representatives—Beare, and Assistant City Manager and Finance Director Rob Rockwell—responded. A city of Palm Springs finance executive did reply to an email requesting a phone interview, and asked that the Independent deliver its questions via email. The Independent complied, but received no response to those questions.

Rockwell, Indio’s finance director, applauded the state auditor’s dashboard.

“I think the reporting itself is good, and I appreciate it. I think it’s useful,” he said. “I don’t think it necessarily tells the whole financial story, but I think there are bits and pieces that will allow organizations or municipalities like Indio to go back and do some double-checking on some things, which is exactly what we did in Indio.”

He discussed various actions taken in the last two years by the Indio City Council. “Two of the four areas where Indio was considered ‘high-risk’ were pension funding set-aside, and OPEB (other post-employment benefits) set-aside,” Rockwell said. “In regards to the pension funding, just this year, the Indio City Council committed $1 million to setting up a pension trust … and that money is set aside and can only be used for pension obligations. So the issue of us not having money set aside has already been addressed.

“In regard to that OPEB funding set-aside, in February of 2014, the city created another … trust that in this case is basically for retiree medical costs. We’ve been committing money to that on an annual basis, and (as of Sept. 30), it totaled $1.77 million. So, the City Council recognizes the need—but it’s not been a super-high priority, in the sense that the City Council has been focused on capital infrastructure improvements in the city of Indio.”

Given the pension-funding liabilities currently shown on Indio’s balance sheet, the $1 million currently in the pension-funding trust wouldn’t make much of a dent. Rockwell told the Independent that the point of setting up the trust wasn’t to offset the entire debt amount.

“To think that we’re going to put $50-plus million aside (to cover the amount of unfunded liabilities)—that’s a striking number,” he said. “Really, the purpose of this trust is to set up some money so that, if a recession occurs, instead of having to make cuts to services to pay our pension costs, we can reach into this trust and pay our annual pension costs for a year, or maybe two, maybe three, maybe five, and not have to reduce services (to residents) in years where our revenues might be short due to economic impacts.”

Mounting pension obligations are a concern for all of our valley cities. It was a major topic of discussion in this past November’s Palm Springs City Council elections.

“I think that most California cities, including those here in the valley, are having a tough time dealing with these increasing pension costs,” Rockwell said. “I don’t think it’s a surprise that a lot of cities are even having to face some service reductions to fund their pension obligations. I think obviously that the return on investments that were originally expected did not come through. … The obligation is real, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Cities are just having to adjust, and there are various mechanisms to do that. A lot of cities have changed their retirement formulas. Clearly, the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act (which took effect in 2013; it includes compensation limits and establishes minimum contributions by employees) has changed pension funding. I have to say that for the city of Indio, the number of employees that we’ve hired under PEPRA is occurring at a faster rate than we expected. I don’t know how much that’s going to help the unfunded liability, but I can definitely say that there’s a change taking place.”

To view the State Auditor’s Local Government High-Risk Dashboard, visit www.auditor.ca.gov/bsa/cities_risk_index.

Published in Local Issues

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, Palm Springs residents living in the newly drawn Districts 1, 2 and 3 will head to the polls to elect three City Council members.

These elections are the first step in the city’s transition from at-large to district-based representation, to comply with the California Voting Rights Act. The changeover will be complete after the November 2020 election of council members in Districts 4 and 5.

(To see the newly drawn districts, visit www.palmspringsca.gov/government/city-clerk/election-general-municipal-election.)

Another change: The city will no longer have a directly elected mayor; instead, Palm Springs will join most other valley cities in designating a councilmember as mayor for a year on a rotating basis.

The Independent recently spoke to the three candidates running for the new District 2 seat: Dennis Woods, Peter Maietta and Adrian Alcantar.

Here are their complete answers, edited only slightly for style and clarity, presented in the order in which the candidates will appear on the ballot.


Dennis Woods, Land-Use and Transportation Planner/Palm Springs Planning Commission Chair, 59 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

There’s actually more than one priority facing the city at this point, but an immediate issue facing the city is that of homelessness, because I think it’s an humanitarian issue as well as (a challenge for) our brand as a city.

I think we have right around 200 homeless (persons) in Palm Springs. The programs that we have are working effectively, but we need to graduate people out of a shelter and into permanent housing. The city has been very effective in setting up a shelter to get the homeless out of the heat and into a safe place to sleep in the evenings. Then in the daytime, we, along with the Well in the Desert, have established cooling centers. Also, through the Well and others, there are a variety of places around town where (one) can get a meal. I think all of those are positive things. Another positive thing is that at the cooling center, there are people from Martha’s Village and Kitchen who provide wrap-around services and try to figure out why a person is homeless—whether they have hit hard economic times, or if they have psychological issues or have addiction issues. I think those services are important to provide so that if we get someone into housing, they can maintain that housing (solution) by helping to get them rent subsidies, or get them work. Those programs are working, but we need to give them a boost.

What’s really fantastic to hear is that there’s a $10 million grant in the pipeline from the state to Palm Springs to deal with (this issue). We don’t know what strings may be attached to that money if the governor approves it, but I would like to see us graduate people from shelters to homes. I would love to see us set up kind of a “one-stop shop” where you can get all your services in one place: You can get a shower; you can talk to social-services people; you can get some counseling if you need it for an addiction problem. We can have a shelter, and we can offer some temporary housing as we look to get people into permanent housing. I think with the $10 million grant, we probably would have the capability to do something like that.

I completely support the work of the current City Council, and they have set up a subcommittee that is trying to get all the social-service agencies to coordinate and collaborate. When they come together in a room, and they share thoughts and resources, I think that is an absolute positive, and I would continue to support that type of collaboration.

You mentioned in your first answer that there were a number of pressing issues facing the city of Palm Springs. Since homelessness was the topic of our second planned question, would you like to talk about your next-most-important issue?

The next important issue is affordable housing. We have a very nice stock of market-rate housing being built, and we have an existing stock as well. For many, the price point of these homes is cost-prohibitive if they have a moderate to low income. I think what we really need to do is to focus on trying to provide a mix of housing for people of all economic backgrounds to live in. I don’t think that we’ve had an apartment complex (plan) come through the city during the almost two years that I’ve been on the Planning Commission. There’s a need for apartment complexes in this city.

There are two low-income housing projects in the pipeline now that are actually both (located) in my district, which is interesting. As part of a settlement agreement, (the city) got a parcel behind Home Depot, off of Gene Autry, that might provide great potential, when combined with the $10 million from the state, to do some housing as well as the (homeless services and shelter) center that I talked about earlier. So, I think my second issue would be to provide more affordable housing to the people of Palm Springs. It’s really going to take a multi-pronged, multifaceted approach and a huge amount of collaboration to build this type of housing. We have been successful (in some efforts to date). The Desert AIDS Project (DAP) has a great housing project right behind (their offices) on Vista Chino, and it is fantastic. It looks good; it’s managed well; and that’s the type of project that we need.

You said you found it “interesting” that the two current affordable-housing projects are in your district. Care to elaborate?

I think what’s important about that is that my district, should I be elected, is dealing with affordable housing. I think we need to look at other districts and other opportunities where city-owned properties might support affordable-housing projects. These projects—if designed right and managed well—are fantastic. This is not like the Cabrini-Green Homes project in Chicago, which is what many people think of (when discussing low-income housing). I gave you the example of (the project built) behind DAP; that type of project is desirable. It does not devalue a neighborhood. It can actually (increase the) value of a neighborhood by having workforce housing closer to jobs, thus reducing the carbon footprint and making a better community.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

The city as a whole has been proactive with cannabis, and it started back with medical marijuana. I think this just shows that we were sensitive to a population here that medical marijuana could actually help, whether it was those suffering from HIV, aging issues, glaucoma or anything else. We started courting cannabis facilities when it was only concerning medical uses. Now, the voters have moved it into a recreational use (category), and the city has seen a flood of cannabis (business) applications.

What’s important to understand is that, out of those cannabis applications, there are different types—for grow facilities, lounges, dispensaries and (businesses that make) products like candy. Each of those types has a different environmental impact. What we saw is that when we put (grow facilities) into our industrial areas, during the budding season, they gave off strong odors. Those odors caused neighbors to become upset, which is very understandable. The city at that point was not really prepared and did not have the mechanisms (needed to respond to the problem). At the Planning Commission meetings, I went on the record saying that we need to up our game with this, and we need to buy the equipment necessary to understand and measure odor (levels). We didn’t have the enforcement tools … but we now have those tools. Now we have to look at whether or not we have a problem with the saturation of cannabis (businesses). The Planning Commission just looked at four issues related to our cannabis ordinance. One is saturation; another is notification—how we notify adjoining businesses when a new cannabis business comes in; what a waiver means if businesses want to be closer together than what the saturation (levels) will allow; and … architectural review. We certainly don’t want our entire Palm Canyon (business district) to be all cannabis. We need a strong mix of businesses on Palm Canyon. Many lounges cannot have windows facing the street, so we don’t want a bunch of blacked-out windows, either.

I think it’s really important that we look at the architectural integrity of cannabis facilities as they come in. What I really want to say is that we want to ensure that there are no environmental impacts from our cannabis facilities. We don’t want to prohibit them; we just want to make sure that their operation has no environmental impact on existing entities.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

I do think that (crime) is being handled correctly in Palm Springs. I have been endorsed by both the police association and the firefighters.

We are in a very fortunate and luxurious position to have our own police department. Our response times are fast for stuff that matters. If something is minor, and they have (to deal with) a major traffic collision, then of course it’s going to be a little bit different. I believe that, at this point, we are fully staffed in our police department. We have the equipment that’s necessary, and we have agreements with the surrounding areas if we need to pull in additional resources.

Crime exists anywhere, and property crime is something that Palm Springs always has to deal with because of the number of vacant buildings. But I do not see crime, in and of itself, to be a major problem. We have had a couple of incidents at our nightclubs that involved guns, which is very unfortunate, but I think our police department has handled that very well. We need to understand that clubs are an important part of what Palm Springs is, because they enliven (our leisure environment) in the evenings. But it’s a lesson learned that these clubs need to make sure that they have their safety and security measures in place, which is the responsibility of the club owners. The police will work with them to get those measures in place, and I think what we saw previously was a failure of those security measures to be in place. In the case of Zelda’s, the City Council took swift action and revoked its permit when it didn’t put those safety practices in place. We’re serious about reducing and eradicating crime, and I think that’s a prime example of where we took swift action to pull a permit when crime happened.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

The tribe has the right to build this arena, but like any other development project, they have to (provide to the city) a tribal environmental impact statement (EIS), which they are in the process of doing. That impact statement is somewhat modeled after the federal EIS, so the tribe will have to (share) what all the (potential) impacts are—and there will be impacts from this arena going in.

It is incumbent upon us as a city to make sure that we reduce and mitigate those impacts. We want to ensure that adjacent neighborhoods and businesses are protected in the process. There’s traffic, infrastructure, first-responder services, light and glare issues—and I could go on. All these issues have to be addressed in this EIS. We (Palm Springs) need to be cooperative with the tribe, but we also need to be very proactive with the tribe to ensure that we get solid, enforceable mitigation measures as we build this arena.

If it comes in, I believe that there could be some benefits to having an arena in town. I’m not exactly sure what those benefits are, but I think there could be some economic benefits. Still, we need to evaluate those based on solid information. So, I think that Palm Springs could benefit from it as long as we can reduce the impacts.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

We are. I think the city of Palm Springs is prepared for an economic recession. First, a large part of our economy runs off property taxes and transient occupancy taxes (TOT). If we have a recession, there would be a likelihood of a certain segment of the population no longer (traveling) to Europe or taking trips to the Caribbean. We are set up in such a way that we can market to the “drive market” like Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara and even San Francisco. So we can become the go-to place that is affordable when you can no longer afford a larger vacation. We need to do that to keep our TOT income coming in. Also, we have put aside reserves, which I think has been very intelligent on the part of the existing City Council.

During the last recession, we learned that we need to make sure that we don’t have vacant buildings that can reduce our property values. Riverside County as a whole was hit very hard, and Palm Springs suffered foreclosures. We just need to have the mechanisms in place, like the vacant building laws or whatnot, to ensure that at least the exterior of the properties are maintained so that we don’t degrade our existing property values. Also, we have (initiated) a lot of parties and events that draw a lot of people here and would continue to bring people here, like Splash House, Coachella and Stagecoach. So, I think we are prepared for a recession, particularly because we have our marketing machine that is nimble enough to change if the economy changes.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

There are many perfect nights out in Palm Springs. (Laughs.) For me, a perfect evening would be to start off with beverages at the very nice midcentury home of a friend. You kind of all group there. From there, you go to one of our fine restaurants and do some nice “al fresco” dining. After the dining, as a gay man, I would head over to do a little dancing on Arenas, or some singing at one of the bars that does video-singing, and then call it an evening. I think that would be a perfect evening in Palm Springs.

Now, another perfect evening would be taking a beautiful night hike under the starry skies with some friends. A good place to do that would be going up Tramway Road, where it’s easy to see the roadway at night and not stumble. You can enjoy the lights of the city and the stars since you’re away from the light pollution.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

That’s a yay, and let me tell you why. First of all, I think it’s going to activate the businesses in that area and generate some new types of businesses as well. Secondly, with the build-out of the (Agua Caliente) Cultural Center, it will be a very nice connection to our downtown. It’s (just) across the street, but there are some barriers there, because the back of some buildings there are not activated. So, activating some of those buildings and allowing an easy crossing from the cultural center (will help). If the arena comes in, then it’s the same thing: We need some nice crossings to open the whole area up, so it doesn’t feel like you’re walking over a freeway to get to the other side of the road. I think (the traffic direction change) will eliminate that freeway aspect and make it feel more like the unique city that we are.

Also, we block Palm Canyon off quite a bit. Be it for the Tour de Palm Springs, VillageFest or the gay-pride festival, you have to (drive) through adjacent neighborhoods (to go south through town). With Indian Canyon being two-way, it should alleviate that kind of (traffic) stress through those neighborhoods. I think it’s a positive all the way around, and as a career transportation planner, I support it.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

I came here full-time about seven years ago, and I immediately reconstituted the Little Tuscany Neighborhood Organization to address a lot of quality-of-life ills around here. My neighbors saw how effective I was, and I quickly became the vice chair, and then was voted to become that group’s representative to ONE-PS, which is the umbrella organization. What’s been so reassuring is that my neighbors saw my effectiveness in getting things done, and they have completely encouraged me to run for City Council.

I think I’m in a very fortunate position, having the skill set and the lifelong experience working in municipal and regional government, to walk in and do a great job. The City Council sets policy, and I think I can do that very effectively. Secondly, I have the support of the vast majority of the (current) City Council, which really indicates that I can walk into that job with working relationships (already in place) with those sitting on the council. Why is that important? It’s important because that’s how you get things done. You really have to cooperate and work with one another to get things done. If I get the support of the citizens through being elected, it will be important that I have the support of the employees of City Hall and their unions. That means a lot. So, there’s a lot of confidence in me, and if elected, I really hope I can live up to the expectations.


Peter Maietta, Businessman, 51 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

That’s an easy one for me to answer: I believe it is affordable housing. One reason why I feel that way is because I live in a working-class district which I’ve been canvassing since April. What I hear primarily here in District 2 is that many people are struggling to make ends meet and just to stay in their homes. For them to look forward to continuing to live and work in Palm Springs is difficult. As you know, housing prices are higher here in Palm Springs, and they’re actually much higher than what working-class people can afford. Fundamentally, I think we need to get in front of this now, and to do what we need to build more affordable housing family units.

I know there will be one (affordable-housing development) going up in our district, and the Community Housing Opportunities Corporation is doing it. They’re in process of securing funding, but it’s fully approved. It’s actually quite in keeping with the architectural style of the area. It’s the nicest affordable development that I’ve ever come across. There’s a nice play area for children and a dog run. It’s great, and it’s actually geared toward one-bedroom and three-bedroom units, so for families or singles or couples. That will be the first (such development) that’s gone up here in 10 years, and I think that they should be spread throughout the city. We need to do our part to make sure (this option) is available to a lot of people, but in every district, not just concentrated in one.

Also, I’m definitely in favor of having all developers, building anywhere in the city, allot a certain percentage of new construction that they’re working on solely toward affordable-housing units. If a developer is unable or unwilling to do that, then I would like to see a cash (payment) received by the city that’s equal to the projected cost of building those affordable units in that particular development. That money can go into a general fund, so that more affordable housing can be developed throughout the entire city equally. Right now, Palm Springs is behind where it needs to be in addressing this issue, and it’s something I would advocate strongly for on the City Council.

What grade would you give the city of Palm Springs regarding its response to date to the homelessness problem? What has the city done well, and what future actions and policies would you support?

I would have to say that the city of Palm Springs is a shining example of what can be done for homelessness. In conjunction with the Coachella Valley Association of Governments and the Desert Healthcare District (DHCD), Palm Springs, along with most of the Coachella Valley, is moving toward a “housing first” model. “Housing first” is an approach (to alleviating homelessness) by quickly and successfully connecting individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness to permanent housing. There can be no preconditions or barriers, like being sober or requiring any other treatment or services, set for (anyone) as participation requirements. There’s no one cause for homelessness, and there’s no one cure for it, but by giving people shelter and access to whatever services they need, it can help end the cycle of homelessness for at least the one individual. And it will help integrate them back into society. So, you’re ending homelessness one person at a time. It’s far more likely that cycle can be broken for someone if they are already living somewhere, and they have services wrapped around them. If there is no “housing first” approach, and people are just treated for an addiction or (rescued from) domestic violence, and if they are not housed and helped, then they just wind up back out on the streets. So, I think the city has a really good plan in this instance.

The city is waiting to get $10 million from the state to go toward this problem. The DHCD has given $1 million, too. I believe that Palm Springs has put up a certain amount of money (for this issue) as well. So, there’s a good solid, strong plan.

I would like to see a new 24/7 shelter that’s open 365 days a year for acute homelessness needs. Right now, we have the Well in the Desert facility, Arlene Rosenthal’s facility, which is great. And the city is wonderful for extending her permit for a longer period of time so she can remain in that building. It’s been open 24 hours during this terrible heat of recent months, but I do think there’s a need for another shelter.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

I think the city has done a great job embracing this industry. I feel that the city continues to grow and refine its ordinances—specifically, I mean like odor ordinances, which seems to be a primary concern of many residents here. Because it is so windy, where there are grow or manufacture (cannabis facilities), then the smell can become a problem. But the city has done a great job of making sure that odors are contained, and they have very stringent policies in place with lots of measuring devices to make sure (the regulations are met).

I think they did a great job of lowering the level of taxation (on cannabis businesses in the city) to make dispensaries more competitive with other valley cities. Also, we face an underground market problem here with our cannabis industry, which makes it more difficult for legal dispensaries to compete, because in an illicit market, the prices can be lower.

I have no problem with retail shops or lounges, but I would like to see them equally distributed throughout commercial areas in the city. I think right now, the ordinance states that there has to be at least 1,000 feet between such businesses. I’m definitely in favor of creating a “green zone” designed to house manufacturing and cultivation sites away from residential areas. I think that would do a great deal to mitigate the odor concerns that some residents have—not all, but some.

I’d like to see the creation of a long-term cannabis commission or task force that would allow citizens to always have a voice in this industry as it grows. I mean, that’s nothing new for the city: They have lots of subcommittees, working groups and advisory/informative groups for people to give information, feedback and flavor to the decision makers.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

Well, crime is everywhere in our country. But I think our police department, and our police chief in particular, are doing a remarkable job here in Palm Springs to keep crime under control.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of doing a ride-along with one of our officers, and I got to see firsthand how hard our force works to protect the city. I saw so many calls that day, and I have the utmost respect for the way they do their job and how they put their lives on the line each day for everyone in this city. I can’t stress enough just how much respect I have for them. I know that as of this January, the police department will (again) be fully staffed for a city of roughly 47,000 people. The recently added officer recruits are now all out on patrol. But I think that one way to decrease future crime would be to do an impact study on the influx of additional tourists we have (visiting the city) every year and consider adding additional officers, or part-time officers, to aid our dedicated police force during the high season. Although on paper, come January, we’ll be fully staffed for a city of our size, we’re never really just a city of our size, because we always have a significant number of visitors in our city.

Everyone knows that our economy may soften, and my fear is that if people were to lose their jobs due to a downturn in tourism, we may see crime rise in our city. That’s another reason that I’m a strong proponent for ensuring that our police force has the means and a plan to be adequately staffed, were that to happen.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

I personally am very excited about it for a number of reasons. I definitely want to see Palm Springs thrive as a vacation destination, and I think a venue such as (the proposed arena) will help us greatly. And I’m even more excited over the new jobs that will be created for our residents. I’d like to see our residents chosen for those jobs first. I know that (decision) is really up to the (Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians), but personally I would love to see them pull from our pool of residents here.

I am concerned about the stress that a venue of that size will put on the city’s infrastructure, including our roads, our traffic and our law-enforcement resources. When elected, I want to foster a strong relationship with the tribe and help to work with both the City Council and the tribe to make sure that everyone’s concerns are dissipated and that the venue is a true success. Although the tribe is a sovereign nation, we all share the same city, and we all have a shared interest in its growth.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

I think the city has done a great job thus far of keeping and managing our reserves (which we’ll need) in the event of another economic downturn. But we are primarily an economy that is based upon tourism. In an economic downturn, we may see less revenue come to our city from out-of-town visitors. I think that given the many events we already have here in the Coachella Valley, coupled with the new 10,000-seat arena, tourism should never evaporate, so to speak. With that said, we should continue to find ways to set aside funds for future infrastructure needs.

In my District 2, and in other areas of the city, our roads are in very poor condition. The water mains, particularly where I live in Desert Park Estates, rupture somewhere on an almost weekly basis. Those water mains have reached their life expectancy. Our municipal buildings are showing signs of deferred maintenance. I am a strong advocate for updating the city’s general plan, which has not been updated in seven years, and it’s a 20-year plan. I think if we do update it, we’ll be able to prioritize the municipal projects in such a way that they’re addressed before they fail. If we can address such issues earlier, then we can be smarter about conserving resources.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

You do know that I’m running for public office, and I haven’t had a carefree, fun night out in Palm Springs in months. (Laughs.) But I am looking forward to one. I’d start off by having dinner at one of the fabulous Mexican restaurants that we have here, because it’s my favorite kind of food. I’d have a margarita and then probably something deliciously unhealthy to eat. Then, to counteract that, I’d take a long walk, visit our local shops and just talk to people along the way. I find that the best way I can shape my platform is by talking to as many people as possible who not only live in my district, but in the city overall. Now that I’m beginning to be recognized, since my bus ads are all over town, people are very willing to talk, and I’m always very willing to hear what they have to say.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

I’d say that I’m for it. I think it will definitely help alleviate traffic on Palm Canyon Drive. It will certainly aid in traffic control when the new arena is built, because a 10,000-seat stadium could mean 10,000 cars. But mostly I think it will help drive foot traffic to the already existing—and I imagine new—businesses on Indian Canyon, which will help our economy. So, I would say “yay” to it.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

(I’d like) to tell (the readers) a little bit about myself. I was a banker for 20 years, and in my last job, I worked for Union Bank investment services. I ran marketing for all their brokerage products and their retirement bank-deposit products. After that, I bought into an architecture and interior-design firm which I ran for six years before moving full-time here to the desert. So, from being in corporate America and owning a small business, I do understand how to create jobs, and what the struggles are for working families in Palm Springs.

I feel that I’m ready to get down to business at City Hall on day one. I’m a community volunteer, and I’m on the board of directors of Desert Park Estates, which is my neighborhood association. I serve on the fundraising committee for the LGBTQ center, and I served as an appointed member of the Palm Springs Board of Appeals. I’m just a guy who loves my city and my district, and at this point in my life, I have the time and the inclination to give back, and I’d really like to do that.


Adrian Alcantar, Salon and Day Spa Owner, 37 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

In all honesty, it could be any one of a magnitude of issues, but I think we really need to focus on our (city’s) deficit. As a business owner, I’ve sat in on a City Council meeting where the city approved a two-year projected budget with a deficit of roughly $215,000. If I operated a business and approved a budget with a deficit, I wouldn’t be in business. That’s the bottom line. I look at pension liabilities, bonds that are out on the convention center, and the mounting infrastructure improvements that need to be made on city-owned property, and it concerns me. With the new arena that is going to be built—I believe that it is inevitable—we have an opportunity right now to change the dynamic of the way the city does business. I really believe that (the arena) could be a new revenue stream for the city of Palm Springs that could positively impact the reduction of debt.

Now, with the pension liability, I think we have about $192 million (accrued to date), and it’s continuously growing. Then you look at the additional lifetime medical benefits for city employees, and that’s another $100 million. And then there are the bonds that are out on the convention center and the airport. We just approved, I think, somewhere between $30-$50 million for a bond for the airport reconstruction of the baggage-claim area. And you look at police overtime, fire overtime, city staff pay—and it just continues to snowball.

What grade would you give the city of Palm Springs regarding its response to date to the homelessness problem? What has the city done well, and what future actions and policies would you support?

I would give the city of Palm Springs an “F.” I want to explain that this comes after the city of Palm Springs vacated a number of individuals from Sunrise Park. They removed these individuals and then moved a mobile command center into Sunrise Park to combat the mounting heroin and drug-related issues that were occurring. They have deemed this to be a public-safety and health issue. I commend them on their efforts, and I want to be very clear when I say that I value what they’re doing to take back the park and allow it to be a space that’s free for everyone. However—and this is where the grade comes into play—my big concern was that there were not any leaders of (nonprofit) communities, or leaders from the county, or leaders from other resources that are available to these (homeless) individuals, available at the time of vacating them. The night after (the city’s action), the Street Life Project went in to do a meal service, which they offer on a regular basis. It was published that there’s a temporary stop to that service, because the police department has placed a ban on feeding the homeless. Now, this is not humane.

I also sat in a City Council meeting, and I listened to Chief Bryan Reyes—and I’m going to quote him on this—say that “homelessness is not a crime.” He said that in public testimony at that council meeting. But what we have done is criminalize individuals who want to help combat the crisis. They want to help by providing food or other services, and I think it’s wrong (to criminalize their service). We haven’t developed a plan, and we are jumping through these strategic moves, but there is no public plan in place, and that’s what concerns me the most.

Look at cities like Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. All of them have plans that are in place. Boston is a great example. They have leaders of the (nonprofit) communities come together at the table, because these are stakeholders in the community. In 2015, they realized they had an issue, and by working together, they instituted a plan with the city itself. (Palm Springs City Manager) David Ready is on record saying that homelessness in the city is not our issue, that it’s a county issue. And that’s wrong. It is everybody’s issue. It is a humanitarian issue. I will stand behind that (statement) 100 percent. Now, we need to come together as a working community to combat the crisis that is in front of us that we deal with on a daily basis.

By vacating people from the park, it has spread them all over the city. We may not see them, because they’re not concentrated, but they’re still there. I think it was 256 individuals (tracked) on the count, but I’m sure there are more than that. And the question now is, “Where did they go?” I truly value the work that Arlene Rosenthal does over at the Well in the Desert. She’s having some issues with her conditional-use permit. I hope the city recognizes that she needs to be a valuable asset in that city plan. And with $10 million coming from the state, if that happens and that fund gets created by the governor, I hope we form a group. I don’t want to call it a task force, and I don’t want to call it a commission, because when you do that, you get lost in (all the rules like) public comments being limited to only two minutes, but I think we need an open forum to put all the (nonprofit) stakeholders in the area together to say, “Listen, this is how we need to be able to help with this issue.” Then we can go into a commission or task force that’s formed. But I really believe we need to bring together a group of people who know what the hell they are doing in regards to this topic. And we don’t need to just blow the money on some damned consultant. That’s all that you’re going to get from me on that one.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

Recently, I had the opportunity to go to a meeting of (the Coachella Valley Cannabis Alliance Network), which is a group of individuals from that industry itself, and the amount of research I had to do before going into this forum and speaking was quite interesting. You know, I look at the cannabis industry overall, and what I see are small businesses. So, I’m very middle of the road on this topic. I see the residents’ standpoint, and I see the business standpoint. It is a small business (environment), first and foremost, and I believe we should treat them as such, and treat them fairly. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that no other business is required to pay the amount of fees that cannabis does. And the taxes are quite high, too. This concerns me, because, as a result, the illegal industry still thrives behind other doors. I believe that if we readjust tax structure and the way that we do business with (the cannabis industry), we can reduce the amount of illegal activity within the city. Also, at that point, it will allow more funds to stay with these business owners so they can invest their money to reduce odor, and to make other business improvements.

I’m also concerned with where these tax dollars are going, and what we could do with these tax dollars if properly allocated. For instance, look at a city like Desert Hot Springs that was on the brink of bankruptcy. But when they allowed this industry into town, (the city) blossomed. A new revenue stream was created that was able to support the city’s economy. I’m not saying that we want (to create) a large density (of cannabis enterprises), because there has to be a balance within the guidelines of our current policy. And I’m not saying we should put a shop on every corner and three on every street. I think it needs to be measurable and sustainable. We need to diversify the economy throughout the entire city. I think we have an option with building a “green zone” that’s been talked about to lower the tax bracket for some of these businesses and incentivize them. I think that’s a great option, but I want to make sure that those tax dollars go back to where we need to see them. I’d love to see those funds get used properly, and maybe even to deal with the homeless crisis. Maybe we put (those dollars) back into schools and education about drugs and alcohol. There are a ton of positive things that we could do with these tax dollars, instead of just putting them into the general fund to be absorbed. I think if (these dollars) are used properly, then the residents can benefit from it, and that’s the bottom line.

I look at everything in the scope of us always working together, no matter what the situation. How can we incorporate it back into the stream of things to benefit the residents, to benefit the city and to benefit the city employees as well? There are three things that I always look at, in regards to making policy, and if it does not benefit the residents, the city and the stakeholders, then it’s not going to be a “yes” (from me). This is something I’ve always done as a business owner: Does it benefit the business; does it benefit me; and does it benefit my employees? It’s just how I operate, even at home.

Just to clarify, what were you referring to when you talked about a “green zone”?

There’s a “green zone” that they’re looking at creating close to the I-10 freeway, and it’s going to be in District 1. They’re looking at developing that property, very close to the Amtrak station, for some growth opportunity and development. They want these types of businesses to go in there so they will not affect or impact residential areas. I do see the concerns (being raised) in the Desert Highland Gateway Estates and Demuth Park areas, where we’re seeing large scale (cannabis) companies going in, and the communities are offering a little resistance. I think that Veronica Goedhart (from the city of Palm Springs Office of Special Projects/Vacation Rentals and Cannabis) is doing a great job. I would urge any member of the community who has a concern to reach out to her, because she has a wealth of knowledge, particularly regarding how the ordinance is written and how it works.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

You have crime anywhere, no matter where we go, and it’s here (in Palm Springs). We have a population of around 44,000 with a voting population of roughly 30,000, so that tells me that there are 30,000 people who live here full-time. And then you have this constant rotation and revolving door of tourists, which adds around 130,000 on a monthly basis. So crime is going to happen. Now, I’m not saying tourists create crime. There are individuals on the tourist side and on the residential side who are ready for a bad time. So, I just think we need to be aware. I think that our police department is aware of the situation at hand, and they understand that we live in a large transient community. But we also live in a community that’s very trusting. My husband is always telling me, “Lock the door! Lock the door!” And I’ll be honest: I’m the first one not to lock the door! I think in regards to crime, our public just needs to be aware of it. We have people who visit us on a regular basis. And now with the vacation rentals, more people who visit us are staying in our neighborhoods. And there are individuals who are displaced or homeless or whatever, and they’re looking. So I think the public just needs to be aware of that and make sure we’re taking care of ourselves, our neighborhoods and the people who live around us.

It’s kind of funny, because I think a lot of that has to do with the way that neighborhoods are integrated. What I mean is: How many people actually know their neighbor’s name now? Do you know who lives two houses down the street? I think that has a big impact with crime. So, I say if we want to reduce crime: Get to know the people around us, and we start looking out for one another again.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

I’ve had my business downtown for five years, and I would have loved to see the completion of the (Agua Caliente) Cultural Center and spa down there. I see it from all sides right now. I see that it’s going to bring rising rents to small businesses, and that concerns me. But I also see it on an economic plane from the city (perspective). We are very lucky that we have this neighboring nation that’s willing to front the $260-plus million to foot the bill for this project. And all that I see is growth. I believe that it can positively impact the reduction of debt, if it is planned properly. And by that, I do not mean that the Agua Caliente tribe is not going to plan properly, because everything they’ve built so far is absolutely beautiful. I want to clarify that. But, I do think there’s a level of logistics that needs to be done hand in hand with the city and the tribe to make this a successful feat across the board. And it all begins with communication and working together. We have to have that relationship with the tribal council again.

We haven’t really had a very strong relationship in the last couple of years, I believe since (former Agua Caliente Chairman Richard) Milanovich died (in 2012). I look at it like these new guys at the helm of the tribal council want to build a successful stadium and business, and I want to see that happen, because I think that everybody can benefit across the board. So, I’m very pro-arena, and I think it can be very successful if the city is given the logistical strategy. I’ve had to talk to (representatives from) several cities across the nation who have brought in arenas much like this one. And (these stadiums) generate almost $100 million per year. And when I look at the revenue that could potentially be gained from the (transient occupancy tax) and sales tax throughout the city because of an addition like this, I’d say that at the low end, we’re talking $20-30 (million). Now, $20-$30 million sounds like a good deal to me as long as we’re prepared for the infrastructure with the roads and public safety and the way we’re going to go about doing business on a daily basis when we have events. So I think that’s where the communication needs to start. And we should look at the environmental impact, and we should look at the long-term effects on neighborhoods that are adjacent to (the proposed site) like the Movie Colony. And we need to devise a working plan on how we’re going to strategize around parking. Would a large off-site parking area with shuttle service be beneficial? We have to look at all of these things.

I think the way that the city of Los Angeles handles parking at the Hollywood Bowl is interesting, for instance. If it’s planned right, it can be very successful. What we need is an open dialogue, not only with the tribe, but with other cities who have experienced the same thing and gone through the process. We can sit down and get on a phone call and just ask, “What works for you? What didn’t work for you?” Let’s make this the most successful arena that the nation has seen. We’re building this project right in the heart of our downtown. It’s not on the outside. It’s not somewhere away from downtown Las Vegas like the Golden Knights arena. And it’s not downtown San Diego, either; it’s Palm Springs. So we just have to make sure that our streets, public safety and the city can support all of it.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

It’s a one-word answer: No. It’s true that we’ve made some changes, and we’ve been able to sock away a little money. But looking at the debt, I fear that 2008 is going to come around again, and we’ll have to let go of 100 employees, if not more. I don’t want to see that happen at all. But the continuing growth of debt would have a major impact on that situation. My husband is a union man, and I would never want to see that happen to our family.

I feel that we really need to begin to diversify our economy. We need a solid plan for a way that the city can continue to bring in money, even during the down times of a recession, and it cannot be based on tourism alone. That’s huge. We really need to diversify the businesses we’re bringing into this town. The debt is around $500 million, and we’re going to be faced with tough choices if a recession hits, and it is bigger than the last one.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

For me, since I’ve lived close to downtown in the Movie Colony for years, and I’ve owned a business downtown for the last five years, I can literally walk into a restaurant and have a great meal, then go catch a movie and finish it off with some ice cream. During the winter months, it’s great, and it’s always the best to do just that.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

I’m in the middle on this one. I support the conversion, and I think it will help reduce traffic during large-scale downtown events. I know that this decision to change was done before the 10,000-seat arena project was announced, so how traffic is directed on to Indian Canyon when one of these events ends is the only logistic (issue) that concerns me now. It goes back to infrastructure and whether or not we have what we need to support (the arena) traffic. I think if we open ourselves up to conversation with the tribe, then we can plan for it. So I’m still in support of growth happening, and large-scale events happening, and I just want to make sure that whatever we do with infrastructure, we’re making the right choices, and that were not operating on a 30-year-old general plan.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

The financial issue is the big one for me, and how we operate with our money. I found it surprising that we went from an 800-900 page budget to 50-plus pages in the last couple of years because of the deletion of itemized line items. I think a large part of being transparent with our residents is allowing them to see where we are spending money. And when you look at payroll structure with the city, we are very top-heavy, and it concerns me. I’ve said in the past that I would have never approved the budget (now in effect). I would have directed the city manager to figure it out and balance the deficit. I would have sat there until they approved a balanced budget, no matter how late. I was at that meeting, and it ran late. Also, Councilman J.R. Roberts came out and said in an article in The Desert Sun that the voters are not informed enough to make the right choice and vote (on issues). He contends that this is why we elect people to the City Council. I disagree with that. We are a very smart society, and I hope that any voter thoroughly educates themselves and makes themselves aware of who they are voting for, and that they vote for the most qualified candidate. I would hope to see that we have a diverse array of candidates on that dais that are elected to our city’s offices. They should represent all walks of life. That is going to be key in making sure that we remain successful.

There is a reason why we’ve gone into district elections, and I support having the working people (of our city) represented on the council. It needs to happen. We have not had a Latino candidate (elected) in almost 47 years, since Joe Garcia. And, considering that the Coachella Valley is 53 percent Hispanic, it surprises the hell out of me. Now I look at the demographics in each of the districts, and I think this is a great way to operate, but I have one concern. We allowed a minority district to be formed that has a mass representation of a minority, and we did not carve out minority numbers throughout the city. So, we have in essence said that the minority will have one voice and one vote when it could have been positively distributed across the board. We should not have just gone off of the Census, as old it was, but used the Registrar of Voters data. So, I think there’s somewhat of a misrepresentation there, and I think that we need to re-visit it.

I believe in (campaign) contribution limits, and I do not believe that one individual should be able to donate $10,000 or $50,000 to a campaign. I believe there are things that need to be changed in our city’s election practices. I will try my hardest to make sure that there is a level playing field for anyone who wants to run, if I am elected. That’s no matter what socio-economic status they may have. I believe anybody can offer valuable input at any time, and I think we need to see change today. I hope Palm Springs is ready for a new voice, because I’m ready to serve.

Published in Politics

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, Palm Springs residents living in the newly drawn Districts 1, 2 and 3 will head to the polls to elect three City Council members.

These elections are the first step in the city’s transition from at-large to district-based representation, to comply with the California Voting Rights Act. The changeover will be complete after the November 2020 election of council members in Districts 4 and 5.

(To see the newly drawn districts, visit www.palmspringsca.gov/government/city-clerk/election-general-municipal-election.)

Another change: The city will no longer have a directly elected mayor; instead, Palm Springs will join most other valley cities in designating a councilmember as mayor for a year on a rotating basis.

The Independent recently reached out to the four candidates running for the new District 1 seat. Grace Garner, Les Young and Scott Myer all spoke with us at length; Michael Shogren did not get back to us after repeated attempts to reach him by both phone and email.

Here are their complete answers, edited only slightly for style and clarity, presented in the order in which the candidates will appear on the ballot.


Les Young, Retired Banker, 68 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

I would say that’s homelessness. I think the City Council has done a remarkable job in moving the needle on homelessness. I think that moving to the “housing first” model is an absolute requirement. I think it’s been proven time and again throughout the country, and so I think that migrating in that direction has been very beneficial. Unfortunately right now, most of that solution seems to be (happening) in the east valley, and we need to bring that solution into the west valley. It’s pretty imperative that we do something within those confines. It’s not easy for a homeless person to get transported over to that area in the east.

I’ve been assigned to the homeless task force, because I sit as a commissioner on the Parks and Recreation (Commission). Since homelessness very much impacts our parks, for the last 2 1/2 to 3 years, I’ve sat on that committee. One of the things that I think we do very effectively is (address) what I consider to be low-hanging fruit. We have people who are near homeless or just borderline homeless, and we have plenty of services, not just within the city, but services like Mizell (Senior Center) and Jewish Family Services who do assist people with things like fixing a broken air conditioner to help avoid their becoming homeless. Then there’s the next third, people who have been homeless for awhile, but who would do anything to be facilitated within housing. They are very much interested in making that move. … The last third, which I don’t feel that we’ve been particularly successful (in aiding), are people who are using drugs, or are mentally incapacitated. In the corporate world, when you work on a rock—and I consider this problem to be a rock—you bring in people who really analyze and come up with solutions. You don’t start at one end of the rock and works toward the other end, or start with the most difficult and work toward the easier stuff; you put elements (in place) on each pile to work it down. I think we’ve worked on what I would call the “low-hanging fruit” very effectively. Now we need to focus more on the last third; I think it’s extremely important to try and figure that out.

I don’t think you’ll ever “solve” homelessness. In fact, today, homelessness is so different throughout the United States than it was 10 to 15 years ago. In my corporate life, when I traveled, homelessness wasn’t something that you experienced very often when going to other cities. Whether it was just kept out of sight, I don’t know, but today, if you travel to Los Angeles, or San Francisco, or Chicago, or New York, there are clearly homeless communities. It is a new today for us, so I would love to focus on this and try to wrap a couple of solutions around it. This is an issue that, since senior council members have already been working on it, I wouldn’t get to work on in my first year as a newly elected councilmember. But I can always be building the history, and thinking about things moving forward, and this is one (issue) for me that is very large.

Since homelessness was the topic of our second planned question, would you like to talk about your next-most-important issue?

It’s affordable housing. You know, homelessness and affordable housing are sometimes interchangeable, and sometimes they are one and the same thing. As for affordable housing here, we are sorely behind in developing apartment living at a reasonable cost. But I’d like us to look at sweat-equity development of purchasable homes. I’d like to see a young family be able to put in some sweat equity, and also a reasonable amount of money, and be able to get a mortgage and create the American dream, which is to have a home you own and can build equity in. If you live in it for 10 to 15 years, I don’t feel that it should be sold at a less than market rate because you got it as an affordable house. That’s part of the American dream. If the price of the area goes up, then you benefit from that, and that’s how you move on.

I’m really hoping that at some point in time, we’ll be building out multiple kinds of homes. … We live directly across from Coyote Run 1 and 2, which are beautiful examples of well-maintained properties. I look across at these properties and just marvel that they are low-income housing, because they are beautifully maintained on the outside. I mean, these are people who decorate their homes at Christmas and various holidays, just like we do. I will tell you that it’s an honor to live across from this community. To me, it’s a great example of what affordable housing can look like. I worry a little bit about “NIMBY-ism,” the people who say, “Not in my backyard.” But I’m sorry, if you look at (Coyote Run), there’s nothing wrong with that community. So, I’m very supportive of things that (the) Coachella Valley Housing (Coalition) has achieved. I know there’s another opportunity coming up that won’t be in my district, but will be right across from my district at Indian (Canyon Drive) and San Rafael. I think there are about 60 homes currently planned to be built, which will be remarkable. But I think we’re at least a couple of hundred homes behind where we should be, even in the affordable rentals area.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

I think the city has done a great job of bringing the businesses in and attempting to set up the requirements for it. But one thing that I’m concerned about is that in District 1, both at the north end and south end, there are grow and manufacturing facilities that are emitting odors, and they are abutting residential areas, so I’ve got a concern about that. I think that we are building a new process that will actually benefit somebody who is going into the business if they are a greater distance from housing. I don’t know if I’ve coined this or not, but I call the I-10 the ‘Cannabis Corridor’ for us in Palm Springs, and Palm Springs (extends northward) slightly past the I-10, so on both sides of the 10 freeway, there are opportunities for warehouses that would be built specifically for grow and manufacturing so that they could more tightly control the odors—and if any odors did slip out in that area, it wouldn’t be close enough to either Desert Hot Springs or Palm Springs to be impacting people.

I’ll tell you that what’s unfortunate is that these are things that are happening in commercial areas that essentially abut less-costly housing—so it is against Desert Highland, and it is up against the Demuth Park area. While they’re both wonderful areas, it seems they are being imposed upon by these (cannabis) facilities. I don’t want to see these facilities not be here; in fact, I love that they are in District 1. But I’d like to see them appropriately placed in (areas) that do not impact our citizens.

I don’t have major concerns about the lounges or the retail outlets, but I do hope that they are equitably spaced for the benefit of both those who are in the business as well as those who are purchasing the products throughout the city. I think there might be a few variances that are being offered, but I don’t really have concerns about that aspect of how we’re doing things.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

I sit as the president of the Police Advisory Board, so I do have access to data relative to crimes both through that role and through the ONE-PS monthly meetings, and the mainstream meetings that I attend. I think our police are doing a remarkable job. I think they are highly regarded for the work they do in the city. I think things are very much under control. I’m a very strong opponent to the idea of outsourcing that (policing) capability. I’ve been asked twice in the last month if I could support outsourcing the police department, and my answer was, “Absolutely, I could not.” I’ve lived in multiple cities in our country—Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City—and a few cities outside of our country, and I feel that we have the best police chief that I have ever been exposed to. It’s not just because I sit on an advisory board, but I’ve watched things happen in the last 2 1/2 years in this community that I think many people would have failed (in addressing). This man leads beautifully, and he leads a very effective group. He manages people extremely well, and he leads by example, which I think is one of the most important things. He doesn’t have rules for others that he doesn’t follow himself, so I highly respect him, and I highly respect both our police and fire facilities here in Palm Springs. I think they’re both remarkable, and their leadership is (as well).

So you have no concerns about the level of crime or type of crime that has taken place within Palm Springs in recent years?

I will tell you, having seen closely the impacts of crime, our chief and the force here work to teach people how to avoid crime. So much of the crime we experience today has to do with unlocked doors—garage doors that are left open a few inches because it’s so hot here, and then not locking the kitchen door to the garage. In one of the reports that I read, somebody had left $5,000 in cash and a computer and a purse or a briefcase in view in their car. I marvel that we test things that way. In my working world, I had a laptop, and so often, I had to carry that laptop into a restaurant with me on the way home from work. It had private and confidential information on it, and although it was secured with encryption and access codes, if it were stolen, it would have been reported as a banker’s access to client data. Even to this day, as I’m the president of my HOA, I have books that I carry to the meetings, and if somebody says, “Hey … let’s go out to dinner,” before I join them, I have to go home and put the books away in a safe place.

One of the other things I do worry about is that often times, the laws have softened on some crime to make it difficult for police officers to assist by getting people off the street who are perpetrating crimes. But some of the crime goes back to homelessness. I’ve got to tell you that if you’ve had a hungry day, and there isn’t any resource for you (to obtain a meal), you might actually pick up a half gallon of milk and stick in your pocket to help feed your family. So you walk two sides of the street on that one.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

I’m excited about it if it happens. I will tell you, a little selfishly, that I’m a Chicagoan, and most of my life, I lived in Chicago. To see a hockey team in my home town after having moved here with my husband from San Francisco, where we had season tickets to the Giants and the 49ers, would be great. … Although my husband is a sports fan, he isn’t much of a hockey fan. But after going to a couple games, he’ll realize what a great sport it is.

Now, do I worry about some of the aspects such as traffic and transportation—I do somewhat, But I have a great deal of respect for the tribe, and I believe that if this is something that they’re doing, then they’re not going to have 10,000 cars at an event blocking up the streets. That’s not their style. They will come up with plans. I don’t know what they are, and they’re not disclosing them yet, but I have total faith in the tribe. I think about things that could help: Could we have a large parking lot close to the I-10, with transportation into the event? That’s possible.

Also, my hope would be that people who come for an event may actually stay for few days to enjoy our restaurants, hotels and the beauty of our city and the mountain. There’s a piece of me that thinks some people will be parked in a hotel five hours before the event, having a bite of dinner and then going over to see that event. I know there will be hockey, and concerts and other types of broad entertainment, and I hope that people will spend the night in their hotel, drive safely and enjoy our city. So, I’m not worried about it. I’m actually anticipating that it will get done quickly, like the garage that they built—and look at the beautiful cultural center that they’re doing.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

I don’t think any city can be ready for (a recession). But if there’s a city that’s prepped for it, Palm Springs has done a remarkable job. Again, our City Council has set things up very effectively. Now, personally, I think that there are some areas where we have not done the work we need to do relative to the infrastructure of this city. I’m somebody who is a bit worried about our buildings and whether or not they can survive another 10 to 20 years without investment. Again, I sit as chair of Parks and Recreation, so I spent a lot of time in the James O. Jessie Community Center, and the Demuth Park pavilion and leisure center—and some of those buildings are suffering from age. They are beautifully maintained by our maintenance people, but everything gets old over a period of time. So, I do worry about that a little.

I think that City Hall has had a little bit of a structural facelift over the last four years, and we don’t see buckets (catching the leaks) when it rains anymore. But I do feel that we need to do some work. So while we’re sensitive to keeping reserves well managed, and working on our retirement (benefits) issue, we also need to set aside funds to address our infrastructure issues. For instance, our parks, while in beautiful shape, have restrooms that are in need of some serious work. The commission did a report for (City Manager David) Ready, as he requested, and he’s looking to fund our request to improve the bathrooms. Some need to be torn down and replaced, but some are in historically significant facilities and cannot be torn down, but could be re-gentrified by installing tiles and floors that can withstand stronger washings, and make sure those are done on a regular basis.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

I love walking the entire length of the city. You know, it’s not New York City, and it’s not Chicago, but it has its own charm. Actually, today is Michael’s and my 28th anniversary, and 11th wedding anniversary, so we’re going to have dinner at Spencer’s, which is a place that we very much enjoy. We’ll be eating on their patio which is where a lot of people in the community are.

We have some fabulous restaurants in town. Coming from San Francisco, we were both a little nervous about arriving in Palm Springs and realizing that the food would probably not be what we were used to in San Francisco. Well, we were excited to find out that we were so wrong. There are so many different kinds of food and food opportunities here, and new ones coming in that are wonderful. Wabi Sabi (Japan Living) is doing some pop-ups in places. We really do have very creative people who have settled here over the years and continue to settle here. So, it is nice, and there are some wonderful spots as you walk down Palm Canyon or Indian Canyon, like stores you can go into to shop, and gelato on a warm night is great.

I just marvel that the Thursday night VillageFest street fair happens 51 weeks of the year, weather allowing—and to see the people who come to sell their wares, and the people who come repeatedly to visit that five-to-six-block area is remarkable. I get to work at the “Ask the Chief” booth that (Police) Chief (Bryan) Reyes does for the Police Advisory Board. He comes out and talks to the public. It’s amazing how many people that we meet there, (whether) they’re locals, or from the drive markets around our area, and people who visit from Europe and Canada. We’ve met Australians (and) South Americans—and it’s just wonderful to see the people walking our streets and enjoying our town.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

It’s funny: I deal with change like that very cautiously, but I’m excited about it. I was driving back from an appointment today and coming down Indian Canyon, and I thought that we’re down to two lanes, and there’s so much torn up just to change the curbs and doing this little bit of work. But when it’s done, I hope it’s going to present a great opportunity for new businesses to be sitting on both Indian Canyon and Palm Canyon. Also, I’m excited about the fact that the (new Agua Caliente) cultural center is tied into it. So, I think we’ve done the right thing. It does terminate at the right location, which is literally the same street that will be the end of the downtown arena that the tribe is planning. I think it’s going to be right thing to have done, ultimately.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

Well, maybe a subject: I am a retired banker who had a 40-year career in domestic and international banking, finance, managing operations, customer service, international loans and credit product management, which I feel has given me a strong background to be able to help the city move forward, especially with budgeting and looking at things effectively across the board. These are all things I did while handling sales, and dealing with the heads of corporations that we were selling products to, along with operations partners and systems partners. The negotiations that were required by my role and my staff’s role were pretty extensive.

I did take one year off, as my partner asked, to see if I could be successful at retirement. And I wasn’t. I needed to be able to exercise what I had spent my career doing, so I became a commissioner on Parks and Recreation, and ultimately the chair of that commission. I became a member of the Police Advisory Board as a representative of the LGBT community to the chief and was elected president of that board. I sat on the (Community Development Block) Grants committees for the last three years, where we actually evaluated all the requests for grants, and while we don’t make the final decisions on who gets the grants, we put the decisions before the City Council and that’s been a remarkable opportunity. To be able to facilitate businesses that are requesting sums of money for things that will help them aid the populations that they are required to serve has been great. Also, sitting on the homelessness task force and the downtown park committee has been very educational. So, I bring a background and a passion, and I want to continue to serve this community. So, that’s where I am at this point in my bid for office, and that’s where I want to take it.


Scott Myer, Civil Rights Attorney, 58 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

I think that the current City Council is not really listening to the people at many times. When I was going out and talking to people while collecting nominating signatures, I found they don’t think they’re being listened to. In that regard, I think that the creation of five districts, whether or not you agree with the reasons it was done, is a good idea, because it will bring the people closer to their representatives. So, in that respect, I think the issue has already been solved by the fact that they broke (the city) into five districts.

What grade would you give the city of Palm Springs regarding its response to date to the homelessness problem? What has the city done well, and what future actions and policies would you support?

Do you want a letter grade? I don’t think much has been done, but one thing that’s been done and seems to be helpful is the (opening of the overnight) cooling stations during the first week when it was 120+ degrees (during the day). That was very helpful, but Palm Springs isn’t the only city (with this challenge). Homelessness seems to be out of control, and I don’t know why that’s happened over the last two decades. But I sort of give everyone a failing grade—not just in Palm Springs, but everywhere. It seems there’s something wrong with what’s going on, because every couple of years, there are more homeless people than there were before. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some things that they are doing right (in Palm Springs).

I think there should be more cooperation with charities to try to help the people get back on their feet and give them some sense of well-being (and) some clothes, and help get them where they can go out and try to get jobs, and give them some (feeling of) self-worth. I think that charities might be able to help a lot in that regard.

I do think the cooling stations have been very helpful. But it’s a tough issue, because Palm Springs is by no means the only city suffering from that problem, and it seems to be happening not only in small cities, but large cities as well. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to it, but I think it’s something that we’ve got to try and solve.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

Well, as a libertarian, I’m happy to see that society is finally advancing to being more free in this regard and realizing that criminalizing cannabis and some of these other minor drugs is just not the way to go. I’m happy to see that Palm Springs, as well as California and (much of) the rest of the nation, is moving in the right direction on that. In terms of the grow facilities, I’ve heard while talking to people that the one concern they do have is the aroma coming out of some of the cultivation facilities. So, I think there should be some thought (given) to where those are placed so that they are not right next to residences. That’s the one thing I think they need to look at a little better.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

We need a strong police department, and it will need cooperation from the public. I know that some people have expressed a desire to have police substations, especially in the northern Palm Springs area. If there was a substation nearby, then the police would be closer to the people.

Personally, I haven’t had any problems with the police. I heard about a home invasion that happened when the owners weren’t home, but aside from that, there hasn’t been a lot of crime where I’m living in Palm Springs, but I’m a little sheltered from that. Still, some people have expressed a concern that they would like to have the police a little more local to them. The other concern they had was the lack of lighting at night. I know that Palm Springs has a policy that the street lights are turned off so that you can see the stars, but in certain areas, (residents) have expressed concern that there’s not enough lighting at night, and it could be contributing to crime. 

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

Overall, it’s positive. It’s going to be helpful to the economy here, and it will create some jobs and help out the hotels and businesses. But the one concern I do have is: How are all these people going to get into town? What happens if there’s flooding on some of the access roadways? So, you have to look at whether the roads coming into Palm Springs are really up to the demand created by all these people coming on a regular basis to a big arena. But if those issues can be resolved, then, for the most part, I’m happy with it, and I think it will be good for the city.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

Possibly not, and it seems to me that some of the elements are saying that they’re still recovering from the last recession, like the police and fire departments that are just getting back to their pre-recession levels of staffing. So if they get hit with another recession, say, next year, I don’t think the city would probably be ready for it. We have to try to make sure that our tourism-dependent economy keeps having enough tourists coming here. I think we need to try to expand the base of tourists who come here, so it’s not just people from California and the United States, but try to get people to come from international (locations) as well. The more (worldwide travelers) you have out there, the less likely it is that, if the United States is hit with a recession, there would be a large impact (on the local economy), because there would still be tourist money coming here. One idea I’ve had to increase international tourism, is to develop “sister city” relationships.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

Go to Las Casuelas, the Mexican restaurant, for a margarita, an enchilada and chips with salsa.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

The first time I heard that idea, I thought, “What, are they crazy?” But then I listened to why they were doing it and the reasoning behind it, and it seems it has a lot to do with the businesses downtown. Then I started thinking about it, (and realized that) Indian Canyon was really underutilized for such a wide avenue; it had not so many cars, and it seemed that it probably can handle two-way traffic, as they were designing it now. I’m still in the wait-and-see (mode), but I’ve now listened to their arguments and seen their reasons for it, and I’m starting to agree that it’s probably a good idea. Although the proof will come after the fact, and hopefully it works, because I’d hate to see it have to be turned around again. I know they said they told everyone (in the city) about it, but a lot of people didn’t know about it until after it started happening or right before, and then there was a lot of wondering about what’s going on. But making changes like that is always hard. 

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

One issue in District 1 is that we have to figure out a way to stop the frequent Indian Canyon and Vista Chino road closures. Every winter, those roads keep flooding out. Probably Vista Chino needs some kind of bridge on it, and probably Indian Canyon does, too, but it’s so long and probably kind of expensive. But it seems that if they’re not closed for rain, then they’re closed for sand. Considering that those are two major access roads into the city, and if you tie it into the plans for the new arena, I do have a concern. If those roads are closed when there’s a big event at the arena, then everyone’s going to have to use other roads. It does put an emphasis on trying to resolve those issues.


Grace Garner, Attorney, 33 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

It’s affordable housing. Right now, we have a housing deficit in Southern California and in Palm Springs. Housing prices are extremely high in relation to the average earned income, so I believe that we have to get ahead of this and make sure that not only renting is affordable, but also that purchasing a home is more affordable.

Any thoughts on how you might approach that challenge?

We’re seeing a lot more development in the area, and one thing we could do as a city is require that developers (build) a certain percentage of homes at more affordable price points. We could conduct an exit study on housing and determine exactly what percentage we need to be affordable housing, and then require that amount for each new development.

What grade would you give the city of Palm Springs regarding its response to date to the homelessness problem? What has the city done well, and what future actions and policies would you support?

I would give the city an A. I think they’re doing a great job of moving this issue forward. Councilmembers (Christy) Holstege and (Geoff) Kors have been working really diligently on this along with the other members. I think that they’re on the right track and doing what needs to be done. It’s a hard issue. It’s not something that we can solve immediately, and it’s something that a lot of people have different views on and disagree on. That makes it difficult, but I think that they are doing what they need to do in order to move forward.

One of the things that I think would be great is to continue the work with the entire valley. You know, this isn’t just an issue in Palm Springs. It’s an issue for all of us in the Coachella Valley and Riverside County. I think it was great that the city reached out to the county and said, “Hey we need you, and you have to be an active partner in this.” I think more of that understanding between Coachella Valley and the county will help us move ahead. Obviously, it’s a huge issue, and there are things I don’t know about what has been tried, and I’d like to know more first before I recommend what needs to be done.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

Cannabis is certainly a big issue. I think the concern from the community is valid in that there are manufacturing and cultivation sites that are right up against neighborhoods. That’s something that just doesn’t work. I think it’s really important that the city change its ordinance to create a larger buffer zone between (the businesses) and neighborhoods. I know that at the last cannabis meeting, councilmembers Kors and (J.R.) Roberts discussed having a possible “green zone” into which we could put all the manufacturing and cultivation sites, and encourage the businesses that are not currently in those areas to move to those areas. I do hope that is something that will come forward as they work on the new ordinance.

I think it’s really important to make sure that community is involved in things like this. It’s not that we don’t want cannabis in the city. It’s more of a matter of how we have it, and where it is located. Right now, it’s located in neighborhoods that are predominantly (populated by) people of color. The city needs to take into consideration who is being impacted by this, and whose voices are actually being heard on the topic, so I would like the city to be more thoughtful in their long term planning on these types of issues. Instead of having to fix it now, I think it should have been considered from the very beginning.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

Right now, the crime statistics are pretty good. Obviously, crime at any level is not a good thing, but right now, the crime levels are fairly low, which is a positive. Unfortunately, there was a series of murders that have not been solved, which I know is a big concern to a lot of members of the community. I think that with so much tourism in Palm Springs, there are going to be issues like that. I think that, again, working with the community and creating more of a relationship between the community and the police to give citizens more comfort in wanting to go to the police and talk to the police when (crime) happens could be a big benefit. I know that the police officers right now are working on creating programs. I know they have some now, and they’re working on creating more. including (an initiative to) reach out to the community in Spanish, which I think is really important.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

Of course, the Cahuilla Indians are sovereign and are able to make decisions about what they would like to do on their land. I think that the arena has the potential to bring a lot of new jobs to the area, and I think it’s important for the city to work with the tribe to make sure that all the infrastructure needs are met, including parking and traffic, and that we do our best to keep the jobs local. We’ll need a lot of people to do the construction, and if we can focus on keeping those jobs local, that would be great. Again, I do have a concern about rising housing costs, and I hope that the city can be thinking about ways that our residents will be able to stay in the city and benefit from the arena and not be pushed out because of rising housing costs.

You just mentioned infrastructure concerns. I’m curious how you view the challenges that are created by the condition of the major north/south routes between Palm Springs and Interstate 10, for instance.

I think that the frequent closures on Palm Canyon are a big deal, not just for residents, but for tourists and for access (to the city) by our neighbors in Desert Hot Springs, too. That route is their (most) direct access to the hospital, and if it’s closed, then people could die. I think it is a concern, and we have to be thinking about how it affects us. I know that the city is looking into working with local conservation groups to discuss what options are available, because I know that some protections will be required for the fringe-toed lizard that lives in that area. But they are discussing barriers and other options. … I do hope that’s something that is taken very seriously, because we need access.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

I think the city has been doing a good job of making sure that there is funding in case something like that should happen. I know it’s been discussed during the last few budget processes, and I think that’s something we have to keep in mind even when times are good, because you just don’t know when something could change, and we’d need that additional funding. I would support being mindful of our planning and making sure that we’re repairing things before they are broken. For instance, I know that the bathrooms in our parks need to be updated, and it’s become a big concern, because some of them are often out of order. Things like that, we need to keep ahead of, so that we’re not wasting money by having to replace things completely instead of maintaining and repairing things as needed.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

Oh wow! That’s fun. I think … I would probably start downtown. I’ve been really liking El Patron, which is a new taco place. It’s really good and affordable, so I’d probably start there and then make my way either over to Seymour’s for a cocktail or to the Parker’s wine bar, Counter Reformation.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

You know what? I’m not sure. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’m a second-generation resident, and for me, Indian Canyon has always been one-way, as is Palm Canyon, so it’s hard for me to imagine it being any different. But it does make sense to me theoretically, that having two ways on Indian Canyon will decrease traffic on Palm Canyon. So we’ll see what happens. I’m kind of withholding my judgment on that either way.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

One of the things that I’m most excited about with this campaign, and what really drove me to run for office, is that I think it’s important that we bring more people into our city government. Right now, our commissions are not diverse at all, and they don’t reflect the residents of Palm Springs, so I think it’s really important to make sure that the voices of our residents are heard: all ages, all racial backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds—we want to hear from everyone. I think that’s something that’s possible, and that’s something we’re doing with the campaign is reaching out to every single group. Even if they can’t vote, we’re interested in what they have to say, and I think that the city should be too.

Published in Politics

Lisa Middleton got more than 7,000 votes to lead the way in last year’s at-large Palm Springs City Council election, becoming the first openly transgender person to be elected to a non-judicial office in the state of California.

That may have been the last at-large City Council election that Palm Springs will ever hold.

The city of Palm Springs—like other jurisdictions across the state that currently don’t elect representatives in district-based elections—has received a letter from Shenkman and Hughes, a Malibu-based law firm representing the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, claiming the city is violating California Voting Rights Act of 2001. The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project aspires to increase the presence of Latino candidates in municipal elections.

Indio and Cathedral City, facing similar threats, moved to district-based elections this year.

The letter claimed Palm Springs’ current election system has “resulted in racially polarizing voting” and is diluting the influence of Latino voters.

The letter may have a point. The last Latino who served on the Palm Springs City Council was Joseph Garcia, who was in office from 1972 to 1976—even though Census numbers show that about a quarter of Palm Springs’ population is currently Latino.

The City Council recently decided to start moving toward district elections and is hiring a demographer to analyze how to draft boundaries—a process that Middleton said has cost other cities $30,000 to $60,000.

We recently interviewed Middleton regarding the issue.

Does Palm Springs have an inclusive nature, politically speaking?

My campaign and my election wouldn’t be possible in many, if not most, cities in the U.S., but it was certainly possible here in Palm Springs. The LGBTQ community has been coming to Palm Springs almost since the founding of the city, and in the last 20-25 years, Palm Springs has (become) a community substantially inclusive, not only of LGBTQ people, but progressive individuals as well. Our community has clearly evolved in terms of its politics.

How did you personally feel when you read the letter from Shenkman and Hughes?

I truly enjoyed running city-wide. I was extremely proud that my campaign resonated in every part of our city and that I knew the people and issues on the ground in each of our 45 neighborhoods. I found myself, in the first few days after receipt of the letter, in meetings far from my own neighborhood. I’m so happy to represent those neighborhoods. I did not want to lose that one-on-one connection with each of our neighborhoods. But after a few days, it was clear this was not about me; this is about what’s best for our city. My job is to do what is best for all of our city—today and tomorrow.

How do we get to the point of electing a Latino representative with a district election?

The Latino population in Palm Springs, in comparison to other ethnic groups, is disproportionally young. We’ve seen it in public schools in Palm Springs that are overwhelmingly Latino: 75 to 80 percent are students obviously not yet eligible to vote, but will be at some point. … What we’re doing is moving in the right direction. It might not be in that first (district) election, and perhaps not even in the second election. … Down the road, we can bear the fruit of something that will lead to electing those individuals to the City Council and other offices.

Do you see the City Council as being more diverse in the future?

We are working to set in motion a series of reforms that should result in greater participation of our residents throughout the city in their government. I am convinced that we can increase the participation of all of our residents. The more our city represents all of the people of our city, the better. It is easy to lose faith. It is not easy to put yourself out front as a potential representative for your community and your city. I’m working on a City Council that is committed to have a hand out to help those ready to step up.

What about the allegations that the city violated the California Voting Rights Act by racially polarizing and diluting the influence of Latino voters with at-large elections?

I have not seen any specific allegations and would not respond without seeing any specifics. The issue has risen, and we’re responding. We’re trying to respond in a positive way.

What would be the ideal way to structure the municipal government with future district elections?

Municipal governments are organized in a number of ways. Our largest cities trend toward a strong mayor, who is the chief executive and does not sit on the City Council, but has a veto on City Council actions. Those cities trend toward City Council members elected from geographic districts. Some cities (like Palm Springs) have a weak mayor with additional ceremonial responsibilities, but no additional authority. Such mayors sit as a member of City Council. Other cities rotate the mayors’ responsibility among the various members of City Council. This, along with a city manager as the chief administrative officer, is the most common municipal form of government. … We will evaluate every option, seek extensive public input and make our decisions by year-end. Our goal is the best form of government to address the needs of our city.

What is the role of the demographer hired by the city? Is there a deadline on his report?

We will employ an outside demographer who has worked with numerous California cities to develop reports that will allow the city to draw and select the district boundaries that are best for our city. In drawing boundaries, (the) goals (are): Maximize the goals of the California Voting Rights Act; prioritize creation of majority-minority districts; to the extent practical, keep organized neighborhoods intact; and maintain the principle that the best interest of the city as a whole remains the first responsibility of all elected officials. (The) process: Evaluate our demographics and structure of government; compare with and learn from other comparable cities, and recommend the structure of government that best achieves the goals of the California Voting Rights Act and the long-term needs of our city; and encourage and work through communication platforms to obtain participation from as many residents and stakeholders as possible in the process.

If we had district elections in place when you ran for the City Council, do you think you’d have won your district?

I hope that I would’ve won, but we will probably find it out when the time comes to run for re-election.

Published in Politics

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