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15 Oct 2020

Candidate Q&A: Meet the Two Candidates Running for the Cathedral City District 1 City Council Seat

Written by 
Alan Carvalho and Rita Lamb. Alan Carvalho and Rita Lamb.

Cathedral City will soon to become the site of the valley’s third Agua Caliente casino—giving a centerpiece to the “downtown” area city leaders have long been attempting to bolster.

However, the casino will open in the middle of a pandemic that has crippled many valley businesses—and sickened many Cathedral City residents. As of Oct. 11, 1,992 residents of Cathedral City have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2—the third-most among the valley’s nine cities—and 32 Cathedral City residents have died.

At this critical point in the history of this mid-valley community, residents will be voting to fill two City Council seats during the Tuesday, Nov. 3, election. In District 1, incumbent councilmember Rita Lamb is opposed by former Public Arts Commission leader Alan Carvalho.

The Independent spoke to all four candidates recently about issues impacting their neighborhoods, including short-term vacation rentals, pandemic safety concerns, and the need for civility in public discourse—which is particularly important in the District 1 election, given the history between Carvalho and Lamb. What follows are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

Alan Carvalho, semi-retired videographer/video editor

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City in 2021?

This is probably not what one would have expected to say last year, but no doubt (right now) it’s COVID-19 and public health and safety. Public safety has always been a priority for me, and I think for the city as well as the council. But, especially now, it’s important for all of us to take responsibility and not expect the county, or the state, or even the feds to tell us how to be safe.

I’m proud that our city mayor, John Aguilar took the initiative, in spite of the fact that it may be the county’s duty, to decide our safety measures. He took it upon himself to speak with Supervisor (V. Manuel) Perez and ask for special funding that he wanted to use for public-service announcements, advertisements and billboards to remind people to please be safe, use your masks and keep your social-distancing. Even though we can say it’s not our responsibility per se, keeping people safe, I think, is always everybody’s responsibility, and especially council members when they are elected.

Obviously, then you can tie it into the economics. I was proud that my husband, Shelley Kaplan, who was a councilmember from 2014-18, and myself were instrumental in making sure that cannabis was an option for our city. The conservative council at the time was definitely set against it. But once we threatened to petition the city to put it on the ballot, they realized that there are way too many benefits, especially economic benefits. As a result of bringing the cannabis industry in (to Cathedral City), we have accumulated $21 million in cash reserves, and $5 million of that was used recently for maintaining our public safety officers. So it’s important that we balance our economics with the public safety, but public safety must always be the priority. I don’t want to ignore the economic impacts, but it’s super-important that if we can be safe and really follow the rules, we may not have to wait more than a month or two before we are fully opened. The problem is that we all have to agree. That’s in the best interests of everyone.

The Cathedral City mission statement includes these two descriptors: “valuing fairness, balance and trust” and “honoring our similarities and differences.” However, relationships between some of this year's City Council candidates have been decidedly contentious and uncivil. What can you say to assure voters that, should you be elected, you will strive to demonstrate those laudable qualities while fulfilling your sworn responsibilities to residents and fellow councilmembers?

First of all, I’m proud to be a progressive Democrat, but this is a nonpartisan seat, and even though, hopefully, I will be elected this November to this district seat, once we’re in office, we are no longer a district representative solely. I think that the council needs to be reminded of that, because we represent the city, and it’s important that we don’t feel we’re dealing with issues only in our own districts. I want all of us to be able to share the responsibility, because my one vote isn’t going to matter unless I can get the cooperation of two more votes. So it is crucially important that we all learn to work well together.

I’m outspoken, and I defend the rights of those who don’t feel engaged in the city. I’m proud of that. But I know from being the chair of the Public Arts Commission for five out of the six years I served, that being in that space on the City Council room dais and being in the center seat, it really makes you realize how important it is to be super-fair-minded and to listen to all voices, and to encourage everybody to say what they feel, and to feel safe in doing that. So, that’s how I’ve conducted myself, and that’s how I will as a City Council member. If you have an opinion which is not City Council-related but personal—because we are all residents and citizens along with being on the council—I think that a council member should actually step off of the dais and speak in front of (the council) where members of the public speak from. That is an option that we obviously have, and again, I would remind our councilmembers that we are civil servants who are here to serve the needs of the public. It is not a position that is granted to us without the popular vote, so it is important that we respect those who voted, give them our ear, and pay attention to their needs. And when they write an email, or send a text, or make phone call, we should respond immediately. That’s how I am, and I’ve been that way since long before I ran for office.

The City Council recently voted unanimously to approve an ordinance phasing out short-term vacation rentals in much of Cathedral City. Since resident supporters of vacation rentals have issued threats of legal action against the city as a result, do you think the City Council should revisit this issue in the coming year?

That’s a great question, and I’m the only person running for office now who is in favor of the short-term vacation-rental option. I think that the council was rushed in their judgment. Our city manager, Charlie McClendon, did a phenomenal job of gathering a task force, as the City Council requested him to do. In the process, he had people in favor and against, and they discussed and met for hours at a time over a whole year. Then they came together and put together a 750-page document describing the good and the bad aspects. But when (the task force) voted, it was 7-6 in favor of short-term vacation rentals with strict guidelines, laws to follow and with strict penalties.

A friend of mine who lives in Palm Springs asked me to help him manage a visit by two guests coming to his vacation rental while he was gone visiting family this past June. I told him that I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never done it before, and I told him that I’m not personally in favor of vacation rentals. But he told me he didn’t have anyone else he could ask in the middle of the summer. So I said if I can be safe, and wear my mask and do all of my speaking at a distance, then I’d agree. He told me that all I had to do was let the renters know where things are in the house; what the code was to get into the house; let them know they can contact me if they need anything; and, most importantly, I had to get them to sign a required contract. This was the contract that requires them to follow the very strict rules put in place by the city of Palm Springs. That contract stated clearly that while they were guests in that neighborhood in Palm Springs, they could not play any music or make any noise out of the ordinary. And there could be no music played whatsoever in the outdoor space, except through headsets. The guests were told in advance that they had to follow the contract, or they could not stay.

Now, I was totally unaware of the strict codes that were given to guests (in Palm Springs). The last paragraph of that contract said that if anyone violated any ordinance regarding vacation rentals, the homeowner would not be responsible, but the renter at the time of the violation is the one who has to pay any fines. So, I thought that as successful as this Palm Springs policy has been, we should hire the same people that advised them on how to do it right, and get them to come to our city, and then we could revisit. I do fear a lawsuit, but more importantly, I think we can find a compromise. Obviously, as a homeowner in Cathedral City, I want to be sensitive to the needs of our residents and my neighbors. But the noise issues I’ve had in the past have not been from vacation rentals, but from residents. Seeing that there has been a history of noise problems in the Panorama Park section of town, I would suggest that we look at the possibility of regulating vacation rentals by district.

Now, I live in District 1, and I don’t have any issues, because people are following the rules. But if in a couple of months, we find out that they’re not following the rules, then we might want to go back to council and talk about putting a moratorium on it, because people aren’t following the rules. The same would hold true for the Panorama Park area. If they have serious issues, then I don’t think it’s fair for them to shut down vacation rentals for the whole city. I also think that we shouldn’t be willing to open up the whole city if they’re having problems that they would like to be addressed. That would be my compromise.

Also, I think that especially during this COVID-19 pandemic, when people may be struggling to pay their rent or their mortgage, if they had the option to rent their space, that would be something that we should not deny to property owners. Even if we decided to close down vacation rentals altogether, I think that during this time of COVID-19, we should have full enforcement, but we should move (the timeline) forward. They’re talking about closing down (vacation rentals) within the year. They’ve mentioned two years, but I think they’re destined to close it down sooner rather than later. The writing, to me, is on the wall. When we had to lay people off recently, of the five members of code enforcement, which is crucial to overseeing vacation rentals, three of them were laid off, which left two (employees), and one of them was on sick leave. Now we have one person to enforce all the rules on vacation rentals in our city?

As of this interview, Cathedral City ranks third in total COVID-19 cases out of the nine Coachella Valley cities, and fourth in deaths. Although the City Council extended its COVID-19 public-restrictions policy through the end of this year, do you think there is more that the city government should be doing in response to the health threats posed by this pandemic?

No matter what the City Council does, no matter what any government is going to do, there’s always more we can do. With this COVID-19, there was truly nothing that any of us could have seriously prepared for. There’s no way that, last year at this time, we would ever dream that this is where our lives would be this year. So we clearly need to be focused on keeping people alive, because dead people don’t shop. Dead people don’t go to the gym. Dead people don’t get haircuts, and don’t stimulate the economy. So it’s super important that those who are interested in maintaining economic development (understand) that if we don’t feel safe (as a community), and our county and our city have numbers that are alarming, or even disconcerting, we need to do whatever it takes to keep all of us safe.

Even though it’s the duty of the council to keep us safe, it’s also the duty of each of us. When we see someone who’s simply not following the rules, we have to kindly remind them that masks and social distancing don’t just keep them safe; they keep all of us safe. We have to really work cooperatively. It’s not a political issue. It’s a safety issue. And once it becomes a political issue, then it really distracts from it. You know, having a political point of view is a luxury. But again, you have to be alive to have an opinion. If you’re dead, or in a hospital, or you’re suffering, nothing political matters to you. You just want to survive.

So my focus is making sure that we do focus in on COVID, work on a vaccine, but please remind people every day that we have got to follow the rules. That means putting billboards up. The billboard out in front of City Hall—let’s use that regularly to remind people that we have ordinances in the city, and we need to follow them. Whether the city does a mailing, or they blast it on every page of the city webpages, I just want it to be that important (of an issue) and a very crucial priority for our city, and for the whole country.

What issue impacting Cathedral City should we have asked you about? What are your thoughts on how to address that issue?

As a proud member of the LGBTQ community, and having been together with Shelley for 48 years, I am obviously very sensitive to human rights. I am very sensitive to equal rights for women, for the Latino community, for the Black community, for the gay community, for the seniors, for the veterans. I’m for everybody being treated fairly. But, unfortunately, we can’t take those things for granted. So, just as Palm Springs has a human rights (commission), I would like to have that happen in our city. I think it’s important that we embrace our diversity. I’m proud to be part of such an incredibly diverse city. And yet, as I walk through my district, not everybody feels engaged. Not everybody feels that City Hall is really representing them. One proposal I would like to make, in alignment with my proposal for a human rights commission, is that we (utilize) these (events) we have now called “The City In Your Corner.” They provide an opportunity for two members of the council at a time to go to restaurants, or social gatherings, where they could meet on more casual basis with residents at various times of the day and on various days of the week. We’ve been doing that on Zoom lately.

I would recommend, when it’s safe, that we have block parties in areas and neighborhoods where the folks don’t know about City Hall, don’t know who their elected officials are, and may not even vote. We need them to understand their importance in our community. And the best way to do that, to me, is not going to this beautiful space called City Hall. How about City Hall not just going into their communities (via) restaurants or other businesses, but into the neighborhoods? So why not do a little block party in a neighborhood where we can get food, everybody brings potluck, where we can all share the experience of being with each other, and learn from each other? So instead of politicians getting on a stage with a megaphone, we can talk one on one with people, and engage with them. We’re not there to be presentational. We’re there to listen to the needs of the community.

When I lived in Cambridge (Mass.), we would have block parties. We’d get the required permit, and we’d block the street off. We would all bring potluck, and we all knew each other as neighbors, but we got to know each other even better. So, why not? If I’m going to have a block party in the north quadrant of my District 1, I’m going to invite all of the councilmembers, because again, all of the councilmembers represent the whole city. So I think if we can spread the news about having these types of block parties to engage our residents, then I think they’ll get a clue that we really are reaching out to them. And that’s how we’ll do it.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during this pandemic?

I always thought that if I had to be at home for an extended period of time, I would watch as many movies as I could, because I love movies. But, you know, there are only so many movies you can watch. So we’ve been finding that Zoom meetings are phenomenal. Even though you’re not meeting someone in person, you really get to stimulate your mind. You’re looking at a screen, but the screen talks back to you. When you’re watching a movie, you just sit back passively. But to be able to interact with people through Zoom, whether it’s at my Rotary meetings, or my historical preservation valley-wide meeting, or the City Council meetings that have been Zoomed sometimes, or the local Democratic meetings—whatever the meeting may be, I’ve been super-surprised at how much I enjoy those Zoom meetings. Of course, I would prefer that they were held in person. But I’m surprised at how much we’re all adjusting to this option. And we respectfully wait our turn (to speak on Zoom), unlike at the debates we’ve seen nationally. We raise our virtual hand, and we’re listening to each other and learning from each other, and we’re moving it forward. So I’m excited about this option.

I’m a social person. I like movies, but you’re not very social at a movie. So I do think it’s important that we can express our creativity and our opinions and our free speech through an outlet like Zoom. So that’s been one of my favorite things to do. And, of course, under the (current) circumstances that I’m personally involved in as a candidate, I’m talking to folks, which I actually enjoy. I really like this, because it gives me an opportunity to share my feelings and my passions for the city. You know, we moved from Cambridge some eight or nine years ago to live here full time. If you told me either Shelley or I would run for office or get as seriously involved in the city as we’ve both become, I would have told you that there was no way. We came here to retire. But when we finally moved here full time, we met Greg Pettis; we met council members; we attended virtually every meeting, (except) for two, since 2012. As a result, I’ve gathered a lot of experience, intuition and knowledge through watching these meetings. When Shelley ran for office, I was his campaign manager. I’d never run an election, and he’d never run for office. We did it. It was an at-large (election), and we won by 500 votes. This was an unknown person who had literally just moved here. So we just hit it out of the ballpark, and we felt very good.

Me, this year, I’m running. Shelley decided he didn’t want to. He’s concerned about the COVID, and he’s also 75 years old—and he’s starting to get used to enjoying his free time. In so much as he was one of the best council members that this city has ever seen—and that comes from the former mayors Stan Henry and Greg Pettis—I’ve been involved, too. When Shelley was first appointed to the Planning Commission in 2013, I was appointed to the Public Arts Commission. So we knew that we could be involved in the city, but I liked it, because he’d meet with the Planning Commission maybe twice a month, and I was meeting once a month, so we still had our free time.

But the more I got involved in public arts, the more excited I was about becoming the city’s most activist commission that the city has ever experienced. In the five to six years that I was on the commission, we put so much artwork and murals into the city—and we created the opportunity to engage in the community by providing what they call “live art.” We staged a competition at the Mary Pickford Theatre where the best digital artwork and movies could compete, and the best could be shown at the Pickford. We were very proud of that, and we were very proud of the programs at the Senior Center that public arts was able to provide (in conjunction with) the Boys and Girls Club. So we had an opportunity to do as much as we could really possibly do. And I’m proud of my involvement in every events committee that the city ever put together, including LGBTQ Days, the Taste of Jalisco celebrations, and the Balloon Festival, among others. Every opportunity offered, I wanted to be a part of it. And I’m proud to have worked so well with the city.

A couple of years ago, we did a thing called Santa’s Village. There used to be a parade to celebrate Christmas, but with concerns about terrorism, we decided we should beautify downtown at the holidays, and make these murals that looked like old big city department storefronts, like Filene’s in Boston, like a little winter wonderland. And we did 10 of them. It was such a great success and so well received that we decided to make 10 more. So we now have 20 storefronts decorated. And then the storefronts were offered to businesses (as marketing opportunities), so they could put their name on it for a fee. Now they get to be involved in the process. We get to raise some money, and everybody wins. Obviously, this year, all events have been put on hold. But everything is still in storage, and when it’s appropriate to bring (all the holiday artwork) back out, that will be another tradition


Rita Lamb, retired educator, incumbent City Council member

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City in 2021?

It’s the same issue facing all of the cities, and that is the fallout from the pandemic. It’s definitely a health crisis that’s created other crises that are looming in our particular city. Just one example: I was at the Agua Caliente Elementary School recently, and they were having a pop-up event that was called United Lift. It’s a program combining the resources of the United Way and Lift to Rise, which is a local nonprofit that provides rental assistance for qualifying folks, and it was very well attended. That’s just one of the issues that has really impacted Cathedral City, and I’m proud of the fact that, as part of the City Council, we had emergency orders in place very quickly regarding mask-wearing and social distancing. Also, we supported a huge communications campaign letting folks know that, in the absence of any national directive, it’s up to us to keep each other safe and help slow the spread (of the Covid-19 virus) and restore some sort of economic stability. I’m not a soothsayer, but I think that’s going to take us a while. So, that is definitely the No. 1 issue.

The Cathedral City mission statement includes these two descriptors: “valuing fairness, balance and trust” and “honoring our similarities and differences.” However, relationships between some of this year's City Council candidates have been decidedly contentious and uncivil. What can you say to assure voters that, should you be elected, you will strive to demonstrate those laudable qualities while fulfilling your sworn responsibilities to residents and fellow councilmembers?

As a person who has thrived, loved and been attracted to public service, I realize that the essential element in any type of public service is to focus on who your clients are. In my case, as an elementary school principal, it was definitely the children. And here (on the City Council), it’s the residents. I know I bring stability, sense and sincerity to this position.

I was elected last year in a special election that followed the passing of our mayor, Greg Pettis, who died unexpectedly. At that time, (any member of) the community was offered an opportunity to apply for the position, because the council at that time had considered appointing someone. So there were 16 of us who submitted applications, went through the process and came before the City Council. That council meeting was very contentious, and a decision was made by the council to put it up to a vote of the community. There were just two of us, Mr. Shelley Kaplan and myself (who would up running for the seat). This has been my first foray into the political arena, although I have been in public service for many years. I was a principal in the Desert Sands Unified School District. I retired from there, and then spent five years on the Public Arts Commission here. I read in the newspaper that they were offering this opportunity for commission spots, and I jumped at the chance, and I loved it. Then, after five years, I went back to work as a school principal in the Coachella Valley Unified School District. I retired from there, and then I was asked if I’d like to take a position on the Cathedral City Senior Center executive board, so I did that for three years.

Now, I am very proud to have been endorsed by our mayor and the rest of the city councilmembers, who’ve said that I’m a person of integrity and honesty, and that I come prepared. You know, just a little while ago, someone texted me to say that they disagreed with me on some question, and they thought I was supposed to represent (the interests) of District 1 voters. And I replied that I do—I absolutely do. But when we come to council, our decision-making is based on forward thinking and the best interests of all the residents. So, an essential part is that we each have the opportunity and the vision to look beyond, and see what we can bring to the Cathedral City community, to the residents and the businesses.

The City Council recently voted unanimously to approve an ordinance phasing out short-term vacation rentals in much of Cathedral City. Since resident supporters of vacation rentals have issued threats of legal action against the city as a result, do you think the City Council should revisit this issue in the coming year?

You know, I can’t speak for every member on the City Council, but first, I’d like to say how proud I am of the city staff, the city manager, our council liaison—who was Mayor John Aguilar—and all of the residents who were part of the task force and who willingly stepped up to the plate and advocated for their positions for over a year. Talk about doing the business of the public in public—this was a herculean effort, and I’m just so proud of everyone involved. Between all the City Council meetings and the time devoted to individual public comments, there were two large town halls (held as well). One was at the Cathedral City Library, and there was another one at City Hall. And then the task force met monthly in person until COVID hit. Still, there were at-length discussions about all the possibilities. Then, when recommendations came to us in July, we devoted a whole day to all of the materials, all of the documentation and more public comments. And we had a chance to review all of the recommendations from the task force, of which I think there were a little over 90. So, in the final analysis, the decision contained something for everybody. The residents wanted their neighborhoods to be preserved. That was the original issue—that neighborhoods were being compromised because of the activities around these short-term rentals. So now, the neighborhoods are restored. There is enough time for people to repurpose their property, if that needs to happen. Homeowner associations that have quality control and a service component as part of their CCRs stay the same. For those folks who have home-sharing, that’s fine. So I thought it was brilliant. I’m glad to be part of such a well-rounded and thought-out solution.

As of this interview, Cathedral City ranks third in total COVID-19 cases out of the nine Coachella Valley cities, and fourth in deaths. Although the City Council extended its COVID-19 public-restrictions policy through the end of this year, do you think there is more that the city government should be doing in response to the health threats posed by this pandemic?

I can’t say anything definitively, but our city has so many service workers (living here). My husband and I are retired, so it’s a luxury (for us) to be able to stay home and follow all the guidelines. But not everybody has that (opportunity).

Our director of economic development is Stone James, and he was at the forefront of making sure that our community got the monies it needed, and were entitled to, and he helped start our ‘Great Plates’ program. Many restaurants got involved in this program, and something like 270 qualifying seniors and families were given (food) assistance through it. So, what else we can do? I don’t know. That remains to be seen.

We’re advocating continually for more county, state and federal funding, and Stone James has been the point person in making sure that our city acts in a timely manner and gets right on it. We have two websites: CathedralCity.gov and DiscoverCathedralCity.com. Our marketing and communications director, Chris Parman, keeps them updated on a daily basis and communicates to the residents that there’s help out there and available, but they need to ask. And for us, it’s being active and getting out into the community to let them know we’re here for them. It’s a terrifying time. It’s a global emergency, and our economy is definitely uncertain.

What issue impacting Cathedral City should we have asked you about? What are your thoughts on how to address that issue?

Actually, one of the questions that I get asked frequently is: How will the city address issues related to the new (Agua Caliente) casino? No. 1, the casino is a great asset to our community, but it’s also going to bring in lots of traffic, so folks who are used to kind of the Mayberry perception of the Cathedral City Cove, that has not too much traffic, are concerned about how that’s going to be addressed, and what’s going to go into (adjacent) vacant lots. That area used to be called the pedestrian-friendly corridor when that stretch of Palm Canyon (Drive) was newly redone, and since I’ve lived in the desert for many, many years, I saw this happen. The road narrows right in front of City Hall, and it gets a little tight. So people were concerned about how to address that. They’re going to address it by waiting to see what happens, and then (initiating) a traffic-control study. Then if they need to, they’ll modify some of the streets around there. They’ve already widened Buddy Rogers (Avenue) from Date Palm (Drive), and it kind of serpentines through to just north of the casino, up on Palm Canyon. But residents are concerned about congestion in that area.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during this pandemic?

Oh! Binge-watching House of Cards. It’s a complete and total indulgence. My husband thinks I’m totally ridiculous, but it’s fun.

2 comments

  • Comment Link Frances Miller Saturday, 24 October 2020 17:24 posted by Frances Miller

    I wish good luck to Alan Carvalho, the best candidate for the job. Sorry I can’t vote for him because I don’t

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  • Comment Link Alan Carvalho Thursday, 22 October 2020 15:54 posted by Alan Carvalho

    I wanted to personally thank Kevin Fitzgerald for allowing the candidates to share our thoughts and address the concerns of our community, with details that many other periodicals would have edited out. I didn't honestly expect that my entire statement would have made the press. It was a pleasure to engage with you, Kevin, and for the privilege of answering your well thought out questions.
    Looking forward to chatting with you again for a follow-up session.

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