Name: Geoff Kors
Occupation: Legislative policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights
Interview: In person
1. When you stand at the intersection of Tahquitz Canyon Road and Palm Canyon Drive, and look northwest, what comes to mind?
On one hand, I see Palm Springs moving forward and developing a downtown. I’m not seeing the old, vacant Fashion Plaza. That makes me smile, and I think turning this into a downtown with streets running through it, versus replacing it with another mall, was a really good decision. I have concern when I look at what will be the West Elm building next to the Hyatt; that the setback is far into the street. I want to make sure that when significant changes such as that are proposed, they return to the commission structure we have so we can get input from the public before a decision is finalized. I think having 3-D models of major developments, which is something I’ve seen in other cities, including Las Vegas, would really help the public and the Planning Commission and the council better visualize a project. While I think architects can look at a drawing and visualize what it is, that’s harder for other people. Even when you’re at City Council chambers, let alone watching on TV, it’s very hard to visualize any project from these diagrams that are on the back wall.
2. Does Palm Springs have a crime problem? If so, what should be done about it?
Unless there was no crime, there’s a crime problem. I’ve lived in a number of cities, and I’ve never lived in a city where the residents, businesses and police department have as good of a relationship as they do in Palm Springs. Having the police come to every neighborhood association meeting, every business (group) meeting, and be accessible and build relationships with residents really makes a difference, and I’m fully supportive of having us keep our own police department instead of contracting out, as some other places do. Currently, the police department is down 13 patrol staff. There are another five or six who are retiring this year. We need to fully staff our police department. We need to put some money into recruitment so we can get the best police officers possible to come and work in this police department. I went into Los Angeles with the city police department to L.A. Pride as part of a recruiting effort, and I will partner with the city and the police department and the fire department to go other places to help recruit people to come and work in paradise.
3. What, if anything, should be done about alleged corruption in Palm Springs city government? Be specific.
When I was first thinking about running and met with the folks I was hoping would be part of my campaign team, one of the three issues I said I was going to run on was changing our ethics and our transparency laws and making our government more inclusive. That was back in January and February before any of the current scandal was reported on. I believe very strongly in having an open, transparent and inclusive government. When I first announced, I said I would request that the City Council create an ethics and sunshine task force to look at best practices in other cities, to bring experts and residents together and to come up with a new ordinance to move our city in the right direction. I’ve since proposed eight specific ideas that I would like the task force to consider, and I will work with that task force and help draft that legislation.
When it comes to inclusive government, which people aren’t really talking about, we want as many people to participate in government as possible; it makes for a better city, more engaged residents, and people have more faith in government. Right now, the majority of our boards, commissions and committees meet during the workday. As a result, if there’s an issue you want to testify about, and you work 9 to 5, you can’t. So schoolteachers, my gardener—him and his wife and their two kids who are in elementary school here—he can’t participate. If there’s something at the Planning Commission that affects your neighborhood, you can’t testify. In addition, younger people, working people, can’t serve on boards, commissions and committees, so the vast majority of people in those positions are either retired or self-employed. We need to do a much better job of diversifying our government, and by moving our commission meetings to 5 p.m. or later is one way to do that.
The other way is to make sure that when there are vacancies, we’re going to the neighborhood organizations, and saying, “We have vacancies.” Right now, the way it works is, someone tells friends, “Hey, there’s a vacancy.” We can do better. Second, if someone has a legal conflict, an elected or appointed official, they need to raise it ahead of time to the city attorney, and the city attorney needs to determine if it is a conflict or not. We want to make sure anybody who has a conflict is recusing themselves, but we also don’t want people recusing themselves when they don’t have a conflict to avoid voting on something. People (also) have to disclose the specifics of their conflict, what the conflict is. Just saying you have a business relationship is not enough. In addition, right now, if you work on a nonprofit, for a nonprofit, that has a grant from the city, you have to recuse yourself. That makes sense. But if you’re on a board of directors, where you have a fiduciary relation to the organization, you don’t. There’s a clear conflict: If you vote against the grant, you’ve broken your fiduciary obligation to the organization. If you vote for it, you’ve broken your trust to the voters. We need to fix that. You can find all of (my ideas) at www.geoffkors.com/ethics.
4. What specific steps will you take to help solve the city’s homelessness issue?
You have to look at short- and long-term solutions, and we need to understand that if we do everything right, we’re still going to have homeless people. But we can do a lot to reduce that number and help people. So first, to the extent there are criminal-justice issues—that’s a small minority of homeless people and can be dealt with through the criminal-justice system. But the vast majority of the issue is poverty, a lack of affordable housing, mental health and people who have fallen on hard times. Short term, we need to have the one shelter we have open 24 hours, and all the beds funded to be utilized. To have people forced to leave the shelter in the morning, and taken back to Palm Springs in 115-degree heat, is inhumane.
Second, we need to try to prevent more people from becoming homeless. Rents went up last year 19 percent. If you’re on a limited income, especially seniors and persons with a disability, and you get a 30-day notice of a close to 20 percent rent increase, you’re going to find it very hard … to find another apartment. What I propose is if the rent increases more than 25 percent over the cost of living, you have to get at least a 60-day notice, or, if you’re a senior or a person with a disability, you get a 60-day notice, minimum. One thing we know is that if someone ends up homeless, if you can get them into rapid rehousing within 30 to 60 days, you can keep them from becoming chronically homeless. After much longer, they are now chronically homeless. I believe the city should find a motel or some existing structure where we can help people and put them in rapid rehousing. I think we can seek government funding from state, county and federal, and foundation funding, which I’ve done a lot of, for this kind of project. Long term, we need to look at housing first programs, which have worked in other places. They work for 80 percent of the people, and they cost a lot less than shelters and arresting people for nothing other than being homeless. Those programs provide usually single-room occupancy for homeless people. They don’t have to be clean and sober first; they don’t have to have a job. But the studies have shown that once you give someone the dignity of a place to live, and (get that person) off the street, and a place to shower and a bathroom, 80 percent of them will end up becoming clean and sober, and getting a job. That’s a longer-term solution, but you know, we have land in Palm Springs. There are corridors where we could build these kinds of projects, and I think we need to really be aggressive about finding funding to do that.
5. Do you support electing City Council members by district, or do prefer the current at-large system? Why?
I’ve proposed that over the next two years, we have community meetings to discuss electoral reform. One of the issues is district elections. I see pros and cons to it, and I’m undecided, and I want to hear from the residents on what they think makes sense. The pros of district elections are you have one councilmember you can go to for something in your district, and people can run campaigns that are purely grassroots, because if it’s just a district, you can go door to door; you can spend less money; and I think it would give more diversity to the council.
The downside is in a small city, you can more NIMBYism. We can get a situation where people feel only one of five people is who they want, instead of right now, they get to vote for everyone. It’s something I really want to explore. We used to have district elections in Palm Springs, years ago, when the city was first formed, so I’m very open to it, but I think it’s a discussion, and then something that would have to go on the ballot, to the voters, and I would support allowing the voters to make that decision.
But there are other things we should do. We shouldn’t be electing a mayor with what could be 20 percent of the vote. We should have a runoff system, and whether we do that through rank-choice voting, like San Francisco and Oakland do, or a second runoff between the top two, as Los Angeles does and we do in statewide elections, is something we should explore. … Another thing I propose, which sort of fits this and ethics, is that I’ve requested that the city should post people’s form 700 financial-interest statements, and their form 460, campaign-contribution statements with names, amounts, employer and occupation, on the city website. I posted mine on my website, so people can see mine. I think it’s really important to have transparency.
6. If you were not running for this office, which of your two opponents would get your vote? Why?
I’m going to answer it this way, which is: Whoever else is elected, I’m going to work with. I have decided not to support anyone else, because I think it’s really important to have a good working relationship with every member of the council.
7. A dear friend is in town for just one night, and asks you where to go for dinner. Where are you sending this dear friend?
Obviously, it would depend on the friend, and their budget. We have wonderful restaurants in Palm Springs, and I frequent many of them. I’ll tell you some I frequent: I frequent Trio. I frequent Lulu. I frequent Zin. Going out to a nicer dinner, I like our new Eight4Nine. I like Johannes. I like Le Vallauris. We have just a whole bunch of restaurants at different price levels, and I go to many more than that—especially now that there’s no time to cook at home during an election.
8. Name one business or service that you wish Palm Springs had (but currently does not have).
I’d like to see restaurants open later. I would like to see the Buzz bus, which has been a great addition for Palm Springs … instead of coming every 15 minutes, it came every 20 minutes, and it took a route that went down Sunrise and Ramon to Palm Canyon, because we have a very large number of retirement communities and residents in assisted-living facilities on that route, and if we could provide free transportation, especially to people who don’t have other transportation, it would be a really good thing for the city to do. I’d like to see us have better public transit … so people can easily get from one place to another, especially in a city that has so many seniors who otherwise are relying on (transportation) once a week from an assisted-living facility, like my dad. My dad’s 88; he lives in an assisted-living facility in Palm Springs, and I’m here, so I can take him where he wants to go, but that’s not true for a lot of other people … .
Since we’re on seniors, I’m my representative for my neighborhood on Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs, and I serve on the Code Enforcement Committee, and the traffic, bicycle, pedestrian safety committee. Our crosswalks are set so the average person, walking quickly, can make it across the street (with every green “walk” sign). I can’t make it across Sunrise at Baristo or Ramon with my dad when I’m with him. He’s too scared to go out without me. We either need to adjust our crosswalks so people who walk slower, or with a walker, or (are) in a wheelchair can get across the street. Or on big streets, we need to have a bench and a hand that tells you how long you have, and a place for people to wait halfway. But seeing elderly people with walkers trying to get across the street, where they could fall and get hurt, needs to change.
9. Which annual Coachella Valley event or festival is your favorite? Why?
My favorite event that’s a really big event here is the (Palm Springs International) Film Festival. I see films I would never otherwise see; I think it brings visibility to our city and has dramatically changed our brand. And it’s a lot of fun. I also love the Festival of Lights Parade. As a little kid, my grandfather took me to the Thanksgiving Day parade at Macy’s in New York, and I’ve loved parades since—and my husband loves them even more than I do. I think I love them because he almost jumps up and down when the lights are coming down Palm Canyon, so I find that really exciting and fun.
10. If the FBI was about to raid your home or office, which personal item would you grab to make sure it didn’t get broken?
My mom, who passed away eight years ago, loved elephants. I wear no jewelry except my recent wedding ring, and often an elephant bracelet that I bought in memory of her. When I moved things out of my folks’ house in Palm Desert, when my dad moved in to assisted living in Palm Springs, she had her favorite glass sculptural elephant, which I keep on my night table, and I’d be crushed if that broke.