Name: J.R. Roberts
Occupation: Planning commissioner/entrepreneur
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?
It’s a mixture of excitement and disappointment. The excitement is that I’m a planning commissioner, so I’ve been fortunate enough to have my hand in what that is, and what it will become, and we have molded it into something that I think’s going to be great. The disappointment comes in that some of the decisions that came about were taken away from the planning commission, and the council took them—specifically, the three story building that sort of hangs over directly on Palm Canyon. In that building, we had actually approved the one-story restoration of an existing building. In fact, if you drive down that street, there are renderings on the fence, and if you look at the rendering with the Hyatt, you’ll see what we actually approved. So again, a mix of joy, a mix of disappointment. Overall, I think it’s going to be really good for us. A lot of people are upset about tall buildings coming to town, and I understand that. They see it as a threat to our village character. The village character is the thing I want to preserve the most, and I think that a few tall buildings won’t hurt that. But one of my goals on the City Council is to cap the height in the future, maybe to three stories, for anything that comes before us. Again, a few tall buildings are good; a lot of tall buildings, we become Wilshire Boulevard or Las Vegas.
2. Does Palm Springs have a crime problem? If so, what should be done about it?
Most definitely. Crime is up 30 percent, according to our police association, and that has to do with a number of factors, including the fact that the state released a lot of inmates early, and shifted a lot of inmates to local jurisdictions.
The saddest part of all this is our police department is budgeted for nine more sworn officers, but as many people know—it was just in The Desert Sun last week—they are having recruiting problems, and as the police association told me, it has to do with not a lot of people wanting to come work in 120 degrees in a dark blue uniform. So my goal is to see what I can do to make Palm Springs more appealing for new recruits and for the quality of officer that our police are looking for. Oh, and I want to see more biking and walking patrols. I think that is really important as well.
3. What, if anything, should be done about alleged corruption in Palm Springs city government? Be specific.
One thing is that we need new people there. The best way I know to deal with some of that is to bring in some fresh faces, and bring in some new thinking and new leadership. We’ve got to regain the public trust that was lost with this, and it’s one of the reasons I’m running. I can’t think of a better answer. Transparency—you’ll hear that word bandied around. The bottom line is, I think some decisions were made by our current council members that weren’t in the best public interest—specifically, selling our public lands at hugely discounted prices to developer interests. We’ve got to stop that once and for all. Those kinds of decisions need to be more public, and the sale of public lands needs to be a very public process.
4. What specific steps will you take to help solve the city’s homelessness issue?
I’m really excited about that. Just last week, I think it was, I spent a half day with Arlene Rosenthal, who heads up Well in the Desert, and talked to her about an idea I had to try to create some sort of a processing center to bring people in from the street, with the first goal of getting rapid rehousing—in other words, getting a roof over their heads, and then finding the next best path for them, which could be anything—balancing their medications, dealing with substance abuse, dealing with mental issues—and seeing if we can get them back to an everyday life like ours. Arlene already has some great successes. She’s already got a few houses up and running, and what makes her so remarkable is that everybody that she works with was formerly homeless. I see revenue opportunities, not only with development fees, but potentially with the Desert Healthcare District, if they’ll get involved with us on a very specific project. I could go on and on about this, but regardless of whether I win the City Council seat or not, I’ve committed to working with Arlene to work on this problem. The days of shuttling homeless people from one end of the city to the other has got to end. It’s not working for anybody, and especially not them.
5. Do you support electing City Council members by district, or do prefer the current at-large system? Why?
When you have an honest, focused City Council, I think our current system works. I don’t really think we are big enough for districts, and I don’t think it would be a big improvement. I think it would be a lot more work and a lot more expense. If one day, we, as a community, come together and think that will be more beneficial for it, I’m very open to it, but right now, I don’t think it’s necessary.
6. If you were not running for this office, which of your two opponents would get your vote? Why?
I think I’m going to name one: Geoff Kors would get my vote. Although he doesn’t have the experience that I have in local municipal governance, I think he’s very smart. I think he comes with experience at the state level and the county level that will be valuable. I think having an attorney on the City Council will be good. We all bring different skills, and I think that Geoff will bring a great skill set with him, and he’s a likable person. I trust him, and I like him.
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?
Oh my God, I have like three favorite restaurants. I would send them for cocktails to Spencer’s, maybe, and then I would send them to dinner at Jake’s. I just love their food. I think that for a true Palm Springs experience with excellent food, Jake’s just is unique.
8. Name one business or service that you wish Palm Springs had (but currently does not have).
Whole Foods. I just love the quality, particularly of their meats and produce, and I think that we lack an innovative and interesting deli department. I just love the variety of healthy foods that they offer.
9. Which annual Coachella Valley event or festival is your favorite? Why?
I have to say Modernism Week, because it’s something that I’ve been involved in from the very beginning. I think that it builds on and preserves our very unique brand here in Palm Springs, and what could be better than having 50,000 people show up to your city just to adore your city, without any extra music or special things that had to be brought in? In other words, they simply come to adore our city, and leave all their dollars behind.
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 dog, Moose. I think he’d be terrified in something like that, and I’d want to ensure that he wasn’t. I want to protect him from that.