Name: Ginny Foat
Occupation: Palm Springs City Council member/executive director of Mizell Senior Center
1. When you stand at the intersection of Tahquitz Canyon Road and Palm Canyon Drive, and look northwest, what comes to mind?
What comes to my mind is that there were almost 15 years, or maybe even more, of a dead center of our town. No matter what we did in the city, and we did a lot of really creative things for our citizens, and encouraged business development and everything, but no matter how you looked at it, there was one dead center of town. I look at it now and see life. Do I love it? Probably not. Do I think there are some things I would have like to have changed? Yes. But through an agreement with the developer who owns the land—we didn’t own the land—and the city, we now will bring life back to the center of our town, which not only will help this particular development, but will also help everything surrounding it. The businesses surrounding it are all going to thrive because there’s this new center of excitement in our downtown.
2. Does Palm Springs have a crime problem? If so, what should be done about it?
We have a crime problem the same way as everybody else has a crime problem. Our violent crime is very low. Our property crimes are higher, and this has a lot to do with early releases, our close proximity to places where parolees exist, and our reputation as an affluent city. Everybody in the city is not affluent, but we kind of have that reputation. So part of my platform … is the fact that we need to increase our police officers on the street. We have a number of vacancies now. We’ve started looking at increased recruitment tools (for) laterals, meaning police officers coming from other jurisdictions want to come to Palm Springs. So yes, we have a number of vacancies in our police department, so that’s one of the things that I have been working on, and one of the things I will continue to work on.
I’ve worked very closely with the police department. … Every time I’ve run, I’ve been endorsed by the Palm Springs Police Officers’ Association, because of the way that I have encouraged expansion, the way I have encouraged things that they’ve wanted to do, and the way I have listened to my police force and my police chief. I am pretty confident that I again, in this race, will be endorsed by the police department. … Most of the arrests that have been made, or most of the crime that has been perpetrated in the city of Palm Springs, is not (by) Palm Springs residents. We do have some pockets in the city that do have higher crime than others, but the majority of the crime that is committed in the city is not committed by residents. People don’t understand: Our city budget is about 50 percent public safety—that’s police and fire. The reason is we’re different than other cities. People say, “Well, we have enough police officers; we only have 44,000 people who live in the city.” But on any given day, we have 120,000 people who are in the city, in season or on any of the major events. So this is an ongoing problem that we have to deal with, and we’re putting resources toward it.
One of the candidates wanted our jail to be reopened. There is no city in the Coachella Valley, or most cities that have their own jail. Our jail was a 24-hour holding (facility), so it’s not something that’s helped our police department. It’s a run-down piece of property. It would take over $1 million to restore it, to only house accused people overnight. This is a silly idea, and it will not help. The police don’t want it; the police chief doesn’t want it—but I guess it’s a good campaign item. … This is one of the reasons why my candidacy is so important. You throw all these things up in the air—we want to open the jail, or we want to do this or do that—but unless you have the experience to know if that’s the right thing, you’re just throwing things up in the air. … Our police officers do not transport anymore. If (other candidates) were astute enough to check on that, they would know that we have now hired plain-clothes, retired police, all sorts of different people who do transport—trained people, of course. It doesn’t take any police off the street. … If we reopen the jail, and put them in the jail, then 24 hours later, they have to be transported to the other jail. What have we accomplished by opening the jail? To make the jail more than a 24-hour, overnight facility would take millions of dollars, because you go into a whole different set of rules, standards and regulations. You have to have medical personnel on hand, and you have to do all of these other things our jail never was.
3. What, if anything, should be done about alleged corruption in Palm Springs city government? Be specific.
I’m glad you used the word “alleged.” We have a situation right now in which we are not clear on why the FBI or the district attorney came into City Hall. We are aware of the fact that there are allegations that the mayor had some dealings with one of our developers, but we have no idea what else they would be looking for at City Hall.
As far as I am concerned, I have never experienced anything at City Hall that I would consider to be illegal. I’ve never seen staff or any of our citizens or any of the people we do business with at City Hall—I have never been approached to do anything that was untoward or illegal. So it’s very difficult for us right now. It’s very painful for the citizens of this city. It’s very painful for the council. I’ve been on this council for 11 years. I have worked very, very hard to take us from what was a financial crisis in 2008. I believe we had a $3 million reserve, and a $12 million deficit in our budget. To go from there to having a balanced budget, with a $13 million reserve, was a lot of hard work. And during that hard work, there was nothing that I saw that was being done by staff or anybody that was illegal.
I was not aware of Mayor Pougnet’s involvement with whatever that place was—Abbey something or other. I knew that the mayor had a conflict because of Mr. Meaney, but I believe that conflict was because he was involved in a housing development, the Dakota, which the mayor, I thought, had some money involved, but was nevertheless on the list for purchasing one of those properties when they started the list. That was my understanding at that point, and I guess, you know, I maybe should have asked more questions. But you know, we’ve all worked together, and you tell when you have a conflict—you say something, and you recuse yourself. I just had that experience at the last council meeting; I own a building on North Palm Canyon, and diagonally across the street is 750 Lofts, and so I had to leave the council chambers when that discussion was happening. Of course, I announced why I was leaving—that I own property within 500 feet—and that’s your responsibility to do, and I think all the council members have done that. Chris Mills, when he has his firm, or he is the architect on a project, or he owns property close to a project, he recuses himself. Paul Lewin recuses himself for property reasons and also because his significant other is in the vacation-rental business. There’s no way you’re never going to have a conflict of interest.
So now we’re sitting here trying to figure out why there was an investigation at City Hall, and we don’t know. The warrant was sealed, and we knew what they took was—we can’t even piece it together from what they took, and almost everything that they took was a matter of public record and had already been requested by numerous media outlets, so it was not anything that’s brand new. But everything that we’ve done seems to come under this suspicion because of that. I’ll give you another perfect example: I had breakfast with Rich Meaney, with Nexus, and with the mayor on March 5. I didn’t remember, but they took the mayor’s calendar. So they called me and asked me and I said, “Yes, of course I had breakfast.” I had breakfast at Sherman’s, and I had made an offhand comment before that to Rich, because he’s from Nexus, about the work-live units. So he brought a picture to the breakfast of the work-live units, which I told him would never work on Tahquitz. So we had breakfast at Sherman’s—we had to wait in line! But, you know, that became a “private breakfast” in the press, when there were hundreds—if you’ve ever been to Sherman’s for breakfast, you know you don’t have a “private breakfast” at Sherman’s. … So that breakfast meeting was actually more of a social thing than anything, but it was in March, and all of this revelation about the mayor and working for Union Abbey didn’t come out until April. So I was just having breakfast at Sherman’s, you know. But, you know, it became something awful and sinister, so I guess that’s the way it is.
4. What specific steps will you take to help solve the city’s homelessness issue?
I, again, feel like I’m the only one who’s running for the mayor’s position who has any history on this. You know, everyone who’s running for mayor has no involvement in the city. They have done nothing for the city, except for Mr. Moon, who serves on the Measure J Committee … and I’m endorsed by most of the people who are on the Measure J Committee, but that’s a whole other story.
My involvement in homelessness has been for the last seven years. One of my opponents said, “Well, she’s worked here for all these years, and she hasn’t solved it.” Well, no one will solve homelessness. If I came up with a house for everyone who is homeless today, tomorrow, there would be another 100 homeless people. That’s just the way situations are, either through health problems or through mental-health issues or through the fact that some people don’t want to live in a house—they want to be homeless. Nine years ago, I think it was, I helped create the (Coachella Valley Association of Governments) committee on homelessness, because I could see it was becoming an issue in the city of Palm Springs, and in the Coachella Valley. From that, I began working with Roy Wilson and the committee, and … through a partnership of the county and the cities of the Coachella Valley, we built and opened Roy’s Desert Resource Center. And Roy’s Desert Resource Center is not what it was set out to be, because it was set out to have a lot more funding than it ended up with. But it is an emergency shelter. Through Roy’s, in the last four years, we have housed 2,000 people in permanent housing. That’s nothing to be laughed at, you know. And 858 people, Roy’s have helped find permanent jobs. So a lot of things have been done. I’m kind of happy with what has happened with Roy’s, under the circumstances of being grossly underfunded. I’m not happy with what’s happened with the homeless situation in Palm Springs, which has just grown.
So (several) months ago, I had a town hall meeting and got all this feedback from the community—we had about 150 people—and at that point recognized that it was a really important issue that our citizens could help solve, because we have so much talent here. I put out a call for people who were interested in working on this issue, and who had expertise. There were hundreds of people who were interested, but I only wanted people who had expertise, who could help us come up and solve the problem. I ended up with this incredible committee which we created. We now are getting ready for our third meeting. Our first meeting, we formed committees. … The housing committee is specifically talking about and brainstorming about what we can do in the housing area. That’s headed up by Arlene Rosenthal, who everybody knows is (the president of) Well in the Desert, and all the successes that she’s had in working the community. Mental health, which is an important aspect of this, is headed up by the psychiatrist and medical director for Michael’s House, who is also an expert in addiction. … We have the youth committee, which is made up of people who are working both with gay and lesbian youth, and straight youth who are homeless on the street. And then we have the jobs committee. So those committees have been meeting and putting together plans, and then I spearheaded having money set aside in the budget for additional community service officers, because … we only had one police officer who dealt with homelessness. … So now he has two community officers who are helping him. Hopefully, this committee, which will be meeting at the beginning of the month, will be coming up with solutions, and we are identifying money to implement those solutions.
5. Do you support electing City Council members by district, or do prefer the current at-large system? Why?
I don’t want to elect them by district. When you’re elected citywide, you’re responsible to the entire city, so you have to answer to every citizen in this city. When you’re district-wide, you tend to seek to solve the problems of your own district as opposed to solving the problems of the city. We’re too small of a city. Los Angeles—that’s the way they do it, and they have to do it that way, because the district that covers the San Fernando Valley is so different … as opposed to what’s happening in East Los Angeles or Beverly Hills or the coastal community. That’s a whole different story. Here, you need to elect the best people for the job, but then cover the entire city, and be responsible for the problems of the entire city, not districts.
6. If you were not running for this office, which of your opponents would get your vote? Why?
The only reason I’m running for the office is because none of them would get my vote.
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?
That’s one I can’t answer. We have an incredible array of restaurants. I can’t answer that for myself some nights. OK, do I want to go Spencer’s and sit on that fabulous patio and have great steak and great food and a great atmosphere, or do I want to go to the new Eight4Nine and be really hip? Or how about Trio? Trio has one of my most favorite dishes. Or Lulu? They have a great selection at Lulu. We are so fortunate. … I went last week to a restaurant in Palm Desert. It’s the first time in probably a year that I’ve gone to a restaurant outside of the city of Palm Springs when I’ve been (in the valley).
8. Name one business or service that you wish Palm Springs had (but currently does not have).
It’s something that I guess is being solved by downtown, and that’s better shopping. I have a friend who works for Saks Fifth Avenue who has to get my makeup for me, because there’s no place in town for me to buy the makeup that I use. .. I guess this is going to be solved by our new downtown. It’s better with more shopping options.
9. Which annual Coachella Valley event or festival is your favorite? Why?
The (Palm Springs International) Film Festival, and then I’d would say right after that is Modernism Week. They’re two totally different things. The Film Festival is because I love films; I love the glitz and glamour; I love having all these people. When you walk downtown, you hear all these accents and all these foreign languages. That’s a lot of fun. You’re sitting in the theater next to the people who made the movie. I really think it’s a wonderful event. The second one is Modernism Week, because I am a preservationist, and I love the tours. I’m on the board of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, and we did a Meiselman tour last year which was very successful. I had never seen any of the Meiselman homes. Also, (Modernism Week) benefits so many of our nonprofits in town, and our neighborhood organizations.
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 very expensive red wine collection.