Name: Guy Burrows
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?
That tall building on the right … that’s taller than what was initially touted as what was going to be built. Also, when I look at it, what I see is an advertisement for two floors of commercial offices. My question is: If you look around the city of Palm Springs, how many empty office spaces do we have? So many, it’s beyond counting. Why, as a city, are we paying a hundred million dollars, partly, to build two floors of office space, when really there’s not a need for office space? Let’s start there. We could have done a lot of other things in that space; why office space? For example, we could have had a health food store there. There is no grocery store that is health food only (in Palm Springs) … other than a small (health food store) over here. … You could’ve brought in Whole Foods, and that would’ve been a great addition, and would’ve been a much better—to me—choice. Because, as a doctor, I deal with people’s health every day, and I’m promoting good health constantly, organic food, eating lean, eating the right combination of foods. So, people are looking for that all the time, so it would have been welcomed.
When I look at the whole project, I ask: Why did we spend a hundred million dollars on this, as a city? And I can’t really, in my own mind, as an individual citizen, or as a person who’s looking at it as a good investment, justify it, and say that makes a lot of sense. I think it makes sense to give incentive, but not to where you’re paying two-thirds of the cost, which is what it works out to. I don’t know what the true cost was; I just know what (Wessman) said the cost would be. So, going by what he said, we’re paying two-thirds. … I also don’t know what he paid for the land. I know he got it at a song and a dance, but I don’t personally know. But we’ve already given him so much money; basically, that land is free and clear, without a doubt. And anything he puts on top of it, were paying a good portion of that. So, what is his investment in the city?
The other thing I notice … is that the property taxes—there’s a summary report on the city, every year, by an accounting firm, and that’s about 200 pages. The last one that is available to look at is 2014, so I looked at that. And what I noticed, interestingly, is that Wessman, in terms of city taxes, was paying a fairly large sum of money in 2008, and in 2014, was paying zero. So what happened to his property tax? Did he get exempted on property taxes for his property during the construction phase? I mean, what’s going on with that? I never heard anything about it, but when you look at the numbers, Wessman, here in 2008, is paying a certain amount, and then Wessman, in 2014, is paying zero. So what is he giving back to the city? How did he get around his property taxes? I’m not sure. Maybe there’s someplace else, but when you look at the paperwork, you’re wondering, where did it go?
2. Does Palm Springs have a crime problem? If so, what should be done about it?
There is a crime problem. It’s not like we have murderers on the streets; it’s not like we have muggings every other day, but we have a lot of home invasions. And a lot of those people (doing the home invasions), fortunately or unfortunately, a good percentage are homeless. I went to the homeless task force (meeting) two weeks ago. … There was a man sitting next to me who was complaining: “Every day, or every other day, I have a homeless person in my pool, or I have them on my porch. I complain to the city. Nothing gets done. I’ve called the police; they say they can do nothing, and here I am dealing with this problem, day after day. What are we gonna go about it?” One of my questions to the police chief was: “I had understood that you had to steal more than $500 in order to be able to be arrested in the city of Palm Springs; they would not arrest you otherwise.” He corrected me and said, “No, its $900.” So they actually will not arrest someone until you have stolen at least $900 in property. Well, guess what? (Criminals) have figured that out. They know that if they break into some place, to only take so much. And they break in night, after night, after night.
I own the Palm House (nightclub) … and when I was opening it up, I had cameras around the whole building. There was one particular homeless person who attempted to break in three different times. I gave the pictures (to the police), because I have it on video. … “Oh yeah, we know who that is. That’s Dave. Yeah, Dave’s a petty thief here in town; he breaks in all the time, We know all about him.” “Well why don’t you arrest him?” “Because he never breaks the threshold. So if we arrest him, they’ll let him out right away. The city attorney will not prosecute, and if he does go in, they’ll let him out the next morning. So what’s the point? We’re not gonna arrest him.” So what happens then, is that enables that person to say, “Hey, you know what? I can do this all I want; nobody’s going to stop me.” And then he’s going to talk to his friends, because it is a social network, in a sense, and suddenly, his friends come here, because they like it, too. “What a great place to come. I can break in; I can put camps on the front and back porches of any business; I can sit on the patios of homes; I can swim in their pools; I can break into their houses, and nobody’s going to do anything about it.” So, I’ve watched the homeless problem grow tremendously in the 3 1/2 years I’ve been here. So one of my missions is to work on that, and I have a whole program on how to address that.
Is there crime? Yes. Is there a problem? Yes. And part of the problem is, we are ignoring it, and letting it occur because it doesn’t reach a certain threshold. And part of that is the tone of the mayor, the tone of the city, the tone of the city attorney as to what we will do. And as I explained to them: I moved here from Beverly Hills. In Beverly Hills, they have a policy of containment. In other words, if you’re (a homeless person) up in a residential area, you are picked up within five minutes. They will be there by squad car, and they will take you away. If you are in a certain business area, where you’re not supposed to be, they will pick you up or they will usher you away. There are only certain areas where you’re allowed to be … .
The problem is we don’t have a jail. So guess what? They don’t arrest them, because they don’t want someone to drive them to Banning or drive them to Indio; you know, I’ve heard this from talking to police officers individually. Now, they’re going to all deny this, but the fact is that … the actions are, they will not arrest them and drive them. Unless it reaches that level of felony, we ignore it. And so, you’ve basically told us, the citizen: It’s up to you to do a citizen’s arrest, and then we’ll decide if were going to do anything about it—if we show up.
It’s not that the police are bad people; they’re not. The first thing is, we have fewer officers than we need; I think the number that was estimated was somewhere around 18 officers fewer than we had, when you look at leave, and people who are getting ready to retire, and people who are on sick leave, and those who are laid off. So we’re short of officers; we don’t have a jail; and we don’t have a mayor or city attorney who thinks it’s important; therefore, what are they going to do? They’re going to address the things they have to because they’re shorthanded … .
We could have opened up our jail for $3 million or $4 million; instead of giving $100 million dollars to Wessman, let’s give him $96 million.
3. What, if anything, should be done about alleged corruption in Palm Springs city government? Be specific.
I would say it is mandatory that every council member and mayor read the 700 (forms) of people and understand what those relationships are. In the case of Steve Pougnet, it was laid out on his 700, two years in a row, that he was receiving money, and no one ever raised the question. In fact, when I asked about it at The Desert Sun interview, Ginny (Foat) had never read it, and also, never questioned Steve Pougnet about it, yet she’s there sitting next to him on the council and voting on these issues. Really, that’s a responsible council member? I don’t think so. So part of it is to be responsible and look into what our partners are doing, so that we know when there is conflict and raise questions.
Then the other question would be: Why didn’t the city attorney raise the question? He should have read the 700s; he should know where that money was coming from, and he should have known what things were in conflict, and yet that was never raised at the meeting where the vote occurred. So when I look at what’s going on in the city government, those who were responsible did not exercise their responsibilities. So the first thing is to mandate that (reading the 700s) is a requirement, and not to do that is a failure to do your job, and that could be a reason for either a recall in terms of the city councilmember, or a city attorney being fired. … Just using the tools we already have … would be a huge step forward.
The second thing I would like to see is … we have a webpage for the city, but if you want to try to figure out things, it is not easy. You have to go in there and sort of drag things from different places. There’s no straightforward, “Here’s the J Measure money; this is what we’ve spent; this is who it went to.” It doesn’t say that as a very clear thing. What they want to do is they want to tout, “Look at what we did at the library; look at the roads; we did this; we did this parking lot of City Hall.” … If you want to try to look at, “Well, who did we give the money to, for projects?” that’s harder to find. You can’t really find it. You can sort of get a list of some names: “Oh, here are some examples of people who got money,” but you can’t get hard numbers. … I would like to see more transparency on the webpage. Make it clear. Make it simple.
4. What specific steps will you take to help solve the city’s homelessness issue?
I do have a master plan. The first thing is you make a nonprofit organization under the city government, so that you can begin to bring all those different organizations into one place. Now, we have Roy’s House on the other side of Interstate 10 and Indian Canyon. We have Well of the Desert; we have Martha’s Kitchen on the other end; we have all these different organizations, which are providing services—but very disjointed. So the first thing is try to bring things under one nonprofit. Within that, you can then draw federal funds, veterans’ funds, sit-stay funds, county funds; you can take some city funds that we’re already using, and you can also go out to prominent citizens we have in this community, like Bill Gates. If I was the city mayor and have this program, and I write a letter to his foundation or him personally, and I say, “We need a donation from you, because were trying to solve the homeless problem. This is our plan; could you help with a million dollars?” The odds are he’ll at least read it, and there’s a chance that we can get some money there. Nobody’s doing that. I mean, we have Larry Ellison here; we have a lot of very prominent people who we can start tapping to try to get resources. Nobody’s doing that … .
In my master plan, under that umbrella, you would hire five to 10 people. Their job is to go out on the street with vans and be able to stop and talk to homeless people and find out why they’re there, and what their need is. Then we have to have a policy of containment. In other words, if they are literally camped on the front doorstep of a business—which they are—you pick them up and you say, “You can’t be here,” and you move them. If they’re in a residential area, you pick them up, and you move them and say, “You can’t be here.” … But then, if you do that, where do you take them?
The idea that I put out was … a tent city, and you put the tent city in a place that’s outside of the main part of the city, in an area where you’re not impacting neighborhoods; they’re not impacting businesses, but it’s a place where you can sort of take care of people, provide services, have mental health, have medical health, have clothing, food, shelter, laundry facilities, bathing, lavatories and cooling stations. You run it almost like a boot camp, in a way. … I was in the military. I ran a tent city in the Middle East, so I know how to do that. … We realize that the Department of Defense has so many of these tent cities sitting in mothballs. Again, as the mayor of the city, if I was to write a letter or contact the Department of Defense and say, “Do you have a tent city of this size that you would be able to give us?” The odds are, because it’s in surplus, they would … . The tent city—that’s the processing center. The next step is to have things like rehab centers, mental health facilities, and then, beyond that, you’ve got to have the ability to put them in halfway houses, (group homes) … .
Roy’s House kicks them out at 8 o’clock in the morning. It’s not a very good solution. It’s a great idea, but it doesn’t function well. My question is: You have 90 people who have a spot for the night, but are kicked out at 8 o’clock in the morning; where do they take them? Downtown Palm Springs, and drop them off. What a great idea. … I was homeless as a teenager, so I know firsthand what that means, so I come to it with a passion and compassion.
5. Do you support electing City Council members by district, or do prefer the current at-large system? Why?
I like the idea of by district. I think they become more representative, and it requires them to represent the needs of that district. Right now, as I’ve heard people complain, most of the members come from two areas of the (city). What about the rest of the neighborhoods? … Clearly, we want representation that represents all the citizens, and we don’t have that right now.
6. If you were not running for this office, which of your opponents would get your vote? Why?
Well, that’s the reason I’m running for this office—because there is no one.
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?
First, I’d ask them, “How much do you want to spend?” Because that matters—and, “What kind of food do you like?” Then based on those answers, there are a number of places—very good places. On the high end, there’s Le Vallauris, of course; in the middle, you have places like Lulu, which is very popular; you have Trio; you have Jake’s; you have Cheeky’s. … Cheeky’s is more for breakfast. … There’s Elmer’s for breakfast; there are a whole bunch.
8. Name one business or service that you wish Palm Springs had (but currently does not have).
I already said it: Whole Foods. Some kind of full-service health food store or grocery store.
9. Which annual Coachella Valley event or festival is your favorite? Why?
For the city, the favorite to me is the (Palm Springs International) Film Festival, because I think it brings a high profile to the city. It brings a nice feel and buzz to the city, and a lot of citizens participate and enjoy it. … It’s more for the citizens, and less for the outsiders. Coachella is really a lot of outsiders coming in, whereas the film festival really caters more to our population.
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?
I’d grab my child, and make sure they’re safe. My wife would grab the other one. And we would just stand back and let them do their thing.