Name: Rob Moon
Occupation: Retired military officer/businessman
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?
Overbuilt. The building that’s going up next to the Hyatt—to be technical, it’s on block A-1—is way too big. It’s way too close to the sidewalk. It’s too massive. It’s too tall. It is not in the spirit and feel and vibe of Palm Springs. That was supposed to be 16 feet high, and the building that was there originally was supposed to stay. That adjoined the Hyatt, and it was going to be pop-up shops, similar to Raymond | Lawrence, which is really popular. On my walks, I like to go in there and walk around and see all the cool little entrepreneurial shops, which is ideal for downtown Palm Springs. That’s what it’s supposed to be, but John Wessman, the developer, Wessman development, went back to the City Council and said he changed his mind, and he wanted to do retail in that space, and the ceiling wasn’t high enough, so he wanted to do a remodel. So his remodel consisted of ripping down the original 16-foot-high building and building a three-story-high building that’s actually five or six stories high, so that was a bait and switch, and that’s not what was presented to the residents of Palm Springs during the town hall three years ago; that was not a part of the general plan for the downtown museum project, and it’s totally inappropriate … .
One thing about being older is you learn there are some things you have to live with, and you focus on what you can affect. I’m right now very much against his proposal, which is going before the Planning Commission, to build a seven-story, 85-foot hotel right in the middle of the downtown project on block B-1. I’m absolutely opposed to that. That was not part of the original plan. I stood in the City Council three years ago and strongly endorsed the downtown museum project. I strongly endorsed the Kimpton Hotel, and I strongly endorsed what had been presented to the residents of Palm Springs. However, that has changed. … I’m pro-development. I’m pro-growth. However, what they’re doing now is not what the residents of Palm Springs wanted, and what we were sold.
2. Does Palm Springs have a crime problem? If so, what should be done about it?
Yes. The crime problem in Palm Springs—all of the information is not being given to the residents of Palm Springs on the actual, overall crime statistics. I’ve seen the crime statistics, and I’ve asked for a copy of them, and crime is up significantly in the last year. Significantly. I don’t want to quote a figure, but it’s up a lot. Unfortunately, the number of police officer we have is also down. The number that the city gives officially is that we’re short nine police officers; that’s not true. There are also four that we’re short, but we have a couple people coming out of the police academy, and a couple people who have been offered lateral (moves) from other police departments; we’ve offered them jobs, but they haven’t accepted yet. So we’re actually 13 short. … Plus we have several police officers who are coming up for retirement here very shortly, and this is an unacceptable situation, because our crime rates are going up, and the number of police we have available is going down. Also, we should have 42 police on patrol, and we’re running about 24, so we’re barely over half the number of police who should be on patrol. It’s a serious, serious problem, and we need to sit down and address this in a very serious way.
If you look at Palm Springs, the population is 46,400, or something like that. But it’s not. The population of Palm Springs, because of our tourism industry, is probably usually at least 100,000 and up to a quarter of a million. We need to have a police force that is able to handle this, and the City Council tells us things that are misleading. At the last City Council meeting, Councilmember (Ginny) Foat stood up there and said, “Oh, some people are saying that we’re using police officers to run prisoners to (get booked at the jail in) Banning, and that’s not true. We have contract (retired) police officers to do that.” That’s a complete fabrication. She did not tell the truth. She told part of the truth. Yes, we have two people who are hired, who are not police officers, who work 30 to 40 hours a week each, who are used to run prisoners to Banning. However, they are not available all the time. That’s only a proportion of what’s required to get the prisoners there, particularly on a busy weekend when we have a lot of tourists here, and people are arrested for drunk and disorderly, etc. What happens is the police officers have to run them to Banning, which (presents) several problems. One: When they go to Banning, they get outside of radio range, which means they cannot be called, even if there’s an emergency here. Secondly, particularly the drunk and disorderly people, they have a tendency to, shall we say, soil the back seats of the police cars, and when they do that, the police have to come back and swap into another car, and those cars have to go offline until they can be sanitized and cleaned and prepared to be used again. So it causes a problem with the number of police cars and the number of police officers. And Ms. Foat sat up there and told the residents of Palm Springs a lie … .
She also said it would cost millions of dollars to reopen the jail. That is not true. The jail—I’ve taken a tour of it, not long ago—we already spend half a million dollars a year maintaining it, not even using it, and what we need to do is look at a cost-benefit analysis of that jail. To sit up there and say, “Oh, it would cost millions of dollars, and it’s not worth it,” is the way the City Council operates now. They just pull things out of the air. If they were real business people, they’d do what’s called a cost-benefit analysis, and they would look at it, and they would sit with the police, and sit with the CFO for the city, and they would work out what it would cost, and what the benefits would be. How much money is it costing us to use police officers and contract people to run prisoners to Banning? How much does it cost us to run vehicles back and forth to Banning? Also, there’s a way—and we did this before—where we could use space in that jail (and we) can actually charge the federal government, and other local governments, for us to hold their prisoners there, so we can make it an operation that is cost-effective. We just need to look at it and see how to do it.
3. What, if anything, should be done about alleged corruption in Palm Springs city government? Be specific.
It’s alleged. There’s a lot in the media about it, and all I know is what I read in the media. However, it’s very true that in a relationship, whether it’s a personal relationship, a business relationship or a government relationship, once trust has been lost or has been compromised, it is extremely difficult to get it back or repair it, if not impossible. That’s why I really feel because of the lack of trust and confidence in the integrity of certain members of our City Council, including the mayor, we need fresh blood and fresh perspective in City Hall, particularly people whose integrity cannot be questioned. I use as an example my 40 years of (a) professional career, 22 years as a Naval officer and 17 years as a corporate executive. My reputation, my history, is spotless. Those are two professions—military officer and corporate executive—where you’re under a microscope. You’re watched closely. My career is very well-documented. That’s not something I can just say. People Google me.… I was very highly decorated senior officer, and if you go to my website, you can read the citations for medals that I won, and if you Google my career, you can find all kinds of magazine articles about my career. My life is an open book.
4. What specific steps will you take to help solve the city’s homelessness issue?
Right now, we have a task force, and this task force, I’m sure, after the election is over, will quietly fade away. It’s not something that’s going to be effective, because it’s temporary. The homeless situation is a permanent problem, a permanent challenge, and it needs to be addressed in a permanent way. I’ve said since Day 1, over six months ago when I first kicked off the campaign: We need a permanent commission, comprised of probably nine, like the Sustainability Commission, residents of Palm Springs who have a passion and knowledge (of) and concern for the homeless situation and for social services, to look at this on an ongoing basis, to study what other cities are doing and come up with some innovative ideas … and bring them to the city and the City Council and the mayor. I don’t pretend to be an expert in social services; I’m not. However, there are people in the city who are, and I learned in the military and in the corporate world: When you have a problem, you put together people who are really experts in that field, and you let them do their job, and you listen to them, which is what we need to do.
Also, we need to hire a permanent person on staff who is a specialist in social services and in homelessness. We have somebody on the city staff now, Michele Mician, who’s our sustainability manager, and she does an excellent job of bringing ideas to the City Council and the Sustainability Commission on how to address sustainability issues. We need to do this with the homeless issue.
We need to go out to the county, the state and the federal government and ask for grants. We currently have no requests out there for grants, and there’s plenty of money in the federal government for this. Also, one out of five of the homeless people out there, from my reading, are veterans, and we need to find these homeless people who are veterans and put them in touch with existing programs to help our homeless veterans. There is money in the federal government to do that, and we need to get that. Also, on this permanent, permanent homeless commission which I want to establish, I would ask the tribe to provide at least two or three seats on that commission, because the homeless issue is something that’s a concern of the Native Americans in Palm Springs … as well as to the city of Palm Springs. I would like to see this as a joint effort between the tribe, and the city of Palm Springs, and the residents of Palm Springs, and the members of the tribe, to find some solutions to this problem, because the homeless problem is getting worse and worse. It’s threatening our neighborhoods; it’s threatening our downtown. It’s threatening our primary industry, which is tourism. I’ve seen tourists virtually chased away from in front of restaurants where they were looking at the menus to go inside, and homeless people come up to them, and they grab their kids and they go down the street, because they’re intimidated. We cannot have this. The first thing you have to do with homeless people is get a roof over their heads—get them in a place where we can help them, where we can get them the resources they need. This is also a very difficult problem which has to be handled carefully. I would work hand in hand with this commission I want to establish. I want to be involved in it, and I want to … meet with them frequently and hear what they’re coming up with, their ideas and their solutions, because one thing you don’t want to have is an unintended consequence of making our city too attractive, where people go, “Oh, Palm Springs is the place to go if you’re homeless, because they have all these wonderful programs. We need to make sure that these are programs where homeless people can help themselves, where we’re not just giving things away to them.
5. Do you support electing City Council members by district, or do prefer the current at-large system? Why?
Absolutely (by district). It’s on my website. The city charter says we would have four City Council members and a mayor. One of the first things I want to do is convene an ad hoc committee—this is what ad hoc committees are for, a one-time look at something, not something like homelessness—with a couple City Council members and some residents to look at our 1994 charter, and look again at a couple of issues. One is, I would like to see six City Council members plus one mayor, because there’s a lot going on in the city, and right now, because of the Brown Act, if you have an ad hoc committee of City Council members, you can’t have more than two, because three is a majority. So if we had seven on the City Council—six council members and a mayor—we could have ad hoc committees of three, and we could have more ad hoc committees, so more work can get done. When I was chairman of the Measure J Commission, that’s how we got our work done, was ad hoc committees … .
I would hope that this task force would look at whether we need four, five or six districts in Palm Springs. We’d have to look at the best way to do this, to be careful we don’t gerrymander it, to make it fair, and perhaps one of these seats would be at large. That’s what some cities do. Perhaps each one, perhaps they should all … the jury’s out on that. I’d like to see what would be recommended. But people in Desert Highlands, north Palm Springs, Four Seasons, even in south Palm Springs—they’re not being represented, and if we did this, we would have representation of all the people in Palm Springs. Palm Springs is 46,000 people; Palm Springs is not a small section of Palm Canyon Drive and a few wealthy developers and a few powerful businesspeople.
Also, I think we should have term limits. One, there are term limits on every board and commission in the city except the City Council. It’s sort of like Congress, when they exempt themselves from law. The City Council has exempted themselves from the term limits they require for every other board and commission. We need to have term limits, because if you’re in office too long, I don’t care who you are, I think there’s too much temptation to become a little too cozy with the rich and powerful, and we have to stop that. Also, if someone’s been in City Council for 12, 16 years, it makes it virtually impossible for anyone unseat them, because they’ve got all these relationships built, and they can get large amounts of donations from wealthy and powerful individuals, which someone challenging them cannot do. That’s the problem I’ve had. My incumbent is getting large checks from Harold Matzner and other people who have vested interests in what happens on the City Council. They don’t want to see me come in, because I won’t do that.
Third, I think we should have maximum contributions to people who are running for mayor and City Council. Right now, if you were going to support a presidential candidate or a congressional candidate, or virtually any office but City Council or mayor, you’re limited. … However, in city government, if one individual wants to write a check for $100,000 to a candidate running for office, it’s legal, and they can do it. What’s really terrible is if a person or a business writes a check to a candidate for $100,000, and that (candidate) wins, as soon as that candidate’s seated, they have no recusal requirements for those campaign contributions. That is just a rich environment for influence-peddling, and it needs to be stopped. Also, I would like to see us put a spending cap on campaigns, because people who do have the ear of the rich and powerful, with these unlimited contributions, you have to raise $200,000, or $250,000 to run a campaign in Palm Springs. We need to put a limitation, maybe $50,000, $60,000 for a campaign, and let the person who can manage their money the best get the most bang for their buck.
6. If you were not running for this office, which of your opponents would get your vote? Why?
I’m sorry, but there’s not another candidate running who I would support. One candidate who I would have perhaps looked at very closely and supported was Michael Birnberg, who dropped out.
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?
The opportunities in Palm Springs are virtually limitless. I usually send people to Lulu. The reason for that is because it’s fun; it’s very Palm Springs; it’s got that wonderful mid-century vibe; and it’s right in the middle of downtown. The food is good; the drinks are good; the happy hour goes until closing, and it’s just a fun place to go. It’s not real serious dining. If they want to go out for serious dining, really good food, I’d probably send them to Eight4Nine or Spencer’s. But one night in Palm Springs, and I’ve done this quite a few times, it’s normally Lulu, because it’s fun; it’s Palm Springs; it’s mid-century modern; it’s bright; it’s cheerful; it’s colorful. And the waiters are cute. Jerry Keller says he knows his audience. Oh, one other place, if they really wanted good food, is Zin. Zin has really excellent food.
8. Name one business or service that you wish Palm Springs had (but currently does not have).
One thing I’ve been pushing for is, I’m a retired (information technology) executive. I know the IT world. I know people like Larry Ellison pretty well. Right now, in Palm Springs, our one and only industry, really, is tourism. I would like to see us encourage high-tech businesses, high-tech companies, to open branch offices in Palm Springs. I know, because of experience, that the young people who make good money and are in that field, they like the kind of lifestyle we offer in Palm Springs, and it really doesn’t matter where they work. We can encourage these companies to have their people come to Palm Springs. We have plenty of room around here to build condo-type office space. These young people, these programmers, they don’t use an office on a daily basis. They work from home. However, they need a place where they can go occasionally and work as a team, so to build some quote “condo offices” unquote for high-tech companies here in Palm Springs would be a real shot in the arm, and it would give us young people who have good incomes and are well-educated. They like to go out to eat; they like to go out and enjoy the kind of things we have in Palm Springs. They like the bicycle; they like to hike; it would be ideal for them. And also, if they need to go to San Francisco or Dallas, to where their corporation is, they can jump on a plane and be there in a very short time.
I am going to start, at the very beginning, and reach out to the people I know in the high-tech world, and start encouraging this. When I was an IT executive, I had staff on four continents. I had people in India working; I had people in South America working; I had people in remote cities working, so it would be ideal for Palm Springs.
9. Which annual Coachella Valley event or festival is your favorite? Why?
Opera in the Park. It’s in Palm Springs; it is hugely popular. I think this year, there were like 3,000 people there. It provides an introduction to culture to young people, and it’s free! It’s free, and it’s not provided by the city. The Palm Springs Opera Guild (of the Desert)—full disclosure: I’m on the board of the Palm Springs Opera Guild—raises money through their annual fundraising, etc., to put this on. The Palm Springs Opera Guild also provides an annual program for bringing opera in to all of the schools in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. We have plenty of rock music and stuff going on out in Coachella, but having a classical venue like this, a beautiful event on a Sunday afternoon, in beautiful Palm Springs, in one of our parks, that is free and open to the public, is absolutely wonderful.
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?
It would probably be one of my art pieces. I have a 15th century Ming Dynasty piece of porcelain which I purchased 35 years ago when I was in the Navy that’s very important to me. I would probably grab that, because I wouldn’t want this 15th century piece of porcelain broken.