Name: Ron Oden
Occupation: Nonprofit executive/former mayor
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?
The future, and that future involves change. Those decisions have already been made, so it’s a matter of adjusting to the new normal. That’s looking at the physical development, but there’s a whole other level, I think, that represents the gap between the future and the past, and how we adapt to that emotionally is going to really be the challenge. You know? And I think that’s where leadership is going to really step in, is to work and bridge that gap between the past and the future and pull the people together, because that’s what it’s going to take. It doesn’t matter how successful that development may be. The city itself, currently, is disjointed and divided, and I can provide the means. That’s one of the things that I bring to the table is that I can bring disparate groups together; I’m a unifier. I’m not a person who polarizes people, and that’s what our city currently needs, is someone to pull them together.
2. Does Palm Springs have a crime problem? If so, what should be done about it?
Of course we have a crime problem. Anytime you have people, you’re going to have crime. When the economy is down, you have a disproportionate amount of property crimes, and that’s where we are. And we’re down in terms of our police department, and I think it’ll be real important to get that up as soon as possible—but it’s not just hiring police and filling slots. We’ve paid a high price for quality officers, and the fact is, you’re either going to pay in terms of lawsuits by having low-quality officers, or you’re going to pay higher dividends in terms of salary to have competent people. If we’ve erred, we’ve erred on the side of caution by making sure that we have competent people. When you consider the number of people that we deal with on a regular basis, our lawsuits and things are quite low. So having more police officers.
3. What, if anything, should be done about alleged corruption in Palm Springs city government? Be specific.
People are saying, “Let’s have a new committee to look at things and examine things and post things.” Corruption is the exception. It is not the norm. What we need to do is to hire people who we have trust and confidence in. There were things that people saw, I think, along the way that made them uncomfortable, but they didn’t speak up. I think that cities, like families, go through learning experiences, and you learn from those things: “Well, OK, we can’t let those things happen again.” I think the citizens are going to be much more watchful than they’ve ever been before, and I think the leadership needs to encourage that, and to encourage their voices.
4. What specific steps will you take to help solve the city’s homelessness issue?
We have lots of organizations currently that are throwing money at this issue—money, time, effort and energy. What I’d like to do is call for a summit … These are some of the organizations: We need V.A.L.O.R. out of Riverside County, which is Veteran’s Assistance Leadership of Riverside. We need Veterans Affairs; we need the city of Palm Springs; we need the tribe; we need the county; and we need Riverside County mental health; we need their homeless task force; we need Roy’s here. Those are just a few organizations that are currently spending money on this issue. … We know what we are currently accomplishing. What do we really want to see, and how do we make it happen? (We need to pull) all of those groups together in a different way … and, of course, the police force, the police force and fire. Oh, and Dessert Regional. We don’t have any mental-health facilities here, and that’s huge. When you look at mental health, and when you look at drug and alcohol problems among the homeless, and crime, they are all related. We have the opportunity, I think, to do this differently, and I look forward to addressing it.
I talked to someone recently. This guy comes home. There’s someone bathing in his pool and defecating in his yard. People who go on their normal evening strolls are accosted by homeless people. They feel threatened; they feel violated; and they feel unheard by the city. Those are some things that we have to immediately address, and let our citizens know: “Look, you’re paying your taxes in your city. You are a resident, and we will hear you.” Nine times out of 10, people at least want to know that someone is listening. They will get that under my administration. No question. But we’ll go a step further and really try to pull the resources together to address these concerns. Now we’re looking at two different levels. Some people are saying: What are we going to do for them? And others are saying: What are we going to do about them? So we’ve got two things to look at, and some … they only care about one; some people care about both.
5. Do you support electing City Council members by district, or do prefer the current at-large system? Why?
I support the at-large system, and here’s why. Districts … that was an issue that was addressed because of racial disparity. We don’t have that issue in this city. I’d hate to see us become a city that’s divided, one district against another district for resources and revenues. We are one city. So I’d like to believe that we can elect a kind of people that our citizens have confidence in, who will represent the entire city. For example, when I was a council member, the city (effectively) stopped at Alejo. It was under my initiative that the whole arts and antiques district, and what’s happened in north Palm Springs, happened, because we had traditionally put all our resources into downtown. … Our resources focused from Ramon to Alejo … but at the same time, south Palm Springs was booming—well, not booming, but it wasn’t struggling as it is now. Once Magruder (Chevrolet) went down, that changed the dynamic of that entire area. Now that’s another area that needs to see our resources. Of course, our downtown is our meal ticket, but it can’t be our only focus. I don’t care how well we’re doing. It can’t be the only one.
6. If you were not running for this office, which of your opponents would get your vote? Why?
Now that’s a really difficult question, because that’s why I’m running—because I didn’t see anyone who could address the concerns that I have for the city. So I’m in a unique position, because I’m the only person running among the mayoral candidates who really knows what it’s about, and who has actually done the job. … In all honestly, if Paul Lewin had not pulled out of the (mayor’s) race, if he had stayed in, I might not have been doing this.
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?
Well that certainly depends. There are a couple of things that depends on: how many people, their budget and what they want to eat. Palm Springs is so eclectic, and has so many wonderful restaurants; those are the things I would base it on. If it’s high-end—now, I’ve not been to the new Eight4Nine, but it’s new and trendy, and I know the owner; I would certainly stop there, but Spencer’s is always a place. Le Vallauris. LG’s is a great place, and the Chop House. But it’s not just the food. … If it’s ambiance, too, you have to say Melvin’s. Melvin’s is traditional; it’s older, but it says Palm Springs.
8. Name one business or service that you wish Palm Springs had (but currently does not have).
I’m a clothes horse. (Palm Springs has) a couple of places that I really like, but, of course, you don’t want to see yourself every time you go out, you know? I would say men’s clothing.
9. Which annual Coachella Valley event or festival is your favorite? Why?
I love the Festival of Lights Parade that (former Mayor) Will Kleindienst started. I love that event. I love the gay pride parade, but I really look forward to the Veterans Day parade. I think every American needs a jolt of patriotism at least once a year, and that gives me my jolt. That’s one of the things I miss about the Follies. I would go to the Follies at least one a year, because their finale always had that patriotic moment—standing there, saluting the flag with tears streaming down your cheeks. Those moments make you so thankful.
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?
All the things that are important to me are here. (Oden holds his hand over his heart.) One of the things I’ve learned since I’ve been in office is the true value of all of my relationships, my purpose, my mission. I don’t have to worry about anyone ever taking or breaking those things.