District 1 Palm Springs City Councilmember Grace Garner is facing challenger Scott Nevins in this year's election.

Palm Springs residents in three of the five City Council districts will select representatives during the Nov. 8 election, and at least two of those representatives will be new, because only one councilmember—District 1 Councilmember Grace Garner—is running for re-election.

There’s also a good chance District 4 Councilmember Christy Holstege will be leaving, because she is running to become the District 47 representative in the State Assembly. As a result, four of the five members of the Palm Springs City Council could soon be brand-new.

But Garner is determined to continue serving on the City Council. The caretaker for two rescue cats named Taddy and Chiquita, Garner is a native of Palm Springs, an attorney and a lifelong advocate for social and racial justice, as well as LGBTQ+ issues. When she was elected in 2019, she became the first Latina to ever serve on the City Council, and represents Palm Springs’ only majority-minority council district.

She is being challenged by Scott Nevins, a health-care, civil rights and LGBTQ+ advocate, as well as a political news contributor. Nevins—who moved to Palm Springs from Los Angeles almost four years ago and now lives with Philip, his husband of 6 months, and their rescue dog, Wifi—is a board member of DAP Health and co-chair of the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards.

The Independent reached out to both Garner and Nevins recently to ask them a slate of seven identical questions. Here are their responses, which have been edited only for clarity and editorial style.

Grace Garner

Why do you think you are the best and most-qualified person to be the District 1 representative?

I am a second-generation resident, an attorney, a Latina, and I am the most-experienced candidate as a council member. Currently, I am the only person running in any of our City Council elections who has experience on a City Council, and that experience is going to be vital for us as we deal with a new city manager, a new navigation center, and a host of other changes in our city.

We will likely be losing two attorneys (from the current City Council) with Geoff Kors not running for re-election and Christy Holstege winning her seat in the Assembly, so it will be really important for us to have an attorney voice on council. That has become incredibly important during the time that I’ve been on council, and I think we need to make sure that voice is still there.

Grace Garner.

What do you see as the top three issues or goals that the city must address for District 1 residents, as well as the city’s residents overall?

There are three issues that I’ve been campaigning on, and those are crime prevention, community investment, and housing and homelessness. A couple of those are issues I addressed during the last election as well, and I’m thankful and honored that we’ve been able to achieve many of the goals related to community investment, and housing and homelessness, but there’s still more to do.

With housing and homelessness, we are slated to open our new navigation center in July 2023, and we’ve approved two new affordable-housing developments, but there’s still a long way to go. I’ve been working with our city manager and staff on opportunities to build homeownership opportunities in District 1, where the city owns several lots, as well as making sure I’m in constant conversation with any developers interested in building apartments in our city. Also, I work closely with regional groups like Lift to Rise and SCAG (Southern California Association of Governments), just to stay on top of that particular issue.

Regarding community investments, we have invested over $7 million in our parks. I was a big proponent and champion of that funding. We are hiring park rangers, essentially, to make sure our parks stay clean, and that any repairs are done in a timely manner. Also, we’ve allocated funds for a parks master plan, and that’s what we’ll see in this next year. That will take our parks into the future.

In terms of crime, we have a fabulous new police chief who has been focused on community issues and community policing. I work with him and the other officers on how I can best support them. They have a particular role in making sure they’re addressing crime that happens, but they’re also very invested in preventing crime. I’ve been working with local community organizations to support our young people, and to support workforce development. I’m trying to make sure that our local residents have what they need, so that they’re never going down a path to crime in the first place.

Housing prices right now are ridiculous, and I feel that myself. I’m a renter, and I know how difficult it is to find a place to live in Palm Springs. Palm springs city councilmember grace garner

How important is it for the Palm Springs City Council overall to reflect gender and ethnic diversity among its members?

I think it’s incredibly important for all of our cities and all of our communities to have gender and ethnic diversity. For one, that’s more reflective of our city and our community. In District 1, we have a majority of people of color, and a majority of low- to middle-income folks. So, it’s important that we’re reflecting that on our dais.

I have strong community relationships with all of the different ethnic groups in District 1, and I’m also a part of those ethnic groups, right? My family moved here from Mexico, and we have stayed here, because we love the diversity of the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs. We’ve created strong ties. So, my identity as a Mexican-American woman is really important to me, and has helped me to make positive changes in City Hall. For instance, we’ve created a Spanish-language Facebook page (for the city) to provide further access to our Spanish-speaking residents. And there have been so many times when I’m at City Hall, and I come across a resident who only speaks Spanish who needs assistance. These are just the times that I happen to be at City Hall at the same time as them. Surely, there are dozens and dozens of times when someone goes to our City Hall and needs that language access, so I have been a huge proponent for making sure that we are doing everything we can to make those changes. I find that sometimes they sneak up on you, so it really takes a lot of effort to notice every little point where we need to make those changes to create better access for everyone.

Housing costs have skyrocketed in Palm Springs, due in part to investor purchases and the fact that a lot of homes are used for vacation/short-term rentals. What can and should be done to create and protect more affordable home options in Palm Springs?

Housing prices right now are ridiculous, and I feel that myself. I’m a renter, and I know how difficult it is to find a place to live in Palm Springs. I would love to find a bigger place as my family grows, but unfortunately, there isn’t one. One of the things I think we have to do is continue to attract more multi-family developments, (as well as) affordable and mixed-use developments. One of the reasons that the City Council asked to buy back the land from the old (College of the Desert) campus is because it’s a great opportunity to build a mixed-use development—somewhere we could have maybe some duplexes, some single-family homes, and some condos, at different price points to reflect the community and (address) its needs.

The other thing I’ve been working on with the city is in-fill lots, and identifying different lots throughout our city that are vacant and which we own, or could potentially purchase. Then (we can) start building houses on them, or duplexes or four-plexes, to really get things going. That will show developers and builders what we’re looking for in Palm Springs.

What are your thoughts on the question of whether to place a new homeless persons’ navigation center within District 1?

There were three options presented to (the City Council) for navigation centers in Palm Springs. All three of those locations were in District 1. I welcome a navigation center in District 1. This particular location was not at the top of my list, and it wasn’t at the top of the list for many of the District 1 residents. That being said, that’s the location, and I think it’s vitally important that we now move forward with that, and that we do everything we can to make sure that the navigation center doesn’t only benefit the unhoused residents who will be using it, but the surrounding community. We need to ensure that there’s proper security, that we make sure the empty lot in front of the site is built on as soon as possible, and that we’re providing services that residents in Palm Springs can use. We have to look at this navigation center for its potential, and not just base (that potential) on what our worries are.

What impact is the long-delayed development of a College of the Desert campus in Palm Springs having on the city’s residents, and the local economy?

The COD campus was supposed to come a long time ago. This delay is unacceptable. The lack of transparency is unacceptable. I believe that the City Council, under the leadership of Councilmembers Holstege and Kors, has done everything we can to elevate this issue and make sure that our residents are aware of the delays.

We’re highlighting this issue in our community. We have so many students in Palm Springs who are in need of better education access. Our students in the Palm Springs Unified School District—which encompasses a large part of the west valley—(have) the highest percentage of free or reduced lunch (recipients). They have great needs in terms of education equity. It’s not just Palm Springs students. It’s Desert Hot Springs students, Cathedral City, Banning, Beaumont and Hemet. There are going to be students from all over this area that go to this campus, so we have to continue to work closely with our community members, our stakeholders and with COD leadership to make sure that it happens as efficiently as possible, and that it has all of the characteristics that we need to have a successful campus.

What is your favorite “me” time activity?

I love spending time at home with my two cats. I adopted two cats in May 2020 from the Palm Springs Animal Shelter. I was supposed to foster them, and by day three, I had decided that there was no one who could take care of them better than I could. So, lately, with my busy schedule, it’s so nice when I can just be home and have a little cuddle time with my cats, Taddy and Chiquita.

Scott Nevins

Scott Nevins.

Why do you think you are the best and most-qualified person to be the District 1 representative?

I think I come to the table with something that’s been missing from our City Council. I have a lot of different skills that haven’t been present on the council. Coming from my background in the entertainment world as a producer, as a host, as a political commentator, and someone who has worked in this field, I know about marketing and branding—and that is something that’s very important to a town like ours, where we have such fantastic name recognition. That’s something that we have to protect, and that is sort of the beginning of where all of the issues that our city faces start. It’s about protecting the city. Our lifeline is tourism mostly, and we want to protect that brand. We want to protect our beautiful name recognition as one of the most popular destinations for retirees, vacationers, LGBTQ+ people, other California residents and people who live (in neighboring) states. So I believe I have a strong skill set in that department, and a proven track record in that.

Also, I’ve lived and worked in communities that really look like all of District 1. Starting with my days living in Queens, N.Y., and then Manhattan, and then moving to Los Angeles and now finally out here in beautiful District 1, I have a long track record of advocating for, and working with, all of the communities that make up District 1 and all of Palm Springs. I’ve been able to serve them and help them get their voices heard, and help them access the things they need to have more productive, healthier lives here where they live. I’ve done that through my work as a board member at DAP Health—because I’m a health-care advocate, and I’ve been doing that for years—and I’m a civil rights advocate for LGBTQ+ (people), which, for obvious reasons, is very personal to me and something that I was proud to be a part of for many years. We’re still fighting for so many things for that community, and I think we have a lot more (battles) coming down the pike, unfortunately.

What do you see as the top three issues or goals that the city must address for District 1 residents, as well as the city’s residents overall?

I think the No. 1 issue for both District 1 and the city, and should be No. 1 for the City Council, is the crisis of the unhoused here in Palm Springs, because I believe that has ripple effects that affect all the other issues that we tackle here. Now, that issue is obviously caused by several things: affordability, and income inequality, drug use, and people who are addicts. I have personal experience with that since I had a family member who was mentally ill and a drug user for years. So, I’ve seen firsthand what that can lead to, and that’s where my passion comes from on this topic. I think with the talk of opening the navigation center, we have to be able to combat the issue of the unhoused, starting now. We have business owners who are incredibly frustrated, and these are beautifully compassionate people who are saying, “I’m getting exhausted. I’m getting frustrated being compassionate, and I want to see something happening.” The current council keeps saying, “But we have the navigation center, and it’s opening next year, or next year.” And, people keep saying, “Yes, but what about now?” So, I think that’s No. 1. On day one, it is getting hold of the issue of the unhoused crisis, and getting the navigation center open and working.

But for me, particularly in District 1, it is about having major oversight of that navigation center to make sure that it’s run correctly, to make sure that the services provided are focused on (helping) the unhoused here in Palm Springs, particularly since we’ve learned that it will be servicing the unhoused from other areas of the valley. I believe that with the promise of 24-hour security, we need to figure out what, exactly, that means. Is that private security, or is that additional funding for police officers? And last, but certainly not least, for me as the councilmember from District 1, it is about protecting the surrounding neighborhoods from any negative impact. We are talking about communities and neighborhoods that have historically felt that they have been mistreated, or dumped on, by the city. Every experimental project, or something that (the councilmembers) don’t want in the glossy part of the city, they shove up north, so there’s a lot of resentment, understandably so. And there’s a feeling that this is just one more thing that’s going to weigh on the community.

They are worried, but there’s also hope. I talked to residents about this hope that we should be making sure that the residents of District 1 are being offered any available jobs in the navigation center. They should have the first pass at those jobs—and not just targeting advertising to them. No, let them come in. This is their community that we’ve now placed this navigation center in, so let’s make sure they can benefit in more ways than one, and that they can actually earn a living while helping their community through the center. But, you talk to residents in Miralon, Mountain Gate, Four Seasons, and you hear the same thing. You hear concerns about what is going to happen to the neighborhood when someone comes to the resource center and doesn’t want the services. Do they end up on the streets there? Do they go back to where their encampment was? Are they coming into people’s backyards and disturbing children? And people say all this understanding that we’re talking about human beings, human beings that we’re compassionate about and worried about. But we’re also compassionate for our citizens, and our business owners, and our homeowners, and our renters, and we have to find that delicate balance. I think that, as the councilperson from District 1, that is my job. It’s to protect the community, have major oversight and make sure that the promises of security there, and programs and access to jobs, are available to the residents.

No. 2 would be crime. While social media platforms sometimes would make us believe that the city is on fire—that it’s a dystopia, cars are burning, people are just breaking into homes—there is definitely a spike in crime, and it is very concerning to citizens. The police are very aware of that, and they are on top of it. Unfortunately, our police force is very taxed. They have a lot of police officers who are out on disability, so on a busy Saturday night in Palm Springs, we could have all of six police officers for the whole city. That is worrisome. When you talk about crime, really, you’re talking about: How do we help our police help our city? How do we work with them to make sure that they are fully staffed and funded so they can do the work to help protect our businesses, our neighborhoods and our citizens? That’s very important to me.

What does affordable mean in Palm Springs? What is that price bracket that we’re looking at? Is it realistic? Affordable housing is incredibly important, because when people are housed, they are healthier. Palm Springs city council candidate scott nevins

And 3 is affordability. To me, the thing that never gets talked about is: What does affordability mean in Palm Springs? We have such income inequality here, so one person’s idea of affordability could be another person’s impossibility. So, we really have to look into that, and do quick studies. I say quick studies, because sometimes, we’re quick to say, “Let’s do a study on this,” and then it takes a while. I’d do a quick investigation on: How are residents living at the poverty level or below able to make the income that could help pay for subsidized, or affordable housing? There’s a great need. I know the City Council has approved two projects, and I think that’s fantastic. But I think we need many more, and I would strongly advocate and push for that.

How important is it for the Palm Springs City Council overall to reflect gender and ethnic diversity among its members?

I think it’s very important. I think it’s not only important on the council, but I think it’s important everywhere, that people are represented, and that they are seen and heard. Now this can be in many different forms, and I believe that, at the end of the day, it should be the person who is able to inspire, the person who’s able to give the community actual, realistic ideas and solutions for the issues facing the district and the city, (who is elected). I don’t think we should be checking boxes; I think we should be checking results.

Housing costs have skyrocketed in Palm Springs, due in part to investor purchases and the fact that a lot of homes are used for vacation/short-term rentals. What can and should be done to create and protect more affordable home options in Palm Springs?

It’s a multi-layer issue. I believe it goes back to a whole bunch of different topics that are all connected. You can see it as connected to the debacle with the College of the Desert. There have been almost 25 years of lost opportunity for my neighbors in District 1—especially in the north end—who would have been given a pathway to well-paying jobs and lifelong careers that could have (helped them) grow, and build families, and buy property, and be able to do things like a lot of other people in Palm Springs. But those opportunities were stolen from them. Looking at what we pay workers, are we making sure they’re making enough money to afford to live in this city? Like I said earlier, what does affordable mean in Palm Springs? What is that price bracket that we’re looking at? Is it realistic? Affordable housing is incredibly important, because when people are housed, they are healthier. This is something we talk about at DAP Health, where I’m a board member, and we also talk about health equity, and (whether one has) easy and direct access to health care. Unfortunately, more times than not, those who don’t are black and brown citizens, and those who are (suffering) from a lack of affordable housing are often black and brown citizens. So, by creating more affordable housing units in the city, on top of the two (developments) that were already approved, we could be giving people an opportunity to start thriving in Palm Springs. For me, that’s important.

You know, you hear people say “a living wage,” but I like to say “a thriving wage.” You don’t just want to live; you want to thrive. You want to do well. You want to live the American dream. You want to have opportunity at your fingertips. You want that, and we have citizens in District 1 who have been unable to achieve that for years due to many barriers. So I feel that we can do the work to have affordable or subsidized housing that is well-made and properly maintained, and that will give people a chance to live well in Palm Springs.

Beyond that, there’s also attracting other enterprises and forms of business beyond tourism to our town. I personally believe we should become the renewable-energy capital of the country. Hawaii is doing a fantastic job (at this), so we have some catching up to do, but I feel that with wind and solar, we could become a renewable-energy capital that’s able to provide well-paying jobs to so many of our citizens. We can train them and get them working quickly.

Listen, people are buying up homes in District 1, and they’re flipping them, but what they’re actually doing is now pricing out residents who are renters. They can’t afford to rent here anymore, because the prices are going up, so it’s a double-edged sword. So, when you’re giving people pathways that lead to well-paying jobs, they are able to sustain their housing. They’re able to thrive and have a healthy living experience.

With the talk of these mega-warehouses (to be built in the north end of Palm Springs), I believe that’s another option. I mean, there are good and bad points to them, but they would provide a lot of job opportunities and huge tax revenue for the city, which could also be put toward affordable housing and taking care of our citizens. But, that’s a whole other topic, because there are a lot of pros and cons to that. You have to make sure that the infrastructure is in place to be able to sustain those kind of warehouses, which are literally the size of five Costcos. They’re massive.

What are your thoughts on the question of whether or not to place a new homeless persons’ navigation center within the District 1 territory?

From the beginning, I thought that the navigation center was poorly rolled out to the community, and they still feel a lot of resentment over that, understandably so. Also, I feel there was a major misstep by the current District 1 councilmember, because she voted no on the placement (of the center in District 1) and then did nothing. She didn’t come to the table with any ideas, and she didn’t come to the table with a list of things the community needs built into the center that would have lifted the community up. We have a food desert in the north end. Why didn’t she come and say, “Hey, we should build a food outlet into the navigation center”? Also, you have childcare, banking, a pharmacy, a laundry—that are all things lacking in the north end of the district. I feel that it was a real misstep for Ms. Garner not to bring those (thoughts) to the table. Instead, she just sat there and voted “no,” and I was so upset by that, because I knew this community so well. I knew how much the north end needed those things, and that was the opportunity to force it through. As a politician, you have to exploit those moments and get what you need for your district and your citizens. She failed to do that, and I feel there’s been a ripple effect since then.

In other ends of the district, people are genuinely concerned about the navigation center. I’ve talked to the people in Miralon and Four Seasons and Mountain Gate, or even people in Demuth Park and Escena, and we’re all in this together. We are all District 1. That’s why I call my campaign, “We Are District 1.” It’s important that we all take care of each other, and when I talk to neighbors at this end of the district, they are very worried for everyone who lives on the north end, and what’s going to happen. I try to assuage those fears by talking about a navigation center that was opened in San Francisco, and the success rate they’ve had, and (the fact that) the neighborhood did not see negative impact—but that was with major oversight. So, that is what my job will be, and I keep saying, “I will make no promises in this campaign,” and I won’t, because I don’t like politicians who lie. But I will say that I promise to fight to have oversight of this navigation center, so I can make sure those neighborhoods are safe.

What impact is the long-delayed development of a College of the Desert campus in Palm Springs having on the city’s residents, and the local economy?

I think it’s really disgraceful. I think what’s been done to this city, as well as the way it’s been done, is disastrous on multiple levels. I have neighbors who have said to me, “I’m giving up on me, but I’m worried about my children’s future, or my grandchildren’s future, and that’s why I want this campus.” That breaks my heart. As much as we talk about (the fact that) there’s going to be hospitality and food service training, that’s not the only job for people from District 1, right? This campus could provide the training that could lead them to go on to great careers in so many different worlds. So, for me, it is heartbreaking and infuriating that communities which are already disadvantaged, historically mistreated, underserved and lied to are still dealing with this in 2022.

College of the Desert (representatives) showed up to a community meeting that I attended at the James O. Jessie Center, and stood there and said that the campus is coming. “There are going to be students; it’s going to be great. And, of course, we never promised that the bonds (approved by voters) were going to be used just for this campus.” It just seemed so disingenuous. I’m somebody who grew up in Queens, N.Y., and lived in Manhattan, lived in Los Angeles, and lived around communities that looked like District 1, and worked and existed with residents who look like the people who live in District 1, and it really angers me when people take advantage and misrepresent the truth to people who already have had to deal with that for years and years. It is something that I’m incredibly focused on. We need that campus, and the College of the Desert needs to pull it together and make it happen as promised—not with 30% to 40% less than promised. They’ve had years to do this, and it’s time to stop jerking everyone around, get to work, and get it done.

What is your favorite “me” time activity?

This may not shock anybody (who knows) my career, but my favorite “me” time is just sitting on the couch and watching TV. Years ago, I was a cast member of a TV show on Bravo called The People’s Couch, where you watched us watch TV. I used to joke that it was the end of civilization as we knew it, but it was very successful. It was based on a successful British show called Gogglebox. So, I am a TV junkie, and since this campaign started, I have not seen much TV. I miss my late night viewings of The Golden Girls, and I don’t know what’s going on with Real Housewives. But I have much more important things going on, and TV was sacrificed so that I can focus on helping a city that I love very much.

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Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald is the staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. He started as a freelance writer for the Independent in June 2013, more than a year after he and his wife moved from Los Angeles...

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