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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

This story is all about stories, and how, in my view, too many of them can block the view.

The impending demolition of the Desert Fashion Plaza in downtown Palm Springs has raised concerns that a new six-story hotel will impede the view of our local mountains.

But just how important is it to have a view? After all, Sarah Palin says she can see Russia from her house, but she still thinks Africa is a country. Barbara Walters reminds us to take some time to enjoy the view, but asks us: If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

What is it about our magnificent mountains that makes them so visually appealing? I've come up with some ideas that would allow sky-high structures to exist while still retaining the all-important view.

Idea No. 1: All buildings above six stories must be made entirely of glass. This would allow people to see the mountains right through the building.

Of course, occupants would be required to provide their own means of privacy. This would apply primarily to restrooms and bedrooms.

Idea No. 2: Embed all new buildings into the mountain itself. This would ensure that the structure would essentially become part of the view. The soon-to-be razed Chart House restaurant would be a perfect example of this.

Idea No. 3: Eliminate the mountains. If there are no mountains, there would be no view to be blocked.

There are two ways this could be done. We could wait for natural erosion to do its work. However, this method may take several million years.

For those who are too impatient to wait that long, an organized effort could be made to supply workers with pickaxes. These laborers would chip away at the terrain until there's nothing left. However, removing the mountains may put an end to the tourism industry here.

So all of us have to decide what's more important: having the ability to construct tall buildings, or keeping the view?

The development in question is slated to take up three city blocks, so the solution is actually quite simple: All someone needs to do is walk a short distance to their left or right. When they are no longer standing in front of the hotel, the view will miraculously reappear. But in this car-conscious society, any suggestion of walking would be met with resistance. Therefore, I'm proposing some ideas to get people moving.

Idea No. 1: Install a conveyor belt directly in front of the hotel. It would look much like the ones passengers stand on in airports. People could then be taken a few blocks away, where they can once again see our majestic mountains.

Idea No. 2: The city could issue stilts to anyone seeking to elevate their view. These would be similar to the stilts used by circus performers. However, this technique might give the area more of a carnival atmosphere than it already has.

Idea No. 3: Have a series of trampolines situated in front of the hotel. Anyone who can jump high enough would be able to catch a brief glimpse of the mountains.

Of course, some of these ideas may cause serious injury, especially to our elderly visitors.

We could make use of the many local artists here in the desert. For a small fee, one of them can paint an artist's rendering of our snow-capped mountains so people won't miss the real thing. We could even take a cue from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and have a cable car attached to the power and telephone lines directly in front of the hotel.

Some of these proposals may be considered shocking—in the case of the last one, quite literally. But this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

What it all comes down to is perspective. It's really all about how you look at the situation.

If you went to see a movie, and there was a tall person sitting in front of you blocking the view, would you chop off his head with a pickaxe? It depends whether the movie is worth watching. But generally speaking, we shouldn't lose our heads about this.

Palm Springs has always had a quaint, village-like atmosphere. Building a new six-story hotel is a tall order that would bring controversy to new heights. That's my view. End of story.

Published in Humor

Champagne was flowing; public officials were smiling; tourists were snapping pictures and asking what, exactly, was going on.

The answer: It was a party under sunny skies on the afternoon of Thursday, Feb. 7, to mark the beginning of the demolition of the Desert Fashion Plaza. The largely defunct mall is slated to be replaced by a new shopping center—including a controversial six-story hotel—built by Wessman Development, at the corner of Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way.

“Look at what we’ve done in the last year,” said Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, who presided over the ceremony in the parking lot near the “Forever Marilyn” statue, following his state of the city speech at the Hilton. “We brought in ‘Forever Marilyn,’ though we didn’t know she was coming. We brought this project forward. … What we’ve done in the last two years is remarkable.”

Pougnet was then followed to the stage by developer John Wessman, who discussed the evolution of the plans for the development—and specifically, the look of the proposed Kimpton Hotel, which was the subject of a recent signature drive that sought to send the hotel matter to Palm Springs voters for a yes or no vote. “We think it’s turned out really well,” he said. “… Sometimes, you have to go through some valleys before you climb the mountain, and now we’re climbing the mountain."

Wessman pledged that demolition of the plaza would take just four months, and that 90 percent of the materials would be recycled. Pougnet later said that interior demolition would take place first, with the demolition along Palm Canyon happening later, after the tourist/snowbird season concludes.

After Pougnet and Wessman spoke, Pougnet directed the crowd of 250 or so onlookers to grab champagne—which had been poured into plastic cups on nearby tables—and walk closer to the fenced-off demolition area. There, mayor and the developer, followed by various officials—all wearing yellow plastic faux hardhats featuring the logos of Wessman, the city of Palm Springs, and the city’s Chamber of Commerce—took turns poking at the Desert Fashion Plaza sign with a Volvo backhoe. However, the old sign only crumbled slightly following multiple jabs, and after a while, Pougnet encouraged the waning crowd to head to the nearby grassy area, where various downtown restaurants had set up tables with food, for what had been formally dubbed a “block party.”

While the overall mood was festive and celebratory, not everybody was partying.

Around 1 p.m.—before Pougnet’s state of the city audience made its way from the Hilton to the Desert Fashion Plaza—Food Not Bombs Palm Springs set up on the Palm Canyon Drive sidewalk in front of “Forever Marilyn.”

FNB member Ethan Vega stood near a plastic bin, with a stock pot on top of it. The pot and bin contained 165 vegetarian burritos—containing spinach, rice, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms and green peppers—which were free to all comers.

Vega said that although FNB tries not to get too political—aside, of course, from promoting nonviolence and trying to shed a light on poverty—Food Not Bombs chose to show up during the “block party” for a reason.

“We’re just trying to show support for local businesses, smaller businesses, who may have been pushed out in this process—and to feed hungry people, really,” Vega said.

Vega was referring to the eviction of Latino Books y Mas, which is closing after losing a court battle to remain in its Fashion Plaza storefront off of Palm Canyon. The FNB Palm Springs Facebook page referred to the eviction of Latino Books y Mas as “illegal.”

FNB member Krystle Rogers handed out orange fliers to passers-by inviting them to the next free-food event (at 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 10, at Sunrise Park, at the intersection of Sunrise Way and Ramon Road). Meanwhile, Vega held a sign made of paper and wood, and handed out the food to both locals and tourists who walked by.

"Free burritos!” a young man would occasionally shout. “And they’re good, too.”

Scroll down for an image gallery of today's events.

Published in Local Issues

Boosters and opponents of the planned high-rise hotel in downtown Palm Springs are sharpening their blades for battle, after a group of residents delivered a petition to City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 22, seeking to quash those plans by forcing a citywide vote.

Members of Citizens for a Sustainable Palm Springs, the group behind the petition, said that if the City Council doesn't reconsider the look and height of the six-story Kimpton Hotel at the corner of Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way, the city may face a referendum on the issue in November.

The petition's 2,775 signatures are now being vetted by county officials. Should it qualify and come to a successful vote, other aspects of the revitalization—which, all told, would create several blocks of office, retail and restaurant space—would likely not be impacted, according to City Attorney Doug Holland.

Meanwhile, demolition on the project, which would raze most of the moldering Desert Fashion Plaza, is scheduled to begin in about two weeks.

Tuesday's turn-in set the stage for continuing clashes between business owners, residents and, most important, friends, some of whom have known each other for decades. The fight has been waged in public hearings, on Facebook walls and in newspaper comment sections, with both sides admitting that it has occasionally gotten personal.

For their part, opponents of the hotel rattle off a number of problems they have with the development, starting with aesthetics.

"People don't come here to see high-rises and concrete," said Frank Tysen, owner of the Casa Cody Country Inn and one of the most vocal members of the anti-hotel group.

Manny Montoya, a spokesman for Citizens for a Sustainable Palm Springs, added that the hotel's design "isn't conducive to the brand of Palm Springs" and would muck up the skyline. Unlike painting a building or naming a street, he said, "this is something that's going to have an impact on quality of life forever."

But Joy Meredith, owner of downtown's Crystal Fantasy shop and president of the Main Street Palm Springs merchants’ association, said "fear of change" is at the core of the opposition.

"Palm Springs has a great history, but we have to grow, too," she said. "We can't keep living in the past."

Things got a little testy in recent weeks, when a flier issued by redevelopment proponents (and signed by business leaders including Meredith) was circulated, and went to customers of at least one restaurant. In addition to projecting that redevelopment would add hundreds of jobs, it accused paid signature gatherers of lying about their identities.

"Please also warn your neighbors," read the flier, which urged residents not to sign the petition. "This obstructionist scheme will result in keeping our downtown blighted."

Meredith said that she herself had encountered a signature-gatherer who implied that he was working for the city. "People felt like they were being misled into signing it," she said.

Montoya dismissed the claims.

"We feel we've satisfied the burden of proof in this area," he said. "We did not overstep any legalities to do what we did."

Tysen, meanwhile, has accused his "fanatically involved" opponents, in the throes of redevelopment "hysteria," of spreading rumors to undercut his group's message. He said the hotel's proponents are so fed up with the void in downtown Palm Springs that he wouldn't have been surprised if they had voted for a grain silo to take its place.

"The whole thing is an insane idea, driven by the developer, who doesn't care," he said. "It's beyond rational decision-making."

Tysen's group has also taken issue with the way local government "fast-tracked" the redevelopment in December, when the City Council agreed to plans put forward by developer John Wessman. That approval came after two large-scale reviews, open to public comment, were conducted in November.

"They bent all kinds of rules and regulations and codes that need to be followed," said Tysen, who did not give specifics. "It wasn't a good democratic process."

According to Meredith, however, there were ample opportunities to contribute input before December's approval. She said having a group of hotel opponents try to make an end-run around the process was like being "stabbed in the back."

"It was a very lengthy process, and they were all open meetings," Meredith said. "And I know, because I was at those meetings, and I'd like to know where they were."

She also bristled at the notion that exactly how private property should be developed would be decided democratically.

"I did not vote for Frank Tysen," Meredith said. "Is this how they'd want their private-property rights being treated?"

With county officials due to report back to the city on the petition's legitimacy within 30 days, both sides have little to do for now but wait—and try to keep things civil.

"I hope this doesn't become the way people decide things should be done around here," Meredith said. "It can only get more chaotic." 

Published in Local Issues

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