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Thu02272020

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On Nov. 1, 2019, District 28 State Sen. Jeff Stone, a Republican, resigned to become the western regional director of President Donald Trump’s Department of Labor. On March 3—the day of California’s primary election, as well as Super Tuesday nationally—voters will start the process of choosing Stone’s replacement.

Five candidates—three Democrats and two Republicans—are running in the district, which reaches from Temecula Valley in the west to the Colorado River in the east, and includes nearly the entire Coachella Valley. Presuming no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the top two finishers will move on to a special vote on May 12, and the winner will serve the final two years of the term.

The Independent recently spoke to all of the candidates and asked each of them the same set of questions, on topics ranging from the Salton Sea, to their personal accomplishments, to California’s primary format. Here are their complete answers, edited only for style and clarity, and presented in the same order as the certified list of candidates.

Anna Nevenic

Retired registered nurse, nonprofit director and author

Democrat, 72

What specific steps would you recommend to stop the erosion and evaporation of the Salton Sea, and to mitigate the negative effects of the multiple health threats already evidenced in the eastern Coachella Valley, such as increased asthma and respiratory illness?

We have been talking for some 20 years about it, and we should have started doing something about it years ago, because you can’t fix that problem in one day or one year. But we haven’t done any of that. We’ve just been researching and analyzing and wasting more money in the process.

My plan always has been that we can’t save the whole lake. So we (should) cover the area with trees, so that we have a big park, which will also be good for the wildlife. They should have done that right away. Then (we) use what revenues we have and work together with the private sector to use the algae, because we have a lot of algae, which are good for renewable energy. There’s talk about bringing water in from the Sea (of Cortez) and using recycled water to help regenerate the sea. But you have to be sure before you can say there’s a plan.

People can say, “This is what I want,” but it has to be realistic.

Other than the Salton Sea challenge, what is the single most pressing issue currently facing District 28 constituents, and how do you intend to address it if elected?

As a community activist working in the health-care profession for the last four decades, I’ve been working to have health care for all, because health care is the most important asset we have. It should not be treated like a commodity, because our bodies should not be for sale. We can save money, too, if we take measures and prevent people from becoming disabled. Prescription-drug treatment is a key component of any individual’s health care plan, and we need to be increasing access to safe and affordable prescription drugs. It is unacceptable that Americans pay inflated prices for vital medications. Health care for all ensures that health services are appropriate, effective, cost efficient and focused on consumer needs. Preventative care will play a major role in meeting health-care needs. Prevention works, costs less, and it saves lives.

Also, we should be diversifying our economy. Most of the jobs created in our area are low-wage jobs in hospitality and the restaurant business and so on. A lot of them are part-time jobs, which are OK for senior citizens, but are not OK for the young people, because they don’t have health care overage or retirement plans. We need to bring high-tech industry (into our district). It’s growing in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, but in the entire Inland (Empire) area, we have maybe a few startups, but nothing really. And that’s very important to bring wages up, especially for young people who are supposed to be our future.

What is the one accomplishment of which you are most proud?

I’ve been a community activist and rallying for health care for all for the last 40 years. I’ve been going to Sacramento and trying to get a bill passed. Every year, we lobby for that … but it’s the regular citizens who are making this happen. So I’ve been working with the environmental movement, and fighting for sex education in schools. Each time, you have to gather signatures on the petitions, and then you go and lobby for the bill. I’ve been doing that for the last four decades. I’ve educated many people as to why they should get involved, why it’s important to go to alternative media like PBS to get the information you need. I give lectures to young people wherever I go, and I’ve spoken to thousands and thousands of young people explaining what the generations before them did to provide them with things they all enjoy today like civil rights.

I never got married … that’s my point. So I’m proud I didn’t do it. Instead, I’ve spent thousands of hours of my time going to different conferences, and participating in annual summits where you talk about the economy, and other issues of importance to the average citizen. I’ve spent more time doing that than making my own living, because I felt as a young girl that there were many people who were not as strong as I, and they needed help in some way.

Given today’s highly partisan political environment, what are the most important personal qualities you possess that will help you succeed, both in terms of winning elections, but also having a legislative impact if elected?

The only reason I’m running is because I hope to educate enough people that influence and money is a problem, and (they should) not to be influenced by the establishment that only promotes people who raise big money while ignoring the others. I feel that, because of my professional background, my educational background and my civic engagement, I’m the most prepared for this position. I have traveled, and I’ve seen how other countries deal with their health-care issues. If you listen to all these powerful voices like the (American) Medical Association or the trial lawyers or big pharma, somebody’s always standing in the way. So I try to educate as many people as possible that they have to use their own minds.

There is a solution to every problem, and for every dollar we invest in preventing problems and intervening early, we save $7. So, I believe that one person can make a difference. That’s why I wrote a book called Out of the Shadows about American women who changed the world. I do believe that I could influence (legislative) colleagues to put the money in the right place where we really need it.

What else would you like voters to know about you and your campaign?

From when I was about 11 years old, I saw all these horrible movies about war and misery and what people are capable of (doing to each other), and I always thought that when I grew up, I might be able to help make a better world, and a better society by working together rather than against each other. I’ve been a peace activist all my life, and I still am. People don’t understand that $1 trillion is going to the military, and how are we going to pay for all the other problems that we have? We have such a broken system. But if you believe in the Constitution, you know that it says, ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people.’ It doesn’t say anything about being led by the professional politicians. I think it’s a problem, because we have people (in elected office) who want to stay there forever, because it’s a good position, right? But I just want two years, and I believe that if I’m elected, I’ll be able to put my agenda in front (of my legislative colleagues) and say, ‘OK. There’s already a solution for this problem, and this one, and this one. So let’s do it!’

I’m an independent voice. I will do what is right for the people who elected me, and not what’s right for wealthy corporations and individuals. I will never change my positions. I don’t blindly obey any policy platform. So if I’m elected I will take the approach that everybody matters. Every child matters. Every person matters. And all my decisions will be based on human needs, not on corporate needs.


Elizabeth Romero

Assistant vice chancellor of governmental community relations at UC Riverside

Democrat, 36

What specific steps would you recommend to stop the erosion and evaporation of the Salton Sea, and to mitigate the negative effects of the multiple health threats already evidenced in the eastern Coachella Valley, such as increased asthma and respiratory illness?

As a resident of the eastern Coachella Valley, obviously I have firsthand experience and knowledge about what is happening in and around the sea, especially related to some of the environmental-justice issues that are currently impacting our communities. I think the most important thing is that we have to ensure that we are moving forward in a way that is founded in science and research, so that we can find the best solution to mitigate—not only the current dust (pollution being dispersed into the air), but also find long term solutions that allow us to restore the sea, not only for habitat (redevelopment), but for economic development, as well as long term continuity of the sea.

If we have an option to bring water into the sea, which is something that I think has been on the table and is still being explored, then we should pursue that. So there are various proposals out there, and I’m open to listening to and assessing all of them. But what I think is really important now is to also leverage the $220 million in funding that has already been allocated in the budget through the water bond so that we can actually get some projects moving.

Other than the Salton Sea challenge, what is the single most pressing issue currently facing District 28 constituents, and how do you intend to address it if elected?

There are several issues that I’m passionate about addressing. I don’t think there’s one single issue that we need to point our finger at, but there’s a whole host of things that are intersectional and that we need to focus on. Those include the state’s affordability issues, which some would say is what’s pushing us into the crisis around homelessness. But it’s deeper than that. It’s about people having access to affordable and diverse housing in the region, which means (we need better) transportation access, health care and quality education. There is this whole host of different issues that I think it’s really important that we focus on. … We’re finding that as we talk to people, there’s not one single issue. People want quality jobs. People want a quality environment and quality education. So, (overall) we want to make sure that we’re focusing on issues that matter to the residents of the 28th District.

When you mention “diverse housing” as a need, what exactly are you referring to?

I think we need to have entry-level housing and affordable housing, (which can be done) obviously by expanding access through California’s Section 8—a government funded program that aims to help low-income families find housing—but also through self-help programs. We need to have first-time home-buyer programs and veteran housing programs. So there are many programs that exist, not only through the state, but through the federal government that we need to leverage and expand here in the desert. This housing needs to be built throughout the Coachella Valley, so that our communities are built out in a way that allows people to live closer to where they work.

What is the one accomplishment of which you are most proud?

Most recently, professionally, as assistant vice chancellor of governmental community relations at UC Riverside, I’ve been very focused on helping to expand the number of doctors serving our region. I’ve worked to help raise $100 million to build a School of Medicine education building that will double the size of the current class at UC Riverside from 250 (per class) to 500 over time. Also, we’re focused on leveraging the state funds to fully fund residencies and programs that are addressing direct health-care access needs in our region. As you know, we have a health care crisis in our region (due to the fact) that the underserved communities of our region don’t have the same number of doctors that the more affluent communities do. So we’re trying to level the field in terms of having primary-care physicians who are focused on serving the entire region. The best way to predict where a doctor will actually start their practice is (determined by) where they did their residency. So that’s why it’s important to embed these doctors in our communities throughout the 28th District. That way, we will be able to deal with the health-care shortage we’re experiencing long term.

Given today’s highly partisan political environment, what are the most important personal qualities you possess that will help you succeed, both in terms of winning elections, but also having a legislative impact if elected?

My career in the region has spanned over 20 years of serving the greater Coachella Valley area, and throughout Riverside County. I’ve been elected for 13 years in a very purple part of the district (to the Coachella Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees and then the Riverside County Board of Education). I’ve been successful in serving this area for a couple of reasons, and I think they underscore the qualities that you’re speaking to: I’m a coalition builder and a good listener, too. Even though I may not agree with someone’s point (of view), I’m always willing to engage in the conversation. Also, I’m someone who’s able to bring people together to solve issues. My campaign currently has the support of Republicans and Democrats and everything in between. I’ve worked on both sides of the aisle. I’ve served for county supervisors in a nonpartisan office, and I’ve sought to just do the work. I think that’s really important for this race.

Moving forward as a state senator, I think we need somebody who’s focused on getting results, and addressing the issues that matter to everyone. There are issues that are cross-cutting. People, regardless of their party affiliation, want to have quality schools. They want to have access to healthcare. They want quality jobs that have benefits. So I think it’s important to focus on the issues that matter to the people in our region, and work across the aisle to make things happen.

Do you believe that the California “top-two” primary format is fair for candidates? Fair to the public interest?

Obviously, it’s the system that we have. I think it’s important to communicate, as a candidate, to the voters. So, in all fairness, I think it’s definitely a process that allows us to put the best candidates forward, and have them come to voters who can participate in the democratic process and decide (which candidates) they want to move forward.

What else would you like voters to know about you and your campaign?

I’d be honored to have the votes of your readers. As a lifelong resident and a homegrown candidate that has served this community for over 20 years, I am poised to hit the ground running on day one. I can ensure that our voice will be heard in Sacramento and that we will be leveraging the state resources that we need to address the issues that are important in our region. So, I would be honored to have the vote of all of your readers on March 3.


Joy Silver

Businesswoman; housing adviser; political activist

Democrat, 64

What specific steps would you recommend to stop the erosion and evaporation of the Salton Sea, and to mitigate the negative effects of the multiple health threats already evidenced in the eastern Coachella Valley, such as increased asthma and respiratory illness?

I’m really happy to talk about (this issue), because, for me, running for this office is the continuation of working on the things that I’m already doing. A lot of times, politicians get elected and say, “When I get elected, I will do this and the other thing,” and they elucidate some things that they’ll accomplish should you elect them. But for me … it’s about continuing to finish what I’m already pursuing. … What’s important to know about the Salton Sea is the “sea-to-sea” solution which has received traction throughout the desert cities. Resolutions have been passed through a number of those city councils (supporting this approach) as an answer to stopping the erosion and evaporation of the Salton Sea.

The recommendation of the Salton Sea Coalition—of which I’m a member—is to put the engineering in place to start what is called the “ocean water import.” Now, the second part of this is to support the declarations of emergency that have been passed by Imperial County. The first declaration of emergency regards the local emergency for air pollution. The second one addresses the stoppage of emptying raw sewage into the New River. Both of those emergency declarations are of critical importance to overcome the delays that have happened (while trying) to implement any of the projects. What is great about these declarations is that they mitigate the permitting issues, procurement issues and agencies getting in each other’s way, including using money, because once the declarations of emergency are accepted, (any corrective actions) can be paid for without another bond. The total state revenue is $146 billion, and the “rainy day fund” has $16.5 billion, and the budget surplus is $21.5 billion. So the money is there to move forward and mitigate the declarations of emergency on both the raw sewage and the air.

Getting that into forward motion will push solutions toward getting done. We’ve got to use the available funds to clean the water and update sewage treatment. This needs to be for both the New River and the Salton Sea itself, since there’s been an increase in pesticides (flowing into the sea) along with the raw sewage and military munitions (contamination). The Region 7 State Water Control Board has been non-compliant around these issues for the past 27 years, and that has to change. (The region covers approximately 13,000,000 acres, some 20,000 square miles, in the southeastern portion of California.) There have been funds earmarked (by the state) for the Salton Sea, and we can use them to start the engineering plans to begin water import. There have been about 11 proposals for importing ocean water already submitted, and we need an unbiased agency to evaluate those proposals. That will determine what the actual cost is for importing ocean water. Ocean water, with salinity management, offers the most feasible path to restore the Salton Sea and protect the region from environmental disaster.

The good thing that’s happened is that (Arturo) Delgado is the assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency. He has made the commitment to the community that there will be an open and unbiased evaluation of those ocean-water import proposals, and that’s really major, from our point of view. You know, the connection (from the Salton Sea) to Mexico’s Sea of Cortez was actually there at one time, so, fully restoring the sea would restore the environment, and bring back the birds and the plants, restore boating and fishing, and help with economic development in the area. All of that will mitigate the health issues (including elevated) asthma and respiratory illness rates. Right now, as that sea water evaporates, the playa just releases more and more toxins into the air.

It’s so interesting to me that people who are unaware of the challenge happening with the Salton Sea don’t realize that they’re actually breathing in the toxins released. We breathe the same air (all over Southern California). So, this is not simply a problem in Brawley, or Salton City, or Imperial or Riverside County. This is a problem for California and further. I think that understanding needs to be made clear to Sacramento, and that would be my job, to advocate for moving (a solution) forward in some way.

Other than the Salton Sea challenge, what is the single most pressing issue currently facing District 28 constituents, and how do you intend to address it if elected?

Here’s where I have difficulty with this question: “the single.” The reason it’s so challenging is because the issues that we face are integrated. So, there is no one solution of one item that’s going to solve that very issue. See what I’m saying? Unless things are going on along, at least, three tracks, you can’t really solve any issues without the other things rolling forward.

That being said, what I would look at as one of the pressing issues that we’re facing is the need for affordable housing—whether it’s for seniors on fixed incomes or veterans in need of support services due to (post-traumatic stress disorder) challenges, or entry housing pricing for young families and work-force housing for those with jobs in the district and have to drive far out of their own neighborhoods. This (housing initiative) goes further in that it helps create solutions as well for the homelessness crisis. My intention to address this is to develop a legislative initiative—which I’m working on right now—that refocuses the funding efficiencies of the state to allow for easier permitting and funding when criteria has been met that is not dependent upon federal funding sources.

What actually is the strategy as to how you would go about accomplishing such objectives?

Well, we have to reallocate our existing resources to developing efficient strategies for funding affordable housing. Part of the funding of affordable housing relies on federal tax credits, for example. We see legislators who are putting together bills to mitigate the timelines of how long it takes to go through the processes to bring affordable housing into line and to go into construction in communities. Some of that has to do with the permitting process, and some of it has to do with conditional use of permits, which means that municipalities get to choose the location for what the use of the land can be. (What’s needed) is bringing municipalities on board to find land to integrate affordable housing communities. So, how do you fund that? It has to be more state focused. There has to be more incentive through the state, so that the competition for funding is lessened, and there are more no-profit developers who can begin the process of construction. So that’s one of the big issues that we’re facing.

What is the one accomplishment of which you are most proud?

For me, we’re still on the subject of affordable housing, and what I’m most proud of is that, when Palm Springs says we have land available, but we can’t find a developer to come in and build an affordable housing community, I said at the time to someone who was on the City Council during that time period, “I’m going to bring a really good organization into Palm Springs to do that.” So, consequently, I did, and I now work as a consultant for that nonprofit organization (the Community Housing Opportunities Corporation) as their regional director for Southern California, and we’re bringing more affordable housing communities into Riverside County right now. I’m very proud of that.

Given today’s highly partisan political environment, what are the most important personal qualities you possess that will help you succeed, both in terms of winning elections, but also having a legislative impact if elected?

A couple of things. The first thing is that I am not a career politician, and that’s important, because I can afford to be strong in my stance to represent our district. Also, I have skills and experience in the real world that I bring to a legislative body. That’s important, because when you represent people, you represent those who actually are in the work force, who have experience in creating business, who actually provide health care and these are the kinds of skills that I have. So when a piece of legislation is put forward, knowing how things actually work in the real world can help that legislation be stronger and not simply be developed without being able to see that it may cause obstructions that no one intended, because they actually didn’t know how the thing itself works. I think that’s an important piece. I’m also able to motivate people into taking action, and that’s a quality that’s really critical in moving something forward. That’s why I got into running for this office, because I was already mobilizing and motivating people to move forward, and so I thought, “OK … we’re moving forward, but we have some challenges in getting things done—like with the Salton Sea Coalition or other things that I was moving forward with—so it’s time to move those obstructions out of the way on the state level.” We haven’t really had any representation in District 28 that moved things forward. Basically, we had representation that was saying “no” and keeping things at status quo, and certainly not fighting for our fair share of resources to get those things done.

Also, I am persistent, with a laser focus on goal attainment. I possess an awareness of different community needs throughout our district, because I’ve been out there talking to people for a good three years now. I hunt down the truth, and I stand up for solutions when they’re for the common good. (Because I’m not) a career politician, even if (the position) is politically unpopular, if the solution is for the common good, then I’m willing to take that stand. So, meeting people where they are in this district that’s more than 6,000 square miles means a lot of travelling. But I’m willing to go out and meet with people throughout the district, and I bring those people together to move things forward. I’m a fighter. I’m inclusionary, and I’m a negotiator.

Do you believe that the California “top-two” primary format is fair for candidates? Fair to the public interest?

Here’s the thing: I’m not really sure about this, because my senate races have been my first such races (both in 2018 and the current 2020 campaign). I don’t know what it would be like in a different environment. I think what we’re seeing right now is the different political parties having their primaries let the political party’s strength (in a particular region) decide who is the stronger candidate. That could be advantageous, but not having experienced that (scenario), I don’t know for sure. Having the run-off election be between the two highest vote-getters can be difficult, because I don’t think it offers (the voters) the same amount of choice as, potentially, the party primaries do.

What else would you like voters to know about you and your campaign?

I would like to let your readers know that I’m a working-class kid who was once out on the street, but I worked my way up from an entry-level job at a health-care clinic to the executive suite. I have said before that I’m not a career politician, and I have real-life experience in health care, senior care, housing development and renewable fuel technology. I’m the renewable-energy-economy candidate, actually. I’m not running to get things done when I’m elected. I am running to get the things done that I’m already doing.

My agenda for change will focus on reducing the cost of prescription drugs and opposing harmful cuts to health care. I want to tackle the homelessness crisis and provide housing, also for homeless veterans. And I will fight for our fair share of state funding, because you know what? Riverside County cannot afford to wait any longer.


Melissa Melendez

U.S. Navy veteran; California District 67 assembly member

Republican, 52

What specific steps would you recommend to stop the erosion and evaporation of the Salton Sea, and to mitigate the negative effects of the multiple health threats already evidenced in the eastern Coachella Valley, such as increased asthma and respiratory illness?

From the people who I’ve talked to about this issue, and from the things we’ve seen coming through Sacramento, I can say from the beginning that we really need more money. The government really needs to step up here and help us out. But I do think there are things we can do in conjunction with that, which range from some wetland development along the edges and the open areas. We can partner with state, local and federal entities on that. I would say we could be creating some habitats in there, too. These would be habitats that the community could access as well. We could provide some other amenities in there to really get community buy-in. The reality is that we need more water out there, which we can do in the future by bringing it in from new sources.

I feel like we’ve just been standing still on this issue. A little bit of money gets thrown in there, but then the situation doesn’t change. I think that some of the things I mentioned are things we can do immediately. I think the governor promised about $220 million, but that is contingent on the bond measure passing. So what happens if the bond measure doesn’t pass? I don’t think that’s a fair solution. While I appreciate the (governor’s promise to direct) $220 million, let’s be honest: It’s going to take more than $220 million to solve this problem.

Is there any particular restoration strategy that you favor?

Yes. More water. We know that the issue is that we need to fill the sea back up. We have to do that. Years ago, my great uncle lived near the Salton Sea, and I remember him talking about it as the place to be, and the place to go. But now you look at it and say, “What the heck happened here?” Why has it been neglected for so long? So, it’s got to be a group effort, and now is not the time to point fingers and argue about whose fault it is. Let’s get something done.

I’ve heard talk about a “sea-to-sea” water replenishment strategy. Do you think that’s a viable approach?

The problem we always seem to run into is that environmental groups come in and challenge whatever is trying to be done. That’s always going to be an issue. The question is how we can get everybody to at least agree to some (restorative actions) in the middle, because it’s a health hazard out there. People are getting nose bleeds, and there are asthma problems and other respiratory problems. This is not something that we can argue about all day long as far as environmental concerns, and then do nothing. People deserve better than that.

I’m in the western part of our district, and there are times when we can smell the Salton Sea where we are. And that (polluted air) wafts over Los Angeles, even. You’d think that they would say, “Hey, what’s going on here?” So, everybody thinks that there’s just one answer, but there isn’t. I think people need to be mature about this and (understand) that you’re not going to come with some silver bullet. This calls for a multifaceted solution, and we have to stop trying to find that magic wand to wave and fix everything, because that’s not going to happen.

Other than the Salton Sea challenge, what is the single most pressing issue currently facing District 28 constituents, and how do you intend to address it if elected?

I think the two top issues, in the whole state really, are affordability and the homelessness crisis. That’s what people have been talking to me about, and that’s what we’ve seen in the polling. The cost of living is pretty darn high in California, and it impacts every aspect of our lives, from housing affordability to long commutes and the time that people are spending on freeways. I will say that I have personally authored legislation. … I’ve even offered bills to re-purpose the high-speed rail funding and put it into the building of new housing. There is a bill that we put forward to make sure that the gas tax money is actually going to (maintaining) the roads instead of other pet projects which everyone is frustrated with.

The homeless issue—which I think is the No. 1 polling issue in California—everyone’s concerned with that. I did put policies forward to address chronic homelessness that can be lessened, or averted, by providing more mental-health funding, because we know that there’s a large contingent of homeless out there who have some mental-health issues. They really need some help, so we’re going to beef up the funding for that, in addition to making sure that those out there who have substance abuse issues are getting the help that they need too.

Relating to “sober living” homes: Basically you (or anyone) living in your neighborhood could open a “sober living” home. As long as you have six or fewer clients living there, there are no regulations that you have to follow. It is literally the wild west. It’s kind of insane. So we put a bill forward saying there are certain standards that have to be met, because people have been coming out here from all over the country to get help. But, once (the patient’s) money runs out—their health insurance or whatever form of payment they’re using—they kick (the patient) out. They have a term for it: They call it “curbing.” Talk about dehumanizing someone. And (the patients) don’t get the help. So, now we’re back to square one. I think that’s all pretty important when we talk about the homelessness issue. It’s not just that people can’t afford a place to live, although that is a portion of it. But there’s a whole host of other issues out there that we can do something about and adjust.

These policies that you’ve been referring to: Are some of them still pending in the Legislature, or have they been passed already?

These are bills that have been introduced and have failed to get passed in the Legislature. We’ve gotten further with them each year we bring them up. Apparently it takes like 50 attempts to get something meaningful through, but we’re working on it. Even on the “sober living” homes bill, we had the coalition of the (home) operators who came forward in support of the bill. Their feeling is that they run a legitimate organization, and they want the bad actors to be gone. They want rules to be followed, because (the bad actors) aren’t helping people. But the other side is saying that when it comes to addiction issues, (the patients) are a protected class, and we don’t want to get into a situation where we’re somehow violating their civil rights by saying where these “sober living” homes can and can’t operate, which we weren’t trying to do. We were just trying to say that there are certain rules and certain standards to make sure that they are actually helping people.

What is the one accomplishment of which you are most proud?

That’s an easy question. That would be marrying my husband and going on to have our five kids. They are the best thing ever. You know, politics is short-term, and even a career is not forever, but family is forever, and I’m very blessed. We’ve got great kids: the oldest one is a (United States) Navy diver; we’ve got one in college, and two in high school; one in eighth grade, and they are the loves of my life. That’s definitely the thing I’m most proud of.

Given today’s highly partisan political environment, what are the most important personal qualities you possess that will help you succeed, both in terms of winning elections, but also having a legislative impact if elected?

It’s a precarious situation at the end, but I think it’s important for all of us who are serving to remember that we serve the people that we represent. We are not to be serving the special interests that dominate the halls in the state capitol. I made that commitment to be their voice when I first got elected, and I’m going to continue to be their voice. I’ve hosted over 100 town halls since I’ve been in the Assembly. We do two a month: one during the day, and one in the evening. We do that because voices need to be heard. I always tell them that I can’t represent them effectively or well if I don’t know what’s on their minds and how they feel about the issues. Frankly, I wish every legislator would do that. It’s been very helpful, because sometimes we have bills that come up, and they are definitely partisan bills, and I have to ask my constituents what they want me to do. We had the late-school-start bill last year—and party politics don’t come into play there—and went and asked (constituents), ‘What do you want me to do?’ For everybody who has kids, this is going to affect you. So, I think I’ve been most effective and best represented the people, because I do that. You know, when you win your re-election (races) for the state Assembly by large margins with (backing) from Republican, Democrat and Independent voters, that means they like when their representatives listen to them and come talk with them.

Do you believe that the California “top-two” primary format is fair for candidates? Fair to the public interest?

I get a lot of complaints about the “top-two” (primary format), and I have to remind people that the Legislature did not do that; the voters of California actually did that. I think (the voters at the time) were convinced that it would bring forward candidates who were more in the center (of political ideology) rather than on the fringes. But I have not seen that happen, actually, so I don’t know that it worked. But I know that people are really irritated when they look at their ballot, and if they’re a Democrat and they only see two Republicans, or if they’re Republican and they only see two Democrats—they don’t like it. They want choices. So has it served the public? I don’t think so. I don’t think it changed anything, to be honest with you, other than frustrating the voters.

From your perspective as a candidate, does it matter?

I think it does. I mean, if you have to make a choice, you’re making a choice ideally between two different things. But when you have two people in the same party, then it becomes (a question of), “How different are they, really?” Maybe those candidates aren’t really different, and it just comes down to who has more money. And, who has more special interests backing them. I don’t think that’s fair to the voters. They want clear and distinct choices, and that’s very hard to get when you have two people in the same party on your ballot. I mean, imagine how left out you feel as a voter if you’re in one particular party, and nobody from your party is on the ballot for you to choose from. When you talk about voter apathy, that could have something to do with it, because people say, “You know what? Someone I would prefer to support isn’t even on the ballot. So, why bother?” It has an effect on every (race) down ballot, too. If you don’t go in to vote for your state Assembly member or your state senator (for instance), because somebody from your party is not on there, that means maybe you’re not voting for ballot initiatives, either. And your vote could be very important (in terms of) determining whether or not something passes.

What else would you like voters to know about you and your campaign?

I do want to point out that I have the endorsement of the (Riverside) County sheriff, of the county district attorney and of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. I think that should let people know that I take public safety very seriously, and I take protecting their tax dollars very seriously, too—considering the fact that we’re going to have a ballot initiative in November that is going to tinker with Prop 13 and how property taxes are assessed.

I want people to know that I didn’t get into politics by design. Politics is not exactly where I expected that I would be. I got into because, after leaving the Navy, it’s just kind of a way of life. You go serve. You don’t just take care of yourself; you go serve everybody in your community. So, that’s how I look at it, and public service is pretty much all I’ve done for my entire adult life. I hope (the voters) see that in the work that I’ve done, and in the ways that I’ve communicated with my constituents, the outreach that we’ve engaged in. When I get emails from my constituents, I answer every single one of them myself personally. I don’t do it by email; I hand-write my response, and I like doing that better. Frankly, all we ever get in the mail now is bills and junk mail, and, it’s nice to have someone actually write something to you. So, I answer them all by hand, and I hope (constituents) recognize that I do that because I think that’s what (each constituent) deserves, and they deserve someone who respects them regardless of whether or not we agree on a particular issue.


John Schwab

U.S. Marine veteran; owner and operator of a residential facility for developmentally disabled adults; real estate broker/mortgage broker

Republican, 43

What specific steps would you recommend to stop the erosion and evaporation of the Salton Sea, and to mitigate the negative effects of the multiple health threats already evidenced in the eastern Coachella Valley, such as increased asthma and respiratory illness?

Ever since I was stationed at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base, they’ve been talking about cleaning up the Salton Sea forever—and they just haven’t done anything. So we really need to take care of it, because it’s just become more of a problem with all the respiratory infections out there.

I’m willing to work on coming up with a solution to help start cleaning it up. I’ve come up with some ideas that can help the area out there, because they just keep kicking the can down the road. Nothing’s getting done, and it’s just getting worse

Any specific thoughts you have on how to attack the problem?

I’d like to talk to a lot of people about the environmental impact reports for that area and what needs to be done. We’re talking, in my estimation, about years of cleanup. It’s not going to happen quickly, but it is something that needs to be addressed.

Other than the Salton Sea challenge, what is the single most pressing issue currently facing District 28 constituents, and how do you intend to address it if elected?

My No. 1 priority is traffic. I’ve lived in this state since I was 18 years old, so it’s been 25 years now, and traffic has gotten worse and worse. With more housing and more people, we still have limited space on the freeways and roads. So, I’m willing to work with the California Transportation Commission and the California Department of Transportation to come up with solutions to many of the issues that we have with traffic.

Do you have any particular strategy that you think could help alleviate this serious problem?

These are just some thoughts: scheduled commute times, more (traffic) lanes, maybe some roundabouts in certain areas and on certain roads, and maybe even look at additional roads. In this area, (to travel east-west), you’ve got to take the Interstate 10 freeway, and that’s it. It’s been that way forever, and if something happens on the 10, you’re not moving. I listen to the radio most of the time, to calm me down and soothe me. I even put the classical music on.

What is the one accomplishment of which you are most proud?

It would be my personal life, because I’ve got really good kids. They’re very respectful, and they (reflect) what I grew up with. I’m originally from Richmond, Ind., and my kids are very respectful of their elders and people. They’re polite and well-mannered. When I started this campaign, I was trying to get signatures for the nomination, and you’d be surprised how people treat each other. So, just by raising great kids (who will be) great stewards, that helps make the state, counties and the cities better. That is the future, right?

Given today’s highly partisan political environment, what are the most important personal qualities you possess that will help you succeed, both in terms of winning elections, but also having a legislative impact if elected?

I just look at the facts. I’m not all about fluff. I’m not going to sit here and promise you everything, and not deliver. What I talk about is coming up with solutions and trying to solve problems in the district. I’m not going to cure everything, but I’m going to work hard and diligently, and, it may be behind the scenes. I don’t have to be out here speaking in front of a crowd. I don’t need to be telling (people) what I want to do. I just need to put my nose to the grind, work with professionals who can give (me their) expert opinion, and try to get things done.

Do you believe that the California “top-two” primary format is fair for candidates? Fair to the public interest?

I don’t have a problem with the best two (moving on). The top two vote-getters after the primary going (into the runoff election) is fine with me.

What else would you like voters to know about you and your campaign?

I’m just a regular neighbor, a father and husband; my kids are still in school. I’m just trying to do the best we can for the people in the district. I’m not a career politician. That’s not what I want to do. I’m just trying to stop some of the ridiculous laws, and lessen the tax burden that the state (government) keeps putting on the people of this state. I love California, but a lot of my friends and family are looking at the future, and trying to figure out if California is somewhere they want to stay, because (the state government) is burdening a lot of the people who live and work here. So, I decided to run for those particular reasons specifically.

I’m not an attorney. I don’t have any hidden agenda. My (focus) is on traffic, public safety and lowering fuel prices. I wasn’t a political major in college. I am really for the people, and that’s what I’d really like to share. They’re the ones who sit down and, hopefully, do the research. They look through the fluff and the rhetoric, and then they get to decide for themselves.

Published in Politics

Declaring that moral persuasion and economic incentives aren’t working to bring in people from the sidewalks, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s task force on homelessness earlier this week called for a “legally enforceable mandate” that would force municipalities and the state to house the growing number of homeless Californians. 

The proposal, which came as Newsom kicked off a weeklong tour of the state aimed at drawing attention to the homelessness crisis, urged the Legislature to put a measure on the November ballot that would force California cities and counties to take steps to provide housing for the more than 150,000 Californians who lack it—or face legal action.

Such a measure would require a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses to be brought to voters. California law does not currently penalize the state or local governments for failing to reduce their homeless populations, nor does it force them to make housing sufficiently available to people without it.

But Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who co-chair the governor’s 13-member Council of Regional Homeless Advisors, have been advocating for some sort of enforceable “right” to sleep indoors since the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down laws against homeless camping. That ruling, which the U.S. Supreme Court let stand just last month, dramatically limited cities’ enforcement options, finding it to be cruel and unusual punishment to prosecute people for sleeping on the street if sufficient shelter isn’t available.

“California mandates free public education for all of its children and subsidized health insurance for its low-income residents. It requires its subdivisions to provide services to people with developmental disabilities and foster children,” the commission wrote in a letter signed by both elected officials. “Yet everything that state, county and city governments do to alleviate this crisis is voluntary. There is no mandate to ensure people can live indoors, no legal accountability for failing to do so, no enforceable housing production standard and no requirement to consolidate and coordinate funding streams across jurisdictions. The results speak for themselves.”

The council’s recommendation stops short of Steinberg’s and Ridley-Thomas’ initial call for a “right to shelter,” which would not only have required cities to provide immediate beds, but also obligated people experiencing homelessness to come inside. But it adds momentum to the strategy of elevating litigation as a tool to accomplish what compassion and money haven’t been able to do.

Newsom, visiting a homelessness program in Nevada County, said Monday he “would lean in the direction” of speedily deploying a legal “obligation” to supply sufficient services and housing, adding that “a number of cities and counties” have volunteered to do demonstration projects over the next several months, “not the next few years.” (Ridley-Thomas later said he would propose such a pilot in Los Angeles County this week.)

“I broadly have been encouraging this debate about obligations,” the governor said, adding that “there’s a distinction between rights and obligations.”

Without elaborating on that distinction, he seconded the task force’s point that many of the state’s responsibilities stem from legal mandates: “We do it in almost every other respect,” Newsom said. “On this issue, we don’t, and I think that’s missing. The question is how do you do it. … This is not black and white. This is tough stuff.”

Municipalities made it clear they would need more clarification.

“A legally enforceable mandate can only work with clarity of who’s obligated to do what, and what new sustainable resources will fund it; that’s the ticket for clear expectations and accountability,” said Graham Knaus, executive director of the California State Association of Counties, in a statement.

Steinberg, meanwhile, called Monday’s proposal an improvement on the original “right to shelter” concept, saying a mandate by any name would still have the force of law. The point, the mayor said, is to give the courts a legal “last resort” to address pleas to supersede political gridlock, just as federal laws have in the past armed judges to combat other social crises.

“It’s analogous to desegregation,” Steinberg said.

The task force’s proposal would let a “designated public official” sue the government for not doing enough to offer emergency and permanent housing to the homeless. A judge could then intervene to force a city to approve an emergency shelter, for example, or redirect budget funds to homelessness services.

The proposal, however, so far lacks specifics on how taxpayers would pay for such a mandate. The letter released by the task force, which includes local elected officials from large and small cities, states that “more state resources will undoubtedly be required,” but includes no estimate.

State and local governments in recent years have poured billions into combating homelessness, only to watch the problem worsen as ever-rising rents drive Californians to the streets faster than they can be re-housed. On Friday, for the second straight year, Newsom proposed more than $1 billion in new state funds to fight homelessness, calling it “the issue that defines our times” in California. But the state’s “point-in-time” homeless count jumped 17 percent between 2018 and last year.

San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, a task force member, said leverage is needed.

“We do the things we are required to do first … then for everything else, we try very hard,” said Fletcher. “Absent a legally enforceable obligation, I believe people will continue to try very hard.”

But a legal mandate would arm jurisdictions to tackle “the underlying problem, which is poverty,” rather than appease communities with shelter beds, he said.


Putting the Onus on Government to Provide Housing

Steinberg and Ridley-Thomas floated the idea of a statewide “right to shelter” law last year. Spurred by decades-old litigation, New York state has a “right to shelter” policy that makes its state and local governments legally liable for having emergency shelter beds available for every unhoused person. 

While many credit “right to shelter” for New York’s success in reducing the number of people sleeping on the streets, Newsom and advocates for the homeless have balked at the idea. Some advocates fear it would divert finite funding from permanent supportive housing, which experts say is a more long-term, albeit expensive solution; others worry about cost and potential civil-liberties violations that might arise from requiring a homeless person to accept shelter if it’s available.

“The reason why right to shelter is a mistake is because it diverts resources from the solution, which is housing, not shelter,” said Sharon Rapport, California policy director for the Corporation for Supportive Housing and a member of the task force.

Under the policy proposed by the task force, a local government would be required to develop a plan to house the vast majority of its homeless people within “an aggressive but reasonable period of time.” “Reasonable” is not defined in the letter.

However, Steinberg said that, in the case of Sacramento, “aggressive but reasonable” might mean a 1,500-person annual reduction in the city’s 5,500-plus homeless population, and housing the “the vast majority” within five years.

Advocates on the homelessness issue said more specifics are needed, but applauded the task force’s recommendations as a philosophical pushback, at least, against efforts to criminalize living on the streets.

“Any kind of policies that are promoting locking up people or warehousing people or punishing people for being homeless, the council is saying those policies have been very ineffective in the past,” said Rapport.

The city of Bakersfield recently proposed ramping up enforcement of low-level drug offenses to get people off the streets there, and advocates have expressed concern that the Trump administration’s threats to do something about homelessness in California may involve heavier use of law enforcement.


A Homelessness Czar, but Little on Conservatorships

The task force also called for a single point person on homelessness, a Newsom campaign promise that devolved in his first year into confusion over who, at any given point, was his “homelessness czar.”

Various administration members, including Steinberg and Ridley-Thomas, state Secretary of Health and Human Services Mark Ghaly, and adviser Jason Elliott, have filled the role—so many that last week, Newsom headed off press questions by declaring tartly, “You want to know who’s the homeless czar? I’m the homeless czar in the state of California.”

But the issue of who is actually overseeing the state’s disparate homelessness initiatives—across multiple bureaucracies from prisons to health care—is still pressing, at least according to the homelessness task force. One of their key recommendations would “create a single point of authority of homelessness in state government,” suggesting a high-level official that reports directly to Newsom. Another calls for a comprehensive accounting of existing funding for homelessness, housing, mental health and substance-abuse treatment.

Still other recommendations have already been incorporated into Newsom’s proposed homelessness budget, including a “flexible fund” that service providers can tap for uses from emergency rental assistance to building shelters. The task force also proposed revamping the state’s health-insurance program to draw down more federal dollars for homelessness-related services, a key pillar of the strategy Newsom unveiled last week. Doing so would require a waiver from the federal government.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, a member of the task force, said that a Medi-Cal reform proposal is key to the the blueprint.

“Housing is health,” she said. “And to recognize that health dollars should appropriately be used to support housing is a very important part of our recommendations.”

More-controversial proposals included an executive order expanding the state’s new rent-gouging law to cover more households, and legislation exempting from environmental review any new housing project for people at risk of homelessness.

California has strict laws that make it difficult to detain mentally ill people against their will for a prolonged period of time. Families of homeless loved ones struggling with schizophrenia or other disorders often blame the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, a late 1960’s law intended to curb the overuse of asylums, for precluding necessary care. New York’s commitment laws are less stringent.

While Newsom talked vaguely of reforming the law last week, such reforms are conspicuously absent from the task force’s report.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. 

Published in Local Issues

Anthony Rendon arrived feeling a little punchy. At 51, the speaker of the California Assembly is adjusting to life as a new dad—and his 3-month-old baby hadn’t slept well the night before.

“She was up at 1:30, 3, 4:30. And then once she woke up at 4:30, she didn’t fall asleep until 6,” Rendon said. “So that’s my life.”

The Los Angeles politician—sporting a black hoodie and Converse high tops as he sat for an interview in his district office—assumed one of California’s most-powerful roles in the spring of 2016. As the Assembly’s Democratic leader, he’s negotiated $200 billion state budgets with two Senate leaders and two governors. He’s overseen a political operation that resulted in Democrats winning a historically huge majority of more than 75 percent.

And yet around the Capitol, he’s probably best known for his low profile, rarely calling press conferences and opting not to author any bills so his members can share the spotlight. His style—at turns cerebral and self-deprecating—is unusual in a statehouse that attracts its share of showboats.

So it was with a certain understatement, as well as exhaustion, that Rendon, clutching a cup of coffee, shared his expectations for 2020—in the Capitol, at the ballot and for his family. Here are condensed highlights from our December interview.

So who gives a better baby present, Gavin Newsom or Jerry Brown?

I like Jerry Brown very much. And I’m not asking that he send a present, but he didn’t. Gavin Newsom and his wife sent a very nice gift. … It was a onesie. … It says “One California” or something. Get it? It’s a play on words. It’s a onesie. It’s very cute. And I meant to take a picture of her in it and send it to him, but I haven’t done that. I’m glad you reminded me.

You’re the first speaker in a while to have a young family. Recent legislative leaders either didn’t have children or had much older children. Do you think having a baby is going to impact your ability to do such a demanding job?

It impacts all aspects of my life. I think I’ll have to make adjustments, for sure. … Being speaker is a demanding job. And I’m sure being a parent is a demanding job as well. So something will have to give.

March of 2020 will mark four years that you’ve been assembly speaker. And if you remain speaker until the end of the legislative session—

That’s ominous.

… You’ll become the longest-serving speaker since Willie Brown. So, any fears of restless colleagues who might mount a challenge?

It’s not something that’s on my mind right now. I haven’t heard any rumblings. 

Your caucus grew a lot in 2018 because of the seats you successfully flipped. Then it got even bigger when GOP Assemblyman Brian Maienschein switched parties. What was that like to have a Republican in your caucus? Is it as easy as just switching jerseys and joining your team, or is there any awkwardness in having a former opponent as a colleague?

It probably sounds ludicrous … but I was amazed how seamless it was. When Brian announced that he was switching, I had a meeting with the caucus and said, “Hey, this is what he wants to do, and how do you guys feel about it?” And I almost felt like I was overpreparing them, because they were all like, “Cool.” (Even as a Republican) Brian voted with us so often.

More recently, local Assemblyman Chad Mayes left the Republican Party as well. He’s now registered with no party preference. But if he wanted to caucus with the Democrats, would you allow it?

I don’t know. I’d probably have to ask the caucus how they felt about it. He doesn’t seem to want to. I saw him (a few days ago). He feels pretty liberated to not be a member of a party. … I don’t think he wants to become a Democrat, and I don’t think he wants to caucus with us. I don’t think he wants to caucus with Republicans (either).

How are you feeling about your Assembly races in 2020? Do you think you can hold your 61-seat mega-majority?

I have mixed feelings about it. The weather forecast is complicated. On the one hand, there’s a lot of very anti-Republican sentiment. … With Donald Trump on the ballot, you have to think that we’re going to do very well. That being said, we also know that there is very much an anti-incumbent tendency out there, and we just have more incumbents than they do. People are very angry around the issue of housing affordability and homelessness. We see that polling everywhere, in every district throughout the state. So I don’t think we can say, “Democrat X is running against Donald Trump” or “running against a Republican.” We have to tell a story about what we’ve done. … Just railing against Donald Trump, I don’t think that’s fair to Californians to do that.

Why?

I’m really impressed with the work that we’ve done … and also because … we have candidates who have incredible qualifications and have had incredible life experiences. You take someone like Thu-Ha Nguyen (challenging GOP Assemblyman Tyler Diep) in Orange County, who’s a cancer researcher, and a mom, and a council member. And I think to reduce all of that to just, “She’s battling Donald Trump,” I think is overly simplistic. And it’s also very—it’s a short horizon. I mean, Donald Trump will be gone someday, and the party needs to stand for something. And we will.

So how do you feel about Gavin Newsom’s approach? He’s been very much framing himself as the leader of the resistance and fighting Trump all the time. How do you feel about that?

That works for him. A lot of what he does is about the resources from the federal government, and that’s a different dynamic. It’s not what I do. It’s not what I’m interested in. But I get why he does it. … Whether it’s high speed rail funds or water—that’s very real for (him).

How do you feel about the landscape for the Democratic presidential nomination?

I haven’t been following it all that closely. … I want to be supportive of a Democrat who could beat Donald Trump.

You were a Kamala Harris supporter early on. So with her out of the race, have you picked a candidate you’re going to endorse?

No … I don’t know if I will. I might. I’ve had Mr. Steyer call me, and the South Bend mayor called me. (Rendon turned to his staff member and asked to be reminded of his name.)

A lot of the policies the Democratic candidates are proposing are things that California is already doing to some degree—like $15 minimum wage, marijuana legalization, carbon pricing and paid family leave. Do you think that the nation wants to be more like California?

The California label is probably not a good thing in a lot of parts of the country for whatever reason. But I think in terms of policy, the state certainly has a story to tell. So I’m not surprised that some of our ideas are being put up there as models to follow. … We’re proud of our economy, and we’re proud of the $15 minimum wage, and all the stuff we’ve done on the environment. And at the same time, how many tens of thousands of people go to sleep every night in this state without a home? And we have long-lasting water problems, quality and supply. We have too many people in prison. So I think it’s important for us as Democrats to be honest. And it is very difficult to do that in election years.

On criminal-justice issues, California has been on a long course of reversing tough-on-crime policies of the past. Do you think the state has gone too far in any way? Or if you think we haven’t gone far enough, what’s left to do?

In our House, we passed the (parolee right to) vote bill. (ACA 6 would allow parolees to vote after they complete their prison sentences, if voters approve.) I’d like to see that get on the ballot and have Californians take a look at that. What we ask for in our society is for people who’ve done bad things to do their time and then become engaged citizens. And as long as you’re not allowing that, then you’re not living up to your principles.

A few months ago, my colleague Dan Morain wrote about the murder your brother-in-law John Lam was an accomplice to 16 years ago. Jerry Brown reduced his sentence, and Gavin Newsom made a final call allowing his release. Have you had any insights on criminal justice issues from this experience in your family?

I have. He was released on Oct. 10th. He’s in transitional housing. And you know, my wife and I are very fortunate. We have resources at our disposal. I’ve been on paternity leave. My wife is self-employed, so we have a lot of time that we can spend with him, and we take him out a lot. … When I pick him up, I sometimes look at the other guys at the home and wonder to what extent they don’t have those things, and what that means for them moving forward. So in the past few months, I’ve thought a lot about the things that we do or don’t do after (someone is released from prison) and the hurdles that people have. That is something that I’ve taken away from the experience.

Looking ahead, what are your priorities for 2020?

No surprise to you or anybody, wildfires and housing affordability/homelessness issues are on everyone’s mind—this sort of unresolved, you know, enigma, that is PG&E and where that goes moving forward.

So on wildfire, what can you do?

It’s a very good question. People (in Northern California) are constantly talking about insurance issues. 

What about on homelessness?

A lot of what we want to do is relating to oversight of the money and the opportunities that we’ve given to local governments. … It’s incumbent upon cities to do something, and it’s incumbent upon us to provide oversight.

Do you anticipate the Legislature responding to pressure from initiatives that are in the process of qualifying for the ballot? Like the challenge from Uber and Lyft on AB 5, the new California law that treats more contract workers as employees—would you pass a law to keep that off the ballot?

I don’t believe we would. I felt as though we were doing a tremendous favor to a lot of people by even addressing that. We could have easily just let it go and let the court ruling stand. I have no interest in getting involved in that. I think we’ve been quite good to those people.

A few years ago, there was a push to do a constitutional amendment asking voters to repeal the Proposition 209 ban (from 1996) on affirmative action. Given the 2020 electorate, do you want that to be something the Legislature does, give that to the voters this year?

I’m glad you brought that up. … I would like to see 209 repealed. That being said, if we are going to get something on the ballot, and get it passed in November, from a political standpoint, it almost seems too late. You have to raise a lot of money. You have to have your ducks lined up. And I haven’t seen that from any of the activist groups that have been talking about that. It’s disappointing that people sometimes seem to want to jam things on the ballot. Good intentions, but (they) don’t go through the very simple political steps of raising money and having a proper coalition to get something passed by voters.

What about a repeal of the death penalty? Would you want to see the Legislature put that on the ballot for the people?

I’ve been opposed to the death penalty for a long time. … But as long as it’s not being carried out (because Newsom halted executions by executive order), there doesn’t seem to be a rush.

Anything you hope will go differently this year in working with Gov. Newsom?

There were some bumps in the road with Gavin early on. At the time, it was hard to contextualize. It was just irritating. But when you think about it, yeah, it makes sense: It’s a whole new team, whole new relationships. So I think things will get better. And I don’t know that we necessarily need to tweak any individual thing. I think it’s just learning people’s tendencies and learning how people like to communicate

One last question: How do you feel about having another Anthony Rendon in L.A.? (A Major League Baseball player by the same name recently left the Washington Nationals for the Los Angeles Angels.)

It’s a lot. After my wife and I had a baby, our first date with a baby sitter was the night he hit a big homerun in Game 6 of the World Series. And I got 69 texts … That includes people who sent texts saying, “Oh, aren’t you glad I’m not sending you another Anthony Rendon text?” That’s included in that total. Just for the record.

What were most of the texts saying?

“Oh, you hit a home run tonight! Ha ha ha.” Oh, so clever. I’ve never heard that one before. I’ve literally been following this guy since he was Freshman of the Year at Rice University. I know he exists. I don’t need another freakin’ person to tell me that he exists.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, Palm Springs residents living in the newly drawn Districts 1, 2 and 3 will head to the polls to elect three City Council members.

These elections are the first step in the city’s transition from at-large to district-based representation, to comply with the California Voting Rights Act. The changeover will be complete after the November 2020 election of council members in Districts 4 and 5.

(To see the newly drawn districts, visit www.palmspringsca.gov/government/city-clerk/election-general-municipal-election.)

Another change: The city will no longer have a directly elected mayor; instead, Palm Springs will join most other valley cities in designating a councilmember as mayor for a year on a rotating basis.

The Independent recently reached out to the three candidates running for the new District 3 seat. Both incumbent Geoff Kors and challenger Michael J. Dilger spoke with us at length, while candidate Alan Pettit declined to be interviewed.

Here are their complete answers, edited only slightly for style and clarity, presented in the order in which the candidates will appear on the ballot.


Michael J. Dilger, Gig Worker/Perennial Candidate (formerly ran for New York City mayor and Congress; his Twitter account says he’s a “Write-In Nonpartisan Candidate: The President of The United States of America”), 46 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

There are three things that I think need to be addressed: the security issues of Palm Springs, the “quality of life”—which includes the homelessness (situation) and the unfunded liabilities which amount to more than $300 million—and I’d like to include medicine and science. But for brevity, if I had to pick out the single most important issue facing Palm Springs, it would probably be the “quality of life”/security.

If you look at current trends across the United States, we live in a very polarized political environment that has cascading effects such as police officers being shot, citizens (being) antagonistic toward the police, and you see it manifested in other areas, too, because it’s like a trickle-down effect. So, it’s quality of life. “Quality of life” is the single most important issue facing Palm Springs. And, under “quality of life” come security, homelessness and economic viability. These are very complex issues. I know you want an answer that will just reduce it down to one thing, but I can’t do that, because they’re all intertwined.

But, if you’re asking me what would I do first if I’m elected to office, in the first 90 days, there are certain things I’d like to do. I believe in getting off on the right footing, and being very strong out there and doing a lot of things right away. So I’d like to talk to the police. As we move forward and evolve in the United States, we’re going to need new policing standards, because the old tactics are not going to work as effectively. Palm Springs is not a sleepy community any more. The big cities are growing larger, and policing in New York City now is not the same policing we had back in the 1970s. That wouldn’t be effective today, and what we’re doing right now is not going to be effective 10 years from now. The same goes for Palm Springs. So if you ask me what I would do in my first 90 days, I’d like to address a lot of key issues, like to talk to the police department and introduce new methodologies of policing. Then, I’d like to address the power structure of our community. You have underground power lines and above ground power lines, and yet you have entire blocks that are dark sometimes at around midnight. Now I know that some of these are planned outages, but a lot are unplanned, like when we have inclement weather, and for various other reasons, entire blocks just lose power. That’s not healthy during the summer; it’s not healthy really any time, and it’s just a very bad environment to have that. So I’ll work with the governor on that within my first 90 days.

Also, I want to help the homeless immediately, because you can’t have anyone just living on the street. Everyone talks about helping the homeless, but no one knows what to do. No one’s going to help. They need houses; they need actual physical homes to go to. There’s a lot of reasons why people are homeless, but in 2019, one of the largest reasons why people are homeless is substance abuse. It used to be that you were on the street if you’re mentally ill. Now people are displaced due to opioids and heroin, and we have to address that. I talked to one person on the campaign trail, and he said, “You know, Mike, we owned a clothing store, my wife and I. But we had to close our store, because the homeless would come in to use our bathroom, and they ‘d inject heroin in there. We called the police, but the police couldn’t legally do anything, because they couldn’t stop and frisk them, and they didn’t see them injecting the drugs. So, we finally closed the clothing store because it just got to be too much.” They signed their names to get me on the ballot.

So, these issues are not going to go away. In the first 90 days, I think another important issue is security and the “quality of life,” and I’ll get the ball rolling on all these things. I talked to a security guard at Rite Aid in the Palm Canyon area, and he said there was a beauty store robbed. One (recent) Sunday at 11:30 a.m., two people came in; then they brought another guy in, and they all had guns, or two had guns or whatever the story is, and you can’t have that stuff. These are all things that I would address actually within the first 30 days, 60 days. I know how you get the ball rolling. And the most important thing is giving people safe (surroundings). Especially in Palm Springs—people aren’t coming here to work on Wall Street. They’re not coming here to make a flourishing living. They come here to vacation, to retire, to relax, to be safe and have a good time. So we have to come up with that kind of environment.

What grade would you give the city of Palm Springs regarding its response to date to the homelessness problem? What has the city done well, and what future actions and policies would you support?

The city of Palm Springs sprayed for mosquitoes over the summer time, and I think they’re continuing. It was around 2, 3, 4 a.m. in the morning, and I saw the helicopters. I deliver food. I’m a gig worker, so I was out then. I saw the helicopters, but I didn’t exactly know what they were doing. But then when I read about it in the paper, I thought, “Oh geez … they’re spraying.” So I’ve got to ask the question, “Did anyone get the homeless off the street before they sprayed?” … Regardless of whether or not they say the spray is innocuous, it’s not innocuous. I looked up the chemicals. It’s not innocuous, you know. Anyway, that’s another story. But if the homeless weren’t removed off the streets prior to spraying, then I give Palm Springs a total “F”; even an “F”-minus. Come on.

Now, if they were removed off the street (prior to spraying), what would I give Palm Springs in regards to the homeless? I’d still give them an “F”. You know why? Because the (homeless) are still on the streets. And if they’re still on the streets, that means someone is being derelict in their duties. Someone is doing a really bad job, because you have another human (living insecurely). I see them, and it’s always someone else’s responsibility. There’s no shelter here. … I tell you what: I’ve been around, and I’ve done a lot of things in life, and I know how things work. And, I still give (the city) an “F” for helping the homeless. And I give the entire state of California and “F” for helping the homeless, because they’ve got them in tents and under viaducts all the way from Northern California down to L.A. And if you really want me to be honest: Do you remember when San Diego had the hepatitis “A” outbreak? Well, what happened is, and they don’t tell you this, but I suspect that a lot of the places all around the United States all want the homeless out of their communities, so they give bus tickets to (homeless individuals) and send them to California. And everyone thinks that San Diego has the perfect environment. Even New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio might have paid people to come to California. So anyway, San Diego gets a hepatitis “A” outbreak, and how does that happen? (Editor’s note: On Sept. 1, 2017, San Diego County declared a local health emergency due to a hepatitis “A” outbreak that lasted until Jan. 23, 2018.) It’s transferred through fecal matter. Anyway, long story short, a lot of the businesses in downtown San Diego would allow the homeless to use their bathrooms, no problem. But suddenly, San Diego gets an influx of homeless, and the business owners start to say, “Hey. No, you can’t use our bathroom today.” So people started to defecate in the street. So that’s how the hepatitis “A” outbreak started, but no one will tell you that. I don’t have proof. That’s just a postulate.

Again, is there any specific strategy or plan that you would employ to better deal with the homeless issue in Palm Springs if you’re elected to the City Council?

I don’t think that hotels work. I’ve seen the effect when New York City commandeers hotels, and people on the block don’t like it. It lowers house values in the community, and it just becomes a free-for-all at that point.

First, I think you’ve got to get people housing. You can 3-D print a home in less than 24 hours, and you can do it for as little as $4,000. Now, that’s not long term, but people just need to have a place to go. And for people who have cognitive abilities who can get back into the work force, we’ve got to get them into the work force right away. And, for people who have severe mental illness, we have to have resources for them, (including) counseling staff, but they still have to have a place to go—not a halfway house, and not a tenement, because that’s not a solution. So, immediate housing (is needed) and not using a hotel, but perhaps using innovative means like 3-D printing a house, or you talk to people and give them subsidies to bring a person in (to their home), but I don’t know if that will work. The thing that could probably be most effective is finding certain pieces of land and actually building places. Getting businesses involved and making it like a (recreation) center: If you’re down on your luck, or things aren’t working in your life, or you’ve got a substance-abuse problem, you know, you come here. And not to stay in a shelter, because it’s not a shelter, because a shelter is like a camp where you’ve got to sleep 100 to 200 people in a room. Actually, it’s more like a hotel, because you have your own room, but it’s not staffed with people who are apathetic. It’s actually staffed by good people who want to get people back on their feet. And you get businesses involved, like Starbucks, because it’s good for them, and it’s good publicity. Once you get them involved, and they want to hire these people on an interim basis, then you’re getting (these homeless individuals) back into the work force.

But there’s got to be more done to implement something like this. If it were up to me, I’d burn down every shelter in the United States, because I think they’re all cesspools. I don’t think they’re effective, and they’ve got lice and bed bugs. I think there’s rampant drugs (being abused), prostitution and crime. You’ve got to have a good place. It should be kind of like a YMCA. You ever been to a YMCA in New York City, like the Vanderbilt YMCA? It’s a block from the (United Nations campus), and you tell people that you’re staying at the YMCA, and they think, “Oh … the YMCA, really?” But no, because the Vanderbilt YMCA is like an oasis in the city. You’ve got a gym there; you’ve got a pool, and it’s got a great staff. You’ve got good values (at work), and everybody’s got their own room. This isn’t a homeless-priced community, but it actually costs only $100 per night to stay there. So, my point is that if you had a place like that, that operates on the same model as that, but you’ve got businesses involved, I think it could be effective. Let me just say that what we’re doing right now isn’t working.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

In 1970, when people used to smoke marijuana, it was totally different than now in 2019. The legalization of marijuana is in its infancy, so there’s not research to (explain) how it’s affecting people. But, let me say that emergency-room physicians in Denver, Colorado, have had people come in to their ER with symptoms that they can’t explain, because they’ve never seen them before. Then, the (patients) say, “Well, I’ve been smoking marijuana.” And, the ER doctors say, “Hey, this is totally different than how marijuana used to be back in 1970s-1980s.” Marijuana now is like 25 times stronger. So, if people really want to be honest, they don’t know how this is going to affect people mentally in the long term.

But, I can’t answer the question of how Palm Springs has handled the cannabis business, because it’s too new. I’ve read that they have some new dispensaries opening; there’s one on South Palm Canyon across from Rite Aid, but the only reason people have marijuana now is because there aren’t enough Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerbergs and other creative people who can create jobs and careers for people to allow them to unlock their talents, their gifts. The politicians, we can’t do that, obviously, so they give people marijuana to keep them high. Meanwhile, do you think they keep everyone high in China? Come on … not a bit. Meanwhile, every one’s going to be high in the United States. What do you think will happen (in) the mid-2020s when China’s economy really starts to rocket, and India goes into second place, and you’ve got Americans who just want to get high? It’s not a good policy. I know people want to have a good time; I get it. I know human nature. But, as a leader, I’m not going to advocate that. I’m not going to do it. I don’t have kids, but I want to have kids someday. And when my kids sit down with me, I’m going to (tell them), “You know, I don’t want you to do that. I want you to save your faculties and see if you can become the next Einstein. I want you to do something magnificent in life.” I don’t think a lot of people smoking pot are doing amazing things with their life. But I could be wrong. You can write that, too. I don’t care.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

They’re building a new arena for hockey, and I guess it will be used for more than hockey, and that’s going to bring as much as 10,000 people into our community at a time. I don’t think the current Palm Springs police force is going to be able to handle the excess people. So, they (could) enlarge the police force by (getting) more citizens involved, like citizens on patrol, but I think obviously, they’re going to have to hire more officers. But at some point, the current policing standards that we have will start to break down.

So what can we do? Well, I think we need to rely more on technology to help police. It seems very bad when an officer approaches a car, lets down his guard (and then is killed), as we saw with what happened in Texas with the deputy sheriff who was shot in the back of the head. I have ideas for a certain kind of technology that (allows) the officer to feel safe approaching a car and walking away from a car. … There are all kinds of things we could do. Also, with respect to mass shootings, although “knock on wood,” we haven’t had one here yet, I’m not an advocate of having teachers carrying holstered guns within the school. But I am an advocate of having creative ways to know if a kid is bringing a gun into a school. I have ideas for that, too. And thirdly, if you have a poor quality of life and a lot of drugs in a community, I know there’s people giving drugs to a lot of people (living) on the streets so that they stay on the street. So, we have to reduce that. Also, the security guard at Rite Aid said, and it’s probably speculation on his part, that the people who were responsible for the holdup they had at the beauty salon recently were probably from a gang in Desert Hot Springs. So, we have to completely reduce that. There’s all kind of things we can do. You’ve got to have the will to do it, though. There’s no reason that crime can’t be reduced dramatically, but you have to want to do it. That doesn’t mean getting out there and having a police department that’s militarized. Nobody wants that. It’s not good for the citizenry. We want to reduce crime by relying on technology or a smarter way of policing that keeps officers safe and keeps the community safe. Make Palm Springs a “smart city” where you don’t rely entirely on technology, but make it a lot more reliant than it is, and I think crime will be dramatically reduced.

When you speak about technology, are you talking about cameras and surveillance, or are you talking about other forms?

No, I’m not thinking about cameras and surveillance. Like with an officer approaching a car, there are certain devices—you could call it a “guardian angel”—that approaches the car before (the officer), and everything is handled remotely. It’s almost like a robot. And for the school system, I wasn’t thinking of cameras; it would be (a device) that is like an octopus, that has a way of detecting if someone has a gun, and it doesn’t harm the student who has a gun, but it benevolently wraps them up so they can’t move and therefore can’t fire the gun.

Again, as for the community at large, I’m not thinking of cameras. I’m thinking of certain (strategies) such as not having blackouts, either planned or unplanned. As for the police, there are all kinds of ideas that come to my mind. Off the top of my head, we need to have (the police) more involved with the community. In 2019, it seems that they’re not people’s friends. And it’s not the officers, and it’s not the people; it’s just the environment. We have to have more of an Andy Griffith-type of police (department). I know it sounds like a joke, and too good to be true, but you don’t want to feel like the officer is trying to pry for information and knowledge. You want an officer who’s around, and you think, “He’s my friend,” or, “She’s my friend.” In New York, you’ve got 8 million people living in the city, and they just lost an officer recently, and I tell you what they do there: The officers go out (because the city is made up of different precincts) and they’re the greatest intel officers, because they know everyone in the community. So if there’s any anomaly or aberration, they ask people during casual interactions. This has been happening for like the past eight years, but it is still effective, and that’s how every community has got to be all across the United States. If you enhance that (approach) with everything else like bulletproof windows on cop cars, and protective technology for officers and improving the quality of life for everybody, it’s going to reduce crime.

The only reason a kid joins a gang is because he doesn’t know who he is. He feels peer-pressured, and he’s got the wrong friends, and he might not have family. He doesn’t know where he’s going in life, because he can’t think yet. But if you put a community officer with maybe a celebrity who walks in the community from time to time, you get people involved and excited about life and their dreams and their goals. The next thing you know, the kid says, “Hey! What am I in this gang for? This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life.” I get it. It takes willpower, and it’s a constant struggle. You’ve got to inspire people to do this kind of thing. Otherwise, it works for a month or a short time, or it doesn’t work at all, and we’re back to the same stuff. It’s more imperative that we do this in 2019 than at any other time in history. I’m only 46, but I would venture that you never had people who disrespected police like we do now. It’s really imperative that we get back on track. That will enhance the community and keep it safe.

You know, I was at Rite Aid last night buying ice cream. I go there almost every night to buy ice cream; I get my ice cream and then go to bed. So I’m buying a scoop of ice cream, and there’s no one in the line. I start to pay, and then I walk back to get something to drink and then walk back up to the cashier, and he’s already ringing me up, and all of sudden, two guys in line start giving me a hard time. And I’m like, “What the heck?” Finally, I got sick of it and I said, “What are you talking about? I was here before you guys got (in line).” And they said, “Are you sure about that?” And I’m thinking: This is ridiculous. This is the kind of stuff I went through in the city (of New York). I don’t want to go through this here in sleepy Palm Springs where everybody is supposed to be nice. So I’ve noticed a change in people’s behavior, and we’ve got to get people back to wanting to be helpful and charitable to (other) people. The way it starts is with the leaders exuding that benevolence, giving people that reason to do good things and inspiring people. Then, every one else in society starts to follow suit. I know I’m only running for City Council, but it starts there. Whatever happens in Palm Springs can be a model for the entire state of California, as well as the United States. I firmly believe that in my heart.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

It amazes me that nobody, not Native Americans or local politicians in Palm Springs, can work out the parking. That aside, it’s a positive for the community. It’s the 32nd amateur hockey team. (Editor’s note: The team slated to play at the arena is a professional minor-league hockey team.) So, that’s a real positive for the kids around this area, because it gets them involved in things. It gets them out of their shell. A kid might say, “Hey! I want to be a hockey player, or I like sports.” You know kids are spending too much time on their iPhones and social media. It’s a positive.

When I first heard about it, I thought, “It’s going to change the downtown of Palm Springs.” And it is. But I think it’s a real boon for Palm Springs and the kids as well as the local citizens. Now I get it, too, because I know that a lot of people who live in that area and are worried that it’s going to block their view of the mountains. But I read today that a lot of it is going to be built underground, and that’s genius. So, I’m thinking real optimistically about it right now, and I’ve got ideas about how to handle the parking if they don’t come up with ideas. There are all kinds of things we could do. We could have people park remotely, and we could make a train to get people in (to the arena downtown). There are all kinds of things we could do to really jazz things up. I think it’s a win-win deal. I think it’s a good thing.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

That’s a complex question. From what I understand, Palm Springs has, I think, it’s $340 million in unfunded liabilities. I’m not on the inside track right now. I haven’t looked at the books. I don’t know where their investments are. To be honest, I can’t answer if Palm Springs is ready for another recession, because I don’t know where the money is or what they have as a surplus. But if you ask me how I would appropriate resources if economic hard times hit the area, the police department, fire department and paramedics would always get resources from me. I would never stifle any emergency worker, because if you stifle emergency workers, then you stifle your citizens, because that’s your protective fabric. You need them. We’d have to get money for them. Then I’d worry about the people who are struggling in our community. If there are elderly who are struggling to pay their rent, I would help them. Or if there are children who are with parents who don’t have air conditioning in the summer time, I’ll always help the people who are without resources. But, honestly, I can’t answer the question if Palm Springs is ready for another economic downturn. I’m not at City Hall right now, and I haven’t looked at the books.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

The perfect night out … you know, whatever I do in life, I always seem to work a lot. I did have a date, though. I had a date about six months ago with this woman who was from Amsterdam. So, what did we do? We went to Ruby’s and had milkshakes and burgers, and afterward, we went to Starbucks. So, that seemed like a nice night out for me. I’m pretty simple.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

So, I’m driving this past Saturday night, and I’m on Palm Canyon going toward Ramon Road. There are so many cars on the street, and I’m thinking, “The season hasn’t even started yet, and there are all these cars.” And I went to Starbucks, and they had closed already; they’re turning everyone away at the door. Follow me here for a second: There are all these people, and the season hasn’t even started yet. What happens when the season starts, and we’ve got an extra 10,000 people here?. Everyone speeds down Palm Canyon if you’ve noticed. As we increase with people, we’ve got to worry about people’s safety. Maybe (the city should) block off Palm Canyon between like Amado and Baristo. Now, do we make Indian Canyon two-way? I’ve got to think about this. This is where the smart city comes into play—if we had an app that people could go on and see how the transportation schedules are working with the buses, the traffic and maybe a train. Maybe a train is not a bad deal, too.

We could have remote parking for the arena, and then we could have a train that actually makes various stops. You mentioned “the perfect night out.” Well, the perfect night out for a lot of people—for me, it’s going to Ruby’s—but for a lot of people, it’s walking down Palm Canyon and going to restaurants like Le Vallauris or LG’s. So if we had some sort of mass transportation that was clean, all solar and efficient, people could take it to go to key points. There’d be the downtown sector. And let’s say we built an artificial intelligence center for the students to go to after school. And let’s say that the train went all the way up to the Tramway. And let’s say we had a longevity center with all the latest ground-breaking technologies and where doctors could come in, so the train could stop there. And since space is a big deal now, let’s say you had a space center sponsored by big business or people who have an interest in this (pursuit). So it could stop there. You move people around like this. Making a train for just one thing, just the arena—I don’t know if that’s a good idea, but if you had these five to seven hot spots that I’ve got in the back of my head right now, then you wouldn’t have to make Palm Canyon a two-way, because you’d get people moving efficiently. Palm Springs is beautiful, so they’ll all be looking around at the scenery, and you’ll cut down on congestion, and cut down on accidents. You can do a lot of different things, and this is safe. You won’t have people getting hit by cars, or perhaps you won’t have crime.

I was sitting at the Coffee Bean last year, in the summer of 2018, and I was on my phone. A man walked in, and a man ran out. And a woman screamed and yelled, “He took my purse!” Her husband ran out after him, so I ran after him too. Her husband caught up to the guy in the parking lot next to the Palm Mountain Resort, and he’s pulling the guy out of the car. Meanwhile, I’m taking a picture of the license plate and car, then I called the police. The police came, and they never did get her purse back, but my point is that as we increase with people, you’re going to have weird stuff like this happen. But with smart ways of getting around the city, and enhancing the city with other pleasurable things that are cool to do, and looking to the future, we could actually have a “smart” train, whether it’s solar or hydrogen or electric—we could do all kinds of things. So, the jury is still out on making Indian Canyon a two-way, because I don’t know how it would be. It might just be chaos. So that’s the second question I don’t know, and I’m not afraid to say I don’t know.

I guess we’ll find out, because they’re doing it.

Oh, they are doing it right now? They’re making it two-way?

Yes. Work has started already.

Well, when I get elected, I’ll introduce my ideas, and maybe we’ll change it back.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

When I’m elected, I bring three important things. I bring integrity to that office. I will always do what is right for the will of people, not for my own interests, but for the community and the entire state of California to make life better for people. I’m not a politician. I’m a person who has ideas and wants to fulfill his calling to do good with his life. At this point in my life, this is what I’ve been trying to do since 2007. I’ve been trying to get elected to office. I do it honestly. I don’t take money from people, so that once I get there to elected office, I’m not going to have to do their will, and can do the people’s will. I do it the honest way. I’ll bring integrity to the office in its truest sense. Secondly, altruism. It’s bigger than I am, and it’s about being selfless. I believe in a greater good. I believe in God. It’s about doing work for the greater good. Thirdly, I bring new ideas, but I’m also a realist, too. I don’t believe that every one of my ideas is the best idea on earth. But if I come up with a hundred ideas, one idea will be the best, and it’s going to work. That’s how I operate. I continue to farm out ideas, until it’s like ,“Eureka!” And it’s the best idea to make life better for people. Maybe the “guardian angel” approach robot (for police car stops) is not the best idea in the world, but if I come up with another 99 ideas, one of them is, hopefully, going to help a police officer and save his life, and save another person’s life.


Geoff Kors, Palm Springs City Council Member/Mayor Pro Tem, 58 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

The No. 1 issue facing Palm Springs is to ensure that we continue our economic growth, so that we can provide a high level of services to our residents, and address homelessness, the issue of affordable housing, infrastructure repairs and other matters that all take resources. Given CalPERS losing 40 percent of the pension money that local governments have paid in, we need to continue to build our reserves, as we’ve done over the last four years, and (continue to build) our economy, so that we can honor our pensions and our other obligations while continuing to move our city forward.

Any specific thoughts on how you’d like to see the city maintain or generate more revenues?

Our budget has grown substantially since the recession; I created and the council adopted a pension-reserve fund so that we could start putting money away to pay for future pension costs instead of having to make cuts to pay them. We have close to $40 million in reserves, more than double from when I was elected four years ago, and we have engaged in a number of programs to continue to pump our business community and spur economic development. I started a bimonthly meeting of a new Economic Development and Business Retention Subcommittee which I co-chair with Councilmember (Christy) Holstege. We have launched a number of new economic-incentive programs in order to keep our economy moving, and we’ve also created our “Uniquely Palm Springs” program to promote our local small businesses in Palm Springs, so that those will continue to fuel our economy and create jobs.

What grade would you give the city of Palm Springs regarding its response to date to the homelessness problem? What has the city done well, and what future actions and policies would you support?

I’ve served as the co-chair of the homelessness task force for the last four years, and part of that time, the city wasn’t doing very much other than contributing some funding to Roy’s, the homeless shelter that the county closed down three years ago. Homelessness, poverty and mental health are all issues that are the responsibility of the county under state law, and not cities. The county is the entity with a social-service department, and (it’s) the entity up until now that has received all the funding for investment purposes. Over the last three years, the city and the subcommittee I co-chaired have decided that given the lack of funding from the county, we needed to step up and fill that void. So, we’ve hired now two homelessness and health crisis teams that are on the ground seven days a week. We’ve put something into a number of programs, including the housing-first program; (we’ve) transitioned 200 residents into housing. And recently, Councilmember Holstege and I led an effort to work with Assembly member Chad Mayes to lobby legislative leadership and Gov. Newsom for direct funding to Palm Springs. The result was that we’ll be receiving $10 million to help address homelessness in Palm Springs. We’re the only city other than the largest 14 cities in the state to be receiving money.

Do you have any potential steps or strategies looking forward that you’d like to share with readers/voters?

Sure. While we don’t have all the rules and restrictions on (that) funding from the state, our focus is on permanent solutions to move people off the streets and into housing. What we lack in Palm Springs, and throughout the west valley, is transitional and permanent supportive housing. Without that, it’s very difficult to help people transition off the streets. That housing is essential, and it needs to have wrap-around services. So, that is the priority as we move forward.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

Palm Springs was the first city in Riverside County to allow medical marijuana many, many years ago. We were also at the forefront when recreational cannabis (use) was passed by the voters. Cannabis is a legal business and should be treated as a legal business, but cannabis facilities need to adhere to the rules, which include not emitting odor, and ensuring that all their products are safe and tested. I think one change that we have proposed—and I’m on the subcommittee with Councilmember (J.R.) Roberts—is that there are business requirements in all zones of the city, including industrial zones. Since industrial zones border some of our residential neighborhoods, we are proposing significant fines and suspensions for any cannabis business that is in violation of the odor requirements. We’ve retained an outside odor expert, and all cannabis facilities have to have a plan approved by this expert in order to open and operate. This has had a significant impact on reducing some of the odor issues that were being experienced, and we are looking at creating a “green zone” with tax incentives to encourage cannabis facilities, particularly growers and manufacturers, to be further away from residential neighborhoods.

We are continuing to meet with groups in the cannabis industry and other stakeholders as this industry evolves to make sure that we are doing it in a way that is fair to the businesses, that doesn’t create a burden on our neighborhoods and residents, and works for everyone involved.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

I think our police chief and department do an excellent job. Their community and neighborhood policing programs have been very successful. We are very fortunate that we continue to maintain our own police department as compared with many other cities that contract with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

There’s no level of crime that we should ever be comfortable with. We always want to do better. Since the recession of more than a decade ago, we have provided full funding to staff our police, fire and emergency medical departments. That is due in large part to voters having passed Measure D, which provided us (with) the resources to do that. The police recently hired six new graduates from the police academy who have just started their on-the-ground training with the department. Upon their graduation (about 3-4 weeks ago), all of them were top-rate and did extremely well, and we’re looking forward to having those additional people working for us in the city. We’ve also added significant numbers of fire fighters and emergency medical personnel, as ensuring the health and safety of our residents is a prime priority of government.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

The arena will bring a hockey team, the first professional sports team, to Palm Springs, as well as entertainment, family shows and additional convention space, all (of which are) things that greatly benefit our residents and our city. That said, it’s important that we work to mitigate any potential negative impacts affecting public safety.

As soon as the arena was announced, I reached out to senior staff at the tribe to engage them in working with us on a parking study, which we are in the process of doing. It’s important that, on nights when there’s a major event, we don’t lose parking for our other businesses, our residents and our neighborhoods. Given past ventures from the tribe, we know that they are very good at business, and that they’re going to want this significant investment to be successful, which means making sure that those issues are addressed. The city will continue to work closely with them on those issues as time moves forward.

I was pleased to see the renderings (of the proposed arena design) which show that this is not an extremely tall arena, as many have feared. It’s being built partly underground and with a very midcentury design that is appropriate for the city of Palm Springs. Plus, I like hockey, and I look forward to going to games, as I think many of our residents are.

Palm Springs is such an amazing place to live, and I can’t think of another city with some 45,000 full-time residents that has an international airport with direct flights to 20 cities, a world-class museum, festivals like the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Modernism Week, incredible restaurants, and wonderful retail—and that all causes a lot of people to come here. A city of 45,000 would not have all of these wonderful amenities for residents without us maintaining our charm, our warm, friendly environment and our beautiful natural surroundings. That’s what makes me so love Palm Springs.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

I believe we are much better situated if there is another economic downturn than we were prior to the last recession. We have close to $40 million in reserves. We have put in place numerous incentive programs to encourage investment in Palm Springs. We have more full-time residents than we had previously, and a much more diverse demographic living here. We have focused on promoting tourism, not just for people who live across the country or around the world, but also more locally. We’ve added some $200,000 to the budget this year for research on, and promotions to, people living within a 60-mile radius—people who can come into Palm Springs for the day, shop, go to an event, go out to dinner and generate tax revenue and help our small businesses. In an economic downturn people may not travel (in) from as far away, but people who live closer are not going to travel as far away, either. So, keeping our focus, in part, on people who can drive here, or fly from close places like San Francisco, Portland or Seattle, has been a high priority. That will help us keep our tourism-based economy moving in the event of an economic downturn. So, that research is just getting underway, and I would anticipate that the marketing pieces will probably launch right around the beginning of 2020.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

For me, I think the perfect night out would be to make dinner on the barbecue and sit outside under the stars with my husband, James, and my dog, Dash, and have some quiet alone time in paradise. Being on council and having so many events that we all do, the thought of having a totally relaxing night and cooking outside is great. That’s not to say that there aren’t wonderful restaurants, and attractions, and theater, and other events to go to in Palm Springs. We have so many of them, and I enjoy doing (those things). But the perfect night would really be to just be outside—at this time of year, it’s just so beautiful out—enjoy the stars and spend time with the two beings that I love.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

I support changing Indian Canyon from what was known as the four-lane freeway out of town to a two-way roadway. Most of the money (for the conversion) came from a competitive grant process for public safety which Palm Springs was awarded through (the Coachella Valley Association of Governments) thanks to the great work of our staff. Indian Canyon was not safe for pedestrians or bicyclists, and was also dangerous for cars. It was on that basis that we were rewarded the grants. It will slow down traffic and make it safer. It will make Indian Canyon part of what is now a wonderful downtown. From the museum to the convention center, with the cultural center and spa and the new arena on tribal land and the rest of our downtown on city land, it will really integrate all of it. It will also help a great deal to spur economic growth and help businesses on Indian Canyon, because it will be more pedestrian-friendly, and cars will be coming in from both ways, so it will feel more like an integrated part of our city. You know, with the arena coming now, too, this will allow the city to move traffic freely, when necessary, in either direction to (facilitate) getting people in or out based on traffic studies and what makes the most sense. It also gives us a two-way road when Palm Canyon Drive is closed for VillageFest every Thursday, or Pride or any of the other events that happen on Palm Canyon.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

Your questions have touched on some of the important issues such as our economy, public safety, infrastructure and homelessness which are among the many issues we are working to address. In January, I became the liaison for the Parks and Recreation Commission, and one of the issues I recently started to focus on is upgrading our parks. I’ve lived in other cities and grew up where the neighborhood park was integral to our lives. It’s where I played kickball after school. It’s where my dad taught me to play tennis. It’s where we had family picnics. Here, we have such wonderful and beautiful parks, but we need to activate them, and we need to upgrade them.

I recently worked to get water fountains and watering stations in our parks. We’re testing one out in Ruth Hardy Park, and then we’ll be moving on to other parks. I want to help clean up Sunrise Park so that our residents can enjoy it. We stopped some behavior that was going on there, and I really want us to continue to focus on how we treat every single one of our parks.

The last thing I’ll say is that I love living in Palm Springs. I can’t think of anywhere else that I’d rather live. It’s been a privilege and an honor to serve the city and its residents over the last close-to four years, because our residents and our businesses are so engaged. So many people want to give back. They want to make a difference. They volunteer; they donate; they come to council meetings; and they bring their best ideas to us. I’ll be truly honored to serve the city for another term.

Published in Politics

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, Palm Springs residents living in the newly drawn Districts 1, 2 and 3 will head to the polls to elect three City Council members.

These elections are the first step in the city’s transition from at-large to district-based representation, to comply with the California Voting Rights Act. The changeover will be complete after the November 2020 election of council members in Districts 4 and 5.

(To see the newly drawn districts, visit www.palmspringsca.gov/government/city-clerk/election-general-municipal-election.)

Another change: The city will no longer have a directly elected mayor; instead, Palm Springs will join most other valley cities in designating a councilmember as mayor for a year on a rotating basis.

The Independent recently spoke to the three candidates running for the new District 2 seat: Dennis Woods, Peter Maietta and Adrian Alcantar.

Here are their complete answers, edited only slightly for style and clarity, presented in the order in which the candidates will appear on the ballot.


Dennis Woods, Land-Use and Transportation Planner/Palm Springs Planning Commission Chair, 59 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

There’s actually more than one priority facing the city at this point, but an immediate issue facing the city is that of homelessness, because I think it’s an humanitarian issue as well as (a challenge for) our brand as a city.

I think we have right around 200 homeless (persons) in Palm Springs. The programs that we have are working effectively, but we need to graduate people out of a shelter and into permanent housing. The city has been very effective in setting up a shelter to get the homeless out of the heat and into a safe place to sleep in the evenings. Then in the daytime, we, along with the Well in the Desert, have established cooling centers. Also, through the Well and others, there are a variety of places around town where (one) can get a meal. I think all of those are positive things. Another positive thing is that at the cooling center, there are people from Martha’s Village and Kitchen who provide wrap-around services and try to figure out why a person is homeless—whether they have hit hard economic times, or if they have psychological issues or have addiction issues. I think those services are important to provide so that if we get someone into housing, they can maintain that housing (solution) by helping to get them rent subsidies, or get them work. Those programs are working, but we need to give them a boost.

What’s really fantastic to hear is that there’s a $10 million grant in the pipeline from the state to Palm Springs to deal with (this issue). We don’t know what strings may be attached to that money if the governor approves it, but I would like to see us graduate people from shelters to homes. I would love to see us set up kind of a “one-stop shop” where you can get all your services in one place: You can get a shower; you can talk to social-services people; you can get some counseling if you need it for an addiction problem. We can have a shelter, and we can offer some temporary housing as we look to get people into permanent housing. I think with the $10 million grant, we probably would have the capability to do something like that.

I completely support the work of the current City Council, and they have set up a subcommittee that is trying to get all the social-service agencies to coordinate and collaborate. When they come together in a room, and they share thoughts and resources, I think that is an absolute positive, and I would continue to support that type of collaboration.

You mentioned in your first answer that there were a number of pressing issues facing the city of Palm Springs. Since homelessness was the topic of our second planned question, would you like to talk about your next-most-important issue?

The next important issue is affordable housing. We have a very nice stock of market-rate housing being built, and we have an existing stock as well. For many, the price point of these homes is cost-prohibitive if they have a moderate to low income. I think what we really need to do is to focus on trying to provide a mix of housing for people of all economic backgrounds to live in. I don’t think that we’ve had an apartment complex (plan) come through the city during the almost two years that I’ve been on the Planning Commission. There’s a need for apartment complexes in this city.

There are two low-income housing projects in the pipeline now that are actually both (located) in my district, which is interesting. As part of a settlement agreement, (the city) got a parcel behind Home Depot, off of Gene Autry, that might provide great potential, when combined with the $10 million from the state, to do some housing as well as the (homeless services and shelter) center that I talked about earlier. So, I think my second issue would be to provide more affordable housing to the people of Palm Springs. It’s really going to take a multi-pronged, multifaceted approach and a huge amount of collaboration to build this type of housing. We have been successful (in some efforts to date). The Desert AIDS Project (DAP) has a great housing project right behind (their offices) on Vista Chino, and it is fantastic. It looks good; it’s managed well; and that’s the type of project that we need.

You said you found it “interesting” that the two current affordable-housing projects are in your district. Care to elaborate?

I think what’s important about that is that my district, should I be elected, is dealing with affordable housing. I think we need to look at other districts and other opportunities where city-owned properties might support affordable-housing projects. These projects—if designed right and managed well—are fantastic. This is not like the Cabrini-Green Homes project in Chicago, which is what many people think of (when discussing low-income housing). I gave you the example of (the project built) behind DAP; that type of project is desirable. It does not devalue a neighborhood. It can actually (increase the) value of a neighborhood by having workforce housing closer to jobs, thus reducing the carbon footprint and making a better community.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

The city as a whole has been proactive with cannabis, and it started back with medical marijuana. I think this just shows that we were sensitive to a population here that medical marijuana could actually help, whether it was those suffering from HIV, aging issues, glaucoma or anything else. We started courting cannabis facilities when it was only concerning medical uses. Now, the voters have moved it into a recreational use (category), and the city has seen a flood of cannabis (business) applications.

What’s important to understand is that, out of those cannabis applications, there are different types—for grow facilities, lounges, dispensaries and (businesses that make) products like candy. Each of those types has a different environmental impact. What we saw is that when we put (grow facilities) into our industrial areas, during the budding season, they gave off strong odors. Those odors caused neighbors to become upset, which is very understandable. The city at that point was not really prepared and did not have the mechanisms (needed to respond to the problem). At the Planning Commission meetings, I went on the record saying that we need to up our game with this, and we need to buy the equipment necessary to understand and measure odor (levels). We didn’t have the enforcement tools … but we now have those tools. Now we have to look at whether or not we have a problem with the saturation of cannabis (businesses). The Planning Commission just looked at four issues related to our cannabis ordinance. One is saturation; another is notification—how we notify adjoining businesses when a new cannabis business comes in; what a waiver means if businesses want to be closer together than what the saturation (levels) will allow; and … architectural review. We certainly don’t want our entire Palm Canyon (business district) to be all cannabis. We need a strong mix of businesses on Palm Canyon. Many lounges cannot have windows facing the street, so we don’t want a bunch of blacked-out windows, either.

I think it’s really important that we look at the architectural integrity of cannabis facilities as they come in. What I really want to say is that we want to ensure that there are no environmental impacts from our cannabis facilities. We don’t want to prohibit them; we just want to make sure that their operation has no environmental impact on existing entities.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

I do think that (crime) is being handled correctly in Palm Springs. I have been endorsed by both the police association and the firefighters.

We are in a very fortunate and luxurious position to have our own police department. Our response times are fast for stuff that matters. If something is minor, and they have (to deal with) a major traffic collision, then of course it’s going to be a little bit different. I believe that, at this point, we are fully staffed in our police department. We have the equipment that’s necessary, and we have agreements with the surrounding areas if we need to pull in additional resources.

Crime exists anywhere, and property crime is something that Palm Springs always has to deal with because of the number of vacant buildings. But I do not see crime, in and of itself, to be a major problem. We have had a couple of incidents at our nightclubs that involved guns, which is very unfortunate, but I think our police department has handled that very well. We need to understand that clubs are an important part of what Palm Springs is, because they enliven (our leisure environment) in the evenings. But it’s a lesson learned that these clubs need to make sure that they have their safety and security measures in place, which is the responsibility of the club owners. The police will work with them to get those measures in place, and I think what we saw previously was a failure of those security measures to be in place. In the case of Zelda’s, the City Council took swift action and revoked its permit when it didn’t put those safety practices in place. We’re serious about reducing and eradicating crime, and I think that’s a prime example of where we took swift action to pull a permit when crime happened.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

The tribe has the right to build this arena, but like any other development project, they have to (provide to the city) a tribal environmental impact statement (EIS), which they are in the process of doing. That impact statement is somewhat modeled after the federal EIS, so the tribe will have to (share) what all the (potential) impacts are—and there will be impacts from this arena going in.

It is incumbent upon us as a city to make sure that we reduce and mitigate those impacts. We want to ensure that adjacent neighborhoods and businesses are protected in the process. There’s traffic, infrastructure, first-responder services, light and glare issues—and I could go on. All these issues have to be addressed in this EIS. We (Palm Springs) need to be cooperative with the tribe, but we also need to be very proactive with the tribe to ensure that we get solid, enforceable mitigation measures as we build this arena.

If it comes in, I believe that there could be some benefits to having an arena in town. I’m not exactly sure what those benefits are, but I think there could be some economic benefits. Still, we need to evaluate those based on solid information. So, I think that Palm Springs could benefit from it as long as we can reduce the impacts.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

We are. I think the city of Palm Springs is prepared for an economic recession. First, a large part of our economy runs off property taxes and transient occupancy taxes (TOT). If we have a recession, there would be a likelihood of a certain segment of the population no longer (traveling) to Europe or taking trips to the Caribbean. We are set up in such a way that we can market to the “drive market” like Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara and even San Francisco. So we can become the go-to place that is affordable when you can no longer afford a larger vacation. We need to do that to keep our TOT income coming in. Also, we have put aside reserves, which I think has been very intelligent on the part of the existing City Council.

During the last recession, we learned that we need to make sure that we don’t have vacant buildings that can reduce our property values. Riverside County as a whole was hit very hard, and Palm Springs suffered foreclosures. We just need to have the mechanisms in place, like the vacant building laws or whatnot, to ensure that at least the exterior of the properties are maintained so that we don’t degrade our existing property values. Also, we have (initiated) a lot of parties and events that draw a lot of people here and would continue to bring people here, like Splash House, Coachella and Stagecoach. So, I think we are prepared for a recession, particularly because we have our marketing machine that is nimble enough to change if the economy changes.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

There are many perfect nights out in Palm Springs. (Laughs.) For me, a perfect evening would be to start off with beverages at the very nice midcentury home of a friend. You kind of all group there. From there, you go to one of our fine restaurants and do some nice “al fresco” dining. After the dining, as a gay man, I would head over to do a little dancing on Arenas, or some singing at one of the bars that does video-singing, and then call it an evening. I think that would be a perfect evening in Palm Springs.

Now, another perfect evening would be taking a beautiful night hike under the starry skies with some friends. A good place to do that would be going up Tramway Road, where it’s easy to see the roadway at night and not stumble. You can enjoy the lights of the city and the stars since you’re away from the light pollution.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

That’s a yay, and let me tell you why. First of all, I think it’s going to activate the businesses in that area and generate some new types of businesses as well. Secondly, with the build-out of the (Agua Caliente) Cultural Center, it will be a very nice connection to our downtown. It’s (just) across the street, but there are some barriers there, because the back of some buildings there are not activated. So, activating some of those buildings and allowing an easy crossing from the cultural center (will help). If the arena comes in, then it’s the same thing: We need some nice crossings to open the whole area up, so it doesn’t feel like you’re walking over a freeway to get to the other side of the road. I think (the traffic direction change) will eliminate that freeway aspect and make it feel more like the unique city that we are.

Also, we block Palm Canyon off quite a bit. Be it for the Tour de Palm Springs, VillageFest or the gay-pride festival, you have to (drive) through adjacent neighborhoods (to go south through town). With Indian Canyon being two-way, it should alleviate that kind of (traffic) stress through those neighborhoods. I think it’s a positive all the way around, and as a career transportation planner, I support it.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

I came here full-time about seven years ago, and I immediately reconstituted the Little Tuscany Neighborhood Organization to address a lot of quality-of-life ills around here. My neighbors saw how effective I was, and I quickly became the vice chair, and then was voted to become that group’s representative to ONE-PS, which is the umbrella organization. What’s been so reassuring is that my neighbors saw my effectiveness in getting things done, and they have completely encouraged me to run for City Council.

I think I’m in a very fortunate position, having the skill set and the lifelong experience working in municipal and regional government, to walk in and do a great job. The City Council sets policy, and I think I can do that very effectively. Secondly, I have the support of the vast majority of the (current) City Council, which really indicates that I can walk into that job with working relationships (already in place) with those sitting on the council. Why is that important? It’s important because that’s how you get things done. You really have to cooperate and work with one another to get things done. If I get the support of the citizens through being elected, it will be important that I have the support of the employees of City Hall and their unions. That means a lot. So, there’s a lot of confidence in me, and if elected, I really hope I can live up to the expectations.


Peter Maietta, Businessman, 51 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

That’s an easy one for me to answer: I believe it is affordable housing. One reason why I feel that way is because I live in a working-class district which I’ve been canvassing since April. What I hear primarily here in District 2 is that many people are struggling to make ends meet and just to stay in their homes. For them to look forward to continuing to live and work in Palm Springs is difficult. As you know, housing prices are higher here in Palm Springs, and they’re actually much higher than what working-class people can afford. Fundamentally, I think we need to get in front of this now, and to do what we need to build more affordable housing family units.

I know there will be one (affordable-housing development) going up in our district, and the Community Housing Opportunities Corporation is doing it. They’re in process of securing funding, but it’s fully approved. It’s actually quite in keeping with the architectural style of the area. It’s the nicest affordable development that I’ve ever come across. There’s a nice play area for children and a dog run. It’s great, and it’s actually geared toward one-bedroom and three-bedroom units, so for families or singles or couples. That will be the first (such development) that’s gone up here in 10 years, and I think that they should be spread throughout the city. We need to do our part to make sure (this option) is available to a lot of people, but in every district, not just concentrated in one.

Also, I’m definitely in favor of having all developers, building anywhere in the city, allot a certain percentage of new construction that they’re working on solely toward affordable-housing units. If a developer is unable or unwilling to do that, then I would like to see a cash (payment) received by the city that’s equal to the projected cost of building those affordable units in that particular development. That money can go into a general fund, so that more affordable housing can be developed throughout the entire city equally. Right now, Palm Springs is behind where it needs to be in addressing this issue, and it’s something I would advocate strongly for on the City Council.

What grade would you give the city of Palm Springs regarding its response to date to the homelessness problem? What has the city done well, and what future actions and policies would you support?

I would have to say that the city of Palm Springs is a shining example of what can be done for homelessness. In conjunction with the Coachella Valley Association of Governments and the Desert Healthcare District (DHCD), Palm Springs, along with most of the Coachella Valley, is moving toward a “housing first” model. “Housing first” is an approach (to alleviating homelessness) by quickly and successfully connecting individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness to permanent housing. There can be no preconditions or barriers, like being sober or requiring any other treatment or services, set for (anyone) as participation requirements. There’s no one cause for homelessness, and there’s no one cure for it, but by giving people shelter and access to whatever services they need, it can help end the cycle of homelessness for at least the one individual. And it will help integrate them back into society. So, you’re ending homelessness one person at a time. It’s far more likely that cycle can be broken for someone if they are already living somewhere, and they have services wrapped around them. If there is no “housing first” approach, and people are just treated for an addiction or (rescued from) domestic violence, and if they are not housed and helped, then they just wind up back out on the streets. So, I think the city has a really good plan in this instance.

The city is waiting to get $10 million from the state to go toward this problem. The DHCD has given $1 million, too. I believe that Palm Springs has put up a certain amount of money (for this issue) as well. So, there’s a good solid, strong plan.

I would like to see a new 24/7 shelter that’s open 365 days a year for acute homelessness needs. Right now, we have the Well in the Desert facility, Arlene Rosenthal’s facility, which is great. And the city is wonderful for extending her permit for a longer period of time so she can remain in that building. It’s been open 24 hours during this terrible heat of recent months, but I do think there’s a need for another shelter.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

I think the city has done a great job embracing this industry. I feel that the city continues to grow and refine its ordinances—specifically, I mean like odor ordinances, which seems to be a primary concern of many residents here. Because it is so windy, where there are grow or manufacture (cannabis facilities), then the smell can become a problem. But the city has done a great job of making sure that odors are contained, and they have very stringent policies in place with lots of measuring devices to make sure (the regulations are met).

I think they did a great job of lowering the level of taxation (on cannabis businesses in the city) to make dispensaries more competitive with other valley cities. Also, we face an underground market problem here with our cannabis industry, which makes it more difficult for legal dispensaries to compete, because in an illicit market, the prices can be lower.

I have no problem with retail shops or lounges, but I would like to see them equally distributed throughout commercial areas in the city. I think right now, the ordinance states that there has to be at least 1,000 feet between such businesses. I’m definitely in favor of creating a “green zone” designed to house manufacturing and cultivation sites away from residential areas. I think that would do a great deal to mitigate the odor concerns that some residents have—not all, but some.

I’d like to see the creation of a long-term cannabis commission or task force that would allow citizens to always have a voice in this industry as it grows. I mean, that’s nothing new for the city: They have lots of subcommittees, working groups and advisory/informative groups for people to give information, feedback and flavor to the decision makers.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

Well, crime is everywhere in our country. But I think our police department, and our police chief in particular, are doing a remarkable job here in Palm Springs to keep crime under control.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of doing a ride-along with one of our officers, and I got to see firsthand how hard our force works to protect the city. I saw so many calls that day, and I have the utmost respect for the way they do their job and how they put their lives on the line each day for everyone in this city. I can’t stress enough just how much respect I have for them. I know that as of this January, the police department will (again) be fully staffed for a city of roughly 47,000 people. The recently added officer recruits are now all out on patrol. But I think that one way to decrease future crime would be to do an impact study on the influx of additional tourists we have (visiting the city) every year and consider adding additional officers, or part-time officers, to aid our dedicated police force during the high season. Although on paper, come January, we’ll be fully staffed for a city of our size, we’re never really just a city of our size, because we always have a significant number of visitors in our city.

Everyone knows that our economy may soften, and my fear is that if people were to lose their jobs due to a downturn in tourism, we may see crime rise in our city. That’s another reason that I’m a strong proponent for ensuring that our police force has the means and a plan to be adequately staffed, were that to happen.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

I personally am very excited about it for a number of reasons. I definitely want to see Palm Springs thrive as a vacation destination, and I think a venue such as (the proposed arena) will help us greatly. And I’m even more excited over the new jobs that will be created for our residents. I’d like to see our residents chosen for those jobs first. I know that (decision) is really up to the (Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians), but personally I would love to see them pull from our pool of residents here.

I am concerned about the stress that a venue of that size will put on the city’s infrastructure, including our roads, our traffic and our law-enforcement resources. When elected, I want to foster a strong relationship with the tribe and help to work with both the City Council and the tribe to make sure that everyone’s concerns are dissipated and that the venue is a true success. Although the tribe is a sovereign nation, we all share the same city, and we all have a shared interest in its growth.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

I think the city has done a great job thus far of keeping and managing our reserves (which we’ll need) in the event of another economic downturn. But we are primarily an economy that is based upon tourism. In an economic downturn, we may see less revenue come to our city from out-of-town visitors. I think that given the many events we already have here in the Coachella Valley, coupled with the new 10,000-seat arena, tourism should never evaporate, so to speak. With that said, we should continue to find ways to set aside funds for future infrastructure needs.

In my District 2, and in other areas of the city, our roads are in very poor condition. The water mains, particularly where I live in Desert Park Estates, rupture somewhere on an almost weekly basis. Those water mains have reached their life expectancy. Our municipal buildings are showing signs of deferred maintenance. I am a strong advocate for updating the city’s general plan, which has not been updated in seven years, and it’s a 20-year plan. I think if we do update it, we’ll be able to prioritize the municipal projects in such a way that they’re addressed before they fail. If we can address such issues earlier, then we can be smarter about conserving resources.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

You do know that I’m running for public office, and I haven’t had a carefree, fun night out in Palm Springs in months. (Laughs.) But I am looking forward to one. I’d start off by having dinner at one of the fabulous Mexican restaurants that we have here, because it’s my favorite kind of food. I’d have a margarita and then probably something deliciously unhealthy to eat. Then, to counteract that, I’d take a long walk, visit our local shops and just talk to people along the way. I find that the best way I can shape my platform is by talking to as many people as possible who not only live in my district, but in the city overall. Now that I’m beginning to be recognized, since my bus ads are all over town, people are very willing to talk, and I’m always very willing to hear what they have to say.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

I’d say that I’m for it. I think it will definitely help alleviate traffic on Palm Canyon Drive. It will certainly aid in traffic control when the new arena is built, because a 10,000-seat stadium could mean 10,000 cars. But mostly I think it will help drive foot traffic to the already existing—and I imagine new—businesses on Indian Canyon, which will help our economy. So, I would say “yay” to it.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

(I’d like) to tell (the readers) a little bit about myself. I was a banker for 20 years, and in my last job, I worked for Union Bank investment services. I ran marketing for all their brokerage products and their retirement bank-deposit products. After that, I bought into an architecture and interior-design firm which I ran for six years before moving full-time here to the desert. So, from being in corporate America and owning a small business, I do understand how to create jobs, and what the struggles are for working families in Palm Springs.

I feel that I’m ready to get down to business at City Hall on day one. I’m a community volunteer, and I’m on the board of directors of Desert Park Estates, which is my neighborhood association. I serve on the fundraising committee for the LGBTQ center, and I served as an appointed member of the Palm Springs Board of Appeals. I’m just a guy who loves my city and my district, and at this point in my life, I have the time and the inclination to give back, and I’d really like to do that.


Adrian Alcantar, Salon and Day Spa Owner, 37 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

In all honesty, it could be any one of a magnitude of issues, but I think we really need to focus on our (city’s) deficit. As a business owner, I’ve sat in on a City Council meeting where the city approved a two-year projected budget with a deficit of roughly $215,000. If I operated a business and approved a budget with a deficit, I wouldn’t be in business. That’s the bottom line. I look at pension liabilities, bonds that are out on the convention center, and the mounting infrastructure improvements that need to be made on city-owned property, and it concerns me. With the new arena that is going to be built—I believe that it is inevitable—we have an opportunity right now to change the dynamic of the way the city does business. I really believe that (the arena) could be a new revenue stream for the city of Palm Springs that could positively impact the reduction of debt.

Now, with the pension liability, I think we have about $192 million (accrued to date), and it’s continuously growing. Then you look at the additional lifetime medical benefits for city employees, and that’s another $100 million. And then there are the bonds that are out on the convention center and the airport. We just approved, I think, somewhere between $30-$50 million for a bond for the airport reconstruction of the baggage-claim area. And you look at police overtime, fire overtime, city staff pay—and it just continues to snowball.

What grade would you give the city of Palm Springs regarding its response to date to the homelessness problem? What has the city done well, and what future actions and policies would you support?

I would give the city of Palm Springs an “F.” I want to explain that this comes after the city of Palm Springs vacated a number of individuals from Sunrise Park. They removed these individuals and then moved a mobile command center into Sunrise Park to combat the mounting heroin and drug-related issues that were occurring. They have deemed this to be a public-safety and health issue. I commend them on their efforts, and I want to be very clear when I say that I value what they’re doing to take back the park and allow it to be a space that’s free for everyone. However—and this is where the grade comes into play—my big concern was that there were not any leaders of (nonprofit) communities, or leaders from the county, or leaders from other resources that are available to these (homeless) individuals, available at the time of vacating them. The night after (the city’s action), the Street Life Project went in to do a meal service, which they offer on a regular basis. It was published that there’s a temporary stop to that service, because the police department has placed a ban on feeding the homeless. Now, this is not humane.

I also sat in a City Council meeting, and I listened to Chief Bryan Reyes—and I’m going to quote him on this—say that “homelessness is not a crime.” He said that in public testimony at that council meeting. But what we have done is criminalize individuals who want to help combat the crisis. They want to help by providing food or other services, and I think it’s wrong (to criminalize their service). We haven’t developed a plan, and we are jumping through these strategic moves, but there is no public plan in place, and that’s what concerns me the most.

Look at cities like Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. All of them have plans that are in place. Boston is a great example. They have leaders of the (nonprofit) communities come together at the table, because these are stakeholders in the community. In 2015, they realized they had an issue, and by working together, they instituted a plan with the city itself. (Palm Springs City Manager) David Ready is on record saying that homelessness in the city is not our issue, that it’s a county issue. And that’s wrong. It is everybody’s issue. It is a humanitarian issue. I will stand behind that (statement) 100 percent. Now, we need to come together as a working community to combat the crisis that is in front of us that we deal with on a daily basis.

By vacating people from the park, it has spread them all over the city. We may not see them, because they’re not concentrated, but they’re still there. I think it was 256 individuals (tracked) on the count, but I’m sure there are more than that. And the question now is, “Where did they go?” I truly value the work that Arlene Rosenthal does over at the Well in the Desert. She’s having some issues with her conditional-use permit. I hope the city recognizes that she needs to be a valuable asset in that city plan. And with $10 million coming from the state, if that happens and that fund gets created by the governor, I hope we form a group. I don’t want to call it a task force, and I don’t want to call it a commission, because when you do that, you get lost in (all the rules like) public comments being limited to only two minutes, but I think we need an open forum to put all the (nonprofit) stakeholders in the area together to say, “Listen, this is how we need to be able to help with this issue.” Then we can go into a commission or task force that’s formed. But I really believe we need to bring together a group of people who know what the hell they are doing in regards to this topic. And we don’t need to just blow the money on some damned consultant. That’s all that you’re going to get from me on that one.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

Recently, I had the opportunity to go to a meeting of (the Coachella Valley Cannabis Alliance Network), which is a group of individuals from that industry itself, and the amount of research I had to do before going into this forum and speaking was quite interesting. You know, I look at the cannabis industry overall, and what I see are small businesses. So, I’m very middle of the road on this topic. I see the residents’ standpoint, and I see the business standpoint. It is a small business (environment), first and foremost, and I believe we should treat them as such, and treat them fairly. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that no other business is required to pay the amount of fees that cannabis does. And the taxes are quite high, too. This concerns me, because, as a result, the illegal industry still thrives behind other doors. I believe that if we readjust tax structure and the way that we do business with (the cannabis industry), we can reduce the amount of illegal activity within the city. Also, at that point, it will allow more funds to stay with these business owners so they can invest their money to reduce odor, and to make other business improvements.

I’m also concerned with where these tax dollars are going, and what we could do with these tax dollars if properly allocated. For instance, look at a city like Desert Hot Springs that was on the brink of bankruptcy. But when they allowed this industry into town, (the city) blossomed. A new revenue stream was created that was able to support the city’s economy. I’m not saying that we want (to create) a large density (of cannabis enterprises), because there has to be a balance within the guidelines of our current policy. And I’m not saying we should put a shop on every corner and three on every street. I think it needs to be measurable and sustainable. We need to diversify the economy throughout the entire city. I think we have an option with building a “green zone” that’s been talked about to lower the tax bracket for some of these businesses and incentivize them. I think that’s a great option, but I want to make sure that those tax dollars go back to where we need to see them. I’d love to see those funds get used properly, and maybe even to deal with the homeless crisis. Maybe we put (those dollars) back into schools and education about drugs and alcohol. There are a ton of positive things that we could do with these tax dollars, instead of just putting them into the general fund to be absorbed. I think if (these dollars) are used properly, then the residents can benefit from it, and that’s the bottom line.

I look at everything in the scope of us always working together, no matter what the situation. How can we incorporate it back into the stream of things to benefit the residents, to benefit the city and to benefit the city employees as well? There are three things that I always look at, in regards to making policy, and if it does not benefit the residents, the city and the stakeholders, then it’s not going to be a “yes” (from me). This is something I’ve always done as a business owner: Does it benefit the business; does it benefit me; and does it benefit my employees? It’s just how I operate, even at home.

Just to clarify, what were you referring to when you talked about a “green zone”?

There’s a “green zone” that they’re looking at creating close to the I-10 freeway, and it’s going to be in District 1. They’re looking at developing that property, very close to the Amtrak station, for some growth opportunity and development. They want these types of businesses to go in there so they will not affect or impact residential areas. I do see the concerns (being raised) in the Desert Highland Gateway Estates and Demuth Park areas, where we’re seeing large scale (cannabis) companies going in, and the communities are offering a little resistance. I think that Veronica Goedhart (from the city of Palm Springs Office of Special Projects/Vacation Rentals and Cannabis) is doing a great job. I would urge any member of the community who has a concern to reach out to her, because she has a wealth of knowledge, particularly regarding how the ordinance is written and how it works.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

You have crime anywhere, no matter where we go, and it’s here (in Palm Springs). We have a population of around 44,000 with a voting population of roughly 30,000, so that tells me that there are 30,000 people who live here full-time. And then you have this constant rotation and revolving door of tourists, which adds around 130,000 on a monthly basis. So crime is going to happen. Now, I’m not saying tourists create crime. There are individuals on the tourist side and on the residential side who are ready for a bad time. So, I just think we need to be aware. I think that our police department is aware of the situation at hand, and they understand that we live in a large transient community. But we also live in a community that’s very trusting. My husband is always telling me, “Lock the door! Lock the door!” And I’ll be honest: I’m the first one not to lock the door! I think in regards to crime, our public just needs to be aware of it. We have people who visit us on a regular basis. And now with the vacation rentals, more people who visit us are staying in our neighborhoods. And there are individuals who are displaced or homeless or whatever, and they’re looking. So I think the public just needs to be aware of that and make sure we’re taking care of ourselves, our neighborhoods and the people who live around us.

It’s kind of funny, because I think a lot of that has to do with the way that neighborhoods are integrated. What I mean is: How many people actually know their neighbor’s name now? Do you know who lives two houses down the street? I think that has a big impact with crime. So, I say if we want to reduce crime: Get to know the people around us, and we start looking out for one another again.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

I’ve had my business downtown for five years, and I would have loved to see the completion of the (Agua Caliente) Cultural Center and spa down there. I see it from all sides right now. I see that it’s going to bring rising rents to small businesses, and that concerns me. But I also see it on an economic plane from the city (perspective). We are very lucky that we have this neighboring nation that’s willing to front the $260-plus million to foot the bill for this project. And all that I see is growth. I believe that it can positively impact the reduction of debt, if it is planned properly. And by that, I do not mean that the Agua Caliente tribe is not going to plan properly, because everything they’ve built so far is absolutely beautiful. I want to clarify that. But, I do think there’s a level of logistics that needs to be done hand in hand with the city and the tribe to make this a successful feat across the board. And it all begins with communication and working together. We have to have that relationship with the tribal council again.

We haven’t really had a very strong relationship in the last couple of years, I believe since (former Agua Caliente Chairman Richard) Milanovich died (in 2012). I look at it like these new guys at the helm of the tribal council want to build a successful stadium and business, and I want to see that happen, because I think that everybody can benefit across the board. So, I’m very pro-arena, and I think it can be very successful if the city is given the logistical strategy. I’ve had to talk to (representatives from) several cities across the nation who have brought in arenas much like this one. And (these stadiums) generate almost $100 million per year. And when I look at the revenue that could potentially be gained from the (transient occupancy tax) and sales tax throughout the city because of an addition like this, I’d say that at the low end, we’re talking $20-30 (million). Now, $20-$30 million sounds like a good deal to me as long as we’re prepared for the infrastructure with the roads and public safety and the way we’re going to go about doing business on a daily basis when we have events. So I think that’s where the communication needs to start. And we should look at the environmental impact, and we should look at the long-term effects on neighborhoods that are adjacent to (the proposed site) like the Movie Colony. And we need to devise a working plan on how we’re going to strategize around parking. Would a large off-site parking area with shuttle service be beneficial? We have to look at all of these things.

I think the way that the city of Los Angeles handles parking at the Hollywood Bowl is interesting, for instance. If it’s planned right, it can be very successful. What we need is an open dialogue, not only with the tribe, but with other cities who have experienced the same thing and gone through the process. We can sit down and get on a phone call and just ask, “What works for you? What didn’t work for you?” Let’s make this the most successful arena that the nation has seen. We’re building this project right in the heart of our downtown. It’s not on the outside. It’s not somewhere away from downtown Las Vegas like the Golden Knights arena. And it’s not downtown San Diego, either; it’s Palm Springs. So we just have to make sure that our streets, public safety and the city can support all of it.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

It’s a one-word answer: No. It’s true that we’ve made some changes, and we’ve been able to sock away a little money. But looking at the debt, I fear that 2008 is going to come around again, and we’ll have to let go of 100 employees, if not more. I don’t want to see that happen at all. But the continuing growth of debt would have a major impact on that situation. My husband is a union man, and I would never want to see that happen to our family.

I feel that we really need to begin to diversify our economy. We need a solid plan for a way that the city can continue to bring in money, even during the down times of a recession, and it cannot be based on tourism alone. That’s huge. We really need to diversify the businesses we’re bringing into this town. The debt is around $500 million, and we’re going to be faced with tough choices if a recession hits, and it is bigger than the last one.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

For me, since I’ve lived close to downtown in the Movie Colony for years, and I’ve owned a business downtown for the last five years, I can literally walk into a restaurant and have a great meal, then go catch a movie and finish it off with some ice cream. During the winter months, it’s great, and it’s always the best to do just that.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

I’m in the middle on this one. I support the conversion, and I think it will help reduce traffic during large-scale downtown events. I know that this decision to change was done before the 10,000-seat arena project was announced, so how traffic is directed on to Indian Canyon when one of these events ends is the only logistic (issue) that concerns me now. It goes back to infrastructure and whether or not we have what we need to support (the arena) traffic. I think if we open ourselves up to conversation with the tribe, then we can plan for it. So I’m still in support of growth happening, and large-scale events happening, and I just want to make sure that whatever we do with infrastructure, we’re making the right choices, and that were not operating on a 30-year-old general plan.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

The financial issue is the big one for me, and how we operate with our money. I found it surprising that we went from an 800-900 page budget to 50-plus pages in the last couple of years because of the deletion of itemized line items. I think a large part of being transparent with our residents is allowing them to see where we are spending money. And when you look at payroll structure with the city, we are very top-heavy, and it concerns me. I’ve said in the past that I would have never approved the budget (now in effect). I would have directed the city manager to figure it out and balance the deficit. I would have sat there until they approved a balanced budget, no matter how late. I was at that meeting, and it ran late. Also, Councilman J.R. Roberts came out and said in an article in The Desert Sun that the voters are not informed enough to make the right choice and vote (on issues). He contends that this is why we elect people to the City Council. I disagree with that. We are a very smart society, and I hope that any voter thoroughly educates themselves and makes themselves aware of who they are voting for, and that they vote for the most qualified candidate. I would hope to see that we have a diverse array of candidates on that dais that are elected to our city’s offices. They should represent all walks of life. That is going to be key in making sure that we remain successful.

There is a reason why we’ve gone into district elections, and I support having the working people (of our city) represented on the council. It needs to happen. We have not had a Latino candidate (elected) in almost 47 years, since Joe Garcia. And, considering that the Coachella Valley is 53 percent Hispanic, it surprises the hell out of me. Now I look at the demographics in each of the districts, and I think this is a great way to operate, but I have one concern. We allowed a minority district to be formed that has a mass representation of a minority, and we did not carve out minority numbers throughout the city. So, we have in essence said that the minority will have one voice and one vote when it could have been positively distributed across the board. We should not have just gone off of the Census, as old it was, but used the Registrar of Voters data. So, I think there’s somewhat of a misrepresentation there, and I think that we need to re-visit it.

I believe in (campaign) contribution limits, and I do not believe that one individual should be able to donate $10,000 or $50,000 to a campaign. I believe there are things that need to be changed in our city’s election practices. I will try my hardest to make sure that there is a level playing field for anyone who wants to run, if I am elected. That’s no matter what socio-economic status they may have. I believe anybody can offer valuable input at any time, and I think we need to see change today. I hope Palm Springs is ready for a new voice, because I’m ready to serve.

Published in Politics

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, Palm Springs residents living in the newly drawn Districts 1, 2 and 3 will head to the polls to elect three City Council members.

These elections are the first step in the city’s transition from at-large to district-based representation, to comply with the California Voting Rights Act. The changeover will be complete after the November 2020 election of council members in Districts 4 and 5.

(To see the newly drawn districts, visit www.palmspringsca.gov/government/city-clerk/election-general-municipal-election.)

Another change: The city will no longer have a directly elected mayor; instead, Palm Springs will join most other valley cities in designating a councilmember as mayor for a year on a rotating basis.

The Independent recently reached out to the four candidates running for the new District 1 seat. Grace Garner, Les Young and Scott Myer all spoke with us at length; Michael Shogren did not get back to us after repeated attempts to reach him by both phone and email.

Here are their complete answers, edited only slightly for style and clarity, presented in the order in which the candidates will appear on the ballot.


Les Young, Retired Banker, 68 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

I would say that’s homelessness. I think the City Council has done a remarkable job in moving the needle on homelessness. I think that moving to the “housing first” model is an absolute requirement. I think it’s been proven time and again throughout the country, and so I think that migrating in that direction has been very beneficial. Unfortunately right now, most of that solution seems to be (happening) in the east valley, and we need to bring that solution into the west valley. It’s pretty imperative that we do something within those confines. It’s not easy for a homeless person to get transported over to that area in the east.

I’ve been assigned to the homeless task force, because I sit as a commissioner on the Parks and Recreation (Commission). Since homelessness very much impacts our parks, for the last 2 1/2 to 3 years, I’ve sat on that committee. One of the things that I think we do very effectively is (address) what I consider to be low-hanging fruit. We have people who are near homeless or just borderline homeless, and we have plenty of services, not just within the city, but services like Mizell (Senior Center) and Jewish Family Services who do assist people with things like fixing a broken air conditioner to help avoid their becoming homeless. Then there’s the next third, people who have been homeless for awhile, but who would do anything to be facilitated within housing. They are very much interested in making that move. … The last third, which I don’t feel that we’ve been particularly successful (in aiding), are people who are using drugs, or are mentally incapacitated. In the corporate world, when you work on a rock—and I consider this problem to be a rock—you bring in people who really analyze and come up with solutions. You don’t start at one end of the rock and works toward the other end, or start with the most difficult and work toward the easier stuff; you put elements (in place) on each pile to work it down. I think we’ve worked on what I would call the “low-hanging fruit” very effectively. Now we need to focus more on the last third; I think it’s extremely important to try and figure that out.

I don’t think you’ll ever “solve” homelessness. In fact, today, homelessness is so different throughout the United States than it was 10 to 15 years ago. In my corporate life, when I traveled, homelessness wasn’t something that you experienced very often when going to other cities. Whether it was just kept out of sight, I don’t know, but today, if you travel to Los Angeles, or San Francisco, or Chicago, or New York, there are clearly homeless communities. It is a new today for us, so I would love to focus on this and try to wrap a couple of solutions around it. This is an issue that, since senior council members have already been working on it, I wouldn’t get to work on in my first year as a newly elected councilmember. But I can always be building the history, and thinking about things moving forward, and this is one (issue) for me that is very large.

Since homelessness was the topic of our second planned question, would you like to talk about your next-most-important issue?

It’s affordable housing. You know, homelessness and affordable housing are sometimes interchangeable, and sometimes they are one and the same thing. As for affordable housing here, we are sorely behind in developing apartment living at a reasonable cost. But I’d like us to look at sweat-equity development of purchasable homes. I’d like to see a young family be able to put in some sweat equity, and also a reasonable amount of money, and be able to get a mortgage and create the American dream, which is to have a home you own and can build equity in. If you live in it for 10 to 15 years, I don’t feel that it should be sold at a less than market rate because you got it as an affordable house. That’s part of the American dream. If the price of the area goes up, then you benefit from that, and that’s how you move on.

I’m really hoping that at some point in time, we’ll be building out multiple kinds of homes. … We live directly across from Coyote Run 1 and 2, which are beautiful examples of well-maintained properties. I look across at these properties and just marvel that they are low-income housing, because they are beautifully maintained on the outside. I mean, these are people who decorate their homes at Christmas and various holidays, just like we do. I will tell you that it’s an honor to live across from this community. To me, it’s a great example of what affordable housing can look like. I worry a little bit about “NIMBY-ism,” the people who say, “Not in my backyard.” But I’m sorry, if you look at (Coyote Run), there’s nothing wrong with that community. So, I’m very supportive of things that (the) Coachella Valley Housing (Coalition) has achieved. I know there’s another opportunity coming up that won’t be in my district, but will be right across from my district at Indian (Canyon Drive) and San Rafael. I think there are about 60 homes currently planned to be built, which will be remarkable. But I think we’re at least a couple of hundred homes behind where we should be, even in the affordable rentals area.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

I think the city has done a great job of bringing the businesses in and attempting to set up the requirements for it. But one thing that I’m concerned about is that in District 1, both at the north end and south end, there are grow and manufacturing facilities that are emitting odors, and they are abutting residential areas, so I’ve got a concern about that. I think that we are building a new process that will actually benefit somebody who is going into the business if they are a greater distance from housing. I don’t know if I’ve coined this or not, but I call the I-10 the ‘Cannabis Corridor’ for us in Palm Springs, and Palm Springs (extends northward) slightly past the I-10, so on both sides of the 10 freeway, there are opportunities for warehouses that would be built specifically for grow and manufacturing so that they could more tightly control the odors—and if any odors did slip out in that area, it wouldn’t be close enough to either Desert Hot Springs or Palm Springs to be impacting people.

I’ll tell you that what’s unfortunate is that these are things that are happening in commercial areas that essentially abut less-costly housing—so it is against Desert Highland, and it is up against the Demuth Park area. While they’re both wonderful areas, it seems they are being imposed upon by these (cannabis) facilities. I don’t want to see these facilities not be here; in fact, I love that they are in District 1. But I’d like to see them appropriately placed in (areas) that do not impact our citizens.

I don’t have major concerns about the lounges or the retail outlets, but I do hope that they are equitably spaced for the benefit of both those who are in the business as well as those who are purchasing the products throughout the city. I think there might be a few variances that are being offered, but I don’t really have concerns about that aspect of how we’re doing things.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

I sit as the president of the Police Advisory Board, so I do have access to data relative to crimes both through that role and through the ONE-PS monthly meetings, and the mainstream meetings that I attend. I think our police are doing a remarkable job. I think they are highly regarded for the work they do in the city. I think things are very much under control. I’m a very strong opponent to the idea of outsourcing that (policing) capability. I’ve been asked twice in the last month if I could support outsourcing the police department, and my answer was, “Absolutely, I could not.” I’ve lived in multiple cities in our country—Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City—and a few cities outside of our country, and I feel that we have the best police chief that I have ever been exposed to. It’s not just because I sit on an advisory board, but I’ve watched things happen in the last 2 1/2 years in this community that I think many people would have failed (in addressing). This man leads beautifully, and he leads a very effective group. He manages people extremely well, and he leads by example, which I think is one of the most important things. He doesn’t have rules for others that he doesn’t follow himself, so I highly respect him, and I highly respect both our police and fire facilities here in Palm Springs. I think they’re both remarkable, and their leadership is (as well).

So you have no concerns about the level of crime or type of crime that has taken place within Palm Springs in recent years?

I will tell you, having seen closely the impacts of crime, our chief and the force here work to teach people how to avoid crime. So much of the crime we experience today has to do with unlocked doors—garage doors that are left open a few inches because it’s so hot here, and then not locking the kitchen door to the garage. In one of the reports that I read, somebody had left $5,000 in cash and a computer and a purse or a briefcase in view in their car. I marvel that we test things that way. In my working world, I had a laptop, and so often, I had to carry that laptop into a restaurant with me on the way home from work. It had private and confidential information on it, and although it was secured with encryption and access codes, if it were stolen, it would have been reported as a banker’s access to client data. Even to this day, as I’m the president of my HOA, I have books that I carry to the meetings, and if somebody says, “Hey … let’s go out to dinner,” before I join them, I have to go home and put the books away in a safe place.

One of the other things I do worry about is that often times, the laws have softened on some crime to make it difficult for police officers to assist by getting people off the street who are perpetrating crimes. But some of the crime goes back to homelessness. I’ve got to tell you that if you’ve had a hungry day, and there isn’t any resource for you (to obtain a meal), you might actually pick up a half gallon of milk and stick in your pocket to help feed your family. So you walk two sides of the street on that one.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

I’m excited about it if it happens. I will tell you, a little selfishly, that I’m a Chicagoan, and most of my life, I lived in Chicago. To see a hockey team in my home town after having moved here with my husband from San Francisco, where we had season tickets to the Giants and the 49ers, would be great. … Although my husband is a sports fan, he isn’t much of a hockey fan. But after going to a couple games, he’ll realize what a great sport it is.

Now, do I worry about some of the aspects such as traffic and transportation—I do somewhat, But I have a great deal of respect for the tribe, and I believe that if this is something that they’re doing, then they’re not going to have 10,000 cars at an event blocking up the streets. That’s not their style. They will come up with plans. I don’t know what they are, and they’re not disclosing them yet, but I have total faith in the tribe. I think about things that could help: Could we have a large parking lot close to the I-10, with transportation into the event? That’s possible.

Also, my hope would be that people who come for an event may actually stay for few days to enjoy our restaurants, hotels and the beauty of our city and the mountain. There’s a piece of me that thinks some people will be parked in a hotel five hours before the event, having a bite of dinner and then going over to see that event. I know there will be hockey, and concerts and other types of broad entertainment, and I hope that people will spend the night in their hotel, drive safely and enjoy our city. So, I’m not worried about it. I’m actually anticipating that it will get done quickly, like the garage that they built—and look at the beautiful cultural center that they’re doing.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

I don’t think any city can be ready for (a recession). But if there’s a city that’s prepped for it, Palm Springs has done a remarkable job. Again, our City Council has set things up very effectively. Now, personally, I think that there are some areas where we have not done the work we need to do relative to the infrastructure of this city. I’m somebody who is a bit worried about our buildings and whether or not they can survive another 10 to 20 years without investment. Again, I sit as chair of Parks and Recreation, so I spent a lot of time in the James O. Jessie Community Center, and the Demuth Park pavilion and leisure center—and some of those buildings are suffering from age. They are beautifully maintained by our maintenance people, but everything gets old over a period of time. So, I do worry about that a little.

I think that City Hall has had a little bit of a structural facelift over the last four years, and we don’t see buckets (catching the leaks) when it rains anymore. But I do feel that we need to do some work. So while we’re sensitive to keeping reserves well managed, and working on our retirement (benefits) issue, we also need to set aside funds to address our infrastructure issues. For instance, our parks, while in beautiful shape, have restrooms that are in need of some serious work. The commission did a report for (City Manager David) Ready, as he requested, and he’s looking to fund our request to improve the bathrooms. Some need to be torn down and replaced, but some are in historically significant facilities and cannot be torn down, but could be re-gentrified by installing tiles and floors that can withstand stronger washings, and make sure those are done on a regular basis.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

I love walking the entire length of the city. You know, it’s not New York City, and it’s not Chicago, but it has its own charm. Actually, today is Michael’s and my 28th anniversary, and 11th wedding anniversary, so we’re going to have dinner at Spencer’s, which is a place that we very much enjoy. We’ll be eating on their patio which is where a lot of people in the community are.

We have some fabulous restaurants in town. Coming from San Francisco, we were both a little nervous about arriving in Palm Springs and realizing that the food would probably not be what we were used to in San Francisco. Well, we were excited to find out that we were so wrong. There are so many different kinds of food and food opportunities here, and new ones coming in that are wonderful. Wabi Sabi (Japan Living) is doing some pop-ups in places. We really do have very creative people who have settled here over the years and continue to settle here. So, it is nice, and there are some wonderful spots as you walk down Palm Canyon or Indian Canyon, like stores you can go into to shop, and gelato on a warm night is great.

I just marvel that the Thursday night VillageFest street fair happens 51 weeks of the year, weather allowing—and to see the people who come to sell their wares, and the people who come repeatedly to visit that five-to-six-block area is remarkable. I get to work at the “Ask the Chief” booth that (Police) Chief (Bryan) Reyes does for the Police Advisory Board. He comes out and talks to the public. It’s amazing how many people that we meet there, (whether) they’re locals, or from the drive markets around our area, and people who visit from Europe and Canada. We’ve met Australians (and) South Americans—and it’s just wonderful to see the people walking our streets and enjoying our town.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

It’s funny: I deal with change like that very cautiously, but I’m excited about it. I was driving back from an appointment today and coming down Indian Canyon, and I thought that we’re down to two lanes, and there’s so much torn up just to change the curbs and doing this little bit of work. But when it’s done, I hope it’s going to present a great opportunity for new businesses to be sitting on both Indian Canyon and Palm Canyon. Also, I’m excited about the fact that the (new Agua Caliente) cultural center is tied into it. So, I think we’ve done the right thing. It does terminate at the right location, which is literally the same street that will be the end of the downtown arena that the tribe is planning. I think it’s going to be right thing to have done, ultimately.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

Well, maybe a subject: I am a retired banker who had a 40-year career in domestic and international banking, finance, managing operations, customer service, international loans and credit product management, which I feel has given me a strong background to be able to help the city move forward, especially with budgeting and looking at things effectively across the board. These are all things I did while handling sales, and dealing with the heads of corporations that we were selling products to, along with operations partners and systems partners. The negotiations that were required by my role and my staff’s role were pretty extensive.

I did take one year off, as my partner asked, to see if I could be successful at retirement. And I wasn’t. I needed to be able to exercise what I had spent my career doing, so I became a commissioner on Parks and Recreation, and ultimately the chair of that commission. I became a member of the Police Advisory Board as a representative of the LGBT community to the chief and was elected president of that board. I sat on the (Community Development Block) Grants committees for the last three years, where we actually evaluated all the requests for grants, and while we don’t make the final decisions on who gets the grants, we put the decisions before the City Council and that’s been a remarkable opportunity. To be able to facilitate businesses that are requesting sums of money for things that will help them aid the populations that they are required to serve has been great. Also, sitting on the homelessness task force and the downtown park committee has been very educational. So, I bring a background and a passion, and I want to continue to serve this community. So, that’s where I am at this point in my bid for office, and that’s where I want to take it.


Scott Myer, Civil Rights Attorney, 58 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

I think that the current City Council is not really listening to the people at many times. When I was going out and talking to people while collecting nominating signatures, I found they don’t think they’re being listened to. In that regard, I think that the creation of five districts, whether or not you agree with the reasons it was done, is a good idea, because it will bring the people closer to their representatives. So, in that respect, I think the issue has already been solved by the fact that they broke (the city) into five districts.

What grade would you give the city of Palm Springs regarding its response to date to the homelessness problem? What has the city done well, and what future actions and policies would you support?

Do you want a letter grade? I don’t think much has been done, but one thing that’s been done and seems to be helpful is the (opening of the overnight) cooling stations during the first week when it was 120+ degrees (during the day). That was very helpful, but Palm Springs isn’t the only city (with this challenge). Homelessness seems to be out of control, and I don’t know why that’s happened over the last two decades. But I sort of give everyone a failing grade—not just in Palm Springs, but everywhere. It seems there’s something wrong with what’s going on, because every couple of years, there are more homeless people than there were before. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some things that they are doing right (in Palm Springs).

I think there should be more cooperation with charities to try to help the people get back on their feet and give them some sense of well-being (and) some clothes, and help get them where they can go out and try to get jobs, and give them some (feeling of) self-worth. I think that charities might be able to help a lot in that regard.

I do think the cooling stations have been very helpful. But it’s a tough issue, because Palm Springs is by no means the only city suffering from that problem, and it seems to be happening not only in small cities, but large cities as well. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to it, but I think it’s something that we’ve got to try and solve.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

Well, as a libertarian, I’m happy to see that society is finally advancing to being more free in this regard and realizing that criminalizing cannabis and some of these other minor drugs is just not the way to go. I’m happy to see that Palm Springs, as well as California and (much of) the rest of the nation, is moving in the right direction on that. In terms of the grow facilities, I’ve heard while talking to people that the one concern they do have is the aroma coming out of some of the cultivation facilities. So, I think there should be some thought (given) to where those are placed so that they are not right next to residences. That’s the one thing I think they need to look at a little better.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

We need a strong police department, and it will need cooperation from the public. I know that some people have expressed a desire to have police substations, especially in the northern Palm Springs area. If there was a substation nearby, then the police would be closer to the people.

Personally, I haven’t had any problems with the police. I heard about a home invasion that happened when the owners weren’t home, but aside from that, there hasn’t been a lot of crime where I’m living in Palm Springs, but I’m a little sheltered from that. Still, some people have expressed a concern that they would like to have the police a little more local to them. The other concern they had was the lack of lighting at night. I know that Palm Springs has a policy that the street lights are turned off so that you can see the stars, but in certain areas, (residents) have expressed concern that there’s not enough lighting at night, and it could be contributing to crime. 

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

Overall, it’s positive. It’s going to be helpful to the economy here, and it will create some jobs and help out the hotels and businesses. But the one concern I do have is: How are all these people going to get into town? What happens if there’s flooding on some of the access roadways? So, you have to look at whether the roads coming into Palm Springs are really up to the demand created by all these people coming on a regular basis to a big arena. But if those issues can be resolved, then, for the most part, I’m happy with it, and I think it will be good for the city.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

Possibly not, and it seems to me that some of the elements are saying that they’re still recovering from the last recession, like the police and fire departments that are just getting back to their pre-recession levels of staffing. So if they get hit with another recession, say, next year, I don’t think the city would probably be ready for it. We have to try to make sure that our tourism-dependent economy keeps having enough tourists coming here. I think we need to try to expand the base of tourists who come here, so it’s not just people from California and the United States, but try to get people to come from international (locations) as well. The more (worldwide travelers) you have out there, the less likely it is that, if the United States is hit with a recession, there would be a large impact (on the local economy), because there would still be tourist money coming here. One idea I’ve had to increase international tourism, is to develop “sister city” relationships.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

Go to Las Casuelas, the Mexican restaurant, for a margarita, an enchilada and chips with salsa.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

The first time I heard that idea, I thought, “What, are they crazy?” But then I listened to why they were doing it and the reasoning behind it, and it seems it has a lot to do with the businesses downtown. Then I started thinking about it, (and realized that) Indian Canyon was really underutilized for such a wide avenue; it had not so many cars, and it seemed that it probably can handle two-way traffic, as they were designing it now. I’m still in the wait-and-see (mode), but I’ve now listened to their arguments and seen their reasons for it, and I’m starting to agree that it’s probably a good idea. Although the proof will come after the fact, and hopefully it works, because I’d hate to see it have to be turned around again. I know they said they told everyone (in the city) about it, but a lot of people didn’t know about it until after it started happening or right before, and then there was a lot of wondering about what’s going on. But making changes like that is always hard. 

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

One issue in District 1 is that we have to figure out a way to stop the frequent Indian Canyon and Vista Chino road closures. Every winter, those roads keep flooding out. Probably Vista Chino needs some kind of bridge on it, and probably Indian Canyon does, too, but it’s so long and probably kind of expensive. But it seems that if they’re not closed for rain, then they’re closed for sand. Considering that those are two major access roads into the city, and if you tie it into the plans for the new arena, I do have a concern. If those roads are closed when there’s a big event at the arena, then everyone’s going to have to use other roads. It does put an emphasis on trying to resolve those issues.


Grace Garner, Attorney, 33 years old

What do you believe is the single most important and immediate issue facing the city of Palm Springs?

It’s affordable housing. Right now, we have a housing deficit in Southern California and in Palm Springs. Housing prices are extremely high in relation to the average earned income, so I believe that we have to get ahead of this and make sure that not only renting is affordable, but also that purchasing a home is more affordable.

Any thoughts on how you might approach that challenge?

We’re seeing a lot more development in the area, and one thing we could do as a city is require that developers (build) a certain percentage of homes at more affordable price points. We could conduct an exit study on housing and determine exactly what percentage we need to be affordable housing, and then require that amount for each new development.

What grade would you give the city of Palm Springs regarding its response to date to the homelessness problem? What has the city done well, and what future actions and policies would you support?

I would give the city an A. I think they’re doing a great job of moving this issue forward. Councilmembers (Christy) Holstege and (Geoff) Kors have been working really diligently on this along with the other members. I think that they’re on the right track and doing what needs to be done. It’s a hard issue. It’s not something that we can solve immediately, and it’s something that a lot of people have different views on and disagree on. That makes it difficult, but I think that they are doing what they need to do in order to move forward.

One of the things that I think would be great is to continue the work with the entire valley. You know, this isn’t just an issue in Palm Springs. It’s an issue for all of us in the Coachella Valley and Riverside County. I think it was great that the city reached out to the county and said, “Hey we need you, and you have to be an active partner in this.” I think more of that understanding between Coachella Valley and the county will help us move ahead. Obviously, it’s a huge issue, and there are things I don’t know about what has been tried, and I’d like to know more first before I recommend what needs to be done.

The cannabis industry has come to Palm Springs. How has the city handled it so far? What changes, if any, would you make regarding dispensaries, lounges and other cannabis businesses in the future?

Cannabis is certainly a big issue. I think the concern from the community is valid in that there are manufacturing and cultivation sites that are right up against neighborhoods. That’s something that just doesn’t work. I think it’s really important that the city change its ordinance to create a larger buffer zone between (the businesses) and neighborhoods. I know that at the last cannabis meeting, councilmembers Kors and (J.R.) Roberts discussed having a possible “green zone” into which we could put all the manufacturing and cultivation sites, and encourage the businesses that are not currently in those areas to move to those areas. I do hope that is something that will come forward as they work on the new ordinance.

I think it’s really important to make sure that community is involved in things like this. It’s not that we don’t want cannabis in the city. It’s more of a matter of how we have it, and where it is located. Right now, it’s located in neighborhoods that are predominantly (populated by) people of color. The city needs to take into consideration who is being impacted by this, and whose voices are actually being heard on the topic, so I would like the city to be more thoughtful in their long term planning on these types of issues. Instead of having to fix it now, I think it should have been considered from the very beginning.

What can or should be done to decrease crime in Palm Springs?

Right now, the crime statistics are pretty good. Obviously, crime at any level is not a good thing, but right now, the crime levels are fairly low, which is a positive. Unfortunately, there was a series of murders that have not been solved, which I know is a big concern to a lot of members of the community. I think that with so much tourism in Palm Springs, there are going to be issues like that. I think that, again, working with the community and creating more of a relationship between the community and the police to give citizens more comfort in wanting to go to the police and talk to the police when (crime) happens could be a big benefit. I know that the police officers right now are working on creating programs. I know they have some now, and they’re working on creating more. including (an initiative to) reach out to the community in Spanish, which I think is really important.

What is your reaction to the proposed construction of a downtown 10,000 seat arena by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians?

Of course, the Cahuilla Indians are sovereign and are able to make decisions about what they would like to do on their land. I think that the arena has the potential to bring a lot of new jobs to the area, and I think it’s important for the city to work with the tribe to make sure that all the infrastructure needs are met, including parking and traffic, and that we do our best to keep the jobs local. We’ll need a lot of people to do the construction, and if we can focus on keeping those jobs local, that would be great. Again, I do have a concern about rising housing costs, and I hope that the city can be thinking about ways that our residents will be able to stay in the city and benefit from the arena and not be pushed out because of rising housing costs.

You just mentioned infrastructure concerns. I’m curious how you view the challenges that are created by the condition of the major north/south routes between Palm Springs and Interstate 10, for instance.

I think that the frequent closures on Palm Canyon are a big deal, not just for residents, but for tourists and for access (to the city) by our neighbors in Desert Hot Springs, too. That route is their (most) direct access to the hospital, and if it’s closed, then people could die. I think it is a concern, and we have to be thinking about how it affects us. I know that the city is looking into working with local conservation groups to discuss what options are available, because I know that some protections will be required for the fringe-toed lizard that lives in that area. But they are discussing barriers and other options. … I do hope that’s something that is taken very seriously, because we need access.

Is the city of Palm Springs ready for an economic recession?

I think the city has been doing a good job of making sure that there is funding in case something like that should happen. I know it’s been discussed during the last few budget processes, and I think that’s something we have to keep in mind even when times are good, because you just don’t know when something could change, and we’d need that additional funding. I would support being mindful of our planning and making sure that we’re repairing things before they are broken. For instance, I know that the bathrooms in our parks need to be updated, and it’s become a big concern, because some of them are often out of order. Things like that, we need to keep ahead of, so that we’re not wasting money by having to replace things completely instead of maintaining and repairing things as needed.

What’s your idea of the perfect night out in Palm Springs?

Oh wow! That’s fun. I think … I would probably start downtown. I’ve been really liking El Patron, which is a new taco place. It’s really good and affordable, so I’d probably start there and then make my way either over to Seymour’s for a cocktail or to the Parker’s wine bar, Counter Reformation.

Indian Canyon Drive will soon be a two-way thoroughfare. Yay or nay?

You know what? I’m not sure. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’m a second-generation resident, and for me, Indian Canyon has always been one-way, as is Palm Canyon, so it’s hard for me to imagine it being any different. But it does make sense to me theoretically, that having two ways on Indian Canyon will decrease traffic on Palm Canyon. So we’ll see what happens. I’m kind of withholding my judgment on that either way.

What question should we have asked you that we haven’t so far? And what’s your answer to that question?

One of the things that I’m most excited about with this campaign, and what really drove me to run for office, is that I think it’s important that we bring more people into our city government. Right now, our commissions are not diverse at all, and they don’t reflect the residents of Palm Springs, so I think it’s really important to make sure that the voices of our residents are heard: all ages, all racial backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds—we want to hear from everyone. I think that’s something that’s possible, and that’s something we’re doing with the campaign is reaching out to every single group. Even if they can’t vote, we’re interested in what they have to say, and I think that the city should be too.

Published in Politics

The last few years have been quite transformative for the Desert Healthcare District (DHCD).

First, there was the need to change the board of directors election process from an at-large standard to a district-based approach, in order to comply with the California Voting Rights Act. As that process moved ahead, voters in the eastern Coachella Valley last November approved the district’s expansion beyond its antiquated Cook Street boundary, creating the potential for improved health-care access and services in the eastern valley—while necessitating that the district figure out how to fully fund services in the expanded district. That voter edict resulted in the launch of yet another rezoning process, which is currently under way.

Through these administrative and organizational challenges, the DHCD has continued to provide support to local health-care providers and community-service programs, addressing needs such as homelessness, public health and behavioral health.

It was against this backdrop on July 31 that the DHCD welcomed its new CEO, Dr. Conrado Barzaga. He brings some 20 years of experience ranging from health-care management and fund development to public-health and public-policy work. After completing his education as a physician and working in his native Cuba, Dr. Barzaga’s career path took him to Argentina, Bolivia and the United States.

Since coming to the U.S., he has held positions as a senior program officer for First 5 LA (2008-2012) and vice president for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles (2006-2008), among other work in health education and public health. Most recently, he spent more than seven years as president and CEO of the Center for Oral Health, where he was instrumental in expanding programs to under-served communities.

During a recent phone interview, Dr. Barzaga talked about the challenges and responsibilities facing the district.

“I believe that addressing health-care needs requires information, intervention and ideas from different sectors,” he stated. “Of course, we need the ideas of those who are the recipients of health-care services, but we also need to understand and listen to the providers of health-care services. So we will inform our work by working with all the sectors of our society that are engaged in health care in one way or another, from the recipients, to the providers, and to the systems.”

Barzaga spoke about the value of data aggregation and analysis in identifying and understanding the health-care needs and desires of the valley’s residents.

“I want to engage our community (in order) to listen and to learn,” he said. “Our board is elected by the people, and therefore, it must respond to the people. They will tell us what they perceive to be their priorities. From a data-gathering perspective, it is important that we gather as many indicators as we can. There are different sources (from which) we can get that data, including California’s Department of Health Care Services and the federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services—you name it. But it is the community’s participation which is going to provide the best intelligence and the best approach to addressing the needs of the district.”

Barzaga addressed the expansion of the district into the eastern Coachella Valley—including some of the area’s most under-served communities.

“We need to understand how the health inequities manifest in the health disparities in the district,” he said. “We need to quantify and qualify those disparities. That will help the district understand where it can have a more profound impact, what the best approach will be, and how the limited resources that we manage can have the best outcome and the best return on the public-dollar investments in the district.” Barzaga wants to utilize surveys, town-hall meetings, focus groups and individual interviews to, in his words, “distill and construct a cohesive long-term approach to how we’re going to foster a healthy one Coachella Valley 2030/2040/2050 (strategic plan).”

Lightheartedly, he added, “I’m in it for the long run.”

The Independent asked Dr. Barzaga how he views the collaborative effort involving the DHCD, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG) and the office of Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez to address the homelessness situation in a number of our desert’s cities.

“Homelessness has important public-health implications,” he said. “At the same time, it’s a very complex issue that requires a collaborative approach to have a collective impact. Thus far, the district-commissioned report (on homelessness in our region) has been the framework for how the community can approach the issues of homelessness in the Coachella Valley.”

The district has committed $3 million to go toward addressing homelessness in the Coachella Valley.

“There was a request for proposals released very recently to invite different providers in the community to come up with ideas and plans on how to help solve the challenge of homelessness in the Coachella Valley,” Barzaga said. “I think the district has been active and has been a significant force in catalyzing and providing resources to our community partners to address homelessness.”

Does Dr. Barzaga feel the DHCD’s expansion of service into the east valley is producing desired results yet?

“From my perspective, the board is deeply committed to the expansion,” he said. “We held six community forums in the first half of this year in Mecca, North Shore, Coachella, La Quinta, Palm Desert and Indio. We’re sharing information with the community about the work of the district, and raising awareness about who we are, what we do, and how we can work together to make the district better. We had very good feedback from the community, and it was made clear through that process that, because of the expansion, some of these priorities are going to shift.

“The realities and the needs of the eastern Coachella Valley are different from the needs of the western Coachella Valley. One of the public-health functions of a health-care district is to address health-care disparities. We believe that there are many, and to address them, we need to understand and apply the lens of the social determinants of health, (in order) to make investments that are long-term, transformational and help to create a healthy Coachella Valley.

“Part of our community outreach effort is the platform we created called the Coachella Valley Health Information Place (CVHIP). It’s an online resource that any social-service workers, health-care providers, community health workers and community members can have access to. It connects different resources with the people who need access to those resources, like housing, food, health care, health insurance, day care, etc.

“To give you some examples, fire departments and police departments are using that (online) resource when they encounter people who need access to services—whether it’s behavioral health, housing, food, you name it. They are using this tool daily to provide solutions to the people they encounter in their daily work. Still, we’re promoting it everyday.”

We asked Barzaga if he had a message that he wanted to communicate through this interview—his first since assuming the new position.

“Rezoning is another topic which is now a priority for the district,” Dr. Barzaga said. “So far, we have had two public hearings this year, and we have two more coming up, and like the municipalities that have gone through the rezoning process, our aim is to have a board that reflects the various communities in the Coachella Valley. So we are really encouraging the public to come out and help us.”

Those hearings will be held during the district’s board meetings on Tuesday, Sept. 24, and Tuesday, Oct. 22. To view the initial set of proposed maps, visit www.dhcd.org/zoning.

Published in Local Issues

It’s been hot in the Coachella Valley—including a 121-degree day on Aug. 5—and no segment of our community is more threatened by that heat than the valley’s homeless population.

It was a 115-degree day on June 11 that helped spur the city of Palm Springs to partner with Riverside County to open an emergency overnight cooling center at the Demuth Community Center—and that partnership helped lead to an even larger collaboration to open three new long-term overnight cooling centers in the valley.

The centers opened July 1, the result of a partnership between the county, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, and the three cities where the centers are located. The Coachella Valley Rescue Mission is staffing the centers, with the Desert Healthcare District and Foundation offering support.

Greg Rodriguez is the government affairs and public policy adviser to Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez.

“Supervisor Perez and I were approached by the city of Palm Springs to try to get (an overnight cooling center) opened this year,” Rodriguez said. “Supervisor Perez suggested that we should try it in the three cities of Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs. It’s easier for transportation—for the homeless individuals who don’t want to leave the city that they are in—so that’s how the three new nighttime centers were developed this year.

“Ideally, I’m working on some other projects that hopefully will result in more permanent facilities for next year that would be 24-hour operations,” like those in the east valley.

In Indio, both the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and Martha’s Village and Kitchen offer spaces where homeless individuals can both stay cool and access a variety of other needed services.

“(Our facility) is a place where we provide services, but the west valley does not (have such a place),” said Tom Cox, program director at CVRM. “… If there were a west valley shelter, or navigation center, or whatever they’re calling it this week, then they would be more successful. It really is that simple: One, have a place. Two, put service providers in that place who are going to make a real difference—and, three, there will be results.”

Daytime summer cooling centers have been a regular feature across Riverside County and the Coachella Valley for decades.

“The daytime cooling centers are managed by Riverside County through the Community Action Partnership, or CAP,” Rodriguez said. “We try to add new sites when possible. When we get really extreme temperatures, they’ll expand their hours during the day. But we haven’t had any nighttime cooling centers.”

Until now. However, it wasn’t easy to get the overnight cooling centers up and running.

“There were a lot of logistics,” Cox said. “Staffing was one, because you need staff that are compassionate and know what they’re doing. You needed port-a-potties, port-a-showers and portable storage units. … (People in need) get a shower, a clean set of clothes and a meal.”

The collaboration has not only filled an urgent need; it’s raised hopes of even further partnerships to help the homeless in the valley.

“I’ve started kind of a new role,” Rodriguez said. “I’m still with Supervisor Perez’s office, but I’m heading up a homelessness collaborative effort through the Coachella Valley Association of Governments in conjunction with the Desert Healthcare District and Riverside County. Also, it has the support of the valley’s nine cities through CVAG. … We did contract through CVAG with the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission (CVRM) to handle all the daily operations. I’m more involved in the conceptual side, the financing side and, of course, tracking (data) the results. Ideally, we’re not only hoping to get people cool at night, but also get them tied into some homelessness services as well. In fact, we’ve had success with that already in the case of at least six individuals.”

Can any resident of the valley escape the summer heat in one of these facilities?

“The daytime cooling centers serve all of the (valley’s) residents,” Rodriguez said. “The nighttime centers mainly focus just on the homeless population. That being said, if somebody’s electricity should go out, and they don’t have air conditioning or they don’t have the funds to run their air all the time, they’re welcome to use the centers. We’re not prohibitive, but the focus is on the chronically homeless population who are sleeping out in the elements.”

Both Rodriguez and Cox extolled the involvement of the Desert Healthcare District, which threw resources and fundraising muscle behind the cooling center program expansion.

“Regarding the new nighttime centers, we’ve had them open for a month now, and they will be open (until the end of September),” Rodriguez said. “In the first month, it’s been highly successful.”

In July, the three centers served more than 250 people and fulfilled well more than 3,000 service requests.

“There’s still a need for additional funds, because we’re helping to cover the extra utility costs of the churches who have donated their space,” Cox said. “This is where the DHCD has been such a great partner by matching any of the privately donated funds that have come in. The Desert Healthcare District has been great in providing us with email (outreach) to share what we need, and their Summer Homeless Survival Fund has done a pretty awesome job as well, and in a short time.”

What can valley residents contribute to support these vital new community shelters?

“Towels, toiletries, linens and pillows are all things that we need, and we have to launder them every day,” Cox said. “We need bottled water, individually wrapped snacks, coffee, paper products, air fresheners, clothing and undergarments. Bombas socks just donated about 7,500 pairs of socks. … For the centers themselves, we need bike racks, storage racks, a few laptops, some commercial laundry washers and dryers. If somebody has an extra SUV or van lying around, we could definitely use those. We need a lot.”

The three cooling centers are open 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. at the city of Palm Springs facility at 225 S. El Cielo Road; World Life of Fellowship Center, 66290 Estrella Ave., in Desert Hot Springs; and Community Presbyterian Church, 38088 Chuperosa Lane, in Cathedral City.

To donate supplies, call Tom Cox at the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission at 760-347-3512, ext. 251, or drop them off at 47470 Van Buren St., in Indio. Cash donations can be made through the Desert Healthcare District at www.dhcd.org/HomelessFund.

Published in Local Issues

Sean Kayode says he watched his whole world roll away from him at 3 a.m.

Kayode had been living in his car in San Francisco for about two years. During the early morning on March 5, traffic police towed and impounded his black 2005 Mercedes Benz—for having too many overdue parking tickets.

“I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and there was a guy behind me. And I’m like, ‘What are you doing behind my car?’” Kayode said, now standing in the lobby of the Next Door homeless shelter in downtown San Francisco. “He says, ‘I’m just waiting for the tow truck to come get you.’”

For Kayode, who now lives at Next Door, his car wasn’t just a place to sleep; it was how he earned a living, he said, delivering food through Uber Eats. He shakes his head in disbelief at where he was, and where he is now.

“I am a homeless guy that worked my way out of homelessness,” Kayode said. “Bought my own car. Now you’ve taken my car, taken my job and (are) now giving me food stamps. It doesn’t make sense.”

An estimated half-million cars a year in California are impounded, unclaimed and sold, according to Jude Pond of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco. He said many of those cars belonged to poor people living in them.

Pond helped file a lawsuit on Kayode’s behalf to challenge the California law that allows cities to tow a car away if it has five or more overdue parking tickets. Many cities follow that policy, and Pond said it’s unconstitutional in several ways.

The government should not be allowed to take someone’s property without any notice and without a warrant, he said. That’s doubly true because these vehicles weren’t used in a crime, but were towed simply for financial reasons—just to collect fines.

Cities do not issue warnings, outside of the fine print on a parking ticket, that they’re coming to impound a vehicle. Parking officers just show up and take it away. And in the case of the homeless who live in their cars, city officials are taking their temporary home from them, which raises the stakes above the taking of a vehicle, Pond said.

“We’re hoping that this case sets the precedent that the city should not take people’s only asset, in this case their car, for the purpose of satisfying a debt, based on just outstanding parking tickets,” Pond said.

In San Francisco, officers towing a car with a homeless occupant will contact the police department and social services to help that person get services, according to Paul Rose, spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, who responded by email.

“There will be times when the (Homeless Outreach Team) will not be available to respond. If there is no urgency regarding the towing of the vehicle, we will make an effort to delay the tow to allow services to respond,” Rose said. “We cannot completely avoid the removal of the vehicle as this would create an unintended exemption for vehicles that are in violation of city or state law.”

For many people, having their car towed for overdue parking tickets is a major annoyance and life disruption. But for homeless people, it’s a permanent loss, because most of them can’t afford to recover their cars.

The costs escalate quickly. Offenders must reimburse the tow charge, roughly $500. They also need to pay off their original tickets and the accrued fines on those tickets, which can be $1,000 or more. On top of all of that, it usually costs $71 for every day the car is stored at the tow yard.

In Kayode’s case, more than five months after his car was impounded, it would cost him more than $21,000 to get his car back. That’s about $20,000 more than he paid for it.

Ostensibly, the city is towing the car to collect a debt, but in many cases where cars are unclaimed and eventually sold, the city doesn’t make much money on the sale, if anything. That’s because the tow yard has first dibs on any cash collected.

For the cities, though, it’s not about the money, according to UCLA political expert Zev Yaroslavsky.

“It’s the credibility of the restrictions,” Yaroslavsky said. “If the restrictions were not enforced, then no one would comply with them. The reason you and I rush out to the parking meter when it’s about to expire, to put another quarter in there, is because we don’t want to pay $80 for the privilege of having overstayed our welcome by a minute.”

Yaroslavsky spent four decades in local government in Los Angeles, most of it on the county Board of Supervisors. He said he understands why cities hold onto their impound power with both hands.

“As a local elected official, I was never concerned about the revenue stream we were getting out of the parking,” Yaroslavsky said. “It was motivated by getting turnover in the limited parking spaces we had available at curbside.”

At the same time, he said, there has to be a middle ground when towing cars from the homeless.

“It makes absolutely no sense to take a homeless person’s car, confiscating it, impounding it,” he said. “If you take away their car, they’re going to be on the street. That’s not a benefit to society. Common sense has to be in play.”

At the moment, though, the middle ground is hard to find. Homeless advocates say cities could make exceptions for extremely low-income citizens—maybe let them hold onto the car, but pay off the tickets in installments.

Some cities, including San Francisco, have a payment-plan program—but there is nothing in place to return cars to the homeless or restrict impoundment of those cars in the first place.

A federal district court judge in San Francisco is expected to hear Kayode’s motion in September for a preliminary injunction to get his car back. A hearing on his lawsuit would be scheduled after a ruling on the injunction.

Of course, if the preliminary injunction is granted, and San Francisco has to return Kayode’s car, he will still technically owe that $21,000 in parking, towing and storage fees until the case is decided.

Kayode, who has been homeless the past six years, looks back on the incident and its aftermath with a mixture of anger and despair.

“If I have my car, I have my phone. That’s all I need. I can earn money,” Kayode said. “But right now, they are holding my car hostage. What I want to know is, does taking my car from me help the city budget in one way or another? Is my car going to make them or break them?”

He stops a moment and looks around the crowded and chaotic lobby of the homeless shelter he now calls home.

“I am back in the same hole,” Kayode said. “And I don’t have any way to get out.”

This story is part of The California Dream project, a statewide media collaboration of CALmatters, KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the James Irvine Foundation. Join the conversation on our California Dream Facebook group. CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

California is struggling to confront its homelessness crisis: After big-city mayors up and down the state lobbied hard for more funding, state leaders agreed to spend an additional $600 million to help fight the problem.

Here are some basic numbers to help understand one of the state’s most vexing issues.

How many Californians are homeless now, and how has that changed over time?

While it’s tough to say precisely how many Californians are experiencing homelessness, the federal Housing and Urban Development Department estimates the number statewide at 130,000 on a given night. That’s 25 percent of the entire nation’s homeless population. Since 2016, California experienced a larger increase in homelessness than any other state.

“Our state has more than 1.7 million low-income households spending more than half their income in housing costs,” said Ben Metcalf, the director of the state Department of Housing and Community Development. “When you’re paying that much for housing, with so little left over, even a minor shock can start a cycle of homelessness.”

California has the highest percentage of unsheltered homeless individuals in the country, at slightly less than 70 percent. This means that the vast majority of the state’s homeless population does not utilize temporary living arrangements provided by either charitable organizations or government programs. Rather, they have been found living on the streets, parks or other places not meant for human habitation.

“The lack of shelters is due to a lack of resources, and we don’t really have a plan to end homelessness,” said Christopher Martin, legislative advocate at Housing California. “We don’t have strong programs to end homelessness on the state level. We know the shelters are a part of the solution, but at the end of the day, we know that we need exits for the shelters.”

Where are California’s homeless?

In 2017, Los Angeles County had the highest population of homeless individuals in all of California at roughly 55,000—and was only second to New York for holding the largest population of homeless people in the nation. And while 95 percent of New York’s homeless population was sheltered, only 25 percent of those in Los Angeles were sheltered.

On the positive side, 2018 marked the first time in four years the homelessness count in Los Angeles actually dropped.

Martin said that this decrease was driven by Los Angeles’ $40 million Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool, which provides rental subsidies to local residents experiencing homelessness.

Who are the state’s homeless?

The majority of California’s unsheltered homeless population is chronically homeless, meaning that they have been homeless for a year or more or have experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. Chronically homeless individuals are often suffering from serious mental or physical illnesses.

California has 12 percent of the nation’s population of homeless families with children. From 2016 to 2017, the state experienced one of the largest increases of homeless families in the nation, leaving 1,000 more families on the streets.

Outside of homeless families, California also reported the largest number of unaccompanied homeless youth, which includes any individual under the age of 25 who does not live with a family member. Overall, 58 percent of the nation’s unsheltered homeless youth resides in California.

The state is also home to 29 percent of the nation’s homeless veterans, and two-thirds of them are unsheltered.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

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