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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

The year 2015 was not easy for Palm Springs government, especially after City Hall was rocked by an FBI raid targeting documents related to then-Mayor Steve Pougnet’s relationship with various developers and businessmen.

Then came a contentious and at times ugly election season, which ended with businessman and former military man Rob Moon defeating City Councilmember Ginny Foat by 11 percentage points in the eight-way mayoral race—a result that shocked many political insiders.

The Independent recently caught up with Rob Moon at Townie Bagels to talk about his first three months in office. I asked him if anything had surprised him about being mayor.

“The only thing that’s been difficult has been keeping up with the e-mails,” Moon said. “I probably get 150 a day, maybe 200. Just reading and responding to the ones I need to respond to, forwarding the e-mails I need to—it’s vastly time-consuming. Even my executive assistant finds herself 200 to 300 e-mails behind. It’s crazy!”

However, he said nothing really surprised him regarding city government.

“I’ve been following the city for a long time and haven’t missed more than three or four City Council meetings over the past few years,” he said. “I attended Planning Commission meetings, and I was chairman of the Measure J Commission. I had my finger on what was going on.”

Right from the get-go, Moon and the revamped City Council—newcomers Moon, Geoff Kors and J.R. Roberts joined hold-over incumbents Foat and Chris Mills on the five-person council—have been hard at work. Of course, downtown redevelopment has been a major focus.

“The very first night when I took over, we had to vote on the historic designation for Tahquitz Plaza, which we did. That had been hanging for years, and we resolved that our first night,” he said about the Hugh Kaptur-designed midcentury modern buildings at 600-700 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, which once were targets for demolition. “Then we worked on the downtown development project.

“At the last City Council meeting, the staff wanted us to do a public hearing and take public testimony and continue it to a time indefinite. As a council, we said no. It wasn’t fair to the developer, to the residents or the downtown businesses to drag this out. We wanted to make decisions—which is what we were put in office for. We had a meeting that went until 1 in the morning and voted on every single outstanding issue, with the height of the buildings and all that stuff. We did vote after vote after vote. It wasn’t all unanimous, but we did our job that night.”

One of the things the council took action on was the ever-controversial downtown development being built by John Wessman. The council frustrated the developer by limiting the height on one of the proposed buildings.

“We settled the height of the hotel at the City Council meeting, and that’s going to be 49 feet. It’s not going to overwhelmingly large, and it’s a compromise,” he said.

The spirit of compromise shown by Moon and the other new council members has eased the concerns of some community activists, who were afraid Wessman was getting whatever he desired from the previous council.

“It hasn’t really been a struggle,” Moon said. “We made decisions, and we took a good compromise and the developer didn’t get everything he wanted. (Advocates for Better Community Development, led by Frank Tysen) and other activists who didn’t want to see the development done didn’t get everything they wanted, either, but we reduced the density by 40 percent, and we widened some of the streets. So needless to say, everybody got something.”

The Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club—which had been operated by developer Richard Meaney, one of the primary targets of the FBI investigation—is now shuttered, with no revival seemingly in sight. It’s likely to be one of the new council’s major headaches.

“The Hacienda is something I can’t really comment on, because we’re in litigation now, but the previous City Council agreed to give them $250,000 as an incentive, and apparently they did not use that money for what one would expect—to pay their contractors—and no one knows what they did with it,” he said.

Moon said the city budget is a constant concern for him and his fellow council members.

“Any city, state or federal government has concerns about budget, because you can’t do everything you want to do,” Moon said. “We’re really understaffed at City Hall; we have a serious problem with the homeless; we have infrastructure (work) that needs to be done and roads that need to be paved. The library needs to be redone, and City Hall has a leaky roof. There’s a massive amount that needs to be done. We did pass the Measure J tax that adds the 1 percent sales tax that brings in $13.1 million a year; $3.5 million of that goes toward the bond for the downtown development project, which leaves close to about $9 million a year right now to do additional capital projects.”

Moon said one of the biggest challenges for the city is the homelessness issue.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “Councilwoman Foat has a task force she’s working on to get services to homeless people who want services, but what about the people who don’t want services—the ones who don’t want a place to stay, don’t want help, and just want to live in empty lots, panhandle and be a burden on society? That’s a challenge, and I don’t know how to address it. One of our problems is we have a lot of open land in Palm Springs, which the other cities don’t have, which makes it more difficult for us.”

Moon said the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which is currently making plans to redevelop the Spa Resort Casino, continues to have a good working relationship with the city of Palm Springs.

“I had lunch with Chairman Jeff Grubbe a few times, because we have a good relationship, and I’m working very hard to make sure we have a relationship of trust and respect between him and me, and that helps when reaching out to the tribe,” Moon said. “… Chairman Grubbe told me, ‘What’s good for Palm Springs is good for all of us.’ I think that’s important. The tribe only has 400 members and owns half the land in Palm Springs. A lot of the members don’t live here and live elsewhere. They have a very complex governmental organization. What I want to do going forward is make sure we have better communication with them to where we talk to them about what we’re doing, and they talk to us about what they’re doing, and we work together.”

Moon said he’s committed to keeping the workings of the city government transparent.

“Transparency, like democracy, is messy and takes a lot of time,” he said. “We have City Council meetings going until midnight and beyond, because we’ve been debating things in public … and not passing through things quietly. We’ve been bringing it out in the open and discussing these things. Councilman Geoff Kors and I are also heading up a new commission to write some new rules in regard to transparency. We’re both on the finance committee as well and are scheduling public meetings about the budget, and residents can come down and talk about the budget and how they’d like to see their tax dollars spent. We’re also going to have a separate meeting for the City Council where they debate the budget instead of doing it as an agenda item on the regular meeting.”

Published in Politics

It was a simple, four-step exercise:

1. We came up with a list of 10 questions—five serious, issue-based questions, and five questions that are a little more light-hearted—to ask all of the candidates for city office.

2. We set up interviews with all of the candidates.

3. We asked the candidates the 10 questions.

That’s exactly what Palm Springs resident Jimmy Boegle did over the last couple of weeks. He interviewed every one of the 14 Palm Springs candidates—eight mayoral candidates, and six City Council candidates.

Now, comes the last step.

4. Report the answers to those 10 questions.

Here’s what all of the candidates have to say. We only made minor edits on the candidates’ answers for grammar and style; in some cases, we also edited out redundancies. Finally, in some instances, we did not include portions of candidates’ answers if they went completely off-topic.

Welcome to Candidate Q&A.

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Guy T. Burrows

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Robert “Rob” Moon

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Ricky B. Wright

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Bob Weinstein

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Ginny Foat

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Bill Gunasti

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Mike Schaefer

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Ron Oden

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs City Council Candidate Anna Nevenic

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs City Council Candidate Paul Lewin

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs City Council Candidate David Brown

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs City Council Candidate J.R. Roberts

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs City Council Candidate Jim King

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs City Council Candidate Geoff Kors

Published in Politics

Name: J.R. Roberts

Age: 54

Occupation: Planning commissioner/entrepreneur

Interview: In person

1. When you stand at the intersection of Tahquitz Canyon Road and Palm Canyon Drive, and look northwest, what comes to mind?

It’s a mixture of excitement and disappointment. The excitement is that I’m a planning commissioner, so I’ve been fortunate enough to have my hand in what that is, and what it will become, and we have molded it into something that I think’s going to be great. The disappointment comes in that some of the decisions that came about were taken away from the planning commission, and the council took them—specifically, the three story building that sort of hangs over directly on Palm Canyon. In that building, we had actually approved the one-story restoration of an existing building. In fact, if you drive down that street, there are renderings on the fence, and if you look at the rendering with the Hyatt, you’ll see what we actually approved. So again, a mix of joy, a mix of disappointment. Overall, I think it’s going to be really good for us. A lot of people are upset about tall buildings coming to town, and I understand that. They see it as a threat to our village character. The village character is the thing I want to preserve the most, and I think that a few tall buildings won’t hurt that. But one of my goals on the City Council is to cap the height in the future, maybe to three stories, for anything that comes before us. Again, a few tall buildings are good; a lot of tall buildings, we become Wilshire Boulevard or Las Vegas.

2. Does Palm Springs have a crime problem? If so, what should be done about it?

Most definitely. Crime is up 30 percent, according to our police association, and that has to do with a number of factors, including the fact that the state released a lot of inmates early, and shifted a lot of inmates to local jurisdictions.

The saddest part of all this is our police department is budgeted for nine more sworn officers, but as many people know—it was just in The Desert Sun last week—they are having recruiting problems, and as the police association told me, it has to do with not a lot of people wanting to come work in 120 degrees in a dark blue uniform. So my goal is to see what I can do to make Palm Springs more appealing for new recruits and for the quality of officer that our police are looking for. Oh, and I want to see more biking and walking patrols. I think that is really important as well.

3. What, if anything, should be done about alleged corruption in Palm Springs city government? Be specific.

One thing is that we need new people there. The best way I know to deal with some of that is to bring in some fresh faces, and bring in some new thinking and new leadership. We’ve got to regain the public trust that was lost with this, and it’s one of the reasons I’m running. I can’t think of a better answer. Transparency—you’ll hear that word bandied around. The bottom line is, I think some decisions were made by our current council members that weren’t in the best public interest—specifically, selling our public lands at hugely discounted prices to developer interests. We’ve got to stop that once and for all. Those kinds of decisions need to be more public, and the sale of public lands needs to be a very public process.

4. What specific steps will you take to help solve the city’s homelessness issue?

I’m really excited about that. Just last week, I think it was, I spent a half day with Arlene Rosenthal, who heads up Well in the Desert, and talked to her about an idea I had to try to create some sort of a processing center to bring people in from the street, with the first goal of getting rapid rehousing—in other words, getting a roof over their heads, and then finding the next best path for them, which could be anything—balancing their medications, dealing with substance abuse, dealing with mental issues—and seeing if we can get them back to an everyday life like ours. Arlene already has some great successes. She’s already got a few houses up and running, and what makes her so remarkable is that everybody that she works with was formerly homeless. I see revenue opportunities, not only with development fees, but potentially with the Desert Healthcare District, if they’ll get involved with us on a very specific project. I could go on and on about this, but regardless of whether I win the City Council seat or not, I’ve committed to working with Arlene to work on this problem. The days of shuttling homeless people from one end of the city to the other has got to end. It’s not working for anybody, and especially not them. 

5. Do you support electing City Council members by district, or do prefer the current at-large system? Why?

When you have an honest, focused City Council, I think our current system works. I don’t really think we are big enough for districts, and I don’t think it would be a big improvement. I think it would be a lot more work and a lot more expense. If one day, we, as a community, come together and think that will be more beneficial for it, I’m very open to it, but right now, I don’t think it’s necessary.

6. If you were not running for this office, which of your two opponents would get your vote? Why?

I think I’m going to name one: Geoff Kors would get my vote. Although he doesn’t have the experience that I have in local municipal governance, I think he’s very smart. I think he comes with experience at the state level and the county level that will be valuable. I think having an attorney on the City Council will be good. We all bring different skills, and I think that Geoff will bring a great skill set with him, and he’s a likable person. I trust him, and I like him.

7. A dear friend is in town for just one night, and asks you where to go for dinner. Where are you sending this dear friend?

Oh my God, I have like three favorite restaurants. I would send them for cocktails to Spencer’s, maybe, and then I would send them to dinner at Jake’s. I just love their food. I think that for a true Palm Springs experience with excellent food, Jake’s just is unique.

8. Name one business or service that you wish Palm Springs had (but currently does not have).

Whole Foods. I just love the quality, particularly of their meats and produce, and I think that we lack an innovative and interesting deli department. I just love the variety of healthy foods that they offer.

9. Which annual Coachella Valley event or festival is your favorite? Why?

I have to say Modernism Week, because it’s something that I’ve been involved in from the very beginning. I think that it builds on and preserves our very unique brand here in Palm Springs, and what could be better than having 50,000 people show up to your city just to adore your city, without any extra music or special things that had to be brought in? In other words, they simply come to adore our city, and leave all their dollars behind.

10. If the FBI was about to raid your home or office, which personal item would you grab to make sure it didn't get broken?

My dog, Moose. I think he’d be terrified in something like that, and I’d want to ensure that he wasn’t. I want to protect him from that.

Published in Politics

As Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2015, Clifton Tatum has made waves that extend well beyond the leather world.

The eighth-place finisher at the International Mr. Leather competition has been on magazine covers. He's been in an advertisement promoting Palm Springs. And he's raised a whole lot of money for charities that help out LGBT youth.

In fact, he's raised $17,000—with $7,400 of it being raised at his Heartthrobs Auction, which took place at Copa on Sunday night, July 5.

Seven local luminaries (and their accompanying goodie baskets, which ranged in value from $500 to more than $3,000) were auctioned off for a date to the highest bidder: Jeff Hocker, Mike Cohan, Mike Thompson, Dimitri Halkidis, Will Dean, David White and Jill Langham.

Five charities will benefit from the hard work of Tatum and his auction participants: The Trevor Project, For the Children, the LGBT Center of the Desert, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Sanctuary Palm Springs.

Below is a gallery of photos of the event, from Tommy Locust Photography.

Published in Snapshot