CVIndependent

Fri11222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

Lisa Middleton got more than 7,000 votes to lead the way in last year’s at-large Palm Springs City Council election, becoming the first openly transgender person to be elected to a non-judicial office in the state of California.

That may have been the last at-large City Council election that Palm Springs will ever hold.

The city of Palm Springs—like other jurisdictions across the state that currently don’t elect representatives in district-based elections—has received a letter from Shenkman and Hughes, a Malibu-based law firm representing the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, claiming the city is violating California Voting Rights Act of 2001. The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project aspires to increase the presence of Latino candidates in municipal elections.

Indio and Cathedral City, facing similar threats, moved to district-based elections this year.

The letter claimed Palm Springs’ current election system has “resulted in racially polarizing voting” and is diluting the influence of Latino voters.

The letter may have a point. The last Latino who served on the Palm Springs City Council was Joseph Garcia, who was in office from 1972 to 1976—even though Census numbers show that about a quarter of Palm Springs’ population is currently Latino.

The City Council recently decided to start moving toward district elections and is hiring a demographer to analyze how to draft boundaries—a process that Middleton said has cost other cities $30,000 to $60,000.

We recently interviewed Middleton regarding the issue.

Does Palm Springs have an inclusive nature, politically speaking?

My campaign and my election wouldn’t be possible in many, if not most, cities in the U.S., but it was certainly possible here in Palm Springs. The LGBTQ community has been coming to Palm Springs almost since the founding of the city, and in the last 20-25 years, Palm Springs has (become) a community substantially inclusive, not only of LGBTQ people, but progressive individuals as well. Our community has clearly evolved in terms of its politics.

How did you personally feel when you read the letter from Shenkman and Hughes?

I truly enjoyed running city-wide. I was extremely proud that my campaign resonated in every part of our city and that I knew the people and issues on the ground in each of our 45 neighborhoods. I found myself, in the first few days after receipt of the letter, in meetings far from my own neighborhood. I’m so happy to represent those neighborhoods. I did not want to lose that one-on-one connection with each of our neighborhoods. But after a few days, it was clear this was not about me; this is about what’s best for our city. My job is to do what is best for all of our city—today and tomorrow.

How do we get to the point of electing a Latino representative with a district election?

The Latino population in Palm Springs, in comparison to other ethnic groups, is disproportionally young. We’ve seen it in public schools in Palm Springs that are overwhelmingly Latino: 75 to 80 percent are students obviously not yet eligible to vote, but will be at some point. … What we’re doing is moving in the right direction. It might not be in that first (district) election, and perhaps not even in the second election. … Down the road, we can bear the fruit of something that will lead to electing those individuals to the City Council and other offices.

Do you see the City Council as being more diverse in the future?

We are working to set in motion a series of reforms that should result in greater participation of our residents throughout the city in their government. I am convinced that we can increase the participation of all of our residents. The more our city represents all of the people of our city, the better. It is easy to lose faith. It is not easy to put yourself out front as a potential representative for your community and your city. I’m working on a City Council that is committed to have a hand out to help those ready to step up.

What about the allegations that the city violated the California Voting Rights Act by racially polarizing and diluting the influence of Latino voters with at-large elections?

I have not seen any specific allegations and would not respond without seeing any specifics. The issue has risen, and we’re responding. We’re trying to respond in a positive way.

What would be the ideal way to structure the municipal government with future district elections?

Municipal governments are organized in a number of ways. Our largest cities trend toward a strong mayor, who is the chief executive and does not sit on the City Council, but has a veto on City Council actions. Those cities trend toward City Council members elected from geographic districts. Some cities (like Palm Springs) have a weak mayor with additional ceremonial responsibilities, but no additional authority. Such mayors sit as a member of City Council. Other cities rotate the mayors’ responsibility among the various members of City Council. This, along with a city manager as the chief administrative officer, is the most common municipal form of government. … We will evaluate every option, seek extensive public input and make our decisions by year-end. Our goal is the best form of government to address the needs of our city.

What is the role of the demographer hired by the city? Is there a deadline on his report?

We will employ an outside demographer who has worked with numerous California cities to develop reports that will allow the city to draw and select the district boundaries that are best for our city. In drawing boundaries, (the) goals (are): Maximize the goals of the California Voting Rights Act; prioritize creation of majority-minority districts; to the extent practical, keep organized neighborhoods intact; and maintain the principle that the best interest of the city as a whole remains the first responsibility of all elected officials. (The) process: Evaluate our demographics and structure of government; compare with and learn from other comparable cities, and recommend the structure of government that best achieves the goals of the California Voting Rights Act and the long-term needs of our city; and encourage and work through communication platforms to obtain participation from as many residents and stakeholders as possible in the process.

If we had district elections in place when you ran for the City Council, do you think you’d have won your district?

I hope that I would’ve won, but we will probably find it out when the time comes to run for re-election.

Published in Politics

For the second time in six years, Palm Springs voters have agreed to open their pocketbooks a little wider.

Measure D, voted in last November, and Measure J, approved in 2011, will bring in a total of about $20 million in tax dollars annually to the city.

One problem: Millions from Measure J were given to John Wessman, the original developer of the downtown redevelopment project, and now the subject of numerous bribery indictments along with former Mayor Steve Pougnet.

One question: Will the city seek reimbursements from Wessman if he is found guilty?

Anticipating legal issues in the wake of the bribery scandal, which culminated in an FBI raid of City Hall, Palm Springs officials hired a new city attorney, Edward Kotkin, in April. While previous city attorneys were contractors, Kotkin was brought on as a city employee, at a salary of $206,088 a year plus benefits.

Kotkin is a former Riverside County deputy district attorney who is expected to develop strategies to protect the city from potential legal troubles regarding the outcome of the Wessman-Pougnet criminal case. He came to the city with a fantastic reputation as a skilled attorney.

Here’s an edited version of Kotkin’s answers to my questions, done via e-mail.

If or when Wessman is convicted of the criminal charges, will you seek retribution from Wessman’s companies—in other words, seek to get our taxpayer money back?

If there are convictions in the district attorney’s prosecution of Messrs. Pougnet, Wessman and (Richard) Meaney, those convictions will have civil legal ramifications that the City Council will consider and act upon in its discretion. The council will always act in the best interest of the city, its residents and businesses. The city has already initiated litigation aimed at protecting the city’s rights and remedies as to assets involved in transactions related to the criminal case, and will certainly continue to do so if and when the council determines that new litigation will advance the city’s interests.

It seems the city’s finances are always supported by yet another tax measure, but how long (will this go on)—until the next measure, or until the city’s bankrupt?

There is no potential whatsoever for future increases to the local sales tax. Only a certain amount of tax can be charged at the local level, and Measure D brings the percentage of tax passed through to local government to the maximum. The city has no current plans to consider or present the voters with any additional taxes in the foreseeable future. The city manages its finances effectively, and does not foresee any potential for municipal bankruptcy.

What are the city’s total annual expenditures, all funds included, and what are the annual revenues?

The city’s adopted budget with respect to all funds reflects revenues of nearly $222 million, and expenditures of nearly $230 million. It is misleading and inappropriate to view or portray this data as reflecting “deficit” spending by the city. For example, revenues from past years are being applied this year, based upon the timing of projects. That creates an artificially high figure regarding expenditures. Airport customer facility charge revenue accumulated through many years of rental car fees is being spent this year on Phase 1 of a significant new airport car-rental facility. Revenues of approximately $2 million are dwarfed by project-related expenditures of $6.5 million. Further, the general fund anticipates a small surplus this year, and leaves a reserve of approximately 20 percent.

I presume that you will not frame this revenue and expenditure data in a misleading or inappropriate manner. If you do so, it will compromise your relationship with my office irreparably.

Would it (have been) possible to keep the city of Palm Springs financially afloat, (and residents safe), without Measure D? For how long?

The city of Palm Springs handles its finances in a responsible manner at all times, and will always advance the interests of its residents, businesses and visitors to the greatest extent possible, within its means. Public safety will always be a top priority for the city. Your question presumes that there is an objectively quantifiable amount of funding that will make the city “safe,” and presumes that some level of public services translates to the city remaining “afloat.” The city rejects your question as based upon false presumptions. The city will always be safe, and always remain afloat. More resources at City Hall equate to better public safety and more city services.

What are the city’s legal tools and remedies to recoup the taxpayers’ money if there is or was a developer’s default, such as a prolonged timeline in finishing the additional structures (in the downtown redevelopment plans)?

The city declines to discuss legal strategies that may be employed to address any matter of city business. Doing so disadvantages the city in the event that those legal strategies must be employed. The city has made, and will continue to make, all decisions with respect to the evaluation and pursuit of the city’s legal rights and remedies, as they relate to the downtown project, in the best interest of the city’s residents and visitors. The city is proud of the West Elm building and store, and extremely excited about the … Kimpton Rowan hotel and related commercial locations. Your question contains a determination that the developer of the downtown project is in default. The city is the only party authorized to make that determination, and has not done so to date.

The city’s budget is a complex financial package. How do you help ordinary but curious Palm Springs residents, who are not accountants, grasp where and how taxpayers’ money is spent and used?

The city has implemented the OpenGov Portal (palmspringsca.opengov.com) to assist residents and other interested parties secure access to very user-friendly data regarding the city’s finances. … The city adheres to Governmental Accounting Standards Board requirements and segregates funds accordingly. The city’s comprehensive annual financial report is independently audited for compliance with all GASB (requirements), and all other applicable federal and state requirements.

The city claims transparency and that all of the information is out there on the site. Why, then, did the FBI raid City Hall in 2015 and seize certain records that resulted in indictments, if everything was in order?

The 2015 FBI search and seizure and the prosecution by the District Attorney’s Office did not reflect systemic problems at City Hall. The allegations in this matter pertain to a single elected official, his relationship with developers, and certain specific transactions where the elected official is alleged to have violated conflict-of-interest laws. The city has provided full cooperation with law enforcement’s efforts to investigate and prosecute this matter, and also initiated civil litigation to protect city rights and remedies related to the prosecution. The city has been, and remains, transparent with respect to its dealings with the developer of the downtown project. When money is spent under the PFA, an independent fund control agent and a city-retained consultant for “on-call” facility construction owner representative services help ensure the proper expenditure of all public funds through separate escrows for private and public improvements.

Published in Local Issues

It’s official: Palm Springs now has the highest sales tax in Riverside County. Thanks to newly approved Measure D, the rate will be 9.25 percent. The half-cent sales-tax hike will bring in an extra $6.7 million annually, according to estimates.

Voters in November also approved Measure E, a new tax on recreational marijuana.

These new revenues will be coming into city coffers along with, among other revenue sources, funds from Measure J, the one-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2011.

Measure J has indirectly led to a lot of bad publicity for the city—because some of those funds were and are being used for the now-coming-to-fruition downtown redevelopment project that was embroiled in the shady dealings that led to the arrest of developer John Wessman and former Mayor Steve Pougnet on bribery charges.

With an entirely new City Council taking office over the last two years, it’s worth taking a look at those Measure J funds, as well as the whole city budget—a budget that is, according to many observers, not so transparent and very hard to understand.

Palm Springs, with 47,000 residents (and a lot of visiting tourists), has a general-fund budget of $110,130,162 for the fiscal year 2017-18. However, the city’s various special funds actually total more than the general fund—bringing the total fiscal-year budget to $229,966,656, an amount confirmed by City Attorney Edward Kotkin, although he added that the amount has yet to be audited.

Figuring out what’s going on with all of these special funds is nigh impossible. I spent several weeks trying to get information from the city’s director of finance and treasurer, Geoffrey Kiehl. After not getting a response, I reached out to Councilman J.R. Roberts.

Roberts said there are 64 separate special revenue funds. “I had to look that up,” he said.

Why are there so many funds—totaling an amount more than the general fund?

“Unlike most cities in the valley, Palm Springs has an airport, a sewer treatment plant, a convention center, etc.,” Roberts said.

Of course, having so many separate funds raises questions about transparency and fiscal responsibility. Roberts responded that city’s website OpenGov website is easy to navigate. He also pointed out that Measure J funds are under the strict supervision of its oversight committee.

“Once the Measure J oversight committee has made its recommendations, the money is moved to the various projects that were decided upon,” he said.

However … if everything concerning the city’s use of Measure J funds is clearly posted on the city website, how did the fund end up getting FBI attention, including a raid at City Hall? Robert Stone, a self-proclaimed FBI informant and constant city-government critic who unsuccessfully ran for the City Council this year, said one of the problems is that the public is only able to find out how the funds were spent after the fact.

“The Measure J funds are controlled by the city manager and the council, with recommendations from the Measure J Committee,” Stone said. “The reasons behind who gets what are not always clear, and disbursements are pretty much at the discretion of the city manager for smaller disbursements, and council for the larger disbursements.

“We only find out how the funds have been administered at the end of the fiscal year,” Stone said. “We never know in advance where the Measure J money is going. We only find out as the transfers are made.”

As for the new Measure D funds: In their pitch to voters, city officials claimed the funds would help the city maintain essential city services, such as public safety. However, it’s unclear what the city will do to handle its huge long-term pension obligations.

“Measure D does nothing to address the ongoing $220 million unfunded pension and health care liability of the city,” Stone said, claiming that the burden from pension and health-care liabilities will bring the city to its knees if it does not fundamentally change the way it does business.

One common complaint about the city budget: generous salaries. In recent years, Palm Springs City Manager David Ready has been the Coachella Valley’s highest-paid public official, with salary and benefits totaling more than $420,000. However, the problem extends well beyond Ready: According to TransparentCalifornia.com, 68 city of Palm Springs employees earned more than $200,000 in pay and benefits in 2016—and when these employees retire, they’ll be in line for huge pensions. Councilman Roberts confirmed that former Palm Springs Police Chief Al Franz, who retired in December 2015, is receiving a pension of $189,083 per year.

In other words … when it comes to transparency and getting the city budget under control, the all-new Palm Springs City Council has a lot of work to do.

Published in Local Issues

On Nov. 7, voters who live in the city of Palm Springs will go to the polls to select two new members of the Palm Springs City Council.

This election will mark a complete changing of the guard, so to speak, after the indictment of former Mayor Steve Pougnet and a couple of developers on corruption charges two years ago. The two new members will replace retiring City Council members Ginny Foat and Chris Mills, and joining three new members who were elected two years ago: Geoff Kors, J.R. Roberts and Mayor Rob Moon.

With City Manager David Ready, this new council will help guide a city that is enjoying the best of times … and, at the same time, suffering through the worst of times.

The city is more popular than ever as a tourism destination—yet it is enduring the aforementioned scandal involving its huge, signature downtown development project. Some areas, such as the Uptown Design District, are enjoying a resurgence—yet the homelessness problem continues to worsen.

The Independent’s Brian Blueskye recently spoke to each of the candidates about these various issues and more. He asked them about the issue of homelessness; the new vacation-rental ordinance; the lack of affordable housing in the city; ethics and transparency;the downtown redevelopment project; and the city’s relationship with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Finally, he asked each candidate whether the city is opposed to fun—a charge against the current council leveled by some, including the Cactus Hugs website.

Here’s what each of the candidates had to say.

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Christy Holstege

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Glenn Flood 

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Henry Hampton

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Judy Deertrack

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Lisa Middleton

The Palm Springs City Council Candidate Interview: Robert Julian Stone

Published in Politics

Of the six candidates running for the Palm Springs City Council this year, Robert Julian Stone is certainly the most blunt.

The author, film critic and community advocate certainly was not shy about sharing his views during a recent interview—including a conspiracy theory regarding the current City Council and two of his opponents.

But before we get to that … on the subject of homelessness, Stone was rather thoughtful and analytical. He told me the recent film The Florida Project was helpful in exposing the national problem of homelessness.

“The solution everyone talks about is the ‘housing first’ solution,’ Stone said. “It’s the best solution for a certain number of people who find themselves without homes. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that there are three things human beings need to be productive in society: They need food; they need shelter; and they need clothing. If you take any one of those things away from them, they cannot be a productive member of society. That’s the challenge that we’re facing: We must provide shelter, but how you go about doing that is a very expensive proposition, because (homelessness) numbers continue to grow. The ‘housing first’ solution works best for people who are living one paycheck to another. When you fall out of your housing, and you’ve lost your job, or you have a ruined credit rating because you’ve been evicted, or you’re unemployed—what it takes to get back in is the first month’s rent, a security deposit and employment. If that’s not immediately available to you, you’re out on the streets. The ‘housing first’ model works really well. because (these people) aren’t used to living on the streets, don’t want to live on the streets, and want to get back into a stable situation.

“If you’re talking about the people who don’t want four walls and a roof over their heads, or have addiction and mental health issues—those people are more difficult to handle.”

Stone said the vacation-rental situation in Palm Springs has been poorly handled.

“Airbnb is not going to go away, and it’s here to stay. The thing that we need to do is figure out the best way to manage it,” he said. “I don’t think creating a $1.7 million-a-year bureaucracy to handle the problem was necessarily the right way to go. When Palm Springs did their big vacation rental ordinance, they did not run it through the Planning Commission; they didn’t hold public hearings over a period of time. It was mostly Geoff Kors and J.R. Roberts in a back room coming up with this proposal, which went through a tumultuous unfolding when they got slapped with petitions to recall them and recall this ordinance if they didn’t change it. It was badly handled, and the biggest thing they missed was they didn’t do any density controls, and there’s nothing that prevents 98 percent of the homes next to your home from becoming short-term vacation rentals—and that’s a problem.”

Stone didn’t mince words on transparency—especially involving the funding for Measure J, a 1 percent sales and use tax approved by voters in 2011 that was slated to go toward city services, maintenance and redevelopment.

“They’re certainly transparent on the general-fund portion, but there are dozens of other side funds that don’t appear anywhere in the public forum for the city’s residents to understand or (figure out) exactly what’s going on with that money,” he said. “The city budget is $110 million; the other dozens of other funds make up an aggregate of another $110 to $120 million—things like the airport fund, the Measure J fund, the utility tax fund, the gas tax fund—and they’re run like a sideshow. They’re controlled by the city manager, who dips into those funds to transfer into the general fund as he sees fit, or to transfer from the general fund into those funds when they have shortfalls. Some have income; some of them, like the golf course fund, have income and expenses. We never really get a true picture of what our budget is, because half of it is run behind a curtain, and that’s a problem.”

Regarding the city’s relationship with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Stone said the city needs to work with the tribe in a more cooperative fashion.

“That’s a very difficult question, because the city has taken a position that changes from day to day depending on the subject on the table,” Stone said. “Sometimes, they say, ‘They’re a sovereign nation; we have nothing to do with them.’ I’ve heard Ginny Foat articulate that many times, saying they don’t get involved in their business. At the same time, we have a master plan … a bilateral agreement that both sides signed and should be adhering to. But when it comes down to enforcing it, the city never tries to. We need to invite them to the table. … If you look at the history of Palm Springs and the tribe, it’s very checkered. We need to have a better agreement with the tribe; we need to have one that is neutrally supportive. With the way the downtown (redevelopment) project was handled, and the 31 counts of corruption which relate directly to the downtown plan, we can’t really take the moral high ground when it comes to the tribe’s property, given the way the city handled their own downtown development.” 

Stone is not happy with the downtown redevelopment project.

“I think the hotel is a scar on the landscape. It will always be that,” he said. “If you look at the very first building near Tahquitz (Canyon Way) and Palm Canyon (Drive), that building which will house the Starbucks, that’s exactly the scale we were promised: It’s single story; it’s a tall building, and it’s a nice addition to the neighborhood. Then you look at these other buildings, and they’re horrible. It’s better than what we had, because what we had was terrible, but it’s so much less than what we deserved.”

What does the city need to do to be more transparent? Well, here’s where that conspiracy theory part comes in.

“The first thing that we can do is elect me,” Stone said with a laugh. “I also want to talk about where we’re headed if the Lisa (Middleton) and Christy (Holstege) train pulls into the station: We are going to be doing old-school Chicago politics with Councilmember Geoff Kors in the role of Mayor Richard Daley. We’re going have two people seated solely because of the support and the campaign management and campaign contributions that came from a sitting councilmember. Lisa’s campaign is being run by Geoff Kors’ husband. … They are the chosen two—so Geoff Kors will have the two votes he needs if they are seated, and then all bets are off, because it’ll be government by Geoff Kors, for Geoff Kors and about Geoff Kors. If you think that those two women are going to do anything to oppose what he wants, you’re too naive to be talking to—because that’s what we’re going to get, and that’s very troubling, because that’s not good for democracy.”

When I asked Stone whether he thinks the city is opposed to fun—a criticism some have made against the current City Council—his answer, much to my surprise, involved the ethnic makeup of the city.

“They are so not fun,” Stone said with a laugh. “Hell to the no on that! I’m sorry, but we have too many white people living in this town. I lived in San Francisco, and I’m used to living in a very diverse city where Caucasians were the minority. I was born and raised in Detroit, which was largely an African-American city. That’s the kind of demographic I’m used to. I’ve lived here full time for the past 12 years, so if you don’t mind me mixing metaphors: I know where the bodies are buried, and I can hit the decks running when I sit in that chair. I understand the demographic that lives here, because I’m a part of it, but I always wish there was more diversity in the community and diversity on our City Council. I’m sorry—I’m a white male, and I can’t help it.”

After our interview, he emailed me additional thoughts that were a bit more measured.

“Las Vegas has glitz, but Palm Springs has chill,” Stone said. “And chill is cool, sophisticated, and somewhat fragile. We can’t let (the city) be dragged into the vortex of beer bongs and guzzler helmets. So if the City Council may seem a bit stodgy on some points, I think it’s because they have an intuitive understanding of what makes our city special, and a commitment to maintaining it.”

Published in Politics

If elected to the Palm Springs City Council, Lisa Middleton wants to be as transparent as possible, she said, while engaging with the community.

Middleton is well-known as a transgender activist, and she has an impressive work history as well; she retired after 30 years as an executive with the State Insurance Compensation Fund of California, where she was at one point the senior vice president of internal affairs. She’s also a member of the Planning Commission, and was a chair of ONE-PS, the coalition of Palm Springs neighborhoods. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Lisa Middleton since 2013; I met her while I was a volunteer at the LGBT Community Center of the Desert.)

During an interview at her home, Middleton—who would become the first openly transgender individual elected to a non-judicial office in the state, should she win—said the city of Palm Springs is finally starting to handle the issue of homelessness in the right way. She said that the efforts of Well of the Desert and the housing programs proposed by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments are both steps in the right direction.

“The city is making progress when it comes to homelessness,” Middleton said. “We have a dedicated homelessness police officer going from four days a week to seven days a week. … The two additional social workers who have been contracted with the county have produced success, and the city is trying to expand that program. One of the things we found is that it takes multiple interventions for there to be success. There have been, over the last year, 50 people who have been housed, and another 100 who have received housing. It’s been because of these programs.”

Middleton helped to create the ordinances and regulations on vacation rentals that were recently enacted. She said she believes they’re working so far.

“I believe the reforms that were passed earlier this year were very much a step in the right direction,” she said. “The restriction of no more than one (vacation rental) home per person going forward—those who have more than one now are grandfathered in—will remove the investor from the market going forward so that the people getting permits will be the individual or couple who plan to transition to full-time living in Palm Springs. … I came up with the idea through ONE-PS for that restriction. The increase in fines, I supported very strongly, but the most important change was the increase in staffing, and going from a half-time person to nine people in a department, and changing the first responder to complaints from the rental manager to someone within the city, and having them out in cars to where they’re able to respond, as well as being out in cars … (so) they can monitor and drive by. The homeowners and managers are stepping up their game in the review of the people they rent their homes to, because after three strikes, you’re going to lose your license, and could potentially lose your license for good. Those are steps in the right direction, and we need to give this law a chance to work.”

Middleton said she intends to work with local nonprofits to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city.

“I want to work with organizations such as Desert AIDS Project and Coachella Valley Housing Coalition to build more affordable housing in Palm Springs” Middleton said. “A recommendation I’ve made is that … we take and change the public benefit, which is a negotiation that goes back and forth with the Planning Commission and the developer—that it be switched to the public benefit being affordable housing: Either you build a certain number of affordable housing units as part of your project, or you pay a fee to the city to be used to provide funding for other affordable housing projects, based on the value of the project you’re building.”

When it comes to transparency, Middleton said said being accessible and communicating with the public is important, and that she plans to regularly visit each of the neighborhoods in Palm Springs, while making herself as accessible as possible.

“One thing I think would help … is being accessible so people can ask questions and understand things,” Middleton said. “Transparency is extremely important coming from someone such as myself, who managed a public-records office, and I know all of the rules as to what must be released and how it is to be released. Frequently, what I find is somebody says, ‘You’re not being transparent.’ What they really mean is, ‘I didn’t know that was going on.’ It’s that ‘I didn’t know’ that we need to do a better job on … (so that) it becomes easier for them to know what’s going on.”

Middleton said the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has a great relationship with the city. She cited discussions about the plans for the area around the Spa Resort Casino as an example.

“I do think that for almost everyone who was concerned when they saw that dotted line put into the Desert Sun, and then saw this first set of drawings of the new hotel, there should be great relief that the tribe is a great neighbor and has historically been a great neighbor,” she said.

As a member of the Planning Commission, Middleton said she’s happy the downtown redevelopment project is progressing.

“I’m thrilled that we’re finally getting the hotel up and ready for occupancy, and that the leases have been signed and stores will be opening,” she said. “As for the businesses up further on Palm Canyon, they feel like they’ve been in a construction zone for years, and this project has taken longer (than we anticipated) when we voted for Measure J in 2011. There were lawsuits that slowed down construction, and I was part of the Planning Commission that worked with the new City Council in January 2016 that reduced the scale of the overall project by 40 percent. There have been bumps in this road, and we’re starting to move forward, and the vast majority of people in Palm Springs want to see that succeed.

“The Hyatt Andaz,” the long-delayed under-construction project at Indian Canyon Drive and Alejo Road, “has brought up ideas for a change in the approval process. As a part of the planning and review process when the project is approved by the Planning Commission, we need to review the financial viability of the product. Nowhere in the current process do we ask a developer why they feel the project will succeed financially. That can be built into the approval process, and before someone begins construction, they should be required to demonstrate to the city that they have the funds in place to complete construction.”

She believes the best way to prevent more corruption within the city government is to do reviews and make sure everyone has proper information on what they can and cannot do.

“We should sit down with them constantly and review their 700 form, asking them, ‘If you work for other entities, who are these entities?’” Middleton said. “Annually, we have a very clear understanding of what they reported and why.”

Middleton laughed when I asked her if she considered the Palm Springs City Council to be opposed to fun—a criticism some, such as the Cactus Hugs website, have made of the current council.

“I don’t think Palm Springs is against fun,” Middleton said. “I absolutely want it to be fun, and I want our city to keep its sense of humor and be able to laugh with others and at ourselves from time to time, because we need to do so. I was asked this question a few weeks ago: Is Palm Springs a small city of neighborhoods, or is it a world-class destination? The answer is both. Most people want it to be both. That happens when you set balances so you can truly have communities and neighborhoods where people feel safe, secure and quiet in their home and neighborhood—but also a side that can attract people from all over the world to come and have a good time, to go to the parties we have, to enjoy the restaurants, and to enjoy the cultural facilities.”

Published in Politics

Judy Deertrack is one of the loudest and most dedicated critics of the Palm Springs City Council—and it’s no surprise that she again decided to run for a council seat, after an unsuccessful run in 2013.

However, as a voice of opposition, Deertrack—who takes credit as one of the whistleblowers regarding the corruption scandal that led to the indictment of former Mayor Steve Pougnet—is often criticized as being “against” everything and not in favor of much. Deertrack said she’s aware of the criticism—but said her tone is necessary, because the city faces a danger of bankruptcy, and few people are acknowledging the dark cloud hanging over Palm Springs.

When I met with her at her campaign headquarters, she provided photocopies of various information related to the city budget and Measure J—a 1 percent sales and use tax approved by voters in 2011 that was slated to go toward city services, maintenance and redevelopment. The attorney and urban planning consultant has been one of the most vocal voices against the downtown redevelopment project; in fact, she told me she has a storage locker full of this information.

On the subject of homelessness, Deertrack said the problem is due to a lack of affordable housing. She said that the city’s homelessness task force has not been effective and that the city is not devoted to resolving the homelessness issue.

“This is not just a city problem; it’s a state problem,” Deertrack said. “The state is behind in almost 1 million affordable housing units across the state. It’s a crisis at this point. There are multiple causes, but certainly one of them was the loss in redevelopment funding. I’ve looked at housing throughout the valley, and the city of Palm Springs appears to be behind the other cities significantly. There hasn’t been a unit of affordable housing in this city (built) in over a decade.”

As for the new restrictions on vacation rentals, Deertrack mentioned a ballot initiative coming in the summer of 2018 that may decide the fate of vacation rentals—and added that residential zoning laws already define how to handle vacation rentals.

“The primary restriction is set by state law. It’s also set by local law in the general plan update—a general plan that takes years of work with the community working directly with their elected officials to come up with a long term vision for growth and development,” Deertrack said. “One of the first principles of residential development set by zoning laws in the state of California and all across the country is that residential zoning is primarily for residential use of a home for noncommercial purpose, with the outcome to be neighborhood peace and quiet. If you want to put in any type of commercial use, it can only be permitted under state law if you can demonstrate that by adding that … you are not creating a disturbance or not undermining the residential designation. This has been horrifically violated over time, and we have districts over in Warm Sands where you have residential zones … now with major noise problems. I support the people’s vote on it.”

Regarding affordable housing, Deertrack again said the city needs follow its own ordinances and plans.

“There’s a housing plan (city officials) committed themselves to that they abandoned,” she said. “If we do not follow the laws, there needs to be a state audit of the funds in the city, and the state needs to come in with some oversight. Following the general plan would the major part. Bringing in the state oversight due to lack of compliance—part of the problem with that is a good part of California is out of compliance. But I don’t think (other cities) are out of compliance as seriously as this city is.”

Transparency has been one of the key issues in Deertrack’s campaign—and she almost seemed offended when I asked her about it.

“Do you know who you’re asking here?” Deertrack said. “… It’s very unfortunate. We got something (in the downtown redevelopment project) that is five to six times the height and density of what was advertised to pass Measure J. What happened is that they passed a bond issuance a year after Measure J was passed, where they issued $47 million to (now-indicted developer John) Wessman; $42 million went to the project; $11 million that was for the parking structure; and $32 million went into a private escrow account for Mr. Wessman with no auditing powers. To date, when a public request goes into the city, they indicate that they have no powers to check whether the money is there, how it has been used, and what portion of it is remaining.”

Deertrack said she has the experience to maintain good relations with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

“I’ve worked in tribal affairs for over 13 to 15 years in the Taos Pueblo tribal government. My late husband was full-blooded Taos Pueblo,” she said. “I was in a culture where there were 2,000 tribal people, and there were seven non-native people, and I was one of those seven. I lived in the tribe’s restricted area during that entire period. It took years for them to build trust, and it took me years to build confidence and sensitivity to tribal issues, because there is a huge cultural gap. But I’ve had extensive training in tribal sovereignty, and I have enormous respect for tribal culture. We have tribes here that have acted as guardians of this land throughout the millenniums, and I do not intend to see us tear that to pieces.”

The success or failure of the downtown redevelopment project did not seem to be something Deertrack cares about; instead, she expressed concern about the finances of the project.

“Mr. Wessman gets 100 percent of the profits as it stands and gets 100 percent of the ownership value,” she said. “What he did was took the income-producing lots, and got a 75 percent rebate on bed tax over 30 years, which is unheard of. The problem with a project like that is that no one has any information as to the underlying financial structure of it.”

Deertrack said the FBI public corruption task force has a 90 percent conviction rate.

“This isn’t a popular thing to do, but it’s a very necessary thing to do, and I’ve been relentless on this,” she said. “The indictments (include) the names of nine to 12 people who were trading information. Some were on the Planning Commission, and some were on the City Council. … The scandal hasn’t been addressed or touched in this town, and you have a candidate on the Planning Commission who is running, and no one is talking about this. Every person on that Planning Commission should have, when they knew someone was influencing their vote outside of the public-hearing process, had an ethical and legal responsibility to go to the city attorney and report misconduct, or go to the district attorney.”

When I asked her about claims by some that the City Council seems opposed to fun, Deertrack managed to steer even that question toward the downtown corruption scandal.

“They’ve taken the fun out of my life for the past three years,” Deertrack said with a laugh. “They’re pretty protective of the city’s party environment and its diversity. We have an extraordinary level of public events here, and it’s the strength of this town. We do know how to party, and I have a background as a vocalist in Broadway and in opera, and I go out and sing all over town—restaurants, private parties, assisted living, and it’s part of my donated time. That is the one thing we all have in common. We all need to clean up the other things, because (they’ve) created a dark cloud. There’s an imminent threat of bankruptcy in this city, and nothing is going to stop the party faster than that, so we better attend to this business.”

Published in Politics

Henry Hampton wants you to know that Palm Springs is the city where he grew up—and that he believes in its future.

Hampton, a real estate agent, has spent a good portion of his campaign fending off claims that because he’s a Republican, he’s a Trump-loving conservative. Hampton’s response: He said he’s conservative on fiscal issues while being liberal on social issues. He has stated he does not agree with Trump on immigration and that he did not vote for the man who became the 45th president; he’s said his views fit in well with Palm Springs values.

On the subject of homelessness, Hampton said the logistics and locations of services are all wrong

“I’ve done the most research on homelessness than any other thing,” Hampton said. “I actually participated in the time and point count, which is the mechanism that determines how many people are homeless in your community. The numbers have gone up a bit, but realistically, the police department has told me there are 80 solid individuals out there on the streets. These 80 individuals—they don’t really want the option out of homelessness. But you need to have a mechanism that allows people to get into that scenario to get out of it.

“Homelessness is a geographic and geocentric issue. It really has a lot to do with services. … Behind Revivals, there’s a food bank, and wherever there are going to be services, that’s where the homeless are going to congregate. Honestly, I think the city’s model for dealing with the homeless issue—it’s been flawed from the get-go. Roy’s (Resource Center, which closed earlier this year) was a good thing, but it was near the freeway, and 40 percent of the budget was spent on transportation, so it was flawed. We don’t have a rapid shelter. The idea (for a new shelter) now is a former fire department on Dillon Road, which is further out! Honestly, I think one of the best ideas is to have services that are all located in one spot, such as job placement, mental health, food, clothing, rapid rehousing and quick shelter.”

Hampton said he believes the new vacation-rentals ordinance is effective enough.

“The ordinance that we have on the books in Palm Springs was crafted after so many conversations, so many iterations of what was right and wrong—and the community got together and put input in those discussions. Right now, we have an ordinance that doesn’t make everybody happy, but it works,” he said. “It limits them, because one person can only have one vacation rental; it grandfathered in the people who have more than one, but the biggest thing that it did was put teeth in the enforcement and took the enforcement away from the rental company. (Enforcement now) is a city employee who shows up and says, ‘Your partying way too loud, and it doesn’t work.’ Somebody gets cited; they get cited three times, and a fine comes down, and you lose your permit. I’ve seen this play out, and they have what I call ‘Vacation Rental Court.’ It is a day-long exercise of fine appointed commissioners who are like jurors and people who signed up to deal with this issue, and they are like, ‘Here’s what you did. You didn’t have a permit; you are advertising online,’ and it’s pretty serious where people are getting fined. There are teeth in the ordinance, but there weren’t before; it was just an ordinance on the books.”

On the subject of affordable housing, Hampton said the problem is significant, because many jobs in the city are in tourism-related industries that do not pay all that well, and the city is home to a lot of seniors on fixed income.

“What can we do to make sure these seniors aren’t pushed out? You don’t want to push a senior out on the streets,” he said. “There are (apartments), but they are all rented out. So let’s come up with incentives for developers to come in here and, on the few remaining parcels that happen to be left, offer some kind of incentive so they can build apartments into our housing stock and provide housing opportunities for the people who work here. I think that’s important.”

Like most of the other candidates, Hampton feels the city website is next to impossible to navigate.

“Transparency was a word that was coined in the last election cycle a couple of years ago,” Hampton said. “Where are we now? I still don’t really think we’ve progressed anywhere from where we were two years ago. Yeah, the budget is online now; you can see it, and it’s a lot easier to understand it, so that’s good. But I think that Measure J—the website for that could be updated. It’s hard to get around, and when I started campaigning, I was looking on there for where meetings were and this or that, and you couldn’t find what you were looking for. Creating an online presence for Measure J would be a lot more transparent for someone who works and doesn’t have time to be at a Measure J meeting. That’s taxpayer dollars, and everyone wants to know where they’re going.”

Hampton said he would be the best candidate to ensure the relationship between the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the city remains strong.

“When I grew up here, the tribal council had a very strong relationship with the city government. (Former Chairman) Richard Milanovich was the go-to man for the tribe. There has to be a relationship with the tribe. I come from a background and a generation of kids who grew up here, and those kids are running the tribal council right now—people like (current Chairman) Jeff Grubbe and (Secretary/Treasurer) Vincent Gonzales. These are guys who went to high school at the same time I did. I think there’s definitely an opportunity for someone like myself to have conversations with these people. I am absolutely open for it. The tribe was here first, and we were here second. We have to come to an agreement on things in this town.”

Hampton is a fan of the downtown redevelopment project.

“I remember when the only thing going on down there was Hamburger Hamlet,” he said with a laugh. “We’d go on Sundays and have burgers. There was a California Pizza Kitchen right next to it, and that went away, then Hamburger Hamlet went away, and then there was nothing. For me to see Blaze Pizza—I take my kids to Blaze Pizza once a week, and they love it; it’s fantastic.

“I like what’s going on there. All these hotels wouldn’t be signing up to have a hotel in downtown Palm Springs if they didn’t think they could fill the rooms.”

Hampton said the corruption scandal was devastating to the city.

“This is a heartbreaking story for most people, because everybody was behind (now-indicted former Mayor) Steve Pougnet from the get-go,” Hampton said. “My parents were really involved in helping him to get elected the first time. Most people would probably agree that he brought Palm Springs up to the levels we’re experiencing today. When I came back in 2014, during that whole corruption-scandal thing, it was like getting kicked in the stomach. Watching the FBI come into your City Hall is also like getting kicked in the stomach. But transparency is lacking, and I think a lot of people are tuned out and don’t have that opportunity (to find out what the city is doing). Most people don’t want to sit in at a City Council meeting from 6 to 11:30 p.m. People want to be heard but can’t speak on anything on the agenda until 11:30 p.m. What is that? That’s crazy to me. Transparency is this,” he said as he pointed to his cell phone. “It’s about being able to see it and it being instantaneous. We need to bring it up to a level so everyone can see it.”

When I asked him whether he thinks the Palm Springs City Council is opposed to fun—a criticism leveled by some in recent years—he gave a serious and matter-of-fact response.

“I think what council members are going to do is look at the issue of liability and concern,” he said.

Published in Politics

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