Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

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

Glenn Flood told me at the beginning of our phone interview that one of his favorite words is “transparency.”

The Navy veteran and former Pentagon employee—who has run, by far, the lowest-profile campaign of the six candidates on the Palm Springs City Council ballot—said he was aware of how to deal with waste in government agencies.

“Any bureaucracy or government institution—you look at places at where there’s waste, fraud and abuse,” Flood said. “… When it comes to fraud, you have to weed it out. People are using equipment for things they shouldn’t or when they shouldn’t, and you have to cut that out. Waste, abuse and fraud are things I would look at. If you start at the little things, you find out that the little things turn into big things. People at City Hall might be doing something they don’t realize is waste, fraud and abuse—and you have to nip it in the bud before it becomes a big scandal.”

On the issue of homelessness, said the city needs to take a realistic approach.

“It’s a problem in the city, but it’s not just a Palm Springs issue; it’s a nationwide epidemic of people who are out on the streets,” Flood said. “I know the city has a homelessness task force, and if I were elected, I would take a hard look at that, and I’d want to know if they have any concrete proposals on the table. If they don’t, I’d put some on there relating to some of the vacant buildings in the community for those who want to have shelter. We also have to realize we can’t help all of the homeless and lump (them all) into one bag thinking that (one solution) applies to everyone. There are some people out there who never want to come in off the streets, and there are some who have mental issues; some are strung out on drugs, and some are out there because of the economic situations of the times.”

On the subject of vacation rentals, Flood said the existing rules and regulations don’t go far enough.

“From what the people in the community tell me, it doesn’t have enough teeth in it,” Flood said. “We need to make sure that it has enforcement and that it has teeth. If you say that you’re going to get rid of the bad apples, and that it’s ‘three strikes and you’re out,’ you have to be out.

“I don’t believe we should have short-term rentals in residential areas. If you want to run a hotel, get into the area where there are hotels.”

Flood said he’s noticed there is not a lot of moderate- and low-income housing in Palm Springs. He believes developers need to provide plans for affordable housing as their other projects are approved.

“The developers have come into Palm Springs. You’ve probably noticed some construction going on, and they’re building new homes, and they’re starting at some really high prices based on the signage they’re putting up on the developments,” Flood said. “I think we should talk to the development companies who want to come in and build these high-class homes, which are fine and good. At the same time, you have to understand there’s a need for moderate- and low-income housing, so we need to do something to work out a deal with them to build that. We have some vacant lots and land around town; maybe we can convert some of those. I see these buildings that used to be hotels, and maybe we could convert those to some moderate- to low-income housing. We need to look at that with a high priority, and I’m going to do that if I’m elected.”

Flood said the best way to deal with transparency is to be out in the community, making sure people are engaged.

“The people I’ve talked to feel like they have not been represented,” Flood said. “They want someone in there who is going to be fair, honest and give them information as to how their tax dollars are being spent.”

While working for the Pentagon, Flood had some experience in talking to Native American tribes, he said—an important qualification for a new council member to ensure that the relationship with Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians remains intact.

“When I worked at the Pentagon, I worked on base closures. That’s like a four-letter word to some communities, especially back during the ’90s,” Flood said. “Members of Congress would say, ‘Yeah, close the bases—except the ones in my district!’ I would go out into the communities and talk to the people who were impacted by the bases closing, and the fewer jobs that would be in the community. I reached out to all of the people, including tribes in areas when I was in Oklahoma, Texas and even in California. We’d reach out to them and say, ‘What can you do with this land that might be vacant after the military leaves?’ They’d come in and had ideas. In Palm Springs, we need communication, and we need to get out of here and talk to these people. Native Americans have been here since before we got here. Let’s bring trust to the table and open the conversation. We can’t control what they do, but we can put our interests across and work on it. I think communication is key.”

Flood is not a fan of the redevelopment project in downtown Palm Springs. He said he was surprised when he moved here and saw it being built.

“I asked, ‘How did this get approved?’” Flood said. “It looked like the rules were bent to get those buildings so close to the street. There isn’t much of a walkway, and that’s what you see when you walk in downtown Palm Springs. The downtown needed to be redeveloped, but I don’t see us having to do this continuously like the way it’s being done, and I will make sure we don’t do it that way again. I’m for growth, but for smart growth, and in the right places. We don’t need buildings that get started and then not finished like this monstrosity on Alejo (Road) and Indian Canyon (Drive). It’s just sitting there, and it’s an eyesore. If a developer wants to start a project, we make sure the developer has the money upfront and that they’re going to submit a plan to the council that can be approved.”

The city has been criticized by some, including the Cactus Hugs website, for being opposed to fun. What does Flood think of the accusation?

“One thing I’ve been telling people is that if I’m elected, I’m going to make sure Palm Springs stays safe, friendly, affordable, honest and fun,” he said. “The fun part is in there, and I want to make sure the people who come here and live here continue to have fun in this city. It’s a great city, and that’s why I’m here. I don’t want to take the fun out of Palm Springs. Let Palm Springs be Palm Springs.”

Published in Politics

As the youngest candidate running this year for the Palm Springs City Council, Christy Holstege says she has a lot to offer.

When I met with her at her campaign headquarters, she said the city needed to move forward, and added that as a millennial, she can relate to the younger people trying to start businesses in Palm Springs.

Holstege has extensive knowledge and experience in dealing with the local homeless community as an attorney. She’s served on the boards of Well in the Desert and the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, and is a member of the City of Palm Springs Homelessness Task Force.

“Homelessness is a crisis that’s affecting cities nationwide,” Holstege said. “Affordable housing is a crisis, especially in California, with (the state) only having a third of the housing stock that we need to house people. We haven’t had any affordable housing built in Palm Springs in 10 years. The waiting lists for the two affordable-housing units in Palm Springs are three years long.

“I think we’re talking about homelessness the wrong way. It’s a complicated issue, and there are different groups of people who are homeless, and there are different problems and solutions for each one. We’re never going to solve homelessness, and I’ve heard some of the other candidates say, ‘I’m going to solve homelessness!’ Homelessness has always existed, and we can never completely solve it; no city has ever done that in the history of the world. We need permanent supportive housing; the data shows the ‘housing first’ model works. There’s a lot of research and are successful models out there, so we just need to adopt them in Palm Springs. We need to create incentives and recruit nonprofits that do this work and build permanent supportive housing in Palm Springs.”

Regarding vacation rentals, she said the current restrictions and regulations are effective—but only as long as they are being enforced.

“It’s a city-created problem in a number of ways, because we failed to enforce (regulations) on vacation rentals and waited until it was almost too late, and there was backlash from residents and neighbors,” she said. “I don’t think our city did enough strategic planning for the future. I supported the new (vacation-rentals) ordinance, because I think the prior problem was a lack of enforcement. The ordinance has teeth and puts an emphasis on enforcement and reasonable regulations against the bad actors.”

Holstege said both affordable housing and a mixed economy are important.

“We need to grow and diversify our economy and grow and diversify our housing market; that way, one can make a living and afford to live in Palm Springs,” she said. “I see that directly affecting our economy, our work force, our city’s diversity and the ability to have families. I’m one of the only candidates who actually works to make a living in Palm Springs, and as a younger person, it’s difficult to afford a house. My husband is born and raised third-generation in Palm Springs, and most people our age … are moving out of Palm Springs because they can’t afford to live here. I’m concerned about what it’s going to look like here in five years if we’re losing out on people who work and have families.”

When I asked her about ethics and transparency, she—like other candidates—noted that information can be hard to find on the city website. She said the city also needs to implement the suggestions of the ethics, transparency and government-reform task force.

“I think we have a lot of work to do on ethics and transparency to regain the public trust after the FBI raid and ongoing criminal investigation, and (the criminal investigation) is for the courts to decide,” she said. “As a candidate, I’m not going to talk about guilt or innocence, even though other candidates are doing that, and I find it concerning. But I support the ethics and transparency government reforms that the task force spent a year working on. I believe we need to implement them right away. It’s a big issue with our city, because we don’t do a great job of updating the public and sharing information.”

Holstege said that as an attorney, she took an oath to be ethical. She also said it’s important to look forward, not backward.

“I’ve made ethics and transparency part of my platform; it should be part of any elected official’s (platform), and we need good ethical leaders for our city,” Holstege said. “We have work to do as a city to improve our oversight and transparency. We’re going to have a new council, a new vision for Palm Springs, and we’ll be moving forward into the future. I really want to talk about the future of our city and what we can do to build together in the next four years—that’s really exciting. I don’t want to spend the next four years of a potential term rehashing things that will be decided by the legal system. People are ready for it to be in the past. We had the transparency election in 2015; we’ve had this conversation, and a lot of us are ready to say mistakes were made. It’s a big issue; it was a big issue for that elected official (Pougnet) which will be decided by a court of law, and we need to improve our transparency processes.”

Holstege called the relationship between the city and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians complex—and said that it needs to improve.

“It’s a partnership, and I think we’ve waxed and waned our relationship with the tribe over the past few decades,” she said. “The relationship has been more strained than it has been in the past. In the past, it seemed we worked together better. We need more collaboration. That starts with reaching out to the tribe, and it starts with respect of the tribe (being a) sovereign entity that doesn’t follow the rules we set for our city. They could build anything they want, essentially, so we need to work together. My concern is that we have two separate entities doing their own thing independently.”

Love it or hate it, the downtown development is here to stay, Holstege said, adding that it’s time to help the property be successful.

“Mistakes were made in the downtown development,” she said. “The developer and the city admitted they messed up and set it way too close to the street—10 to 15 feet too close. That’s a problem when people complain about the height, and part of the problem is it’s just too close to the street. Generally, I think it’s exciting and a good thing for our city and the local economy. I’m glad that it’s going to be finished and up and running soon. I think that will be a huge boon to our city. Too often in Palm Springs, we have a vocal minority that tries to take over the conversation, and they’re extremely negative. It’s easy to be negative about something; it’s easy to criticize, and criticism is cheap. What’s harder is pointing out positive aspects and creating real solutions. I’m really excited there’s going to be retail, because I want to spend my money on things a working professional in this city needs, like shoes, clothes and makeup. We really do need more retail in Palm Springs.”

In recent years, the City Council has been accused of being opposed to fun, as it has enacted roadblocks to food trucks, murals and other cultural things appreciated in other cities. Holstege agreed that the Palm Springs City Council needs to lighten up and allow more innovative new forms of fun into the city.

“I think we’re an incredibly fun city, and we’re the funnest city in the Coachella Valley,” she said. I think millennials and young people are drawn to Palm Springs in particular. I personally live here because it’s fun and I like the downtown, I like the energy, and I like the vibe. But I think sometimes our council doesn’t always have the voices of people who want to have other types of fun. It’s a problem with diversity on our council. We don’t have any young people. I think our youngest council person is 56, so I think it’s a problem: We’re not having fun in ways that are new and innovative, especially as technology evolves.”

Published in Politics

When I moved to Palm Springs full-time in 1985, vacationers strolled downtown during “the season.” I shopped in the chic stores at the mall—at least until they closed down each summer. Spring Break was our biggest attraction (although local residents generally stayed home that week), but that did not last much longer: After years of laissez-faire treatment of young partiers, there was the riot of 1986, and then-Mayor Sonny Bono decided to shut down Spring Break.

In the years that followed, the International Film Festival was born, in 1989. The downtown mall closed. Downtown became dreary and sad.

Thankfully, Palm Springs has experienced a turn-around—as has the Coachella Valley in general—by hosting events and encouraging tourism that brings more diverse groups and revenues to the area. Now that downtown Palm Springs is finally heading toward progress at replacing the empty mall behemoth with shops, walkways, living spaces, arts installations, hotels and entertainment venues, you might wonder how the city has encouraged so many new people to visit—people who often return or even resettle here.

Enter Mary Jo Ginther, who serves as the director of tourism and marketing for the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism. Ginther doesn’t actually work for the city: She and her staff are employed by SMG, a company she describes as “the largest manager of convention centers in the world,” with which the city of Palm Springs contracts to provide their tourism marketing services.

Working within the city’s budget allocations, Ginther and her group employ every method imaginable to attract visitors from across the globe, who will visit and thus generate transient occupancy taxes (TOT) and sales taxes.

“Palm Springs has developed an amazing reputation over the past 10 years,” she says, “as well as more than doubled its TOT revenues.”

Visitors may stay in large name hotels, small boutique inns or private guest homes. They come for gambling, events, conventions, the film festival, weddings, get-away weekends or as snowbirds escaping cruel winters in the Midwest and East. They come for family celebrations, school reunions, business meetings and themed special events. They drive down from Los Angeles, jet in from Canada or fly in to enjoy their long European summer holidays.

Ginther, 60, is a Palm Springs resident originally from East Chicago, Indiana. She started her professional life as a middle-school teacher, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in education at Indiana University Bloomington. She subsequently gained experience in the hotel industry, serving for many years as a banquet manager, and spending 22 years with the Hyatt organization. She was transferred to the Palm Springs area, where she worked as a general manager with the Hyatt, and as club manager at the Mission Hills Country Club. However, she had also visited here as a child.

“We used to come out every Christmas on the train to see my grandmother, who had retired to Pomona, and my aunt in Claremont. I know we came to Palm Springs, but I was too young to remember,” Ginther said.

Ginther has been in her current position for almost 10 years, and is a past-president of the Palm Springs Hotel and Hospitality Association.

The Bureau of Tourism not only focuses on generating tourism dollars for the city; it also oversees the Welwood Murray Library, the historical site that will house a show-business collection in downtown Palm Springs, and the Palm Springs Visitor Center. The staff coordinates efforts with the convention center, hotels, businesses and event planners.

“Our job is to help promote the city,” Ginther says, “so we try to bring all interests together.”

They also work with the Agua Caliente regarding casino visitation. “Once they have plans finalized for the downtown property,” she says, “I think we’ll all be amazed, because they have the springs, which is another attraction to bring people to Palm Springs.”

Ginther sees her biggest challenge as identifying and reaching people who are not necessarily vacationers or visitors coming for specific events, and enticing them to visit.

“We need the people who can come in on mid-week days, when hotels have more vacancies, and we have to expand beyond seasonality,” she says. “We have partners in the United Kingdom and Germany, among the places we do specific outreach, and the challenge is to put together attractive travel packages that include vouchers for hotels and cars and activities. And it’s so easy to get around here. The farthest anyone ever has to drive is about six minutes. That’s also a plus.”

Another challenge: “Although Palm Springs is known around the world, people always say, ‘But what is there to do?’ We need to be able to answer that for increasingly diverse groups of people.”

For example, outreach efforts are needed to expand the image of Palm Springs in LGBT communities; currently, there are 23 gay men’s resorts—but only one specifically appealing to lesbian women.

“We need to have other events to promote beyond ‘The Dinah,’” Ginther says, referring to the golf tournament originally named for late singer/actress Dinah Shore, which has now morphed into what is billed as “the largest lesbian event and music festival in the world,” slated to be held this year March 30 to April 3.

Additional efforts to promote Palm Springs are made by Bureau of Tourism staff members attending travel trade shows, representing the city at travel industry conventions, and via advertising.

“We have our own advertising budget and marketing schemes,” Ginther says, “but our job is really to bring together all interested parties, not duplicate efforts made by others, and get people to come to town, stay locally and discover Palm Springs.”

With a focus on Palm Springs being a place to “Stay–Play–Dine–Shop,” the street life downtown once again feels stimulating and chic, and the prospects for the future are encouraging. Thanks in part to hard-working people like Mary Jo Ginther and her associates, the world is getting the word about Palm Springs being the place that is “like no place else.”

But those of us who live here already know that.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

It was a simple, four-step exercise:

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

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

3. We asked the candidates the 10 questions.

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

Now, comes the last step.

4. Report the answers to those 10 questions.

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

Welcome to Candidate Q&A.

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

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

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

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Bob Weinstein

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Ginny Foat

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Bill Gunasti

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Mike Schaefer

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Ron Oden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Politics

Name: Ricky Wright

Age: 66

Occupation: Former principal at Palm Springs High School

Interview: Phone

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

What comes to my mind is that the development is a lot different than what we have around it. That’s what I see. I mean, frankly, it doesn’t seem to fit, but that’s what was approved, I guess. It’s not what I perceived it to be when they were talking about it, and I never saw the plans or anything, but I thought it would fit a little better.

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

Yeah. I don’t think it’s as bad as it’s made out to be by some folks, but I do think it’s increased, and we need more officers. I think we’re down nine officers, and maybe more than that. So because of the cutbacks and the recession and all that, we need to add probably 12 new officers. I actually had a conversation with the chief about this, and he wants to balance that with experienced officers as well as new officers. You don’t want to hire 13 brand-new officers. He wants to have a balance, and I agree with that. The other issue is, if you’re going to attract experienced officers and have them leave the areas in which they live, there’s going to have to be some kind of bump in the pay for those officers. I think, as a city, we need to look at doing that.

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

At this point, it’s alleged. What’s going to happen as a result of it, is there’s going to be complete transparency for the new folks coming in and from this point on. It’s too bad it had to happen the way it happened. But the more transparent you are, the less likely we are to have those kinds of issues. That’s my feeling. Whatever happens, we’re going to work it out as a community. But, honestly, I’m embarrassed by it. My roots grow deep in the community. I’m embarrassed that … all around the state and country, they’re looking at this happening to us. It’s kind of embarrassing for us, although I think we’re going to get through it. It’s going to make us closer. I know in my career as an educator, it always came out to be when we had incidents like this, as a school community, we got stronger. As a community, I think we’re going to get stronger as a result of this.

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

I’ve said this repeatedly: The homelessness issue is not just a concern here in Palm Springs. Every major city has this issue, and I’m really glad they established the committee to look into it, but I think what we ought to do is canvas the country and the state and find out which programs are being successful, and then bring that back to Palm Springs and adjust it to meet our needs. The other issue is, we need a treatment center on this end of the valley to deal with those folks who are homeless who have addictions, who maybe have mental illness, and that would give the city more leverage—in particular the police department. Right now, we don’t have a lot of leverage to deal with people who are loitering and creating those situations that are causing problems for us.

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

I prefer the system we have. I don’t know enough about the options of having wards. I don’t know enough about that. I don’t think that the system we have right now is a failure at all. In my experience of being here almost 20 years, it’s worked fine. So unless I can see some reason why we need to change, I’d like to keep it the way it is.

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

I haven’t thought about it much. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know the other candidates. The only other candidate I really know is Ron Oden. Would that mean I’d vote for Ron Oden? I don’t know. I’m getting to know the candidates better.

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

I like Melvin’s. There are several places my wife and I like to go. Depending on what kind of situation it is, I like to go and listen to music. I like Lulu.

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

I would lean toward having more tech businesses in the valley. Being a former educator and realizing the importance an advancement of technology, I’d like to have a big tech company here in the Coachella Valley where we can train our kids and be a part of the international technology movement. At the same time … we need a university here, a college in the Coachella Valley. … It’s best to have our own UC in the Coachella Valley.

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

I like Coachella Valley festival—all of them. I like the ones that we have by Goldenvoice, and I think that does a lot for this city. The entertainment they bring in is fantastic. Now I do like the things that the younger folks are doing, like the Tachevah block party and Splash House. I really like those, and those are the products of some of my former students, so that makes it even nicer.

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

The keepsakes that are pictures of my mom and my grandparents … are real dear to me. I have a little mantel in my den that has their pictures on it, and I’d make sure that they didn’t bother those and break those. I have a vase that my grandmother gave me when I was younger, and I’d want to make sure that didn’t get broken. The mementos that are related to my family, in particular my grandparents and my mother and father, I’d make sure that those aren’t damaged.

Published in Politics

Name: Bob Weinstein

Age: 50

Occupation: Attorney/businessman

Interview: Phone

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

Well, I’m not happy with the development. There have been too many waivers and too many variances granted with that particular project, without much input. I’m in construction myself and have a lot of developments around Coachella Valley, and I know that sometimes going through changes and variances, where change was never quite the plan, things change a little bit here, and a little bit there. But … you have height issues; you have frontage issues, setback issues. It not only goes up to the sidewalk, but it overhangs into the street. And it blocks the beauty of the mountains, you know, which is what Palm Springs is all about. So, I think it’s atrocious. I think it’s obnoxious, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m running, because you know, I refuse to take any special interest money; I’m independent as far as my interests are concerned, so I don’t need to take special interest money. … I—me and maybe two other people—are the only people who refuse to take money, who don’t need to take money in order to run, and are really putting a lot of our souls into this.

I have a vested interest in Palm Springs. I have many, many, millions of dollars invested into commercial property. I’m the largest commercial office landlord in south Palm Springs. I have these signs, which some people think are obnoxious, but I tell people that if they say anything about my signs on my buildings … why don’t you turn around and look at the atrocious blight directly across the street from my building. Look at the McGruder Chevrolet that’s abandoned. We have hundreds, sometimes thousands of homeless vagrants living there. They come out at night; they start bonfires in there. Sometimes the fire department is called; sometimes the fires spread, throwing embers all over my property, and thank god my property hasn’t caught fire yet, but these people are committing serious, serious, crimes all over south and central Palm Springs. The vagrants are not only emanating from these blighted properties, but they’re coming in from all over, because they know that it’s a city that allows it. It allows these vagrants to commit these crimes, and I’m not talking about the chronic homeless; I’m talking about the kind of people who are meth addicts, drug addicts, alcoholics and, of course, your regular thieves. And they go around on bicycles, you know, casing out places; they’re trying to find people to sell drugs to, and I find needles on my property on a regular basis. In fact, before I bought my properties around four or five years ago, people living there, they were attacking my tenants. I spent hundreds of thousands to secure my property. I called the city everyday trying to get some response from City Hall, from the City Council. You know I never got one single returned phone call? Not one. And that’s why I’m running, because our city council is not responsive.

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

I did a number of YouTube videos on my website, discussing the crime problems and discussing the solutions. If I am mayor, I will have the crime problem cut by 50 percent, in half, within the first two years. I guarantee it; otherwise I’m not going to not run again. It’s very simple. No. 1: We reopen the jail.

First of all, we have a much greater chance of being victimized by a crime here in Palm Springs than we do in Desert Hot Springs or in Compton, even in Detroit. We have a one in 20 chance of being victimized here in Palm Springs. We are rated No. 6—100 being safest, the least safest being 1, we are No. 6. These are FBI calculations, and FBI statistics; I’m not making this up. … I even printed it on my website. We are at the bottom 6 percent of the most unsafest cities, ranked (among) the most dangerous cities in the nation, by the FBI statistics.

The solutions: We only have two to four police officers on duty at any given time. Desert Hot Springs is also shorthanded, and so is Cathedral City. These are all independent police forces versus the county sheriff. So what do you do? Before 2010, our crime problem was under control … it was actually decreasing. It was much less than what we have today. In 2010, we closed the jail; we let five police officers go. We’re short between five and 10 right now; if we (add) between five and 10, we’ll be back in recession levels—not post-recession; we need 15 to 20. … You cannot book the prisoners here in Palm Springs. The officers have to drive the prisoners all the way over to Banning or Indio, and book them, and it wastes the whole day. … Now keep in mind, when we had our jail open, both the surrounding cities—Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs—were using our jail to book prisoners. Now I asked (Ginny) Foat, “Can we reopen the jail?” “No, it’s going to cost $3 million.” Then I spoke to the captains, and the captains said it would cost zero. It’ll cost $3 million if we create a prison system, where you keep the prisoners there for a prolonged period of time. However, most of the arrests are prisoners who are immediately released … you book them here, and you release them. … On top of that, we (could) let the surrounding officers, and surrounding communities, book in our jail. They pay between $500 and $750 a head, so we can actually be making money on the jail, and these officers won’t be taken off their beat, so the entire western Coachella Valley will be safer. … You see, the criminals know they have a really good situation here in Palm Springs, so they come from all over. It’s only going to get worse.

Now, the other issue is Cathedral City has real-time surveillance cameras at main intersections, and it is hooked in with the 911 dispatch, so in case there’s an issue, they can automatically go and check out the intersection for car accidents or what have you. We’re the only city that doesn’t have these at the main points of entry, which is only at three or four points, because if you look at south Palm Springs and west Palm Springs, it’s all mountains, so you only have north and east. I say put surveillance cameras at those points of entry—make it visible; you don’t want the small ones; you want the big ones—and then at the main intersections, put another 20 or 30 surveillance cameras. That will cut crime down … by 30 or 50 percent, and the studies (proving this) are in my website.

Of course, I want to hire a few more police officers so you have enough. And I want to engage specific communities to provide point people who will be available for observation, to work with the police officers. … Now, we have a really good professional police force, but we have a totally dysfunctional council that refuses to allow the police any resources whatsoever. Instead, what they do is take $55 million, and they give it to Wessman so he can build two underground parking structures as part of his hotel to make his hotel functional, and to make his hotel the most obnoxious structure that I’ve ever seen in my life.

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

There’s a disclosure form 700 where you have to disclose all your resources and income for the past year, and I would require anyone who’s either on the City Council or who’s mayor, to not be allowed to be on a payroll for any local developers or anyone who might come to the City Council for approval for some type of project. It’s a part-time job; it’s supposed to be part-time job. I prefer it to be a full-time job, but most of these people don’t have the wherewithal, so they have to make do with other sources of income. But that really is no excuse; the size of Palm Springs has grown so much in the past couple years, and it’s going to continue. The growth has increased; we’re on the upswing economically, so you have tremendous amounts of money coming in for development.

You’re going to have a lot of temptation to give to these politicians to get approval, and side deals like Pougnet and what Ginny Foat did at the Sherman’s Deli, trying to win her over; you’re going to have that. You’re going to have a lot of influence-peddling there. So what you have to do is prevent these guys like Pougnet from allowing themselves to be employed or accepting any kind of numeration, any kind of money, as a salary, or quote-unquote “consultation fees.” They should not be allowed to have employment with an entity that might have adverse interests to the city, because that’s an inherent conflict of interest. … These guys who take money from these developers and then have votes on there—they should be immediately arrested, not to mention immediately dislodged from their seats. He hasn’t even resigned, Pougnet; I’m shocked. He’s already admitted that he’s taken money; he’s already admitted he voted on one of the sales which was below market price, after he took the money—and Ginny knew about it. So the two should resign. These are inherent conflicts of interest (and) violations of the canon of ethics, and it’s clearly illegal … .

I fight for people’s rights day and night. So as a candidate for mayor, I don’t think there was or will ever be (someone) as qualified for mayor, specifically (mayor of) Palm Springs, having a huge gay community, than me. Because I represent all the interests of the community. In my regular life, as an attorney, I fight for these people, day in, day out. And plus, I know all about real estate, so I very qualified. I know all about government, and on top of that—are you sitting down?—I’m also a court-assigned or court appointed mediator for the county superior court system … .

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

We need to get more local, county, state and federal monies. We haven’t applied for any, and were not getting any monies to take care of homeless people. Most of the homeless people here are chronically homeless; the others are just vagrants and alcoholics. …  So the criminals are automatically out of the picture in terms of being prosecuted. You have the alcoholics and the drugs addicts who need special attention, detox centers; they need counseling. Then you have the mentally ill people. Now, the mentally ill people, we need counseling for that. You also have a great deal of veterans who also need help, because there’s a lot of homeless veterans, believe it or not, and there’s a huge suicide rate. So we need more counseling for the mentally ill. But we need more housing—temporary, low-cost, or free housing—for the chronically homeless until they’re back on their feet.

I propose what Coachella is doing by building low-cost or free housing for the very poor, and we need to do that, because we have plenty of land; we just have to allocate the resources, and we have to get the funding for it. It’ll bring jobs for the development; it’ll bring a lot of monies, to the community, to the development. Or we can work with outside surrounding communities, such as Desert Hot Springs or Coachella, and provide them with our homeless and refer them to that sector of housing and provide some type of payment to them.

Now, what Robert Fey is doing … he’s the (chairman) of the Temple Isaiah. He has a program to provide the homeless with basic training skills, like cleaning, cooking and so on and so forth, so we can get some people who are capable of working off the streets, and give them a trade, and then send them out into the community, where they get a job, which is what I recommend. He is a great man. … You have Roy’s, but Roy’s isn’t doing the job they should be doing. It houses around 100 beds or something, but the people they house—they don’t train them; they just let them sit there at night. They need special training, so some of the people who come from Roy’s, they come to Temple Isaiah for training. Or if there’s an overflow, and there are no beds, what Bob does is he buys a few blocks of beds, maybe like 20 extra beds, at, say, the Musicland Motel, at a special rate, so they can stay there a few days, which is fine—I mean, if they’re empty, why not use them? I’m not talking about the vagrants; I’m talking about the chronically homeless people who really need help … .

So we need more funding, and if the county doesn’t want to give us the funding, we have to persuade them to give us the funding by threatening them with a lawsuit—which, I’m good at that—and forcing them to pay us, because we should not bear the sole burden of what the county should be paying for. We’re a city; we don’t have as much money as the county, because when you pay taxes on your property, on Prop 13, all the money goes to the county. They only give you back anywhere from 17 to 20 percent of what you paid, but if you have all these extra problems, institutionally, like homeless problems, they need to come up with some more of that money, and we need to get more money. It all boils down to money.

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

I don’t prefer either. I think we should have an at-large system; however, I think anyone could win. You could have 100 people running in one election, and you could have one person winning with just 10 votes; it’s the most ridiculous thing. What we need to do is have a run-off on each vote. For instance, there are eight people running for mayor, and you have a couple of good people. A lot of these people are going to split the vote, and you can have an unacceptable result. So, what I recommend is you take the two highest, like, in most elections, and then you have a run-off. … Right now, you don’t win by majority; you win by a small plurality, and that not correct; that’s not right. That’s what I want to change.

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

I like Ron Oden. I think he’s very receptive, and he’s a very nice guy. He may not be as effective as I’d like him to be, but he’s a very nice guy.

As far as Ginny Foat is concerned, she’s been tainted with too much corruption, and I think many, many, people do not personally like her. She’s been involved with a great deal of—let’s just say she was associated with, I believe, two murders, and she was arrested for at least for one of them, and she just has a very sordid history which I’m concerned about. And plus, there was also that recent assault on another candidate’s wife. Apparently, one of her campaign managers slashed the face of Mr. Gunasti’s wife, who is interestingly enough a reporter or a celebrity publicist. So, because she was making some comments about (Foat), one of (Foat’s) assistants slashed her face when we were doing that town hall meeting over at the American Legion. That concerns me. So, obviously, I try to stay away from (Foat). If I have to be near her, I’ll probably get a bodyguard.

But the other candidates are also amusing; I’ve never seen such a group of personalities in my life. Gunasti is a great guy; his wife is fantastic. They both have tremendous personality. And there’s Robert Moon. Robert Moon is a little bit on the conservative side. I’m much more to the right than he is. I’m a fiscal conservative but a social liberal. But Moon, when he talks, he talks in a monotone, like he thinks he’s still in the Army. He was in the Armed Forces at some point, and he has this interesting demeanor about him, where, when he speaks, it’s a monotone, one level, without any passion. He doesn’t wave his hands like Ron—Ron Oden throws his hands up in the air, and he makes these huge, passionate gestures, and he jumps! And he bends! And he yells! I like that, because it is very effective. On the other hand, you have Moon, who’s just the opposite. I’ve been telling Moon since day one, “Robert, you have to use more passion,” because a lot of these guys, they call me for legal advice all the time. I mean, I talk to these guys; they’re friends of mine. So, I said, “Robert, you have to use more hand gestures, use more passion in your voice, bring your voice a notch or a level higher, at least, when you’re trying to express something that you think is more important than the rest of the speech.” So he says, “Yeah, yeah, I’m trying, I’m trying,” because he’s so rigid, and so firm, it’s hard for him to break out of that because of his general persona. So he thinks he’s still in the military for some reason; I don’t understand it. I’m trying to work with him.

And then you got the Schaefer guy, who’s a pretty interesting character. He’s an older man, name is Michael Schaefer. I looked him up. It looks like he was disbarred for assault and battery, and he was a member of the California and Nevada bars, and he was disbarred for the assault and battery. Plus I looked him up, and he had 10 or a whole bunch of complaints lodged against him. But it’s a matter of public record; you can look that up.

Ricky Wright is an interesting character. He was a principal for a period of time for the high school, and he’s going to get a lot of parents voting for him. I don’t think his students are going to vote for him, because I don’t think they’d vote for anyone who was their principal; you know, if they are adults now, they can vote. But he is very, very low key and soft-spoken. I can barely hear him speak, and the points he makes are very generalized. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but he’s not investing any money into the campaign to let people know what he stands for. I’ve sent out fliers, and I’m going to … cover the airways, so people also know who I am and what I stand for.

There’s one other interesting character who I met; his name is Guy Burrows. He’s actually a neurosurgeon. He’s smart, but he’s very introverted, and he doesn’t speak much. He gets nervous up onstage, and in fact, over (at) the Legion, he started crying, saying that he used to be homeless. He has an interesting background. I don’t think that as a doctor, he’d be the best qualified, because he’s busy with surgery. He’s not going to give up his practice, he told me, to run the city full time, so he’s going to be preoccupied. He’s on staff over at Cedar, so he’s going to be in L.A. most of the time.

But the interesting thing is, I’ve never seen such an interesting group of people in my life, and I’m fascinated, just up onstage, listening to these people. And then I’m up onstage at Legion. Ginny Foat is speaking, right below—and people in the audience can’t see this—but in the very first seat right in front of Ginny, right below Ginny, there was a guy mouthing off everything she’s saying, so he was acting as her proctor or something. So she was staring at him, because, you know, she’s getting older—I don’t know—she’s not the brightest person in the world, either, so she was getting her speech from the guy up front. I should have said something, and all the people started to, up onstage, but no one down below. But it’s quite an interesting group of people.

It turns out that the person who slashed the face of that other woman, her name was Julie Montante. Turns out that she … was operating an illegal pot shop in the county, outside of city limits. … Remarkably enough, working for Ginny and her campaign, she was given a pot license to operate a pot shop in Palm Springs. I mean, that is another example of a problem we have. That should be revoked … and if there was any influence from Ginny, and I’m sure there was, if there was any influence in … procuring that license, then, again, you’re dealing with another corruption scandal, scandal No. 2005. I’ve lost count already.

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

I like the Kaiser Grille, and their food is usually fresh. Lulu is OK; it’s just for tourists, and the food is just average, but they have a beautiful ambiance there; it’s great just to get a drink, but I would not go there to eat. … I’m friends with Mel Haber … so I hang out over (at Melvyn’s). He’s got really good salads. It’s a great place; he’s got entertainment.

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

We already have an airport, which is good. I think we have just about everything that we need. … What I’d like to have, and I’ve been mentioning this for quite a while, is a movie studio. Wouldn’t that be great?

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

I love the Palm Springs International Film Festival, but my favorite has to be McCormick’s car auction.

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

It would have to be the server.

Published in Politics

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