Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Name: Guy Burrows

Age: 62

Occupation: Neurologist

Interview: In person

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

That tall building on the right … that’s taller than what was initially touted as what was going to be built. Also, when I look at it, what I see is an advertisement for two floors of commercial offices. My question is: If you look around the city of Palm Springs, how many empty office spaces do we have? So many, it’s beyond counting. Why, as a city, are we paying a hundred million dollars, partly, to build two floors of office space, when really there’s not a need for office space? Let’s start there. We could have done a lot of other things in that space; why office space? For example, we could have had a health food store there. There is no grocery store that is health food only (in Palm Springs) … other than a small (health food store) over here. … You could’ve brought in Whole Foods, and that would’ve been a great addition, and would’ve been a much better—to me—choice. Because, as a doctor, I deal with people’s health every day, and I’m promoting good health constantly, organic food, eating lean, eating the right combination of foods. So, people are looking for that all the time, so it would have been welcomed.

When I look at the whole project, I ask: Why did we spend a hundred million dollars on this, as a city? And I can’t really, in my own mind, as an individual citizen, or as a person who’s looking at it as a good investment, justify it, and say that makes a lot of sense. I think it makes sense to give incentive, but not to where you’re paying two-thirds of the cost, which is what it works out to. I don’t know what the true cost was; I just know what (Wessman) said the cost would be. So, going by what he said, we’re paying two-thirds. … I also don’t know what he paid for the land. I know he got it at a song and a dance, but I don’t personally know. But we’ve already given him so much money; basically, that land is free and clear, without a doubt. And anything he puts on top of it, were paying a good portion of that. So, what is his investment in the city?

The other thing I notice … is that the property taxes—there’s a summary report on the city, every year, by an accounting firm, and that’s about 200 pages. The last one that is available to look at is 2014, so I looked at that. And what I noticed, interestingly, is that Wessman, in terms of city taxes, was paying a fairly large sum of money in 2008, and in 2014, was paying zero. So what happened to his property tax? Did he get exempted on property taxes for his property during the construction phase? I mean, what’s going on with that? I never heard anything about it, but when you look at the numbers, Wessman, here in 2008, is paying a certain amount, and then Wessman, in 2014, is paying zero. So what is he giving back to the city? How did he get around his property taxes? I’m not sure. Maybe there’s someplace else, but when you look at the paperwork, you’re wondering, where did it go?

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

There is a crime problem. It’s not like we have murderers on the streets; it’s not like we have muggings every other day, but we have a lot of home invasions. And a lot of those people (doing the home invasions), fortunately or unfortunately, a good percentage are homeless. I went to the homeless task force (meeting) two weeks ago. … There was a man sitting next to me who was complaining: “Every day, or every other day, I have a homeless person in my pool, or I have them on my porch. I complain to the city. Nothing gets done. I’ve called the police; they say they can do nothing, and here I am dealing with this problem, day after day. What are we gonna go about it?” One of my questions to the police chief was: “I had understood that you had to steal more than $500 in order to be able to be arrested in the city of Palm Springs; they would not arrest you otherwise.” He corrected me and said, “No, its $900.” So they actually will not arrest someone until you have stolen at least $900 in property. Well, guess what? (Criminals) have figured that out. They know that if they break into some place, to only take so much. And they break in night, after night, after night.

I own the Palm House (nightclub) … and when I was opening it up, I had cameras around the whole building. There was one particular homeless person who attempted to break in three different times. I gave the pictures (to the police), because I have it on video. … “Oh yeah, we know who that is. That’s Dave. Yeah, Dave’s a petty thief here in town; he breaks in all the time, We know all about him.” “Well why don’t you arrest him?” “Because he never breaks the threshold. So if we arrest him, they’ll let him out right away. The city attorney will not prosecute, and if he does go in, they’ll let him out the next morning. So what’s the point? We’re not gonna arrest him.” So what happens then, is that enables that person to say, “Hey, you know what? I can do this all I want; nobody’s going to stop me.” And then he’s going to talk to his friends, because it is a social network, in a sense, and suddenly, his friends come here, because they like it, too. “What a great place to come. I can break in; I can put camps on the front and back porches of any business; I can sit on the patios of homes; I can swim in their pools; I can break into their houses, and nobody’s going to do anything about it.” So, I’ve watched the homeless problem grow tremendously in the 3 1/2 years I’ve been here. So one of my missions is to work on that, and I have a whole program on how to address that.

Is there crime? Yes. Is there a problem? Yes. And part of the problem is, we are ignoring it, and letting it occur because it doesn’t reach a certain threshold. And part of that is the tone of the mayor, the tone of the city, the tone of the city attorney as to what we will do. And as I explained to them: I moved here from Beverly Hills. In Beverly Hills, they have a policy of containment. In other words, if you’re (a homeless person) up in a residential area, you are picked up within five minutes. They will be there by squad car, and they will take you away. If you are in a certain business area, where you’re not supposed to be, they will pick you up or they will usher you away. There are only certain areas where you’re allowed to be … .

The problem is we don’t have a jail. So guess what? They don’t arrest them, because they don’t want someone to drive them to Banning or drive them to Indio; you know, I’ve heard this from talking to police officers individually. Now, they’re going to all deny this, but the fact is that … the actions are, they will not arrest them and drive them. Unless it reaches that level of felony, we ignore it. And so, you’ve basically told us, the citizen: It’s up to you to do a citizen’s arrest, and then we’ll decide if were going to do anything about it—if we show up.

It’s not that the police are bad people; they’re not. The first thing is, we have fewer officers than we need; I think the number that was estimated was somewhere around 18 officers fewer than we had, when you look at leave, and people who are getting ready to retire, and people who are on sick leave, and those who are laid off. So we’re short of officers; we don’t have a jail; and we don’t have a mayor or city attorney who thinks it’s important; therefore, what are they going to do? They’re going to address the things they have to because they’re shorthanded … .

We could have opened up our jail for $3 million or $4 million; instead of giving $100 million dollars to Wessman, let’s give him $96 million.

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

I would say it is mandatory that every council member and mayor read the 700 (forms) of people and understand what those relationships are. In the case of Steve Pougnet, it was laid out on his 700, two years in a row, that he was receiving money, and no one ever raised the question. In fact, when I asked about it at The Desert Sun interview, Ginny (Foat) had never read it, and also, never questioned Steve Pougnet about it, yet she’s there sitting next to him on the council and voting on these issues. Really, that’s a responsible council member? I don’t think so. So part of it is to be responsible and look into what our partners are doing, so that we know when there is conflict and raise questions.

Then the other question would be: Why didn’t the city attorney raise the question? He should have read the 700s; he should know where that money was coming from, and he should have known what things were in conflict, and yet that was never raised at the meeting where the vote occurred. So when I look at what’s going on in the city government, those who were responsible did not exercise their responsibilities. So the first thing is to mandate that (reading the 700s) is a requirement, and not to do that is a failure to do your job, and that could be a reason for either a recall in terms of the city councilmember, or a city attorney being fired. … Just using the tools we already have … would be a huge step forward.

The second thing I would like to see is … we have a webpage for the city, but if you want to try to figure out things, it is not easy. You have to go in there and sort of drag things from different places. There’s no straightforward, “Here’s the J Measure money; this is what we’ve spent; this is who it went to.” It doesn’t say that as a very clear thing. What they want to do is they want to tout, “Look at what we did at the library; look at the roads; we did this; we did this parking lot of City Hall.” … If you want to try to look at, “Well, who did we give the money to, for projects?” that’s harder to find. You can’t really find it. You can sort of get a list of some names: “Oh, here are some examples of people who got money,” but you can’t get hard numbers. … I would like to see more transparency on the webpage. Make it clear. Make it simple.

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

I do have a master plan. The first thing is you make a nonprofit organization under the city government, so that you can begin to bring all those different organizations into one place. Now, we have Roy’s House on the other side of Interstate 10 and Indian Canyon. We have Well of the Desert; we have Martha’s Kitchen on the other end; we have all these different organizations, which are providing services—but very disjointed. So the first thing is try to bring things under one nonprofit. Within that, you can then draw federal funds, veterans’ funds, sit-stay funds, county funds; you can take some city funds that we’re already using, and you can also go out to prominent citizens we have in this community, like Bill Gates. If I was the city mayor and have this program, and I write a letter to his foundation or him personally, and I say, “We need a donation from you, because were trying to solve the homeless problem. This is our plan; could you help with a million dollars?” The odds are he’ll at least read it, and there’s a chance that we can get some money there. Nobody’s doing that. I mean, we have Larry Ellison here; we have a lot of very prominent people who we can start tapping to try to get resources. Nobody’s doing that … .

In my master plan, under that umbrella, you would hire five to 10 people. Their job is to go out on the street with vans and be able to stop and talk to homeless people and find out why they’re there, and what their need is. Then we have to have a policy of containment. In other words, if they are literally camped on the front doorstep of a business—which they are—you pick them up and you say, “You can’t be here,” and you move them. If they’re in a residential area, you pick them up, and you move them and say, “You can’t be here.” … But then, if you do that, where do you take them?

The idea that I put out was … a tent city, and you put the tent city in a place that’s outside of the main part of the city, in an area where you’re not impacting neighborhoods; they’re not impacting businesses, but it’s a place where you can sort of take care of people, provide services, have mental health, have medical health, have clothing, food, shelter, laundry facilities, bathing, lavatories and cooling stations. You run it almost like a boot camp, in a way. … I was in the military. I ran a tent city in the Middle East, so I know how to do that. … We realize that the Department of Defense has so many of these tent cities sitting in mothballs. Again, as the mayor of the city, if I was to write a letter or contact the Department of Defense and say, “Do you have a tent city of this size that you would be able to give us?” The odds are, because it’s in surplus, they would … . The tent city—that’s the processing center. The next step is to have things like rehab centers, mental health facilities, and then, beyond that, you’ve got to have the ability to put them in halfway houses, (group homes) … .

Roy’s House kicks them out at 8 o’clock in the morning. It’s not a very good solution. It’s a great idea, but it doesn’t function well. My question is: You have 90 people who have a spot for the night, but are kicked out at 8 o’clock in the morning; where do they take them? Downtown Palm Springs, and drop them off. What a great idea. … I was homeless as a teenager, so I know firsthand what that means, so I come to it with a passion and compassion.

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

I like the idea of by district. I think they become more representative, and it requires them to represent the needs of that district. Right now, as I’ve heard people complain, most of the members come from two areas of the (city). What about the rest of the neighborhoods? … Clearly, we want representation that represents all the citizens, and we don’t have that right now.

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

Well, that’s the reason I’m running for this office—because there is no one.

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?

First, I’d ask them, “How much do you want to spend?” Because that matters—and, “What kind of food do you like?” Then based on those answers, there are a number of places—very good places. On the high end, there’s Le Vallauris, of course; in the middle, you have places like Lulu, which is very popular; you have Trio; you have Jake’s; you have Cheeky’s. … Cheeky’s is more for breakfast. … There’s Elmer’s for breakfast; there are a whole bunch.

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

I already said it: Whole Foods. Some kind of full-service health food store or grocery store.

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

For the city, the favorite to me is the (Palm Springs International) Film Festival, because I think it brings a high profile to the city. It brings a nice feel and buzz to the city, and a lot of citizens participate and enjoy it. … It’s more for the citizens, and less for the outsiders. Coachella is really a lot of outsiders coming in, whereas the film festival really caters more to our population.

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?

I’d grab my child, and make sure they’re safe. My wife would grab the other one. And we would just stand back and let them do their thing.

Published in Politics

Name: David Brown

Age: 46

Occupation: Dry cleaning manager

Interview: Phone

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

At first glance? Construction. Hopefully, when they’re completed, it’s going to be a nice, completed project. Right now, when I look at it, you’re seeing construction, framework, ironwork and a big crane. All that’s kind of distracting from the mountains, but at the same time, hopefully when this project is done, what they’ve built … is a nice project for the city. We have not seen a model master, which would be nice.

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

They need to have more law enforcement. I know that they’re down probably 13 officers, and they’re going to have some lieutenants and such retiring at the end of the year. On the north area of Palm Springs, I think the whole area needs extra officers. Let the neighborhoods work more with their community policing officers.

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

A lot more transparency on government spending. I would encourage the citizens to be more a part of asking questions and going to see documents. I think that certain documents like budgets and other things (involved with) city spending need to be put in a format to where it’s easy to understand for all the residents—I don’t want to say like a kindergarten language, (but) written in a language that is not so much where you look at something, and it has to be defined by an attorney. … There was also a question on candidate transparencies, whether a candidates’ 460 forms and 700 forms should be posted on the city website. My comment on that would be yes, they should be, for better transparency; at the same time, that’s like an extra 10 pages—I don’t know how many pages you’re adding to the city website. My idea would be post a link, because it is public record; you can walk into City Hall and get those forms, but you can also go to the secretary of state and get those same forms. My recommendation would be to put the links to the secretary of state on the city webpage.

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

My thoughts on that would be to look at some model cities that have an influx of homeless, to look at the programs they’ve done, to look and see how they’ve handled it as far as resourcing and programs they’ve adapted. Other thoughts I would have on that would be to network with the community organizations here within the city to build a bigger and stronger bond with the community to help fight this problem, because it is an ongoing problem, and we have to address it. The other issue that follows along with that would be possibly working with the county and state as far as mental-health issues go—trying to get more mental-health personnel and those types of resources and counselors here in the valley, or somewhere to help deal with that. Some of (homelessness is due to) mental-health issues, and there are some people who … want to be homeless. That’s their way of life, and they refuse the help.

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

Right now, I kind of like the current at-large system, but at the same time, I like (electing) by districts, because I think there would be better representation. It would probably cost the city a lot more, but that really doesn’t come in to play—whatever would work best with the city. … Maybe they’re not too familiar with what’s going on in the north end of Palm Springs. It’s better representation for the city, for those areas, is what I’m trying to say. The north end, I feel that they should get a little more acknowledgement.

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

That’s a tough one. I guess my first choice would probably be Paul (Lewin), because he’s a little knowledgeable … because he’s got a little experience of what he’s doing. I would probably pull for somebody who’s been on a commission, because I, myself, came from a commission. I spent three years on the Human Rights Commission. At least (commission members) have a little bit of knowledge, but just because you have those big degrees and titles and backgrounds doesn’t mean that someone (else might not) do a better job. That’s kind of like giving the underdog or somebody you wouldn’t expect a chance. They’re a person. Why not? That’s my open-mindedness coming into play.

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?

Considering I live in the north end … a lot of my friends are older, and they’d probably like Billy Reed’s. It’s kind of a laid-back atmosphere. I like the atmosphere.

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

Maybe something for the younger youth, like a skating rink or something. We have a bowling alley; we don’t have a skating rink. I don’t know how that would fly in the community … but it would also pull people from the valley, just like the bowling alley does.

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

Probably the Date Festival. (I like the) food, and you get to meet all different types of people. I’ve always had to work (during) the music festivals, so I’ve never had the opportunity to go to those.

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

My pictures. Old family pictures.

Published in Politics

The spot that once was home to downtown Palm Springs’ Desert Fashion Plaza—and before that, the legendary Desert Inn—is under construction. It’s slated to eventually become home to a shopping center and a Kimpton Hotel, under the direction of developer John Wessman.

One man has been leading the charge against the project as it is planned: Frank Tysen, the owner of the Casa Cody Bed and Breakfast Inn.

Because of his opposition to what many consider “progress,” some city officials—most notably Mayor Steve Pougnet—have harshly criticized and even demonized Tysen, who has been a fixture in various Palm Springs development battles now for more than two decades.

On Jan. 16, during his State of the City speech, Pougnet issued his most vicious public attack on Tysen to date. He referenced a series of letters that Mike Depatie, the CEO of Kimpton Hotels, was supposedly sent by Tysen and Tysen’s colleagues. Pougnet characterized the letters as “vile.”

“You know what that reminds me of? ‘We don’t want people here,’” Pougnet. “It’s something we got over in Palm Springs. We’re over it: ‘We don’t want Jews; we don’t want gays; we don’t want blacks; we don’t want Agua Calientes.’ We’ve moved past that kind of rhetoric that Frank Tysen continues to spew.”

Given all the controversy surrounding the proposed Hotel Palomar, the Independent decided to take a closer look at Tysen, his motivations and his future plans.

In a recent series of interviews with the Independent, Tysen denied sending any letters to Depatie that were in any way hateful or vile. (More on that later.) We found Tysen to be far from hateful; in fact, he comes off as polite and even charming. He’s also brilliant: In 1966, he was a Guggenheim Fellow due to his work in architecture, planning and design.

While Tysen is passionate, knowledgeable, resourceful and opinionated, he also has a point of view on the city of Palm Springs that may very well be antiquated. Most notably, he criticizes attempts by some city officials and business leaders to aggressively pursue business from younger professionals.

“The stupid thing that goes on is that City Hall has become obsessed about bringing in the millennials,” he said. “What makes this town work is basically an older crowd, because the older crowd has the time to come in mid-week; young professionals don’t have the time to come in mid-week, because they work.

“Every year now, they’re putting on this rock concert called Tachevah that they call a block party. I went there last year to take a look, and I saw all these youngsters from Coachella and Indio. These aren’t people who are staying here; it’s not going to fill the beds during the mid-week.”

About 25 years ago, Frank Tysen and his business partner were shown the Casa Cody Bed and Breakfast Inn. Tysen immediately fell in love.

“I thought it would be fun to have a little hotel here,” Tysen said. “(Palm Springs) was dead at the time, and there was nothing happening. Palm Springs was at a real all-time low in the ’80s.

“People complain now, but there’s nothing to complain about, because the town is hopping,” he said with a laugh.

“I loved the whole feeling of the place and the natural beauty, but also the lovely architecture, the beautiful estates, and so on. (Casa Cody) was in shambles because it was run like a flop house. We saw the potential and started to restore it. It’s been a nonstop restoration ever since. We’ve added three other properties … over the years.”

Over the last two and a half decades, Tysen has watched as Palm Springs has evolved.

“Several people came to the city (around the same time that I did) and started picking up the old inns and fixing them up,” he said “Basically, that started what I believe is the revival of Palm Springs in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. People started to discover it again.”

Flash forward to November 2011, when voters in Palm Springs approved Measure J, a 1 percent increase in the sales and use tax, with that money dedicated to the revitalization of downtown Palm Springs. Tysen said he was supportive of the measure.

However, as plans for the old Desert Fashion Plaza emerged, Tysen soured on that portion of downtown redevelopment. One of his main complaints involves the design of the Hotel Palomar, slated to be operated by Kimpton. In particular, the modernist design and height of the hotel was questioned and opposed by Tysen. (Most reports say that the hotel is slated to be six stories tall; however, Tysen insists that he’s seen plans showing the hotel could rise up to nine stories.)

In May 2013, Tysen and his group, Advocates for Better Community Development, filed a lawsuit to block hotel construction; the group also started to collect signatures to force an election on the hotel plans. The group eventually submitted 2,700 signatures—seemingly enough to send the matter to voters. However, the city refused to place the matter on the ballot, claiming the issue was not subject to voter approval. In December 2013, a Riverside County Superior Court judge ruled in the favor of the city; Tysen and his group appealed.

Then came that Jan. 16 State of the City address by Mayor Steve Pougnet. In addition to calling out Tysen’s “rhetoric,” Pougnet shocked the crowd by announcing the city would send the hotel decision to voters after all—during an April special election.

Then on Jan. 29, the city made yet another about-face, agreeing to pay Tysen and ABCD $50,000 (apparently to cover legal fees) to drop the lawsuit, and canceling the April election.

Tysen said he decided to drop the lawsuit because it felt like the right thing to do.

“At that point, there was such a show of hysteria,” said Tysen, who reportedly received a death threat after the State of the City speech. “The city, especially, approached me to drop it. So I tried to look for another way we can solve these problems.”

However, that doesn’t mean it is clear sailing for the redevelopment of the old Desert Fashion Plaza: A remaining lawsuit, also filed by Tysen and ABCD, challenges various approvals of and changes to the redevelopment project.

As for Pougnet’s claims that Tysen and his fellow hotel opponents were sending rhetoric-filled letters to Kimpton hotels, the matter remains unclear. However, Tysen provided the Independent with a copy of a letter that he sent to Mike Depatie, the CEO of Kimpton Hotels. The letter is well-written and politely lays out Tysen’s concerns about the hotel, with no “vile” rhetoric to be found.

“I am very much aware of the wonderful reputation of your company and the sensitive way in which you have fit your hotel in historic areas such as Alexandria, Virginia, and I hope for something like that,” Tysen wrote. (See the letter for yourself at the story's bottom.)

The Independent left multiple messages with Pougnet to discuss Tysen and his opposition to the downtown redevelopment project; the mayor did not return the calls.

What is the point behind Tysen’s opposition to the hotel? He said it’s all in the design.

“The whole thing started off fine,” Tysen said. “Everything looked like it was going to be exciting. There was no mention of a nine-story hotel in the visioning sessions. It was completely different and looked very European, very low-key; they talked about world-class architecture. … Then, suddenly, the mayor decided to drop the eminent domain and started working with a developer (John Wessman), and what came out of that had no relation to the visioning sessions.”

Tysen insisted the architecture is not appropriate for Palm Springs.

“If you see the pictures, it looks more like downtown L.A., in the area near the Staples Center,” Tysen said. “It certainly doesn’t look like Palm Springs. … It’s really nothing that people are going to come and look at. It’s a glass box.

“The whole thing is very dense. Also, the whole surrounding retail … is another stupid thing to do, because we already have so many vacancies that haven’t been filled. To add another couple hundred thousand feet of retail makes no sense.”

Several times, Tysen insisted that the voices of tourists and part-time residents are being ignored—in part because they are unable to vote in local elections.

“The tourists are shocked,” Tysen said. “Unfortunately, they don’t have any voice in it. If they asked the tourists, they wouldn’t build it. Somehow, there’s a group of people in town who are so tired of nothing happening for 10 years, that now, suddenly, they think we should do anything that comes along. To me, it’s something you just don’t do. You do the right thing instead. … The people who are really affected don’t vote here. The tourists and the second homeowners—all these people coming in don’t have any idea of what’s going on.”

Some of Tysen’s critics have speculated he is fighting to protect his own interests, because his hotel is just a few blocks away from the redevelopment site. Tysen insisted that’s not the case; he said he simply believes that the hotel is a bad fit for Palm Springs.

“If anything, we might get more business if people walk around, and they see a small place that looks charming,” Tysen said. “It’s going to affect the feeling of the town and those who do or do not come here. The world is getting so crazy, crowded and congested, and right now in L.A., you can’t even move around anymore. People go to places like Catalina, Carmel or Santa Barbara to get away from all that. People come here to savor the nature of it, and also the feel of a small town. To have this thing sitting in the middle of it—it’s a terrible mistake.”

Tysen also said he believes the proposed hotel and shopping center are bad ideas because the millennials who are coming to the city are not spending any money. He claimed that most of the corporate hotel chains in Palm Springs are suffering through too many vacancies.

“The average occupancy at the Hyatt Hotel in Palm Springs is no more than 50 to 60 percent,” Tysen said. “Palm Springs, like many resort cities, is a seasonal town. The high season is February, March and April. Most of the hotels fill up during those few months of the year. With the young market, the Hard Rock Hotel was selling rooms in November for $59 a night during the middle of the week, and that’s the ‘hot, crowded Hard Rock.’ The Saguaro was selling rooms for $69 during the middle of the week in November. The Riviera was selling Thanksgiving for $109. There’s a lot of foolish stuff going on. This would be a big, subsidized thing.”

The Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism did not respond to requests from the Independent for demographics and specific hotel-vacancy information.

“You can’t do everything, and I think … Palm Springs has spontaneously become very popular with young people. They enjoy coming down here, so we’re doing fine, and I’m not worried about it. But these people who say, ‘We need more millennials!’ don’t understand that they have no time or money to spend in the hotels!”

Tysen claimed Palm Springs’ quiet, lovely nature attracts more visitors than anything else.

“Everyone is so impressed by what’s going on at the Coachella festival once every year. Coachella is Coachella, but Palm Springs is Palm Springs. There’s no one at the Palm Springs International Film Festival under the age of 40. Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg! Don’t kill the flavor of the whole town.”

John-Michael Cooper, the general manager of Palm Springs Rendezvous and the president of Small Hotels of Palm Springs (SHoPS), has worked closely with Tysen, a fellow SHoPS board member. He said portrayals of Tysen as a radical are off-base.

“People judge Frank in a very general way,” Cooper said. “There are a lot of things about (Tysen) that are completely ignored.”

Cooper said he’s worked with Tysen on various matters for five years now. While he does not always agree with Tysen, Cooper said he has a lot of respect for him.

“He’s one of the founding members of the association of which I’m now president of, and he’s a very skilled hotelier,” Cooper said. “We’re all in favor of Measure J, and he’s been very accommodating. But he is very motivated in what he does, and he’s super-passionate. I’ve agreed with him on a lot of sides of this thing that is known as Measure J. I can’t say I think one way or the other about (the proposed hotel and shopping center), because it is pretty multi-faceted—but I have a lot of respect for Frank.”

Tysen said people are quick to make assumptions about him.

“The real sad thing is there are a lot of people who have a lynch-mob mentality,” said Tysen. “You know, ‘Oh, let’s go get him—the son of a bitch! He’s stopping progress and everything.’ Most of the time, they don’t even know what’s going on; they don’t even know the issues. It’s scary to see people crawling out from under the rocks. I came to Palm Springs because I liked what I see. I don’t know why they came to Palm Springs—they could have gone to Las Vegas if they liked that kind of stuff.”

Make no mistake: Agree or disagree with Tysen, he’s no dummy. In fact, before he became a hotelier, he had a long career in urban design, planning and architecture. He also has a history of public opposition to controversial projects.

“I taught for many years at USC in urban and regional planning. I have done lots of studies about all of this. I was a Guggenheim Fellow, and I spent time in India (working) on master-planning in Calcutta. I worked with Gov. Ronald Reagan and had a lot of impact in not moving the (main L.A.) airport from Los Angeles to Palmdale. I was very instrumental in stopping the freeway that was going to go through Malibu and Santa Monica, and I stopped two oil refineries when I was on the … environmental council, in Beaumont and Banning. So I’ve tried to protect the environment all throughout California. It’s not just that I own a small hotel.”

He also took credit for helping make Palm Springs a successful destination.

“The reason this town is so special is because people like me have fought these battles,” Tysen said. “It starts when Nellie Coffman owned the Desert Inn (which was located on the Desert Fashion Plaza site); they fought an asphalt plant that was going to be up the street. There was a group here called Citizens United that had a building moratorium here.

“All kinds of battles have been fought. Pearl McManus would cancel an escrow if somebody built something she didn’t like. All this stuff has been going on, and that’s why this town is special. It isn’t special by accident. Otherwise, it would look like Beaumont, or it would look like Fontana. It’s special because people like me have fought these battles.”

Photo by Kevin Fitzgerald

Published in Local Issues

The annual Festival of Lights parade drew quite a large crowd to downtown Palm Springs On Saturday, Dec. 7.

The cold (for Palm Springs, at least) weather didn’t stop tens of thousands of people from taking in the parade full of illuminated participants, vehicles, bands and floats.

The parade’s grand marshall was Three’s Company actress Suzanne Somers. She wore a white fur coat and waved to the audience while seated on a vintage red convertible.

Some of the more spectacular entries: the Tonga Hut’s Hawaiian themed float complete with a volcano; a lit up Coca-Cola truck; and, of course, Santa Claus, who came through on a lit up sleigh.

Scroll down to see our gallery of CVI Crapcam pics from the event. Enjoy!

Published in Snapshot

The 2013 Palm Springs Pride Festival, held at Sunrise Park on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 2 and 3, drew tens of thousands of people over two days.

Temps in the low '80s greeted attendees, who perused booths offering everything from underwear to animal adoptions to newspapers (including more than 1,600 copies of the Coachella Valley Independent), and enjoyed performers ranging from Richard Simmons to Berlin.

When we had more than one person manning our booth, Independent editor Jimmy Boegle wandered through the festival to take some pictures of the goings-on. Check out the photo gallery below.

Published in Snapshot

As thousands of people celebrated in 100-plus-degree heat, Rancho Mirage City Councilmember Scott Hines had sobering words.

Standing directly under the Forever Marilyn statue in downtown Palm Springs, the gay family man, military veteran and elected official explained that he was there representing not the city of Rancho Mirage—just himself. He had asked the current mayor of Rancho Mirage, Richard Kite, to issue a proclamation celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court's partial repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as the decision effectively appealing Proposition 8—therefore setting the stage for gay marriage to be legal once again in California.

But Kite refused, Hines said. Such a proclamation, or even allowing Hines to speak on behalf of the city, might be offensive to some.

Despite Hines' sobering words, thousands of people showed up to celebrate the happy events. Below are images from the celebration of this historic day.

Published in Snapshot

When I was growing up in Los Angeles, my parents came to Palm Springs almost every weekend. It wasn't surprising that they decided to eventually retire here. They lived in the same house for more than 35 years, and I continued to visit them as an adult.

I decided to move here permanently 10 years ago to help out my mother after my father passed away. I took care of her for eight years until she passed away in 2011, at the age of 91.

Looking back conjures up a lot of memories and makes me realize just how much the Coachella Valley has changed over the years. As a kid back in the ’60s, I can remember how excited I was whenever it was time for another Palm Springs weekend. As soon as we reached the desert, the first thing I noticed was how clear the sky was compared to all the smog back in Los Angeles. However, by the time the ’70s had arrived, there were days when even the desert had a cloud of pollution hanging over it.

I could always tell when we reached town by the abrupt change of scenery. One minute, it was nothing but barren desert. Then suddenly, there was lush greenery, as well as the hustle and bustle of small shops.

I can actually remember when Palm Canyon Drive and Indian Canyon Drive were both two-way streets. When you're a kid, everything looks bigger. Now these streets seem so narrow. I can't imagine how two-way traffic ever existed on them.

We used to stay at some of the historic hotels in the area, including the original Riviera and the Howard Manor. I noticed that every hotel's TV set had a closed-circuit station that broadcast nothing but weather information. There would be a series of dials that would show temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure and wind speed. A camera sitting on a track would slide back and forth showing these various dials with music playing in the background. I remember watching this channel for hours, hoping the camera would fall off the track. It never happened!

My father was an avid golfer, and sometimes, he would take me along with him. That would give my mother the opportunity to go shopping. Back in those days, none of the streets that crossed washes had bridges built over them, so in the rain, those streets would become flooded very quickly. My mother was quite a daredevil when it came to driving and felt she was adept enough to navigate the rough waters. Somehow, she always made it across, apparently determined to take advantage of the big sales going on at the stores.

Sometimes, we would come to the desert in the summertime. I remember one visit when we heard on the weather report that it was 122 degrees. But that didn't stop my parents. They would occasionally go to Las Vegas for a change of pace, but Palm Springs always remained their favorite destination.

When she was in her prime, people used to tell my mother she looked like Marilyn Monroe. She used to be a fashion coordinator, and her passion was shopping in department stores for clothes. She had so many outfits that she rarely wore the same thing twice. My mother was outrageously funny, and I think I got my sense of humor from her. There was never a dull moment when she was around.

In her later years, though, she didn't go out much. She preferred to stay home and watch TV. You could always find her sitting on the couch watching Regis Philbin, The View, Judge Judy and her favorite channel, HLN. She also enjoyed reading the National Enquirer and believed every word of it!

In its heyday, Palm Springs was a vibrant and exclusive getaway. Now revitalization efforts are underway to recapture that energy.

My mother's energy and vitality still live on inside everyone who knew her. The two-year anniversary of her passing is this month. To my mother, Lillian: I love you, I miss you, and your sunny outlook will always be synonymous with Palm Springs.

Like the song says, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." So true.

Published in Humor

The Palm Springs Convention Center was awash in white Saturday night and Sunday morning (March 30 and 31) at White Party 2013.

Chippendales dancer/The Amazing Race alum Jaymes Vaughan joined forces with the great Madame to interview celebrities (such as White Party performer Carmen Electra) on a "white carpet" outside of the convention center. Inside, many thousands of men (and a few women) danced, snapped pictures and enjoyed themselves on a dance floor that got increasingly crowded—and sweaty—as the night went on.

Scroll down to see pictures snapped at the event by the Independent's Jimmy Boegle and Linda Ray.

Published in Snapshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Local Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montoya dismissed the claims.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Local Issues

Page 4 of 5