CVIndependent

Fri12062019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Work has started already.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Politics

Almost 20 years ago, I went through the darkest time of my life. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with a man who made me feel isolated and weak. I wish I could explain why I loved him, or why I stayed, but as with most abusive relationships, it’s beyond words.

In the beginning, I didn’t realize he had a drug habit. By the time I put all the signs together, I was too invested to move on. He nagged me to try it, and out of desperation to fit into his life, I complied. Unfortunately, I liked it.

Thankfully, that relationship eventually ended. But just because the boyfriend was gone didn’t mean the addiction went away. I maintained the habit for a year on my own.

One day, I realized that I was putting my life, my job and my personal relationships at risk. I needed to come clean and get clean. I told my then-boyfriend, now-husband, Jim, the truth. He was supportive and responded with support and compassion.

I quit cold turkey.

It was the single hardest thing I have ever done. I was nauseous, lethargic and unmotivated. The temptation to fall back into the habit was constant and strong. But I was stronger, and I have never achieved something so momentous in my life. Regardless of the outcome of this election, or anything else I ever do, I doubt I will ever be as proud as I am to have fought through the sickness of addiction.

But with that pride comes the knowledge that I am privileged. The road to overcoming drug dependency is long, and it looks different for everyone. My story is not unique: 19.7 million Americans suffered from substance abuse in 2017.

Not everyone has the stability in their lives to “just quit.” Many people don’t have financial flexibility to miss work, health-care coverage to have regular check-ins with their doctor, or supportive spouses to fill in the gaps in life while they focus on recovery.

This experience is part of why I am running for the Palm Springs City Council.

Palm Springs is plagued with public-health and public-safety issues that intersect with each other.

  • We have one of the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths in Riverside County.
  • Our homeless population is growing, and is disproportionately impacted by substance abuse.
  • The LGBT community is at a higher risk of substance abuse and mental-health issues due to increased violence and other stressors.
  • The Native American population is historically the single most-addiction-impacted population in the United States. What is Palm Springs doing to help our neighboring communities?

The truth is our mental-health services, like all our social services, are lacking, at best. This must change, and I will fight every single day until it does.

For me, it’s not political rhetoric. It’s not about making empty promises on the campaign trail or telling people what they want to hear. It’s about an opportunity to make a real difference on an issue that is hurting our communities.

This is me. This is my life. This is my experience.

I am ready to lead from a place of compassion, understanding and empathy. Because I’ve been there. I have felt the struggle. I have overcome the demons. And I am holding my hand out to pull the impacted people of Palm Springs up with me.

As a community, we can overcome anything.

Peter Maietta is a candidate for the District 2 seat on the Palm Springs City Council.

Published in Community Voices

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Peter Maietta, Businessman, 51 years old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We recently interviewed Middleton regarding the issue.

Does Palm Springs have an inclusive nature, politically speaking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Politics