Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

It was a simple, four-step exercise:

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

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

3. We asked the candidates the 10 questions.

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

Now, comes the last step.

4. Report the answers to those 10 questions.

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

Welcome to Candidate Q&A.

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

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

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

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Bob Weinstein

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Ginny Foat

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Bill Gunasti

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Mike Schaefer

Candidate Q&A: Palm Springs Mayoral Candidate Ron Oden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Politics

Name: Paul Lewin

Age: 44

Occupation: Palm Springs City Councilmember

Interview done: Phone

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

Oh, progress. I think that’s going to be a really terrific spot, and it’s very hard for people to visualize the final product, because all we’re looking at is the first legs of that skeleton. But as you know, there’s a lot of beauty that gets wrapped around a skeleton, so what we’re going to have there, in that corner of course, is a wonderful pedestrian path that runs from that exact corner at Palm Canyon and Tahquitz and runs right through the center of Blocks A, B and C and runs into a new entrance into the Hyatt hotel.

So what we’re seeing is just the beginnings of the reshaping of an urban landscape, and I think that for our residents, it’s been so long since anything like this happened. It’s a very new and startling experience, but we’ve got to remember where we started, which was 15 acres of blight, and this old mall that was absolutely killing a lot of downtown. And now when you add in the new walk … we’re going from an old bank that was vacant and I guess a CPK that was hanging on, to this walking path that meanders through the project, a nice hotel with the first ever—and I think this is one of the biggest selling points—rooftop swimming pool on a hotel, and the views from the top of that Kimpton pool are going to be outstanding. And then people will be able to walk through a mix of retail, residential and restaurants … and of course, behind that is the new central park, which will be directly in front of the museum. So that’s what I see.

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

I think Palm Springs is a safe city to live in—a very, very safe city to live in. Does it have crime? Absolutely. It mostly, thank god, is limited to property crime—crimes of opportunity. In other words, we’re not a very dangerous place to live. You can go shopping and, unlike in Los Angeles, you don’t really have to be afraid of being held up at gunpoint in this town, and I’m proud of that—that we’ve got a very safe city.

But, and I mean this very sincerely, we do see a rise in property crimes. I’ve been chairman of (the Coachella Valley Association of Government’s) public safety committee for the past two years, and we’ve been studying very closely the effects of two laws: One is known as AB109, and the other is Prop 47. AB109 came first, and what that did was reclassify and remand people who would normally be housed in state prison, and sent them instead to county jails. So the class of prisoner that would normally be in state prison now started filling up our jail system. That forced us to increase early releases of other people, and then on the heels of that, the voters approved Prop 47, which reclassified a whole other set of crimes, most especially drug possession and stealing property less than $950—those become misdemeanors now, whereas before, they would be felonies. The result is, yeah, criminals surprisingly, are not dumb. They may be dumb on some level in their life choices, but they are learning to exploit this loophole where they know that, “Hey, if I go in, and all I do is steal a $500 TV, a flatscreen, that’s just a misdemeanor. I’m not going to be faced with prison time.” So that’s a perverse outcome, an unintended outcome of this law.

What we need to do about it? I think we need more feet on the beat. So what are we doing? We added a new lieutenant to our police force, and that’s the command-staff level, right? Because you can’t add more frontline officers until you have enough people to oversee them. So that’s step one. Step two is, most police agencies are having trouble filling gaps in their hiring. So we fully funded our police department, but due to the very, very high standards that we have in Palm Springs for background checks and how they score on their tests and things like that, we’ve been having trouble filling the vacancies that we have. So I think that one of the things we need to do as a city is look at: How we do we incentivize what are known as lateral transfers? … I’m looking for someone who meets our high standards, and I’d like to attract those laterals who already have a few years of experience under their belt so they can hit the ground running when they arrive here, rather than go through 18 months of training in preparation before they’re ready. I think we need a mix of both overall, and I know our chief of police is very, very good at determining who’s a good hire, and who’s a bad hire.

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

The FBI investigation has to be fully carried out, and everyone at City Hall needs to cooperate to the fullest extent. I don’t think I can be more explicit, can I?

I think a lot of people use the word transparency without understanding it. It’s become a bit of a buzzword in this campaign cycle, but, really, we need to know: What does it all mean? Fundamentally, every elected official has the obligation to not just recuse themselves, but explain what their relationship is, and why they’re recusing themselves on something. You could have all the transparency rules in the world you want; if someone chooses not to volunteer that information, how would someone else know? You know, ethics is what you do when no one’s looking.

I’m completely open to new ideas on how we can be more transparent, without a doubt, because it’s been heartbreaking. It’s been my first time in public office. I’m from this town, and it’s heartbreaking to watch this happen, but you’ve got to realize something: I learned about this the same way you did, which is through The Desert Sun. OK, so not only that; I’m the councilmember (who) when I learned about it, I called for an independent investigation to find out what the truth of some of this was. Did we make a mistake? Did we not? What’s going on here? And thirdly, when it was revealed that the mayor had voted improperly on a land transaction, I’m the guy who picked up the phone and said, “We’ve got to cancel that transaction entirely,” and that’s what happened. So from my perspective, when I learned about something, I acted on it. What else can I do? We don’t have staff to investigate each other; that doesn’t exist, so people are going to have to be honest. This is a sad day, but it’s necessary.

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

I am really glad you’re asking this question, and more importantly, I’m really glad that the community cares about this question, because four years ago, I don’t think the public was really looking for a lot of humane solutions. The city was broke at the time, four years ago; we didn’t any extra money. So there were a lot of proposals to try to push people out—make it illegal to camp, make it illegal to panhandle, things like that. … Now the city’s turned the corner financially; we do have some extra resources. We also have this political will in the community to spend that money on more humane options.

So first of all, the homelessness task force is comprised of the right people to come up with the solutions. In my heart, I know there has to be a housing element. It’s very, very important. We’ve got (a dedicated police officer) who walks around to different encampments, but right now, he can’t say to them, “Hey, if you’re ready to get off the streets, we’ve got a place for you to go.” My hope is that when this process is done—when we’re done working with our stakeholders, with our experts in the field—we’re going to devote a significant amount of money to doing just that. Some people call it “housing first”; there are a lot of different labels for it, but I think offering a more humane option, other than, “Here’s a ticket for illegal camping; now go away,” is a priority for me.

I’m interested in the other things that have come about, because there are issues of basic sanitation—where people can store their personal goods. If you’re homeless, you only have a few possessions in your name, correct? That’s why you see encampments set up, is because, gosh, you barely have anything, so you don’t want to lose anything that you have. I’m hoping that the people that we’re working with, like Arlene Rosenthal of Well in the Desert, and people from Jewish Family Services—hopefully, we’ll have some ideas on what we do, so that people’s lives can be improved.

I don’t mind telling you this also: In the end, we’re not going to solve homelessness. We might transition some people out of it, but I’ve talked to a lot of people who are homeless, and a lot of people who work with that population, and there’s a very strong consensus that in that population, there’s a certain group that has become so habituated in that lifestyle, that there’s really nothing you can do to change it, outside of forcing someone against their will.

I think what we as citizens need to focus on is twofold. No. 1, through Roy’s Resource Center, we have helped 2,000 people get out of homelessness and back into stable housing, and you don’t see those people, because they’re success stories. Now the question is: What are we going to do with this much more difficult population that’s become very habituated to living outside in a lifestyle, as they call it, camping? How do we entice them and encourage them, in a voluntary manner, to accept living like the rest of us? It will be very interesting, but if we get 25 percent of them off the streets and into something more stable, I think that’s a win. If we do more, that’s an even better win.

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

You know, that’s an interesting question. Intuitively, just at an emotional level, I like the at-large system, because I am forced to, and it’s my obligation, to represent everyone in the city. I worry (that) in district elections, we’ll be pitting neighborhood against neighborhood. Now, if we were a very large city geographically, or population-wise, like Los Angeles, I really think it’s important to have district elections in environments like that, because, at that point, if you don’t have a district, you could just become too isolated from the voters entirely. But in a little town like Palm Springs, I think it’s something we should tread carefully on, and really examine the implications of having five council members, each representing just a geographic area. What would that do? So I don’t have a strong opinion. Those are my concerns. It’s something I think the community needs to have a conversation about.

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

I’m not going to answer that! I’m running for me. No one should answer that question. If they’re running, they’re running for themselves. I will say this, though: For the first time in a long time, I’m greatly relieved to see that the majority of candidates who are running for office in this cycle are mature, responsible, worthy representatives.

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

That dear friend is going to have to spend several nights. This is not a one-restaurant town. I think I’d make them eat my famous grilled steaks in my backyard and enjoy a good glass of wine with them.

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

I’d really like to have a bookstore. I miss having a bookstore, but I know it’s not likely, because Amazon has changed that model.

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

I’ve got to say Splash House. They are all fantastic, first of all. I just really, really love all of (the annual events), and I hope you’re going to print that, because I’m just going to get everyone angry at me for this. Splash House, to me, is so important, because it’s the first major event to take place in the summer time, and it’s bringing in a very important demographic, which is the millennial demographic, and they are getting introduced to the Palm Springs brand for the first time, and having a very positive experience. We know that if they come here when they’re young, they’ll come back throughout their lives, and over time, they’ll end up buying second houses or moving and relocating here. Attracting the millennial generation is really a key part of our long term economic growth. (Editor’s Note: Lewin later made a point to disclose the fact that his girlfriend is involved with Splash House.)

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

First of all, I don’t think the FBI comes in and breaks things. … I have a painting that’s done by a very famous artist, and I wouldn’t anything to happen to it. It was given to me by my father, and I would want to be broken. The FBI doesn’t break stuff. … I would grab my dog and my cat, quite frankly, now that I think about it. I do not want them broken. I would rather my painting get busted up than my dog or my cat.

Published in Politics

It’s now been more than seven months since an Arenas Road murals project, planned and funded by Venus Studios Art Supply owner Debra Ann Mumm, was shut down by Palm Springs police after city officials claimed the project was illegal—even though the city Public Arts Commission had endorsed the project.

It’s now been more than six months since the Palm Springs City Council, in the wake of the controversy caused by the shutdown of Mumm’s mural project, approved a much-needed mural-approval process.

However, since these two events, it’s been all quiet on the Palm Springs murals front.

Mumm still has plans for mural projects in the city, she said. In fact, she has a mockup of a mural she’s planning for the Arenas Road side of LuLu California Bistro. However, she has not yet started the daunting and expensive journey that is now the city of Palm Springs mural process.

Still, Mumm said she is happy there is finally a policy and process in place.

“They made a process where there wasn’t one,” Mumm said. “In that sense, there’s a procedure now, and that’s fantastic. Is it harder? No, because there’s nothing to compare it to previously. My feeling is that’s progress, and that’s an improvement on the situation. At least there’s a way to actually do it legally now.”

One of the reasons Mumm has not yet started the approval process is that she needs to raise the money for the mural—including almost $1,900 that would go to the city just to apply.

The procedure set forth by the city of Palm Springs includes a processing fee of $1,000, plus a notification fee of $872, which must be submitted along with detailed drawings including samples, and background information on the mural artist. Also required: a detailed site plan, photos of the proposed mural location (including neighboring properties), notice labels for all property owners within 500 feet of the proposed mural site, an agreement by the property owner, and a maintenance plan.

Mumm said she figured the process will take at least three months.

“You go before the Planning Commission first, and then the Planning Commission sends your application to the Architectural Advisory Committee to make notes. … After the Architectural Advisory Committee makes notes, then you go to the Public Arts Commission, and then after all those approvals have been met, it finally goes to City Council.”

Murals done before the approval process was enacted, such as the one at Bar, located at 340 N. Palm Canyon Drive, were not grandfathered in, meaning owners will need to go through that process. In fact, it was the mural at Bar, painted in November 2013 by Fin DAC and Angelina Christina, that started a debate among Palm Springs residents and city officials about murals.

Reggie Cameron, a Bar spokesman, said via e-mail that the Funkey family, which owns Bar, is currently going through the process of getting the mural approved. “(They) are currently working on the application, but had to wait until the new Art Commission and Planning Commission came into place. … They were sworn in this September/October, so it won’t be on the agenda for some time. They have been in communication with the city regarding the mural.”

Mumm said she did not feel like the city is trying to make it overly difficult to get a mural approved.

“I don’t think the application process is meant to be a deterrent,” she said. “I think it’s meant to make sure that what does go up is of quality, and it’s something that everyone has an opportunity to voice their opinion on before rather than after.”

City Councilmember Paul Lewin cast the sole vote against the mural-approval process in May. (Ginny Foat was absent from that meeting.) He declined to speak to the Independent about the process in person or over the phone, but agreed to answer questions via email. He said he still has concerns about the process.

“I do believe that having a process for murals to be approved is a good thing, because art in public places should have a process where the public can weigh in with their opinion. I do not, however, think that we came up with a particularly good process. That is why I voted against the ordinance,” Lewin wrote.

He suggested what he believes would be a better plan.

“I would have rather seen an easier, more-streamlined process,” Lewin wrote. “I think that if we had asked the Public Arts Commission to identify five or six buildings that would be good candidates for murals, and took public comments during that process, we could have created an environment where there was far less uncertainty for proposed murals. In essence, the locations could have been pre-approved, and thus the (application fees) would be lower. All that would be debated would be the artistic merits of the piece.”

He expressed concerns that the process may be too difficult for artists and property owners.

“Nothing in life or public policy is perfect. So again, it is good that we now have a process that will allow for mural art,” he wrote. “However, I feel that the ordinance as crafted is simply too burdensome on the artists and property owners, and does not really further the cause of bringing mural art to the community.

“I hope to be proven wrong.”

Published in Local Issues

It’s official: Authorized murals will be coming to the city of Palm Springs.

After months of controversy—starting with the painting of a provocative mural at Bar on Palm Canyon Drive, and going through the police-led shutdown of the PLANet Art mural project last month—the Palm Springs City Council voted 3-1 to enact a mural-approval process.

Paul Lewin cast the only opposing vote, citing concerns that the new policy was not restricted enough. (Councilmember Ginny Foat was absent from the capacity-crowd meeting.)

The ordinance states that any mural plans must go through a multi-step process, and get approval from bodies including the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission and, ultimately, the Palm Springs City Council. Existing murals, such as the one at Bar, are not grandfathered in, and must get approval. The ordinance had fairly widespread support, including the endorsement of the Main Street Palm Springs merchants association.

The first public speaker at the meeting was Kim Funkey. Her family owns the Smoketree Supper Club, Giuseppe’s and Bar in Palm Springs. It was the mural at Bar, painted in November by Fin DAC and Angelina Christina, that sparked the mural debate in Palm Springs.

“I’ve seen my hometown evolve over the years,” Funkey told the City Council, “from a city of empty streets and vacant storefronts, to a place that’s vibrant and bustling with economic activity. Palm Springs is in the midst of a commercial and cultural renaissance that my family is very proud to be a part of. (Our) mural at Bar has drawn accolades from international media such as USA Today, as well as local residents and visitors from around the world.”

Funkey said the city’s cultural renaissance is being noticed by a wide variety of people.

“(This is) a place many of my childhood classmates fled from, but because of this activity, several have returned and are now proud to call Palm Springs their home.”

Following Funkey was Angela Romeo, of the City of Palm Springs Public Arts Commission. She spoke passionately about terms such as “signage” and “art.”

“What’s interesting about this ordinance is that it’s very comprehensive in that it does distinguish between signage and art, which the city was lacking,” Romeo said. “What we need to understand is that murals are not alien; they’re not a crime against humanity. It’s just we had no permission for them. A vibrant art community is great for economic development. If you want to bring tourists here, you have to give them something to look at.”

When it came time for the council to discuss the issue, member Rick Hutcheson declared support for the ordinance.

“I think it has a place in our city. I think this is a careful process, and it’s been recommended by a good friend of mine who used to be part of the mural organization for Los Angeles,” he said. “It’s great to have a process for this, and I think this a good step forward,” Hutcheson said.

Councilmember Chris Mills raised questions about some of the language in the ordinance—specifically, a rule limiting murals to being 35 feet tall. He wondered, for example, if an artist could paint only 35 feet of a wall if it was taller than that. The size limit was removed from the ordinance at his request.

Councilmember Paul Lewin unsuccessfully proposed limiting the amount of murals visible along Palm Canyon Drive and Indian Canyon Drive to five, with an additional five allowed elsewhere in the city. He also proposed, again unsuccessfully, painting the murals on a surface that could be detached or removed by property owners.

“What that will do is allow the city to digest and experience it,” Lewin said.

Debra Ann Mumm, the owner of Palm Desert’s Venus Studios Art Supply, was one of the organizers of the PLANET Art murals project, which brought in renowned artists to create four murals along Arenas Road in April. The project was shut down by Palm Springs police, despite the fact that Mumm had earned approval from the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission.

She said the PLANET Art project is probably on hold until the fall. She now needs to submit plans for the four murals to the city.

“We’re going into summer, so I don’t think I can get these guys from the Bay Area to come down until it cools down a bit.”

When asked about Lewin’s comments about removable artwork, Mumm said it’s not really possible.

“I thought it was an unusual request,” Mumm said. “I’ve never heard of anything like that before for a mural program. Murals are traditionally painted on walls. I understand what he was going for, but it’s a different beast. How are you going to cover the Lulu building with removable material?”

Published in Local Issues