CVIndependent

Wed04242019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians made it perfectly clear to the city of Palm Springs: The tribe strongly objects to Measure C, the ballot initiative that would effectively ban vacation rentals, which will be decided on by Palm Springs voters on June 5.

“The tribe is concerned that this ban is onerous and unnecessary restriction of the use of allotted trust land,” said the letter from Tom Davis, tribe’s chief planning and development officer, hand-delivered to City Manager David Ready. “The complete prohibition of vacation rentals in R1 zones is an extreme action that will likely only serve to drive this activity ‘underground.’”

According to city records, approximately 770 of the 1,986 permitted short-term vacation rentals are on tribal land. As a sovereign nation, the tribe does not need to implement any of Palm Springs’ ordinances when it comes to properties built on its reservation.

After sharing the letter with me, Davis—who started working for the tribe more than a quarter-century ago, when current Chairman Jeff Grubbe was still in high school—agreed to an email interview.

What is the main concern for the tribe regarding the possible ban on short-term rentals in Palm Springs?

The tribe believes that a total ban on short-term vacation rentals is overly restrictive and, in certain cases, contrary to the principle of highest and best use of allotted trust land.

What are the tribe’s legal options in the case?

Land-use regulation is under the tribe’s sovereign authority. However, allotted trust lands in Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage and parts of the county are subject to our land-use agreements with those jurisdictions. These land-use agreements allow for local jurisdictions to regulate land use, and all decisions are appealable to the Tribal Council for final decision.

You have been with the tribe for decades. Has there ever been a situation like this before?

Nothing specifically like this. However, in 2004, there was a referendum of the city’s rezoning of “Section 14,” a square mile in downtown that is reservation land master-planned by the tribe and rezoned in cooperation (with) the city. The referendum was sponsored by labor unions. A “yes” vote approved the City Council’s decision, and it passed.

On a brighter note, the tribe just announced plans for a new downtown Palm Springs cultural center.

The tribe invites the community to its groundbreaking at 9 a.m., Friday, May 11, of its new 5.8-acre cultural center in the heart of downtown Palm Springs that celebrates the history, culture and traditions of the Agua Caliente people.

What is the timeline for finishing the project?

The groundbreaking will be at the corner of Indian Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way, and kicks off a two-year construction cycle to build a new cultural museum; an Agua Caliente Spa and Bathhouse that celebrates the tribe’s ancient Agua Caliente hot mineral spring; a gathering plaza; gardens; and an Oasis Trail. The project is on target to open in 2020.

Simultaneously, the tribe is making plans for an expansion of the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage. More on that?

The tribal environmental impact report will study the potential environmental impacts of an expansion of the resort that may include expanding the gaming area by up to 58,000 square feet; meeting space by up to 41,000 square feet; the food, beverage and retail space by 25,000 square feet; and the development of up to 310 new hotel rooms in 364,000 square feet of hotel space. About 120,000 square feet of new commercial space is also being considered to the south of the resort. Like any environmental analyses, the tribe’s environmental report will study the maximum development potential and use that information to refine the project.

There are also plans for a new casino in Cathedral City.

The tribe proposes to build a gaming facility and ancillary amenities on land that it owns contiguous to the tribe’s reservation within the city of Cathedral City. As part of the proposed project, an application has been filed with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take approximately 13 acres of land into trust on behalf of the tribe for gaming purposes. The federal actions necessary to implement the proposed project trigger the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. The tribe proposes to develop and operate a gaming facility and ancillary amenities on the project site, which has been previously developed. The proposed project is planned to be designed and constructed in multiple phases and ultimately consists of the development of a casino, parking, bars, restaurants, retail and mixed-use space, and tribal government office space.

Published in Local Issues

Vacation rentals are one of the most contentious issues in Palm Springs—and on June 5, voters in the city will decide on a measure that opponents say would effectively ban vacation rentals, if approved.

Measure C is the culmination of a battle that’s been brewing for more than a decade over short-term rentals, or STRs. The housing-market crash during the Great Recession created an STR boom in Palm Springs, as buyers both local and from out of town snapped up foreclosed-property bargains, and later turned them into vacation rentals.

The problem is that these homes—available for weekend getaways and short retreats through Airbnb and other services, and at times the sites of rather raucous parties—are intermingled with homes occupied by full- and part-time residents.

According to Rob Grimm, the campaign manager for Palm Springs Neighbors for Neighborhoods—the group that got Measure C placed on the June ballot—there are 1,986 units registered as vacation rentals and home shares, which hosted an estimated 467,000 visitors in 2017.

“This is an alarming number of strangers to be rotating in and out of unsupervised mini-hotels located in residential neighborhoods,” said Grimm.

However, city officials claim that the STR issue is under control, thanks to strict enforcement of the city’s newish vacation rental compliance ordinance.

“We are one of the only cities in California that has a dedicated Vacation Rental Compliance Department,” said Boris Stark, a vacation-rental code-compliance officer. “Our latest ordinance … was a collaboration among community stakeholders and city leadership. It addresses neighborhood concerns head-on.”

Stark said the department includes eight officers and two vehicles. I personally have seen VRC officers working, often late at night and on weekends, to enforce the city’s ordinance. (I wanted to go on a ride-along with Stark, but City Manager David Ready did not respond to my request.)

The city makes hefty revenues from the STRs.

“For fiscal year 2016-17, total (transient occupancy tax) dollars from vacation rentals was $7.58 million, and for 2017-18, we anticipate the same,” Stark said. “Vacation Rental Compliance issued over 430 citations for various violations in 2017.”

Grimm said no neighborhood in Palm Springs has been unaffected by STRs.

“The city has refused to entertain density limits on the number of STRs allowed in the city,” he said.

Measure C has attracted fierce opposition in the form of a coalition called We Love Palm Springs. According to Jeremy Ogul, the coalition’s media relations coordinator, opposition to the STR ban comes from groups including Vacation Rental Owners and Neighbors of Palm Springs, representing nearly 400 homeowners; the Palm Springs Hospitality Association, with about 200 hotels, restaurants and attraction venues in the city; the Palm Springs Regional Association of Realtors; and the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, among other groups.

“We oppose Measure C because of the devastating impact it would have on the Palm Springs economy,” said Nona Watson, CEO of the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, in a news release.

While a majority of vacation rentals are owned by people who are not residents of Palm Springs, local entrepreneurs have also invested in STRs. Athalie LaPamuk owns and manages two vacation rentals in the city. She also owns and operates Ice Cream and Shop(pe) at the Arrive Hotel.

“I often meet visitors at my vacation rental who are excited to plan a return trip to stay at the hotel, or guests at the hotel who want to come back and stay in a vacation rental,” LaPamuk said in a news release. “Those are some of the same people who end up moving here and starting businesses here. The point is that our city benefits from all this tourism activity.”

Both sides fervently believe they are acting in the city’s best interests.

“It is time for the residents of Palm Springs to decide what their neighborhoods should look like,” Grimm said.

Published in Local Issues