CVIndependent

Thu06042020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Out of the Ashes: Bernie’s Lounge and Supper Club Begins Rebuilding Process

At Bernie’s Lounge and Supper Club, it was supposed to be a Christmas day to celebrate. The year-old restaurant, located at 292 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, had dinner reservations for 170 people on the books.

However, on the morning of Dec. 25, while a couple of employees began preparing in the kitchen for the busy night, something went terribly wrong: An electrical fire began in the ceiling over the dining room.

Within a couple hours, the restaurant had burned to the ground. Bernie’s owners Rand Howell and Geoff McIntosh, while in shock, scrambled to find new reservations for their customers, and new jobs for their employees.

The only saving grace: The two employees made it out of the building unharmed.

“Initially, it was very devastating,” McIntosh said.

One month later, the feelings of devastation have largely faded, McIntosh said, and the owners are now working on the rebuilding process. There’s also another silver lining in the dark cloud.

“Everybody who wanted a job was able to find one within two to three weeks,” McIntosh said, praising his fellow local restaurateurs who stepped in to help his staffers.

At first, McIntosh and Howell looked into reopening Bernie’s in an existing building at another location. However, those plans fell through.

“We just couldn’t put it together,” he said.

McIntosh and Howell are now planning on rebuilding Bernie’s in the same location, which they own, he said. There’s another, smaller building on their property that they may demolish to build a new Bernie’s that’s bigger and better than ever.

“We had outgrown our space by the second month we were open,” McIntosh laughed.

McIntosh said the current plan is to expand both the lounge and dining areas just a bit. The biggest changes, though, will involve improving the traffic flow by widening aisles and fixing the fact that in the old building, there was only one, hard-to-access door in and out of the kitchen—which led to constant traffic jams.

When can customers expect the new Bernie’s to rise from the ashes? McIntosh said that optimistic estimates say the new building’s doors could open within seven or eight months, but he thinks a year is more realistic.

“All the layers of government approval we’ll need will take two to three months, probably, by themselves,” he said.

McIntosh praised the restaurant’s insurance company, Farmers Insurance, for moving quickly thus far. In fact, the business-interruption insurance is paying key management employees to stay on while the restaurant is rebuilt, McIntosh said.

Keep your fingers crossed for the good people at Bernie’s. Follow the rebuilding progress, and get updates on former Bernie’s employees, at www.facebook.com/Berniesfans.

In Brief

Bontá Restaurant and Bar is now open and serving modern European and Latin fare at 68510 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Cathedral City, in the spot formerly occupied by Picanha Churrascaria. More info at bontarestaurant.com. … Loco Charlie’s Mexican Grill opened in January at 1751 N. Sunrise Way, near World Gym in Palm Springs. The restaurant’s website promises “one of a kind, authentic Mexican cuisine” that is “made with the freshest ingredients possible.” Visit that website, mylococharlies.com, for more info. … King’s Highway, the diner at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, at 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, launched all-new, expanded menus in mid-January. The restaurant is following in the footsteps of the Ace Hotel L.A., which recently revamped its restaurant with the help of the folks behind Five Leaves in Brooklyn, N.Y.—meaning Five Leaves influences can be found on the Palm Springs menus, too. Highlights include the avocado toast for breakfast, and the Five Leaves burger (including grilled pineapple, pickled beets and a sunny-side-up egg) for lunch and dinner. … Want to get out of the house to enjoy the Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 22? Trio Restaurant, at 707 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, is hosting its annual “Hollywood’s Biggest Night” party, to benefit the AIDS Assistance Program. Get tickets, starting at $125, at aidsassistance.org. If you’re closer to Indian Wells, consider the Red Carpet Oscar Party at Vicky’s of Santa Fe, at 45100 Club Drive. Tickets are $85, and the event benefits Variety—The Children's Charity of the Desert. Call 760-345-9770 to reserve. … Congrats to Shanghai Reds, the popular back-area bar and restaurant at Palm Springs’ Fisherman’s Market and Grill, located at 235 S. Indian Canyon Drive, for completing an expansion of the patio. There’s now more seating and a better music stage. ... If you haven’t heard already: The Asian-cuisine scene of the Coachella Valley is now worse off due to the apparent closing of Jiao, the Foundation 10-owned restaurant that was located at 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Hard Rock Replaces Sessions With Simon Kitchen + Bar

Another celebrity chef is coming to the Coachella Valley.

Simon Kitchen + Bar, a restaurant under the direction of Kerry Simon, is slated to open in mid-September at the Hard Rock, located at 150 S. Indian Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. It’s replacing Sessions, which had occupied the Hard Rock’s restaurant space since the remodeling of the former Hotel Zozo.

“Palm Springs is hot right now,” Simon said in a news release. “I’m very excited to be a part of this laid-back, hipster getaway. The menu that I’ve developed for Simon Kitchen + Bar is a little edgy, a little fun and full of contemporary takes on the comfort foods we all love.”

As for that menu: It will include “an emphasis on sharing,” with “sandwiches, entrées and stone-oven flatbreads. Social plates include tempura green beans made with pepper jelly and cream cheese; bacon jam served with baked brie and toasted baguette; and ‘devil’s eggs’ complete with crispy pancetta and caviar.”

Sounds tasty to us. Simon should be a good fit for the Hard Rock; after all, Rolling Stone once called him the “Rock ’n’ Roll Chef.”

Watch www.hrhpalmsprings.com for updates and more information.

Cactusberry Getting a Remodel and a Concept Tweak

Cactusberry, the popular frozen-yogurt shop in the Smoke Tree Village Shopping Center at 1775 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, is going in a slightly new direction following a change in ownership.

Johnny Ramirez Jr. and Dale Sutherland are the new owners. After they got the keys, they closed the shop for remodeling. Ramirez tells the Independent they hope to reopen around Oct. 1.

“We are taking ‘Cactusberry Frozen Yogurt’ and expanding the brand, but keeping the same great tastes, as well as adding new items like gelato and frozen custard,” Ramirez said via email. “Our new name in honor of this expansion is ‘Cactusberry+ Frozen Treats.’ We hope to become the Coachella Valley’s go-to shop for frozen treats and drinks!”

Watch Cactusberry’s website (cactusberryplusps.com) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/CactusberryPlus) for updates and more information.

TRIO, Purple Room Shaking Things Up Just a Bit

Trio and the Purple Room, the popular restaurants in Palm Springs owned by Tony Marchese and Mark Van Laanen, are both going through some minor yet welcome changes.

At TRIO, located at 707 N. Palm Canyon Drive, executive chef Van Laanen recently introduced weekly specials to complement the tried-and-true menu. Every week, TRIO is offering an all-day drink special and three new dinner dishes.

“We love pairing fresh ingredients with distinctive flavors, and we are thrilled to cook up these new specials,” Van Laanen said in a news release.

For example, the specials ending the week of Sept. 4 are seared Cajun ahi tuna and carrot cucumber slaw with pickled ginger wasabi; a USDA New York strip steak with caramelized onions and sautéed wild mushrooms; and pan-roasted barramundi with mango pico de gallo and sweet saffron butter sauce. The drink special is the “TRIO Fizz,” featuring muddled orange, Absolut Mandarin, orange juice, lemon juice and soda.

Watch www.triopalmsprings.com for a list of specials throughout September.

Meanwhile, the Purple Room, inside Club Trinidad at 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, was slated to reopen after a month off on Thursday, Aug. 28. The slightly rebranded Purple Room Restaurant and Stage also has a new chef and a new menu; a “peek” was posted on the Purple Room Facebook page shortly before the Independent’s press deadline. The new menu includes a wide variety of modern cuisine, ranging from a Brussels sprout salad as a starter ($10) to filet Oscar ($36) and chicken paillards ($23) as main courses.

Head over to www.facebook.com/purpleroomrestaurantstage to get gobs more information on the Purple Room, including a list of upcoming shows.

In Brief

After a seemingly endless construction period, Pho Vu is finally open at 285 S. Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs. … The transformation is complete: The former Chop House Palm Desert has been converted into the Kaiser Grille Palm Desert. The moderately priced restaurant at 74040 Highway 111 is now open. … Tell your beer-loving friends in Arizona that offerings from Coachella Valley Brewing Company will soon be available there, thanks to a distribution deal with Young’s Market Company. … The Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club, which opened in June with the first 2014 Splash House, closed with the second 2014 Splash House in August. However, management says the closure is only temporary, and that the Hacienda will reopen on Friday, Sept. 26. … The Bootlegger Tiki bar is slated to soon debut at 140 W. Via Lola, Suite 1101, in the back of the building occupied by Ernest Coffee. … Stuft Pizza Bar and Grill, which has been a La Quinta staple for almost a decade, recently opened a second location in the Westfield Palm Desert at 72840 Highway 111. Get more info at www.stuftpizzabarandgrill.com.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Crave Dessert Restaurant Re-Opening in New Digs

Crave, which its owners tout as Palm Springs’ first dessert restaurant, is reopening in a bigger space at 6 p.m., Friday, Oct. 18.

The restaurant—which opened in 2011 at 390 N. Palm Canyon Drive—has a new home at 301 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 200. The new spot is on the second story and features two patios. Customers will now be able to enjoy tasty dessert treats, coffee, beer and wine while overlooking the goings-on at the Amado Road intersection.

Crave does not only have new digs; it also has some new owners: Original owner Davy Aker has been joined by Raymond McCallister and Larry Abel, co-owners of businesses including Abel McCallister Designs and the Party Lab.

Crave will be open Wednesday through Sunday. Watch www.craveps.com for more info.

Fantasy Springs Launches Cupcake Challenge

Cupcakes for a good cause—has there ever been a sweeter clause?

Forgive the bad poetry (or whatever the heck that was); we’re excited about the second annual Fantasy Cupcake Challenge, taking place from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 17, at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio.

Here’s how it works: Pros and non-pros alike can enter (by Sunday, Oct. 20) for prizes up to $750. Entrants then bake up a whole bunch of cupcakes (including four full-size entries and at least 300 tastes) and bring them in. The general public is invited to enjoy those tastes—tickets are $30, or $10 for kids age 3 to 11—and vote for their favorites while perusing a silent auction and enjoying live music.

Best of all: Proceeds go to Well in the Desert. In that spirit, anyone bringing three canned/nonperishable goods to the box office on the day of the event gets $5 off admission.

Yum. And yay!

Get more details at www.fantasyspringsresort.com/cupcakes.

Purple Room Update: Opening Planned for Oct. 24

More details have emerged about the revival of the Purple Room at Club Trinidad.

As we’ve previously reported, TRIO owners Tony Marchese and Mark Van Laanen have taken over management of the space at 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, which has had a controversial year. Well, we now have an opening date: Thursday, Oct. 24, at 3 p.m.

The supper club and lounge will offer live music booked by Gary and Joan Gand, of the Gand Band, and will feature food service until midnight Tuesday through Thursday, as well as Sunday—with service going until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

“Our Continental menu will have a mix of everything,” Van Laanen said in a news release. “From deviled eggs and Sloppy Joe sliders to fresh seafood and steaks, we’ll have delicious options for every palate.”

Get more details at purpleroompalmsprings.com.

In Brief

The Miramonte Resort and Spa, 45000 Indian Wells Lane, Indian Wells, is launching a series of wine events for the season. “Le Serate di Vino” events will feature wines complemented with the food of executive chef Robert Nyerick; the first event, on Friday, Oct. 25, will be the Oyster Bay progressive wine dinner, with five New Zealand wines paired with hors d’oeuvres, three savory courses and dessert, all for $75. Call 760-341-7200 for reservations or more info. … Dragon Sushi, in the 68300 block of East Palm Canyon in Cathedral City, is now open. As reported in this space before, it’s the sister restaurant of the much-loved Dragon Sushi in Indio. … Giuseppe’s Pizza and Pasta, 1775 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, held a Make My Pizza Challenge contest last month. Almost 200 folks entered, and the finalists were vetted on Sept. 19. The winning pizza: Christopher Giusto’s eggplant Parmesan pizza, featuring red sauce, breaded eggplant medallions, roast garlic, basil and ricotta cheese (pictured above). That’s not the only news from the Funkey family, which owns Giuseppe’s (as well as Bar in downtown Palm Springs): Next to Giuseppe’s is their soon-to-open Smoke Tree Supper Club. Watch for further details. … Bernie’s Lounge and Supper Club, featuring food by chef Jason Moffitt, will be opening soon at 292 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. … Earlier this year, a Kickstarter campaign went live with this pitch: “My name is Kelly McFall. With the help of my brother Kreg and my mother Jan, we are opening a restaurant in the El Paseo shopping district of Palm Desert." It went on: "Wilma and Frieda’s Cafe will be a full service breakfast and lunch farmhouse cafe with an urban twist.” The needed $50,000 was raised, and now the café, at 73575 El Paseo Drive, is open; details at www.wilmafrieda.com.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

The Purple Room Returns to Its 1960s Roots

After a quite a turbulent year, the Purple Room, located at the Club Trinidad (1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs) is getting a renovation and new management that could turn it into one of the valley’s coolest spots.

TRIO owners Tony Marchese and Mark Van Laanen have taken over the spot. They are keeping mum on some specifics, but they have set up a Facebook page and a website featuring a swanky logo and the tagline “Supper club, drinks and live music. It’s where Palm Springs plays.” We hear that a late October opening is in the works.

The website offers this description: “In the early ’60s, Palm Springs’ Purple Room at Club Trinidad became the sweet spot of the swinging supper club scene. Cats like Frank and Dino hung with their pals to eat, drink and play.

“The Purple Room reopens with its pedigree legacy in mind. Swanky décor and state-of-the-art sound for the best live music in town.”

It’s official: I am excited!

Head to the website to apply for a gig, join the newsletter list, or get more information.

Help People Help the Blind

The Desert Blind and Handicapped Association has two fantastic food-related events coming up—during which you can help out the organization just by having a good time.

First up: On Wednesday, Sept. 18, the organization—which offers transportation for those who are disabled—will be having a fundraising dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. at Nicolino’s Italian Restaurant, 35325 Date Palm Drive, No. 111, in Cathedral City. Tickets for the meal—which include salad, a soft drink, garlic bread, carrot cake and one of four entrées—are just $25.

Next up is one of the first events of the social/charity event season: The Fall Garden Party takes place from 2 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 5, at Copley’s on Palm Canyon, 621 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. The event will feature wearable fine art fashions by Lon Michels, and jewelry by Alexis Hunter (a Independent) contributor, modeled by local celebrities. Add in music by cellist Ray Kelley, emceeing by the incomparable Brian Wanzek (you may know him better as Bella da Ball), hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar, and a swanky good time should be had by all; tickets are $50.

For tickets to either event or for more information, head to www.desertblind.org, or call 760-440-7720.

Have a Slice to Help a Great Woman With a Terrible Disease

Andie Jaeger—the mother of three (ages 2, 6 and 11), and the wife of Kurt Jaeger, of Indio’s Jaeger Metal—is in the midst of one hell of a fight.

According to publicist Tim O’Bayley, here’s the story: “Andie suffered a seizure while out with her husband and two of her three children. She was rushed to Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage. … After two spinal taps, (various) MRIs, and a biopsy, on Aug. 23, the doctors confirmed the worst, and Andie was diagnosed with Glioblastoma. Gliobastoma is the most common and most aggressive malignant primary brain tumor in humans. Her treatment protocol is still being decided but will likely include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.”

Friends and loved ones have rallied behind the Jaeger family by organizing a series of fundraisers intended to help the Jaegers with what will be one horrible medical bill. On Wednesday, Sept. 18, from 5 p.m. to close, The Slice, at 72775 Dinah Shore Drive, in Rancho Mirage, will donate 20 percent of each purchase (except for happy-hour menu items) to Andie.

On Saturday, Sept. 28, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., various local Zumba instructors will team up to teach a class—limited to 35 people—at Inspired Fitness Studio, 78078 Country Club Drive, in Bermuda Dunes. Admission is $10, and $5 raffle tickets will be available; email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in advance for tickets.

Finally, on Sunday, Oct. 6, the Classic Club, located at 75200 Classic Club Blvd., in Palm Desert, will host the Thinking Happy Thoughts for Andie Golf Tournament. Registration begins at 7 a.m., and costs $150, or $500 for a foursome. Lunch will be provided.

Register for the tourney or get more info on these events at www.thinkinghappythoughts.org.

In Brief

The New York Company Restaurant, 1260 S. Palm Canyon Drive (a space formerly occupied by Brushfire), is opening this Friday, Sept. 20. (The restaurant announced an opening date several weeks earlier, too, only to take it back due to “processing” delays. More info at www.thenewyorkcompanyrestaurant.com. … Dragon Sushi, located at 82451 Highway 111 in Indio, is opening another location, in the shopping center in the 68300 block of Palm Canyon Drive in Cathedral City that once was home to Frickleburgers.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

What: The Wedge Salad Trio Style

Where: TRIO Restaurant, 707 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $10

Contact info: 760-864-8746; www.triopalmsprings.com

Why: The ingredients are in perfect balance.

A while back, a local steakhouse that shall go unnamed offered a wedge salad as part of a prix-fixe special—and that wedge salad did not include bacon.

The menu was accurate—bacon was not mentioned in the description—but I did not notice this fact until I went back and looked later, because HOW IN THE HELL CAN YOU HAVE A WEDGE SALAD WITHOUT BACON?

Thankfully, the wedge salad at TRIO has bacon. And blue cheese, both on its own and in the dressing. And tomatoes, and pine nuts—and just the perfect amount of lettuce.

In other words, it’s a balanced wedge salad—a surprising rarity in this desert, where wedge salads often include a chunk of lettuce the size of one’s head. Not at TRIO; the amount of lettuce is just substantial enough to ensure that each bite will contain all the cheesy, piggy, crunchy goodness that comes in a wedge salad.

Another problem that afflicts salads, both of the wedge and non-wedge variety, both here and around the world, is too much dressing. In fact, my default setting at most restaurants these days is to ask for these dressing on the side, because soggy salad = blech. However, I never have to do so when I order the wedge salad at TRIO, because the house-made blue cheese dressing is applied in the perfect proportion, it seems, each and every time.

In a desert chock-full of steakhouses, it’s TRIO that has perfected the wedge salad. Bravo.

Published in The Indy Endorsement

Fire Temporarily Shutters Twin Palms Bistro

On a fairly recent visit to the newish Twin Palms Bistro and Lounge, 1201 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, a manager told us that the restaurant, which opened last year, was finally starting to hits its figurative stride after working out all of the kinks that come with launching a new business.

Then Murphy’s Law hit. And then it hit again. And yet again, as posts on the restaurant’s Facebook page show in heartbreaking detail.

On April 9, a “minor fire” broke out in the Twin Palms kitchen.

“The fire started in a wall and the good news is the damage appears to be minor. The bad news is we will be closed today as we work to repair the damaged area,” said an April 10 post on the Twin Palms Facebook page.

An April 11 post expressed hope that the minor damage would be repaired in time for an April 12 opening.

That didn’t happen. From an April 13 post: “Well, Murphy’s Law is in effect and we will not be able to reopen this weekend due to a couple of issues that our contractor has uncovered. We now have our sights on mid-week next week.”

Here it is, approaching mid-May, and the restaurant is still closed. The folks at Twin Palms tell us that a re-opening is probably several more weeks away, and that they’ll let us know the firm reopening date when they know it.

In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed on their behalf.

Rancho Mirage Koffi Opens

In early March, we reported that the Rancho Mirage location of Koffi—the fun coffee house owned by locals John Abner and John Strohm—appeared to be months away from opening, based on a look we took at the then-under-construction building at 71390 Highway 111.

Good news: Last week—less than two months after our initial report—the Koffi opened its doors to the public.

Koffi’s original location, at 515 N. Palm Canyon Drive, opened in August 2002. The second Koffi, at 1700 S. Camino Real (at Palm Canyon Drive, near the Ace Hotel), opened in 2008. The new location differs from the other two in that it includes a coffee-roasting facility.

We said it before, and we’ll say it again: The success Abner and Strohm are enjoying with Koffi is downright refreshing, seeing as locally owned coffee houses across the world are closing after being pushed out by aggressive chains (like Starbucks). Bravo.

The Rancho Mirage Koffi can be reached at 760-340-2444.

Thai Smile Taking Over La Casita Spot

La Casita, at 100 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, recently closed—and one of Palm Springs’ most popular Thai restaurants is taking its place.

A sign put up earlier this week in a window at the old La Casita spot says that Thai Smile Palm Springs—currently located 651 N. Palm Canyon Drive—will soon open there.

That leads to a big question: What will come of the current Thai Smile Palm Springs spot? Will it close, or will the Thai Smile folks take a page out of the Las Casuelas playbook and keep two similar restaurants open within mere blocks?

A Facebook message and a phone message asking that question have thus far gone unreturned.

Rainbow Bar and Grill Closes

The Rainbow Bar and Grill, at 216 N. Indian Canyon Drive (at Arenas Road), closed rather suddenly last month.

Handwritten signs on the doors of the establishment claim that the restaurant is “temporarily closed” because the “wind knocked power out," while just inside the door, unopened mail litters the floor. Meanwhile, the Rainbow Facebook page announced on April 18: “Hello everyone! We’d like to inform all of our friends and loyal customers that Rainbow Bar and Grill will be temporarily closed until further notice. Thank you.”

The “temporary" closure is unlikely to end anytime soon; many Rainbow employees have already moved on to other jobs, meaning a re-launch would require a whole bunch of new hires. 

Rumors are circulating that a prominent gay couple—who owns a couple of other area business—is buying the place, but a representative of the couple reports that there’s “nothing to share” regarding that rumor.

Trio Hosting Weeklong Fundraiser for Stroke Recovery Center

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and to mark the occasion, TRIO Restaurant, 707 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, is holding a week-long fundraiser for the Stroke Recovery Center.

From Monday, May 13, through Sunday, May 19, TRIO will donate 10 percent of sales to the center.

“Trio owners Tony Marchese and Mark Van Laanen are proud to host this event, and believe in the amazing work that the Stroke Recovery Center does here in the desert,” said a news release. “The center offers long-term rehabilitation to the survivors of stroke and traumatic brain injury along with support for their families, caregivers and loved ones.”

For more information, call TRIO at 760-864-8746.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montoya dismissed the claims.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Local Issues

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