Less than a week before a public hearing designed to allow the public to weigh in on a proposal to remove and relocate a statue currently in front of Palm Springs City Hall, both proponents and opponents of the move are trying to rally support.
Late Wednesday, the primary opponent of the proposal — a group calling itself Friends of Frank Bogert — leveled allegations against both a City Council member and the head of the city’s Human Rights Commission.
Meanwhile, members of the Palm Springs Black History Committee and others in the African-American community are encouraging public comment from supporters of the move — especially those who lived in an area of the city known as Section 14 — through social media posts and a petition circulating for more than a year.
At issue is whether it was right to honor Bogert, an actor who served as mayor twice, including during one of the ugliest periods in city history in the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, with the statue installed in 1990.
According to a resolution adopted by the Human Rights Commission in April, Black, indigenous, and other people of color were forced out of their homes in a one-square-mile section of tribal-owned land downtown — known as Section 14 — when business owners, who were primarily white, sought to develop the property following the 1959 Indian Leasing Act that allowed tribes to enter into long-term leases.
The resolution uses language similar to that found in a 1968 State Attorney General report. That report was critical of the city’s treatment of Section 14 residents, but concluded that no criminal activity occurred. The resolution calls out Bogert, specifically, alleging he played a key role in what the Attorney General’s office labeled “a city-engineered Holocaust.”
“Collaborating with local businessmen and attorneys, Mayor Bogert and Palm Springs civic leaders persecuted their lower-income constituents who resided on the land owned by local Tribal Members,” the resolution states. “The successful implementation of this plan resulted in the removal of the city’s people of color and restructured the race and class configuration of the city.”
The Human Rights Commission passed its recommendation to remove the statue to the City Council by a 5-1 vote. Councilmembers will consider that recommendation, as well issuing a formal apology for the events at Section 14, at the September 29 meeting.
Members of the city’s African-American community have long sought official acknowledgment from city leaders that what happened at Section 14 caused irreparable damage to their community and pain to individuals who lived through forced evictions and the destruction of their property. They testified against installing the statue when it was being considered, but contend that city leaders at the time dismissed their viewpoints.
“Through a series of schemes that he operated with attorneys, some tribal members and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Mr. Bogert and the City Council evicted many lower income and almost exclusively Black residents of Section 14,” states language in a petition to remove the statue that has nearly 3,000 signatures. “The homes they rented were torched with the assistance of the Palm Springs Fire and Police Departments, and many were “relocated” to Desert Highland Estates on the north end of town.”
Bogert’s supporters are airing television commercials and radio ads aimed at defending the former mayor’s reputation. Wednesday, they issued a news release containing several allegations. Among the allegations:
- They claim a report reviewed by the Human Rights Commission in making its decision was not properly vetted by city staff and remains anonymously authored; and
- Correspondence between City Councilmember Geoff Kors and Human Rights Commission Chairman Ron deHarte shows “a controlled plan to hide official communications and coordination from public view.”
The group is asking for a delay in the September 29 meeting, that deHarte step down from the Commission, and that Kors recuse himself from voting on the statue issue.
City Attorney Jeff Ballinger on Wednesday said the city has no plans to comply with the demands of the group.
“The City of Palm Springs has been made aware of several allegations brought forward by the Friends of Frank Bogert,” Ballinger wrote in a news release. “The allegations are baseless and should have no bearing on the City Council’s consideration of the matter on September 29.”
To participate: Residents who wish to speak at the September 29 meeting reach out to the Office of the City Clerk prior to the meeting no later than 5 PM. The phone number is 760-323-8204. At the appropriate time, a staff member will call members of the public to provide testimony. Written comments may be submitted to the City Council by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Correspondence received during or after the meeting will be distributed to the City Council and retained for the official record. Residents can watch the City Council meeting live online at www.palmspringsca.gov, on the city’s YouTube channel, or on Palm Springs Community Television Channel 17.