A new committee wants to restore the bonds between Palm Springs and international cities. Remnants of those bonds can still be seen hiding in plain sight all over the city.
A totem pole on a stone monument sits at the corner of Racquet Club Road and Via Miraleste in Victoria Park. A large metal bell is tucked away near the IT department at City Hall. Both of these items were gifts from sister cities of Palm Springs. The totem pole came from Victoria, British Columbia, in 1968. Nikko, Japan, gifted the bell to the city in 1980.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Palm Springs had robust connections with three international cities as a part of the Sister Cities program — Victoria, Nikko, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. One of the most significant relationships was with Victoria. The two cities not only exchanged tourists and business, but students, doctors, sports teams, and artists.
In the 1980s, then-Mayor Frank Bogert wrote a letter to the Mayor of Victoria terminating the relationship. Bogert described the program as “just too cumbersome” and discontinued the relationship because “it was too time-consuming.”
Now, the new Palm Springs Sister Cities committee is hoping to renew those severed ties with international cities, and they’re hoping to start with Victoria. Business owner Jeffrey Bernstein — a current candidate for City Council — co-chairs the committee with Al Jones, formerly of the Airport Commission.
The committee is made up of all volunteers, and Jones said there’s room for more. Those with with diverse backgrounds, different jobs, and different ages are especially welcome to join.
Bernstein says the idea first came to him before the pandemic, but he sees even more urgency for the project as the world emerges from COVID-19 restrictions. It’s hoped that the the Sister City program will re-energize the city, promote tourism, and boost hotels, restaurants, and retail sales.
“This is an opportunity to respond to Covid and come out of it positively,” said Jones, adding that San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Aix-en-Provence, France, and Henley-on-Thames, England, are all currently under consideration.
David Perry serves as the communications and public affairs professional on the committee, and he’s a veritable expert on the Sister Cities program. He served on the committee in San Francisco, which has almost 20 Sister Cities, including Shanghai and Cork, Ireland.
Perry says he’s seen for himself how much good these exchanges can do for a city. “I’ve seen a direct economic result, Perry said. “Citizens in both cities doing business with each other that would not have happened without the program.”
The committee hopes to take advantage of the obvious link between Canadian tourists and the Coachella Valley, with thousands making their way down south as the temperature in their hometowns drops.
With the Sister Cities program, Perry says Palm Springs would become a year-round destination.
“You can work remotely from here, and you’re two hours from San Diego and Los Angeles, a one-hour flight from San Francisco, and an airport with great connecting flights and a growing number of direct flights.”
Jones just left his position as chair of the Airport Commission last summer. He says the city is coming back with a bang.
“(Palm Springs International Airport) in the past few months has had not only the highest monthly passenger numbers since the start of the pandemic, but the highest passenger numbers ever,” he observed.
As for the next steps, the committee is continuing conversations with City Hall and local business organizations. The mayors of any future sister cities will need to make the final call by signing a letter of intent and formalizing the agreement.
There is an annual fee to be a part of the Sister Cities Organization, which the committee says it will take care of through fundraising and donations from its own members.
Jones stresses that the program is not just about tourism. He says, “We want to increase awareness and foster an exchange between two different cities.”
That’s another reason why Victoria is an attractive choice for the committee. The culture and demographics of the city are so different from Palm Springs that student and cultural exchanges would greatly benefit both cities.
More information: The Palm Springs Sister City Committee meets on the second Thursday of every month on Zoom at 8:30 a.m. You can join the group’s Facebook page here.