Fireworks were few and far between, but stark differences of opinion were plentiful at the Palm Springs Cultural Center this weekend.
Driving the news: Eight candidates vying for three City Council positions and one Desert Water Agency Board of Directors seat spent a combined six hours on stage at the venue during moderated forums arranged by the Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs (ONE-PS) Saturday and Sunday.
- Those present included Desert Water Agency Board of Directors candidates Steve Bronack and Marcus Miceli; City Council District 3 candidates Ron deHarte and Joy Brown Meredith; City Council District 1 incumbent, Mayor Pro Tem Grace Garner, and challenger Scott Nevins; and City Council District 2 candidates Renee Brown and Jeffrey Bernstein
Topics ran the gamut, from water conservation and development to the city’s ongoing debate over short-term vacation rentals. A pair of social issues discussed during the City Council debates — homelessness and reparations — proved to be the topics that drew the most attention.
- Most Council candidates agreed that the city is on the right track in combating homelessness in the community, noting recent efforts to clear encampments downtown and build a large-scale service center in the city’s north end.
- Council candidates were also in agreement that providing educational and housing assistance programs for low-income residents in the north end and trying to bring services such as a grocery store, banking, and healthcare facilities to the area is essential. However, providing direct payments to descendants of those evicted from Section 14 found some disagreement.
What they’re saying: Brown told the audience on Sunday that she chose to run for office in order to offer a different story about the history of Section 14 than the one commonly touted. She said many people and entities were responsible for what happened there 60 years ago, not just city officials, and that discussion of paying cash reparations would lead to devastation of the current city budget.
- Bernstein urged further exploration of the reparations issue while supporting the city investing in the north end. “We need to look at the overall picture that a lot of the people were moved into an area of Palm Springs where they lacked a lot of services,” he said.
- Nevins, who would represent residents in the north end should he win the District 1 race, also cautioned that direct reparations payments would harm the city’s financial health. He criticized the current Council, saying it had placed “no guidelines or guardrails on what reparations means.” Garner countered that sentiment, however, saying that the Council was not “throwing money around.”
That exchange appeared to be what many had come to see, as Sunday’s District 1 debate saw roughly 250 attend, by far the largest crowd of the weekend. The reason could be because Garner and Nevins offer the starkest contrast between any of the Council candidates.
- Garner is an attorney and native of the city who rents a condominium adjacent to the poorest areas of town. If re-elected, she would become the city’s first Latina mayor.
- Nevins works in the entertainment industry and volunteers for multiple causes. He is a resident of the Escena development and if elected along with deHarte and Bernstein would become part of a Council comprised primarily of white, gay men.
Why it matters: Nevins’ campaign is built on the message that all residents of sprawling District 1 need representation and that he could bring needed changes that benefit minority residents faster than current councilmembers. He urged the audience to read how he would accomplish that by reading his campaign website. Garner is quick to point out that it’s easy to be critical of leaders from the outside. She told the audience that she is proud of the Council’s many accomplishments, such as efforts to address affordable housing. Those efforts could include her plan to provide city lots to Habitat for Humanity.
- “I will be a voice in the City Council coming with details and realistic plans, not just chatter, on how we actually serve all minority groups from one end of the district to the other,” Nevins said.
- “I care about District 1, and I care about Palm Springs,” Garner said in her closing remarks. “And I know that the residents of District 1 want a caring, thoughtful, honest, and intelligent leader.”
Editor’s note: The Post’s staff was on stage moderating the forums. Therefore, some of the reporting by Tom Coulter and Paul Albani-Burgio of The Desert Sun was used for this story