Council denies permit extension for homeless services center in Baristo Park neighborhood

An agreement between the city and a homeless services center operating here for two decades came to a dramatic ending Thursday evening after the City Council unanimously rejected a motion to extend the permit for the center to operate in the Baristo Park neighborhood.

The move came after years of outrage expressed by neighbors of the South Calle Encilia facility — Well in the Desert — and suspicions about its business practices that recently poured out on social media, public hearings, and in the press.

Up for a vote was extension of The Well’s conditional use permit in the neighborhood — set to expire June 30 — until the end of September. The extension would have allowed time for the operation to move into the city’s former boxing club on South El Cielo Road, where the city hoped it would team with Indio-based Martha’s Village and Kitchen to offer services.

The relatively simple decision was complicated by recent reports, including those in The Post on June 13, that Well in The Desert had failed to fully complete tax forms and other filings required of a non-profit organization in a timely and complete fashion, and that it was paying less than minimum wage — in the form of stipends — to its workers. City Attorney Jeff Ballinger confirmed those reports Thursday evening, adding that The Well was also years behind filing paperwork necessary to be registered as a charitable trust in the state and in danger of losing its ability to operate as a charitable organization.

“We have given this operation multiple chances to succeed and it has not,” said Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton before the unanimous vote denying the extension. “No one is enjoying this evening, and no one is enjoying what this has come to.”

Added Mayor Christy Holstege: “This has been a hostile relationship. They are not listening to neighbors, and not sharing information with the community when they are asking for tax dollars. They are spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories about the city. It’s not a good idea to work with a partner like that.”

Arlene Rosenthal, president of Well in the Desert, was not present during the meeting, having declined an invitation to speak. In conversations with The Post earlier this month, she claimed questioning of her operations was a “witch hunt” done by “people that hate homeless individuals.”

Neighbors who have voiced concerns over The Well for years, and who spoke again Thursday evening, say their heart goes out to those affected by homelessness, but that they’ve had enough of illegal and immoral activities outside their homes. They urged city officials to do right by their neighborhood and stop the homeless services center from operating there.

“You are cheating us out of our quality of life,” said one resident, directing his frustration at Councilmember Geoff Kors, who represents the neighborhood. “Since they moved there in July of 2017 there has been nothing but problems. Now is the time to step up for us. You need to stand up for us tonight.”

Councilmembers debating the permit were adamant in agreement that the time to cut ties with The Well had come. They worried, however, that allowing the permit to expire on such short notice would put people in need in danger as temperatures rise. They directed city staff to work with Martha’s Village to open a cooling center and showers at the former boxing club within 30 days, “and sooner if possible.”

Linda Barrack, president and CEO of Martha’s Village, said her organization will work to make sure that happens. She promised to begin working with her board of directors as early as Monday.

“We can make it happen,” Barrack told councilmembers. “We just have to come together, and unfortunately we are in a time crunch. Anything is possible. We just need to have some time to do it right”

In other action Thursday evening:

  • Councilmembers approved modifications to the former Andaz Hotel project at 414 N. Palm Canyon Dr. Approval of the modifications helps keep the dormant project on track to open in late 2022 as a Thompson Hotel project. The project is one of four stalled hotels in the city frustrating both city officials and residents.
  • The manager of the Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Market was honored, as a proclamation declaring June 24, 2021 as “Megan Goehring Day” was announced. Goehring has been working at the Farmers’ Market since 2008. She was credited by city officials with helping more than three dozen local small businesses and family farmers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by keeping the Farmers’ Market up and running.

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