Council scheduled to take up COVID-19 emergency orders, appoint new city leaders at Thursday meeting

A new mayor and mayor pro tem, possible changes to COVID-19 emergency orders, and a public hearing on proposed hikes in garbage and recycling fees are all on the agenda of the Palm Springs City Council when it meets on Thursday.

The city no longer elects a mayor directly. Instead, council members are appointed to the largely ceremonial role on a rotating annual basis based on their district. Current Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton, who represents District 5, will become mayor on December 9, replacing Christy Holstege, the District 4 representative. Councilmember Grace Garner, who represents District 1, will become mayor pro tem and be next up for the mayor role in December 2022.

Middleton, who will become only the second transgender mayor in U.S. history when she is sworn in, announced her run for the state Senate in October. She is looking to fill a spot in the 28th District that will not have an incumbent in the race. If she wins, she will be seated in Sacramento a year from now, allowing her to complete either a full term or a nearly full term as mayor. The timing of her exit from the mayor’s role, should she win higher office, depends on when and how the Council decides to fill her position. The same scenario exists for Holstege, who is also seeking a position in the state capitol.

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It’s anybody’s guess what the Council will do regarding emergency COVID-19 orders put into place in August. Those orders are the most restrictive in the Coachella Valley, requiring, among other things, that diners who choose to eat inside city restaurants must show proof of vaccination.

In October, the Council loosened some restrictions, voting to no longer require masks at large outdoor events such as VillageFest and parades. Councilmembers stopped short of voting to allow masks to come off inside businesses for vaccinated individuals and removing the indoor dining vaccination requirements. At the time, most said they preferred to take a wait-and-see approach due to the spread of new disease variants.

A staff report prepared for the December 9 meeting makes no formal recommendation. Still, it does mention an option that would see the postponement of any decision on easing restrictions until a January 27, 2022 meeting.

“This delay targets the next six to eight weeks, where we are most likely to see increased rates of infection and hospitalization based on historical trends,” City Manager Justin Clifton wrote. “This possible increase in transmission and hospitalization is anticipated due to natural increases in the Winter months and potential increases caused by the Omicron variant.”

In the report, Clifton credited the Council for helping to keep rates of transmission lower in Palm Springs than many other cities in Riverside County. Despite being a tourist hot spot, it has been two months since the last COVID-19 related death in the city, and it continues to be a leader in vaccination rates.

Multiple public hearings are on The December 9 agenda, including those regarding:

A public hearing for the appeal of the revocation of a prominent business owner’s cannabis license remains on the agenda but will not be necessary at this time due to the fact the city pulled back on its revocation of the license in order to strengthen its case.


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