Can ‘the situation’ in South Palm Springs be solved?
Business owners live in fear of retaliation, police are stretched thin, and a growing community of unhoused residents vow to stay where they call home.
Rocky moved to Palm Springs “a while ago” and has no plans on leaving. That’s not good news for Isabelle Jacquet.
Jacquet is co-owner of Tredi Interiors, which stands nearly alone in a four-shop retail building in the 450 block of South Palm Canyon Drive. Two neighboring storefronts are vacant — “The woman next door was from Seattle. She moved because of the situation,” Jacquet offers. Another store, Window Visions, is yet to officially open its doors, but owner Judy Anniballi is already well aware of why the Seattleite left.
Rocky is part of “the situation” — a growing population of unhoused city residents who have congregated in South Palm Springs for years, but who have been notably more problematic for business owners and law enforcement since around the time COVID-19 began to grip the planet.
A security guard watching over a business near Tredi, preventing Rocky and others from congregating there, theorizes how the battle with the pandemic led to the growing homeless crisis in Palm Springs.
“Things are closing in on everyone during COVID,” she says. “They are closing in ten times worse for the homeless. They have their own community — their own little city within a city. But the less businesses were open during COVID, the less opportunity they had to take advantage of those businesses or get help from them. Less opportunity leads to more desperation.”
Short and muscular, Rocky is animated and opinionated, as well as thoughtful, as he speaks of the homeless community that calls South Palm Springs home. Across the street is the parking lot to Jacquet’s high-end interior business that specializes in modern Italian design. Rocky explains that he practices “the D’s” — Don’t Doze During Deals — and offers an assessment of the situation.
“I know they want us to clean up our trash, and we’re trying to work on that,” Rocky says. “But the rudeness of the wealthy community I don’t like. Who do they think cleans up all the recyclables in this town?”
Next to Rocky is a young man who prefers not to be named. He is openly taking drags from a thin, straight metallic pipe that police say is most likely being used to smoke heroin. He nods off after one drag, but not before offering his take on issues as well.
“We don’t have any resources,” he says. “We know this town is tourism driven, and they’d like to ignore that we exist, so they ignore our needs. That’s why we try to keep ourselves to a certain part of the city.”
More and more, that part of the city is South Palm Springs, in an area that stretches roughly 2.5 miles along Palm Canyon Drive from West Baristo Road to the Smoke Tree Village shopping center.
The area between West Baristo and West Ramon roads is where Tredi has been for three years and where Anniballi is opening her business. But it’s also where the abandoned Palm Canyon Shopping Center is vacant and up for sale at $6.8 million, and where popular restaurant Woody’s Palm House is listed at $3.35 million. It’s also where piles of soiled clothing and garbage are scattered in the parking lot; where feces, needles and sleeping people are found at the entrance to businesses; and where those who try to ask the people responsible for the mess to stop report that they are often the targets of harassment.
“Some mornings we can’t even open our doors because there is somebody sleeping there,” Jacquet explains from inside her shop before venturing outside to show broken and boarded-up windows near what looks like a camping spot. “They have no fear. They’re entitled to be here. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. It’s very scary.”
Jacquet turns down a request to be photographed. She doesn’t want to invite any retaliation. Her neighbor, Anniballi, is new to the building, Jacquet explains, and may have less fear. That’s probably why she agreed to appear on camera when a local television station came to report on her efforts to organize South Palm Springs business owners to combat the issues they face.
“When you argue with them they come back at night and seek revenge,” says Jacquet. “They will break your windows, smear feces on your door.
“Things are not going to end well. Someone is going to get shot.”
Palm Springs police hope it doesn’t come to that. At Anniballi’s request, they’ve agreed to meet this evening with the South Palm Springs business owners, City Manager Justin Clifton and others from City Hall, and representatives from a community group formed earlier this year. All have the same goal in mind: Find a solution, any solution, to win what seems like an unwinnable tug-of-war playing out on city streets involving an estimated 500 homeless people.
The meeting is private, but authorities have been very public in their response to both business owners and residents who look to them for help. Police Department leadership routinely meets with Downtown business owners, including during monthly meetings of the Main Street Palm Springs business association. They are transparent with data that shows officers respond to hundreds of calls each month and thousands every year involving members of the homeless community. And they have repeated a message that seems to be understood:
Try as they might, staffing shortages and the fact they have to cover 95 square miles means officers are often hard-pressed to show up every time they receive a report of drug use, violence, arson, or mental health issues involving the homeless population.
“It’s a challenge in that area, among many other areas,” explains Capt. Mike Kovaleff, whose officers are on the front lines. “What’s needed are long-term solutions. We frequently just move these issues from one area to the other.”
Are there short-term things businesses can do to lessen the attractiveness of their storefronts and parking lots? Yes. Kovaleff says what business owners who attend the meeting might hear are what others have heard for years, such as suggestions to remove any available outdoor power outlets or water sources. Hiring private security appears to work as well, as evidenced Tuesday where next door to Jacquet’s shop the Rite Aid appeared problem-free as the security guard stood near an adjacent building.
“We can’t be everywhere all the time,” Kovaleff adds. “I wish we could, but we can’t.”
Jacquet says she has no plans to leave South Palm Springs, but that it’s tempting.
“We’d like to stay here,” she says. “But when we think of going to Rancho Mirage, it’s different, and it’s not going to be good for our business.”
Rocky has no plans to leave either.
“I used to live with my grandmother in San Bernardino,” he says. “But I have more of a purpose here than when I had a home. I have more better days and more better nights out here on these streets. It’s home.”
DEFENSE OPENS: The attorney for a Cathedral City man charged with four murders in Palm Springs told a jury Tuesday that there was an “outrageous” lack of evidence linking his client to the crimes, one day after a prosecutor said the four victims “didn’t stand a chance.” Jose Larin-Garcia, 22, is charged with four counts of murder stemming from the February 2019 shootings in which the victims, ages 17 to 25, were found dead at two separate locations in the city. He also faces a special-circumstance allegation of committing multiple murders, opening him to a possible death sentence if convicted. According to prosecutors, three of the victims were found inside a Toyota Corolla that crashed at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads around 11:40 PM on Feb. 3, 2019, while the fourth was found 30 minutes later lying in the street about a half-mile away. Killed inside the car were Jacob Montgomery, 19, Juan Duarte Raya, 18, and Yuliana Garcia, 17, who was driving. READ THE COMPLETE STORY HERE.
NATION’S HOT SPOT: It may have been the end of November, but Mother Nature wasn’t letting up on the heat just yet. Palm Springs tied Modesto as the hottest cities in the nation on Tuesday. The city reached a high temperature of 91 degrees, tying the record for the date set in 1949, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasters said weak Santa Ana winds are expected to continue in the area through today, keeping conditions hot and dry.
WATER COUNTS ACADEMY: CV Water Counts, a collaborative of the Coachella Valley’s six water agencies, is now accepting applications for the sixth class of the Water Counts Academy, which is a free program designed for future and emerging Valley leaders who want a better understanding of how water delivery in the desert works. The class will consist of five weekday sessions, held online from 12 PM until to 1:30 PM on Thursdays, February 3, 10, 17 and 24, with one final virtual tour session on Thursday, March 3. Interested? Visit this website to apply before January 21 for the February 2022 class. There is no tuition/fee.
WORLD AIDS DAY EVENT: DAP Health will host for a panel discussion titled “HIV Care Through the Decades,” and screen the documentary film FAUCI, starting at 5:30 PM. Panelists include Dr. Tulika Singh, Dr. Shubha Kerkar, Dr. Christopher Foltz, Bridgette Picou – LVN, and moderator ANAC Greater Palm Springs Chapter member, Jimmie Leckliter, RN. This event will stream live on DAP Health’s Facebook page, located here.
MIZELL EVENTS: The Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, offers a jam session, knitting circle, and more, starting at 8 AM. A complete list of everything offered can be found online here.
MOBILE HEALTH: A mobile health clinic will be parked at the James O. Jesse Desert Highland Unity Center, 480 W. Tramview Rd., from 9 AM until 4 PM. Operated and staffed by Borrego Health, the mobile unit will provide various medical services for residents.
HORA DE CUENTOS: La bibliotecaria Nancy Valdivia lee cuentos, canta canciones y enseña conceptos de aprendizaje temprano (miércoles en español y jueves en inglés) para estudiantes de preescolar de 10:30 AM a 11:30 AM Puedes ver los videos en YouTube aquí.
FREE SHREDDING: The Greater Palm Springs Realtors organization is hosting a free shredding event today from 11:30 AM until 4:30 PM at 4045 East Ramon Rd. Confidential files, documents, electronics, and more can be brought to the event and will be shredded by Desert Arc Secure Shredding at no cost.
LIBRARY BOARD: The city’s Library Board of Trustees meets at 5:30 PM, virtually. Complete information about the meeting, including how to view it or participate, can be found here.
APPEALS BOARD: The city’s Administrative Appeals Board meets at 5:30 PM, virtually. Complete information about the meeting, including an agenda, instructions for viewing it, and how to participate, can be found here.
BOOK CLUB: The OutBook Book Club meets on the first Wednesday of the month in the upstairs VIP room at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 East Baristo Rd., from 6:30 PM until 8:30 PM. The book discussion starts at 7 PM following a social mixer. To attend the book club via on Zoom, please email book club coordinator Hubertus Zegers at email@example.com in advance of the meeting. This month the book club is discussing Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
USO GALA: The Bob Hope USO-Palm Springs, in partnership with The Management Trust, will present the 8th Annual Spirit of Hope Gala on Friday. The gala supports military service members and serves as a benefit for Palm Springs area programs and services. To purchase tickets to The Spirit of Hope Gala, visit this link.
TREE LIGHTING, PARADE: The 29th Annual Palm Springs Festival of Lights Parade will return to Palm Canyon Drive at 5:45 PM on Saturday. On Friday evening, residents are invited to the Official City of Palm Springs Holiday Tree Lighting at 5:15 PM at Frances Stevens Park, 500 North Palm Canyon Drive.
ART CENTER EVENT: The Desert Art Center, located at 550 North Palm Canyon Drive in uptown Palm Springs, hosts “Deck the Walls,” a new Winter show in the main gallery, on Friday. That event is from 5 PM until 7 PM.
COMMUNITY CLEAN-UP: The next in a series of community clean-up events takes place Saturday, December 4, starting at 8 AM. Anyone interested in helping pick up litter in the city is invited to gather at the Union Bank parking lot, 500 South Indian Canyon Dr. Supplies will be provided.
DESERT JAM: The annual benefit for Palm Springs-based Well in the Desert — Desert Jam 2021: Jammin’ for the Well — is slated for Monday, December 6 at the Agua Caliente Resort Casino ballroom in Rancho Mirage at 6 PM. All proceeds benefit The Well’s work to feed and provide for those experiencing homelessness in our community. More information, including how to purchase tickets for the event, can be found here or by calling 760-285-7297.
POLICE AND FIRE EVENT: The Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce is taking reservations for its annual Police & Fire Appreciation Luncheon, held Tuesday, December 7, from 11:30 AM until 1 PM at the Palm Springs Convention Center. More information about tickets and sponsorship opportunities is available here.
WARWICK STAR: Singer Dionne Warwick will be honored with the 447th star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars next week, officials said Tuesday. Warwick, 80, started her career in 1961 after being discovered by the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and went on to make records such as “Don’t Make Me Over,” “`Walk on By,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Message to Michael'” and many more. She received her first Grammy in 1968 for the song “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?,” and won the best-selling album Grammy in the 1970s for “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.” The 11 AM ceremony will be held on December 8 at the intersection of Tahquitz Canyon and South Palm Canyon Drive in front of the Wellwood Memorial Library. Nona Watson, CEO of the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, will emcee the event and introduce the guest speakers.
STRUT AWARDS VOTING: Voting has started for the STRUT Awards, slated to be handed out next month in Palm Springs. The STRUT Awards are a people’s choice voting event designed to honor members of the local LGBTQ+ industry. Nominations were accepted in more than two dozen categories, and now it’s time to vote. You can do that by going here. Winners will be announced and celebrated on December 12 during an event at Margaritaville Palm Springs beginning at 6 PM. Tickets for the event can be purchased here.
MOBILE CHRISTMAS: Well in the Desert is again planning its annual Christmas event as a mobile event due to COVID-19 restrictions. The drive-up event will be held Saturday, December 18, from 11:30 AM until 3 PM at The United Methodist Church, 1555 East Alejo Rd. Volunteers will distribute a frozen turkey and pie, as well as gifts for children to open on Christmas Day, to any family in need. Donations can be dropped off at churches where The Well serves hot meals, between 11 AM and 1 PM: Mondays and Tuesdays: United Methodist, 1555 East Alejo Rd.; Wednesdays: Church of St. Paul’s, 125 West El Alameda; Thursdays: Our Lady of Solitude, 151 West Alejo Rd.; and Fridays: Our Lady of Guadalupe, 204 South Calle El Segundo.