DAILY BRIEFING: Military police equipment discussion, possible transit strike, and more

Good morning. It’s Thursday, April 21. Expect mostly sunny skies and a high near 85 degrees today. First, some news you need to know …

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Military equipment used by city’s police up for discussion at Council meeting tonight

By Kendall Balchan

On the agenda at tonight’s Palm Springs City Council meeting is a public hearing about the use of military equipment by local police.

Driving the news: AB481 was signed into law in 2021 and requires cities to adopt an official policy on the uses of each type of military equipment as well as appropriate training and methods by which citizens can make complaints about the use of military equipment.

But why? After the 2020 protests for racial justice swept the state, some lawmakers balked at local law enforcement using military equipment against protesters at largely peaceful gatherings. This law is meant to provide more transparency and accountability between law enforcement and the public.

Details: Not just any officer can use the military equipment. That’s reserved for S.W.A.T. teams. The Palm Springs Police Department formed its S.W.A.T. team in 1978. Two decades later the Cathedral City department joined in, and in 2014 Indio’s department was added. Collectively they are known as Desert Regional S.W.A.T. A city staff report lists an inventory of all the military equipment currently available to its members, including:

  • An ICOR MK3 caliber robot used to open doors, disrupt packages, and clear buildings.
  • Two Lenco BearCats (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter-Attack Trucks).
  • 15 Colt AR 15/M16 semi-automatic rifles acquired through the 1033 program which allows surplus military equipment to be transferred to local police at no cost.

What’s at stake: Local activists will be looking to the City Council to ensure proper oversight of the police department and policies that don’t leave room for legal loopholes and the use of military equipment against peaceful demonstrators. 

  • For example, Culver City’s policy on tear gas specifically states it should not be used against people who “merely fail to disperse.” PSPD’s proposed guidance on tear gas is less specific and allows for tear gas to be used for “crowd control and civil unrest incidents” as well as during “approved demonstrations”

Next Steps: Discussion over the adoption of the military equipment policy was pulled from the consent calendar at tonight’s City Council meeting, meaning councilmembers want to have further discussion before approving the ordinance. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. and the ordinance is listed as agenda Item 2C. Find participation and viewing instructions here.

? Briefly

SunLine buses in Downtown Palm Springs. Bus drivers recently rejected a contract offer, setting the stage for a possible strike.

TRANSIT NEGOTIATIONS: SunLine Transit employees who are members of the Amalgamated Transit Union 1277 recently voted down a proposed contract and authorized a strike if the transit company’s management and the union can’t come to a deal, according to a tally sheet shared with The Post last week. A union member we spoke with said the primary concern for drivers is that wages and inflation simply aren’t increasing at the same pace. Drivers also want their insurance premiums to be lower. For drivers, the contract was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back after years of low morale and feeling unsafe driving during the pandemic, he said. As many as 40 drivers were out on some days at the height of the pandemic. If the drivers do go on strike, it will impact bus routes throughout the Coachella Valley, including the smaller paratransit buses for seniors and disabled passengers. Both the transit agency and the union continue to negotiate. Earlier this month, Southern California’s unionized grocery workers got their most significant pay raise in decades when their union ratified a contract with regional grocery chains.

DEVELOPMENT ON LAND NEAR HOMELESS CENTER? More help could be on the way for city residents and others looking for a place to store their stuff. Two additional self-storage projects are working their way through City Hall, documents show, bringing to four the total number of self-storage projects currently in the works. As proposed in both pre-application and application documents, the facilities would be located on land near Farrell Drive and Computer Way (near the Department of Motor Vehicles) and at an undisclosed address along West San Rafael Road. With all but one sizable vacant lot already spoken for along West San Rafael, it appears developers would construct the proposed self-storage facility on land adjacent to a homeless services center the city is planning to build on property it acquired off McCarthy Road. That vacant lot has been the subject of reports of encampments and other activity by the city’s unhoused community. The latest self-storage proposals would add 200,000 square feet of self-storage to the community. The two facilities would be in addition to one project stalled in a city committee and another recently reported to be in the pre-application phase.

? Pet of the week

Photo: Animal Samaritans

MEET RYDER: Each week, The Post partners with Animal Samaritans to feature one of the many animal companions ready for a new home at the shelter. This week we invite you to meet Ryder, a 12-week-old female terrier mix who volunteers say is “very playful, sweet, and gets along great with other dogs.” If anyone is interested in Ryder, they can visit the no-kill shelter, located at 72307 Ramon Rd. in Thousand Palms, for a meet-and-greet and fill out an adoption application. Shelter hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. and then 1 p.m. until 4:30 p.m.

? Today’s events

  • The Mizell Center offers a full slate of events, classes, meet-ups and more all this week starting at 8 a.m.

  • The Palm Springs Library hosts an Earth Day celebration at 3:30 p.m. for teens where they can paint pots and plant small succulents to take home. 

  • The James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center invites boys and girls 13-and-under to participate in the Jr. NBA Skills Challenge at 4 p.m.

  • The Palm Springs City Council holds its regular meeting tonight at 5:30 p.m.

  • VillageFest is happening downtown, starting at 6 p.m. Also, there’s free admission at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

? What to watch for

  • The Palm Canyon Theatre’s next production, Monty Python’s Sir Spamalot, runs April 22 through May 1.

  • shredding and e-waste collection event is scheduled for Saturday, April 23, from 8 a.m. until Noon outside Palm Springs City Hall.

  • The Annual Preservation Matters Symposium is scheduled for this weekend, April 23 and 24, at Palm Springs Convention Center.

  • The next Lez Out Loud comedy show is slated for April 23. Emcee and Comedian Mina Hartong is joined by two other comedians during the event at Runway Bar and Grill.

  • The Books vs. Badges charity basketball game between Palm Springs High teachers and staff and Palm Springs Police Department officers is scheduled for April 26 at the high school gym.

  • A third community meeting regarding the planned homeless navigation center along McCarthy Road is being held virtually  5:30 p.m. on April 27.

  • Desert Winds Freedom Band has its next performance on Sunday, May 1.

  • The Palm Springs International Jazz Festival is scheduled for the weekend of May 14 and 15 at the historic Plaza Theatre in Downtown Palm Springs.

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