Mayor Pro Tem Grace Garner said Saturday she will seek re-election for the District 1 Palm Springs City Council seat she first won in 2019. If re-elected, she would stand to become the first Latina to serve as the city’s mayor.
“I really think we’ve gotten a lot done,” Garner said as she reflected on the work done by the City Council in her first term, which expires at the end of the year. “There has been a lot of good momentum. Even the things that haven’t happened, they are on their way.”
Garner said the momentum she is currently experiencing as a public servant went a long way toward her decision to seek another term. She pointed to several accomplishments that directly benefited people in her district as the most satisfying aspect of an often difficult public-facing role.
Garner has worked behind the scenes to secure funding for constructing a wall between Demuth Park and the city wastewater facility, hoping to alleviate odor concerns in the neighborhood. She also helped get trees planted that provide a buffer between the Escena development and the CV Link multipurpose trail, which runs parallel to that neighborhood.
She is most proud of helping individuals who have difficulties navigating the systems at City Hall or elsewhere. She pointed to one woman in her district who experienced a language barrier but received thousands in reimbursements from a utility company when her team stepped in to assist.
“Those are the small interactions that really matter to people,” said Garner. “What I’m most proud of is things I’ve been able to do for individual residents.”
District 1 includes the city’s eastern edges, spanning from the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood in northern Palm Springs to Demuth Park in the south. It is a “minority-majority” district, specifically formed to bolster the voice of minority voters when the city transitioned from at-large to by-district elections starting with the 2019 election.
Garner defeated three other candidates for the District 1 seat in November 2019, earning 843 votes. Her closest competitor was businessman Les Young, with 546 votes. She had roughly $47,000 in campaign contributions from a broad cross-section of supporters and endorsements from multiple local Democratic organizations.
She campaigned on a pledge to be a voice for residents of the district who often feel left out of decision-making at City Hall. Since taking office, she has sometimes been the lone no vote on issues her constituents feel firmly against, such as the determination to move forward with a facility for homeless services in her district.
If re-elected, Garner said she hopes to continue making the needs of her constituents a priority, even if it means going against the Council majority.
“I think the whole point of this type of system is we have not heard from the people in my district or some of the other districts,” she said. “When you change that and focus on what the community wants, you truly hear the community’s voice.
“I don’t always know better than them, and who am I to say I know better? I have to have them in my thoughts when I make any decision.”
The 36-year-old Democrat is a second-generation Palm Springs resident who graduated from Palm Springs High School, Pitzer College, and California Western Law School. She works locally as an attorney practicing in employment and municipal law.
Her current term ends after three years instead of the traditional four as the city seeks to transition Council elections fully to even-numbered year elections by the end of 2022.
Palm Springs voters no longer elect a mayor directly. Instead, the role rotates between City Council members who have been in office for at least one year. If she wins re-election, Garner, as mayor pro-tem, would rotate into the role in December and become the first Latina mayor in city history.
Garner would follow current Mayor Lisa Middleton and past Mayor Christy Holstege as history makers. Middleton became the state’s first transgender mayor when she took on the role last month. Holstege became the first female and the first bisexual in the city to serve in the role when she became mayor in December 2020.
The chance to make history is not lost on Garner. Still, she said identifying others in District 1 and elsewhere in the city who can continue to represent minority communities is a priority.
“It’s a really positive thing,” she said of the chance to be the city’s first Latina mayor. “I would hope in next four years to identify somebody in District 1 who can continue to be part of the legacy of elected officials who are connected to the community. It’s about genuine connection.”
Two other City Council seats will be on the ballot this year — the District 2 seat currently held by Councilmember Dennis Woods and the District 3 seat currently held by Councilmember Geoff Kors. Woods has not announced whether he will seek re-election. Kors, who served as mayor between 2019 and 2020, said he would not seek a third term earlier this month. To date, only Ron deHarte, chair of the city’s Human Rights Commission, has announced his candidacy for that seat.