Appeals court: Placement of Marilyn statue in city street for three years isn’t temporary; lawsuit allowed to continue

While some opponents of the statue of Marilyn Monroe have labeled it sexist and in poor taste, the crux of legal action brought by a citizens’ group hinges on the use of one word.
Admirers of the Forever Marilyn statue located on Museum Way pause Thursday evening to capture photos.

Members of a local group formed to oppose the location of the 26-foot-tall Forever Marilyn statue in Downtown Palm Springs are celebrating a legal victory today. Still, nobody on either side of the issue expects the artwork to be relocated any time soon.

On Thursday, a state appeals court ruled that a lawsuit filed against the city by the Committee to Relocate Marilyn (CReMa) can move forward, reversing a 2021 trial court decision that appeared to severely limit the group’s chances of seeing the statue relocated.

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Trina Turk, a designer and local business owner who co-founded CReMa two years ago to fight the statue’s placement on a newly constructed multi-million-dollar downtown road, hailed the decision as “excellent news” but added that the organization needs more time to fully digest what the judge had to say before deciding next steps.

City leaders are in a similar limbo, according to Palm Springs City Attorney Jeffrey Ballinger. However, one thing is clear:

“This Court of Appeal decision simply says that the case goes back to the trial court, for the trial court to continue with a potential trial,” Ballinger wrote in an email. “The Court of Appeal did not order the City or PS Resorts to open Museum Way or remove or relocate the statue.”

The statue was a popular attraction when it first appeared in Palm Springs between 2012 and 2014. It was subsequently purchased for $1 million by PS Resorts, an organization of hoteliers and tourism stakeholders in the city, and unveiled on Museum Way in June 2021. Legal challenges from CReMa preceded the unveiling, as did fundraising to help cover the group’s expenses.

While some opponents of the statue have labeled it sexist and in poor taste, the crux of the lawsuit hinges on the use of a word. In 2020 the City Council voted to allow the statue to be placed in the middle of the road – Museum Way – for three years. At the time, the city labeled the statue’s placement “temporary.” 

Aside from arguing in the lawsuit that the city overstepped its authority by claiming the three-year closure was temporary, CReMa members also objected to locating the controversial statue in front of the Palm Springs Art Museum. Other community members said blocking a road intended for vehicles for years meant taxpayer dollars were wasted on its construction.

On Thursday, the appeals court judge agreed on the language argument. 

“The Court of Appeal concluded that the closure of the street for up to three years is not ‘temporary,’ according to the court’s interpretation of that word,” Ballinger wrote. 

During oral arguments in the appeal on Feb. 14, an attorney for CReMa pointed explicitly to the California vehicle code, noting that a street can be temporarily closed for activities like celebrations, parades, local special events, and other purposes but that the installation of the statue does not fall under any of those categories.   

“It would produce absurd results to define ‘temporarily’ as anything that isn’t permanent,” said attorney Amy Minteer. “That can be a 20 or 50-year term, and that’s just clearly not what was intended.”

City attorneys, however, claimed that the ambiguity of “other purposes” in the vehicle code allows for leniency in the interpretation and that the court should look at the “context of each situation.” 

They also tried to distinguish between vacating a street and temporarily closing it. 

“Vacating a street would permanently close it, so temporarily closing it for three years is indeed a short time in that context,” one argued.

What the judge’s ruling means in the future is still to be determined. 

“The City and PS Resorts will need to discuss the next steps, including whether to seek review by the California Supreme Court,” Ballinger said. “The City Council has not had an opportunity to discuss today’s ruling but may do so at an upcoming City Council meeting.”


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