Whoever is behind thousands of dollars in attack ads against city officials that have appeared on Facebook is not being backed by and has no association with Well in the Desert, its leader said last week.
“I think it’s criminal,” said Arlene Rosenthal, president of the nonprofit organization. “I think it’s the worst that somebody can do.”
At issue is that whoever is behind the ads, posing anonymously as a “neighborhood news organization” called The Palm Springs Account, is using an address belonging to Well in the Desert on a website linked to in the ads. That fact and the fact leadership at The Well has sparred publicly with some elected officials this year led to speculation in the community that the Well was somehow behind the ads or associated with the person or organization paying for them.
While tensions did flare between the nonprofit and the city this year, Rosenthal said nobody associated with The Well would hide behind an anonymous effort to shame anyone.
“We’ve never tried to hide anything,” she said, adding that the building listed as the address for The Palm Springs Account — located at 181 North Palm Canyon Drive — is used only by Well in the Desert to store and distribute food.
“We laugh about it during our conversations at night,” Rosenthal said when asked if board members and others in her organization were aware that the address associated with The Palm Springs Account belonged to her organization. “It’s the most ridiculous thing ever.”
There was no reply to a message sent to the person who manages The Palm Springs Account Facebook page, asking why the address on the website is the same as The Well’s. That person earlier told The Post they prefer to remain anonymous and that “The issues stand up for themselves.”
Facebook data shows The Palm Springs Account has spent more than $12,000 on 46 ads since August. The ads claim city leaders have lied, “dumped” unhoused residents into a minority neighborhood, and that Palm Springs has the highest crime rate in the nation, all without detailing facts that led to the claims. All but one of the ads has been found to be in compliance with the social media site’s advertising policies.
Attacks against former Mayor Christy Holstege have been particularly harsh. The councilmember from District 4 has been accused of asking taxpayers to pay for her childcare needs, ignoring crime while running for higher office, and benefiting from her husband’s real estate business.
“Mayor Holstege wants you to pay for her childcare, while she is running for another office,” one ad states. “Meanwhile her husband can make significant money if they build a City homeless navigation center on property he is the agent for. Tell her to Resign!”
Holstege has advocated for childcare at City Council meetings to allow more parents to attend and floated the idea that elected officials in the city need to earn higher wages to help ease childcare costs while attending to city business. The Firm Commercial, owned by her husband, Adam Gilbert, represented the seller of one property being considered for a homeless “navigation center” in the city, but it was not chosen. Holstege recused herself from the discussion of that property.
“Adam and I actually check every single city council agenda for any potential conflicts from his work,” Holstege wrote in a social media post denouncing the Palm Springs Account ads and website. “We flag any potential issues and bring those to the city attorney every week. If you watch the council meetings, you know I generally recuse when there’s even a remote possibility that I could appear to have a financial conflict, which I did here.”
Holstege has called for whoever is behind the anonymous ads to stop. She and others have also pointed to the fact that Grass Valley — a city in the Sierra Nevada Foothills — is listed as the address of whoever is running the Facebook ads as proof that they may not live locally.
“It’s time for the out of town Palm Springs Account (that clearly has a political goal to oppose my candidacy) to end their lies about our community,” Holstege wrote. “Intentionally sharing completely false information that [was] already debunked by the city attorney harms our city and our democracy.”
For her part, Rosenthal said she could think of better ways to spend money in the community than on anonymous Facebook ads.
“We put our money toward our clients,” she said.