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November 19, 2008

DHS City Council, November 18

First a couple of observations about the new sound system at the Carl May. Do we have the right kind of microphones up on the dais, and are they adjusted correctly? It seems that to be heard well a speaker must keep his mouth within just a very few inches of the microphone, suggesting these mikes would be better suited for a headset. City Council members like to bob and weave and twist their heads around (kind of an Exorcist thing I guess). In the Palm Springs city council chambers the microphones pick up voices quite well over the whole range of normal movement.

And then there's those microphones used by the public at the podium. Small electronics these days are so very efficient, I'm wondering why the batteries die on those microphones at every meeting. Is someone using them for karaoke when no meeting is happening? At least the solution (keeping a spare microphone handy) is more efficient than the old scramble for fresh batteries.

The meeting commenced with an update from Tom Gustafson about the Planning Commission. After that we moved on to the swearing in of Police Officer Mike Chilner. Officer Chilner is a native of Desert Hot Springs and attended DHS High School where we was drum major, along with several other fine achievements that came too fast for me to write down. He was a Police Explorer and did a turn in the U.S. Marine Corps. Now he's back from the police academy. After being sworn in by Chief Williams, Officer Chilner was pinned (why not say "badged?") by his father who is a teacher in the Palm Springs Unified School District.

Chilner and Dad (2124)
Officer Chilner and his father.

Public Comments

Dot Reed was first up and talked about pride in Desert Hot Springs, asking us to consider how we answer the question "Where are you from?" As for myself, having discovered that people really do know where DHS is, I give the answer "Desert Hot Springs." But I should qualify that to say it's my answer if the questioner is a southern Californian. More than 90% of the time the questioner knows of Desert Hot Springs. Now, if I'm talking to a northern Californian or Nevadan I might say "Desert Hot Springs, which is near Palm Springs." If, however, I'm somewhere else out in the big world and talking to someone from some far flung spot I will usually just say "near Palm Springs" [blank look] "California" [blank look] "in the desert" [blank look with nodding head as though to say 'let's just move along to another subject shall we?'].

Ms Reed went on to lay out a few details of the Christmas parade (which I'm sure IS called a Christmas parade) which will start at the high school on December 7. The parade will go east on Pierson to Cactus, do a U-turn and come back on the opposite side of Pierson. After the parade, the Community and Cultural Affairs Commission will enter into negotiations to sell that route to the RDA. I expect them to get no less than $150,000 for it.

Back at the high school on the football field the Christmas tree will be lighted at 5 PM. Raffle tickets will be sold and some lucky person will get to take the tree home (I hope that includes free delivery)! The official decorated tree for the duration of the holidays will continue to be the one at West and Pierson. Ms. Reed said that, it being December 7, a World War II veteran will speak on the subject of Pearl Harbor. She let Mayor Pro Tem Matas announce later in the meeting that the Grand Marshall (or similar title) will be Coco Crisp, recently of the Boston Red Sox. Today we learned he has been traded to the Royals. Oh well, still on my hometown team, I guess. Coco Crisp lives here in Coachella Valley (La Quinta?) and I believe Mr. Matas claimed some connection between Mr. Crisp's parents and Desert Hot Springs (do they live here?).

Louise Hamari (I'm using a Boggle set to make up these spellings today) spoke about how in her travels around the world she enjoyed the ethnic diversity of shops in successful cities and said she was impressed with the downtown plan and hoped it exhibited ethnic diversity as well.

Art In Public Places

There are very few facts in this subject, so I can summarize them easily: the Planning Commission approved an ordinance for an art-in-public-places (AIPP which is pronounced "ay eye pee pee") program which included a 1% rate and a threshold of $100,000. (The text of the proposed ordinance begins on page 15 of the city council agenda package [PDF].)

The $100,000 threshold is written this way: "The requirements of this Chapter shall apply to all development projects having a building valuation of One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($100,000.00) or more." "Development project" is defined as "all physical changes and improvements needed to complete a new residential, commercial, industrial or public building development."

The 1% rate is described like this:

A. Public Art Requirement.The developer shall acquire and install a public art on or in the vicinity of the development site, in accordance with provisions of this Chapter. The value of the public art shall equal one percent (1%) of the development project's building valuation (exclusive of land)...As an alternative the developer may elect to donate public art to the City for placement on public property pursuant to Section 159.29110.

B. Monetary Contribution In-Lieu of Public Art: In the event that the value of the public art, as required by Subsection A, is Twenty Thousand Dollars ($20,000.00) or less, the developer may elect to make a monetary contribution to the City equal to one percent (1%) of the development project's building valuation (exclusive of land).

Section C would allow the developer to do a combination of A and B, so long as it all added up to 1%.

Stepping out of sequence again, later in the discussion City Manager Daniels reminded us that the percentage applied to 100% of the building valuation. The $100,000 threshold is NOT a deductible amount. It's just the point at which AIPP kicks in. After this reminding, I heard low voices behind me saying "lies!" and "liar." I didn't turn around to see who was saying this because to do so might seem rude - but you can bet I'm going to be wearing my See-Behind sunglasses at the next council meeting. Obviously, it was no lie or distortion of fact. It's quite clear in the ordinance that the city manager's statement was entirely correct.

I will take this moment to encourage both citizens and elected officials to RTFM! In this case "M" would stand for Materials, not Manual. This ordinance is not long nor especially difficult to understand, but I mean this for all measures that are considered. I've observed at both city council and planning commission meetings obvious evidence that sometimes our elected and appointed leaders have simply not read the text of the measure on which they are about to vote. No big deal if it's a fairly routine measure, but on the biggies like marijuana, AIPP and ice cream vendors, read the stuff. Same goes for citizens who haven't read the text but want to call the city manager a liar in public. RTFM.

Okay, given those basic facts about the $100,000 building valuation threshold and the 1% rate, the controversy erupted because city staff proposed a threshold of $200,000 and a rate of ½% and an exception for the construction of less than 3 residential units. Dean Gray summoned the troops on this one, a crowd showed up and signs were distributed. The energy put into this discussion would have made an outsider think that if the ½% rate were approved our city would look like Stalingrad during the seige. OTOH, with a rate of 1% we would eventually rival Paris or perhaps the Vatican City in art treasures.

If you can step back far enough (I'm told Palm Springs is only 6 miles away, and maybe that's about how far you should step back) the essence of the brouhaha can be seen as positive, constructive, and the fun way that Desert Hot Springs moves to its new future in its own unique way. I mean, the argument was about how MUCH AIPP we would have. Nobody argued against the basic concept. Nobody got up to say we should destroy what little public art we have. Nobody shouted "Communists!" (Surely, that will come later).

Taking a stroll down memory lane I ask the citizens of DHS to recall past heated arguments about whether the city should pay for a flawed EIR so that a fly-by-night developer could come in and rape some virgin desert land; whether we should pay our city manager double or triple what the state pays the governor [BTW, what's the status of that lawsuit?]; whether the mayor should represent our city or be cast into political purgatory; whether our city manager should be fired; whether our police chief should be fired. And now look at us. One side shouts "Art!" while the other side yells back "More art!" It's like we're in Berkeley.

A long line of people rose to comment on the issue, almost all being in favor of the 1%/$100,000 ordinance approved by the planning commission. Janet Webber presented a petition with many signatures supporting the planning commission. Mayor Pro Tem Matas pointed out that at least half of the signatures on the petitions were from outside the city.

Ted Mayrhofen held up a flyer that presumably was distributed by the side supporting the 1%/$100,000 rule. He said the flyer was slanderous and that Fred Bell (Executive Director of the Desert Chapter of the Builders Industry Association) was not responsible for all the evils laid on him in the flyer.

Lou DaCosta got up and said he was "Anti-Palm Desert, anti-Rancho Mirage and anti-Palm Springs" and that he supported the 1%/$100,000 provisions. I single him out only to say I agree with him (I think) on being "anti-Palm Desert." That city is often held up as a glowing example of growth and tax revenue. If your definition of a successful city is one that is chock-a-block with gated communities and strip malls and where the city motto is "We can't even spend all our tax revenue," then Palm Desert is the place for you. I'll take Desert Hot Springs over Palm Desert any day.

While Dean Gray was making his comments, Mayor Parks interrupted him to ask him to stop making personal attacks on Fred Bell. Mr. Gray insisted that everything he said was true. I don't think the truth or falseness of a statement is relevant to whether it's a personal attack. Singling out any individual and blaming him for what he did or said is a personal attack, true or not.

Fred Bell himself got up to comment. Anyone who thought he might embrace a compromise or moderate view was disappointed. I thought he was building up to saying he supported AIPP in theory as he spoke of the necessary building blocks a developer looks for in a city: streets, sewers, public safety, etc. But public art was not on his list of basic building blocks. He mashed a lot of words, but he never explicitly stated his complete opposition to AIPP, nor any support of a compromise. i think there was the suggestion that if AIPP passes there would be no construction at all, an assertion that I find hard to believe. If Mr. Bell had any facts about the effects of AIPP, he didn't share them with us. Apparently, he couldn't cite an example of two adjoining towns with different policies on AIPP that would demonstrate how AIPP brings about a complete stoppage of construction.

Comparison of rates on Commerical Developments
The comparison chart.

The agenda package included a page that listed commercial projects in Desert Hot Springs from 2005 through October 2008 and used those valuations to come up with some total figures to compare what might have been raised with an AIPP fee of ¼%, ½%, and 1%. We can ignore the ¼% figures, since nobody is proposing that rate. There are on the list, however, four developments with valuations between $100,000 and $200,000. To fairly compare the difference between the city staff proposal and the planning commision's proposed ordinance we must subtract those out before calculating the ½%. The four developments add up to only $585,991.87. Subtracting that from the total of $10,890,048.59 gives us a new total of $10,304,056.72. Applying the ½% rate to that gives us $51,520.28 (rather than the $54,450.24 figure shown on the chart). Compare that to $108,900.49 that might have been generated with a rate of 1% and a threshold of $100,000.

But that chart lists ONLY commercial and industrial projects, not residential projects. IIRC, there have been some residential developments over the last 4 years. Those would have also contributed to AIPP. Regardless of what rate you use, the numbers would be much larger with residential developments included.

Councilmember Betts said that our city was founded on art, citing Cabot Yerxa's love of art. Well, that's simply not correct. Our city was founded on hot water and real estate sales. Cabot Yerxa found the water, but not the city. Mr. Betts also repeatedly asked for more figures than just the $54,450.24 number. I know sometimes city councilmembers are working with different materials than we have in the audience, but I don't think the city council ever gets LESS information than we do. The public packet included, as I said above, figures for ¼%, ½%, and 1%. I'm not sure if Mr. Betts was asking for something entirely different, but demanding it repeatedly as he did was certainly not productive. A request to the staff once (or twice, to make sure they heard) is usually sufficient to get cooperation, even if the required information can't be produced on the spot.

Mr. Betts described the situation of potential homebuyers coming to DHS who find a home they like in a development they like, only to be turned off by the blight in our downtown. Does it need to be said that AIPP is not a street beautification program, not a city clean up program, not a program to improve storefronts, repair sidewalks or set up new busineses in town. For all of that you could look to the downtown vortex plan. The measure before the city council last night was AIPP which will put art in public places. The public places where that art is put may or not still be blighted, depending on what other programs are put into effect.

Councilmember Schmidt wants any DHS AIPP not to be perceived as more expensive than that of other cities in the valley.

Mayor Pro Tem Matas says he sympathizes with those who resist developers taking the city to the cleaners again. I think it would be more accurate to say that in the past the city has taken itself to the cleaners at the request of developers. Thank you sir, may I please have another.

Mr. Matas said he thought that Desert Hot Springs was making progress on getting back into the loop with other valley cities.

Councilmember Baker had moved for passage of the proposed ordinance as it had come from the planning commission subject to the provision that it be sent back to the planning commission with the additional information from other valley cities so that it could be reconsidered. City staff said that information on AIPP rates in other valley cities had not been provided to the planning commission prior to its approval of the ordinance. Despite Commissioner King's assertion that the planning commission had compared the rates of all the other valley cities, there's no evidence that they discussed any valley city other than Palm Desert. They did have figures from other, more distant southern California cities.

It seemed like a very reasonable proposal, putting the responsibility for a fuller analysis back on the planning commission. Attorney Duran had explained that if it came back from the planning commission unchanged, then the ordinance could proceed on to its second reading at a subsequent city council meeting, but that if it came back with a revised rate or threshold figure, that it would need a new first reading.

The comparison of rates with other cities would seem to be crucial to setting our own rate and threshold. There certainly doesn't seem to be any evidence that in the two years of work on the AIPP ordinance anyone did any calculations on how much revenue might be produced, nor how much art could be bought with that money. No calculations, that is, until the city staff ran some off for last night's agenda. So the rate and threshold selected must have been based on comparison with other cities, or a seat-of-the-pants guess. The comparison chart provided by city staff helped, but I'll simplify it even more by simply giving you the rates for residential and commercial/industrial developments, ignoring threshold amounts. Cities not listed have no AIPP program.

CommercialResidential
DHS Planning Commission1%1%
DHS City Staff½%½%
Palm Desert½%¼%
Palm Springs½%¼%
Indio½%¼%
La Quinta½%¼%
Cathedral City0.9%*0
*Cathedral City bases its threshold on square footage rather than value.

The vote on Councilmember Baker's motion failed 2-3, with Councilmember Betts joining Baker in the minority. Then Mayor Pro Tem Matas moved to simply return the ordinance to the planning commission. That motion passed 4-1, with Mr. Betts being the odd man out this time. Mr. Betts thought it was important to get the ordinance on the books as soon as possible after so much delay. This, even though he was the one repeatedly asking for more information on the revenue to be potentially generated by this ordinance. Either you need the information to make a decision or you don't. Getting the ordinance into effect one month earlier or later will make no difference, since no one is coming forth with proposals for new developments.

The agenda says the next planning commission meeting will be December 9.

Administrative

The authorization for up to $25,000 to retain Burke, Rix, Hines and Associates as lobbyists in Sacramento to put forth our views on parolees, probationers and convicted sex offenders passed without discussion after Chief Williams looked through the audience to see if anyone was waving signs to express support for parolees, probationers or convicted sex offenders, and seeing none made a brief explanation.

Mayor Parks nominated (and it was ratified 5-0) Scott Matas to be our representative to serve on the Eastern Riverside County Interoperable Communictions Joint Powers Authority. ERICA is set up so that Indio, Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs can develop communication systems that will be able to talk with each other during an emergency.

Consent

Among the items approved without discussion was a resolution that would allow the city council and RDA board to meet simulatneously, so we can dispense with the formality of adjourning city council only to immediately convene the RDA board. I take it that the items will be appropriately labeled on the agenda to keep everything all legal.

One item discussed was the setting of holidays to be observed in 2009. The city recognizes twelve (!) holidays, including separate Lincoln and Washington birthdays. Wow, how many decades has it been since President's Day was created at the federal level? I had no idea until last night that California was still doing it the old, traditional way. There was some discussion about cutting back to eleven holidays to save a little money.

They also discussed the Relay For Life Event benefit for the American Cancer Society in Desert Hot Springs. This is the first time it'll happen right here in the little city with the big heart. The relay will take place the first weekend in May 2009. For more information contact Rossi Stobbs at 760-333-4811 or Dot Reed at 760-835-4576. There will be a meeting at the Carl May Center on December 9 at 4 PM.

Another item discussed was an approval of the submission of a request for a grant for a rubberized sidewalk. The grant could pay $150,000 to cover the cost of a material made from recycled California tires for up to 7,000 lineal feet of rubberized sidewalk. The grant would not cover the cost of site preparation or the labor to install the sidewalk.

Council Comments

Councilmember Betts reminded us of the proposed Green Path North project and said that the California Desert Coalition would be organizing an informational meeting in Desert Hot Springs soon.

Mayor Pro Tem Matas said that the beginning date for work on the Palm Drive/Gene Autry I-10 interchange had been moved to November '09. They still need to buy two pieces of property which seem to be sticky.

Mayor Parks said she had been to a meeting (? a demonstration? something?) for Cal ID Remote Access Network which would allow a law enforcement officer to check fingerprints from out in the field.

City Manager Daniels said that DHS was eligibile for $680,000 as its share of the funds given to Riverside County to deal with blight due to foreclosures.

Another Public Comment

We had a citizen by the name of Thomas Young take advantage of the public comments that are agendized at the end of the meeting. He is a civil engineer and embarked on a rambling tale that didn't get to its point before his three minutes were up. I thought he was looking to do some contract work for the city as he talked about "working with the city." It turned out he actually had some code enforcement problems, where he was on the receiving end of enforcement. As happens sometimes when a speaker is not aware of the three minute limit and the meeting rules, he took it personally when he was cut off and Mayor Parks said that they could not dialogue during the meeting. He was encouraged to talk to council members after the meeting and to meet with Chief Williams to try to work something out with code enforcement. Fortunately, he did not simply leave the building and might be working it out, even as I write.

RDA

You will recall the fanfare that kicked off the surface rehabilitation of streets in Zone C, Phase 1 not long ago. The project is virtually done now, three weeks ahead of schedule! The city has received bids for Phase 2, and the lowest bid came in about 15% below the city engineer's estimate. Phase 1 had come in lower than estimated as well. Jonathon Hoy said that if this keeps up, they may be able to add more phases, i.e. more streets. The award for Zone C, Phase 2 was $1,965,141.45.

The proposal to purchase Haidet's True Value Hardware and five adjacent parcels for $1,100,000 was continued to a future meeting by a 5-0 vote.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs | permalink | November 19, 2008 at 03:23 PM

Comments

I just want to clarify that the charts I provide above are simply taken from the city council meeting agenda.

AIPP seems to have tremendous support by residents of DHS, and dropping it would be, I'm sure, the worst of several possible choices.

Now it's up to the planning commission to look at the figures and set (again) a rate and threshold figure.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Nov 20, 2008 5:40:29 PM

Russ, what happened to your failed "let's get started" project of flowers downtown? They didn't last through the summer. The clock still works though. Now with the clock working downtown people will flock from all over the world to come here? Great work!

The chart RON PROVIDED of the other cities that charge their residents for art was very helpful. If this would have been in that flyer that was OUTED as full of slander by Ted, maybe the residents would understand that IT IS ABSURD for this tiny working class town to have double and even quadruple the fee! They are being led around by the preachers of DHS salvation by working their emotions.

Listening to the meeting and reading Ron's writing about what the FACTS ARE made us realize that once again, we are hearing a lot of propoganda by DesertValleyStar.com and FriendsofDesertHotSprings.com.

The city needs to drop this item like a Palmwood potato.

The push for art by SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS to be placed at a whopping 1% put on the backs of home and business mortgagees in a HORRIBLE ECONOMY where failed projects and foreclosures are blighting this town everywhere is absurd.

Drop it and go back to your stupid shopping cart problems Russ. That's a whole other item that's also rediculous. So what if there's carts here and there, I look at them AND I SEE ART.

Posted by: at Nov 20, 2008 12:08:17 PM

Ron, I wasn't as clear in my comments as I would have liked last night. As usual, your report is a good summation of the issue. If you will allow me, I'll try to clarify my position here since you raise some question over it.

An art in public places ordinance is not all there is to the beautification of our city. But it is a step in that direction and one we need to take. I was ready to take that step Tuesday night and accept the planning commission recommendation. It will get us started so the other pieces of the program - namely administration - can be put in place at the Community and Cultural Affairs Commission.

On Cabot, unless my history is mistaken, he is recognized as a founder, if not the only founder. From his settlement eventually grew Desert Hot Springs. He was an artist and the home he built, our Cabot's Pueblo Museum, is art - albeit not one that might fit exactly within our future city art program guidelines.

He later found our hot water as you state. That aside, art certainly played an inspirational and founding role in our city.

On to modern day, with a very active art community a well funded city art program is certainly in order. Thus my comment, as much as any other city we will make good use of this program.

As for a my asking for more numbers seeming to be in conflict with my willingness to approve on Tuesday night, know that as we sit on the dais we get a pretty good feel for the way a vote is going to go from the expressions, comments, etc. of our fellow council members during discussion. It was obvious the measure was not going to pass Tuesday. Anticipating that, I asked staff to bring back some projections when it again came to the council. Asking for projections is not an uncommon practice in the world that has been my career.

We do have more information at the dais than the public, although our attorney will want me to point out anyone can get the same packet at city hall before the meeting. Last night, however, the last bit of information the council received from staff was an hour before the meeting, distributed to us during our closed session (and to the public after public comment had already started).

In this regard, your mention of past more raucous times in the council chambers is fitting - Palmwood was decided while information was still being distributed to the council members. We had the final staff report but not in time digest it. That is an ongoing point of contention. I hope staff will one day fully adopt the exact practices of other Coachella Valley cities and get us their reports in time for council to read and consider them.

That aside, this issue has been debated and hammered out by the planning commission for months, a process I have followed. While staff may not have provided the Coachella Valley numbers to the planning commission, Gabriel King did obtain them. Knowing Gabriel, that information was taken into consideration and was contained in his comments to his fellow commissioners for their consideration.

You correctly point out this is an issue over funding levels. I agree with those proposed by the planning commission, understood them and voted accordingly. The right vote was to approve and leave open the door to changes before the second reading of the ordinance as Karl Baker proposed. You may see a move to send it back the planning commission as as only another month of delay. I see it as being further unnecessary delay in a process that started over two years ago. It's time to get started.

Again, thanks for your reporting on this.

Best Regards,
Russell Betts

Posted by: Russell Betts at Nov 19, 2008 10:07:28 PM

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