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December 16, 2008

Today's Excitement

Some people are starting to get their lather up about one item on this evening's Desert Hot Springs City Council agenda [links to 28 MB PDF]. Item 10g:

Planning Commissioner Removal

As requested by Council Members Baker and Schmidt
Recommendation: Discuss request by Council Members and act accordingly.

As far as I'm aware, this is the first time anyone has taken advantage of the new rule allowing two city councilmembers to request an item to be put on the agenda. The Desert Sun interviewed Councilmember Schmidt to determine that it is Commissioner Gabriel King who will be discussed. "It's about Gabriel and the lack of decorum, generally speaking," Mr. Schmidt says. His concerns may have come to a focus at the recent planning commission meeting that I wrote about here. Councilmember Schmidt was present at that meeting, as well as Mayor Parks and Councilmember Betts. Councilmember Matas was present at the beginning, but didn't stick around.

Commissioner King says "the main straw that broke the camel's back is I insisted on having an art program that was actually funded." I think it's fairly obvious that is not the issue. I believe it was Commissioner King who had at an earlier meeting proposed the 1% AIPP rate, and I believe he would still prefer that rate. At the most recent planning commission meeting the rate was approve at ½% on residential projects (of 3 units or more) and ¾% on commercial and industrial projects. Commissioner King voted for those rates along with two other members of the commission. If the issue was the funding of AIPP, then the city council would be looking at the other two commissioners (Gustafson and Gerardi) as well. But they're not.

Over at Desert Local News, Gabriel King is described as the "mastermind" behind Friends of Desert Hot Springs. Google confirms my suspicion that "mastermind behind" is most often used for deadly terrorist plots, not local websites. But, according to DLN he's a mastermind with a crown! Councilmember Betts, who nominated Mr. King for the planning commission, said "When it comes down to making sure developments gear to proper standards, there is no one better than Gabriel to make sure that happens."

The article at Desert Valley Star by "Staff" really shovels the merd. It asserts that the expected removal effort will be "because he favors an art program for the city." Every member of the city council and the planning commission favors an Art In Public Places program, including Councilmembers Schmidt and Baker. There are differences of opinion on whether the rate should be ¼% higher or lower, and on where the threshold level should be set, but nobody in a position to decide the issue is opposed to it.

The article goes on to say that Councilmember Baker "unwittingly" joined Councilmember Schmidt's effort. Oh, puh-leeze! When has Councilmember Baker EVER done anything UNwittingly. He's probably the most witting guy we've got in town. If you carefully crept up on him while he was asleep and poked him with a stick, you might catch him in an unwitting moment, but there'd be no other way to do it.

Further, the article says Fred Bell (of the building industry) opposes AIPP and was angered by Commissioner King's remarks. Fred Bell has not indicated he is opposed to AIPP; only that he is opposed to a rate much higher than that in other cities in the valley. Rather than being angry, he seemed to me be in a rather pleasant mood at the planning commission meeting.

In the same article Councilmember Betts said Mr. King is an "excellent commissioner."

Here's some of my own lather on the issue: Desert Hot Springs wants investment in real estate and new businesses. In the past, a lot of investment has gone elsewhere because our city government seemed chaotic, unreliable and uncooperative. Part of getting that investment to come here (in that magical dream future where people actually invest and build again) is the city government must be stable and cooperative (to the extent allowed by law) and it must APPEAR to be stable and cooperative. I mean cooperative internally as well as externally.

On November 19, Commissioner King requested the following information from assistant city manager and redevelopment director Rudy Acosta:

The cities with the same demographics should include the same or similar house hold incomes, cost of living indexes, and regional environmental similarities including percentage of bedroom community ratio to retail, percentage of professional and service workers and incomes similar to ours. Said information should be included in the spread sheet.

Also, please include all cities from southern California area including the entire Coachella Valley art programs with the same demographic information (for comparison). The spread sheet should also include all the city names, the art fees, the exemptions, the fee structure, percentages of retail/commercial to residential make up and relevant demographic comments. The spread sheet should also include (from each city) how much art money was brought in each of the past 3 years, and what percentage from retail, industrial and residential sources. Also provide the art money collected value as a percentile of the average household income for all 3 years, percentile of retail dollars spent in that particular city, and the percentile of average home values. Please provide a full copy of the ordinance particulars to each city so the commissioners can verify.

It looks like a big request to me, but maybe the city subscribes to some database that can produce this sort of information. I don't know, I'm no insider. Commissioner King didn't get the information and didn't follow-up on it.

In his lengthy speech earlier in the planning commission meeting on December 9 Commissioner King said this:

I directly asked the city manager and staff verbally and through many emails for copies of art programs from cities with the same economic demographic as our city. The same demographics would include California cities with the same incomes, same percentage retail base, with little commercial and industrial. Basically mostly bedroom communities like ours. Staff has refused to provide any of the requested information what so ever.

I asked staff for this refused information to confirm my own discovery of the 1% standard with no exemptions for most cities like ours. I also asked staff for this information to confirm for the record to the council that our original Planning Commission recommendations were correct. Since staff did not provide this requested information, council will not have this information in the record to confirm our vote as correct and fair.

A bit later he also said this:

I reiterate; my independent research of other cities with the same demographics as ours, as in little Retail/Industrial/Commercial, shows art rates at the 1% range and no (or small) exemptions, not the ½% range with a $200,000 exemption as being proposed by BIA/staff. Our commission's original recommendation for 1% and $100,000 exemption was correct. Even our original recommendation is still less art funding than most cities like ours. Therefore our original recommendation is reasonable and more than fair. BIA/staff new recommendations are as close to zero funding of art as you can get.

Commissioner King quite clearly states that he himself has identified "other cities with the same demographics as ours." He says "most" of them assess a 1% AIPP fee. He said he asked Mr. Acosta for the information to "confirm" what he had already found.

It's admirable that Commissioner King went to a lot of effort to identify those cities with similar demographics and to find out what their AIPP rate is. That sort of information is certainly something we all should know in order to decide what our rate should be. He must have been able to obtain those figures fairly quickly, though, as neither he nor anyone else mentioned them at either the Planning Commission meeting on October 14 (when they first approved AIPP) or the thrill-packed City Council meeting on November 18 when AIPP was sent back to the Planning Commission for reconsideration.

Commissioner King knows as well as the rest of us that the city administration is understaffed and overworked in all departments. It seems to me that it would have been cooperative as well as fiscally prudent for Commissioner King to have handed over to city staff his list of cities with demographics similar to DHS along with all the other facts he had been able to put together about them. Then, it would have been a much simpler task for city staff to review the information, fill in the gaps, make any corrections or clarifications as necessary, and then get it all back to the Planning Commission in time for their December 9 meeting.

But instead of that, Commissioner King asked city staff to unnecessarily duplicate his own effort. He then interprets the failure to get the requested info back from city staff as a "refusal." Commissioner King sent me copies of the emails between himself and Rudy Acosta. There is no overt refusal. Mr. Acosta said the "Staff will do its best to obtain the information requested." This being Desert Hot Springs and not the Library Of Congress, I am inclined to believe it was simply a shortage of manpower and time that prevented a reply. But that's just my guess.

Commissioner King's public denunciation from his seat on the Planning Commission of staff's "refusal" to reply to his request is completely contrary to the appearance of cooperation in city government that I think is so important to attracting outside investors. Commissioner King has said he already had obtained that information through his own efforts. It would have been quite reasonable for Commissioner King to have distributed his own information about these other cities, and then to have spoken to Mr. Acosta or City Manager Daniels behind the scenes to make his complaints known to them.

I agree with Commissioner King's statements that the information from other cities with similar demographics is important for the people and city council to have available, so that the AIPP rate can be determined. After the planning commission meeting on December 9 I asked Mr. King for the list of cities with similar demographics. He said he could get that to me later. I asked him if he could recall the name of one city on that list. He said he was unable to recall any with assurance at the moment. Since then I have asked Commissioner King twice by email for that list of cities with similar demographics that charge a 1% AIPP fee. Hey, I'd be happy with just the list of similar cities, regardless of AIPP. But he has yet to be forthcoming. I won't go so far as to say he has refused to give it to me. I just get no reply.

I hope that Commissioner King shares that information with us all before the city council makes a final decision on the particulars of AIPP.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | December 16, 2008 at 02:58 PM

Comments

While their populations are similar, the economic conditions of Loma Linda and Laguna Beach are much better than DHS.

Posted by: Ron's Log at Dec 16, 2008 4:29:44 PM

Ever since I learned of Mr. King's remarks about the Art in Public Places (AIPP), I started my own research which at this point is about on-half completed. I have a list of all of the Cities in California with a poopulation between 19,000 and 26,000 - the exact Desert Hot Springs population demographic. I have found only two Cities from that group of over 40 that even have an ordinance, - Loma Linda and Laguna Beach. Laguna Beach does not require a fee from developers but development criterea in the City require that art be incorporated into the development at a rate to equal 1% of the construction costs. Dana Point does have a ordinance but all projects unter $1 million are exempt - so I count this as no requirement. Loma Linda establishes as fee of 1/2% with many other modifications. By the time my survey is complete, I expect to see that no more than 3 or 4 Cities with our demographics have an AIPP requirement. More will be revealed.

Posted by: Karl Baker at Dec 16, 2008 3:39:49 PM

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