Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton on Thursday said city staff have been subjected to a wave of "abuse" by people upset over a recent city council decision to allocate $200,000 to two local organizations to design a guaranteed basic income pilot program for transgender city residents.
At comments at the end of Thursday's city council meeting, Middleton, who is transgender, expressed dismay over what she said has been inaccurate national media coverage of the vote. She said vitriol directed at city staff is the result of hostility toward the transgender community.
On March 24, the council voted unanimously to provide $200,000 to Queer Works and DAP Health. Leaders of those two organizations told the council that the funding would pay DAP and Queer Works staff to put together an application for a share of the $35 million the state has budgeted to provide grants for entities looking to set up guaranteed income programs around the state.
The city did not agree to provide funding that would be given to any eventual participants in such a program, should it receive state approval.
Guaranteed income programs are social welfare programs that provide regular "no strings attached" payments. Proponents argue that such programs affectively address poverty and perhaps do so better than other efforts that come with more limits and requirements.
On Monday, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson discussed the city’s vote and the proposed pilot on his popular conservative talk and news program with Seattle radio host Jason Rantz. Rantz called the plan "the country’s ‘wokest’ guaranteed income scheme" to date.
Though the pilot program has yet to be designed, Rantz claimed: "The only rule at this point is that the participants have to be transgender or pretend they are genderless or have multiple genders based on one's mood. Gender does not actually mean anything anymore and this is not something that really you can prove and so instead of primarily focusing on using this to end poverty, there has been this focus on gender-affirming health care, which includes gender reassignment surgery and hormone treatments."
Middleton also responded to questions from Fox News for a story that ran on the outlet’s website.
This week, “Palm Springs” has trended on Twitter due to national attention directed at the vote.
Council voted to fund application process
During the March 24 council meeting, the leaders from DAP Health and Queer Works said that while the $200,000 would be enough to fund the process of designing the pilot and submitting the application, they would likely need about $900,000 more in funding from the city to operate the program. However, several councilmembers, including Middleton, said they were unwilling to commit to providing that additional funding.
At that point, Queer Works CEO Jacob Rostovsky said the money would not be wasted even if the project could ultimately move forward.
"This model and this program could be used for something DAP wants to do or something Queer Works wants to do," he said. "It's not wasted time or wasted money, something will come out of this proposal if for some reason we don't move forward with guaranteed basic income."
City's funding limited to application process
In her comments during Thursday's meeting, Middleton sought to clarify that none of the money the council had agreed to provide would be used to make guaranteed income payments if the program were to be established. Middleton is the third transgender mayor in U.S. history and the only one currently serving.
"What we approved was $200,000 that is going to DAP and Queer Works for them to build out a pilot and to do the homework that is necessary to complete an application process to the State of California," she said.
Middleton noted that the build-out would include doing focus groups, studying best practices, developing messaging, proposing a staffing model and an application process.
"None of that $200,000 is going to provide benefits in the form of income to anyone," she said. "That is not what we approved. We approved providing funding so DAP and Queer Works provide an application."
She added that it will be the state that chooses whether the proposed program will receive funding from it.
"That is not a determination that will be made by the City of Palm Springs," she said. "We have made a determination to help an organization in our city complete an application process and have the best chance to compete for funds."
Middleton said that individuals who are both happy and confused about the program have reached out to the council and "are frankly very confused as to what's actually going on."
"We are trying to make clear no program has been put into place and no funding commitment beyond the $200,000 has been made by the City of Palm Springs," she said.
Abusive phone calls, emails targeted at city
Middleton then brought up the abuse she said has been directed at city staff.
"Over the last two weeks, the folks who answer telephones and receive emails and other things on our behalf at city hall have been exposed to a level of abuse of frankly, frequently disgusting phone calls and messages," she said.
She later told The Desert Sun the abuse included "very abusive phone calls that were loud, profane, angry and insulting."
"[It's the] same for emails, some directed to council collectively and others individually," she said. "Others directed to general city hall addresses."
Middleton offered a stern rebuke of that behavior, calling for those upset with the decision to direct their ire at the council only.
"None of the folks who answer our phones or answer our mail make public policy decisions for our city. We do on city council," she said. "We are your elected officials. If you are angry about something that we have done, it is thoroughly appropriate to talk to us."
Abusing staff and insulting councilmember's families, meanwhile, is not appropriate and does not help that cause, she said.
"We will move through this and we will act collectively as a city," she said.
Finally, Middleton said she was disturbed that much of the criticism seemed to be motivated by "animus against the transgender community."
"There is only one of those dozens of programs that are in our pipeline today that has received national attention and the kind of anger that the program proposed by DAP and Queer Works has received," she said.
"Many of us would like us to believe that animus against the transgender community plays no role in their decision to single out this particular program," she said. "That does not carry muster, it does not ring true. What we've come to understand and what we believe is it was animus."
She said the public can debate whether guaranteed basic income programs are appropriate public policy and noted the city council had held such a discussion two weeks ago.
"That discussion will continue across this country, but singling out one group for abuse does not advance the interest of the country or the city or anyone else," she said.
Paul Albani-Burgio covers breaking news and the City of Palm Springs. Follow him on Twitter at @albaniburgiop and via email at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Palm Springs mayor defends Palm Springs transgender UBI basic income vote