Will ‘Forever Marilyn’ stay forever? Palm Springs voters may weigh in, but lawsuit looms

Desert AIDS Walk participants pass by the Marilyn Monroe statue in downtown Palm Springs in October 2022.
Desert AIDS Walk participants pass by the Marilyn Monroe statue in downtown Palm Springs in October 2022.

A group that supports keeping Palm Springs’ iconic and controversial statue of Marilyn Monroe at its downtown location has launched a campaign to let voters weigh in. But legal questions remain, including whether such a vote would affect a pending lawsuit that could force the statue to be moved.

As it is, the public street where “Forever Marilyn” stands is set to be reopened in 2024 because the city council voted to close it for only three years.

The new group pushing to close the street for good and let the statue stay, which is being called Protect Our Marilyn, is co-chaired by Aftab Dada, general manager of the Hilton Palm Springs and chair of the hotel association PS Resorts.

As Protect Our Marilyn got its signature-gathering push underway Tuesday, Dada said it hopes to get the measure before voters during the March 5, 2024, state primary election.

The 26-foot-tall statue has been the subject of celebration and controversy since it was placed in the center of Museum Way between Palm Canyon Drive and the Palm Springs Art Museum in March 2021.

The city called the road closure temporary, pointing to a state law that allows short-term closures, such as those for special events.

However, that proved controversial with some residents who oppose the statue being on Museum Way.

A group led by prominent local fashion designer Trina Turk eventually sued the city, saying a three-year closure is not “temporary” and that the city failed to do an environmental review as required by state law before an extended street closure.

A Riverside County judge initially dismissed the case, but a state appeals court panel overturned that decision, saying the three-year closure is not temporary and that there are grounds to challenge the lack of environmental review. The case remains ongoing in Riverside County Superior Court.

But the group behind the ballot petition drive says it is hoping to give residents the chance to render the lawsuit moot by backing the permanent closure of Museum Way, paving the way for the statue to be placed there permanently.

The proposed ballot measure would remove the portion of Museum Way where “Forever Marilyn” stands from a long-range city plan for downtown, City Attorney Jeffrey Ballinger said Tuesday. The city council could then vote to "vacate" that stretch, meaning it would become a private road and the statue could remain. There would be a public hearing before any such council vote, Ballinger said.

The city received notice Aug. 31 of the petition to get the issue on the ballot, Ballinger said.

The lawyer for Protect Our Marilyn could not be reached for comment. But Dada said the group has been advised that a judge would likely consider the results of a ballot measure in deciding the lawsuit. In addition, Protect Our Marilyn plans to commission a review on the environmental effects of a closure to strengthen the legal case for one.

Aftab Dada speaking in 2020.
Aftab Dada speaking in 2020.

“Forever Marilyn,” which was displayed in a different spot in downtown Palm Springs for about two years starting in 2012, was later purchased by PS Resorts for $1 million and installed on Museum Way in 2021.

State law allows people to gather signatures in support of new ordinances. If proponents get signatures of 10% of the city’s registered voters within 180 days, the city council can either vote to adopt the ordinance or put the question on the ballot at the next municipal election.

Paul Albani-Burgio covers breaking news and the city of Palm Springs. Follow him on Twitter at @albaniburgiop and email him at paul.albani-burgio@desertsun.com.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Group wants the future of ‘Forever Marilyn’ on Palm Springs ballot