The District 1, 2 and 3 seats on the five-seat Palm Springs City Council are up for election in November and the races are starting to take shape.
Palm Springs City Councilmember Grace Garner said Monday she will seek re-election in District 1, while Destination PSP owner Jeffrey Bernstein formally announced that he is running for the District 2 seat currently held by Dennis Woods.
Asked by The Desert Sun on Monday whether he would run again, Woods said: "I'm still working it out. I haven't officially announced but something will come out."
Ron deHarte, president of Greater Palm Springs Pride and chair of the Palm Springs Human Rights Commission, announced last week that he will run to replace District 3 councilmember Geoff Kors, who is not seeking a third term.
Garner wants to continue work on affordable housing
Garner, 35, an attorney who was elected to her first term in 2019, told The Desert Sun she is running for a second term to both continue the work she and the council started during her first term and to advance some other priorities the city hasn't been able to dig into yet largely because of the pandemic.
She also said she felt it makes sense to announce a run because District 1 is now slated to expand its boundaries during the ongoing council redistricting process, which means there is little chance that she will be drawn out of District 1. District 1 currently includes Palm Springs north of San Rafael Road and then east of Gene Autry Trail, along with the Demuth Park neighborhood. The eastern part of the district ends at Demuth Park and the Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort.
Garner said one of her biggest goals will remain increasing the affordable housing available in Palm Springs.
"We've made strides on that but it's a much slower process than I think anyone wants," she said. In particular, Garner said she wants to help get affordable housing on city-owned lots, including in the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood.
"Let's work with Habitat for Humanity and get some houses built there that are affordable and people in Palm Springs can purchase and live in," she said.
Another priority she seems to share with the rest of the current council, she said, is to put more emphasis on maintaining city infrastructure and, particularly, city parks.
Garner also said that she feels she has learned several lessons in her first term that she hopes to carry through in a second, including the need to be patient about what she now realizes can be a slower process than she first expected, and how to effectively communicate with residents about that process.
Garner said she often hears from residents who are frustrated about something because they have not been given all the information that they need. She said finds in those situations residents come away feeling better when explains the process and what the city and council are doing.
"It can often seem like nothing is happening, when in fact there is a lot that is happening, it's just in city staff's hands behind the scenes," she said.
Garner also said she is supportive of a recent council move to make its meetings more efficient by better prioritizing issues than it has in the past. The council's meetings regularly stretch beyond five or six hours.
If re-elected, Garner would be in line to rotate into the mayoral position in December — and become the first Latina to do so. Garner said being the first Latina mayor would be humbling but come with sadness that the city has not had a Latina in that position before.
"But I'm glad it's happening and I hope that it shows other people in the community that this is something that is possible for them and that council is something they can strive for," she said.
Bernstein says he would bring business owner's view to council
In the District 2 race, Bernstein is emphasizing his record of civic service on various local boards and commissions. He is a founding member of the Palm Springs Roundtable, and chairs the Measure J Oversight Commission, which allocates tax revenues to city improvement projects. He is also stressing that if elected, he would bring his perspective as a business owner and employer to the council. Bernstein's downtown shop offers Palm Springs-themed merchandise.
“I’m running because I know what makes Palm Springs special and unique — its residents, businesses and its myriad of community organizations — and I want to ensure we work together as a city to support them all so that we keep this city like no place else,” said Bernstein. “I know what it takes to build lasting, community-oriented institutions and businesses, and I want to bring my knowledge and experience to benefit the city council.”
In a speech he made at City Hall on Monday to announce his candidacy, Bernstein said his priorities would include expanding affordable housing, stepping up maintenance of city parks and roads, and taking "another look" at the city's cannabis industry to nurture its "proper growth."
Another major priority, he said, would be addressing what he called Palm Springs' homelessness crisis, including ensuring that the recently approved homeless navigation center is completed in a timely fashion.
"Those seeking essential services must have access," he said. "However, we also need to take stronger action against those committing crimes and provide more support to those struggling with mental illness and addiction."
Bernstein said that he feels the city's police are spread too thin and the city needs to do a better job of ensuring police are staffed adequately to deal with the challenges that come with being a major tourist destination.
He also noted that he is "pro-tourism" but believes in a balanced approach to running the city that would involve finding new revenue sources and focusing on quality-of-life matters, to make it a great place to live as well as visit.
Personally and through his business, Bernstein, 57, has worked on partnerships with local nonprofit organizations, including DAP Health, Human Rights Campaign, the LGBTQ Community Center of the Desert, Modernism Week, the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, the Palm Springs Cultural Center, the Palm Springs International Film Society and the Palm Springs Library.
Prior to moving to Palm Springs, Bernstein spent 25 years in the television industry, launched his own e-commerce business, owned and operated a restaurant, and founded a national AIDS awareness organization. His candidacy was announced in an email Sunday night prepared by Kors' husband, Jeffrey Williamson.
He said if elected, he would hold monthly meetings with district residents, businesses and neighborhood organizations. District 2 encompasses Little Tuscany and Racquet Club Estates along both sides of North Palm Canyon Drive to East Vista Chino, and runs east to Whitewater Club and El Rancho Vista Estates. It also includes Oasis del Sol, Rogers Ranch and other neighborhoods.
The city's voting district maps are currently being redrawn, with minor changes expected.
“From public safety, to housing and homelessness, and many other important issues, I will work hard to do what is best for our city and those who work and live in District 2,” he said.
Bernstein said he has been endorsed by people including Palm Springs International Film Festival Chairman Harold Matzner, Lulu California Bistro owner Jerry Keller, PS Resorts Chairman Aftab Dada, Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Margaret Keung-Robles, DAP Health CEO and President David Brinkman, Ace Hotel General Manager Celeste Brackley, former Palm Springs Public Art Commission chair Ann Sheffer, Tac/Quila owner Liz Ostoich, Just Fabulous founder Stephen Monkarsh, Moderism Week CEO Chris Mobley, Blackbook bar owner Dean Levine, Shag Store owner Jay Nailor, Rabbi Sally Olins, Zim American Bistro owner Mindy Reed, Roly Chinese Fusion chef/owner Chad Gardner and 849 owner Willie Rhine.
"I've never seen a place where there is so much community and business involvement, sometimes with different points of view but always with the same goal in mind: to keep Palm Springs like no place else," he said. "I believe I can be a force in mobilizing that involvement."
The District 4 seat held by Christy Holstege and the District 5 seat held by now-Mayor Lisa Middleton are not up for election this year. However, Holstege is running for the California Assembly.
*Correction: A headline on an earlier version of this article misstated what district Bernstein is running in. It is District 2.
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.
Janet Wilson is senior environment reporter for The Desert Sun, and co-authors USA Today's Climate Point newsletter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @janetwilson66 on Twitter
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Garner, Destination PSP owner running for Palm Springs city council