Palm Springs Mayor Pro-Tem Grace Garner called for Desert Highland Gateway Estates residents to put pressure on the Palm Springs City Council to up its investment in the community after a tense meeting that repeatedly laid bare longstanding tensions between Palm Springs Police and residents of the neighborhood about what to do about crime and other problems in the area.
“We do not have enough people on our City Council right now who are willing to invest $7 million in this community, so we have to go out to everyone else to get that money…,” said Garner, whose district includes the Desert Highlands Gateway Estates neighborhood. “I am going to get in big trouble for saying this and everyone is going to get mad at me for saying this but we need to put pressure on the entire City Council to make the investments in this community going forward. And we cannot say it is the school district’s responsibility [or] it is the police’s responsibility. It is everyone’s responsibility and we have to work together to do it.”
The meeting was organized by the police department, which delivered fliers to residents in the neighborhood inviting them to come and discuss issues in the neighborhood, Lt. Gus Araiza told The Desert Sun prior to the meeting.
Palm Springs Police Lt. Frank Browning earlier in the meeting had asked the attendees whether it was accurate to say that many in the room were asking for the city to invest in more programs for kids in the Desert Highland Gateway estates neighborhood. He then asked them to clarify whether they felt those programs should be provided by the police department, the city or someone else, which is when Garner began speaking.
“Here is the problem, everybody is trying to pass this to somebody else,” Garner said, before talking about her desire to see $7 million invested in the neighborhood, which she and other residents in attendance said should be the neighborhood’s share of the city budget for the next fiscal year based on its population of the city.
Garner also said she spends a great deal of time trying to get private organizations and businesses to invest money into helping the community because that level of investment has not come from the City Council.
“I am here to tell you that’s what I am doing, that’s what I have been doing and it’s really hard,” Garner said. “And I hope we can put pressure on the rest of the council to vote and act for this community.”
Garner is seeking re-election to her District 1 seat this fall in an election year that could see a major shakeup on the council. The District 2 seat currently held by Dennis Woods and District 3 seat held by Geoff Kors are also up for reelection in the fall. Kors is not seeking reelection, Woods has yet to declare his intentions. Business owner Jeffrey Bernstein is a declared candidate for the District 3 seat. The District 4 seat is not up for reelection but its holder, Christy Holstege, is running for California Assembly and would also be replaced if she is elected in November.
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Garner’s comments, which elicited loud applause from most of the attendees inside a nearly full James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center, came after residents, Browning and Palm Springs Police Chief Andrew Mills repeatedly expressed both their desire to improve the situation in the area and their relationship to each other and, often, their frustration about why they thought the other side did not share that goal.
The meeting began with Browning, who is overseeing policing on the north side of town including in Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood, asking for residents to provide ideas about how the police could be a part of a better solution for policing in the city. So far this year, the neighborhood has experienced three homicides.
“Please give us ideas,” he said. “We don’t have the answers but if you want us to police our way out of this that means it a lot of enforcement and we know people in this community don’t want a lot of enforcement…”
“You guys have got to decide today if you’re the chicken or the pig,” he continued. “At breakfast you’ve got eggs and ham. The chicken just lays eggs… the pig is the life of that ham so if you want to be committed to this neighborhood being safe you need to be committed to this neighborhood being safe… Please don’t take it lightly. I don’t want this to be a typical ‘in the past you guys should’ve done this or that, we get nowhere with that.’ ”
That comment drew some resistance from attendees, who said the onus is on the police and city to use its resources to figure out how to solve the problems, not the residents.
However, many residents also offered ideas, including the need for more programs for kids and particularly older youth who do not have places to go. Many of the comments also focused on the need for there to be more understanding and shared experience between police and residents.
“When you come, somebody is going…,” resident Roman G. Pellum, who said he works closely with youth in the neighborhood and in the process of launching a program aimed at older kids, said to the officers. “Maybe you can sign some of your kids up for some of the same programs as my kids is what I’m saying, because my kids don’t know your kids and you know mine.”
Not everyone agreed on solutions, with some calling for more patrols and others criticizing a perceived “over-policing.”
There was, however, overwhelming opposition to the implementation of ShotSpotter shot detection technology in the neighborhood, which Mills said was now off the table due to a lack of support from residents.
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Mills pledged to try to act on the requests made by residents during the meeting, including ensuring that all available crime data is shared with the community and coming up with a series of proposals for the city manager about how to address resident’s concerns.
He also promised to distribute information about how residents could apply for grants to start their own programs in the community and to help residents as much as he could with the application process.
“Some of these things don’t take money, some of them do, some are short term, some are long term,” he said of the kinds of possible efforts the department would look to undertake. “So we will lay that all out for you so that you can have it in your hands and you can read it yourself and then we will hold each other accountable for putting in the work.
“You can hold us accountable and we need to hold you accountable, too,” he said. “And if there’s community programs that need to be done, it’s not my job, but you know what, we got to get it done one way or the other and so we have to do it together. Right?”
The president of the Desert Highland Gateway Estates Community Action Association called for both police and residents to work together and show each other more mutual respect.
“Let’s work together,” said Cynthia Sessions. “Let’s be respectful to one another and I think if we got respect from you then we would give more respect. We need to try and do something. I mean let’s try it. And that way we can not say ‘it won’t work.’ We have to try something. And thank you for being here.”