The future of one of the most heavily-traveled tourist destinations in California is on the line, as a small group of citizens is fighting a redevelopment plan for Palm Springs' downtown -- a plan that has already been approved by city officials.
Phone lines, city offices and social media sites are heating up over the efforts of a small group of citizens to derail the downtown development plan, which includes a sleek new hotel and other venues.
Lawsuits are in the works, letters to the proposed hotel’s owners have been written and – most significantly – a petition drive is underway to put the whole plan before the voters in November.
Paid petitioners, who have until Monday to get about 1,600 valid Palm Springs signatures, have been accused of misrepresenting themselves and what’s on the petition they’re asking people to sign.
On the other side, the Chamber of Commerce and other heavyweights have launched a mail and media campaign asking residents not to sign the petitions.
“Give me a break,” one writer posted on The Desert Sun’s Facebook page. “We voted on Measure J. Everyone is for a new downtown.”
Another wrote, “It’s the same bunch of naysayers we’ve had all along.”
Frank Tysen, owner of Casa Cody Country Inn, is a leader in the petition drive. He says he doesn’t like the design of the hotel and project that the city and developer John Wessman plan to build, and he also doesn’t like the way it got approved.
“If you follow this process… it is the most high handed, it is the most intimidating process I’ve ever seen, and after people have been promised transparency,” Tysen told me.
As for the actual plans, Tysen says, “The design is awful. You look at that picture, it looks like it’s right around the Staples Center. It could be anywhere.”
But the tactics of Tysen’s paid signature gatherers are also drawing ire.
Joy Meredith, who heads the Main Street merchants’ group (which supports the redevelopment), says when a petitioner came to her home, “He was implying to me that he was with the city of Palm Springs, and I got very angry.”
Others say petitioners have told people if they sign it will lower their taxes or that it’s a petition to create jobs.
Tysen acknowledged to me there may have been problems with his paid signature gatherers, saying, “That’s difficult in any campaign… I double-checked it today again. I’ve told the petitioners time-and-time again what to say. I say this is basically an opportunity for people to vote on the issue.”
I also asked Tysen whether he has a conflict of interest, since he is a hotel owner who is trying to use the election process to stop a competing hotel from being built one block away.
“Absolutely not,” he answered, “because I have a totally different operation. I have a 29 room boutique hotel. My clientele is totally different from them.”
Meanwhile, there are other forces at work trying to stop the downtown project as well. Some opponents have hired a prominent San Luis Obispo attorney to draw up a lawsuit to stop the development, and a second lawsuit is also said to be in the works.
And some residents, including a former candidate for
Palm Springs City Council, have written to the Kimpton Hotel group in San Francisco asking them not to build their six-story hotel as it’s proposed here.
For Joy Meredith, it’s all sour grapes on the part of people who were given every opportunity to state their opposition during the approval process.
“ Because a group doesn’t get their way doesn’t mean you go out and do a referendum,” she says.
If there is a vote it would be won by those who want the redevelopment, says Aftab Dada, the chairman of PS Resorts. “It’s a waste of everybody’s time,” he says, “because at the end of the day the majority of the residents of Palm Springs will support this project.”
Perhaps, but if not it wouldn’t be the first time in California that an overdose of democracy stopped a project dead in its tracks. ###