Alfie Pettit’s Response to Boulders and Babies

Vacation Rentals have turned the City of Palm Springs into Vacation, inc. Vacation Rentals have permanently changed Palm Springs neighborhoods into business districts and consequently created home prices much higher than the national average.

Currently, there are 3676 (source: AIRONA) active and known vacation rentals in Palm Springs. Many are owned by Corporations and Limited Liability Company’s. Over the last four years the Vacation Rental growth has nearly doubled in Palm Springs, generating an estimated $13 million in T.O.T. (Transient Occupancy Tax) a year.

District 3, which I, Alfie Pettit am running for City Council, has almost 600 Vacation Rental properties. Heavily concentrated in Movie Colony East and Vista Las Palmas neighborhoods. My opponent Geoff Kors had promised his neighbors in Old Las Palmas that he would make significant changes in the Vacation Rental laws back in 2018 during the Measure C debacle. His neighbors today are very unhappy with his empty promises and are looking for real change in City government.

Since the F.B.I. raid on City Hall for corruption and bribery, mostly related to the Downtown Revitalization Project, I believe the City was forced to promote and place more burden on the owners of properties in Palm Springs to generate greater T.O.T tax. It was evident that the F.B.I.

raid was going to have a very detrimental effect on the Downtown Revitalization Project. And it did by scaring away many service industry businesses that would have employed over an estimated 4000 full time and part-time workers.

Measure C on the ballot last year (2018) threatened the tax base generated by the T.O.T. Opponents of the measure, (the measure would have limited the number of Vacation Rentals to approximately 20% of the existing vacation rental market), spent over $660,000 to defeat the measure. The proponents were outspent by the opposition by a huge margin, in part due to a $300,000 contribution from Expedia and Airbnb. Most of the City Council, including Geoff Kors, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (with 700 Vacation Rentals on their properties) and the Chamber of Commerce all opposed Measure C.

With the downtown developer, Wessman charged with bribery and corruption along with the then Mayor Pougnet, the ripple effect was evident. The Virgin Hotel decided to slow down its entry into downtown, now delayed until 2024, mainly due to ongoing litigation surrounding Grit Development (formerly Wessman). How many other hotels and businesses took a hard second look at Palm Springs and decided against doing business here. 55 new hotels and 5300 new hotel beds were projected to be coming to the Palm Springs area before the F.B.I debacle at City Hall.

Currently, three major projects are at a standstill. The Virgin Hotel is a large hole left in the Downtown Revitalization Project. Literally! The Andaz (the forever Andaz, opening 2016; in Early 2017; early 2019; Fall 2019; early 2020) construction is at a standstill. Rumor had it the construction company has moved across the street to begin work on the new stadium. The Tribe seems to be the only ones that get things done here. A few months before the F.B.I. raid the then Mayor Pougnet said, “the City of Palm Springs is absolutely thrilled the Hyatt Corporation will be bringing the Andaz brand to downtown Palm Springs.” The Hyatt had partnered with Rael Development Corporation, a privately held real estate company, to open the Andaz. Lawrence Rael, Chairman of Rael Development Corporation hasn’t been too careful about stating in the cocktail circuit that he can’t wait to dump the Andaz. The Dream Hotel appears to be just a dream. Well, it’s really a dusty fenced off space across from the Convention Center.

When the Tribe tore down the Spa Hotel one year before the F.B.I. raid at City Hall, there was conjecture about what they would build there to replace the hotel. A hotel tower like the one they have in Rancho Mirage? The same builder as the Rancho Mirage hotel supposedly had prepared plans for a new hotel tower to replace the old Spa Hotel. Staff at the Casino had even been shown renderings and models of the anticipated new hotel. Then suddenly a change in plan happened. The tribe decided to put off building a hotel for 5-7 years reportedly, so that developers would build new hotels in the downtown “T” corridor, thus the tribe would not be in competition for hotel beds. To encourage this resort hotel growth a T.O.T. rebate program in Palm Springs was designed to incentivize hotels to build and remodel in Palm Springs. Rebate arrangements were struck with the Arrive Hotel, the Kimton Rowan and with the still not completed Andaz. Without this rebate arrangement the Rowan would probably be gone, eliminating the anchor the holds all of the Downtown Project together.

Geoff Kors when he took office had a clear opportunity to address the lingering doubts about the F.B.I raid. Newly elected Mayor Moon asked for a review of the City Manager, David Ready. Behind closed doors, the council voted 5-0 to retain Ready. Mayor Moon later said publicly that he regretted his vote and should have stuck to his beliefs. This action triggered a relentless effort to diminish the Mayor’s role, attacks by Kors and company and ultimately the elimination of the position of elected mayor all together. The City Manager is literally and symbolically the head of the beast running Palm Springs. He should have been removed at the time, if not just for appearance sake, but just because of his major role as an observer at City Hall during the corruption scandal.

Kors and company are currently running a political ad stating how he formed a citizen involved commission to bring transparency to Palm Springs government. The ad has since disappeared. It had Kors and Lisa Middleton touting his accomplishments in creating a fair and open local government. Kors internet posts have a way of disappearing or being scrubbed away. But that’s another topic for another time.

Kors and the “Gang of 4” hope that in this coming election and the one to follow in 2020 that the residents, the voters here in the City of Palm Springs don’t realize that the City is irreparably changed due to Vacation Rentals and the need for T.O.T. taxes. Homeowners have given up fighting the Vacation Rental issue or moved. The city has become unaffordable for most workers. New hotels and businesses should have helped create sustainable jobs for workers that have fled to Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City ad elsewhere for affordable housing.

I will address this issue of affordable housing when I am elected. Palm Springs the permanent and part-time residents and visitors to this beautiful city we call Palm Springs.

The settlement with Grit Development for properties covered with “boulders and babies” will hopefully get development back on track and in particular the Downtown Revitalization Project.  The welcome sign entering Palm Springs on the 111 shouldn't read “Sold to the highest bidder.” The people, the residents of Palm Springs want to be fully represented. I pledge to do just that and serve my complete term if elected.

Alan “Alfie” Pettit
Candidate for Palm Springs City Council
District 3.