Carlos Garcia says he will bring a ‘vastly different perspective’ to the City Council.
PALM DESERT — Carlos Garcia is among five candidates seeking one of two seats on the City Council in the Nov. 8 election. Both seats are four-year terms. If elected, he would represent District 2.
The seats are currently held by incumbents Jan Harnik and Sabby Jonathan. Harnik is seeking re-election, Jonathan is not.
In 2020, changes were made to the City’s elections as a result of a legal settlement related to the California Voting Rights Act. The settlement created a new downtown district, comprising about 20% of the City’s population, represented by one (1) elected City Council member, as well as a larger surrounding district, District 2, comprising about 80% of the population, from which four (4) Council members will be elected. The settlement also calls for the implementation of ranked-choice voting in both districts.
The new downtown district, which includes the Civic Center area and surrounding neighborhoods, helps fulfill longtime municipal goals identified in the City’s Strategic and General Plans and will result in a more fully defined downtown Palm Desert, according to the city clerk. The downtown district aligns Palm Desert’s electoral process with the California Voting Rights Act, ensuring that the voices and votes of all Palm Desert residents are heard and translate to meaningful representation.
Ranked choice voting, currently used by several other California cities, has been recognized as a way to help ensure that the candidate preferences of all voters are better reflected in election outcomes. Also known as an instant runoff, ranked choice voting gives voters the power to rank their candidates in order of preference.
Uken Report asked all five candidates identical questions. They were all given a specific deadline and no word limit. Akkerman and Carlos Garcia responded immediately. Therefore, their responses will be published first. The others will be published as they are received.
Uken Report (UR): Occupation?
Garcia: I am the CEO/President of Garcia Research Associates, Inc., a marketing research firm I founded in 1990. Garcia Research has specialized in multicultural research, with a heavy emphasis on the US Hispanic market. I have also been teaching marketing research at Cal Poly Pomona, but I took this semester off to have more time for my campaign. The trade group that represents the marketing research industry is called the Insights Association, and I serve on their IDEA Council (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access). We are working hard at bringing our industry up to date. The goal is two-pronged: to have the multi-billion-dollar marketing research profession better reflect our country internally — through hiring and promotions. It is now heavily White non-Hispanic, and the upper echelons are predominantly male. The other goal is to improve the representativeness of the work we do — rather than rely on grossly skewed samples, we need to move forward to doing a better job reaching those voices that are rarely included. This would provide advertisers and decision-makers with more accurate data. This would, we believe, improve our economy and public policy as well.
UR: Who or what motivated to run for City Council at this time?
Garcia: I have long felt an obligation to give back in thanks for the considerations I have received. After receiving scholarships to a Jesuit prep school, Pomona College, a Ford Foundation Fellowship to attend UC Berkeley, the old saying comes to mind: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” To fulfill that obligation, I served on the board of the Vikki Carr Scholarship Foundation (3 years), I served on the board of Valley Community Healthcare in the San Fernando Valley for sixteen years, two as board chair. I served on the board of the Pomona College Alumni Association (4 years), with one year as Alumni Association President and an ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees. I am now serving on the board of the Artists Council which runs the Artists Center in Palm Desert. I also serve on the Palm Desert Finance Committee. So, giving back comes naturally to me, even if politics does not. The issue that propelled me to run despite my reticence was the fight over the obvious need to switch Palm Desert to a five-district system. I will write more about this below.
UR: What makes you a better candidate than your opponent(s)?
Garcia: Right now, the city council does not have any representation for the north part of town. I live in the Genesis development (Portola and Gerald Ford) and up in this area we feel pretty much ignored. Sand dunes collect in our street for weeks, and we are slighted in many other ways. None of the other candidates, to my knowledge, live north of the wash. You would never know it from all of the attention the city council gives to El Paseo and the city center, but our part of town (which includes Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart and Loew’s) actually produces more in sales tax revenue to the city than El Paseo does. But if you don’t live in a neighborhood, there are experiences you won’t have. As issues arise, the current council just doesn’t see them.
I feel I will bring a vastly different perspective to the City Council. I am a researcher, so I am focused on fact-based decision making and the fundamental understanding that this isn’t about ME, it’s about the community writ large. I am a Gay man and a Latino, and the increasing diversity of Palm Desert needs to be reflected on the council. I am also a business owner, so I get the issues faced by our local businesses. I am an educator and will work hard to help facilitate the installation of a CSU in Palm Desert. Finally, and most importantly, I am a grandfather of two glorious girls, and I want them to grow up with air they can breathe, water they can drink, and a habitat that is suitable for human life. So, the environment is a major focus. I understand that being pro-choice, anti-gun and vehemently pro-environment doesn’t come up very often in city council votes. Much of the work is purely practical about every-day issues but people need to know what my basic values are — fairness, equitable treatment of all residents, practical solutions, and always keeping an eye on the future.
UR: What can you bring to the City Council that is currently missing?
Garcia: I would bring representation for the north part of town; a pragmatic progressive approach and I would break some glass ceilings that need to be broken. In 2000, the White non-Hispanic population of PD was 86.8% of the population. In 2010, it was 70.4%. In 2020, it was 66.5%. So, Palm Desert is becoming increasingly diverse. The data suggests that the Latino population is mostly stable at 22.7%, but the African American population has grown to 3.1% and the Asian population to 4.5%. I could not find data on the LGBTQ population, but I know from anecdotal experience that it is growing. To my knowledge I would be the first Gay person to serve. So, I would bring another measure of diversity to the council.
UR: What is the single most important endorsement you have and why?
Garcia: I feel the single most important endorsement I have received is from Dr. Raul Ruiz. Redistricting has taken Palm Desert out of his new district, but nevertheless he remains a shining beacon of intelligence, wisdom, hard work and accomplishment. He is a great role model for our youth — overcoming adversity and leveraging your disadvantages to pull yourself up is a model for us all. Unlike Dr. Ruiz, however, I am not embarking on a political career. I just want to serve my community and encourage others to follow in my path — more of a relay race than a marathon.
UR: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment either in or out of office?
Garcia: My biggest accomplishment is clearly my son. As a Gay man, I always hoped to have a child but never expected to. But I met an amazing woman, my ex-wife, who remains my very best friend. We talk every day. We raised our son in a very gender-balanced way, and he grew up very respectful of all people. He married a brilliant woman (with a PhD) and they have two wonderful little girls (4 and 8 yrs. old). He is now on an amazing professional trajectory and taking on huge responsibilities with great success. At their wedding, I said: Some say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but these two apples have wings.
UR: What is the single biggest issue facing Palm Desert and why?
Garcia: There are many challenges we will face, including working on environmental and water conservation issues, but the biggest issue in my mind is the absurd two district voting system now in place. The council spent around $1.3 million of our taxpayer dollars to fight the CVRA lawsuit just so they wouldn’t have to run against each other because they all live in the same part of town. Now, people who live in the majority-Latino district 1 vote for one person for council every four years. The other 80% of the city votes every two years for two council seats. Does that sound fair? Honestly this feels like a form of voter suppression to me — it clearly takes more money and effort to reach 40,000 residents than it would to reach 10,000. This favors those with wealthy donors. Also, having a smaller district would make each councilperson much more accessible. All residents of Palm Desert deserve equal representation, and I will fight tooth and nail for that.
UR: What will you propose to do about it?
Garcia: The ballot measure (B) that will appear on the November ballot is merely an advisory vote. No matter how that vote goes, I will work with the other councilpersons to implement a five-district system. I know there are parties who are planning to sue the city again, and I hope to fend off these lawsuits by meticulously articulating to our residents and to our council why a five-district system would be superior (and save the city a ton of money).
UR: Is there one decision with City Council has made with which you strongly disagree? If so, what was it and why?
Garcia: The current council has spent too much money and energy trying to fend off the future which, one day or another, will include five districts. There is a California Supreme Court case involving the city of Santa Monica that may obviate this issue with a ruling that mandates district voting, but we can’t know how the court would rule or how broad or narrow their ruling would be. We will adapt and adjust as needed to bring fair representation to our city. The point isn’t the system per se — the point is designing a city structure that works for all, that serves all equally and fosters prosperity and safety for our families, residents and businesses.
UR: You are all well-known. What is one thing people don’t know about you?
Garcia: As a Latino, as a child of Mexican-immigrant parents, and having spent my professional life conducting Hispanic consumer research, people are not surprised that I am bilingual and speak Spanish well. What they don’t know is that I also speak French. I studied French in high school and college, and I spent my semester abroad in the French speaking part of Switzerland. My degree from Pomona College was in Foreign Languages (I studied Italian in addition). After completing my MA in Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley, I enrolled in the UC system’s program in Film and Theater in Paris which meant I enrolled in the Sorbonne (Paris III). We all had to take the French language entrance exam and I achieved high honors. I studied in Paris for two years, during which I met the mother of my son, and when she got pregnant, we moved to the countryside where our son was born. I even taught French to French kids. We visit France quite regularly and I watch French TV shows when I can, and I speak French with my ex almost every day.
- Carlos Garcia: Carlos Garcia