District 4 Candidates Address Whether to Open Downtown Park Discussion
PALM SPRINGS — In August, the City Council voted 3-2 to continue with the original $9.5 million Downtown Park design. Councilmembers Christy Holstege, Grace Garner and Dennis Woods voted to proceed despite the vigorous objections of Mayor Geoff Kors and Councilmember Lisa Middleton.
The new 1.5-acre park will be located across from the Palm Springs Art Museum on Museum Drive and Museum Way.
High-profile community groups, including Main Street Palm Springs Downtown & Uptown Business Assn. Board of Directors, Palm Springs Hospitality Assn. Board of Directors, and P.S. Resorts Board of Directors oppose moving forward.
The decision comes amidst a worldwide pandemic. which has taken a toll the city’s budget. Some 80 staff positions were cut, including public safety and emergency medical personnel. Small businesses are suffering. Community leaders both public and private challenged the wisdom of the vote to move forward with a $9.5 million downtown park.
The idea and pubic input for the park was conceived long before COVID-19 and the city’s declaration of a fiscal emergency.
As some residents continue to debate the merits of the decision, Uken Report asked candidates in District 4 to weigh in. District 4 candidates in the Nov. 3 election Christy Holstege, incumbent; Mike McCulloch, former City Council; and Dian Torres.
Uken Report (UR): Do you support construction of the Downtown Park and ongoing maintenance? Why or why not?
Christy Holstege: Yes. Since the city has already spent $3M on the park and the park was well under construction, the two choices presented to city council were: 1) spend another $1-2M on a poorly designed, grassy and dirt field or 2) spend the additional $3M already budgeted to complete the world-class park promised to and designed by our residents. I chose to make the decision in the best interest of our residents and our city finances.
The total cost of the park includes far more than just a park; the landscaping, lighting, and construction of the park itself is $3M. We are also building much-needed public restrooms and a police substation for downtown, a waterfall feature for children and families to escape the heat, an amphitheater for free public events and additional features like connections to free public parking. For example, the cost of the public restrooms and police substation make up nearly $2M of the total cost of the project. The total budget also includes $500,000-$1M for much-needed safety repairs to our downtown parking garage beneath the park.
We broke ground on our world-class park in October 2019 with an expected completion date of Fall 2020. It was fully funded and well under construction, and on time to be completed by the end of this year. In July, the City Council halted construction due to projected budget short falls. However, tax projections indicated $4M more in Measure J funds and another $11 M in the general fund would be available beyond the initial budget just from the last few months, well beyond the cost of completing the park, and leaving additional dollars available to replenish our reserves and address reductions.
Continuing with the park is the fiscally responsible decision for our city. First, a substantial amount of money already invested will be lost if we do not complete the park. The city has already spent $3M on the park design and construction. If cancelled or changed, much of that $3M of taxpayer dollars would be wasted. That includes $400,000 or more in delay and cancellation fees with the contractor. It would have cost another $1M or more to put in a substandard temporary park made up of grass, very little shade, and a large amount of dirt that was essentially unusable and not ADA accessible. It would then cost possibly another $1M or so to rip that out later to do the original or another park design. City Council was also advised that completing the original design later could cost double the current cost under our existing contract.
Going forward with the world-class park that was planned and voted for by our residents instead of cancelling it to waste millions of taxpayer dollars and ending up with an unacceptable, non-usable park is the most prudent decision as a steward of our city’s finances. I believe any proposal to cancel the park and spend $4.5M on a grassy, dirt field to be fiscally irresponsible.
The downtown park will truly be a magnificent amenity for residents in our city and will attract visitors from around the world. If the number of annual visitors increases even minimally as a result of the park, the additional investment in the downtown park will have paid for itself in one year. This park will pay for itself over and over during the years and decades to come. It will also support our downtown businesses and keep our downtown and city thriving during this crisis.
Completing the downtown park upholds the promise made to voters to use Measure J funds to revitalize the downtown with a world-class park. Placing a half-completed or half-designed park in the center of our downtown revitalization project would make an unacceptable statement about Palm Springs. Palm Springs is already blighted with too many projects that are half-completed or stalled; the city should move forward with projects already in construction and act as a model for developers to complete the projects we set out to do.
Palm Springs is resilient; we will get past this pandemic and we will come back stronger than ever. The COVID-19 crisis, while serious, is temporary. City Council needs to protect and promote the brand and allure of Palm Springs that has drawn visitors and residents here for decades, in both good times and in bad. The Downtown Park will provide residents and visitors with both a world class park and a bold vision about our city’s success in the future.
Mike McCulloch: I support a cost-effective version of the downtown park, saving over $3 million that could be better spent on unfilled city staff positions, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics.
I agree with Councilmember Middleton and Mayor Kors who eloquently made the case against such spending at the June 30, 2020 council meeting: now is not the time for the “over-the-top downtown park.” Further, we can not afford the estimated $150,000 annual maintenance costs. The council should reconsider this reckless expenditure. Palm Springs is facing an unprecedented budget deficit, it is irresponsible to spend millions of dollars we don’t have.
Dian Torres: No response.
Uken Report: Do you support re-opening the issue?
Christy Holstege: No, as stated above, the city is already facing $400,000 or more in delay fees and possibly more in litigation expenses if we were to cancel the park or stop construction that has been underway since October, which would be an unacceptable waste of taxpayer dollars for no purpose other than to have a half-completed or substandard park in our downtown.
Mike McCulloch: Yes. In fact, on September 10, I emailed both Councilmembers Garner and Woods requesting that they bring the matter back for reconsideration. Neither responded to my emails.
In the emails, I urged Council to reopen the issue and shelve the project until we are out of our current financial crisis. It is the responsible thing to do. Key stakeholder organizations, like Main Street Downtown, the Uptown Business Association, the Palm Springs Hospitality Association and P.S. Resorts, all agree.
Dian Torres: No response.
- Downtown Park: City of Palm Springs
- Christy Holstege: Christy Holstege
- Mike McCulloch: Facebook
- Downtown Park: City of Palm Springs