PALM DESERT —  Sabby Jonathan fought long and hard to earn a seat on the Palm Desert City Council, and is having so much fun in his first, one-year rotation as mayor, that he did not hesitate for a second about seeking a second term.

Jonathan, 61, is a Certified Public Accountant. He has lived in the desert nearly four decades, 36 of those years in Palm Desert.

A four-year incumbent, Jonathan is one of five qualified candidates vying for two, four-year terms on the City Council in November. The others are:

  • Jan C. Harnik, incumbent City Councilmember and businesswoman
  • Kenneth Doran, challenger, retired
  • Matt Monica, challenger, retired educator
  • Carlos Pineda

Following are a series of questions Uken Report posed to Jonathan and his responses.

Uken Report (UR): Are you liberal or conservative and what does that mean?

Jonathan: Fortunately, partisan politics have no role in Palm Desert.  We are solely focused on the management of our City, and on meeting the needs of our residents.  Period.

I am proud to be endorsed by Council Members from throughout the Coachella Valley who are both Democrats and Republicans, liberal and conservative, men and women, straight and gay.  At the end of the day, we all come together to make the Coachella Valley a great place to visit and to live in.

UR: Why specifically are you running?

Jonathan: A few years ago, I participated on a committee of over 100 residents and stakeholders.  We spent nearly a year defining a vision for what Palm Desert would look like in 20 years.

The “vision” included a new downtown City Core, housing that is both affordable and attractive, a diversified economy that is less dependent on the hospitality industry, protecting open spaces and the environment, continuing the high level of public safety that we currently have in Palm Desert, and ensuring that Palm Desert remains the educational center of the Coachella Valley.

That Vision is now part of the City’s Strategic Plan, and has been incorporated into our revised General Plan.  We are just now beginning the actual implementation of the Vision.  Part of the reason I am running is to ensure that the Vision is implemented, and that the City’s success and the well-being of its residents is assured for the next 20 years and beyond.

UR: What is the single biggest issue facing Palm Desert, why and what are you doing – or will do – to correct it?

Jonathan: That’s a very difficult question to answer, because there are many important issues facing the City of Palm Desert.  Prominent amongst those issues, however, is the escalating cost of public safety (police, fire, and emergency services).

These costs are rising every year, at over twice the CPI rate.  They currently absorb nearly half of our General Fund budget.  If the increases are allowed to continue, the cost of public safety will become unsustainable.

Palm Desert is a contract city.  We contract with Riverside County Sheriff for police services, and with Cal Fire for fire and emergency services.  I have directed staff to review alternatives, and report back to Council.  I have met with the Sheriff, with our County Supervisor, and with County of Riverside staff to address our concerns.  We are also working together with our sister cities here in the Coachella Valley to explore options that might reduce our respective costs.

The only certainty here is that the status quo cannot be allowed to continue.  We must, and we will, find a better solution.

UR: Where (in what area) do you think you can make the biggest difference?

Jonathan: We have an excellent team on the Palm Desert City Council.  We all bring different strengths to the table. We think independently, which is to say we don’t always vote the same way (which is a good thing).  But we listen to each other, and when we disagree, we do so with respect for each other and each other’s opinions.

I think my financial background is of particular benefit to the City.  So much of what we do, what we vote on, involves the City’s finances.  We just adopted our 45th balanced budget in a row, and we are sitting on a $76 million general fund reserve.  Proper finances are crucial to a City’s success.  My background and professional expertise as a CPA is something that has been beneficial to the City, and helps ensure that the City’s finances continue to be in good order.

In terms of making a difference, I am also proud and honored to Chair the CVAG Homelessness Committee where I’m happy to say that we are making a difference in reducing homelessness.

This issue is important on so many levels.  By helping homeless people to become “formerly homeless,” we are not only helping people and changing lives, but we are also reducing the impacts of homelessness on our residents and on our businesses.