PALM SPRINGS – City Councilors should receive a significant pay hike, a car allowance, access to child care, and more, according to the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) Community Working Group.

The group was created at the City Council’s request to advise the city on the steps it should take to implement the requirements of the CVRA to eliminate and prevent minority vote dilution, and as a means to gather information from the community and conduct research on district elections.

Members of the group are Aftab Dada, Ed Dube, Grace Garner, Dixie Miller, Stephen Moses, Alexis Ortega, Kathy Weremiuk, and Tobias Wolff. Read the group’s complete report here.

Offering better pay, on-site child care, a car allowance and more would remove barriers for anyone wanting to run for Palm Springs City Council, the group claims.

First, is the issue of pay.

Pay, the group suggests, is a barrier for some who might otherwise consider seeking office. The group offered several options for increasing Councilor’s pay such as half the salary of a member of the California State Legislature ($52,500), the median household Income for Palm Springs ($46,052), or the current minimum salary for exempt workers in California ($45,760)?

Using the standard lowest tier for exempt managerial employees (which currently requires an exempt employee to be paid at minimum, $45,760 annually) would be appropriate as City Council members already receive a top managerial benefits package, the group’s report suggests.

All salaries should be indexed for inflation, with an additional salary amount for the mayor at least commensurate with the additional $12,304 the mayor currently receives, according to the group’s report of Sept. 20, 2018.

The mayor of Palm Springs currently earns $43,800 annually, according to Communications Director Amy Blaisdell. The salary for Councilmembers is currently $2,433 per month.

The City Council is expected to consider the Working Group’s recommendation at its next meeting as one of its first items of business.

If it adopts any of the suggested pay hikes, Palm Springs City Councilmembers would become the highest paid Councilors in the Coachella Valley. Palm Springs also has the highest paid city manager in the Coachella Valley.

Palm Springs is the fourth largest community in the Coachella Valley behind Indio, Cathedral City, Palm Desert, according to the 2010 Census.

“Palm Springs is no longer the sleepy Hollywood hideaway of the 1940s,” the group said in its report. “City Councilmembers now serve full-time roles devoting time during standard work hours and evenings to fulfill their duties to the community. This makes holding an additional full-time or part-time job while on Council difficult.”

However, the annual pay of a City Councilmember is a “mere” $29,196.19,” according to the report. Once rent/mortgage, utilities, food, gas, and other basic expenses are calculated there is virtually nothing left for one person not to mention a family.

“This largely limits the pool of candidates to those that are independently wealthy or retired,” according to the report. “In order to encourage more resident participation in elections and a broader array of candidates, the Working Group recommends increasing the salary of the City Council from a stipend to a subsistence level salary.”

Indio, the largest city in the Coachella Valley, and Cathedral City, the second largest city in the Coachella Valley, both moved to district-based elections in November 2018. Neither community increased Councilors’ pay and nor did either city have difficulty finding qualified minority candidates to run for office.

Cathedral City Mayor Mark Carnevale said the subject of raising their pay was never an issue.

“It just never came up,” Carnevale told Uken Report. “It is my belief that this position is based on wanting to serve the people, doing the best for the city. It is not about the pay. Now other councilmembers might feel different, this is only my opinion.”

Indio Mayor Lupe Ramos Amith explained that Indio is a General Law city.

“Therefore, our stipend is limited by state Statute,” Ramos Amith told Uken Report. “After each election we do review the amount and consider a modest cost of living adjustment. Moving to Districts does not allow us to consider a salary (change) under the state Statute.

In recent years Palm Springs has made national headlines for its new social scene, restaurants, city life, and most recently, the first all LGBTQ city government in the country, according to the report.

Building off this achievement and the goals of the CVRA, the Working Group recommends the following steps are taken to remove barriers from both running and serving on City Council.

“Removing these barriers will allow for greater participation from diverse communities such as people of color, low-middle income residents, parents with young children, people with disabilities, young people, and others,” according to the report.

In addition to hiking Councilors’ pay, removing barriers to running for office, according to the group, would include:

• Child Care at City Hall: Childcare costs have skyrocketed in the United States in recent years. In Riverside County the average cost for childcare is $8,018 to $12,410 annually, roughly 20 percent of an average family income. Further, in 2016 the Center for American Progress determined the Coachella Valley to be a ‘child care desert’ due to the need for childcare far exceeding the availability.

Pay Hike, Child Care, Car Stipend for PS Council?The Working Group recommends the city open an on-site childcare facility for staff and Council use with subsidized rates. In the alternative, the Working Group recommends that a provision be made to reimburse the day care expenses of members of the City Council. These recommendations make it possible for a broader swath of residents to consider and eventually run for office and ultimately, serve as a Councilmember. The recommendations ensure that the needs and voices of all residents are considered in the city’s decisions and empowers residents to build a community that truly is like no place else.

• Car Stipend/Allowance:  Councilmembers are expected to attend a great deal of events and meetings. Currently, members are reimbursed for mileage. However, due to the time-consuming nature of compiling mileage forms, many members forgo the reimbursement.

Pay Hike, Child Care, Car Stipend for PS Council? The Working Group recommends the city adopt a set stipend or allowance for the wear and tear, gas, mileage, and general costs of maintaining a vehicle. The Working Group suggests an allowance of $500 pay per month or a per-diem of $25 per day.

• New Candidate Forum: The process of running for office can be confusing and time consuming. Information on which paperwork is needed, where to file, and in what time frame is needlessly complex. The Working Group recommends that the City hold a forum in each of the districts on how to run for office at least one month prior to when the nomination period begins. The forum should include a clear list of all required paperwork, a timeline for submission, requirements for financial reporting, and allow for a question and answer session. The city should consider the needs of each district in the creation of the forums and work with members of the community to guide the process. Consideration should be given to such things as time, location, type and manner of advertising, and childcare. The New Candidate Forums are a means of providing the necessary information to each community, instead of large-scale events that can be exclusionary and intimidating.

• Nomination Signatures: The Working Group recommends that the required signatures needed to complete the nomination packet be reduced from 120 to 20 signatures. The large number of signatures currently needed to file for office is burdensome and six times the amount required by the majority of California cities. This limits the number of candidates before they even begin. There are many other barriers to running for office that may still prevent a candidate from continuing in the process. We recommend that they are at least allowed a foot in the door, the group said in the report.

• Staffing: The Working Group recommends the city maintain the current executive assistant who is shared among the members and in addition add a personal assistant for each member and a shared legislative analyst to assist with the drafting of ordinances.

payThe personal assistant for each member will be hired on a contract basis and chosen by the member upon entering office. This person will act as a body double for meetings or events, assist with coordinating events and programming, and further tasks as determined by the member. The cities of Riverside and San Bernardino currently allow City Council members to hire personal assistants. The legislative analyst will conduct policy and legal research as well as draft ordinances as determined by the Council. The analyst will be under the purview of the city manager and city attorney but their work will be dictated by the needs of Council. No pay range was recommended.