CATHEDRAL CITY – An emotional earthquake rocked the Coachella Valley – and the region – to its core Tuesday as word of the death of Mayor Gregory S. Pettis reverberated throughout the area.
Pettis, 63, was a tireless champion for youth, the environment, the homeless, the LGBTQ community, his constituents, and his beloved city.
In April 2018, Pettis and former Mayor Stan Henry traveled to Sacramento to help lobby America’s first LGBT Veterans Memorial, located at the outdoor veteran’s chapel at Desert Memorial Park.
Democratic state Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, who represents the 56th Assembly District, had introduced AB 2439, which called for designating the local monument as the state’s official LGBT Veterans Memorial. Garcia’s bill eventually was signed into law.
On Dec. 10, one of the biggest nights in the life of Greg Pettis, Garcia was on hand for the inauguration of Pettis as Cathedral City’s first openly gay mayor.
“I join our community in mourning the loss of Cathedral City Mayor Greg Pettis; most beloved and one of our longest-serving leaders,” Garcia told Uken Report. “It has been a privilege to work with him during my time as Mayor of Coachella and now in the State Assembly where we most recently collaborated on legislation to designate the city’s LGBTQ Veterans Memorial as an official state memorial and to expand park infrastructure for California families. Mayor Pettis was a trailblazer who fought tirelessly to enhance the prosperity of Cathedral City and our surrounding Coachella Valley region. He will be remembered by his vast legacy of forward-thinking achievements, passion, and consummate public service. We will be forever grateful.”
He was a progressive Democrat who fought vigorously for Democratic principles and Democrats for office. There times when he boldly and publicly supported Republican candidates and even dared to work for Republican state Sen. Jeff Stone.
In November 2018 Pettis publicly supported Michael H. Wilson, a Republican, who was seeking re-election to the Indio City Council. Pettis announced his support for Wilson in a wildly popular opinion column he wrote regularly for Uken Report. He knew it would be widely criticized by Democrat for his support, but Pettis did not care. He respected Wilson’s leadership skills, Pettis said at the time.
“I am shocked to hear of the passing of Cathedral City Mayor Greg Pettis,” Wilson told Uken Report. I have had the privilege of working side by side with Mayor Pettis for most of our elected careers. As two of the longest serving Coachella Valley elected officials Mayor Pettis and I have worked together on many significant regional projects, including CV Link, valley-wide transportation projects, and bringing rail to the Coachella Valley. Through this working relationship we built a strong respect for one another. Though ideologically and politically different in our politics, Mayor Pettis and I always found a way to work together and meet in the middle with compromise on the issues, a rare occasion in today’s political climate. Greg was a constant professional and recognized we all need to find a way to work together despite differing viewpoints at times. Greg will be missed greatly and my condolences go out to his family and to the city of Cathedral City and his Council Colleagues.”
Pettis’ passion and, really his love of public service, were contagious. He would spend countless hours explaining complex issues or financing to those not as knowledgeable he was on an issue. Pettis even used his own precious time to offer tours of the city so constituents would better understand the entire city, not just a sliver of an issue.
He thrived on bringing others into the fold and lent his support in every way possible to political newcomers. He publicly threw his support behind three candidates in the November City Council election. One of them was John Rivera who sought the District 4 seat.
“I first met Greg some 14 years ago when I was first appointed to the Architectural Review Committee and from that first time I knew we’d be great friends,” Rivera told Uken Report. “Anytime I had questions or concerns he always took the time from an already busy schedule to hear what I had to say and offer his advice. This kindness, honesty and compassion made him someone I truly valued as a friend. Just a couple of weeks after I termed out from planning commission Greg asked me if I’d consider running for City Council. I told him I’d think about it but that he probably really didn’t want me to run because I’d always speak my mind and not hold back.
“He said that was just the kind of person the city needed,” Rivera continued. “He said I should just be honest, be myself and that I’d do just fine and with that I said yes. During the campaign we talked regularly by phone, by text or sometimes over breakfast at a local diner. Over the past few months I realized we’d be best friends for the rest of our lives. When the final votes were counted and I lost the election, I think he took it harder than I did. I tried to cheer him up by saying. ‘No worries,’ I’ll run again in four years and next time I’ll win. I last saw Greg at the hospital Sunday when I stopped to visit. He seemed to be sleeping so peacefully I didn’t have the heart to wake him. I sat quietly in the room with him and prayed for him and I asked God to please watch over him and surround him with angels. I will truly miss you Greg, my friend, my family. God bless.”
Dana Reed, an Indian Wells City Councilmember, is another Republican with whom Pettis forged a relationship of trust and respect.
“Politically, Greg and I were polar opposites but there was complete solidarity on most local issues, especially transportation issues,” Reed told Uken Report. “I will miss him greatly. Greg’s passion was to seek twice daily, reliable Amtrak service between the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles. He saw it as a boon to both our residents and the hospitality industry. We should all work to make this happen as a tribute to Greg’s legacy.”
Pettis lived what he preached. Long before he proposed a ban on plastic straws in Cathedral City, he grimaced if a server delivered a plastic straw with his beverage. He would set it aside in disgust and look teasingly askance at others who would dare use the drinking device in his presence.
Proposing the ban in Cathedral City wasn’t a feel-good move, or a stunt. Pettis told Uken Report at the time that the city needed to do its part to help protect the environment.
The night he was sworn into office, Pettis proposed that in the next two years, 1,000 new trees would be planted. They would be part of the community’s environmental fabric as they take root in residential, commercial, industrial and parkland areas.
“I am extremely saddened to learn about Mayor Pettis’ death,” Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Geoff Kors told Uken Report. “I have known Greg for 20 years. He was a talented leader and a passionate advocate for his community. He cared deeply about social justice and worked to enact policies to advance equality for all. He leaves a legacy of community service and will be missed.”
Among his final visitors was Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel “Manny” Perez. The supervisor had Pettis laughing and the visit buoyed his spirits. The visit made him feel special.
“It is with a very heavy heart that I learned of the passing of Cathedral City Mayor Greg Pettis,” Perez told Uken Report. “I considered Greg not only a colleague but also a dear friend. I just recently visited him in the hospital and was hopeful for a speedy recovery. Greg was a valuable asset to Cathedral City and the entire Coachella Valley. He will surely be missed and my deepest condolences go out to his family, friends and the residents of the city he served. Rest in Peace, my friend.”
The late mayor was a big Teddy Bear who enjoyed a loving hug and flowers, especially roses.