Editor’s note: The city of Palm Springs moved to district-based elections in November 2019. Uken Report asked all five Council members if the move to districts is working and what he or she has done to demonstrate leadership in the past six months, especially during the COVID-19 era and especially in his or her district. Following is District 2 representative Dennis Woods’ response.
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It’s been almost six months since I was elected to represent District 2 and it has been an honor and a pleasure to serve the citizens of Palm Springs. One of my greatest passions is conservation and I have been fortunate to have been appointed to the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission and the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy where we are working diligently to preserve open space and habitat valley-wide, including Oswit Canyon in South Palm Springs, a pristine and beautiful desert locale which is very special to so many of our residents.
In addition, I have supported lobbying our state, county and federal officials constantly as a member of CVAG’s Energy and Environment Committee to get more dollars for smaller cities like Palm Springs during the COVID-19 crisis, which has so devastated our local Palm Springs economy — and others across the nation.
A few other highlights from my tenure include working to create fixes along the Tahquitz Canyon median including improving the lighting, as well as re-lighting the historic fountain at Palm Springs International Airport. I am also currently working on a vacant storefront window program as we try to get through the pandemic. In my District I started the process to improve the entrance to Palm Springs along Hwy 111 and addressed a myriad of local concerns.
Speaking of COVID-19, it has been quite an experience leading during this crisis as we maneuver through the unprecedented health, safety and financial impacts of the pandemic. I have represented the City on COVID-19 briefing calls from the White House.
I am also proud to note that from the beginning of the outbreak, my Council colleagues and I recognized the COVID-19 virus was extremely serious and that the consequences could be dire to our Palm Springs community, which is comprised of a large population of senior citizens 65 years and older with underlying conditions as well a vibrant LGBTQ population, some of whom have compromised immune systems. With that in mind, the City Council quickly mobilized to address the pandemic in the following ways:
- A press conference was organized at City Hall with Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s Public Health Officer and Supervisor Manuel Perez to educate our community about the growing crisis.
- On March 22, I am proud to say we were the first city in the Coachella Valley to issue a shelter in place order, which our residents have taken very seriously. Palm Springs has done a fantastic job flattening the curve due in part to the fact that we issued the shelter in place order earlier than most cities.
- In addition, the City Council has been extremely proactive outreaching to our community about why it is so important to shelter in place except for essential purposes, wearing face coverings in grocery stores and businesses and providing residents with as much information as possible about city orders and regulations related to COVID-19 and how to find resources and assistance on our Coronavirus landing page at www.palmspringsca.gov. The page has links with a plethora of information about how to apply for small business loans, unemployment, workers benefit information, the CARES Act, food distribution services – along with information about how residents can assist during this crisis. I must say I have been so impressed by how many Palm Springs neighbors have reached out to me to find out how they can help during this extremely difficult time.
- The City has also partnered with the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, the County of Riverside and the Small Business Development Center for a host of webinars to assist the many workers and businesses who have been financially impacted by COVID-19.
- Finally, we have implemented a highly successful COVID-19 Hotline that the Palm Springs Police Department manages. Residents can call with questions or concerns about City orders and regulations. The hotline number at (760) 323-8159 and operates seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 7 pm. Anyone with questions is encouraged to call.
As I mentioned, the virus has severely impacted our City’s budget, which is reliant primarily upon tourism revenue which has fallen dramatically since the economic standstill began. This shortfall must be immediately addressed in order to balance our budget by July 1. In the wake of the County of Riverside being awarded $431 million from the CARES Act, I was proud to join my Council colleagues in sending a letter to President Donald Trump and the highest officials in Washington D.C. on May 11 to request assistance in addressing the estimated $76 million revenue shortfall the City is now facing for the remainder of this fiscal year and next — as a result of the current economic standstill.
Just a few weeks ago, the Council declared a fiscal emergency and we are now reviewing a combination of remedies. We have already frozen vacant positions and most expenditures. In addition, Staff has recommended reductions in City services related to non-personnel and capital improvement projects, furloughs (10 percent for executives and 20 percent for the City Manager, an “early leave program” for employees, and unfortunately, some layoffs.
This will be a painful process, but my Council colleagues and I have been working collaboratively to address the unprecedented budget issues that have arisen from the COVID-19 outbreak in the most transparent way possible. We want your input and please do not hesitate to reach out to me to share your thoughts. Our first initial budget meeting was held May 14 and we had tremendous community participation. The City Council anticipates a final meeting potentially on May 21. We want your feedback before a final decision is made. I invite you to share your district or city-wide thoughts with me via email at Dennis.Woods@palmspringsca.gov.
Finally, your City Council and Staff are working hard to begin the process of preparing and implementing a safe and successful re-opening plan, which is occurring in phases, in accordance with guidelines from the state of California. Rest assured and never forget; our top priority is always the health and safety of all Palm Springs residents and workers. Be safe and stay well.
- Dennis Woods: Facebook