City in transition finds funding for more staff and moves forward on critical issues ⋆ The Palm Springs Post

Acting City Manager Teresa Gallavan and Deputy City Manager Flinn Fagg chat at City Hall following a recent interview.

Although COVID-19 no longer dominates the headlines or city council meetings, one of its lingering legacies has still been a major factor over the past year: a surge of new residents and visitors seems to have reached its peak in 2022, leaving behind a city that has benefited from their presence and is better prepared to face more familiar issues for its ratepayers.

As we watched 2021 a year ago, we proclaimed Palm Springs “Zoom Town”, having attracted an influx of residents able to work from home who chose to flee the big cities for a quieter life in the desert. This year, city officials said last week, many of those new full-time employees have retired to cities. And as the pandemic subsided, tourists who had few options for travel outside of Southern California began to explore other destinations.

“You’re starting to see these people going back to LA or San Diego and places like that,” Deputy City Manager Flinn Fagg said. “At least in my circle of friends, we have seen this happen. Also, I think, in a way, because things have opened up, more people are going to other vacation destinations. I think our business community is transitioning to something that’s a slightly different model than what we saw the year before.

“Transition” was the word used by several city officials, including Fagg, Acting City Manager Teresa Gallavan and Mayor Grace Garner, when asked to provide one word that would sum up what the city went through in 2022.

There’s definitely been a transition at City Hall, like Justin Clifton announced in July he was leaving after 18 months in the role of city manager. Fire Chief Kevin Nalder resigned in August, and City Clerk Anthony Mejia left for Palm Desert in February. Their departures were a continuation of a trend of high profile vacancies that occurred in 2021.

Gallavan could not point to a single reason for the volume of departures in key positions and said the hiring of their replacements, which is underway in the case of Clifton and Nalder, is in “a difficult market”.

Fagg, who was promoted from his position as Director of Planning Services, creating an opening that was later filled, said that while department heads may change, much of the city’s staff has been in place for years. Better still, Fagg, Gallavan and Garner said, funds have been budgeted by the city council for several new employees — essential to providing better customer service at City Hall — as well as more firefighters and police officers. The city currently plans a budget of 575 full-time employees and has approximately 75 vacancies.

Garner pointed to negotiations with the firefighters union as a particular achievement in 2022.

“The union made sure we knew what they needed was more firefighters,” she explained. “We cut a single administrative position and got several firefighters for the same cost.”

Adding firefighters is crucial, she added, if the city is to achieve a Class 1 rating, which some insurance companies use to calculate property insurance rates. It also helps the department respond faster to medical emergencies – by far the highest call volume.

Many of the calls for help firefighters respond to are for homeless community members. Most readers surveyed by The post office said the current homelessness crisis, along with the related issue of housing affordability, continues to be the issues that matter most to them in Palm Springs in 2022.

On this front, city leaders can report some success. Although there is still no permanent overnight shelter for homeless residents, city officials have been working to clean Barristo Park and also strengthened ties with Martha’s Village & Kitchen, which last year began operating a homeless services center in the former Boxing Club near El Cielo Road.

In January, the city awarded the organization a contract to manage a planned campus in the northern part of the city. The ‘navigation centre’, which is expected to open by next summer, will not only provide temporary housing, but multiple services aimed at getting people off the streets and into housing and work.

“The navigation center will help steer us in the direction we need to go,” Fagg said. “We’re also going to have an issue-focused staff position – a homeless services coordinator – and we’d like to do a study on inclusive housing.”

A campus offering housing and services to homeless members of the community, planned for the northern part of the city, made significant progress in 2022.

Inclusive housing – the practice of requiring developers to set aside new housing units for low-income residents – is crucial in the long term. The same goes for the effort made in 2022 to start building the city’s first new affordable housing in over a decade. In the short term, residents and city leaders have credited the Palm Springs Police Department for its efforts to clear city encampments in 2022 — an effort that goes beyond simply attempting to remove residents without view housing.

“We have a very responsive team,” Garner said of those participating in the effort dubbed Operation Clean Streets. “Officers go out and meet with homeless community members and connect them to resources.”

Residents who responded to a survey we conducted seem to understand the connection between affordable housing and homelessness.

“Palm Springs is not alone in this, but we need to aggressively address the issue,” wrote Deepwell resident George Covino. “Maybe as the new homeless center takes shape and more affordable housing comes online, we’ll start to see some change.”

Changes in the national economy may be coming. Many experts are beginning to worry about a possible recession. But with rising tax revenues made possible by an influx of visitors in 2022 and an expected continuation of high occupancy rates at area hotels and vacation rentals, the city’s budget looks set to roll with the punches.

“For the next two quarters, we’ve already budgeted,” Gallavan said when asked about the city’s budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. “We should be in good shape, and in February we will do a mid-year forecast.

One of the most debated parts of the city’s budget — revenue generated from stays in short-term vacation rentals (STVRs) often found on Airbnb and other apps — grew in 2022. Staff at the city ​​has completed an overdue update to the rules governing them, aimed not at capping the number of permits but rather at discouraging corporate ownership of rented property.

To do this, the city council last month passed updates to the ordinance that decrease the number of times each property can be rented out each year and also created a “junior permit” that allows a handful of rentals each year. year. Both measures are designed to help those who buy properties in the city better afford them as second homes and potentially their permanent residence.


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