La Quinta voters will decide between two candidates for mayor on Nov. 3, including incumbent Linda Evans, and three others for two seats on the City Council.
Evans, who is chief strategy officer for Desert Care Network, is being challenged by local businessman and veteran Robert Sylk.
Richard Gray, a former diplomat and former member of the city’s Architect and Landscape Review Committee, is challenging incumbents Kathleen Fitzpatrick, a retired landscape architect and former planning commissioner, and Steve Sanchez, a commercial real estate agent and former Marine, for a place on the City Council.
The mayor serves two-year terms while council member terms are four years. Evans was first elected mayor in 2014 and to the City Council in 2010. Fitzpatrick and Sanchez were first elected in 2016.
The Desert Sun asked each of the candidates five questions. Here are their replies (answers are printed as written by the candidates with only minor corrections to spelling and punctuation for clarity):
Why are you running for mayor or city council?
LINDA EVANS (i): I’m honored to have served as LQ mayor since 2014, and as a council member five years prior to that. I am seeking re-election for mayor to continue the progress we have achieved over the past few years, continue the momentum, and address and overcome the challenges that we face as a result of the pandemic and its impact on our community and economy.
Projects/opportunities underway that require further attention include the following:
- Short-Term Vacation Rental Program
- Economic recovery due to COVID-19
- SilverRock hotels — Montage & Pendry
- Storm drain/flood control enhancements — in process, but not yet finished
- X-Park — Competition skate/bike/scooter park near LQ High School
- CV Link — La Quinta’s 2-mile portion — to begin construction in late 2020/early 2021
- Vision Highway 111 Corridor Plan — transformation of retail/commercial tax base
- North La Quinta perimeter landscaping — using Measure G Funds — four-year project, near completion
I remain driven by the support, participation and engagement of our residents and am committed to them for the betterment of our city. It’s a team effort — and I am grateful and humbled to be part of our La Quinta team. I love La Quinta and plan to retire in La Quinta. I want to ensure its financial success and high standards for generations to follow. I desire to seek another term as mayor, continue to serve as a role model for other women, and encourage the next generation to serve and become involved in local government and politics.
ROBERT SYLK: I am running for mayor of La Quinta because I have the leadership skills, experience and commitment to lead our city into the future.
La Quinta is a great city, but the time has come to abandon the same career politicians and elect new, dedicated leaders with innovative ideas to lead us.
I understand the business needs of the city, which are essential to our prosperity, and we will work together to insure a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.
A bold vision is essential for the next generation of La Quintans. Our quality of life and the long-term viability of La Quinta are both at stake. New and sustainable forms of revenue are important without raising taxes or posing a burden on our city. Our city, as the gateway to the historic Santa Rosa Mountains, must aspire to be a premier valley destination.
In the past 19 years that I and my family have lived in La Quinta, I have initiated new and diverse ideas and projects directed toward the welfare of our city. I have held many talks concerning leadership and programs that look to our future.
La Quinta cannot afford to remain entrenched in the past. The time has come for change and with your vote this will happen!
KATHLEEN FITZPATRICK (i): Serving on the La Quinta City Council since 2016, after eight years on city commissions, has been an honor and a privilege. I have leveraged my extensive public service experience to provide leadership and assure the fiscal strength of the city. I like being part of a strong council that has balanced the budget every year and established robust reserves while completing flood control, drainage, landscape and other capital improvement projects to keep La Quinta a wonderful place to raise a family, retire or vacation.
I want to continue my service on council for another term to help address current challenges brought on by the unprecedented public health crisis. I also want to see SilverRock resort up and running, continue my focus on Highway 111 and the Village expansion to create new areas that promote walkable, economically viable areas that include retail, entertainment, dining and landscape in a way that will help the city grow our economy beyond tourism.
I want to continue working with our residents to address the need to improve our policing and fire service strategies to ensure community safety in a fiscally responsible long-term manner.
I’m a planner by nature and I want to continue to address the development of La Quinta with a sound short-term rental (STR) program. While revenue is a consideration in allowing STRs, we need a strong program that will maintain the fabric of our neighborhoods to preserve the Gem of the Desert.
RICHARD GRAY: La Quinta needs a new relationship between the City Council and residents. This will be achieved better with council districts and term limits. We need preparation for more security throughout the city, and especially at our schools. La Quinta needs a new approach to growing more prosperity and jobs. One way could be a reduction of sales taxes — make our commerce more competitive, attractive and open. Major, long-term projects should be put to a citywide vote where competitive campaigning will give our citizens the full information for a careful choice. The prime example is the CV Link and all its ramifications for many years to come.
Our city government needs to open up the current echo chamber of group-think. The exchange of new ideas and points of view will increase the understanding of city activities and expenditures. La Quinta currently spends more than it should in the face of COVID-19 and in prudent preparation for a possible recession. I’m a candidate to make structural changes and to bring more openness and citizen participation in prudent governance. La Quinta needs much more than an unending stream of photo-ops.
STEVE SANCHEZ (i): I am fortunate to have been elected to City Council four years ago and would like to continue working on behalf of our community. La Quinta residents have entrusted me to keep the city moving in the right direction. Since taking office, our mayor and council have worked hard to increase revenue.
As promised, infrastructure projects are being completed, SilverRock development is moving forward, and we have been able to maintain a healthy financial reserve. I will continue to fight for individual and property owner rights, responsible growth, and public safety.
What do you believe is the No. 1 issue of concern in La Quinta? Explain why and how you would address it.
EVANS: The No. 1 issue of concern in La Quinta, as voiced by some of our residents, is the short-term vacation rental (STVR) program. With the governor’s stay-at-home order still in place, complaints have increased and mitigation efforts are needed to ensure a balance with our residents and our owner/rental properties. My suggestions to address the STVR issues are stated in question No. 5.
The top concern for me is the economic status of our city and valley due to the governor’s restrictions as a result of the pandemic. Our three highest revenue sources are sales, hotel and property tax. They have been significantly impacted by the restrictions placed on us by the governor. Our businesses are struggling, as are our residents. We have supported our businesses financially during the pandemic, and we will continue to work with them to find ways to ensure they remain viable in the months and years ahead. Fortunately, we have strong reserves that are available to us to assist businesses and residents through these difficult times. I will continue to advocate to the county and state for the safe opening of ALL businesses, including small group travel, so our city and valley can begin to regain employment and financial stability.
SYLK: The most critical No. 1 issue of our time is the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many other issues not being considered in La Quinta but for me the No. 1 is COVID.
While the COVID-19 pandemic forces Americans to avoid each other and challenges the desirability of offices, museums, golf courses and other shared places, I am betting that the city will revive, and people will come together again in large numbers. Tourists who visit have gone missing as fear of COVID-19 dampens leisure travel, restaurants, movie theaters and more. Many of our office buildings are nearly 80% empty at the moment, according to real estate brokers, and the percentage of space that is not leased may edge up to 20% before the pandemic is over and our hotels are also suffering high vacancy rates.
In this uncertain time, it will be great once we are able to wake up and interact post-COVID to have this pandemic remind everyone what La Quinta stands for in terms of connections among ourselves, diversity of culture, and inspiration. The priority now is to avoid complacency and that requires enabling businesses to hang on until this is over. This is a time for listening and learning. This is a time to navigate this dilemma and make intelligent decisions, and this is the time to understand how this pandemic has impacted us and our ability to re-invent the city moving forward.
FITZPATRICK: I believe our No. 1 issue in La Quinta, in conjunction with COVID-19’s impact, is the long-term economic growth of our major retail corridor. The 2-mile stretch of Highway 111 represents the major source of our sales tax and needs a redevelopment model to secure revenues for services in our community. We know that the future of this area is going to be distinctly different and we need to be able to create opportunities to intersect the future of business, retail and residential.
As a former marathon runner and planning director, I know what long-term planning can accomplish. I encouraged the creation of a long-term Corridor Plan for 111. The plan, prepared in 2019, assesses changing business/tourism economic models and incorporates design changes that will be more inclusive of small businesses. The plan encourages more pedestrian-friendly, landscaped access to welcome people to shop, dine and have fun, expanding the appeal of the area, capitalizing on the changes in work habits of young professionals, adding housing to the corridor, encouraging and creating a live/work/play environment coordinating a non-competing and complementary development model.
To keep moving forward, we will be looking at changes to the zoning codes and the development of a demonstration project on city-owned property. We want people to see the possibilities of redevelopment to encourage property owners to think big!
GRAY: The structure of city government needs improvement for better governance and for better contact between the City Council and mayor and the people of La Quinta. The solution begins with council districts. Residents should elect a council member who is involved in the district, and will respond directly and openly to concerns, questions and requests for service. The interaction between the council and mayor will be more open and more inclined to negotiations for services, projects and other issues. Council districts proposal is only part of this prime issue. Term limits of a total of eight years will encourage more citizen participation and will bring in fresh ideas and points of view. The relatively low interest in new elections indicates the need to have new points of view, new ideas and new attention to long-term concerns. A prime example is the long-delayed and still pending development of SilverRock. Finally, a more invigorated City Council will increase supervision and the performance of the city staff. Our citizens know that La Quinta needs more attention to overhead cost and in planning for optional projects. La Quinta needs an active and involved council, and not more photo-ops.
SANCHEZ: I believe our business community and residents would agree that the issues facing the city are:
- The cost of public safety, without reducing the current quality of public safety
- Current and post-COVID-19 economy recovery
- A fair and balanced approach to managing the Short-Term Vacation Rentals (STVR’s) program
- Ensuring a responsible approach to future developments, such as the Highway 111 corridor, SilverRock development and many more
Who’s running: Evans, Sanchez, Fitzpatrick hope to retain seats against challengers
Moratorium: La Quinta adopts 90-day moratorium on new permits for vacation rentals
COVID-19 aid: How restaurants in La Quinta are getting creative with relief to stay open
Budget: La Quinta closes near $3M deficit, discusses police funding vs. defunding
COVID-19 has cost businesses and cities millions of dollars. What is your plan for economic recovery from COVID-19 in La Quinta?
EVANS: COVID-19 impacts have taken a toll on our economy, our city budget, our residents and our businesses. Our city quickly responded to help mitigate the impacts on residents and businesses. A few of those actions include:
- Safety: Executed a digital marketing and education campaign with various COVID-19 information messages;
- Business Assistance: Developed and implemented the COVID-19 Small Business Emergency Economic Relief and Rebate Programs with an allocation of $1.5 million to small businesses;
- Developed an Al Fresco Program to provide financial support for restaurants creating additional outdoor space to comply with the State Industry Standards to remain open;
- Established a food distribution partnership and donated $40,000 to FIND Food Bank to provide food for LQ residents in need;
- Utilized the La Quinta Museum for childcare (collaboration with the YMCA) for children of essential workers;
- Manufactured face shields at our Creation Station for local hospitals;
- Provided financial support for local homeless shelters and programs; and
- Expanded Code Compliance service hours and coverage to better manage short-term vacation rental issues.
My plan is to continue to work with our businesses, industry leaders and residents to provide assistance where possible to ensure their viability in the months and years ahead. This will be done while also providing services within our city with reduced resources and revenue. I will also ensure projects underway in the city, many impacting infrastructure and development, move forward in preparation for the other side of this pandemic.
SYLK: How do we get back on track economically after this pandemic? I think the city needs to invite all LQ business owners in for a brainstorming session … and they need to do it now. We need to invite all the commercial landlords into this meeting as well. Our council/city has been mostly absent throughout this entire ordeal. We need to find the business leaders in our community who are innovative, and we need to start working on a plan of action now. We also need to have a meeting with our employees here in our community who have been affected by this pandemic to find out where we stand and how badly impacted our community really is. We need to take the pulse of our community and break down the problem into segments, so we can tackle it. For example: Who has “emergency” situations with their food and shelter? We need to be insular in our approach and deal only with our community in order to try to get a handle on it. We have great neighbors here who will help wherever they can, … they have proven that time and time again, but those who are struggling need to know we will help them in any way we can. There is no communication from our city in this regard other than offering platitudes if any. We cannot wait to get started. We have to prepare now. We need to focus on near-term survival and, ultimately, long term recovery.
FITZPATRICK: In my assessment, our council has functioned well during the pandemic so far. We have been proactive in assuring continuity of service, while striving to keep the public healthy and provide a program so no one goes hungry. We have been at the forefront fostering our small businesses with loans and rebates to help weather these tough times. But no one knows the full extent of the cost of the pandemic either for the city or for our residents personally.
I think our council has taken the approach that we will mitigate the ongoing impact of loss of revenue by helping with rent, utilities, reimbursement for safety equipment and allowing for innovative ways to stay open safely. Part of our economic recovery plan is the retention of as many businesses as possible. We allocated and are expending approximately $1.5 million from our Economic Disaster reserves toward that goal. Going forward, I believe we will continue to help our businesses by helping with streamlined permit processes and innovative planning to increase patron access to business safely.
There is no way of knowing the exact toll of COVID-19 yet. However, I know our council has been at the forefront of developing innovative ways to keep our businesses going. I think we will rise to the occasion. Our efforts have resonated at the regional level and other jurisdictions have followed suit.
GRAY: The principal plan for economic recovery depends on returning to open and normal living as much as possible, and as soon as possible. A major tool will be a reduction of taxes, especially taxes that burden local commerce. Reduce the sales tax in La Quinta to increase sales and services and provide jobs and more employment security. The council should look at any other fees and taxes that can be reduced at least temporarily. The city staff and council will have to look for every possible savings to compensate for reduced taxes and fees. La Quinta faces continued pressure from online purchases. The result is a growing number of vacant commercial units. La Quinta needs to do everything possible to attract quality businesses. At the same time, the city code enforcement must actively assure that closed businesses are maintained and secured, inside and out. More coordination and planning of tourist events are prime factors in attracting more tourists and vacationers.
SANCHEZ: We are fortunate past city councils have established an economic disaster fund. Specifically, for the current COVID-19 economic emergency, these funds can and have been used for:
- City-backed rebates
- Interest-free loans
- Citywide marketing efforts
Over the past several months, there have been discussions locally and nationally about “defunding” police. What does defund police mean to you? Explain where you stand on the issue and why; and what, if any, course of action your city should take.
EVANS: “Defunding the police,” to me, means erasing the investments made in La Quinta over the last 38 years that have prioritized public safety for our community. It means compromising the safe city we have built — and risk an increase in crime. I do not support defunding the police. Our council began analyzing our Riverside (County) Sheriff’s Department contract six years ago to understand the cost and service structure. Together, we have made modifications to hours, area of focus, and desired results — all while working toward managing the contract increases that are presented each year. Our annual review and renewal provides insight and opportunity to make adjustments where needed to best serve our community.
As for policies and practices, we have begun and will continue communications with our contract partner, and our residents, to ensure a balanced approach to law enforcement exists in La Quinta — which I believe it does. Is it possible that other resources (non-law enforcement) may be needed to assist our deputies in their roles? Yes, it is possible. Should that conclusion be drawn from our collaborative discussions and community input, that investment will be made outside of the existing coverage and service by our law enforcement team. It will not reduce and replace what is working in La Quinta. I, and our residents, have and show great respect for the protection our law enforcement team provides to our residents and businesses. I appreciate the work that they do to keep our city safe.
SYLK: I do not like the word “defunding” of police. We need to reorganize our public safety approach. Our police are spending their valuable and expensive time on every little complaint people have and that is partly because people have nowhere else to turn when they have an issue. We need additional code enforcement personnel and we need a city ombudsman to handle neighbor disputes over things like messy yards, firecrackers going off, etc. As heartwarming it is to see a police officer rescuing a duck from the pond or buying a hot meal for a needy citizen, that is expensive, and we can do better in meeting the needs of our community by providing specialists, perhaps going so far as putting a mental health officer on-call. We need more police spaced properly to get the most out of our tax dollars.
FITZPATRICK: I do not support reducing police effectiveness and efficiency in La Quinta as we attained an extremely low crime rate because we allocate a high level of funding to provide significant officer time for both active and proactive hours on each beat. However, we have done so by closely monitoring resource allocations and operations in real time. While I do not support “defunding” the police, and the term doesn’t address any tangible issue in our community, I am always interested in improving efficiencies to allow reallocation of funds to achieve public safety holistically, and that includes programs aimed at strengthening the fabric of our community, starting with our youth.
For several years, our yearly police service study has indicted that funding could be reduced by reducing the number of proactive hours (hours used for community policing by each officer) in our service model. We have not decreased our service hours to date. However, with annual rates for our contract increasing by 7% to 11% a year, contract costs are not sustainable. The sheriff has started to research how police services are provided to contract cities. I support this course of action. If there are ways to provide routine services with well-trained, non-sworn personnel, I am willing to pilot those modifications. Training of officers is always necessary and in order to progress must evolve. The more we know, the better we must do. We must look at how public safety services are provided with the county and our residents with the goal of improving service.
GRAY: The issue of defunding the police appears to plan on reducing both the budget and the number of police officers — sheriff deputies in La Quinta. There is an attempt to justify this reduction by saying that social services and other investments will replace policing to create a better society. Chopping off part or all of police budgeting is a dangerous and illogical proposal. La Quinta needs to exercise continued control over police expenses, but always with the prime goal of safety and crime reduction through effective social policing. We need more police, not less. I want to look at increasing Citizens on Patrol (COPs) as a means of increasing security where their presence would have a safest and best effect. We can also negotiate with the sheriff department to find ways to reduce ancillary expenses. Fundamentally, La Quinta needs to adjust policing to prepare for possible unrest, rioting and even terror acts. School safety is a prime issue.
SANCHEZ: I am a staunch supporter of law enforcement. Our contracted sheriffs are professional and a true representation of our city.
The “defund police” movement is a knee-jerk reaction to a super-minority-few bad officers and has been politically used to pander to radical groups who would like to see NO police officers.
However, I do agree the state and county should allocate additional funds for mental health programs to support our community and law enforcement.
La Quinta has been named one of the safest cities in the state; we could not accomplish this without our well-trained and professional men and women of our police force who protect us every day.
While I am all for working with our sheriff and Board of Supervisors in lowering the cost of policing, I will never sacrifice the quality of law enforcement our residents and business community have come to expect from the city of La Quinta. #BackTheBadge #ThinBlueLine
An increase in short-term vacation rental complaints led to a 90-day moratorium on any new permits in La Quinta, issued by Executive Order on Aug. 5. What is your solution for this problem?
EVANS: I believe that cities can effectively permit short-term rentals (STVRs) that are responsibly managed, used and do not pose an undue disturbance to the surrounding community. I continue to support STVRs in La Quinta. However, recognizing the need to make changes to the program, our council implemented an ad hoc committee last year.
We have experienced a significant increase in complaints from our residents regarding problem rental properties since the pandemic shutdown. And, we prioritize quality of life for our residents, hence the need to make further changes to the program for successful co-existence. Our ad hoc committee has reviewed the current program, its enforcements, complaints and process to track problem renters/owners. They will be making recommendations at our City Council for council’s review and consideration. These recommendations will be evaluated, with resident and rental owner input, prior to council making any changes or decisions.
I do not support banning short-term rentals in La Quinta. I do support addressing the issues and concerns and resolving them in a win-win situation. Our city needs the $3.5 million revenue (pre-COVID) that is derived from this tourism market. We do need to ensure a balance to preserve the quality of life for our residents. I believe we can achieve that balance, as we have had the last four years of the program.
SYLK: There are two sides to every story. I have heard both sides and I guess it depends on which side of the bathroom door you’re on. I am also a businessman, and this is a tourist area, so a middle of the road answer allowing this business to operate and the neighbors to sleep in peace would work.
The STVR rental issue has many layers and I am not sure the program was evaluated properly before implementation, considering the modern-day STVR renter and the impact their presence has on neighborhoods in large numbers. The Cove area is especially concentrated with these STVRs due to the affordability of real estate there. Investors are buying up those properties, slapping on a coat of white paint, putting in furniture and renting them as party houses without regard for the impact they are having on the neighborhood. We should first listen to the residents who should be the priority, and not just the almighty dollar. An audit needs to be done to determine the problems and how they can be addressed to the residents’ satisfaction. If not, the program needs to be reassessed completely with proper regulations that meet both sides’ concerns. In the meantime, I support the current 90-day moratorium to sort things out. I want this business to continue with the penalties agreed to by both the owner and his tenant, as I favor more business coming to La Quinta. I have a plan that I believe will work well.
FITZPATRICK: Short-term vacation rentals have become very popular in all resort areas. I think La Quinta had taken an early, proactive approach to regulating them in the city. However, council recognized the program permits were growing, and late last year decided we needed to look at how to make it better. Council established an ad hoc committee to look at improving the program at all levels. What many do not realize is that operating a STVR in a residential neighborhood requires a permit because operating any business out of a home in an R-1 zone is prohibited. In order to mitigate the use of a home as a business, rules have to be set in place in to maintain the fabric of the neighborhood and allow for the enjoyment of each homeowner of their property.
While the ad hoc is in the middle of their study of the program in La Quinta, I believe the solutions to the problem will require additional mitigation measures as part of each permit in the form of regulations, fines and enforcement. The program will have to be more responsive to complaints. And, there may well have to be limits on the numbers of permits issued by density.
I want to see a program that works for everyone. I want a program that allows our full-time residents to live in their neighborhoods in peaceful coexistence with homeowners who rent their homes on a short-term basis; it benefits all of us in the long term.
GRAY: The 90-day moratorium is an authoritarian reaction to an important issue. If there has been an increase in complaints, code compliance should first deal with specific issues to eliminate violations. Prohibiting new applications are not the best or fairest means to deal with violations. In fact, the council should look at the whole concept of STVRs. Some homeowners may be under economic pressure to compensate for our closed and suffering COVID-19 economy. At the same time, owners purchased their properties with the current zoning in mind. When STVRs are constant, the rental property becomes a commercial activity. On the other hand, long-term renters become part of the neighborhood. I think we should have input from the neighbors before a property becomes a constant STVR. And, quite obviously, continual or exaggerated violations of noise, number of occupants, and other issues should be justification for revocation of permits for STVR.
SANCHEZ: I support the Short-Term Vacation Rental (STVR’s) program, as I am a proponent of individual and property owner rights. However, with individual and property owner rights, come individual and property owner responsibilities.
The philosophical foundation for how I govern is “do what you want on your property, as long as it doesn’t effect anyone else on theirs.” The problem is when it does affect someone else with loud noise, social disturbances, parking issues, etc.
Both STVR owners and neighbors are entitled to enjoy their homes peacefully as they see fit. Enforcement of current ordinances has proven to be the difficult part of the program, but I do not believe that eliminating the program is the answer. STVR owner and renter education and accountability is what we continue to work harder at.
Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the cities of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be reached at [email protected] or (760) 778-4694. Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherry.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: La Quinta mayoral, council candidates talk COVID-19, short-term rentals