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BRIEF RECAPS: CITY COUNCIL SPECIAL MEETING & PLANNING COMMISION
Bowden Appointed Interim City Manager by the City Council; the Planning Committee discusses painted signs and statuary for City businesses
CITY COUNCIL RECAP, OCTOBER 16, 2023
At their October 16 meeting, the City Council approved hiring Larry Bowden as Interim City Manager.
Starting at 5 p.m., the first hour of the October 16th meeting was a closed session in which the Council discussed hiring Bowden and reviewed City Clerk Cindy Villescas’s performance evaluation.
The public portion of the meeting was kicked off at 6 p.m. by an invocation from Pastor LeeAnn Clarke, Secretary of the local Ministerial Association, which included her thanking God in Jesus’ name for numerous things including outgoing City Manager Frank Luckino’s eight years of service, the willingness of Interim City Manager Bowden to serve, and the flourishing of the local tourism economy. Mayor MacArthur Wright is President of the Ministerial Association.
Luckino outlined the only action item on the agenda—appointment of Bowden as Interim City Manager and approving the related employment contract. Luckino tried to head off questions about the selection process’s opaqueness, or as he phrased it, “some inquiry from the community regarding the proper application of the Brown Act.” As Luckino explained it, the City chose to handle the selection process as an HR matter in closed session, a method that complied with state law as long as the actual Interim City Manager approval vote took place in public session.
Luckino advised that the contract rate for Bowden was $86.50 per hour, Bowden would receive no city benefits, and Bowden’s work would be capped at 960 hours for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2024.
In public comment on this agenda item, Susan Peplow spoke in favor of Bowden’s interim appointment but counseled patience and transparency for the upcoming permanent City Manager search process.
Mayor McArthur Wright then read a written comment consisting of the recent Desert Trumpet editorial, "Who Should We Hire," signed by several local residents and Desert Trumpet writers, demanding greater transparency in the selection process for both the Interim City Manager as well as the permanent City Manager position.
The roll call vote was 5-0 to approve engaging Bowden as Interim City Manager and to approve the related employment contract.
In the general public comment period, Susan Peplow expressed concern that so far there had been no notice provided to the stakeholders or community about the Tourism Board Improvement District (TBID) stakeholders’ meeting coming up in two weeks; Pamela Foss spoke once again about mistreatment of peacocks in her neighborhood; April Ramirez alleged potential expense reimbursement irregularities by City Council members; and Joseph Carder thanked Frank Luckino for his service, saying he hoped Luckino would “keep the dispensaries open” in Desert Hot Springs.
PLANNING COMMISSION RECAP, OCTOBER 17, 2023
At their October 17 meeting, the Planning Commission voted 5-0 to approve the single action item on their agenda, a package of minor changes to the City’s development code.
These minor changes to Chapter 19 of the development code include adjusting the time limits and number of extensions allowed for Planning approvals; tweaks in operating hours and number of visiting customers permitted for home-based businesses; and requiring Planning approval for projects over 7,500 square feet.
The Commission then moved on to a study session on potential revised regulation of painted signs and statuaries.
Community Development Director Keith Gardner kicked off this discussion by noting that currently, City code prohibits painted signs but says nothing about statuaries.
In this context, “statuaries” are commercial statues; for example, if the City had a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, the business would likely want to display their trademark “Big Boy” statue out front. And “painted signs” includes murals as well as possibly even signs either displayed in windows or painted onto windows.
Gardner provided several examples of existing painted business signs and murals around town, such as Grnd Sqrl and Scorpion Lollipop, saying “technically they don’t have any right” to exist, presumably because the businesses didn’t gain City approval for some or all of them.
He suggested the Commission may want to update the development code to allow some painted signs rather than flatly prohibiting unapproved signs, and likewise include statuaries in a revised code section.
The Commission discussed the challenges of differentiating between artistic “murals” versus advertising “signs,” ruefully concluding that the two purposes sometimes overlapped. City staff advised that regulation must be content neutral, otherwise it could be construed as prohibiting First Amendment protected speech.
In the end, the Commission directed Gardner to return with draft ordinance language with revised sign regulation and regulation of statuaries.
At this point the Planning Commission moved on to a Homeless Committee study session. Current City policy is to provide no video record of Homeless Committee meetings. The Desert Trumpet was unable to send a reporter, in person, to this session so we are unable to report on it.
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