La Quinta Mayor Linda Evans is being challenged by businessman Robert Sylk while Richard Gray, a retired diplomat, hopes to unseat council incumbent Steve Sanchez or Kathleen Fitzpatrick in the Nov. 3 election.
Sylk, a U.S. Army veteran and founder of Concerned Citizens of La Quinta — an organization which holds semi-regular meetings to discuss issues of concern — said he believes the city “needs a new beginning and a new city administration” that puts its citizens first.
“These are serious times in La Quinta and there are serious issues needing our attention,” he said. “We all need, firstly, to insist upon a basic standard of truth from our elected officials. And secondly, we must cultivate a commitment to that truth to show our young people and children that it has to start here with us.”
It’s time to “make La Quinta great again,” he added.
“La Quinta is great,” said Evans, who has served as mayor for six years, plus five years on the council – first appointed to fill a vacancy in 2009 and then elected in 2010. She is chief strategy officer of community advocacy for Desert Care Network, which includes Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, JFK Memorial Hospital in Indio and Hi-Desert Medical Center In Joshua Tree.
“La Quinta’s made tremendous progress during my term as mayor,” Evans said, adding she believes that now especially the city needs continuity in getting through the COVID-19 pandemic and economic impact it has had.
Losing millions of dollars in revenue from sales, transient occupancy taxes and other taxes due to the pandemic, the city closed a projected $3 million deficit in June through staff layoffs and furloughs, cost cuts and use of funds from reserves in adopting its 2020-21 budget.
“Especially with the pandemic, it’s important to have continuity as we progress through the financial challenges of economic recovery,” Evans said.
“And, quite honestly, I’m committed to wanting to make sure the Montage and Pendry are underway, since that is part of our financial future, and other projects within the city that I would like to see through to fruition,” she said.
The two Montage brand luxury hotels are planned for the SilverRock Golf Resort, which is being developed by Robert Green with an anticipated opening in late 2021.
Gray, a retired diplomat with the State Department and former member of the city’s Architect and Landscape Review Committee, wants to see the city divided into council districts, the sales tax lowered by 1 percentage point and term limits for council members and the mayor.
Gray also wants a citywide vote on major projects; and reduction in city staff size and expenses. He said he supports police and wants to see more volunteers added to La Quinta’s Citizens on Patrol.
He said he would also push to get built a long-planned bridge on Dune Palms over the Whitewater canal, an area frequently flooded during heavy storms, forcing it to be closed during a storm.
“That project has been hanging for a long, long time,” Gray said. “In fact, this is sort of contrasting with the speed that was used to build the roundabouts in downtown La Quinta. … I think the Dune Palms bridge is much more important, especially for safety at the high school.”
In June, the City Council approved water and sewer line relocation agreements and bill of sale with the Coachella Valley Water District, one of the final steps toward construction of the Dune Palms bridge, Public Works Director Bryan McKinney said.
“We have been dealing with some utility and right of way challenges in order to get our final approvals from Caltrans,” McKinney said on Monday.
Construction is estimated at $17.5 million of which the city will pay about $550,212. The rest will come from state and federal grants and the Coachella Valley Association of Governments. Construction is scheduled to start next summer and take about 18 months to complete, assuming the state has the funds available, McKinney said.
Due to the pandemic, “the Highway Bridge Program is also facing a financial shortfall, which makes scheduling uncertain at best,” McKinney said. “In the meantime, we are close to finalizing the right of way and utility agreements, so we can submit them to Caltrans.”
Fitzpatrick, a retired landscape architect with the city of Los Angeles and former Planning Commission member, was first elected to the council in 2016.
All that has happened over the last six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the health and fiscal impacts on community residents and businesses, Fitzpatrick said, influenced her decision to run again.
“I care too much about La Quinta to just say, oh well, the next few months are going to be hard so maybe I don’t need to do this anymore. No, it’s exactly when you need to be there. Fortunately, there’s some institutional knowledge in the five us … and I think that’s important right now,” she said.
There are projects she also wants to see through to fruition.
She pointed to the recent adoption of a new visionary plan to shift Highway 111, which makes up about 75% of the city’s sales tax revenues, to an experience-based economic driver – inside and outside of the stores – which she wants to help move forward.
The short-term vacation rental program has moved front-and-center recently as the number of permits has increased bringing more complaints from surrounding residents. Last week, the city issued a 90-day moratorium on new permits to allow its citizen ad hoc committee time to review the issues and make recommendations for solutions.
Addressing the problems and making improvements that address the needs of residents and STVR property owners is going to be a long-term project, Fitzpatrick said.
Sanchez, a commercial real estate agent who served for eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps., said he is running again because there is still more work to do.
“I’ve dedicated my entire adult life to serving my country and my community,” Sanchez said. It was an honor to have received the highest votes in La Quinta’s history and I’m grateful to represent the residents of La Quinta as their Councilman.
“La Quinta is one of the safest cities in California; we support our law enforcement family,” Sanchez said. “We’ve been fiscally responsible for many years which is why we have a healthy reserve, for economic disasters like COVID has proven.
“There’s still more to do,” Sanchez said. “It would be an honor to continue to guide La Quinta in the right direction.”
Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the cities of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be reached at email@example.com or (760) 778-4694. Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherry