Section 14 petitioning questioned

Palm Springs city clerk says group isn’t following the proper procedure

Critics of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ plan to rezone a section of Palm Springs called Section 14 are gathering signatures to put the controversy before voters.

The City Clerk, however, says they are not following proper procedure and whatever signatures they’ve gathered are unacceptable.

Tribal officials charge the signature-gatherers know they’re not following the law, but are trying to discredit the tribe anyway.

Dana Wise, an opponent of the tribe’s plan to rezone Section 14 for denser residential development and more commercial development, said dozens volunteers have circulated a petition that would allow residents to vote on the proposal Nov. 2.

“This Section 14 plan could transform the city forever,” Wise said. “It’s a big deal. … People are eager to get it on the ballot.”

Located on sovereign tribal land, Section 14 is a one-square-mile prime piece of real estate near downtown Palm Springs.

Major development there could boost the city’s economy or change its village-like atmosphere.

It is bordered by Alejo Road to the north, Sunrise Way to the east, Ramon Road to the south and Indian Canyon Drive to the west.

The city ultimately has no say on what happens there, but the tribe seeks city input, nonetheless.

Wise claims that the city should stand up to the tribe and prevent it from going through with the rezoning. He said a vote of Palm Springs residents would convince the tribe.

But City Clerk Patricia Sander said the signatures are probably invalid under state law.

There are two kinds of petitions that put issues on the ballot: a referendum petition and an initiative petition. Sanders said it’s too early to begin circulating a referendum petition and no paperwork has been filed for an initiative petition.

“I don’t know what they’re doing,” she said.

Tribal Chairman Richard Milanovich said the group knows it won’t be successful, that it’s trying to turn the public against the tribe.

“They know it’s legally impossible for it to happen,” he said. “They know it. They’re just stirring the pot.”

Wise has maintained that the signature gathering is OK and that they’re merely concerned about the effects of the rezoning.

He said the gathering of signatures is not being directed or endorsed by any particular group, although members of the Citizens for Local Government Accountability and representatives of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union are involved.

CLGA started the Section 14 controversy in January by alleging it would bulldoze homes to build an “entertainment district,” charges the tribe denies. H.E.R.E. has been trying to unionize the tribe’s two casinos.

City and tribal officials claim CLGA is secretly a front for H.E.R.E., a charge both CLGA and H.E.R.E. deny.

Wise has volunteered for CLGA in the past and is a paid analyst for H.E.R.E.

“It makes you wonder,” Milanovich said of Wise’s connections.

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