Palm Springs City Councilwoman Mayor Pro Tem Christy Holstege jumped out to an early lead Tuesday evening in the race to represent District 4, gathering nearly 60% of the vote.
Early vote totals show Holstege’s 59.6% surpassed totals of her two challengers — Mike McCulloch, a former Palm Springs councilman and small business owner, who notched 28.6% of the vote; and Dian Torres, a local health care worker, who earned 11.7%.
District 4 generally includes neighborhoods south of Ramon Road and east of Sunrise Way.
The election will conclude the shift from at-large to by-district elections in Palm Springs. Districts 1, 2 and 3 were decided last year.
No challengers opted to take on Councilwoman Lisa Middleton, the first transgender city representative to be elected in California, in District 5, which predominantly spans south of Ramon Road and west of Sunrise Way.
Holstege, 34, an attorney who moved to Palm Springs in 2012 after graduating from Stanford Law School, ran on a platform that highlights her work related to finding solutions to local homelessness, economic recovery remedies amid the coronavirus pandemic and her efforts to expand access to open spaces.
Holstege said in a recent interview that Palm Springs needs to plan ahead, especially as it relates to building much-needed affordable housing, providing more family friendly spaces and diversifying the local economy away from one that is predominantly based on tourism.
“I think Palm Springs is at a tipping point. I think there’s a lot of risk to a tourism economy,” she said. “I’d like to see us invest in our economy in a way that creates jobs of the future — invest in our internet infrastructure, and invest in economic development in a way that can provide a vision for our economy, including green energy jobs.”
McCulloch, 63, who previously served as a councilman from 2003 to 2007, touted his education, professional experience and the fact he is a local, having spent 45 years of his life in Palm Springs. McCulloch is a certified public accountant, with a bachelor’s degree in economics and master’s in business administration, both from UCLA. He said in a recent interview that his combination of private and public sector experience would be useful in helping the city combat its financial woes related to a tourism season cut short due to the coronavirus.
“There’s no one on the council right now who has my background, my education and my experience, and I think I have something to bring to the table,” he said.
The newcomer, Torres, a Santa Barbara native, has called Palm Springs home full time for the last four years, although she has lived in the Coachella Valley on a part-time basis since 2005.
“We as leaders really need to speak to our people,” she said. ” Politics has really become about special interests’ and political leaders’ agendas, and that to me is not what politics should be. We represent the people in the community who put us there, and we need to be listening to them.”
While collecting signatures to get on the ballot, Torres said she consistently heard reference to pay-for-play politics in the city, especially centered around the arrests of ex-Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, and Coachella Valley developers Richard Hugh Meaney and John Elroy Wessman, who were indicted last year in connection with an alleged bribery scheme.
Prosecutors contend Pougnet pocketed a total of $375,000 between 2012 and 2014 to vote favorably on the developers’ projects when they came before the Palm Springs City Council.
Following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, Holstege came under fire for some or her remarks she made in the days after.
Holstege, in a letter addressed to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors arguing in favor of a resolution condemning the killing, made mention of a “long history of racial segregation and exclusion, racial violence, racist city policies and policing” in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley generally.
Her remarks drew the immediate ire of the Palm Springs Police Officers’ Association, which blasted her publicly and later endorsed McCulloch, along with the Palm Springs Firefighters Association.
Holstege, in an interview, refuted having any anti-law enforcement sentiment. She said she has supported local first responders throughout her term, and additionally supported the reopening of a fire station that serves her district.
This election will complete a two-part shift from at-large to by-district elections in Palm Springs, a move prompted by the threat of a legal challenge contending the previous system violated the California Voting Rights Act. The threat has prompted municipalities across the state to move away from the at-large system.
Both Holstege and Middleton were elected to their first terms in 2017 and later agreed to serve out reduced three-year stints to ease the transition.