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Palm Springs’ first openly gay Black mayor discusses changes city should make

The push to remove the statue of Palm Springs' first elected mayor, Frank Bogert from the entrance of City Hall, has gotten the attention of another former mayor.

Ron Oden, elected in 2003 was the first openly gay, black mayor in Palm Springs. He's speaking out to News Channel 3's Karen Devine about the "State of the City," including the fight over Bogert's statue, a Black Lives Matter presence in the desert and why Palm Springs should make a change when it comes to the historic O'Donnell Golf Club.

"I am encouraged that the country is starting to see and understand some of the stressors people of color deal with on a daily basis.”

Former Mayor of Palm Springs Ron Oden reacting to the surge in interest in the Black Lives Matter movement from people of all color, race and background. The national movement touching down in the desert with protests from one end of the valley to the other last month. Oden, a longtime Professor of Sociology at College of the Desert says his professional success has not spared him from being a target.

"Let me tell you something, when you have this paint-job, you are never exempt. I don't care how much education you have, I don't care where you live, I still deal with racism the same as other people."

Devine asked, “You must feel the change happening, and to be in the Coachella Valley or an area of Palm Springs where you were mayor, you can see at a protest, we have more than 100 people now, we didn't have protests like that even a year ago."

Oden replied, "And, if we weren't in the midst of a pandemic you would have seen a whole lot more. Unfortunately, the leadership of this country is feeding into the past, they want to return to days when their lives were more comfortable, when they felt more in power. I don't know when that was for me."

"The disparities here are really intense. We have the farm workers at the end of the valley, we have racial minorities and we have this history in our city that is complex to say the least."

Devine said, "I wanted to touch on that because, there is a petition going around to have the first elected mayor of Palm Springs Frank Bogert's statue taken down from outside City Hall."

Oden responded, "Look, I knew Frank and I grew to like him as a person, he spoke at my star dedication downtown. It's not trying to do away with what has happened, we'll recognize what happened that's a part of our history, but we don't want to glorify things that we know never should have happened. And, you know, maybe it just doesn't need to go in front of City Hall."

The petition to remove Frank Bogert’s statue alleges in part:

"Mr. Bogert and the city council evicted many lower income and almost exclusively black residents of section 14. The homes they rented were torched with the assistance of the Palm Springs Fire and Police Departments, and many were "relocated" to Desert Highland Estates on the north end of town."

Aside from the issue surrounding Bogert’s statue, former Mayor Oden believes the city needs to be in sole control of the O'Donnell Golf Club, the valley’s first golf course. He says it needs to be open to the publc, calling the beautiful mountain scenery, the park the city needs. He first spoke out about this in late June on the “Nicholas Snow Show” calling, the original deal and all the included restrictions that came with it, a part of the city’s history that needs a closer look including how minorities were excluded.

Devine asked Oden, "Why do you feel it should change now? How would the city benefit?

"It's just timely, it was started with a restrictive convenient everybody knows it and it's just time for us, if there's anything that we need to do to remove a stain on our city when it comes to our openess and our acceptance, and I'm not sure how that's done," Oden responded.

Current Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors is already taking action on this matter, asking the city attorney take a closer look at the agreement between the city and O'Donnell Golf Club to see if there are implied restrictions. As far as the removal of the Bogert statue at Palm Springs City Hall, Kors says there will be a public listening session regarding racism and policing via zoom on July 18th to help determine which way the city will vote eventually vote on the matter.


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Karen Devine

Karen Devine is celebrating her 27th year delivering the local news as an anchor and reporter in the Palm Springs television market. Learn more about Karen here.


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