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Mayor Ted Weill Gives Rancho Mirage State of the City Address

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The Desert News, Sherry Barkas Dateline: April 7, 2017

For the city of Rancho Mirage, the future is bright.

"Our brand is the strongest it has ever been," Rancho Mirage Mayor Ted Weill told a crowd of about 250 people attending the annual state of the city address on Wednesday. "I am happy to say the state of the city of Rancho Mirage is excellent and will continue to thrive now and into the future."

The luncheon event, hosted by the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce, was held in the Cahuilla Ballroom at the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa.

In his 25-minute speech, Weill highlighted the city's fiscal outlook, increased revenues, new developments on deck and improvements to existing shopping centers on Highway 111.

Ted Weill
Rancho Mirage Mayor Ted Weill delivers the State of the City address at the Agua Caliente Casino, Wednesday, April 5, 2017.


PLENTY IN RESERVES

The city ended the 2015-16 fiscal year with a $2.4 million surplus – more than double what was originally expected.

"The city has maintained a balanced budget since its incorporation in 1973," Weill said.

The city relies heavily on hotel – or transient occupancy (TOT) – and sales taxes, which together comprise 50 percent of its annual revenue.

TOT alone brought about $7.3 million to the general fund in 2016, a 9.7 percent increase over 2015.

GOOD NEWS: City reports higher-than-expected surplus

Sales tax revenue also increased in 2016, by about 6.8 percent, Weill said.

The 2016-17 fiscal year budget recently saw a mid-year adjustment with a surplus of $618,000, Weill said.

The city has about $60 million in reserves.

"That includes $25 million, equal to one year's budget," to be used in the event of a downturn in the economy, Weill said.

It also includes $11 million for disaster recovery and capital improvement reserves of $6 million.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Over the past year, the city has seen the multi-million dollar Rancho Las Palmas shopping center makeover near completion with the opening of Hobby Lobby, the new CVS pharmacy, Greens International Market, Stein Mart, Pieology, Starbucks, Norma's Italian Kitchen and other new businesses and restaurants.

Haus of Poké, owned by boxer and Rancho Mirage resident Tim Bradley and his wife Monica Bradley, is scheduled to open in the shopping center on April 11, Weill said.

Next door on Highway 111, The River shopping center is undergoing some changes as well, including improvements to the façade and addition of covered parking with solar. New businesses include the recent opening of The Fox and Fiddle – an English-style gastropub – while Acqua California Bistro will bring local restaurateur Jerry Keller back to The River. The owner of LuLu California Bistro in downtown Palm Springs had also owned the popular Acqua Pazza in the same location at The River, closing it about two years ago. No opening date has been set.

"The (holiday) ice rink was a big success and will be coming back," Weill said.

The rink saw more than 10,000 visitors between Nov. 23 and Jan. 8 in its inaugural year.

Weill highlighted projects in the works.

"One of the things I'm especially pleased about ... is the Vibra (Healthcare) rehabilitation hospital," Weill said, which is going into a stalled project on Da Vall Drive and Ramon Road "that has been an eyesore" for years. The Rancho Mirage Rehabilitation Center will offer 70 beds in a 64,768-square-foot facility that sits on 6.79 acres.

Vibra is investing $27 million into the project and expects to receive its first patients in January, he said.

A Sun City 55-and-older housing development is planned for about 320 acres of tribal land on the northeast corner of Dinah Shore Drive and Los Alamos Road which was recently approved for annexation into the city. The Pulte Homes project calls for 1,100 homes.

"This will be the largest development project in Rancho Mirage since Victoria Falls in 1996," Weill said.

Another, Rancho Cove, is a mixed-use development proposed on 13 acres close to Highway 111 near City Hall, consisting of 20,000 square feet of commercial, a 100- to 125-room hotel and up to 35 residential condominiums.

Thunderbird Resort and Spa, a proposed 125-room resort for the very wealthy, with 48 residential condos, restaurant, meeting facility and about 16,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, remains in the works as well, Weill said. Section 19, a long-planned mixed-use development on 260 acres on the east side of Bob Hope Drive, near the Interstate 10 interchange and across from the Agua Caliente casino, will bring a big change to the city.

The City Council adopted the Section 19 plan in 2010, saying the land could provide more than 3 million square feet of commercial space, 580 hotel rooms and up to 1,899 homes.

"It will be the commercial center. It will drive, in the future, the economy of Rancho Mirage – an incredible prospect to look forward to over the years," Weill said.

View Ted Weill's Speech on the Desert Sun Website




Rancho Mirage garners well-run city bragging rights

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Desert Sun Editorial Dateline: April 6, 2017

Rancho Mirage Mayor Ted Weill, at his State of the City address this week, painted a rosy picture of the city's finances.

Rancho Mirage continues to burnish its image as a well-run jewel of the desert. Mayor Ted Weill, in his State of the City address this week, announced that the community of roughly 18,000 had another year in the black when it comes to city finances, ending fiscal 2015-16 with a $2.4 million surplus.

Rancho Mirage City Hall


"The city has maintained a balanced budget since its incorporation in 1973," Weill told about 250 who came to hear his address. Not only are current finances stable, the city has about $60 million in various reserve accounts to shield it from calamity such as a natural disaster or an economic downturn.

Revenue streams continue to improve as well, with the city – which draws about half of its revenue from transient occupancy ("hotel") and sales taxes – seeing nice increases in both those accounts. In addition, the city is seeing continued development and has longer range plans for new projects that should continue feeding city coffers.

While we haven't always seen eye-to-eye with the Rancho Mirage council on some of its moves, such as its opposition to the CV Link pathway project, we tip our hat to its long record of success in managing its financial house.




Construction on Rancho Mirage observatory begins

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News Channel 3 Dateline: December 7, 2016

It all started with an idea.

Rancho Mirage resident Marilyn Bauer suggested an observatory during a community meeting three years ago. Funding for the project was approved in June of 2015. Now the city is taking cues from Los Angeles and bringing astronomy to the people.

"About six months later, I started to hear little flitterings that perhaps they were going to research it for the city," Bauer told CBS Local 2's and KESQ News Channel 3's Katie Widner. "I'm speechless."

"We are going to be doing the same type of thing that the Griffith Observatory in Hollywood," said Ashley Thomas McDermott, a professor of astronomy at the College of the Desert in Palm Desert.

McDermott is also the founder of the Astronomy Society of the Desert. He says the observatory will allow people to appreciate the beauty of the universe.


(Photo: Zoe Meyers/The Desert Sun)

"It's going to be a central focal point for education. For science. For children. For the public. For people like you and me," he added.

The project broke ground Wednesday and is expected to be completed in September of 2017.

Mayor Ted Weill said it will be connected to the existing library, and added that the area turned out to be a prime location.

"We did an extensive study as far as light and any sort of light diffusion is concerned," Weill said.

He said whatever is seen through the telescope will also be transmitted to a screen inside the library, which is a good thing because folks who already frequent it- cannot wait.

"I'm really excited about the observatory coming in," said Samuel Matthews, who frequents the library. "It's going to be really nice to come and see the stars."

Weill said construction officially started Wednesday after the ceremony. He said there are currently no plans to charge admission and the facility will be open to the entire Coachella Valley.

View this on NEWS Channel 3/CBS Local 2 Website




Rancho Mirage Gives its Dogs New Place to Play

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Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: December 1, 2016

Tails were wagging as dogs patiently waited for the gates of their new park in Rancho Mirage to open Thursday afternoon.

Elly, a yellow lab, had her jaw tightly locked on a soccer ball which she didn't drop until she was inside the park with owners Troy and Rebecca Richardson. "We're very excited. We've been going to University Dog Park (in Palm Desert)," Troy Richardson said. "We're within walking distance of this one.

The $1.7 million, 4.5-acre park off of Key Largo Avenue has been a long time in the making and was a vision of Councilman Dana Hobart when he first ran for election in 2002. The City Council surprised Hobart by noting that on the dedication plaque.

"Rancho Mirage is too important of a city not to have a dog park," said Hobart, who has three dogs.

"It took some time for the money, interest and will of the council and staff to all come together. But we did it right," he said, looking over the new facility, now alive with the sound of dogs barking as they ran and played.

Construction started in April on the only city-owned dog park in Rancho Mirage.

City Council and Parks and Trails Commission members were all present along with city staff for the short dedication ceremony.

A fertigation system, which injects fertilizer into the turf during irrigation, was installed to keep the grass healthy and the bugs down, Public Works Director Mark Sambito said.

Small and large dogs have their own parks, each surrounded by decorative wrought-iron fences with double-locking gates. Inside are water fountains for dogs and humans, shaded seating areas with benches and 24 lighted parking spaces.

A lighted walking trail surrounds the park with its wide open view of the mountains.


(Photo: Zoe Meyers/The Desert Sun)

"A lot of time and thought went into the design and construction of this," Mayor Ted Weill said.

Dogs present for the opening left with a goody bag with treats, a bowl, leash and informational items inside.

The park, at 34-100 Key Largo Ave., is open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

"I love it. We're going to be here tomorrow morning," said Jeanette Leonard, a Mission Hills resident who brought only one of her three dogs with her.

Until now, she skipped the dog parks and just took the dogs for walks.

"This is much better. I hope he (Jake) loses a couple of pounds," Leonard said, sitting on a rock while Jake, a bichon, ran in the distance.




Another valley city gives $10,000 to families of fallen officers

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Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: October 24, 2016

The city of Rancho Mirage has donated $10,000 to the families of the two Palm Springs police officers killed on duty earlier this month.

The City Council unanimously agreed to the donation to the Palm Springs Police Officers Association during Thursday's meeting.

Families of Officers Gil Vega and Lesley Zerebny are to each receive $5,000, Councilman Dana Hobart said.

Zerebny and Vega were killed Oct. 8 when responding to a domestic disturbance call in Palm Springs.

Vega, a near 35-year veteran set to retire in December, leaves behind a wife and eight children. Zerebny, who had been on the force less than two years, is survived by her husband, a Riverside County sheriff's deputy, and a 4-month-old daughter.

Mayor Ted Weill handed a check to Rancho Mirage police officers Jose Villasenor and Robert Loza, members of the city's special enforcement team, who will deliver it to the police officers association.

Weill asked that the check be delivered "on behalf of the city of Rancho Mirage, the City Council of Rancho Mirage and the 18,000 approximate residents who are most indebted" to the service of law enforcement officers.

On Oct. 13, the Palm Desert City Council also voted to donate $10,000 to the officers' families.




Rancho Mirage reports higher surplus than expected

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Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: October 21, 2016

Rancho Mirage finished the past fiscal year with a $2.4 million surplus – more than double what was originally expected.

When the 2015-16 budget was first adopted, the city projected a $1.2 million surplus which was downgraded to about $562,000 mid-year.

That surplus gives the city more than $70 million total in reserves, Finance Manager Jesse Eckenroth said when presenting the final figures to the City Council on Thursday.

The higher-than-expected operating surplus was partially due to an increase in revenues by about $714,000 and a reduction in expenditures, Eckenroth said.

"We had four sources that were primary contributors to that," Eckenroth said, including the transient occupancy – or hotel – tax; transfers from the Community Facilities District; reimbursements; and property tax.

TOT alone brought nearly $300,000 in unexpected revenue last year, from the projected $7.1 million up to the actual $7.3 million earned, said Isaiah Hagerman, director of administrative services.

The city also saw about $1.6 million less in actual expenditures, primarily due to conservative budgeting, Eckenroth said.

"Typically, the city does not exhaust all the budgeted expense accounts and what we end up with is an increased surplus due to an overall reduction in our spending," Eckenroth said.

Deferred capital improvement projects contributed to that savings, he said.

The revenue from the fire tax fund was higher than expected as well, which meant less subsidy from the general fund, he said.

"I can't imagine that anybody would not be pleased with the financial results of this city," Mayor Ted Weill. "When you can add $2.4 million to the general fund and have $70 million approximately in reserves … it's quite remarkable."




Rancho Mirage annexation for 1200 homes moves forward

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Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: June 17, 2016

Rancho Mirage is ready to begin the process of annexing 320 acres of tribal land known as "Section 24," where a 55-and-older community is planned.

Initial plans call for 1,200 residential units with four neighborhoods as well as a recreation center, trail system and related amenities to be built by Pulte Homes.

On Thursday, the City Council approved a tentative tract map and an environmental impact study and will submit an application for annexation with the Riverside County Local Agency Formation Commission.

Once the application is received, LAFCO will set a hearing date.

The undeveloped land, owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and within the city's sphere of influence, runs along the west side of Bob Hope Drive, south of Interstate 10. The property is bounded by Ramon Road on the north, Los Alamos Road on the west and Dinah Shore Drive on the south, and sits across from The Westin Mission Hills.

The council's unanimous vote to move forward on the project that has been years in the making followed a discussion among attorneys whether the environmental impact study prepared by the tribe met the standards set by the California Environmental Quality Act.

A lawyer for the Laborers International Union of North American No. 1184 challenged the EIS process and whether it meets CEQA standards.

"CEQA requires a lead agency be involved throughout the (environmental review) process to determine if an EIR is required," union representative Rebecca Davis said.

The city did not play a role in the EIS process "and should have from the beginning," Davis said.

"The city was there from the beginning moments of the environmental analysis of the project," City Attorney Steve Quintanilla said.

Davis also said the EIS did not properly mitigate concerns for the impacts of greenhouse gases.

Quintanilla and an attorney for Pulte Homes both said the document answers all mitigating issues.

The tribe "did exactly – and possibly more than – what would be required by CEQA," Quintanilla said, adding that the EIS is an extensive report.

The tribe prepared the environmental impact statement for the land, which was certified in 2015.

Getting to this point has been a years-long process and, as a sovereign nation, the tribe can move forward with the development without the city's involvement, Councilman Dana Hobart said.

"This project is not going to change substantially once it comes under our jurisdiction," he said.

The city's impact is primarily going to be with regard to landscaping and architecture, he said.

While voting to move forward with the annexation and the development, Hobart did take issue with the project's age restriction.

"In my view, the city of Rancho Mirage should not have restrictions that sell homes to people of a certain age," Hobart said.

He wants the city to adopt an ordinance saying that the city will prohibit such developments in the future.

"We want kids here. We want young adults. … We want this city to be available and enticing to everyone," Hobart said.

He also anticipated criticism that 1,200 new homes would require water in the midst of a drought, but said the Coachella Valley Water District has approved the planned development.

"We have no control over the water issue," Hobart said.

Thursday's council meeting started with Mayor Ted Weill calling for a moment of silence in remembrance of the Orlando shooting victims.




Ted Weill looks ahead as Rancho Mirage's new mayor

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Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: May 9, 2016




Rancho Mirage Mayor Ted Weill
talks Thursday, May 5, 2016, about city's next year.


Keeping Rancho Mirage fiscally fit and continuing his focus on boosting economic development are the two primary goals of Ted Weill over the next 12 months, as he serves his first term as the city's mayor.

"Most important, we want to make certain that our revenue remains solid," said Weill, a retired developer who rotated into the position on April 12, just days after being re-elected to his second term on the City Council.

Rancho Mirage, which has an operating budget of about $24.3 million with $1.1 million left over after expenses and more than $60 million in reserves, has no debt or unfunded pension liability.

Its biggest expense is public safety with police services alone costing just under $8 million this year and expected to go up as much as 7 percent next year. Rancho Mirage is one of five Coachella Valley cities that contracts with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department for law enforcement services.

Rancho Mirage draws most of its revenue from hotels – $7.5 million – and sales taxes – this year projected to be $4.9 million.

While other cities, including Palm Desert with its high-end El Paseo shopping district and Westfield mall, are seeing little to no increase in sales tax revenue, Rancho Mirage is looking at a 2.7 percent – or $30,000 – increase this quarter over the same period last year, said Sean Smitih, director of Economic Development and Marketing.

The city, which former President Gerald Ford called home and where President Barack Obama has visited six times for golf and to host historical summits with world leaders at the Sunnylands Estate, is home to more than 18,000 full-time residents – 32,000 during season.

Since its incorporation in 1973, Rancho Mirage has never had an operating deficit, Weill said, and maintaining that has always been the main objective of any mayor.

"The challenge, of course, is making sure that our revenue meets our expenses," he said.

He pointed to the Rancho Las Palmas shopping center, on Highway 111 at Bob Hope Drive, saying that center alone could triple its sales tax revenue to $500,000 when renovations are completed in about a year and it is fully occupied.

It is currently 93 percent leased, Weill said.

That, he hopes, will spill over into The River with the two complementing each other.

"There's a lot of cross-pollinizing between The River and Rancho Las Palmas," he said. "Rancho Las Palmas is a retail center. The River is an entertainment center."

On the south end of the city, Gelson's market recently opened in the former Pavilions building, at the corner of Gerald Ford and Bob Hope drives, and is remodeling to include a wine bar and Wolfgang Puck's pizza.

"I believe that once Gelson's takes off, a lot of those vacancies in that shopping center are going to fill," Weill said.

He remains hopeful the Thunderbird Resort, a proposed luxury spa for the super wealthy on Highway 111, will become reality. Developer Richard Weintraub is still trying to secure funding for the project, Weill said.

The roughly 50 gated communities in the city help keep capital improvement costs at a minimum with the city responsible for maintaining the major roadways but neighborhood streets are maintained by the homeowners' associations.

But the city is also providing some new amenities for its residents. In February, the renovated and expanded Community Park reopened and dedicated its $6 million amphitheater with terrace seating for up to 1,000.

Free weekend concerts exceeded expectations by bringing in up to 1,700 people every week.

Construction is under way on the city's only dog park. The $1.7 million, 4-acre park, just east of the Via Vail and Key Largo intersection, is expected to be finished this summer. The city is also planning to spend up to $2 million to build an observatory adjacent to its library, starting this summer.

One thing the city won't welcome any time soon is the CV Link.

In April, Rancho Mirage voters supported the City Council in rejecting a CV Link path through the city, except a route on Ramon Road that the Coachella Valley Association of Governments Executive Committee has rejected due its distance from the preferred route along – or near – the Whitewater canal.

But much of that area in Rancho Mirage has been developed out. The city also rejected taking the CV Link down Highway 111, largely due to safety concerns.

"We are not interested in any way to be an obstructionist. We have done what our residents have asked – protected them from any invasion of privacy," Weill said.

"The city has always been supportive of a path for biking, jogging and walking, and we are still supportive," Weill said. "We have made a route along Ramon Road available that has been rejected, but it is still available to (CVAG)."

Still, the city will continue to be involved with CV Link-related decisions, especially with regard to use of any Measure A funds. Rancho Mirage opposes using the funds for the construction or operations and maintenance of the proposed 50-mile trans-valley path, saying voters approved the half-cent sales tax for road repairs and CV Link does not qualify.

Weill has asked that former Mayor Dana Hobart continue to represent the city on the Coachella Valley Association of Governments' Executive Committee, comprised of mostly mayors from each of the nine incorporated cities and county supervisors.

CVAG is the lead agency on the CV Link and differences of opinion between Rancho Mirage and other cities' and county representatives have created some tense discussions in and out of CVAG executive board meetings.

But Weill said the differences won't keep the cities from working together.

"All of the (cities' leaders) have to take a position on what they feel is best for their city," he said.

"Any difference of opinion I attribute to passion for everyone's particular city," he said, with leaders each taking a stand based on what they think is best for their residents.

"In no way will that impede our working together," Weill said.




Rancho Mirage election results certified

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Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: April 12, 2016

Results from another 486 ballots counted by the Registrar of Voters did not change the outcome of last week's election, when voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposed CV Link and re-elected City Council incumbents Ted Weill and Richard Kite.

The Riverside County Registrar of Voters certified the results of the mail-only April 12 election Thursday.

The city had a 57 percent voter turnout, with 5,208 ballots cast out of more than 9,400 issued, the registrar's office reported.

Michael Harrington, the only candidate challenging Kite and Weill, picked up another 157 votes while Kite gained another 279 and Weill collected another 315 when ballots received after 5 p.m. April 12 were counted.

On Thursday, Weill was sworn in as mayor – a rotated one-year position – during a City Council meeting.

OFFICIAL RANCHO MIRAGE ELECTION RESULTS:

5,208 ballots counted:

Michael Harrington:
1,301; 14.95%

Richard Kite (I): 3,547; 40.75%

Ted Weill (I): 3,856; 44.30%

Measure 1: Yes 3,810; No 1,274

Measure 2: Yes 1,087 No 4,058

Measure 3: Yes 1,126 No 4,021

Measure 4: Yes 994 No 4,133



Rancho Mirage CV Link-related measures

Measure 1: Shall the city of Rancho Mirage require that any future amendment or repeal of Ordinance No. 1099, which currently prohibits neighborhood electric vehicles (not including golf carts) on or adjacent to certain designated streets including Highway 111; Bob Hope Drive; Country Club Drive; Da Vall Drive; Dinah Shore Drive; Frank Sinatra Drive; Gerald Ford Drive; Magnesia Falls Drive; Monterey Avenue; Plumley Road, and others, be subject to prior voter approval?

Measure 2: Do you approve of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG) spending $100 million or more to construct the CV Link, plus, according to the March 2015 Master Plan, an additional $1.6 million annually to operate and maintain the CV Link pathway, which CVAG proposes to extend through Rancho Mirage business and residential districts?

Measure 3: If CV Link were to be constructed, would you approve the City Council committing Rancho Mirage to pay for CV Link's annual operations and maintenance expenses, which on April 6, 2015, CVAG projected Rancho Mirage's share to be between $110,300 and $251,800 per annum as of the ninth year of operations, and continuing to increase annually at the rate of inflation?

Measure 4: Because in 2002 County voters approved Measure A, which is a half-cent increase in our sales tax to be used to repair dilapidated and crumbling roads and highways in the Coachella Valley, should CVAG be allowed to divert up to $20 million from this Measure A fund, to pay for the construction of the Neighborhood Electric Vehicles portion of the CV Link?




Kite, Weill deserve new terms on Rancho Mirage council

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Dateline: March 16, 2016

The Desert Sun Editorial Board recommends that Rancho Mirage voters re-elect Richard Kite and Ted Weill to the City Council on April 12, 2016.

Rancho Mirage is a well-run, fiscally sound city.

That sentiment serves as the basis for this endorsement of Councilman Richard Kite and Mayor Pro Tem Ted Weill, who are seeking re-election on April 12.

This was the same sentiment expressed more than once by Michael Harrington - the only candidate running against Kite and Weill - during the recent Desert Sun Editorial Board endorsement interview session. Even Harrington, it seems, can't argue too much with the success the city has seen with his rivals among those at the helm.

In fact, Rancho Mirage has been enjoying a good run that continues today. The city, which has an operating budget of $24.3 million, has an impressive $60 million in reserves, including $25 million in funds that are undesignated. The rest of this stockpile is in various accounts, including categories such as capital improvement and disaster relief.

Rancho Mirage City Council candidate Richard Kite talks to The Desert Sun Editorial Board on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 in Palm Springs. (Photo: Marilyn Chung/The Desert Sun)

"We have no debt, and no unfunded pension liability," said Weill – a 22-year resident of the city who is a graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and holds an MBA from Pepperdine University. "Just a remarkable statistic; frankly, one that's not only unusual for the valley but for the entire state and probably the country."

Weill, a retired developer, was appointed to a council vacancy in December 2012 and then elected to the panel in 2014; Kite has lived in the valley for nearly 60 years, 23 of those in Rancho Mirage, and is a senior vice president and investment adviser for UBS Financial. He was first elected to the council in 2000.

Apart from his City Council role, Weill has served as chairman of the city Planning Commission, is a member of the CVAG transportation Committee and is chairman of the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy. Kite has served as chairman of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments and is currently serving as the Chairman of the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission, among other duties.

Both Weill and Kite touted successes the city has notched during their tenures on the council, including the redevelopment of the Rancho Las Palmas shopping center – which Weill said has been 93 percent leased with a year to go before construction is complete – and the reopening of the Ritz Carlton resort perched in the mountains above City Hall.

Though Weill, at one point, described the council's nature as "austere," that hasn't meant frugality in all cases. The city last month dedicated a $6 million amphitheater at the newly renovated Community Park. The city also has broken ground on a $1.7 million dog park and plans to spend about $2 million to add an observatory to the Rancho Mirage library.

Rancho Mirage City Council candidate Ted Weill addresses The Desert Sun Editorial Board on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 in Palm Springs.

"With all the exciting changes, we continue to maintain our excellent financial condition, with reserves of over $60 million," Kite told the board. "Is there any reason to make a change in the current leadership? The existing council brings you fiscal responsibility and experience you can trust."

For the future, both incumbents pointed to the city's plan for "Section 19" near Interstate 10 and the $100 million Thunderbird Resort and Spa along Highway 111 near City Hall.

The city, which derives 40 percent of its revenue from hotel bed tax and sales taxes, should get a significant boost from these projects. The Section 19 plan, which Weill and Kite said likely won't be fully developed for at least a decade, calls for 3 million square feet of commercial space, 580 hotel rooms and up to 1,899 homes. The Thunderbird project would include up to 48 condominiums, three pools, a spa and fitness center, walking and cycling paths and 125 hotel rooms with rates starting at $700 per night.

For his part, Harrington mostly lauded the efforts of the city's leaders – including Weill and Kite. While he said he "was aware" of the Section 19 project, he argued that there should be more emphasis on the city's current core, which he said appeared to be suffering from "malaise."

"I feel we could do more to develop our potential," Harrington, a family law attorney and member of the city's Housing Commission who has lived in Rancho Mirage since 2002 and unsuccessfully ran for Riverside County Superior Court judge in 2014, told the board.

"We could do more to develop the Highway 111 corridor," he continued. "… you can maintain what we have in Rancho Mirage; we can still accentuate what we have to make better what exists now. We can engage in private-public partnerships as a means to achieve this goal. We can be creative.

Rancho Mirage City Council candidate Michael Harrington talks to The Desert Sun Editorial Board on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Palm Springs, Calif. (Photo: Marilyn Chung/The Desert Sun) "There is room for more original thought and fresh ideas on the council."

That last point is well taken. Both Weill and Kite emphasized their view that maintaining the current structure of the council, with its long record of unanimous, 5-0, votes on most issues was paramount. That might not always be ideal, however.

Fresh ideas brought up for debate, especially when they spring from the community, would help the City Council move forward in response to resident wishes. All members of the community, after all, have a stake in the future of the city and therefore have a right to have their ideas heard and considered.

Harrington, however, offered little in the way of specific ideas. Instead, he repeatedly emphasized what he saw as the need to seek direct public input on virtually every decision that the council might need to make. That's not leadership.

One example where Weill and Kite could show more flexibility is in regards to the trans-valley CV Link path. The City Council has unanimously withdrawn its support for CVAG's current vision for the path which runs mainly along the Whitewater wash channel.

A fervent devotion to unanimity could explain one incongruity seen during the editorial board interview. Asked about the ongoing operations and maintenance costs of the city's celebrated amphitheater, dog park and observatory projects, both Weill and Kite suggested it wasn't possible to know this information with precision. Reliable estimates, they said, would take evaluation of actual costs over some period of time once the projects were up and running, such as the amphitheater is now.

Uncertainty over such costs related to CV Link has been a main point in the Rancho Mirage council's argument against moving forward with that project.

"I see the analogy that you're making," Weill said. "In our mid-year adjustment we had half a million-dollar surplus. Our margins of error on these things (Rancho Mirage's projects), frankly, is sufficient that, let's say that the expenses are running more than we had anticipated. I think at this point we are more than covered on any sort of a differential."

Weill also used the example of Roy's Desert Resource Center – a CVAG-administered facility created in an attempt to balance services for the entire valley's homeless population – to show how collective responsibility doesn't always work out. The original vision for Roy's had all the valley cities contributing $103,000 per year; today only Palm Desert, Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage do so.

If city voters show they support the project by rejecting the City Council's position on four related April 12 ballot questions, Weill and Kite both said they would consider again offering CVAG the so-called Ramon Road route. That vision has been criticized by path backers as taking it miles away from its optimal route. Harrington indicated he would listen to the voters, preferring to not take a side for now.

Despite the opposition of Weill and Kite to CVAG's CV Link vision this is not a single-issue election. Weill and Kite have long histories of good work as members of a fiscally prudent City Council. City residents should return them to the council on April 12.




What's Happening In Rancho Mirage Update

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Dateline: February 16, 2016

Learn about what's new and happening in Rancho Mirage. From the revitalization of Rancho Las Palmas to the planned construction of the Rancho Mirage Planetarium, all the latest news and update information of importance can be found in this update from Ted Weill, Mayor Pro Tem Rancho Mirage.
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Preservation Group Elects New Leaders

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The Desert Sun Dateline: January 21, 2016

Rancho Mirage Mayor Pro Tem Ted Weill was recently elected Chairman of the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy. La Quinta City Councilwoman Kristy Franklin was elected vice chair.

The regional group aims to protect the Coachella Valley's natural and cultural resources by acquiring mountainous lands and holding them as open space.




Rancho Mirage councilmen announce bids for re-election

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Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: Dec 21, 2015

Rancho Mirage City Councilman Richard Kite and Mayor Pro Tem Ted Weill kick off their re-election campaigns outside City Hall Monday afternoon.

Economic development will be at the forefront of the campaigns of Rancho Mirage Mayor Pro Tem Ted Weill and Councilman Richard Kite who kicked off their re-election bids Monday afternoon in front of City Hall.

Weill referred to the city's 92270 ZIP code as "magical."

kick-off Reelection bid "It has a certain cache. It represents value. It represents financial strength. It represents dignity and it is extremely valuable to anybody that wants to move into this area, whether it be developers or homeowners," Weill said.

"It is our objective to make sure it remains that way. Our job here is to protect the lifestyle of our residents and to protect and maintain property values," he said, with Kite echoing.

About 50 supporters were on hand for the roughly 20-minute event attended by Councilmembers Iris Smotrich, Charles Townsend and Mayor Dana Hobart, who also spoke.

Kite was first elected to the City Council in 2000 and is seeking his fifth term.

Weill was appointed to the City Council in December 2012 following the death of Mayor Pro Tem Gordon Moller. He was elected to a two-year term in 2014.

Kite and Weill are the only two council members whose seats are up for election in 2016.

They are also the only two people who pulled papers for candidacy, though neither had filed by 4 p.m., City Clerk Cindy Scott said.

Monday marked the beginning of the filing period which ends Jan. 15.




visible changes ahead for the river in rancho mirage

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Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: Oct. 20, 2015

Noticeable changes are coming to The River at Rancho Mirage, from drought-tolerant landscaping to new stores, covered parking with solar panels and a new outdoor music series.

"We are working closely with the city of Rancho Mirage and the Chamber of Commerce to invigorate The River and get it flowing in an exciting direction," said Ungar Kung, director of acquisitions for Cheerland Investment Group.

Cheerland bought the struggling 233,420-square-foot shopping center – considered Rancho Mirage's downtown – in June 2014 for $65 million.

On Monday, Kung unveiled a variety of changes coming to the center over the next several months.

Improvements to the 13-year-old shopping center, located on Highway 111 between Rancho Las Palmas and Bob Hope drives, have begun with the transformation to drought-tolerant landscaping. Plants have been selected with the dual goal of giving the center a new look while also saving water, Kung said.

There will also be some changes to the center's identifying water fountains.

"The fountains will remain intact but we will be installing a new water pump system to improve the look and functionality of the water features," Kung said.

Some of The River's planned new amenities fall in line with the vision of some Desert Sun readers who, in July, shared their wish lists for The River, including shade and outdoor music.

One Saturday a month, from Nov. 28 through April 16, Jim "Fitz" Fitzgerald – popular for his radio shows and "Fitz's Jazz Café" at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert – will be programming a new series of outdoor music events at The River.

The installation of shaded parking with solar panels is expected sometime in 2016, Kung said.

It was recently announced that locally-owned Raymond-Lawrence is moving from its Uptown Palm Springs to a 10,500-square-foot spot at The River.

The store, owned by Larry Abel and Raymond McCallister, also has an outlet at the Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage as well. The retailer offers a collection of home décor, accessories, textiles, fashion and beauty products and more.

"Raymond-Lawrence is a very unique retailer, to say the least," Rancho Mirage City Councilman Richard Kite said during Thursday's council meeting.

A ribbon-cutting is planned at 6:15 p.m. Nov. 5 followed by a grand opening event, Kite announced.

The River also has new Facebook, Twitter and Instagram sites, and a redesigned website is expected to launch later this year. New signage and fresh coats of paint on building exteriors are also planned.

"Our goal is to inject new life into The River and evolve and elevate the center to be ... an exciting 'downtown' destination for Rancho Mirage residents and visitors," Kung said.

But will the physical changes to The River give it the necessary boost to not only bring in businesses but shoppers.

Rancho Mirage Mayor Pro Tem Ted Weill and Director of Economic Development Sean Smith – who have been working closely with Kung – say yes.

"They're going in a direction we haven't seen before," Weill said. "The whole environment will be much more comfortable."

Since purchasing the center, Cheerland has been working closely with the city on rebranding The River to get it on the track for success, Smith said.

"They're doing just that,' he said.

The addition of Raymond-Lawrence also promises to bring in new shoppers, Weill said.

Their merchandise is unique and that will draw a lot of people, which will spill over to other businesses in the center, he said.

With the renovations under way and the recent opening of Stein Mart in the neighboring Rancho Las Palmas shopping center, Weill and Smith say that stretch of Highway 111, between Rancho Las Palmas and Magnesia Falls drives, will be busy.

Weill sees both centers boosting the city's coffers with sales tax revenue.

"TOT and sales tax are the two main sources of income for the city," Smith said.




the greater good

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Steven Biller, me·yah·whae Dateline: Fall/Winter 2015-2016

Relationships between the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and local, state, and federal governments have a positive impact on and off Tribal lands ...

Download this article excerpted from me·yah·whae




stein mart set to open next week in rancho mirage
(grand-opening oct. 15th)

Sherry Barkas, Desert Sun Dateline: October 10, 2015

Located in the renovated Rancho Las Palmas shopping center at the intersection of Bob Hope Drive and Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage, Stein Mart is scheduled to open its doors on October 15.

When Stein Mart opens the doors on its new Rancho Mirage store next week, city officials hope it is the shot needed to get the long-struggling Rancho Las Palmas shopping center bustling again.

Stein Mart is the first of three new anchor stores to open in the center, which has struggled financially since losing Vons in 2009. The discount department store is scheduled to open at 10 a.m. Oct. 15 in the Rancho Las Palmas center, on the corner of Bob Hope Drive and Highway 111, company spokeswoman Linda Tasseff said.

The first 200 customers to enter the store will receive a free Stein Mart branded tote along with two coupons for $10 off $50 purchases, she said.

Vendor appearances are planned from noon to 4 p.m. At 1 p.m., a handful of gift cards, valued at $50 to $500, will be given away. A Callaway golf driver will also be raffled off, Tasseff said.

This is the valley's third Stein Mart, with stores in Palm Springs and La Quinta as well.

About 50 percent occupied when El Segundo-based Paragon Commercial Group bought Rancho Las Palmas out of foreclosure in March 2014, it is about 90 percent leased out now, Rancho Mirage Mayor Pro Tem Ted Weill said.

Stein Mart is scheduled to open its doors on Oct. 15 in the Rancho Las Palmas shopping center, at the intersection of Bob Hope Drive and Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage. Rancho Las Palmas is undergoing a major makeover since it was bought by El Segundo-based Paragon Commercial Group last year.

A full makeover of the center started earlier this year with the demolition of three buildings, at the west end of the center, to make way for a new CVS drug store expected to open in November.

The 30,000-square-foot Stein Mart is opening in the former Vons location, following an extensive remodel.

"It's going to be a magnificent store," said Weill, who toured it on Wednesday.

Construction at the center will continue well into 2016, Weill said, adding that a Starbucks is expected to start pouring coffee in January or February.

About a month after CVS opens, the store's current location in the center will be demolished to make room for a 48,000-square-foot Hobby Lobby store to be built.

An announcement of a major franchise restaurant taking the fourth anchor spot could come soon, Weill said. The name, he said, would have to remain a secret until the deal is finalized.

"It will be a very, very busy and active center that will contribute a lot of sales tax dollars to the city's (coffers)," Weill said.



rancho mirage: enhancing the community through astute development

June Allan Corrigan, Palm Springs Life Dateline: October, 2015

The steady hum of activity rising from various pockets of the city of Rancho Mirage this year has been unmistakable. And ever so satisfying ...

Download this article excerpted from Palm Springs Life




sunnylands expansion ok'd by rancho mirage council

Sherry Barkus, The Desert Sun Dateline: September 3, 2015

Sunnylands received the final green light from the city of Rancho Mirage to move forward with its nearly 46,000-square-foot expansion that will put all of its administrative offices in one location.

The City Council unanimously approved the plans, which call for five new administrative, archive and maintenance buildings totaling about 45,730 square feet on 15 acres of the Sunnylands estate property to the west of the visitor center and gardens. Sunnylands Proposed Expansion

There was little council discussion and no opposition was voiced during the public hearing.

"What Sunnylands does is always beyond deluxe," Councilwoman Iris Smotrich said.

President Barack Obama has helped to make the 200-acre estate of the late Walter and Leonore Annenberg the "Camp David of the West" that many have envisioned. Obama has visited — and golfed at — the estate five times over the past two years, including during a historic meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Sunnylands in June 2013.

Local architect Lance O'Donnell, of o2 Architecture, is designing the single-story, "mid-century modern" buildings to meet LEED Platinum status, the U.S. Green Building Council's highest rating for energy efficiency.

The expansion will consolidate the more than 100 employees now in buildings on and off the estate grounds into one location, Janice Lyle, director of Sunnylands Center and Garden, told council members.

The expansion also includes an enclosed gray water reclamation site that would collect and cleanse waste water from the new buildings as well as the visitor center for irrigation and other uses, and to show the public how such new technologies can be used "to improve life and water quality.

The largest of the structures is the administrative building at 14,766 square feet, while the 7,374-square-foot archive building is being designed with special climate controls to protect the treasured documents of the late Walter and Leonore Annenberg.

In other business, the City Council also gave the go-ahead for staff to move forward with some drought tolerant landscape projects on six public parkways and on a vacant lot on Frank Sinatra Drive.

The estimated cost is $220,000 and Joel Castillo, with Building and Parks Maintenance, said he will put the projects out to bid. The contracts will come back to the council for final approval.

With California in the midst of a drought, the city has already removed about 71,500 square feet of turf from the six parkways, which includes the Cancer Survivors Park on Highway 111, just east of City Hall.

The watering of 35,000 square feet of turf on a vacant lot at the northeast corner of Frank Sinatra and Da Vall drives has been stopped and the council approved a perimeter berm and drought-tolerant plants be placed along the edges, bordering the sidewalk.

Staff hopes that the plants will help hide the brown turf and keep people off the land.




stein mart plans grand opening Oct. 15th

Rosalie Murphy, The Desert Sun Dateline: August 13, 2015

Discount department store Stein Mart plans to open its new location at the Rancho Las Palmas shopping center on Oct. 15. The Florida-based retailer, which already operates stores in Palm Springs and La Quinta, will fill the 30,000-square-foot anchor space vacated by Vons in 2009.

"Palm Springs has been one of our very best markets and we look forward to serving our many customers there with another convenient location to shop," said Stein Mart CEO Jay Stein in a statement.

Stein Mart Construction Continues The store will help revive the beleaguered Rancho Las Palmas shopping center, which saw its vacancy rate spike during the economic recession and ended up in foreclosure. El Segundo-based Paragon Commercial Group bought the plaza in 2014 and promised a "major redevelopment," and city officials said in earlier this year that 83 percent of the property had been leased.

A Hobby Lobby and a new CVS location are scheduled to open in the plaza in the next year.




Drone Tour Rancho Las Palmas

Dateline: August 4, 2015

An aerial tour of construction at the Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center 8/4/2015




Shade, Shuttle Among Suggestions for The River Rebirth

Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: July 1, 2015

More shade and live entertainment, a Las Vegas-style water feature, a fitness center, chain stores that don't already exist in the Coachella Valley and a shuttle service are a handful of things valley residents would like to see at The River in Rancho Mirage, the city's landmark outdoor mall that new owners are working to rejuvenate.

"We're happy that everyone is so engaged," said Carrie Williams of Newport Beach-based Kitchen Table Marketing and PR, which was recently hired by the shopping center's owner, CheerLand Investment Group.

"It's great to get the feedback from a community where people are so invested," she said. "We're all experts in what we do, but at the same time, it's great to hear from the (residents) in town what they want and need and will patronize."

The key is to strike a balance between what is desired and what residents and shoppers don't even know they want because they haven't had it, Williams said.

She and her team have been frequent visitors to Rancho Mirage and other spots in the Coachella Valley for years, so they're familiar with the area.

They were in Rancho Mirage on Monday, along with Ungar Kung, director of acquisitions for CheerLand Investment Group, which is overseeing the rebirth of The River. They met with Mayor Pro Tem Ted Weill and Economic Development and Housing Manager Sean Smith at City Hall before visiting the mall.

Located on Highway 111 between Bob Hope and Rancho Las Palmas drives, the city's 13-year-old shopping center, with its artificial creeks and lakes, was bought last year by CheerLand for $65 million. Irvine-based Pacific Castle manages the 233,420-square-foot shopping center, which has been slow to recover from the recession and loss of Borders bookstore.

Home to a variety of restaurants and a movie theater, Weill said there could be an announcement soon of a major new tenant, Weill said.

"It would be very dramatic and very exciting and we all hope that it comes to pass very shortly," he said, adding that nothing more could be said until a deal is signed.

Kung said the goal is to get The River back to its roots, making it a unique location in the valley with something that appeals to all ages and interests.

Desert Sun readers have provided a few ideas of their own.

Local musician Tebor Lesko wants to help bring more entertainment to the center's amphitheater, which offers free concerts during the season. Steve Dominguez of Cathedral City thinks a water feature similar to that in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas would be key to drawing more people to The River.

Part-time Palm Springs residents Sharon and Rick Mayer would love to see a fitness center along with stores such as Ikea and Crate and Barrel.

"I recognize that leasing commercial space is an art and a science and I fear my suggestions are not original, and much depends on the business plans of the tenants," Sharon Mayer wrote in an email to The Desert Sun. "However, we would love to see The River thrive again, and we would certainly patronize any of those suggested establishments."

Shade and a shuttle service that's easily accessible and runs regularly, similar to the Courtesy Carts that run on El Paseo, are musts for increasing business and keeping people at the center, said F. Jane Bush of Palm Desert.

"When The River opened, it was such an exciting place and I was delighted in visiting it to shop and have lunch. Time passes and one gets older and, then, getting around in (The River) starts to become a problem, eventually becoming something that gets crossed off the 'Places to Go' list because there is no easy method to get around," Bush said.

For shade, she suggested "some colorful canopies in front of the businesses."

A need for shade was echoed by Carlene Ellenz of Palm Desert.

"It is just too ... hot," Ellenz said in an email. "Even in the winter months the reflective heat is uncomfortable." She suggested more trees, saying that even in California's historic drought, acacias and Palo Verdes would provide an umbrella of shade.

"Perhaps small twinkling lights wound throughout the trees for ambiance in the evening and, if possible, equip them with misters," Ellenz said. "You want people to hang out there and ultimately spend money."

A small bookstore and food carts in the plaza area also appeal to her.

"There is a huge area in the north parking lot that doesn't get used even in the winter months. How about erecting some big tents and allowing trade shows in there to attract people, or small concerts," she wrote.

"... like Mr. Kung, I want The River to be successful," Ellenz said.

Working with retail developers is an area of expertise for Kitchen Table, which has worked with other Southern California shopping centers such as The OC Mix in Costa Mesa and Pacific City in Huntington Beach.

"Nowadays, when you look at tenants, you don't just look at rents. You look at what does that tenant bring to the center ... does the DNA match yours," Williams said.

Tenants need to be community participants.

"Gone are the days in the mall when every tenant is self-contained," Williams said. "Nowadays, you have collaborative events."




Rancho Mirage OKs budgets; rejects latest CV Link path

Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: June 18, 2015

Rancho Mirage City Council members adopted budgets for the next two fiscal years on Thursday, but not before voting down the latest proposed CV Link path recommended by the Coachella Valley Association of Government's executive board.

The latest proposal was to bring the $100 million multi-use path through Rancho Mirage via Gerald Ford Drive, but staff said that is problematic for a variety of reasons. Gerald Ford between Da Vall and Bob Hope drives is mostly developed with adjacent residential communities, parkway landscaping and a meandering pedestrian/bicycle path, Public Works Director Bruce Harry said. "In addition, Gerald Ford Drive is built to ultimate General Plan standards, which includes four travel lanes, raised landscaped median islands and a striped ... bicycle lane along the majority of the street," he said.

CVAG takes Rancho Mirage to task on CV Link criticism

If the path ran along Gerald Ford Drive, it would have to be in one of two locations, Harry said. The first would be behind the curb and gutter which would require the removal of the parkway landscaping and have a negative impact on traffic in and out of gated communities and commercial driveways, he said. The second option would be to run the path along the roadway which would reduce traffic to two lanes, a move that would conflict with the city's General Plan and negatively impact traffic, Harry said. The city's opposition was supported by Kathy Buckmaster, a resident and community manager for The Colony, which is off of Gerald Ford Drive. "There is no safe way" to put the link on Gerald Ford, she said.

Erica Felci, CVAG governmental affairs projects manager, read a letter to the council from the agency's executive director Tom Kirk, saying that he will continue working with the city to find an acceptable route. "I stand ready to meet with Rancho Mirage City Council and city staff to further discuss alternative CV Link routes," Kirk wrote.

Indian Wells joins Rancho Mirage in questioning CV Link

The council has said repeatedly that it supports the project, but finding an acceptable path through the city has proved difficult. Residents appear split on whether the path should come through Rancho Mirage at all. The planned 52-mile concrete path for walking, jogging, bicycling and small electric vehicles, would ultimately run from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea with construction expected to start in 2017. Much of the path is intended to run along the Whitewater Wash, but that area is mostly built out in Rancho Mirage.

"Rancho Mirage is the most uniquely situated of the nine cities for the purpose of trying to find a route," Mayor Dana Hobart said Thursday. It's not until you get to Rancho Mirage that you find residential and commercial development along the Whitewater Channel, Hobart said.

The city has also opposed running the route near the Rancho Mirage Public Library, where an observatory is planned, or along the Butler-Abrams Trail — one of the few horse trails left in the city. Highway 111 and Bob Hope Drive, also proposed routes, present traffic and safety issues along with concerns about the impact on area homes and businesses, council members and have residents said. At the June 1 meeting of the CVAG executive board, Hobart proposed two path alternatives for Rancho Mirage: One would allow users on Ramon Road and Monterey Avenue while the other cuts easterly on the edge of the city, toward Interstate 10. Both options were to be reviewed by CVAG staff.

The mayor reiterated on Thursday that Rancho Mirage will not approve any route until it knows the cost for maintenance. The City Council has raised questions over how operation and maintenance costs for the link will be paid. Initially estimated at $1.6 million that figure has since dropped to just under $1 million per year.

The vote to reject the Gerald Ford path on Thursday was 5-0.

Budgets adopted

Council members unanimously adopted the budgets for the next two fiscal years. For 2015-16, the city projects $24.7 million in revenues and $23.5 million expenses, leaving a surplus of about $1.2 million. That surplus drops in 2016-17, when the city projects a little higher revenue at $24.8 million and $24.3 million in expenses, leaving $569,706 in surplus. The purchase of an ambulance for the fire station on Highway 111, which currently relies on service from the station on Gerald Ford Drive or Palm Desert's Town Center Way station, City Manager Randal Bynder said. A growing population has made it necessary to add the ambulance, which will be purchased and outfitted in 2015-16 and brought into service the next fiscal year, Bynder said. The cost to staff it 24/7 is why the city is projecting a smaller surplus in 2016-17, he said. For the fiscal year starting July 1, the city doubled its funds for the turf conversion rebate program to $100,000. City residents can apply for rebates of $1 per square foot up to 1,000 square feet July 6-30. If applications exceed available funds, recipients will be selected by lottery, Mayor Pro Tem Ted Weill said. A link for applications will be set up on the city's website, he said.




Rebirth of The River slower than new owners expected

Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: June 10, 2015

With its iconic fountains and waterway, The River in Rancho Mirage creates an inviting, serene backdrop for patrons of its restaurants, shops and movie theater.

But the city's landmark center has struggled for years, representative of the soured economy that brought with it the closing of Borders — one of its original and most popular anchors — and other businesses.

Dotted with empty storefronts, sale of the The River last year brought hopes for a rebirth still in the making.

"It's definitely taking longer to turn around than we thought it would," said Ungar Kung, director of acquisitions for CheerLand Investment Group, a Chinese developer with major projects in New York that bought the 233,420-square-foot shopping center last June for $65 million. Irvine-based Pacific Castle manages the property, which is about 80 percent occupied.

"We have plans to reintroduce (The River) ... and bring it back to the glory for which it was first built," said Kung, a longtime Southern California resident.

He wouldn't elaborate on the plans, but said the center is a primary concern for CheerLand, which hopes to have it turned around in the next nine months.

"It has to have elements that will be different from Westfield mall and El Paseo (in Palm Desert), and we're in the process of figuring it all out," Kung said.

Often called the city's downtown, The River, located between Bob Hope and Rancho Las Palmas drives, opened in 2002 with many of its businesses situated along its artificial creeks and lakes, with views of cascading water fountains.

"The closing of Borders was undoubtedly a blow to The River," Mayor Pro Tem Ted Weill said. "That Borders location was very popular and drew a significant amount of foot traffic. ... The owners are looking to re-create that dra

w with a new and exciting tenant mix," he said. But there are a number of businesses, like Babe's BBQ and Brewery, that have stood the test of time and continue to be popular draws. Acqua Pazza ended its 10-year run at The River in December and that spot was quickly filled by bb's at The River.

BBS at the River "I think that's a very good indication there are people who still believe in that location and the name," Kung said.

There are no major exterior changes planned, Kung said. Some landscape improvements are in the works and he is exploring the feasibility of installing solar, either on rooftops or atop covered parking structures — which would have to be built.

He is also considering shading the amphitheater area.

The biggest hurdle, he said, is getting the shops filled.

"The general overall perception that people have developed ... is that (The River) is a little bit tired and not much has changed over the years," Kung said. People are primarily going for the restaurants and a movie but aren't staying beyond that. Some shops are thriving, such as Forever 21 — which moved into the former Borders location, Kung said, but the goal is to get a mix of businesses into the empty storefronts that complement those currently there.

Rita Noyola, who travels from La Quinta to The River weekly, would like to see more locally owned businesses.

A valley resident for 15 years, she comes to see a movie and maybe get some sushi.

"I like the scenery," she said, sitting outside Sam's Sushi restaurant Tuesday afternoon. She and a friend also enjoy the live music performances at the center's amphitheater Saturday nights during season.

"It would be nice to have more mom and pop stores — and people to honor them," she said. Relaxing to the sounds of a nearby water fountain, Rancho Mirage resident Heather Morgan said Tuesday that she makes daily trips to the center for Starbucks and Baja Fresh.

"I really like it here. It's very relaxing."

While Morgan couldn't think of anything in particular she'd like to see at the center, there is something she'd like to see go away.

"I would like them to make this area non-smoking," she said.

When it first opened, the center thrived.

"The River became instantly popular upon its opening," Weill said. "As was the case with nearly all shopping centers, the property was hampered by the Great Recession. Additionally, retail in our valley must contend with the seasonality of the population. Clearly, entertainment, dining and retail destinations can and do thrive here, but it's important for property owners and leasing brokers to really understand this market."

Kung has gained the city's confidence that the center will thrive again, Weill said.

The River in Rancho Mirage "We believe that The River is well-positioned for long-term success. The new owners have shown a desire to address the existing property deficiencies in order to stabilize and improve the property. A new leasing company was hired that has considerable experience and excellent contacts with potential tenants," Weill said.

Rancho Las Palmas shopping center, just east of The River, is in the midst of a revitalization that includes a Steinmart that's set to open this fall in the spot left vacant when Vons left in 2009. Construction started last month on the new CVS store being built at the west end of the property, facing Highway 111.

When Paragon Commercial Group closed escrow in March 2014, the 160,000-square-foot center had a roughly 40 percent vacancy rate, with many businesses leaving after Vons closed. Today, it is about 80 percent full, Weill said.

"The River and the Rancho Las Palmas shopping center comprise the commercial center of Rancho Mirage," Weill said. "With the revitalization of Rancho Las Palmas, the area will become very busy in the next two years. There will be synergy created that will benefit both commercial projects."

Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the cities of Indian Wells, La Quinta, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage.




$100M resort wins approval of Rancho Mirage council

Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: June 5, 2015

The Rancho Mirage City Council on Thursday embraced a proposed $100 million resort and spa that would cater to people willing to pay up to $5,000 a night to unwind.

"I'm really excited about this whole project and I'm thrilled that you chose to put it in Rancho Mirage," Councilwoman Iris Smotrich told project co-manager Richard Weintraub.

"To have a project that focuses on fitness and education and reflection and relaxation and the tranquility that it brings is really very exceptional," she said.

Billed as a six-star resort that will offer guests complete seclusion, the project, tentatively named "Thunderbird Resort and Spa," is planned for 24 acres on Highway 111, across from The Atrium shopping center and just south of City Hall and the city's Cancer Survivors Park.

The 244,541-square-foot project — co-managed by Weintraub, a Malibu developer with a second home in Rancho Mirage — would include 125 hotel rooms; up to 48 condominiums; three pools; a spa and fitness center; walking and cycling paths; and other amenities.

The cove property is surrounded by 160 acres of open space. A landscape berm and walls will provide seclusion to guests, ensuring they won't be able to see or hear the traffic along Highway 111 once they are inside. Room rates would start at $700 per night.

Weintraub is no stranger to the Coachella Valley. He also owns the historic Palm Springs Community Church, a significant portion of which was destroyed in a fire in 2013. He also is former owner of the Indio Fiesta Mall and has restored a number of historical buildings throughout Southern California.

Weintraub said the resort offerings are modeled after properties one might find in Europe, catering to overall physical and mental well-being.

"Thunderbird Resort and Spa" is a tentative name that will be replaced with the name of the hotel operator once an agreement has been signed — possibly in the next 30 days.

"We are in deep negotiations with one of the top operators in the world," Weintraub said.

Gensler, a Los Angeles-based architectural firm, is designing the resort as a six-star facility.

Such a ranking requires a "very stringent" review process that begins with the design and ends with a walk-through of the finished project, Weintraub said.

"Technically, there are only five stars, but there are hotels that surpass that rating," he said.

Resort guests will have access to neighboring Jack Rabbit Trail and Big Horn Overlook. But that won't impact existing public access, city officials said.

There will be some two-story condos, but officials have promised they won't interfere with anyone's view of the mountains. Prices for the condos have not been set.

"We think we'll ... set a new market for the price of condominiums," Weintraub said.

Developers say the project is environmentally friendly, and will have solar panels on rooftops throughout, including the parking structures.

There will be three driveways into the resort off Highway 111, with the main entrance at the intersection of Atrium Way.

The next hurdle is solidifying the financing for the project, and Weintraub said they are close to lining up all the investors.

He hopes to break ground by next summer and said it should take about 22 months to complete.

It will all be done in one phase, he said, because construction noise would disturb guests.

No one in the audience of about a dozen people spoke against the resort. Rather, the room broke out in applause when the council gave its unanimous approval.

"It's a very exciting project. ... Once you get your operator on the dotted line, then obviously the next major big hurdle ... is the financing. That's going to be the key," Mayor Pro Tem Ted Weill said.

Proposed Land for New 100 million resort in rancho mirage
The $100-million-plus Thunderbird Resort and Spa would put hotel rooms,
vacation condos, a spa and fitness center along this 24-acre stretch.
(Photo: Richard Lui/The Desert Sun)





Johnny Bench honored at Mission Hills Country Club

Rancho Mirage Dateline: June 5, 2015

Baseball super star, Johnny Bench, a long-time resident of Rancho Mirage will soon be moving to Florida. A celebration and farewell was held in his honor at the Mission Hills Country Club. At this celebration Mr Bench was presented with a proclamation and Key to the City by Ted Weill, Mayor Pro Tem, and Randy Bynder, City Manager.

Johnny Lee Bench is a former professional baseball catcher who played in the Major Leagues for the Cincinnati Reds from 1967 to 1983 and is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Johnny Bench Presented with Rancho Mirage Key to the City





Interview on the Future of the Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center

Rancho Mirage Dateline: May 22, 2015

The City of Rancho Mirage Public Library Director David Bryant Interviews Rancho Mirage Mayor Pro Tem Ted Weill on exciting future of the Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center, located on the Corner of Bob Hope Drive and Highway 111 in beautiful Rancho Mirage, California.








Groundbreaking Ceremony to be Held at Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center

Rancho Mirage Dateline: May 20, 2015

The public is invited to the long anticipated ground- breaking ceremony at the Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, May 22, 2015. The ceremony will take place at the shopping center located on the northeast corner of Highway 111 and Bob Hope Drive.

Paragon Commercial Group owns the property and is investing millions of dollars to bring the old center up to par with 21st century retail centers. Retailers that have already agreed to set up shop in the new center include Stein Mart and Hobby Lobby.

Rancho Mirage City Council members as well as the principals of the construction company and owners of the property will be on hand for the ceremony. Mayor Pro Tem Ted Weill will speak on behalf of the City of Rancho Mirage.

Refurbishment of existing buildings has already commenced and is rapidly proceeding. Demolition of old buildings that will not be part of the new center has occurred. New construction will begin following the groundbreaking.

To read more about the refurbishment of the shopping center, go to the City's Economic Development website at www.RanchoMirageEd.com to view article from the Fall 2014 R/M Insider.

For more information, please contact City Hall at (760) 324-4511.




Photographic Update on the Redevelopment of Rancho Las Palmas

Paragon Commercial Group Dateline: April 9, 2015

Below are some progress pictures of the redevelopment of Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center.

Regarding construction of the new Steinmart: The plan is to have the storefront completed mid-month with temporary doors. The permanent doors will be installed when the full vestibule is completed as part of the completion of the façade improvements. HVAC units are set and roofing is underway.






Plan to cover CV Link upkeep put on hold

Barrett Newkirk, The Desert Sun Dateline: April 6, 2015

With at least one city raising opposition, Coachella Valley leaders are taking more time to study a plan to fund CV Link's ongoing upkeep.

The Coachella Valley Association of Governments' Transportation Committee on Monday postponed a decision on the financing plan, giving city officials across the valley more time to study the proposal.

The delay came after Rancho Mirage council members voted unanimously Thursday to support of a statement saying the city "opposes the CV Link project until a fair funding mechanism is development for the operation of maintenance of the CV Link project."

Rancho Mirage Councilman Ted Weill, the chairman of the CVAG transportation committee, on Monday softened that position, saying his city "is in no way opposed to the CV Link."

"This is a complicated issue," Weill said. "We felt that we received this in a very short period of time. We require more time to make the analysis, and frankly other cities may or may not feel the same."

CVAG staff recommended covering an estimated $1.6 million in annual maintenance and operations costs through a combination of local transportation funds and 8 percent of the growth in cities' annual hotel tax revenue.

Rancho Mirage leaders believe this would leave them paying more than their fair share, and have asked that the split instead be based on how much of the 50-mile path is in each city.

The committee also delayed a vote on the CV Link master plan until some small sections of the route can be finalized. CVAG Executive Director Tom Kirk said the master plan would likely come back to the committee next month.

But it could be several months before the funding proposal returns.

Kirk said there was no immediate need to set a funding scheme, since construction of the path isn't expected to begin for at least two years.




Rancho Mirage backs away from CV Link over funding plan

Barrett Newkirk, The Desert Sun Dateline: April 2, 2015

The Rancho Mirage City Council has pulled its support of the CV Link path over a plan to fund ongoing maintenance they believe has the city paying more than its fair share.

The unanimous vote came during a closed-door meeting Thursday in advance of a meeting early next week where elected leaders from across the Coachella Valley are set to discuss the proposed funding formula.

The Coachella Valley Association of Governments estimates that annual operation and maintenance costs for the cross-valley recreation path will start around $1.6 million, or $33,600 per mile. The agency is suggesting that more than half of that money come from a portion of the increasing hotel tax revenues cities expect to collect in coming years.

Rancho Mirage council members feel that approach leaves their city paying more than what's fair considering the city will contain just 10 percent of the pathway.

They also don't support another piece of the funding plan they believe will take money away from local street projects. And they are against changing the city's hotel tax measure in a way they feel may legally require a citywide vote, Mayor Pro Tem Dana Hobart said.

"We think it's a dubious concept at best to suggest that we could change the formula, and besides, it's unfair," Hobart said. "Until everybody pays the proportional amount compared to the amount of linkway that they have in their cities, everything else is unfair."

Rancho Mirage City Attorney Steve Quintanilla said council members met in private because of the potential for filing a lawsuit, but instead of taking preemptive legal action, the council directed him and the city manager to notify CVAG Executive Director Tom Kirk in writing of their objections.

Hobart said that thanks to the reopening of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Rancho Mirage last May, the city now collects the third-most hotel tax revenue of any city in the Coachella Valley, behind Palm Springs and Palm Desert.

However, a report from CVAG projecting cities' annual hotel tax contributions for CV Link into 2025 used tax estimates that placed Rancho Mirage fifth among eight cities. Local hotel taxes have the official name of transient occupancy taxes or TOT.

Rancho Mirage council members feel that approach leaves their city paying more than what's fair considering the city will contain just 10 percent of the pathway.

They also don't support another piece of the funding plan they believe will take money away from local street projects. And they are against changing the city's hotel tax measure in a way they feel may legally require a citywide vote, Mayor Pro Tem Dana Hobart said.

"We think it's a dubious concept at best to suggest that we could change the formula, and besides, it's unfair," Hobart said. "Until everybody pays the proportional amount compared to the amount of linkway that they have in their cities, everything else is unfair."

Rancho Mirage City Attorney Steve Quintanilla said council members met in private because of the potential for filing a lawsuit, but instead of taking preemptive legal action, the council directed him and the city manager to notify CVAG Executive Director Tom Kirk in writing of their objections.

Hobart said that thanks to the reopening of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Rancho Mirage last May, the city now collects the third-most hotel tax revenue of any city in the Coachella Valley, behind Palm Springs and Palm Desert.

However, a report from CVAG projecting cities' annual hotel tax contributions for CV Link into 2025 used tax estimates that placed Rancho Mirage fifth among eight cities. Local hotel taxes have the official name of transient occupancy taxes or TOT.

Reached late Thursday afternoon, Kirk wasn't aware of the stance Rancho Mirage officials were taking, and he questioned their belief that the formula was unfair.

"Part of the logic (of using TOT money) is that the project has an additional impact on the tourist economy," Kirk said.

He disputed Hobart's suggestion that the proposal calls for a public vote. The payment amount is based on higher hotel tax revenues, but cities would not be required to use TOT money to cover CV Link upkeep, he said.

Kirk has called the CV Link path the largest project of its kind in the nation. It's estimated cost is currently at least $100 million, and so far CVAG has successfully raised about $75 million without asking local cities for help.

The path is envisioned as an attraction for outdoor recreation enthusiasts and a way for people to more easily travel across the valley, possibly by foot, bike or low-speed electric vehicle.

The project has its supporters, namely outdoor recreation enthusiasts and the local tourism industry. Others have questioned whether the price is worth the final result and brought up concerns about the path not reaching into the valley's poorest communities.

The CVAG upkeep funding proposal says as much as 40 percent of CV Link's annual operations could be covered by money coming from cities for regional transportation needs.

It points out that other funding options exist, particularly grants and sponsorships, but that money is often temporary.

Using a portion of hotel taxes in a similar way to how property taxes have funded improvements through redevelopment agencies, has never been done before, the report says. And "there are few areas in the state of California where the tourist industry is such a dominant part of the economy and tax structure" as the Coachella Valley.

The report makes a case against setting funding based on the amount of pathway in each city. Such a plan would leave Palm Springs with a third of the annual costs since 33 percent of the path goes through the city. Instead, Palm Springs, which collects by far the most from hotel taxes of any valley city, would pay 24 percent of the costs, according to CVAG.

The TOT plan leaves out the city of Coachella, since it does not collect a hotel tax. Coachella will contain 11 percent of the roughly 48-mile path, according to CVAG.

And even though Desert Hot Springs is the only valley city not included in the initial phase of the pathway, the city is part of the calculations CVAG used to meet its annual operating expense number, starting with a contribution of almost $6,000 in 2017.

That likely won't sit well for Desert Hot Springs leaders, who are trying to figure out how to balance a city budget without closing city parks or making further cuts to an already drastically reduced staff.

An extension of CV Link running through Desert Hot Springs along Mission Creek has been proposed, but Mayor Adam Sanchez said this week his city should be the first to see any construction.

Elected officials from all of the cities will discuss the funding plan Monday when the CVAG Transportation Committee meets at 9 a.m. at CVAG's offices in Palm Desert, 73-710 Fred Waring Drive, Suite 119.

"There's going to be an open conversation on Monday," Kirk said.




Who is the Poppie behind the name Poppie's Pond?

Larry Bohannan, The Desert Sun Dateline: March 19, 2015

So just who is Poppie?

If you have never had a chance to read the plaque at the 18th hole of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club, you might well ask why the body of water LPGA winners leap into is called Poppie's Pond.

The Rancho Mirage City Council did its part Thursday to make sure people understand that Terry Wilcox, the former tournament director of the event now known as the ANA Inspiration, is the Poppie behind Poppie's Pond. Thursday was declared Terry Wilcox Day in Rancho Mirage to honor the man who led the LPGA major championship for 15 years and whose seven grandchildren call him Poppie.

"I thought it was quite an honor," Wilcox said about hearing of the Terry Wilcox Day idea for the first time. "I guess it was Ted Weill (a council member and a Mission Hills Country Club member) who was behind it. It's unfortunate that I guess he wasn't able to be here today."

With Weill missing the awarding of the proclamation because of illness, it fell to another council member and Mission Hills member, G. Dana Hobart, to present the honor to Wilcox.

Poppies Pond Mission Hills "He thinks that only people who have been champions have been in Poppie's Pond," Hobart said. "I got news for you, pal. I slipped in."

Accompanying Wilcox for the day in his honor was his wife Shirley, the couple's two sons, their wives and four of Terry and Shirley's seven grandchildren.

Leading the tournament

But a surprise guest for the ceremony was three-time ANA Inspiration winner (known when won it as the Nabisco Dinah Shore) Amy Alcott. Alcott, who was the first player to jump into the lake in 1988 well before it was christened in Wilcox's honor, told the council and guest how important Wilcox had been to the tournament and to women's golf in general.

The proclamation honors Wilcox for being a Rancho Mirage resident for 33 years, for his 15 years as tournament director, for his leadership which helped grow the tournament and in turn bring more visitors to Rancho Mirage, for his long-time friendship with Dinah Shore and for his name Poppie. The proclamation also notes that Wilcox was associated with Mission Hills Country Club long before he became the tournament director of the LPGA major.

In truth, Wilcox led the tournament through its most trying time, the death of Shore, who had also been one of Wilcox's golf students. Without Shore as the face, name and voice to market off of, the event needed steady guidance. Wilcox approached the job like the long-time club professional he was, treating the players as if they were members. He represented the tournament well with the LPGA and he greeted everyone with a handshake and a smile. Other than the winning player each year, Wilcox became the face of the first major championship of the year.

These days, five years from his days as the tournament director, Wilcox says he plays a little golf when his back will let him. But otherwise, he focuses on his family, most who were present at the ceremony Thursday.

Not everyone knows who the Poppie behind the name Poppie's Pond is at the LPGA's long-time event in the desert. But if you know who Terry Wilcox is and understand how important he was to the tournament for so long, it's easy to understand how they could name a lake or anything else after him.




Rancho Mirage is "debt free" with last bond payment

Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: March 10, 2015

Rancho Mirage is debt free after council members on Tuesday decided to use reserve funds to pay off a $3.6 million balance from a 2005 bond, saving the city more than $1.6 million in interest.

"By paying this off — and by paying off the unfunded pension liability — we (are) essentially debt free now," Councilman Richard Kite said. "There are probably not many cities out there that can say their pension liability is zero and that they have zero outstanding in longterm debt."

The 2005A lease revenue bond was issued in May 2005 to pay off a 1995 library bond at a lower interest rate and give the city another $2.5 million to finance its corporate yard facilities.

The city has been paying about $392,000 a year on the debt, Finance Director Isaiah Hagerman said.

The annual interest rate in the bond debt ranges from 4.125 percent to 4.5 percent, he said.

"If we were to continue to follow the debt service schedule and pay to debt maturity, the city would pay approximately $5.9 million," Hagerman said.

Paying the bond off now reduces future operating costs and puts the city in a better position financially, Hagerman said.

The city has more than $50 million in its various reserve funds.

"The uniqueness of what we're doing here as a city is not solely limited to California. I think you can make that statement for cities throughout the country," Councilman Ted Weill said. "There are very few that have zero unfunded pension liability or bond indebtedness."

Tuesday's meeting started with Mayor Iris Smotrich calling for a moment of silence for Scott Hines, the former mayor and councilman who died Feb. 21 in Palm Springs. He served on the council from 2010 until 2014.

Smotrich described Hines as "uniquely talented and intuitive and supporting of values of the average man and woman."

"He genuinely cared for people and used his creativity to improve their quality of life when opportunities arose," she said.




A Luxury Resort and Spa May Be Coming To Rancho Mirage

Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: March 3, 2015

Known as a place where presidents love to play, Rancho Mirage may soon be home to a high-end vacation retreat that caters to those willing to pay up to $5,000 a night to unwind.

The $100-million-plus Thunderbird Resort and Spa is proposed for 24 acres of prime real estate on Highway 111, across from The Atrium shopping center and just south of city hall and the city's Cancer Survivors Park.

The 244,541-square-foot project — co-managed by developer Richard Weintraub, whose previous work included the Indio Fiesta Mall — would include hotel rooms, vacation condominiums, a spa and fitness center.

Source: The Desert Sun March 3, 2015.

Weintraub said he hopes the project will appeal to corporate executives and "the wealthiest segment of the travel industry."

"We have, within a two-and-a-half-hour drive of the Coachella Valley, 20 million people and yet not a single six-star, luxury resort that can offer the type of amenities for (overall) health and wellness," Weintraub told The Desert Sun.

City planners will consider the project during a Monday meeting. But Rancho Mirage Councilman Ted Weill, who has seen the preliminary plans, has already dubbed it a "luxurious decompression chamber."

"It will offer total anonymity in luxurious surroundings," Weill said. "It's quite magnificent."

The cove property is surrounded by 160 acres of open space. A berm, landscaping and walls will provide seclusion to guests, ensuring they won't be able to see or hear the traffic along Highway 111 once they are inside, Weintraub said.

The resort would be tucked into the landscape with the mountains serving as its backdrop. It would offer 125 hotel guest rooms totaling 67,000 square feet; 48 condominiums at 2,400 square feet each; three pools; walking and cycling paths; fitness center; and other amenities.

Guests also would have access to the Jack Rabbit Trail and Big Horn Overlook from the resort, Weill said.

Weintraub said the resort offerings are modeled after properties one might find in Europe, catering to overall physical and mental well-being.

Plans call for it to be billed as a six-star getaway. Resorts nearby that offer similar retreat packages are Cal-a-Vie Health Spa in Vista and Canyon Ranch Resort & Spa in Tucson, Ariz., Weintraub said.

Weintraub, a Malibu-based developer, is no stranger to the Coachella Valley. He owns the historic Palm Springs Community Church, a significant portion of which was destroyed in a fire in 2013. He also is former owner of the Indio Fiesta Mall and has restored a number of historical buildings throughout Southern California.

Room rates at Thunderbird Resort and Spa are expected to start at $700 a night, with stays as short as two days or as long as two weeks, Weintraub said.

In addition to boosting the city's transient occupancy tax, the resort will bring in "several hundred" jobs, he said.

Gensler, a Los Angeles-based architectural firm, is designing the resort.

City planners gave the project a warm reception when plans were first presented to the city's Architectural Review Board in January. But Weill, who whose background is in real east development and financing, said the committee did ask for for a couple of buildings to have a little more spacing and height.

The board meets again at 12:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

While the project includes two-story condos, Weill said they won't interfere with anyone's view of the mountains.

From the Architectural Review Board, the project will go to the Planning Commission and ultimately the City Council for final approval before building permits are pulled.

Weintraub hopes to break ground in about nine months.




A Message from Ted Weill - What's Happening in Rancho Mirage

Dateline: March 1, 2015

A special email correspondence was issued by Ted Weill on March 1st detailing key projects and developments within Rancho Mirage.

Click Here to View This Email




Construction continues at Rancho Las Palmas, city parks

Sherry Barkas, The Desert Sun Dateline: February 25, 2015

Construction crews are busy in Rancho Mirage, where the Rancho Las Palmas shopping center and a community park are undergoing extensive renovations.

Three buildings have been demolished and others are being refurbished at the decades-old Rancho Las Palmas shopping center, on the corner of Highway 111 and Bob Hope Drive.

About 83 percent of the property is now leased and all anchor stores should be open by summer 2016, city officials said Wednesday.

"After years of less than 50 percent occupancy at the center, this is great news for our residents and the city," Councilman Ted Weill said in a statement.

The center went into a financial tailspin when Vons shuttered its store in 2009, sending the vacancy rate soaring and making CVS the anchor business. The center ultimately ended up in foreclosure.

Last March, El Sagundo-based Paragon Commercial Group bought the shopping center from Wells Fargo Bank for an undisclosed price and promised a "major redevelopment."

It was soon announced that Stein Mart would be taking over the 30,000-square-foot Vons spot. A Hobby Lobby also is opening in a 48,000-square-foot unit, and three buildings have just been tore down to make way for a new CVS store, complete with a drive-thru window and revamped entrance to the center off of Highway 111.

The work is expected to take up to 18 months. Stein Mart is planning to open in the fall, city spokesman Robert Barrett said.

Existing merchants in the shopping center say the construction work is welcomed and has caused major interruptions to their businesses.

"I do not hear a thing. They're very quiet and extremely clean," Emily Weber, owner of Backstage Wigs & Hair Salon, said of the construction crews.

Entrance to the northwest side of the center, off of Bob Hope Drive, is not impacted by the construction either, she said, so customers still have easy access to existing shops.

Elegant Eye Optometry Center will eventually be moved to another building to make room for Hobby Lobby. But Dr. Burton Blaurock said Paragon is helping with the relocation.

"We feel they are working with all the tenants and doing a good job of having the situation be a win-win for everyone," Blaurock said.

Elsewhere in the city, the $4.2 million renovation of Rancho Mirage Community Park — formerly called Whitewater Park — is progressing on schedule and on budget, Barrett said.

Three acres are being added to the park at 71-560 Jacinto Dr., bringing it to 10 acres.

The renovation also includes an expanded playground, fitness stations, pickleball courts, new lighting and a grand promenade sidewalk.

An amphitheater with terraced seating able to accommodate up to 800 people also is being built.

"It's going to be amazing," Barrett said. "And something not just Rancho Mirage can enjoy, but the whole valley."

Existing park amenities like the tennis and basketball courts will remain.

The park has been closed since December and is expected to reopen at the end of August.

With all the amenities, planners said there wasn't room for a dog park. But the pooches haven't been left out completely.

Plans for a new, 5-acre dog park in north Rancho Mirage, near The Home Depot store, have been approved and are in final design phase, Barrett said.

The dog park should be finished by summer, he added.

Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the cities of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be reached at sherry.barkas@thedesertsun.com or (760) 778-4694. Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherry




Press Release: Excellent Progress Securing Tenants for the Rancho Los Palmas Shopping Center Announced.

Paragon Dateline: February 24, 2015

Canyon Capital Realty Advisors', along with Paragon Commercial Group announced the commencement of construction on a major repositioning of the Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center. Centrally located in the heart of Rancho Mirage at the highly visible intersection of Bob Hope Drive and the U.S. Highway 111, the Center will be completely remodeled to include enhanced architecture and landscaping, improved pedestrian connectivity, energy efficient lighting, enhanced access from both Highway 111 and Bob Hope Drive, and a dominant regional tenant lineup. The upgraded shopping center will be anchored by a 48,000 square foot Hobby Lobby, 30,000 square foot Stein Mart and a new CVS Drug Store.

"We are pleased to welcome Hobby Lobby and Stein Mart to Rancho Las Palmas and to the City of Rancho Mirage," said Erwin Bucy, a Principal with Paragon. "They provide value oriented, high quality shopping options for residents and visitors to Rancho Mirage and the surrounding desert communities. The combination of Hobby Lobby, Stein Mart, a new free-standing CVS along with a 10,000 square foot specialty grocer, Greens International Market Inc., will form an excellent base of anchor tenants that we are certain will continue to attract new inline tenants to the center."

"The City Council is delighted that only months into the refurbishment of Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center 83% of the available spaces have been leased. After years of less than 50% occupancy at the Center this is great news for our residents and the City", stated Council Member Ted Weill.

Following five years of increasing vacancy after the departure of the previous anchor tenant, the CCF and Paragon partnership acquired the Property in March of 2014. Within the first nine months, Paragon executed all new anchor tenant leases and worked closely with the City of Rancho Mirage to obtain full unanimous approval of its redevelopment plan in December of 2014. As part of the redevelopment, CVS will relocate from its current inline suite to a freestanding location with a drive thru on the hard corner of Highway 111 and Bob Hope.

Rancho Las Palmas is located adjacent to The River, a major regional retail and entertainment destination, and benefits from one of the busiest intersections in the entire Coachella Valley, with average traffic counts of over 65,000 cars passing by the shopping center daily. In addition to the growing number of Coachella Valley residents, the daytime population for the area includes approximately 128,000 employees who work within a 10-mile radius of the shopping center.

"We would like to thank CVS and the City of Rancho Mirage," said Maria Stamolis, Senior Managing Director at Canyon Capital Realty. "They have been excellent partners who believed in and supported our vision for the project. We would not have been able to transform Rancho Las Palmas without their full support."

Project Timeline:

  • January 2015: Demolition of the former Library / Chamber of commerce building, the former Chili's building and the vacant multi-tenant building is completed.

  • March/April 2015: Construction of the new CVS building begins, tenant improvements and façade treatments throughout the center begins.

  • Summer 2015: Offsite improvements commence, including the new right-in / right-out on Highway 111, tenant improvements for inline shops underway, leasing efforts continue.

  • Fall 2015: New CVS and Stein Mart stores open, construction on the future Hobby Lobby space begins

  • Spring/Summer 2016: All anchor stores open for business






What's Happening in Rancho Mirage

Rancho Mirage Planning Commission Report Dateline: February 2015

In 2014, the Planning Commission convened 15 meetings and considered and acted upon a total of 54 planning projects. For a comparison, the Planning Commission held 14 meetings and considered 36 projects in 2013 (which was twice the number of projects considered in 2012). The Planning Commission and City Council also held a Joint Study Session in October to discuss "Land Use Issues of Mutual Concern."

The Planning Commission Report includes updates on:

  • Custom Homes
  • Planned Developments: Verlaine, Rancho Bella, Tesoro and smaller residential subdivisions
  • Wireless Improvements
  • Dog Park
  • New Jaguar Showroom
  • Rancho Las Palmas Major Remodel
  • Rancho Mirage Community Park
  • Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage
  • New Palm Valley High School
  • Applications Currently Being Processed


Click Here to Download Full Report




Help in valley´s summer cities blood drive

Frederick B. Axelrod, Published in the The Desert Sun Dateline: June 26, 2014

"Live Life - Give Life."

That´s the tagline for Desert Blood Services, the exclusive provider of blood products and services for Desert Regional Medical Center, Eisenhower Medical Center, JFK Memorial Hospital, and high desert hospitals in Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms and Blythe.

nine cities blood drive "Live Life - Give Life." Four simple words everyone in the Coachella Valley should, and can, embrace.

This summer, I urge valley residents to come together and take part in a selfless cause, one that gives the greatest of gifts at the most critical of times to those at their darkest hours.

Voluntary blood donation reaches out to others in our community who would give anything to be on the other side of the transfusion. They´re counting on all of us. We can´t let them down.

Last summer, the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP) moved to proactively address the issue of low summertime blood collection in our communities by creating the Nine Cities Blood Drive Challenge.

While acting out of compassion, CVEP was also fully aware of the positive economic impact that increased blood donation brings to the region.

More valley blood donors mean more local jobs, good-paying jobs with good benefits - nurses, donor specialists, lab and delivery personnel. More participation in blood donation is in the best interest of both the community´s health and economic well-being.

The response to last year´s challenge was gratifying. More than 700 units of blood were collected at nine designated drives. Each and every donor combined community pride with a generous heart.

Once again, summer is upon us. With it comes the usual decrease in blood donations but the blood transfusion needs of our local hospital patients for emergency and everyday needs remains stable and doesn´t decrease. In fact, summer is the most challenging time of year to maintain blood product inventories on hospital shelves.

This year, the bar is being raised for the second annual Nine Cities Blood Drive Challenge. The goal is to collect 900 units of blood - an average of 100 units per community. You can help patients in local hospitals - and help make your community No. 1 in compassion.

  • 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday, celebrity ballroom at Indian Wells Golf Resort, 44-500 Indian Wells Lane.
  • 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday, July 10, Indio Teen Center, 81-678 Avenue 46.
  • Noon-6 p.m. Wednesday, July 16, Rancho Mirage City Hall, 69-825 Highway 111.
  • 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, July 19, Palm Desert High School, 74910 Aztec Road.
  • 12:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 23, Embassy Suites, 50777 Santa Rosa Plaza, La Quinta.
  • Noon-6 p.m. Thursday, July 24, Palm Springs Police Department, 200 S. Civic Drive.
  • 12:30-6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 30, Coachella Senior Center, 1540 Seventh St.
  • Noon-6 p.m. Thursday, July 31, Desert Princess Golf Resort, 67967 Vista Chino, Cathedral City.
  • 1-7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1, Desert Hot Springs Health & Wellness Center, 11570 Cholla Drive.
For more information and to set an appointment, call (800) 879-4484.

Donors must be in good health, weigh at least 110 pounds and be at least 15 years of age. Also, 15- and 16-year-olds must have a signed parental consent form, which is is available at all drives and at www.desertbloodservices.org.

All blood donors receive a special edition T-shirt commemorating the Nine Cities Blood Drive Challenge. At each drive, one donor will win a Desert Blood Services gift basket.

And remember: Desert Blood Services donations stay here to assist local patients. These are our loved ones, neighbors, friends, co-workers, those with whom we share hobbies and with whom we worship.

Live Life - Give Life.

Desert Blood Services´ role in our community is that simple, yet that vital.

Frederick B. Axelrod is president, CEO and medical director of LifeStream, and chairman of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership. E-mail him at raxelrod@LStream.org




Stein Mart to fill spot in Rancho Las Palmas

Blake Herzog, The Desert Sun Dateline: August 10, 2014

A Stein Mart apparel and accessories store will fill the anchor space left by Vons at Rancho Las Palmas shopping center, Bob Hope Drive and Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage, when the supermarket pulled out of the plaza in late 2009.

Jim Dillavou, a principal with Paragon Commercial Group of El Segundo, said Friday that construction should begin early next year on the 30,000 square foot Stein Mart and several other major project will get underway, including the demolishing of three buildings to make room for a new CVS drugstore with a drive-thru and an additional entrance from Highway 111.

And after CVS moves from its current spot at the west end of the center to its new building, Paragon will tear that building down to build a new 43,000 square foot Hobby Lobby crafts store, he added.

"What we're creating is a very defined shopping area where people can go across the street to The River for their entertainment and come over to our center to meet their daily needs," Dillavou said.

Plans for the center will be sent through the city's approval process during the remainder of this year, with construction expected to start early 2015, he said.

Stein Mart also has locations in La Quinta and Palm Springs, and says on its website it has more than 260 stores nationwide.

The Florida-based retailer describes itself as offering "the fashion merchandise, service and presentation of a better department or specialty store, at prices competitive with off-price retail chains."

The store is "a perfect fit with Rancho Mirage's demographics," said City Councilman Ted Weill.

Hobby Lobby made national news this summer after winning a controversial Supreme Court case over its owners' objections to covering certain forms of contraception under the federal Affordable Car Act, but Dillavou said Paragon hasn't encountered any resistance to that store's eventual presence.

"We're not involved with that," he said. "They're a very healthy company and their products will be very well-received by the community," he said. Dillavou said Friday he and others at Paragon are happy with the progress they've made on refilling the once-foreclosed center since officially closing its purchase from the bank in March.

The center is more than half empty now but once it's complete Dillavou said it will make the entire intersection a destination for all kinds of shoppers.

The structures set to be torn down include the city-owned Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce building on the corner, which stands where the CVS is slated to go.

Paragon is slated to buy the onetime home of the city's library for $1 million minus the cost of improvements done in the city's right of way, which is expected to reduce the final price by more than half. Weill said Friday that final figure hasn't been established yet. Also being torn down is the building housing the Thai Smile and Haru Sushi restaurants and a massage business, as well as a vacant restaurant building. Thai Smile is expected to reopen in a new space on El Paseo in Palm Desert this fall. Haru Sushi owner Thomas Pak said Friday he has signed a lease in Palm Desert's Fred Waring Plaza at Highway 111 and Fred Waring Drive, next to Big 5 Sporting Goods, after being unable to reach an agreement with Paragon on rent and moving costs to stay in the complex.

He said he was also worried about how the construction would affect business. "It could be worse than it is now," he said. He said he'll start moving out at the end of August or beginning of September, after three years at the center.

Dillavou said, "As we move forward, our priority during construction will be to keep access available to our existing tenants, because they have been successful businesses and good tenants," but some have been choosing to leave because of their concern.




Rancho Mirage vacation rental age restriction set at 30

Blake Herzog, The Desert Sun Dateline: August 2, 2014

RANCHO MIRAGE - Word of Rancho Mirage's Thursday adoption of a requirement for vacation rental properties to have at least one tenant age 30 or older had reached national industry groups by Friday, where representatives couldn't think of a similar law anywhere else.

Mark McSweeney, executive director of the Indianapolis-based Vacation Rental Managers Association, said "We've already gotten wind of this" by the time The Desert Sun reached him Friday morning, through one of his news feeds.

While he said information on the Rancho Mirage law was "too new" for him to react yet, he did say, "It's not uncommon for it to be above 18. In many instances it's 25 or 21, so being over 18 does not seem all that unusual. Thirty may be a little high."

William May, a vacation rental manager who sits on the volunteer board of the Vacation Rental Association in Seattle, said he doubted the age limit would withstand a court challenge, in part because of Washington state court rulings limiting the ability of cities and even Homeowners Associations to ban short-term residential rentals, generally defined as periods of less than one month.

"They're all looking at the use," he said of the judges' reasoning. "There's no difference between what a family does there whether they stay there for three days, or three months, or three years, or 13 years."

The Rancho Mirage council said Thursday it can adopt an outright ban on vacation rentals, citing the city of Carmel as an example, but instead is trying to keep the peace between owners who, in some cases, say they would risk losing their homes if they weren't able to rent it short-term and residents who say the practice disrupts their way of life.

The council voted to require every short-term rental contract to include a "responsible person," age 30 or older, among the occupants to acknowledge the city's rules of conduct in vacation homes, put into place following complaints from neighbors of so-called "party houses" which create noise, parking and traffic problems, and other disturbances.

The new law kicks in Aug. 30, replacing the old minimum of 21. Opinions differ on whether California law allows the city to require young vacation renters to have what Rancho Mirage lawyer Ken Gregory derisively calls a "30-year-old babysitter."

Gregory, a defense lawyer who has handled civil rights and administrative law cases, was asked by a vacation rental owner he won't identify to represent him or her at the council meeting Thursday.

He said following the regulation would force vacation rental owners to violate the state's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which gives residents the right to "full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges or services in all business establishments" and bars discrimination on the basis of race, sex or several other characteristics.

Age is not included on that list but the California Supreme Court has ruled the law's reach is not necessarily restricted to that list, according to the website of the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

But the DFEH Public Affairs Office said in a statement emailed Friday to The Desert Sun, the Rancho Mirage requirement doesn't go against the Unruh act.

"In California, for most contracts to be valid, the parties must be of the age of majority (age 18 or above), hence a regulation that requires the rental housing applicant to be an adult (here ages 21, 25 or 30) is not arbitrary," the agency said.

Palm Springs, which is also dealing with considerable conflict between vacation rental owners and residents as well, changed its limit to 25 about three months ago, City Councilman Chris Mills said.

He said no one publicly protested that four-year shift when it happened. "We talked about 30, and we really felt it wasn't needed, that there didn't need to be someone that old to accept responsibility, and it wasn't so much about the person.

"We felt 21 might be too young," he added. "We haven't had a lot bad experiences where one had people who were 25, 26, 27, it was more the really young," he said.

Rancho Mirage's new rules could hamper potential short-term renters like athletes competing in LPGA's Kraft Nabisco Classic, the BNP Paribas Open for tennis in Indian Wells, musicians playing the Coachella or Stagecoach festivals, or up-and-comers being honored at the Palm Springs International Film Festival gala.

But many residents resent the intrusion of commerce onto their street and an unpredictable stream of temporary neighbors in and out of the house or condo next door, Rancho Mirage City Councilman Ted Weill said after the Thursday vote, estimating any poll taken in the city would find 95 percent don't want to live next to a vacation rental.

Still, staying in a home versus a resort holds a special appeal in the desert, said Larry Abel of Palm Springs, part owner of Raymond Lawrence and Party Lab and an events producer who works in Los Angeles and New York

. "It's all about being able to barbecue and be outside. And we have the best houses here," he said, citing the popularity of midcentury modern architecture.

He added Rancho Mirage's requirement of at least one 30-year-old occupant could affect the whole Coachella Valley., including increasingly hip Palm Springs. "People aren't from the desert don't know the difference. And everything's done by social networking, so all it takes is a couple people tweeting 'they don't want anyone under 30 in Palm Springs."




Paragon Commercial Group said it is ready to take on redevelopment of the center

The Desert Sun Dateline: March 29, 2014

RANCHO MIRAGE - The long-awaited sale of the bank-owned Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center to an El Segundo developer who has pledged to revive the mall cleared escrow Friday. Paragon Commercial Group, a partner in the CFF0 PCG Las Palmas, LLC formed to buy the property from Wells Fargo NA, said in a statement Friday afternoon it is ready to take on redevelopment of the center at the northwest corner of Bob Hope Drive and Highway 111.Rancho Las Palmas Conceptual Design

The company said, "We look forward to working closely with them in the coming months to invest significant capital to reposition, modernize and revitalize this prominent intersection, and transform the Rancho Las Palmas shopping center into a vibrant community amenity."

Paragon, which did not disclose the sale price, has been the anticipated owner of the property since late last year, when it put up signs at the center's driveways promising "major redevelopment," with a phone number for leasing information.

Rancho Mirage City Councilman Ted Weill said he and others at the city "are very pleased the Rancho Las Palmas Shopping Center will be coming to life. It will provide great convenience for our residents and generate sales tax revenue for the city."

Paragon will release more information next week, and make announcements about specific tenants as leases are signed, Weill said.

The city is under contract to sell Paragon the building it owns at the center, which currently houses the Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce, for $1 million minus the cost of public improvements or any necessary environmental remediation, which could significantly reduce the final price.

Paragon plans to tear the building down so it can replace it with a new CVS drugstore with a drive-thru pharmacy. Currently, the center totals about 160,000 square feet.

CVS has been the center's anchor since the 30,000 square-foot Vons grocery store closed in late 2009, sending the center's vacancy rate up to 40 percent. Since then the sprawling mall has emptied out further, until Wells Fargo foreclosed on former owner KIMCO.

Weill said in January that arts and crafts market Hobby Lobby has signed a lease to take the old CVS space once it's available.

Tom Hixson, owner of D'Carlo's Italian Cafe in the center, said he got word of the deal closing on Thursday, but had not gotten any more information since then. "Anything's better than what we've had," he said.

Other current tenants include restaurants Thai Smile and Haru Sushi, confectioner Brandini Toffee, the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop, Draper's & Damon's Women's Wear, Rancho Las Palmas Dental Care, Impression Cleaners and Acu Touch Massage Therapy.

View Conceptual Renderings of the NEW Rancho Las Palmas




Public Service with a Smile

by Blake Herzog, The Desert SunDateline: January 10, 2014

RANCHO MIRAGE Ted Weill hung around City Hall for years before being appointed to a vacant seat on the City Council last December. But his six years on the Planning Commission and years of friendship with Rancho Mirage's electeds didn't fully prepare him, he said.

"To some extent I didn't anticipate it taking this amount of time. I used to play a game called golf," he said while sitting in his dining room, with a view of one of the Mission Hills Country Club lakes. Life has been a whirlwind of meetings, events, appearances and research ever since as he keeps abreast of developments throughout the city. A real estate developer and investor by trade, anything to do with economic growth is of particular interest.

He's anxious to see what happens at the Rancho Las Palmas shopping center at Highway 111 and Bob Hope Drive, which has struggled since losing a Vons grocery store as its anchor in 2009 and is being sold by Wells Fargo Bank, the current owner.

"The last thing we would ever consider is a swap meet or some kind of lower-end user," he said. "That center is a showplace."

Some developers who have expressed interest in the property want to tie it into The River across the street, possibly with a tunnel or bridge.

Not much further away, he says, is the reopening of the Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage, expected to bring in around $1.5 million in hotel tax a year.

Despite the resort's history of delays and setbacks, Weill said, "That will be open for this Halloween."

Permits have been pulled for the first two buildings in the 5 Peaks development across the street from the Rancho Mirage Public Library, he said.

Further on the horizon are Section 19 near Bob Hope Drive and Interstate 10, but once the first phase of that 268-acre tract is developed, sometime around 2016, the impact on Rancho Mirage will be huge. "The River would fit into just a smidgen of that project," Weill said.

Best fit - he was selected from over a dozen applicants to take the council seat vacated when Mayor Pro Tem Gordon Moller died last October.

City Councilman Dana Hobart encouraged him to pursue appointment to the council.

"He's a bright fellow, a very bright fellow, and also has a great background, education and otherwise," Hobart said.

Weill went to the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, and came to California in 1958 to get an MBA at Malibu's Pepperdine University and to work for his uncle, who was president of ABC Entertainment.

During his early success as an ad salesman there, he began to invest in real estate on the side, and in 1963 took off to start his own company.

"What was happening in California then was, there was a population explosion at the same time there was an explosion of inflation," he said, allowing anyone who came into the industry at the right time to be enormously successful.

He went on to develop scores of residential, apartment and RV park complexes throughout the state.

He also helped organize the World Trade Bank of Beverly Hills, then stepped off the board of directors because he feared it could become a conflict of interest with his real estate activities.

Role model - Weill's grandparents had a vacation home in the Coachella Valley, and he'd spent a lot of his own vacation time here before buying his first Rancho Mirage home on Clancy Lane 16 years ago.

A short time later he was having trouble with his neighbor over a wall he was building around the house, and sought help at City Hall.

He was referred to Councilman Alan Seman.

"I was talking to him on the phone and he said, 'OK, I'll be out there in 15 minutes.' I couldn't believe that," Weill said.

Fifteen minutes later they were sloshing around in the mud around the wall, and they became fast friends.

"He was the most devoted public servant I ever met," Weill said.

Seman appointed Weill to his first term on the Planning Commission six years ago. Now Weill is modeling himself after Seman, who died in 2010, ending all of his correspondence to constituents by thanking them for giving him the opportunity to serve.

He's found satisfaction with helping residents by working out some of the smallest kinks, like a mix-up about trash pickup at one of the city's affordable housing complexes. "That's the thing that stimulates me as far as public service is concerned," he said.

The diminutive Weill, who will be 79 in July, is fond of pointing out he works out at the Mission Hills gym at 5 a.m. every morning. He lives with Jenny Barnes, his partner of 12 years and a management analyst for the city of Palm Desert. He has two children and five grandchildren.

Weill said he's planning to seek election to the seat he was appointed to when the city votes next April, as long as he still believes he's able to make a contribution to the city.

"Right now, I feel very comfortable with that," he said.