The City of Palm Springs announced Monday evening that the controversial statue of former Palm Springs Mayor Frank Bogert will be removed from its longtime home in front of city hall on Tuesday morning.
The statue will be transported to the city yard, where it will be stored. The removal of the statue is set to take place at 8 a.m. The Art Collective, a Palm Desert-based fine art services company, has been hired to remove and transport the statue.
The statue is set to be moved one day before a scheduled court hearing at which a lawyer representing the Friends of Frank Bogert group planned to ask for a restraining order that would prevent the city from removing the controversial statue.
The announcement that the city will be removing the statue also comes just three days after an attorney for the Friends of Frank Bogert group that is seeking to keep the statue at city hall filed for a temporary restraining order. A hearing on that restraining order is set for 8:30 a.m., Tuesday in Riverside.
In the filing, attorney Rod Pacheco asks the court to bar the city from moving the statue until the court can hear a lawsuit filed by Pacheco on behalf of the group asking that the statue be left in place. That hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m., June 24.
“The grounds for the TRO are that the City’s stated plan to remove the Bogert statue is being done arbitrarily and capriciously in violation of the City’s Municipal Code, the California Civil Code, and the California Environmental Quality Act,” reads the restraining order filing.
Decision to move statue made in February
In February, the Palm Springs City Council voted unanimously to direct city staff to work with stakeholders to Identify an appropriate location not on city property where the statue could be relocated to. They also directed that if an agreeable location was not found, the statue would be moved to secure storage within 60 days.
That directive was made during a vote in which the city council voted 5-0 to deny an appeal of the Historic Site Preservation Board’s vote to grant a certificate of appropriateness allowing the statue to be moved.
“The City has been, and remains, willing to work with the group to find an appropriate location to place the statue. It will be safely stored until a new location has been determined,” reads the city release announcing the planned moving of the statue.
In April, Pacheco told The Desert Sun that he and members of the Friends of Frank Bogert group had been in conversations with Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton about possible locations. Two possible sites mentioned were the Neuro Vitality Center on East Alejo and Sunrise Park. However, the city and the group were unable to agree on a location because the suggested sites were either too far out of the way, as was the case with the vitality center, or on public land, as was the case with Sunrise Park.
‘They’re sneaking it in before the hearing’
Pacheco told The Desert Sun on Monday evening that it was clear to him that the city was moving quickly to remove the statue before the hearing.
“They’re sneaking in before the hearing and then they’ll go into the hearing and say ‘it’s too late, we already removed it,” Pacheco said.
That move, he said, amounts to “essentially an admission of guilt by the city.”
“They know we’re going to win that hearing for the temporary restraining order so they’re trying to get ahead of the court so that they can, I’m going to call it unethically argue that, ‘hey, that’s no big deal, because we already know the statue,” he said.
However, Pacheco said that there is nothing that would prevent a court from ordering them to put the statue back.
“So if they think they’re getting ahead of the game, they’re actually making a mistake. And they’re admitting essentially, that they don’t want the court to interfere with what they’ve already decided they’re going to do,” he said. “Courts have a way of responding poorly to that kind of stuff.”
Pacheco also said that “this sort of tells you who is leading the city.”
“For them to make a decision like this at the last minute in the dark at night to prevent a judge from doing their job and they don’t even want to go to court, that tells you that they know they’re going to lose and they’re just really unethical people,” he said. “I mean, that’s who we’re dealing with, it’s almost like a criminal enterprise or something. If they believe in America and the justice system, then they shouldn’t have any problem. As I recall, the city attorney was running his mouth about how they were going to win. Well, apparently he doesn’t think they’re going to win. So him and you know, his gang of five are out there trying to prevent the court from even hearing it. I’ve never seen anything like this from elected officials.”
Pacheco said he would be in court at 8:30 a.m. to ask the judge to hear the matter on Tuesday rather than at the scheduled time on Wednesday and prevent the statue from being moved. He said he had attempted to give Palm Springs city attorney Jeff Ballinger notice that he was doing so but Ballinger has not immediately answered his call.
City attorney says plans to remove statue have been in works for days
Ballinger, meanwhile, told The Desert Sun that the decision to move the statue was not sudden but had been in the works for the past several weeks.
“It’s actually not something sudden by any means,” he said. “The city has been working over the last several weeks to put this in place. What’s last minute actually is his motion. It was just filed last Friday.”
Ballinger said the city signed a contract to have the statue moved on May 3, a week before the motion was filed.
“And as you can imagine, the process for getting a contract signed doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “So the city staff has actually been working consistent with the council direction back in February to get that contract in place. And we haven’t heard a single word from Mr. Pacheco in the last two-and-a-half months and so, consistent with the council direction, staff went forward and completed the contract for removal, and then just last Friday he filed his motion and he actually didn’t even serve the lawsuit until today.
“So if there’s anything last minute it’s Pacheco’s filings,” he added.
Ballinger also said that he feels most attorneys in Pacheco’s position would’ve assumed the city was finalizing plans to remove the statue.
“And again if he had been talking to us he would’ve known, but we haven’t heard from his since February,” Ballinger said.
Ballinger said the city had not publicized the date the statue would be moved prior to Monday because it did not think it was appropriate to do so amid litigation.
“The council made it clear kind of what the timeframe was and when it would be happening,” he said. “And in the midst of litigation, there wasn’t something that we felt would be appropriate to publicize and politicize.”
Ballinger said a representative of the city attorney’s office will be in court at 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, although he will be at city hall.
“It is his right to go and ask the court to move it up,” Ballinger said. “But again all this would be unnecessary if you’ve been talking to us and communicating with us.”
Bogert was mayor during Section 14 evictions
Bogert was Palm Springs mayor in the 1950s and ’60s when about 200 people were removed from their homes on Section 14, a parcel of land belonging to members of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. At the time, rules around how long such land could be leased for had recently changed, and the evictions, facilitated by the city, were intended to accelerate the economic development of the property.
The statue came under new scrutiny during the national movement to reconsider the place of statues associated with the Confederacy and other statues that some say depict racist figures following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Last year, the Palm Springs Human Rights Commission issued a resolution recommending that the statue be removed.
“[The statue] is also widely perceived as an offensive and painful public reminder of a legacy of urban renewal that banished the vast majority of people of color from the city limits, and the present realities of systemic racism born out of his mayoral leadership from 1958-1966,” read the resolution.
In Sept. 2021, the Palm Springs City Council voted 5-0 to initiate the process to remove the statue. That process involved multiple hearings at which the Historic Site Preservation Board considered whether city rules governing historic sites allowed for its removal from city hall. The commission ultimately voted 4-2, with one abstention, to issue a certificate allowing the statue to be removed.
During the process, Pacheco has repeatedly argued that the city has run afoul of its own rules governing historic sites, which state that an alteration to a historic site must not “impact or materially impair the character defining features of a historic resource.”
City rules also state that an alteration must “assist in restoring the historic resource to its original appearance.”
Pacheco has pointed to a 2012 resolution stating that the historic designation covers the features and structures located within the streets surrounding the city hall site. He said that indicates the statue is part of the historic resource, and that removing it would inherently detract from the appearance of the resource.
The statue was built by the artist Raymundo Cobo Reyes and placed at city hall in 1990. The city passed a resolution making City Hall a protected historic site in 1996.
Last month, Ballinger told The Desert Sun that the lawsuit filed by Pacheco appeared to be “utterly devoid of any legal merit.”
“I anticipate the city will ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit, and I expect the city will prevail, as it has in other similar cases recently,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate that the petitioners and their attorney are resorting to a frivolous lawsuit like this.”
Ballinger said at the time that he was not aware of any plans to delay the removal of the statue.
This is a developing story that will be updated.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Palm Springs says it will move Frank Bogert statue from city hall to storage Tuesday