Chris Mills graduated from Arizona State University in 1970. After obtaining his license in 1977, Chris founded Christopher S. Mills Architects in Palm Springs and is now a Project Architect with Prest Vuksic Architects. Chris is a highly diversified architect, specializing in Medical, Educational, Office and Multi Family projects. A member of the City Council for the City of Palm Springs, Chris Mills also serves on the Coachella Valley Mountain Conservancy and the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission. His hobbies include spending time with his family, playing softball, golf and cheering on the Lakers and Angels.
Chris, what do you see as your role on the Council (where you’ve served since 2001)—what do you bring to the table?
CM: I’m an architect which gives me design and planning tools unique to our council. I was a planning commissioner for 10 years for Palm Springs prior to my election to council as well. I know the zoning ordinance and the development process and, as a 51-year resident, bring a wealth of institutional knowledge and understanding of the hows and whys of our City.
How have you seen Palm Springs change since you founded your eponymous firm here in 1977?
CM: We were blessed with prior councils who created an infrastructure for growth in our City. I have seen this City follow a controlled and quality growth cycle to blossom into what we are just beginning to experience in our downtown now. We have created an atmosphere that people want to be a part of whether as a visitor or a resident.
In addition to your service on the City Council, you serve with Mayor Pougnet on the City’s Downtown Subcommittee and have been involved in the Downtown Revitalization Plan. The Desert Fashion Plaza was recently demolished, and I understand that a new outdoor mall and events venue will be going up in the heart of downtown along with a new Kimpton Hotel. Can you tell me more about that as well as what else is in the works for this project?
CM: The heart of our downtown had been dying a slow death since 1992; the new downtown will be a vibrant hub of activity with plenty of shade and misting to enjoy the Palm Springs experience year-round. It will be pedestrian-oriented and will open up new vistas to our mountains and the Palm Springs Art Museum. The entire street system can be closed to vehicular traffic allowing many varying configurations to accommodate any type of street event. An “event space,” which will double as a park, can seat up to 5000. It’s nestled between the Art Museum and the retail corridor—which will be the extension of Belardo Road. This space along with 1200 parking spaces of the old Desert Fashion Plaza and the new streets are owned by the citizens of Palm Springs.
I understand you’re also working on bringing some additional recreation space to the City in the form of an additional park. What amenities would this park include and where would it be located?
CM: There is a need to divide our soccer and baseball/softball fields. They have shared the same grass for too long—the grass never gets an opportunity to grow and both sports suffer. I am working to create a new major recreation area to allow the separation of these two important activities for our youth and adults as well. The potential locations are being evaluated—look for some news in the very near future.
You also mentioned acquiring additional open space for the City. What area would this be in, and would this be maintained as open space in perpetuity?
CM: This council has strived to preserve the Chino Cone (Tramway) while still respecting the rights of property owners. The City, with the help of the Friends of the Palm Springs Mountains and the Coachella Valley Mountain Conservancy, has acquired over 230 acres in the cone abutting North Palm Canyon Drive. This, coupled with our existing 3000 acres of hillside open space, is held as open space in perpetuity. We are working to acquire much more in the area of the old Shadowrock Property and have set aside Measure J funds for that purpose.
Can you comment on the ongoing usage of Measure J funds? I understand that current council made an agreement during the election that these funds will be exclusively used for infrastructure improvements. Is this still the case?
CM: Infrastructure improvements, the Desert Fashion Plaza property purchase, and quality of life issues for our citizens—Measure J taxes go directly to the general fund but are tracked separately as directed by the current council. These dollars can be used for anything ,but this council has chosen to dedicate these funds for the uses previously described. At times that interpretation can be stretched, but I think it is quite simple and intend to keep it simple.
What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing Palm Springs today in regard to public safety?
CM: It’s keeping fully staffed during tough economic times, and providing our police and fire personnel the tools to do their jobs to the highest degree possible.
How do you believe we can best retain the essential character of Palm Springs and still address key issues around infrastructure, tourism, and growth?
CM: Our character is reflected in our architecture, planning and lifestyles, just to name a few. We need to retain and enhance the quality of development and continue controlled growth as outlined in the current general plan. Our infrastructure is basically fine but tired—it needs updating and maintenance, which is long overdue (yay for Measure J). As for tourism: know your market and go after it.
Chris, how would you like your legacy to be remembered in Palm Springs? What do you view as your crowning achievements thus far?
CM: Tough question. Being an architect, I like to think that the quality of our City projects is a little bit better because of my input—the convention center, airport and animal shelter and our new downtown are all projects I certainly take pride in, not as being the architect but as directing the architect to reach a little further. The other not-so-tangible achievement is my involvement in shaping our Neighborhood Organizations—this has bonded our City together in ways I never thought possible.
What is the future you’d most like to see for Palm Springs?
CM: Vibrancy, activity, quality of life, diversity and beauty…a place everybody knows and wants to be associated with.
What’s the best thing and the worst thing about serving on the City Council?
CM: The best thing is being involved in the shaping of the City I love now and into the future and knowing that a majority of the citizens agree with me. The worst thing is campaigning.
Chris Mills, why do you feel so passionately about the City of Palm Springs?
CM: My grandparents moved here in 1933 and were involved in its formation—they loved it. My mother grew up here and married my father here and they loved it. Palm Springs was very much a part of developing my desire to be an architect. I have lived here for 51 years now and raised my family here, I guess it must be hereditary.