CVIndependent

Sun12092018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

All four of the Rancho Mirage candidates whom the Independent spoke to about CV Link—the 50-mile bike, pedestrian and low-speed electric-vehicle path that, if completed, would connect all eight of the Coachella Valley’s cities—say it’s a dead issue, because the residents of Rancho Mirage overwhelmingly voted against the proposed Rancho Mirage portion two years ago.

And then the candidates keep talking—indicating the issue may not be so dead after all.

Another indication the issue is not so dead: It’s been the most contentious topic so far in the city campaign. Candidate Michael Harrington filed a complaint against incumbent Dana Hobart after Hobart claimed in an email that the three challengers to the incumbents all want to bring the issue back up—perhaps due to the influence of former Goldenvoice chief operating officer Skip Paige, who is in a relationship with candidate Kate Spates.

Both Harrington and Spates have denied Hobart’s claims.

Here’s what four candidates told us when asked where they stand on CV Link. Hobart declined to talk to the Independent, while incumbent Charles Townsend Vinci ended our interview before we could ask him about CV Link.

Robert Mueller: “The CV Link is a big deal, and it’s been a very contentious deal. I think the way that the City Council has handled it has caused the city to become an island. The CV Link was put on the ballot for a vote by the city’s residents, and it was overwhelmingly defeated, with 79 percent of voters coming out against it. I think the voters see it as an externally imposed and expensive disruption without any redeeming benefit. I have no intention of questioning the wisdom of Rancho Mirage voters. They’ve indicated their preference clearly, and I’m not going to try to change their minds. Some candidates may try to make it a campaign issue, but considering that the voters have already indicated their preference, I think that discussing CV Link in the context of this election is an unhelpful academic exercise.”

Michael Harrington: “The Rancho Mirage voters have voted it down, and they’ve said they don’t want it, so it would have to go on the ballot again. I think some of the concerns are about cost and how to apportion those costs. I don’t look at the city in terms of the one issue of CV Link, but somehow, it has become more than just another issue. It’s become some sort of pivotal point where it’s almost become irrational. The incumbents portray it as a threat that will destroy our community. I think that’s irrational. It’s another project, and you look at it rationally and civilly with transparency. But again, the citizens voted it down. I’m open to looking at it again, but I’m not the agent for CV Link. It’s just another project to look at going forward. I’ve reached out to (the Coachella Valley Association of Governments) to discuss with them what might be done with a new City Council. What about having a bike path only in Rancho Mirage? What about cooperating with the people who want to go through our city using CV Link? We need a bike path anyway. I don’t think our bike paths now are really all that good, but we can cooperate with other cities because the riders are going to want to come through here. CVAG is not sharing our trails because of this stand-off. I’d like to look at options to cooperate with the project, even though Rancho Mirage doesn’t want the whole CV Link package, with electric cars and all that. There must be a compromise or a solution, and I’d like to work on it. But I’m not personally promoting the CV Link.”

Kate Spates: “I support the will of the people, and they’ve decided that CV Link should not run through Rancho Mirage. I’m a firm believer in democracy. So, if a wave of people decides to bring it back up, then that’s the only way it’s going to be a part of the discussion. If you ask me, it’s history, and we need to stop talking about it. Although I do receive a large amount of e-mails and calls, and hear voices of support for CV Link, I’m not sure who I’m not hearing from. There have been only a few people who have said, ‘If you’re for the CV Link, then I’m not for you.’ So let me assure (the voters) that there’s not one lone person who can revive the CV Link. And even if all five City Council members decided all of a sudden that we wanted it back, it’s still in the hands of the voters.”

Iris Smotrich (incumbent): “My biggest concerns, and the biggest concerns of the people I talk to, are public safety and property protection. I have to tell you that as a mother and a grandmother and a former chairwoman of the CVAG Public Safety Committee, I’ve heard many concerns through the last four years regarding crime, and accidents, and law-enforcement monitoring, and residential privacy. You have to remember that, according to CVAG’s projections, there will be a huge traffic flow on this roadway, and most travel will be near or in the wash, where there are a lot of communities built. Many of my friends and neighbors and our constituents think there are a lot of problems just waiting to happen. One of the biggest concerns is about homeless encampments. All you have to do is look online at (what’s happened around) similar roadways in the Bay Area, the L.A. River, the American River and the Santa Ana River, and it’s not a nice or a healthy sight to see. It’s heartbreaking, and with this roadway, there (would be) a lot of crime opportunity, drug problems, a lot of health concerns, and privacy issues, especially in the backyards and with windows exposed to the traffic flow of complete strangers going by. I can’t imagine anyone who knows all the details … wanting or agreeing to have any of this. It’s a very difficult situation, and I’m very opposed to it. But we’re going to do an environmental impact study on it for $150,000, even though our residents voted against it, because, someday, things may change. We listen to our constituents, and we listen to our visitors. We want the best for our residents, our businesses and our visitors.”

Published in Politics

The closing of Roy’s Resource Center in North Palm Springs—what was the western Coachella Valley’s only shelter for the homeless—has thrown many people onto the streets, and Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG) is trying to act.

However, on June 20, the Desert Hot Springs City Council voted against a proposed program that would offer 12 rental properties across the west valley for up to 90 days to those who are homeless or at risk for homelessness. The council decided to revisit the issue in September.

The proposed program is a collaboration between CVAG and Path of Life Ministries. Desert Hot Springs City Councilmember Russell Betts said that he doesn’t feel the program is a good idea.

“They keep deflecting to, ‘Oh, this is just trading a home for anyone who you’d love to have as a neighbor,” Betts said. “That’s the rapid rehousing portion of it. The part that is really objectionable is the emergency housing component: That’s where homeless (people) straight off the street get put into a house in a residential neighborhood. It’s basically putting a homeless shelter in the middle of a residential neighborhood—only it’s a homeless house instead of a homeless shelter.”

Cheryll Dahlin, the CVAG management analyst, said CVAG would continue to work with the city of Desert Hot Springs while implementing the program in Palm Springs and Cathedral City.

“The representative on the Homeless Committee for Desert Hot Springs is Councilmember Joe McKee, and he’s been very supportive of this. But he did inform us at our last meeting that he would vote ‘no’ based on the decision of his council,” Dahlin said. “The city has traditionally not contributed toward Roy’s Resource Center, and we are going to continue our outreach with the city to address any questions they might have about the program. … Our staff recommendation and the recommendation from the Homeless Committee is that we focus on getting services up and running in Palm Springs and Cathedral City.

“Councilmember Ginny Foat, of Palm Springs, and Councilmember Mark Carnevale, of Cathedral City, have been very supportive. The city of Palm Springs has put in their budget about $103,000 for this program, which was the requested amount … we made to each city in the Coachella Valley for Roy’s Resource Center. Cathedral City has put up half of that amount, and the other half will be discussed at a future meeting.”

Desert Hot Springs resident Judy Shea has tried to help by opening a rental property to house homeless veterans in Desert Hot Springs. Shea, who said she would speak to the Independent after the City Council meeting, had not returned post-meeting phone messages as of our press deadline.

Betts is not a fan of Shea’s efforts.

“Eight years ago, she volunteered that same facility as an overnight cold shelter,” Betts said about Shea. “She went down to CVAG back then and offered it, and they took her up on it. It got red-tagged because … it was an unsafe building. They had 40 people staying there, with buses sitting out front of it, idling overnight. At 5 a.m., people would go there to pick them up and take them back down to Cathedral City or wherever else in the west valley, and bring them back again later. … It got shut down, and that was right around the time that Roy’s Resource Center was getting ready to open. They moved everyone down there.”

According to DHS city officials, Shea once owned a home in Glendale and did work on it without permits; the property was eventually seized by Los Angeles County. Betts said that Shea has been doing the same thing to the property she has in Desert Hot Springs.

“She wants to put 40 people in there again. She said at the meeting that it wouldn’t be all veterans, but maybe other homeless,” Betts said. “She’s once again trying to operate a homeless shelter in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The worst thing is she has not pulled any permits. It’s common sense that when you do work on your house, you have to go to City Hall and file for a permit to go start doing this work, and an inspector goes out and has a look at it. She just started working with volunteers.”

At the June 20 DHS City Council meeting, several residents expressed concern about Shea’s efforts. Marjorie Snell was worried because Shea’s proposed location was close to an assisted-living facility.

“Caring for veterans requires trained professionals who deal with PTSD, alcoholism, addiction and anger management,” she said.

Betts also said DHS’ location on the outskirts of the Coachella Valley make it a poor location for a homeless shelter. One of the downfalls of Roy’s was its middle-of-nowhere location.

“Let’s say that you get someone; they get stabilized, and now it’s time that they go look for work,” Betts said. “They’re not going to have a car, and they’re going to have to ride the SunBus. Anyone in Desert Hot Springs knows that it can be a 2 1/2 hour ride to get to your job. It used to be 2 1/2 hours just to get to College of the Desert. If Roy’s was too remote, downtown Desert Hot Springs is even more remote. We’re six miles further away. It’s real nice that everyone wants to push this off on Desert Hot Springs, but we have so many challenges here.”

Dahlin conceded that the location of Roy’s played a role in the decision to repurpose the building into a long-term care facility for adults with mental illness.

“The location of Roy’s Resource Center was a much debated topic. I think if you talk to Ginny Foat, she’d tell you about the challenges we had over locations back then,” Dahlin said. “As we embark on what we’d be doing in this next phase, we’ve discussed some possible locations for shelters, and you do run into questions and concerns from the city and the neighborhood when you talk about a physical building. The biggest upside to Roy’s re-purposing is that it’s a long-term board-and-care facility, so the need for daily transportation has been eliminated. You don’t have clients coming in and out every day.”

Published in Local Issues

Despite a growing economy and decreasing unemployment, the homeless population in the Coachella Valley is expanding—at an alarming rate.

The annual Riverside County “point in time” count in January showed the homeless population had increased from 1,351 unsheltered and 814 sheltered individuals in 2016, to 1,638 unsheltered and 775 sheltered in 2017.

The Coachella Valley cities had 297 homeless individuals in 2016—and 425 individuals in 2017. Another alarming fact: The number of homeless individuals locally without shelter is about to rise, because Roy’s Resource Center, the only shelter for the homeless on the west end of the Coachella Valley, is slated to close at the end of June.

The beleaguered facility in North Palm Springs is shutting its doors largely because some local city governments have not been paying their share to keep Roy’s financially solvent. Before the center opened in 2009, all nine Coachella Valley cities agreed to give $100,000 a year in support. While Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert and Indio have upheld their ends of the bargain, more or less, the other cities have not. In fact, the city of La Quinta has given nothing to Roy’s, although it has given financial support to Martha’s Village and Kitchen and the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission.

Sabby Jonathan, the mayor pro tem of Palm Desert, is the chair of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments’ Homelessness Committee. He explained the reasons behind the closure of Roy’s Resource Center.

“The services and management for Roy’s are being provided by Jewish Family Services of San Diego, and they notified CVAG and the county last year that they wouldn’t be renewing the contract when it terminates on June 30,” Jonathan said. “The reason is for the last several years, they’ve been contributing about $100,000 a year to fund the annual deficit. As service providers, they’re supposed to be getting paid, not putting money in.

“When they announced they weren’t going to renew their contract, we searched for different service providers, and none came forward. The county made a decision to convert that facility as a long-term mental-health facility.”

Jonathan tried to put a positive spin on the conversion, despite the significant loss in services for the homeless.

“It won’t be Roy’s, but it will still be a facility out there in that location providing different services,” he said. “That’s really a plus for the community, because we don’t have that kind of facility (for mental-health services) in the desert at this time, and we really need it. The key will be to replace the services that Roy’s was providing—specifically, housing for 90-plus people.”

The closure will undoubtedly lead to a significant increase in the number of unsheltered homeless—at the time of year when shelter is needed most.

“We just had a ‘point in time’ count, and it shows that if we look at the nine valley cities, the increase in homelessness in the Coachella Valley is 43 percent: We went from 297 to 425. That’s huge. If Roy’s closes down, and we have no provision for the 90 people it currently houses, the increase is even more dramatic, because we’re talking about going from 297 to 515, and that’s crazy. We are at a crisis point, and we absolutely need to come together and replace that facility.”

However, a quick and easy replacement is not in the cards. On April 19, the CVAG Homelessness Committee approved something called the West Valley Housing Navigation Program. The plan, which is not finalized, includes a mixture of diversion and prevention programs.

It does not, however, include a new west side shelter.


On the east side of the Coachella Valley, the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and Martha’s Village provide services to the homeless—but after the loss of Roy’s, there will be no service providers on the west side, even though more and more homeless people are located in the western Coachella Valley.

“We need to make sure there is housing for those people and more on the west end of the valley,” Jonathan (pictured) said. “The homeless population went from 138 on the west end of the valley to 225; that is Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs and Cathedral City. That’s a 63 percent increase in homelessness on the west end of the valley. We can’t ignore that. We need to create housing for those people. It needs to be on the west end and can’t be on the east end in Indio or in the central valley. It needs to be where they are, and they’re on the west end of the valley—225 out of 425 total.”

Jonathan said the middle-of-nowhere location of Roy’s also played a part in its demise.

“The intent of Roy’s was to create a homeless shelter on the west side of the valley. Unfortunately, while it was well-intentioned, it was doomed to failure due to the lack of transportation,” he said. “That drained over $300,000 from the annual budget just to get the folks back and forth, because (Roy’s) was closed during the day: The residents would be transported to Palm Springs during the day and brought back. That meant that Roy’s Resource Center had to own, operate and maintain a fleet of buses. We’ve learned the lesson, and now our efforts are focused on working with the cities on the west end to create housing in one or more of those locations.”

Of course, due to NIMBY-ism, residents have long fought the presence of homeless shelters near their homes and businesses.

Many have questioned whether or not the homeless situation can be fixed. However, Jonathan offered a couple of success stories.

“It’s true that you can’t eliminate it completely, but you absolutely can make a dent and improve the situation,” Jonathan said. “In the city of Riverside, homelessness among veterans has virtually been eliminated. That’s important, and that’s proof that success, at least in part, can be attained.”

A program in Indio has shown promise as well.

“Another case in point is the program utilized in the city of Indio known as CORP (Community Outreach Resource Program), which is a program that takes homeless people and puts them through a process that is six to nine months, which includes job-training. Health issues and addiction issues are addressed. If they graduate, their case is brought in front of a tribunal, which includes a sitting judge, and representation from the district attorney’s office, probation office and the sheriff’s department. Any outstanding warrants and fines are rescinded. That allows for any homeless person to escape that cycle and re-enter society. Without that, they have debt over their head; they can’t get a driver’s license, and they can’t drive to a job interview. It’s next to impossible.

“Just in the last three or so years this program has been going on in Indio, there have been 91 participants, and 89 have graduated and have had their warrants and fines removed. None of those 89 have returned to homelessness.”


Scott Wolf, the development manager at the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission in Indio, said the mission has seen an increase in the need for housing and shelter.

“We’re completely full,” Wolf said. “We’re always limited in resources, and primarily limited in the beds that we have available. We only have so many beds that we can fill. There are people out there still looking for places, and we cannot absorb everybody.”

Jonathan reiterated that there need to be resources for the homeless on the west side of the valley—and that city governments valley-wide need to address the situation.

“(East valley cities and organizations) are taking on the burden, and that cannot continue,” he said. … “We believe that to be effective in regard to homeless, this valley needs to implement a regional, holistic approach. We can’t have every city on its own taking everyone (who is homeless) down to the Indio jail, and taking four hours of a deputy’s time. Those people are back out on the street immediately, because there’s no room to put them in jail. We’ve done nothing to stop wasting deputies’ time, and nothing to reduce homelessness. … We’re recommending that all cities adopt the CORP program and any other programs that would be effective in their cities, and that we all work together in that regard.”

I asked Jonathan why Coachella Valley cities seem to have a difficult time working together. He expressed optimism that the cities can and will improve their efforts.

“I can’t comment on the inner workings of individual cities, because I’m not familiar with the individual challenges they are facing. But I will say that the way that we are dealing with homelessness in general nationwide has evolved in a positive way,” he said. “We are learning how to be more effective. That’s what the Coachella Valley Association of Governments is for—to work together and figure out how to address problems that are common to all of us, that can only be solved by working together.

“A homeless person, by definition, is not a resident of Palm Springs or Indio; in fact, they move around. If one city makes it uncomfortable to be in their city, they don’t disappear; they go somewhere else, such as the next city over. Part of the evolution in how to better address homelessness is that we can’t work on this issue individually. We need to work on it together, and that’s what’s happening in our valley.”

Published in Local Issues

Initial steps toward building an alternative-transportation corridor for valley residents are being taken—without specifics on a potentially costly variable.

The Coachella Valley Association of Governments, the organization spearheading efforts to construct the Whitewater River Parkway, has secured grants from various sources worth as much as $49.4 million, according to Mike Shoberg, CVAG transportation program manager.

An exact accounting isn't possible, Shoberg said, because the Desert Healthcare District has pledged "up to $10 million." The tally includes a $17.4 million contribution from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which was charged with doling out $53 million in pollution-mitigation fees stemming from the construction of the Sentinel power plant near Desert Hot Springs.

The project, also known as the Parkway 1e11, is envisioned as a 52-mile paved path for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers of small, low-speed electric vehicles. It would wind its way through nine cities, from Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs in the west, to Coachella in the east.

Last year, CVAG issued a preliminary report on the parkway, with critics attacking several aspects of its proposed benefits as overly optimistic. The report found no insurmountable obstacles to the parkway's construction.

Since then, engineers have been prepping master plans and analyzing the parkway's potential course.

"We're in the design phase right now, basically," Shoberg said.

The biggest question mark hanging over the project, which CVAG estimates will cost approximately $77 million, is how easily and at what price rights of way can be negotiated with the many landowners impacted by its construction. Indeed, last year's preliminary report noted the "complicated land ownership, lease and easement arrangements" posed by the parkway's path, and budgeted some $8.48 million for land acquisitions.

"I've not had the opportunity to review CVAG's estimated cost analysis on this particular component, but, yes, theoretically it could cost more, and only very rarely will it cost less," wrote Gretchen Gutierrez, chief executive officer of the Desert Valley Builders Association, in an email. "The variable is the number of landowners (her emphasis) that would be willing to sell/donate or by some other means have CVAG acquire the necessary parcels so that it is a continuous land mass along the trail plan."

Any landowners who are unable to be located or are holdouts would likely inflate costs, according to Gutierrez.

"If that number of landowners is large, and I suspect it may be given the size and acreage of the overall trail, then, yes, there will be extensive negotiations involved during the entire process of development," she wrote.

CVAG Executive Director Tom Kirk wouldn't comment on land-acquisition specifics, saying they're not in that phase of the plan yet—and probably won't be until well into next year.

"Engineers are doing an extensive review of every square inch to understand ownership issues," Kirk said.

But Kirk did address another issue relating to rights of way: The fact that the trail would cut into tribal lands, adding another layer of complexity to negotiations.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, these lands are held in trust by the federal government, and any agreement on rights of way must be approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The department's website advises those wishing to obtain rights of way for transportation projects to allow sufficient time for requests to work their way through bureaucracy.

"Negotiations for right of way over tribal lands have become increasingly complex and often include issues not directly related to the acquisition process itself," the department's website reads. "As a result, some state departments of transportation have encountered increased difficulty in completing the acquisition of right-of-way easements over Native American lands in a timely manner."

According to Kirk, the problems posed by acquiring tribal land were more of "a time-related complication" than a "cost-related" one.

But surely time is money—especially when it comes to transportation projects.

"Time is money—that said, the project is a 52-mile project, and we're not going to construct it in one day," he added. "It'll be done in phases."

Kirk said a small percentage of the parkway would cross tribal lands, and that most—if not all—of that land belongs to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, a CVAG member.

"We've enjoyed a long and positive relationship with them," he said.

A representative of the Agua Caliente tribe, who was away in Washington, D.C., didn't respond to a request for comment.

One more issue with potential monetary implications also relates to safety. At least one critic has asserted that the parkway's course would expose golfing communities—some of which have fairways extending into the Whitewater riverbed—to theft. Kirk said he didn't expect the path to force closed communities to open up.

"There are legitimate concerns about public safety," he said, "and we'll have to address that during the design process."

Kirk said parkway users’ watchful eyes would discourage crime, adding that it was more likely for someone to drive into a community for the purposes of stealing than to scale a wall.

"Putting a 55-inch HDTV into your knapsack and riding away with it on a path is not as practical as driving away with it," he said.

Last year's CVAG report stated that "enforcement of parkway rules will be important for user safety," which Kirk emphasized was oriented more toward enforcing traffic violations than other public-safety concerns.

"Rangers would likely be required to police the over 50 miles or proposed parkway," the report continued.

That may add to the woes of the federal Bureau of Land Management—the agency law-enforcement rangers work for—which has already been stretched thin from budget cuts.

"There are never enough rangers to cover approximately 11 million acres of public land in the Southern California desert," wrote Stephen Razo, director of external affairs for the BLM California Desert District, in an email. Still, Razo added, law enforcement is given a "high priority" when it comes to staffing.

For his part, Kirk again emphasized the importance of eagle-eyed residents packing cell phones.

"I sure hope, frankly, that's not necessary," he said about ranger patrols. "Most trails don't have dedicated rangers—they rely more on a thousand people out there with phones. The more eyes you have in the community, the better."

Published in Local Issues

We’re getting older. We’re getting more Hispanic. And we’re getting a heck of a lot bigger.

Those are the conclusions that can be drawn from a series recently released Coachella Valley growth projections. The state of California earlier this year released statewide figures broken down by county, and the folks at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) were kind enough to release brand-new Coachella Valley-specific projections to the Independent.

The numbers are striking: SCAG projects that while there were 443,000 people in what the association classifies as the Coachella Valley in 2008, there will be 604,000 of us in 2020—just seven short years away. And in 2035, there will be 884,000 of us.

“When you think of our growth over the years, it’s been slow and steady,” said Cathedral City Councilmember Greg Pettis, who also sits on the boards of SCAG and the Riverside County Transportation Commission. “This is an explosion.”

That explosion will largely take place in the East Valley. While the population of every city in the valley is projected to grow by at least 20 percent, Indio is expected to grow from 73,300 people in 2008 to 111,800 in 2035—a 53 percent expansion.

However, the projected growth in Coachella makes Indio’s growth look quaint: The city of 38,200 people in 2008 is expected to balloon to 70,200 in 2020, and 128,700 in 2035, making it the valley’s largest city. (For what it’s worth, the city of Coachella is updating its general plan, and documents show that city officials there are projecting 155,000 people by 2035.)

But the biggest growth won’t happen in any city at all. The unincorporated areas of the valley are expected to see half of all the population growth between 2008 and 2035: While 87,500 people lived in the Coachella Valley’s unincorporated areas in 2008, a whopping 308,600 people will be in those areas in 2035. A SCAG map shows that much of this expansion in unincorporated areas will take place north of Interstate 10 and in the areas south and west of Coachella.

The projections from SCAG and the state show that as we grow, the Coachella Valley’s percentage of Latinos will rise, while the percentage of “non-Hispanic whites” will fall.

Meanwhile, we’ll get older, too. State figures show that Riverside County will be leading California in terms of growth rate. Expanding the timeframe out a bit, these state figures show that between 2010 and 2060, Riverside County’s population will expand by 92 percent (with the Coachella Valley growing at a higher rate than the rest of the county). However, seniors will see the highest percentage of growth: The number of people age 65 to 74 in Riverside County is expected to grow by 210 percent; the number of people between 75 and 84 by 255 percent; and people 85 and older by a whopping 531 percent.

While projections definitely can be wrong—the Great Recession, for example, blew holes in some earlier projections—it’s clear that our little valley will go through a whole lot of change over the next generation.

Reasons for Optimism

The good news is that local leaders said they’re working to prepare for this “explosion,” and in some ways, we’re ahead of the curve.

For example, when it comes to area’s roadways, we’re doing OK.

“So far, we’ve been able to keep up with growth and traffic,” said Tom Kirk, the executive director of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments. “This time of year, some of our roadways are taxed, because we have so many visitors, but our roads are still far less congested than in Los Angeles and other urban areas. We’ve done a good job of keeping up with that.”

He pointed to the fact that Riverside County voters approved—and renewed—a half-cent sales tax measure that funds transportation projects as one reason the valley’s roadways remain relatively viable, and said that impact fees on new developments have—and will continue to—provide funding for new roads.

Pettis noted that Interstate 10 has seen a steady series of interchange improvements, and that there’s a possibility of more new or expanded interchanges, including ones at Da Vall Drive, Landau Boulevard and Jefferson Street.

Kirk also brought up moves that area governments are making to go beyond vehicle-based transportation. Specifically, he mentioned the proposed Whitewater River Parkway, a bike/pedestrian/“neighborhood electric vehicle” pathway—46 miles, at an estimated $70 million cost—that would connect all of the valley’s cities.

“It’s a big part of our plan to move people from point A to point B,” Kirk said.

Kirk also said he feels that the valley is well-prepared to handle the increase in water needs that will come with a large increase in population, noting that the Coachella Valley Water District and other area agencies have long-term commitments to secure the water supply.

“Also, we tend to use less water in newer developments than older developments,” Kirk said.

The recent Coachella Valley Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, prepared by the Coachella Valley Regional Water Management Group, examines many of the water issues facing the valley, and comes up with a comprehensive plan for our water supply. The plan does ring some warning bells, though, including the fact that our local aquifers are decreasing due to over-pumping, and that projected Colorado River water may not be available due to drought and climate change.

Speaking of comprehensive planning, the city of Coachella is putting the finishing touches on its general plan update. Luis Lopez, the city’s community development director, said the plan is the blueprint for the city’s much-larger future.

I asked him: Is the city of Coachella ready to become the valley’s largest?

“As a small-city government, we need to grow and mature and sophisticate into a large city,” Lopez said.

Lopez added that the city is working hard on transportation matters, to make sure future residents will be able to get around the area. He said city planners are putting an emphasis on making streets more pedestrian-friendly, and improving access to public transit.

Officials are also preparing for new developments, such as La Entrada, a 7,800-home project located south of Interstate 10 and east of Highway 86.

“It’s basically like a new town up there,” he said. “We need to create connectivity with the project.”

Causes for Concern

Of course, with growth comes change. Lopez conceded that as more and more agricultural land is gobbled up by homes and development, his small, agricultural town will cease to be so small and agricultural.

“Currently, we’re more rural, with more open space. As those areas become urbanized, there will be a significant change in character,” Lopez said.

Of course, character is just one of many potential worrisome changes. For one thing, less agricultural land means less agricultural business.

And speaking of business: If the size of the valley doubles, where will all these newcomers work?

Pettis cited employment as a potential problem. He said that if plans and proposals to expand College of the Desert (presuming the college can ever get beyond a recent series of scandals and misdeeds) and the Palm Desert campus of the California State University at San Bernardino could come to fruition, that would be a great start. He also said community leaders need to look at expanding the health-care industry (especially considering the increase in the senior population) and getting “some kind of manufacturing” into the desert.

“It needs to be a focus,” he said.

Speaking of a focus, everyone the Independent spoke to agrees that the valley needs to keep the money train that is tourism on track. Pettis is especially hopeful about a proposed (and long-delayed) resort hotel in downtown Cathedral City that he said could bring 500 to 600 jobs.

However, the valley may not need as many jobs, per se, if there were greater rail connectivity to the rest of Southern California. Housing is cheaper in the Coachella Valley than it is in much of Los Angeles and Orange counties, so more people who have jobs in those metropolitan areas could decide to make the commute if the commute were cheaper and easier than it is now.

Both Pettis and Kirk talked up the importance of twice-a-day, seven-day-a-week rail service to Riverside, Orange County and Los Angeles; currently, Amtrak offers only three days of service between Palm Springs and Los Angeles—and the train arrives in North Palm Springs at the ungodly time of 12:36 a.m.

“We have a lot of people traveling (from the Coachella Valley) to Riverside or Moreno Valley every day,” Pettis said. “Well, they’re stuck on the freeways now.”

Finally, Kirk said that the concern that figuratively keeps him up at night is a problem that neither he nor other local leaders can control.

“I do believe for those of us who live in and love the state of California, there’s much that worries me. There are systematic, big picture concerns” when it comes to state government, especially when it comes to funding education and infrastructure, he said.

The Great Unknowns

One of the more interesting aspects of the projected growth involves the fact that so much of it is expected to happen in unincorporated areas. As mentioned above, as of 2008, 87,500 people—or not quite 20 percent of the 443,000 people that lived within the Coachella Valley Association of Governments’ jurisdiction (which, for some reason, includes the Blythe area)—lived outside of an incorporated area.

In 2035, that number is projected to be 308,600, or 35 percent of the total population of 884,000.

In the past, when a large number of people moved into an unincorporated area, the residents would often band together to incorporate and create a new town or city, or an adjacent city would annex the area. However, “the game is different today,” Kirk said, considering that governments at all levels—and especially at the state and county levels—are navigating through financial problems.

“I think it’d be a struggle for a new city to be formed, and a very big challenge for older cities to expand,” Kirk said. “That means the challenge is going to fall upon the county’s shoulders to service these populations.”

That’s not to say that the area’s cities don’t have expansion plans—for example, Coachella is planning some annexation of land involving the La Entrada development, Lopez said, and Pettis noted that Cathedral City has designs on the Thousand Palms area. Still, it’s safe to say that many of the largest-growing areas in the valley will wind up unincorporated.

The biggest concern that the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has about this extra burden is finding qualified law-enforcement officials to handle it all—especially if growth comes quickly.

“Deputy sheriffs and correctional deputies are required to meet strict requirements to ensure they can handle the demands of a career in law enforcement. The hiring process for a new deputy sheriff can take between eight and 12 months, with another year of training. The skill level and experience takes even longer to achieve, so you need to consider the lead time necessary to reach the intended goal,” wrote Riverside County Chief Deputy Rodney Vigue, in response to an emailed list of questions from the Independent.

These requirements, when combined with the projected growth explosion, have Vigue concerned.

“Less than 1 percent of the candidates who apply for a deputy sheriff position are hired, and all the agencies in the Coachella Valley and throughout the state are competing against each other for the same candidates,” Vigue wrote.

Vigue, like Kirk, expressed concerns about the state’s financial picture.

“The unforeseen impacts the state may have on existing funding sources and any future cuts have the potential to force local communities to evaluate budget priorities,” Vigue wrote. “For example, the recent influx of state prisoners into the county correctional facilities and into our communities, as a result of the state corrections realignment, has strained local obligations. This impact is not only being felt from a county perspective, jail-overcrowding and a rise in crime, but also from each city that is trying to make the community safer. The shift from state responsibility to the county has strained an already overburdened correctional system, which will take years of planning and funding to overcome.”

So, in other words, as the Coachella Valley gets older, more Hispanic and a heck of a lot bigger, don’t expect everything to be smooth sailing.

“The department will need to look toward innovative programs, technology and volunteers to assist with controlling crime and maintaining the quality of life we currently enjoy in the Coachella Valley,” Vigue wrote.

Published in Local Issues