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Palm Spring says proposed campus is too small

College of the Desert wants to build a campus in Palm Springs, something the city has wanted for a long time. But what’s being proposed now isn’t satisfactory, according to city officials.

 

Palm Springs officials have responded to the College of The Desert’s latest proposal for a long-planned campus in their city, one that would be considerably smaller than what school officials have proposed in the past.

In a detailed account posted on the city’s website, Palm Springs officials let it be known that College of the Desert’s latest proposal for a West Valley campus – something Palm Springs has long wanted to see developed within its borders – as planned won’t come close to serving the needs of the Coachella Valley.

The headline to the 1,006-word piece sums up Palm Springs’s dissatisfaction: The Incredibly Shrinking COD West Valley Campus.

“College of the Desert officials have presented a dramatically scaled down project, and now they appear determined to build a campus of just 114,000 square feet to be located at the site of the former Palm Springs Mall, with a projected of 2027-28,” the statement reads. “By that time, nearly 20 years will have passed since College of the Desert voted in 2007 to select Palm Springs for its West Valley Campus.

“This is unacceptable.”

The statement notes that buildings cover only one-sixth of the proposed 27-acre campus site and that College of the Desert officials halted work on the campus schematic one year ago when it was only half finished.

Martha Garcia, school superintendent and board of trustee president, said the work was stopped because no feasibility study had been done. When told that a feasibility study had been completed, Garcia declared that an updated feasibility study was needed before any decisions could be made, according to the statement.

“As the years stretch into decades, the size of the campus continues to shrink and students continue to lose educational opportunities.

“In fact, the concepts … are vastly different than what was originally promised to the community.”

College of the Desert officials discussed their latest campus proposal during a virtual community forum held Aug. 4, not long after Palm Springs made a proposal designed to break an 11-year stalemate regarding the development of the campus.

The city offered to pay $5.7 million for 120 acres owned by the college at the northwest corner of Tramview Road and Indian Canyon Drive. It would then donate back to the college for the construction of the campus.

Since the mid-2000s, Palm Springs officials have envisioned developing the campus on the north side of the city, an area with many low-income residents. Many of those residents would not only be able to get some education, but they would also be helped by job opportunities a college campus would create, City Attorney Jeff Ballinger wrote in a letter to the College of the Desert’s board of trustees.

Estimated cost of the West Valley campus is $345 million. It would be paid for with revenue generated by Measure CC, the College of the Desert’s $577.86 million bond measure passed in 2016.

Palm Springs first bought the north-end property from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for $2.1 million. In the summer of 2010, the city donated it to College of the Desert with the understanding that the West Valley campus would be built there, and that the campus would be the same size and scope as originally planned.

Offering to buy the land a second time shows how badly Palm Springs wants to be home to the West Valley Campus, said Bruce Hoban, a 15-year Palm Springs and a supporter of developing the West Valley campus in Palm Springs.

But why College of the Desert – a two-year community college in Palm Desert founded in 1962 with a 12,500 student enrollment today – has apparently declined that offer is baffling, Hoban said.

“We don’t understand why the College of the Desert has rejected Palm Springs’s generous offer,” said Hoban, founder of Promises Made-Promises Broken, a group of community residents who are trying to hold College of the Desert to its original plans for a large Palm Springs campus.

“No one will buy the land at that price,” Hoban said. “It’s zoned exclusively for educational use, and that’s a very narrow designation. That they would reject that offer doesn’t make sense.”

Plans for the West Valley campus originally included a culinary and hospitality school, something the Coachella Valley needs because tourism is a major part of the region’s economy, according to Hoban

“One of the main issues from our perspective is the culinary and hospitality school, but what they’re proposing [10,000 square feet]  isn’t big enough,” Hoban said. “It’s not enough square footage.

In a statement issued Sept. 12, College of the Desert accused Palm Springs of trying to force the school into building a campus-based entirely on the needs of Palm Springs.

“College of the Desert worked, planned, and followed a sale process for the property with the city fully informed and in agreement, said Andreas Chialtas, attorney for the school, in a statement. “To suggest otherwise is not even remotely accurate.

“The city continues to inappropriately use this property sale as leverage to attempt to direct College of the Desert’s decision-making regarding the [project] at the mall site.”

The city’s offer to buy the property for $5.7 million still stands, said  Andrew Jared, Palm Springs special counsel.

“No one has told me it’s been rescinded, so I assume it’s still available,” Jared. “As for what happens next, I have an idea. That’s up to College of the Desert.”

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