The city wants to buy 120 acres on its north end from College of the Desert, land Palm Springs bought 12 years ago and gave to the school so it could build a campus there. Now, the city wants to repurchase that property, on the condition COD builds the campus on school-owned property in the center of town.
Palm Springs is offering to purchase nearly 120 acres in the northern part of the city from the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, land where the school once planned to build its west valley campus.
In a letter sent to the community college’s attorneys Wednesday, Palm Springs City Attorney Jeff Ballinger said the city will pay $5.7 million for the property at the northwest corner of Tramview Road and Indian Canyon Drive, according to a statement on the city’s website.
Palm Springs officials have long wanted College of the Desert to build its West Valley Community College Campus in their city, preferably on the north end, where low-income residents would be helped by the education and job opportunities created by a college campus.
However, should College of the Desert accept the proposal without any changes, the west valley campus – estimated cost $345 million – would not be built at the Tramview Road-Indian Canyon Drive site. Instead, it would be built on the former site of the Palm Springs Mall on Tahquitz Canyon Way, land the college bought for $22 million in 2018.
That site is in the middle of Palm Springs, between downtown and Palm Springs International Airport.
The city could then use the north end property for other uses “in the interest of social equity,” Ballinger said in the letter, which the city announced on its website.
“If the property were returned to the city it would then be able to invest in affordable housing, commercial developments like a grocery store, community facilities that provide job training, childcare and a host of other programs that would directly benefit residents,” Ballinger wrote in the letter.
Building the campus in Palm Springs is vital to the city’s economy and its ability to attract more development, but the city should regain control of the north end property if it’s not going to be home to that project, according to Mayor Lisa Littleton.
“In the interest of fairness to residents living in the northern part of the city who were promised a new college campus, it is important that the North End property be returned to the City of Palm Springs and be used for their benefit,” Middleton said in a statement.
College of the Desert has received the letter, and the school “maintains its commitment to the Palm Springs development,” public information officer Nicholas Robles said in a statement released Thursday.
The board of trustees will be able to review the proposal at its next regularly scheduled meeting, Aug. 19, Robles said.
He declined further comment.
In an unusual twist, Palm Springs bought the north end property from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for $2.1 million. It then transferred the property to College of the Desert in July 2010, with the understanding that the West Valley campus would be built there.
Palm Springs’ offer to buy the land a second time includes the stipulation that College of the Desert use the $5.7 million to help build the West Valley campus on the former mall site, and that it adhere to the project’s original size and scope.
The campus would include a culinary school, a condition College of the Desert originally agreed to, and it should be completed by the end of 2025. It would be College of the Desert’s fifth location in the Coachella Valley and would be paid for with funds from two bond measures: Measure B, approved by city voters in 2004, and Measure CC which passed in 2016.
The proposed purchase is an attempt by the city to “start a conversation” and get the campus built as soon as possible, said Bruce Hoban, a Palm Springs resident and spokesman for Promises Made-Promises Broken, an ad-hoc group of community residents.
The group, which Hoban helped organize last year, fears College of the Desert might renege on its pledge to develop a Palm Springs campus, or build a scaled-down version that would not be satisfactory to the city.
“I don’t want it to sound like I’m criticizing the city, because I’m not,” said Hoban, a retired IT consultant who is active in Palm Springs community issues. “I think it’s probably the best it could do under the circumstances, and I hope it succeeds. But I think it’s outrageous that the city had to make that offer, and I don’t think the College of the Desert is acting in a spirit of cooperation. Palm Springs has worked for more than a decade trying to make this happen, and it has nothing to show for it.”
The plan proposed in 2010 to build on the north end involved an agreement between the college and Southern California Edison, in which the site would be divided equally between the two entities: half for the new campus, half for power generators.
But the public utility backed out of that arrangement, and the project soon began to languish.
At one point, College of the Desert tried to sell the north end property to a residential developer, without informing the city and despite having signed a deed restriction in which the school agreed “to only utilize the property for the West Valley Community College Campus,” Hunter wrote in the letter.
Despite the back and forth, Palm Springs’ interest in a college campus has not waned.
“I’ve been involved in Palm Springs [issues] for awhile, and this is the one thing everyone in the city is interested in,” Hoban said. “It’s an opinionated town, and everyone seems to have an opinion on this issue. Go anywhere and you’ll hear people talking about it.”