About 50 people attended a rally organized by the Cathedral City municipal government on Saturday to pressure College of the Desert officials to press ahead with plans for a car education center within the city limits. .
Attendees included board members Mark Carnevale, Nancy Ross and Raymond Gregory, Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton, Palm Springs Unified School District Board Member Sergio Espercueta, and several former Cathedral City Council members.
Desert College Board Chairman Ruben Perez spoke at the event and pledged to have the college build the Roadrunner Motors project in Cathedral City.
“I’m here to tell you that the Cathedral City Roadrunners project will happen,” Perez said.
COD Superintendent/President Martha Garcia announced in an Oct. 27 news release that the college would be “looking for a new facility location” for the automotive program after “a tax review determined that costs at the intended location are exorbitantly higher than expected”. The long-planned site is at East Palm Canyon and Margot Murphy Way in Cathedral City.
Raymond Gregory, who was then mayor, responded to Garcia with a statement saying the college “decided unilaterally, without any prior consultation with local authorities, staff or the public, to withdraw funding for the long-planned Roadrunner Motors project. dated”.
The following day, Garcia released a second statement indicating that the board would consider other sites for the project, including locations in Cathedral City.
Before Saturday’s rally, the board had announced two upcoming sessions to assess the Roadrunners Motor project: the first, scheduled for Wednesday, was billed as a special session, and documents prepared for that meeting showed that the college was considering two more sites from the original: one in Cathedral City and another in Indio. A vote on the decision is expected at the next board meeting on April 22.
“On April 22, the board will vote on a final decision, and let me say Cathedral City will be very pleased with the decision,” Perez told the crowd on Saturday. “My apologies to all of you that foreign policy has created uncertainty. But let me be clear, this project has never been put on hold. I would like to reiterate that College of the Desert will deliver for Cathedral City.”
Perez didn’t elaborate on what he meant by “outside of politics.”
Costs for 2 sites about the same
Garcia became the college’s principal in August. In October, she said a financial analysis suggested that completing the installation of Roadrunner Motors at the original site would result in the project being completed more than $13 million over budget, an increase by 67% compared to the initial cost estimates.
According to a board document posted online on Friday, the project’s estimated cost is now $35.6 million, excluding inflation, and the project would take about 44 months to complete if it were to be completed. carried out on the original site. The college already owns the land and paid around $3 million for it in 2019.
But the college is also considering an alternative site at Perez Road and Cathedral Canyon Drive. Construction at this site would cost between $29.7 and $32.7 million and take 48 months, according to the report. The document also states that this site has space to meet “additional program needs (if approved)” at a rate of $900 per square foot, at an additional cost of $1.8 million.
Neither the city nor the college owns the two plots that make up this site. The land, valued at nearly $1.5 million, according to the county assessor’s website, is owned by Terry “Bill” Ireland, according to Cathedral City economic development manager Stone James. It does not appear to be for sale currently.
The council document says the college could negotiate for the property pending “soil and hazardous materials reports”, but notes that the council may have to reconsider the site if issues arise.
Perez said Saturday the council did not choose between the two Cathedral City sites. He didn’t explain why the Indio site was included in the board submission if it had indeed already been kicked out, nor did he say who made the decision that it was kicked out or when that decision was made. had been taken.
“It will be one of two sites,” he told The Desert Sun, “I can’t really go into too much detail because it would be a violation of Brown’s law in counting the votes, but the plan is to build here in Cathedral City.”
The Brown Act is California’s “sunshine” law for local government. It requires that the business of local government be conducted in open and public meetings, except in certain limited situations.
Indian site excluded?
According to the presentation prepared for Wednesday’s special board meeting, the Indio site under consideration is near the I-10 Auto Mall off Myoma Street at Varner Road.
The presentation stated that Roadrunner Motors would cost $32.6 million to build and take 48 months to build.
This site also has space to accommodate “additional program needs (if approved)” at a rate of $900 per square foot, which would cost an additional $1.8 million. And, negotiations for the property would also be pending soil and hazardous material reports.
The parcels that make up the Indio site are owned by Bbne Inv., according to a real estate database, and have an estimated value of more than $3 million, according to the county assessor’s website.
The presentation noted that the site is not serviced by public transportation and is not near restaurants or other amenities that students might need.
Councilmember leans on COD Trustees
Before Ross invited Perez to the podium, she said COD directors Aurora Wilson and Bea Gonzalez told her Thursday that they, too, would vote to support the project in Cathedral City.
“(Wilson) agreed that she thought Cathedral City was the best place and that we could rely on her and I could share that with you today,” Ross said. “I spoke with Bea Gonzalez, and she said and offered the same thing. That it was her intention to support the Cathedral City location and that I could share that with you today.”
Ross also said COD’s other two directors, Fred Jandt and Bonnie Stefan, “have already voted for Cathedral City, and we have no reason to believe their vote would change.”
Ross told The Desert Sun that Jandt and Stefan voted for the project behind closed doors and those votes were never made public.
Jandt and Stefan could not immediately be reached for comment.
Several Cathedral City residents spoke on Saturday in support of the project, and four students from Rancho Mirage High School’s automotive program took to the podium to show their support for the proposed project.
“We just want to say that it would really help us with the Cathedral City Roadrunner program, because it helps future technicians and business owners,” said student Alexander Herrera.
Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Contact him at [email protected] or @Writes_Jonathan.