COD board to discuss Palm Springs real estate and bond oversight on Thursday

The Desert College Board of Trustees will hold its monthly meeting Thursday at 9:30 a.m. The board will hear items related to Palm Springs real estate, the redistricting of the trust area, and the Bond Oversight Committee, among other topics. .

Behind closed doors – part of the meeting is not open to the public – council will meet with a property negotiator to discuss the sale of 119.37 acres of vacant land at the northwest corner of West Tramview Road and North Indian Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.

Most of the land was once controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. In 2006, the Palm Springs City Council expressed its commitment to help build a COD West Valley Education Center within the city limits, and it identified the Tramview Road site as a prime location.

A year later, COD voted to select this site as the headquarters for the proposed West Valley Campus. In 2010, the city purchased the land for $2.1 million and transferred it to COD at no cost to the college.

But plans to locate the campus there disbanded in 2014. Instead, the college considered the largely empty Palm Springs Mall closer to downtown as a better site to its expansion into the western valley.

In 2018, two years after Coachella Valley voters approved a $577.8 million bond measure to upgrade the college’s vocational training facilities and build classrooms, the college acquired ownership of Palm Springs Mall. at East Tahquitz Canyon Way and South Farrell Drive for $22 million.

The college’s changing vision left the Tramview Road site in limbo for years.

Watermarke Homes, a residential home builder with multiple projects in Palm Springs, has expressed serious interest in acquiring and developing the Tramview Road property for over a year.

Watermarke said it wants to build nearly 500 single-family homes and more than 350 condos on the site.

The Desert Sun reported in December that the property was in receivership, according to a college spokesperson. The purchase contract with Watermarke was signed over a year ago. The agreed price was $5.7 million, according to a purchase contract provided by the college.

However, the plot remains zoned for educational purposes, and the city of Palm Springs has not said whether it will lift an deed restriction that would allow Watermarke to change the land’s use from “school” to residential.

A door is locked at the former site of the Palm Springs Mall, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Palm Springs, Calif.

Thursday’s closed-door real estate conference comes a week after the City of Palm Springs postponed a presentation on Palm Springs educational projects that COD leaders were scheduled to present to the city council.

After the city asked COD if they could move the presentation to a new time to accommodate a public hearing on another matter, Superintendent/Chairman Martha Garcia responded that she was unable to commit to attend the entire presentation and answer questions from members of the public. and board members.

Recently, Garcia signed and submitted a consent waiver to the Palm Springs City Attorney and his law firm stating that the college will permit the attorney and firm to provide legal services and advice regarding the property of Tramview Road to the city.

A waiver is necessary because another lawyer from the same firm, Best, Best & Krieger, also provides certain legal services to COD.

However, the waiver does not cover potential litigation.

The COD board will hold another closed conference with legal counsel on “anticipated litigation” on Thursday, but a college spokesperson did not say whether that conference was related to the Palm Springs property.

Following:Will the city rezone the North Palm Springs property that COD wants to sell to a homebuilder?

Following:College of the Desert Agrees to Partial Waiver of Attorney Conflicts with Palm Springs

Following:COD chairman won’t speak at Palm Springs council meeting after agreeing to provide update

The council must finalize the redistricting of the trusteeship zones

After several public hearings over the past several months, COD’s Board of Directors will finalize its plan for redrawing the trusteeship area based on 2020 U.S. Census data.

The Desert Community College/College of the Desert district is governed by five trustees, each elected by geographic areas of administration. The district made this transition from a “broad” voting system to an “area” voting system beginning in 2012.

Every 10 years, the district must review its current map of the trusteeship area and determine whether the electoral boundaries should be adjusted to keep the areas as equal in population as possible, based on new census data.

Desert Community College District Board Member Ruben Perez, right, attends the College of the Desert State of the College keynote at the Palm Desert, Calif., campus on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.

Two directors — Board Chairman Ruben Perez (Zone 1) and Aurora Wilson (Zone 4) — have terms expiring this fall and could seek re-election.

Zone 1 generally covers the eastern valley from Coachella to Salton City. Zone 4 generally covers Palm Desert and La Quinta.

The board could appoint members to the bond oversight committee

COD has a seven-member Citizen Bond Oversight Committee required by state law to ensure that nearly $1 billion in bond money raised by the college since 2004 is spent solely on the acquisition of land, construction and equipment and that no money is going to wages or salary increases.

The committee meets quarterly and produces an annual audit of bond spending.

The board fills vacancies for a student representative, an east valley representative, and a ratepayers association representative.

Student nominee Ariana Muniz will serve a one-year term if nominated. Ernie Rios, the Eastern Valley Representative’s nominee, and Rick Seeley, the Taxpayers’ Association Representative nominee, would serve two-year terms.

According to state law, nominations for the oversight committee have been reviewed by Garcia, and the board will make the final decision on appointees Thursday.

The council also has a representative from the seniors group (Margie Eklund), a representative from the West Valley (Andrew Harker), a representative from the college support organization (Diane Rubin) and a representative from business ( Becky Broughton).

Rios is the Vice President for College Success for OneFuture Coachella Valley, a regional organization that connects school districts, nonprofits, and businesses to promote professional technical education and college pathways.

Born in Coachella and raised in Thermal, Rios attended College of the Desert and transferred to and graduated from UCLA. He then earned an MBA at the University of California at the Palm Desert campus in Riverside.

Seeley is president of the Palm Springs Cultural Center and treasurer of the LA Philharmonic Affiliates of the Desert. He retired from the Southern California Gas Company in 2016 after a 33-year career that culminated in his tenure as Director of Purchasing and Supplier Diversity.

Following:College of the Desert shifts gears on future automotive center in Cathedral City; the mayor cries foul

Following:Bond Lawyer: Is College of the Desert’s Planned Palm Springs Campus a Legal Use of Bond Funds?

Following:College of the Desert accepting applications for Citizenship Bond Oversight Committee

Martha Garcia, incoming president and superintendent of College of the Desert, sits for an interview in her office, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Palm Desert.

Bond monitoring, a constant concern

Recently, a member of the Bond Oversight Committee called COD’s transparency on bond projects “appalling.”

Since Garcia took office in late summer 2021, she has reassessed plans for numerous bond projects, and city officials in Palm Springs and Cathedral City said they were caught off guard by her decisions. .

When Garcia halted plans for an automotive education center in Cathedral City in October, then-mayor Raymond Gregory said he was “blindsided”.

Earlier this month, leaders from Palm Springs and Cathedral City joined 150 Coachella Valley residents on a Zoom call hosted by a group that criticized Garcia — and called that she resign along with the three directors who voted to appoint her: Perez, Wilson and Bea Gonzalez. City leaders have demanded more accountability and communication from the college regarding its plans.

Some plans that leaders once thought were almost set in stone now appear to be on hold.

At the college’s last board meeting, Garcia asked an outside attorney to speak to the legality of the college’s plans for the Palm Springs campus on the mall site. The attorney said aspects of the planned campus, such as private partnerships to operate a learning hotel or a culinary institute, could be inappropriate uses of bond funds, but he did not have enough information to bear. judgment at that time.

Garcia did not explain why she asked an outside attorney to speak at the meeting, given that the college has a bond attorney and a bond fund manager.

A public records request by The Desert Sun revealed that Garcia had not met with the bond fund manager since she took office last summer. However, it remains unclear how much correspondence she has had with him or with either of the bond attorneys, as COD has yet to respond to further public records requests.

Thursday’s meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. It can be viewed online at: or on the college’s YouTube channel:

Previous reports by Desert Sun writer Paul Albani-Burgio were used in this report.

Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Contact him at [email protected] or @Writes_Jonathan.

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