Earth movers and construction workers have recently moved into place at the site of a planned facility to serve unhoused residents in the city. However, one key element is still missing: electricity required to run critical parts of the 2.6-acre “navigation center” and power 80 modular housing units.
Jay Virata, the city’s director of community and economic development, said Tuesday that while recent signs of active construction at the McCarthy Road site are encouraging, and some parts of the project may come online by next February, it will still be months later before the facility is fully operational.
City staff had initially hoped to see at least a partial opening this month when the project was first announced in 2021. But increased interest rates, construction material cost increases, and material and supply shortages — including those faced by Southern California Edison (SCE) — brought revisions to those plans. Currently, a summer 2024 full opening date is more likely.
“The timeline is the same,” Virata said. “It is now under construction, there are crews on site, and we’re moving dirt.”
“Power has been a challenging issue,” he added, referring to SCE delays in securing equipment needed to bring power to major projects. “Even though the modular units are coming, they won’t be up and running until July of 2024.”
The good news for city taxpayers, Virata noted, is that officials in Sacramento have recognized that many similar projects depending on state money are struggling to meet deadlines imposed as part of the grant agreements. Recently, he said, the city received some welcome news from the state.
“The state sent us a notification that it was extending the timeline,” Virata said. “Everyone else has had the same problems. So, we’re right on track with the state requirements.”
As currently planned, the navigation center would include not only 80 modular housing units and room for support services designed to help transition residents out of homelessness, but also an early entry facility that would serve as a bridge in the process of getting people off the street and into the on-site transitional housing by providing overnight shelter.
The early entry facility, and its 50 beds, could open next February, Virata said, because it will be able to use existing power connections at the site. Securing one of those beds would require a referral from the Emergency Access Center on El Cielo, which currently provides shelter only during extreme weather months.
The addition of the early entry facility, as well as the rising costs associated with construction, has meant increased commitments from the city and Riverside County, a key partner helping to secure both funding and expertise for the project. Twice this year the Palm Springs City Council has approved committing additional city funds to the navigation center, including most recently in June.
Where staff projections from 2021 showed the navigation center could cost roughly $12 million to bring online, they were made before economic conditions changed and costs associated with construction skyrocketed. Current estimates show the project will cost nearly $40 million to open, with the majority of the money still coming from outside the city.
Those increased costs, as well as the fact residents of nearby neighborhoods were initially caught by surprise that the city had decided to purchase the land, has led to controversy.
Nearly two years ago, residents who live in the Miralon development, Desert Highlands Gateway Estates, and Palm Springs Villas, first raised concerns about the project’s location, but not its intent. They pointed out that their part of the city is too often asked to absorb unwanted projects — including cannabis growing facilities — and rarely eyed for beneficial development such as supermarkets, banks, and medical offices.
As recently as June, residents appeared before the City Council to ask that no more city funds be allocated to the project because “it is being expanded beyond what the city has promised its neighbors during outreach discussions.”