City pushes ahead with north end homeless services center despite pleas of neighbors, their Council representative

The Palm Springs City Council elected Thursday evening to pursue the purchase of a north Palm Springs property for use as a campus for homeless services. The decision came despite testimony from most public speakers against the location and passionate arguments by the councilmember who represents them.

The property, located at 3589 McCarthy Rd., was one of two under consideration. It sits on 3.6 acres of industrial land and contains three buildings with 47,000-square-feet of usable space. It is currently in escrow for $5.9 million. The potential buyer, Palm Springs-based Wintec Energy President and CEO Fred Noble, has offered to allow the city to assume the purchase.

Council members decided that the other property, located at 4775 E. Ramon Road would provide for fewer services at a higher cost.

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The 4-1 vote followed more than three dozen public comments. The majority of those who spoke supported the city building such a facility — commonly referred to as a navigation center — but asked that it not be built in the isolated north end.

Several of those who spoke said that members of the homeless community were already causing issues in their neighborhoods and that prior homeless services in the area led to negative impacts. Many had expressed a similar sentiment during a District 1 listening session on October 25 hosted by Councilwoman Grace Garner.

Garner, the lone no vote Thursday, pushed back against the process during Council discussion on the properties, arguing that, “We are continuing to leave out certain communities from conversations.”

“Suddenly, we forgot how things are done in Palm Springs,” Garner said. “Part of the community has been left out of the conversation over and over again, and that’s why they’re mad.”

Almost two dozen speakers Thursday were members of the community Garner said had been left out of the conversation. One by one, they pleaded their case to the Council, asking its members to stop using their neighborhoods as a “dumping ground.”

“We are already dealing with homeless sleeping on the patios and bathing in our pools,” said one resident of the Palm Springs Villas condominium development Thursday evening. “They are stealing whatever they can fit in their backpacks from our patios.”

“Our neighborhood is up and coming,” added Don Stevens, a resident of the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood. “We do not encourage anything that is going to downgrade our neighborhood. We already have crime. We already have break-ins. We already have people trying to steal our vehicles. We do not need this in north Palm Springs.”

Proponents of the McCarthy Road site, including many from the Community Partnership on Homelessness (CPOH), said choosing the McCarthy Road property would be the fastest route to opening the much-needed navigation center. They disagreed that its presence in north Palm Springs would make the community less safe.

“Speed to open a navigation center is paramount,” CPOH’s David Murphy told the Council. “That location is fully fenced with a generous buffer between the buildings and the main gate to the outside. It can be easily managed, especially if the city provides the same rigor as it has to the access center.”

Navigation centers have proven effective in other communities struggling to solve the problem of homelessness. Typically they have limited barriers to entry and offer temporary room and board with direct access to case managers who work to connect homeless individuals and families to income, public benefits, health services, permanent housing, and other shelters.

At a Council meeting last week, city staff was directed to focus on comparing the purchase and remodeling costs of both properties, as well as the overall ability to offer the most services for the city’s growing homeless population. On Thursday, they reported that the McCarthy site would offer space for more services at a lower cost. A planned medical clinic and child development center, for example, would not fit inside the Ramon Road location.

Staff members have been reviewing potential navigation center locations for months. Some of the properties they examined were vacant land and would have required two years to build out, compared to an estimated one year for renovating the properties discussed Thursday.

Funding for the project would come from a variety of sources, including both the city and Riverside County. The county could commit to using as much as $7 million of the nearly $480 million it receives from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for the project. Exactly who would run the facility and how much that would cost annually is still to be determined.

Mayor Christy Holstege recused herself from parts of the discussion Thursday due to the fact her husband, Adam Gilbert, owns a commercial real estate firm that had listed the Ramon Road property. City Attorney Jeffrey Ballinger informed the Council that Gilbert had agreed not to receive a commission on the sale if the city purchased the property.

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