Council approves moving forward with purchase, funding, operating agreement for homeless services campus
The Palm Springs City Council approved a multi-part agreement Thursday night allowing for the purchase of a property and completion of a homeless services center in the city unlike any built here before. Approval was not unanimous across the board, however, as Mayor Pro Tem Grace Garner continued to voice objection to the facility’s location.
Approval of the agreement came after two dozen neighbors of the property in question, most of them constituents of Garner, gathered at City Hall earlier in the day. They protested the location, saying it was not fair to move forward with it in the northern end of the city — an area already struggling with issues of crime and addiction.
“We’re not against the homeless or the navigation center,” said Cynthia Sessions, president of the Desert Highlands Gateway Estates Community Action Association, as she spoke to those who had gathered Thursday afternoon. “The city has other options. Hopefully, they can reconsider this and look at those other options before they make a decision.”
Councilmembers spent hours Thursday evening listening to public testimony and discussing issues around the facility with city staff and representatives from Riverside County and the nonprofit organization that will operate it — Martha’s Village & Kitchen. In the end, all but Garner voted unanimously on multiple items contained within a memorandum of understanding that would allow forward movement on the project.
Garner, who was the lone no vote when the Council voted to pursue the purchase of the property in November, said afterward she supports both the project’s purpose and the inclusion of Martha’s. But she stood by her disapproval of locating the facility in her district.
The property, located at 3589 McCarthy Rd., sits on 3.6 acres of industrial land and contains three buildings with 47,000-square-feet of usable space. It is being sold to the city for $5.9 million. A local businessman had earlier agreed to purchase the property but then offered to allow the city to assume the purchase contract, absorbing any fees associated with the move.
When opened, the “navigation center” will have 80 units of transitional housing, as well as job training, medical care, and other services. Clients would be committed to remaining at the facility as they move to permanent housing and employment. Construction should begin in January 2023. It would welcome its first clients in early 2024.
“This is going to help literally hundreds a year get off the streets and get back to a life with dignity and respect,” said Councilmember Geoff Kors.
Before the vote, members of the Council questioned city staff, police, and representatives of both the county and Martha’s to address issues raised by the community. One by one, those concerns were addressed — with some being labeled as misconceptions — to assure the community that the facility, unlike others in the past, would not come with unmitigated negative impacts.
Among the issues discussed:
- City Manager Justin Clifton refuted claims that the city was “dumping” homeless people into a neighborhood already struggling with the issues of crime and substance abuse, telling councilmembers that there are services for the homeless population located in many parts of the city.
- Police Chief Andy Mills told the Council he does not anticipate an increase in crime in the area. Instead, he said, police would have an additional tool they could use to combat crime elsewhere in the city because the facility’s existence would allow them to remove people from the streets and get them into a facility that could help them. He also committed to assigning a lieutenant to work with the safety team at the facility.
- City and county staff assured the Council that the facility would not be an overnight shelter with rows of beds and a transient population “coming and going all day” and possibly loitering in the neighborhood. Instead, they said, it would be a “self-contained campus,” much like treatment centers that already exist in the city.
- The Council was also assured by Greg Rodriguez, government relations and public policy advisor for Riverside County Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, that clients leaving the property “is exactly what we don’t want.”
Both residents and Downtown business leaders affected by an increase in the city’s homeless population offered their thoughts about the facility during public testimony Thursday evening. Roughly half voiced support and half were opposed.
Aside from issues with the facility’s location, opponents pointed to what they said were failed prior efforts here with other homeless services providers, most notable Roy’s Desert Resource Center north of Interstate 10, which closed in 2017.
Kors and others assured the public that given Martha’s prior success — including the operation of a drop-in center in the city that has so far not had a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood — there was a reason for optimism.
“The concerns that have been raised are understandable,” said Kors. “Prior to Martha’s operating here, people didn’t experience a provider without significant secondary impacts. I think Martha’s has shown that it can be done successfully.”
COMMUNITY MEETING ON COD: A group formed recently with the goal of “ensuring that College of the Desert (“COD”) builds the campuses promised” plans its first community meeting next week. Promises Made, Promises Broken will hold the meeting virtually on Tuesday, Feb. 1, starting at 6 p.m. Organizers said that during the meeting they will address “how the actions of the Board of Trustees and President Garcia have failed the students and residents of our valley,” and that they will provide updates on the latest information about planned projects as well as tell the community how to get get involved with their efforts. Anyone wishing to participate can register via this link. More information about the group is available here.
TRAM RESCUE: Residents noticing emergency lights and other activity near the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in the mountains above the city Thursday evening were witnessing the rescue efforts for a state park ranger who had fallen 100 feet after attempting to rescue a hiker. According to KESQ-TV, a state park incident commander said two people in their 60s were hiking on the Skyline Trail in the San Jacinto Mountains when they became trapped on the trail due to icy conditions. Two park rangers attempted to rescue the hikers, the station reported. However, while trying to reach them, one of the rangers slipped on ice and fell 100 feet into a ravine. The ranger suffered a minor leg injury and was hoisted out of the area by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Rescue 9 helicopter shortly before 9 p.m.
RESCHEDULED ROAD WORK: All westbound lanes on the 91 Freeway, a popular route for residents of Palm Springs heading to the coast on weekends, are slated to be shut down along a two-mile segment of the corridor in east Corona tonight and through the weekend to facilitate work that was previously scheduled last week but cancelled due to Santa Ana winds. According to the Riverside County Transportation Commission, operations are now scheduled to get underway at 9 p.m. tonight and continue until 5 a.m. Monday, requiring a full closure of the westbound 91 from North McKinley Street to Main Street. The westbound shutdown had been set for Jan. 21-24, but officials rescinded the plan due to a Santa Ana windstorm that created roadway hazards last Saturday.
REDISTRICTING HEARING CHANGED: A public hearing that had been scheduled for Thursday’s City Council meeting regarding the redistricting of Council boundaries has been rescheduled for discussion at the next meeting on Thursday, Feb. 10. Every 10 years, cities with by-district election systems must use new Census data to review and, if needed, redraw voting district lines to reflect how local populations have changed, providing for equal numbers of residents in each district. For more on the city’s efforts, see this story from December.
MIZELL CENTER: The Mizell Center, 480 South Sunrise Way, offers 10 classes and programs today, starting at 8 a.m. You can find a complete list of all today’s classes online here.
SUNSHINE SISTERS: The Palm Springs Sunshine Sisters will meet for a fitness walk in South Palm Springs at 8:30 a.m. You can sign up to be part of the group — formed to help women make new connections and friendships — on Meetup here.
FARMERS’ MARKET: The Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Market is held at 2300 E. Baristo Rd. (adjacent to The Camelot Theatres) from 8:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. All Certified Farmers’ Markets offer a $15/$15 match to customers participating in CalFresh EBT and a $10/$10 match for WIC, SSDI, and federal unemployment. Find more details about all three Coachella Valley Certified Farmers’ Markets here.
FOOD DISTRIBUTION: Well in the Desert distributes food every Saturday at 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. at 181 N. Indian Canyon Dr. For the early distribution, guests typically begin lining up at 5 a.m. and must show proof of residency. Guests are asked to bring a box, bags, or other containers to transport food items for both distributions. More information is available by phoning the Well’s office at 760-656-8905.
FLEA MARKET: A flea market and food fest are held Saturdays at 675 Crossley Rd. from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Information can be found here.
SUNSHINE SISTERS: The Palm Springs Sunshine Sisters will meet for the Luna Film Festival on Saturday at 9:45 a.m., followed by lunch and discussion of the films. You can sign up to be part of the group — formed to help women make new connections and friendships — on Meetup here.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
SCHOOL DISTRICT COUNCIL: The Palm Springs Unified School District is planning to launch its first ever Native American Parent Advisory Council, and the first meeting is next week. District officials will be discussing the vision for Native American advocacy and cultural responsiveness in the district on Tuesday, Feb. 1, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. via Zoom. Those interested are invited to register via this link. The district said it is looking forward to hearing from Native students, families, and community members interested in helping build a program that empowers the community to share its collective voice and bring awareness to the first people of our nation.
HBCU TOURS: The African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPAC) of the Palm Springs Unified School District recently announced two dozen students will be able to attend a tour of Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in April completely free of charge. The deadline for application to participate in the tour is Jan. 31. Selected students will fly with approved chaperones to Washington DC and visit several HBCU’s and landmarks in the surrounding area. An application form is available here, and a permission slip for the tour is available here.
NEXT ART EXHIBIT: The Desert Art Center in Palm Springs opens one of the largest shows of the season on Friday, Feb. 4, with all new works from gallery artists plus an art pop-up in the Studio Gallery featuring the work of Janis Buller and Cathy Parker. Every art lover is welcome to join on the 4th from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. for refreshments and the largest selection of local fine art in the Coachella Valley. DAC is located at 550 North Palm Canyon Dr. in Uptown Palm Springs. Community support feeds the organization’s outreach to schools with art classes and scholarships.
AWARDS GALA: Tickets are on sale now for the Palm Springs Black History Committee’s annual Black History Awards Gala, to be held at the Hilton Ballroom, 400 East Tahquitz Canyon Way, on Saturday Feb. 5. The gala is the committee’s way of recognizing individuals, groups, and local and corporate businesses contributing to the success and achievements of African Americans and our society. This year’s event begins at 6 p.m. with a silent auction and cocktail hour. Tickets start at $75 and can be purchased at this site.
BIKE EVENT: Registration for the annual Tour de Palm Springs, planned for Feb. 12, remains open. The event features walking and cycling routes, some as long as 100 miles, kicking off between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. All of the routes start and finish on South Palm Canyon Drive near Tahquitz Canyon Way. More information about the event, which draws up to 10,000 cyclists annually, can be found here.