Lacking essential services, neighbors in north Palm Springs plead case

Maribel Nunez came prepared.

As a project leader for the Inland Equity Partnership, Nunez had nine pages of notes ready to staple to a poll distributed by Palm Springs city staff prior to a planned listening session. On those pages were detailed zoning maps, policy recommendations, and questions her group wants answered regarding what, specifically, city officials plan to do to address a lack of affordable housing.

“Most people think of affordable housing as a certain type of housing,” Nunez said during the event at James O. Jesse Desert Highland Unity Center Monday evening. “But we need condos and co-ops, and we need to think more broadly of bringing permanent affordability to the city.”

To get there, she explained, city officials need to approve rezoning much of the property near its northern border off Indian Canyon Drive, as well as other land along Vista Chino and elsewhere nearby. Where current regulations allow only for single-family homes and industrial buildings, Nunez and others she is working with in the community would like to see multi-unit housing and mixed use commercial.

In the long run, however, the city needs to move past equating increased density with affordability, she wrote in her notes. Instead, neighborhoods need to have homes occupied by residents of all income levels to stop the “concentration of poverty” in pockets throughout the city. And, others said, those homes need to contain full-time residents, not weekend vacationers.

“There are whole parts of the city where kids are not on those blocks,” said Naomi Soto, a Sonora Sunrise resident, explaining how homes used as vacation rentals have negatively affected Palm Springs. “It has completely changed the vibe of what our neighborhoods feel like.”

Both Nunez and Soto touched on familiar themes heard during other listening sessions earlier this month. But in north Palm Springs, many of the 45 people spaced evenly across the west side of the Unity Center’s gymnasium pointed to an issue unique to them: access to basic necessities is difficult, they said, and getting to where those necessities are often requires owning a vehicle or waiting an hour in the heat for a bus.

Those concerns were not lost on David Newell, the city’s assistant director of planning, who time and again showed maps of the city with dots representing essential services clustered near the center of town. What the maps don’t show, however, is that the northern section of the city has no medical service providers, banks, or grocery stores to serve the residents who live there. Many of those residents pleaded with Newell and other city staff Monday to solve that problem sooner rather than later.

“We need to center the community in places beyond downtown Palm Springs,” said Soto, a Coachella Valley resident for the past decade who has called Palm Springs home the past four years. “I would love to see a center of commerce not just in downtown Palm Springs.”

Whether that ever happens is now up to Newell and other planners, who will take the listening session comments, as well as the results of a city survey, and wrap them into their suggestions for an update to the city’s General Plan. Once adopted by elected officials, the plan will serve as a framework for rules and regulations aimed at helping build a city where all residents have access to affordable housing, public parks and other facilities, healthy food, medical care, and public transit.

The next step in the process is a meeting of the General Plan Steering Committee, slated for today at 5:30 PM. Information on how to view the meeting can be found here.


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