An important date for the future of Prescott Preserve has come and gone without a decision on anticipated grant funding that backers said is crucial.
Oswit Land Trust (OLT) formed in 2016 to purchase and preserve a South Palm Springs Canyon and, since then, has purchased hundreds of acres of open land across the Coachella Valley, including the 120-acre Mesquite Golf and Country Club, which had often been in a state of disrepair, last July.
More than a year later, the significant restoration planned for what is now known as the Prescott Preserve has not begun. In June, Jane Garrison, president of OLT, told a group of attendees over Zoom that they applied for a crucial $10.8 million grant from the state’s Wildlife Conservation Board. That amount was later revised to $7.7 million.
The organization envisions the preserve evolving into a “central preserve” akin to Manhattan’s Central Park. To do that, its members need the grant money, which will be used to clear the golf course of all non-native plants and turfgrass to make way for native flora and fauna. The group must also remove or bury the golf cart paths and install public access paths and interpretative features.
“Everything hinges on this grant,” Oswit Land trust President Jane Garrison said in June. “We can’t do the restoration without that money.”
Garrison said the board would vote on Aug. 24 to decide whether OLT should receive the grant. Dozens of other projects received funding at last week’s meeting, but not Prescott Preserve. The Palm Springs project was not on the agenda, but exactly why is unknown.
Garrison referred questions about the grant to an assistant, who said he would need to speak with Garrison before answering any questions. A Wildlife Conservation Board representative could only say that the decision on the 120-acre plot of Palm Springs property has been pushed back to a Nov. 16 meeting.
Standing in the way of the grant, Garrison said earlier this year, is the outcome of a lawsuit that was filed just weeks after the acquisition announcement was made. In the suit, attorneys for the Mesquite Country Club Homeowners Association argued that creating a nature preserve violates a lease agreement with the previous owner of the property.
Oswit’s plan to create the preserve violates the lease it inherited, the attorneys wrote, and would cause financial harm to HOA members if a portion of their monthly fees, intended to help support a golf course, instead went toward a preserve. The issue has caused tension among Mesquite Country Club homeowners as not all of them back the decision by the HOA board to pursue legal action.
The next hearing for the court case was also pushed back, from July to Oct. 26. Garrison had hoped to get the lawsuit dismissed before the Wildlife Conservation Board voted on the grant application.
Further delaying the conversion from golf course to preserve is the fact the conversion to open space would require city approval. To date, city planning officials noted earlier this summer, an application to convert the golf course to open space is not ready for consideration. When it is ready, it will come before the Palm Springs Planning Commission, which is yet to release its upcoming agenda.