Frustrated city officials offer $5.7 million to COD for abandoned original site of West Valley campus

By offering to buy the land back from College of the Desert with the contingency that it complete the campus as earlier promised, the city hopes to hold the college to promises made when voters approved a pair of bonds.

The city of Palm Springs delivered a letter Wednesday to the attorney for College of the Desert (COD) proposing to purchase the 119-acre parcel of land off Tramview Road and Indian Canyon Drive it had donated to the college more than a decade ago after a promise that it would become the home of a West Valley campus.

The city’s offer of $5.7 million is believed to be the same amount offered to COD by a developer that hopes to build 850 units of housing. The city originally purchased the land from the Department of the Interior for $2.1 million, then donated it to COD in 2010.

The city’s current proposal is contingent on the college committing to the full scope and scale of the original campus on land the college later purchased in the center of Palm Springs.

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City officials and residents have grown increasingly frustrated with the college for the past several months, fearing that its new president was moving to back out of constructing a campus in the city on the land it purchased for $22 million off Tahquitz Canyon Way — the site of a former mall. The back-and-forth battle has played out in public meetings and private exchanges, with COD assuring that it does plan to move forward with building a campus in the city.

By offering to buy the land back from COD with the contingency that it complete the campus “to the scale and scope previously committed to,” the city hopes to hold the college to promises made when voters approved bonds in 2004 and 2016.

“These two voter-approved bond measures total nearly a billion dollars — and 17 years later we  still don’t have a completed campus,” said Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton in an announcement of the offer. “This is a strong proposal to change that — and we look  forward to working with the college moving forward.”

COD told the city in a meeting earlier this year that the college needs the money from the sale of the north end property to help pay for the development of the new location for the future campus off Tahquitz Canyon Way. In the letter, City Attorney Jeffrey Ballinger pointed out the discrepancies in the college’s math.

“(I)t appears  inconsistent, if not disingenuous, to suggest that the proceeds from the sale of the North End site, estimated at under $6 million, are essential to build a $345 million West Valley Campus,” he wrote.

Ballinger added that it would only be fair for the original property to be returned to the city once it became clear COD would no longer develop that site for its campus, concluding, “COD sought to sell the site on the northern end of the city to the highest bidder, a residential developer, with no consultation or agreement from the city.”

The city envisions using the original property as a way to invest in affordable housing, community facilities, childcare, or necessary commercial developments that have been missing from the north end of town. 

“In the interest of fairness to residents living in the northern part of the city who were promised a  new college campus, it is important that the North End property be returned to the City of Palm Springs and be used for their benefit,” said Middleton. 

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