‘Historic,’ a ‘welcoming place’: Residents weigh in on design for new COD Palm Springs campus

Voters began approving what was to become nearly $1 billion in bond money for the college to use on new campus construction in 2004. Plans currently call for building on the former Palm Springs Mall site.
Officials at College of the Desert say this is what they hope to bring to a currently vacant parcel in the center of town. The plans were reviewed at a public meeting held Wednesday evening.

Community members asked to review the latest plans for a College of the Desert (COD) campus in Palm Springs turned out in force Wednesday evening both online and at City Hall, offering a mix of opinions peppered with a dose of reality.

During a study session with the city’s Planning Commission, more than two dozen people turned out in person, with even more watching online. 

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“We’ve reached a historic milestone,” said Bruce Hoban, a member of a community watchdog group called Promises Made-Promises Broken, which was formed to keep pressure on the college to honor its promise to build in the city. “We actually got a design that the west valley was promised and that we deserved.”

But not everyone gave completely rosy feedback. Most of the speakers said they lived near the project site and took issue with what they believed would be future traffic on Farrell Drive. 

As it is designed now, the campus has three entrances: one on Tahquitz Canyon Way, one on Baristo Road, and a main entrance on Farrell Drive. For the Farrell entrance, two lanes would enter and two lanes would exit the main campus entrance on Farrell Drive.

Commissioners were also concerned about the amount of available parking and worried that the four-lane road, which would separate two of the campus’ main buildings, was putting drivers’ convenience ahead of the safety and comfort of pedestrians and cyclists. 

“The design fosters a commuter school mentality,” Commissioner Michael Hirschbein said. “I don’t think the design fosters the kind of chance encounters for students to communicate with people outside of academic settings.”

Several commissioners also wanted the design to incorporate more native and adaptive landscaping. The current plan calls for a minimum of 50% native landscaping. 

Still, members of the Planning Commission were broadly in favor of the look and design of the proposed campus.

“It doesn’t feel institutional in any way,” said Vice Chair J.R. Roberts. “It feels like it’s going to be a nice place to go and learn, and a welcoming place for the community.”

While the campus is not subject to approval from either the Palm Springs City Council or the Planning Commission, College of the Desert staff and other members of the project management team said they would take Wednesday’s comments into consideration at their next public meeting next week.

Voters began approving what was to become nearly $1 billion in bond money for the college to use on new campus construction in 2004. In Palm Springs, they were promised a sprawling campus on 118 acres in the north end of town, but those plans shifted to the former Palm Springs Mall site in 2014.

Since the mall was razed in 2019, there has been little to no activity on the parcel in the city’s center. Following a change in leadership at the college in 2021, accusations, heated public meetingsattack ads, and at least one lawsuit followed. The latest designs were released last month.


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