Middleton warns public trust at risk after COD president now says documentation exists showing need for Palm Springs campus

A study that leadership at College of the Desert (COD) has claimed was needed before breaking ground in Palm Springs already exists, COD’s president said late Thursday. But that’s still no guarantee that ground will be broken in the city any time soon.

COD President Dr. Martha Garcia made the revelation in an email to Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton late Thursday, providing a 36-page document that outlines the need for a satellite college campus in the city that was written in 2016.

“The emerging demographic and economic circumstances of the western Coachella Valley communities, and the broader valley and region in general, help define the need for educational and vocational programs offered by the West Valley Campus,” the document concludes.

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Garcia had previously claimed the college would need to produce the “needs assessment” in order to move forward with planned construction on 29 acres the college purchased off Tahquitz Canyon Way. But former officials at the college maintained that assessment already existed. They circulated dozens of supporting documents in the community as frustrations mounted this fall over the stalled project that voters approved when they OK’d hundreds of millions in bond sales.

Garcia had drawn criticism for not engaging with West Coachella Valley leaders after her appointment in July. Those leaders, including members of the Palm Springs City Council, were seeking assurances that COD was still moving forward with the planned campus here. Garcia confirmed in November there will be a campus built in Palm Springs, but she stopped short of being able to provide details, claiming further studies were needed.

Late Friday, the city released an email response to Garcia written by Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton. In it, she thanked Garcia for her correspondence and for acknowledging the study existed. Still, Middleton warned Garcia that public support for the college was at risk.

“One of the many unique features of our region has been the long-standing broad support for public education and higher education across the region and across the political spectrum,” Middleton wrote in her email to Garcia. “As an elected leader, I would be negligent were I not to be clear that the broad public support that the College of the Desert has earned and held for many years is at risk. Public trust is at issue.”

Middleton’s remarks were similar to those from other elected and appointed leaders in the community, business owners in the city, and members of the college’s Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee. All have taken Garcia and other leaders at COD to task for a lack of transparency and clarity regrading projects in the West Valley.


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