Tribal member scoffs at selling dormant Bel Air Greens land to preservation group at appraised value

An organization hoping to purchase land that houses a decaying golf course could be out of luck. A tribal member who owns one of two parcels in question said using it for housing would be “the highest and best use, which will directly benefit my family and future generations of my family.”

Driving the news: During a public meeting this month, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians tribal member John Andreas said he supports the land’s current leaseholder — Tommy Jacobs Limited Partnership – which hopes to buy the land from him and other tribal members and convert it to lots for single-family homes.

  • “I’m hearing that people are wanting to keep this open and they want to do this with OUR land — MY land,” Andreas said during a May 10 Zoom meeting. “The intent of this lease is to develop it for residential use. This will provide the greatest return for leasing OUR land.”

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Dueling plans: Open space advocates and the leaseholders – represented by Albert Howell — both have plans for the property:

  • The leaseholders hope to purchase the land from the tribal members, then apply to change its zoning from open space – as designated under the city’s latest General Plan – back to its original residential designation.

  • A local land preservation group – Oswit Land Trust (OLT) – wants to buy it and include it as part of the proposed 500-acre Mesquite Desert Preserve. They’ve secured a $4 million grant to help with the purchase and understand it will take more than that to secure the property. Still, they are limited to making an offer at “fair market value.”

But wait: Andreas scoffed at that term and was backed up by a representative of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

  • “We’re not taking $4 million,” Andreas said. “That is a complete joke. If they want to start the bid, they better start a little bit higher than $4 million. That’s a slap in our face.”

  • “That’s just a number that’s there,” said Ollie Beyal, BIA superintendent for the Palm Springs agency, in reference to the term. “If people are limited to only being able to pay the appraised value, most likely what I’ve seen is that it’s not going to be that.”

Holding out hope: For their part, the land trust hopes to at least be invited to the table with the landowner.

  • “I would love the opportunity if we can all sit down off of Zoom and see if we can find our common ground and we can create something really wonderful for our community and for future generations.”  – OLT President Jane Garrison

Long process: If tribal members elect to sell the land, the ultimate decision about what becomes of it lands with elected and appointed city leaders.

  • The conversion application, which is yet to be formally filed, would work its way through the city’s Planning Commission, up to the City Council, with plenty of opportunity for public input.

  • There’s precedent for such a move.  Developers are currently working to turn the former Palm Springs Country Club property into a housing development.

Dive deeper into the plans on the city’s website.


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