Claiming they can’t compete with ‘Palm Springs millionaires,’ COD officials take case directly to residents

COD Trustee: “Dr. Garcia just celebrated her one-year anniversary as our president. That campus should have been built years ago … Why did the previous administration not move the project forward?”
Desert Community College District Trustee Bea Gonzalez (center) and Board Chair Ruben Perez (right) speak to north Palm Springs residents at a community meeting Tuesday evening.

Nearly a year into the battle between two of the Coachella Valley’s most powerful forces, College of the Desert (COD) may have finally found allies in Palm Springs. Those allies, along with thousands of residents who operate outside the city’s circles of civic and government power, have been asking the same question COD officials are asking now:

Why have wealthy and influential government and business leaders in the city only recently mounted aggressive attacks against COD leadership and not at any time during more than a decade the satellite campus was supposed to be under construction?

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“If you tell a lie enough times, people believe it,” said College of the Desert Trustee Bea Gonzalez. “I even believe the people spinning the lies believe it.”

Those lies, Gonzalez maintained during a Tuesday evening meeting of the Desert Highland Gateway Estates Community Action Association, come in the form of a narrative carefully crafted by “Palm Springs millionaires” who have blitzed the pages and airwaves of local media with advertising attacking the college’s leadership, drowned reporters with press releases, and in turn drowned out the voice of COD leaders.

“I don’t have friends who are millionaires,” Gonzalez said, “so I can’t get the word out to respond to this false propaganda.”

Among the falsehoods, Gonzales explained, are recent claims by city officials that COD has been less than transparent about decisions they’ve made about the planned Palm Springs campus and charges from business leaders that initial designs are far short of what’s needed for area students and far over reasonable costs.

“Dr. Garcia just celebrated her one-year anniversary as our president,” Gonzales said after the meeting, referring to COD superintendent/president Dr. Martha Garcia. “That campus should have been built years ago or at least started. They claim that a study for the campus had already been completed. If the study had already been conducted, why not break ground?

“Why did the previous administration not move the project forward?”

Gonzalez, COD Board Chair Ruben Perez, and COD Executive Vice President Dr. Christina Tafoya made an appearance at the monthly meeting of the action association at the invitation of its vice president, Deiter Crawford, who they announced will now be one of 11 members of a newly-formed citizens advisory group designed to provide input to the college about designs for the Palm Springs campus.

“We’ve only been hearing from the business community and the hospitality community,” Crawford said after Gonzalez and Perez spoke. “Everyone in Palm Springs is not rich. We want to make sure we’re getting our fair share.”

Residents of the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood fear they lost representation in 2014 when COD pulled out of plans to build the West Valley campus on roughly 120 acres that surrounds the neighborhood and chose instead to build it at the site of a former mall off Tahquitz Canyon Way.

Last November, representatives of Watermarke Homes stepped forward with a proposal to buy that land from the college and build hundreds of much-needed homes. None of the units were initially planned to be priced under current market value, but Crawford said Tuesday the developer may have had a change of heart. First, the city must allow for home development on the land it gave to COD in 2010. So far it has only offered to buy the land back.

“We lost an opportunity here in our community,” Crawford said. “We want to make sure we have affordable housing. We want to make sure we have a seat at the table.”

Many in attendance applauded after Gonzalez and Perez assured them they will have a voice in both what becomes of the land and what becomes of the college.

“He’s going to be your catalyst to make sure you have a voice at the table,” Gonzalez said, pointing at Crawford. “We want to know what it is that you want.”

As for attempts to get their message out to a broader audience, Gonzalez urged community members to attend or tune into COD’s next Board meeting Thursday morning, and to review any of the Board’s prior recorded meetings. She also pointed to rebuttals from COD attorneys she said media has so far chosen not to report.

An update on the Palm Springs project, made available to The Post Tuesday evening, will be shared on Thursday. Gonzalez said that it refutes many of the concerns about campus costs raised by business leaders in Palm Springs.

“We haven’t been silent,” she said. “We’ve had open public meetings and put out press releases that just haven’t been picked up. There are just people with endless resources who have overshadowed us.”

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