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Key CV Link grant may be in jeopardy

UPDATE:

There has been renewed discussion over a $10 million grant from Desert Healthcare District to help fund CV Link, the proposed biking and electric vehicle path through most of the valley.

The Coachella Valley Association of Governments and the Desert Healthcare District have been in talks over the grant for years.

News Channel 3’s Madison Weil spoke to both sides on Thursday afternoon, asking when and if that money will be going towards CV Link constructon afterall.

“Back in 2013, we finalized an agreement with them for ten million dollars. And we’ve used that ten million dollars as leverage to go after addition funds,” said Erica Felci, Governmental Projects Manager, Coachella Valley Association of Governments.

The says the future of CV Link is dependent on that $10 million from Desert Healthcare District. The bike path expected to cost about $100 million total.

District representatives say the grant money was brought up at a board meeting Tuesday night. Some now expressing concerns there might be talk of reallocating the funds. “There have been comments that have become public and certainly we’re hearing from cities that were expecting construction in the next year about…what does this message mean from the district?”

When News Channel 3 asked the district directly to clarify if CV Link supporters should be concerned about the $10 million be taken off the table, their CEO, Dr. Conrado Bárzaga, replied: “I believe that the great reality is that we are a public organization therefore all the meetings are conducted in public. And we invite the public to engage with us to attend the meetings to ask questions to make comments.”

The district further clarified in an email exchange that the board president brought up the grant in Tuesday’s meeting to put it on the agenda to be further discussed in a public meeting.

That open/public meeting is now set for October 22nd at the UC Riverside campus in Palm Desert. Bárzaga added this is part of their normal process for making funding decisions like this.

CVAG says they have a memorandum of understanding with the district, in which the district requested they acquire an additional $12.6 million for the project before releasing the funds. CVAG says they met that contingency back in 2015. “We’ve more than done that through grants and outside funding,” said Felci.

When asked, district added they originally invested in the idea of CV Link for its health benefits to the community. “I believe it’s an important project for the entire Coachella Valley,” said Bárzaga.

“CV Link is a really important project for this community in terms of public safety, public health, improved air quality,” added Felci.

ORIGINAL REPORT:

A $10 million grant which would provide crucial funding to the CV Link has the potential to be pulled.

The grant, which was awarded by the Desert Healthcare District, was discussed at the end of the District’s most recent meeting.

“This was brought up by Board President Dr. Les Zendle at the September 24 meeting because he was asking it to be placed on an agenda,” Will Dean, Spokesperson for Desert Healthcare District wrote in a statement to News Channel 3. “It’s all something that will be discussed in a public meeting.”

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG) and the Desert Healthcare District (DHD) was approved in 2013 and has no expiration date, according to Erica Felci, CVAG Governmental Projects Manager.

“A 30-month clause to acquire an additional $12.6 million in funding by November 30, 2015. CVAG notified the District on November 1, 2013 that we had met that contingency (and since then, we’ve shattered the expectation by our grant success),” Felci wrote in a statement to News Channel 3. “Upon CVAG meeting that contingency, the District booked the $10 million as a liability on their financial statements.”

The grant’s value doesn’t rest solely on its monetary value, however; it served was a key early injection of cash into the project that provided a base for the project to continue to garner other funding. If the base is pulled out, other funding may shift into uncertainty.

The questions surrounding the grant came up when CVAG notified DHD about plans to begin pulling funds from the grant to begin building “at least” 15 miles of the cross-valley thoroughfare in 2020. CVAG notified DHD about these plans in June 2019, according to Felci.

“The Board made no suggestions about the MOU’s timeliness until CVAG notified them that we wanted to draw down funds,” Felci said. “You will have to ask the District about their cashflow.”

DHD CEO Dr. Conrado Barzaga stated that the current state of the funding is nothing out of the ordinary.

“All grantees are required to follow the District’s board-approved policy for its grantmaking process. After a grant award is approved, there are additional steps to ensure that certain conditions and contingencies are met. The proposed grant to CVAG for the CV Link project is currently in this phase,” Barzaga said. “Once contingencies and conditions are evaluated, the District staff produces a report to the Board for its approval/disapproval of a proposed grant agreement, which in turn authorizes the release of funds.”

Without the $10 million, CVAG ‘will have to rethink its 2020 construction plans’, according to Felci.

KESQ News Team

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