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New COD president defends efforts to build west valley campuses

Watch Part 2 Here:

An I-Team investigation reveals continued uncertainties about College of the Desert’s commitments to west valley educational opportunities.

“As I continue to learn every day in this role. We obviously were not closed to being ready,” said New COD President, Martha Garcia. 

As KESQ News Channel 3 first reported last month, Cathedral City and Palm Springs city leaders say they thought new campus deals were already secured, but now it's like everything's back to the drawing board.

In Jeff Stahl’s conversation with Dr. Garcia, she said she came in expecting a number of projects to be underway. But they weren’t, at least not to the extent she’d expected. Now that it’s on her watch, she needs to exercise due diligence in moving ahead and using voter-approved bond monies responsibly.

Check Out Jeff's full, uncut interview below:

Palm Springs COD Campus Plans

Palm Springs City Manager Justin Clifton said, “There were reports as recently as October 2021 indicating this was a $345 million dollar campus at a certain phase of completion.” 

That understanding is no more. City leaders in Palm Springs report a general College of the Desert commitment to a west valley campus. But they say there’s been nothing newly promised regarding the size, cost, and scale of programs to be offered. It was a commitment they thought they already had secured.

Former Palm Springs Mayor and current city councilwoman called into November’s COD Board of Trustees meeting saying, “We have been promised there will be shovels in the ground in 2023.” Holstege urged more transparency from the board and a need for better community updates.

We brought these concerns to Garcia, who said she was surprised to learn plans for a new Palm Springs campus had never been submitted to the state or approved to build. 

“Who dropped the ball?” Jeff Stahl asked Garcia. “It wasn’t me,” Garcia replied. “Was it the last administration?” Jeff Stahl asked Garcia. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Frankly, I’m trying to understand this,” Garcia added.

Now four months into her new role, Garcia recognizes the community has been waiting, and commitments have been made. She says she wants to fulfill them but says she also has to fulfill her due diligence, ethical and moral oversight responsibilities.  

And there was a surprise at the December 17 monthly COD Board of Trustees meeting. Garcia backtracked on her earlier statements a required west valley campus feasibility study hadn’t been completed. That was incorrect she admitted. Some, but not all, elements have been completed.

Garcia said, “We have identified some components of a needs assessment– Some components of a feasibility study.” Garcia said COD staff had never told her. “I requested any assessments or feasibility studies from COD team members several times.” The board was told studies were performed in 2016 but now need to be revalidated because of their age. It’s better than nothing, but more work is required.

A Palm Springs campus is included as recently as November’s monthly bond report for Measure B.  Valley voters passed the $346.5 million education bond in 2004. The monthly report states the $345 million dollar Palm Springs campus will include programs for Hospitality and Culinary Arts which are highly-valued skills in our local economy. The campus will also offer Digital Media and Entertainment studies, a Center of Excellence for Healthcare Education, and Sustainable Technologies. The plans are echoed in a 2019 COD Signature programs report, both available on the college’s website. 

"To be at square one after that amount of time, and the bond commitments measures and payments each and every resident has made, I don't know that optimism is the right word,”
said Clifton. “But we are assuming good faith,” he added.

The November bond report also included a timeline. Design and bidding should be underway right now, with construction in 2023. And it included taxpayer money set aside, line by line.

“I think there’s absolutely no way that can happen because of these delays,” said Clifton.

Jeff Stahl asked Garcia, “How soon in an ideal world would you like to see a campus going in, in Palm Springs?” Garcia replied, “I would love, obviously there was a commitment it would be completed by 2025. I don’t perceive that’s going to happen.” Garcia added, “If we could see something no later than 2027, and hopefully 2026.” That timeline is ultimately still up in the air.

The COD board was told last Friday, Dec. 17, that west valley campus construction and completion deadlines should be identified by next fall.

Roadrunner Motors Automotive program in Cathedral City

College of the Desert’s Roadrunner Automotive Training Center now officially has east valley competition.

In Cathedral City, the ‘coming soon’ sign is still up on a property College of the Desert purchased for its planned Roadrunner Motors automotive repair training center. It’s near the hillside, neighboring Desert Lexus. As we’ve told you, COD recently put that project on indefinite hold. 

Project planning had been underway since 2016. Cathedral City City Councilmember and former Mayor Raymond Gregory was upset by the unexpected news.

Gregory says the city has since met with COD leadership and is submitting alternative sites for consideration.

“So If I could ask her one thing," Gregory said, "I would ask her, 'You’re saying this project’s cost has gone up 67 percent. Can you please break this down so we can understand what these items are and how the items could have gone up that much when really not that much has changed at the site?'"  

I asked Garcia that question. She replied, “You do expect inflation costs when it comes to construction, but not 70 percent or greater.” I asked her for more details, and COD did provide more numbers including costs for needed additional square footage, extensive retaining walls, and soil engineering, even more land grading requirements. The concerns were realized this past summer, well after this land was purchased.

We also learned that a site in Indio along the freeway is now among the locations being considered for Roadrunner Motors. 

“They’ve told us even if we find the perfect site, they still may not build it here,” Gregory said.

Garcia wants the board to choose a direction by June. “As long as I provide them with the information,” Garcia said, “then the board will decide and I will follow their direction.

For now, she says she is committed to transparency and is pleading for patience. 

“Please grant me a few months,” Garcia said. “I’ve been here less than four months. And grant me a few more months and I will provide a clear timeline. And we will do our best to remain obviously within that timeline,” she added.

Meanwhile, people are taking note of the COD delays. A mailer landed in people’s mailboxes this past week. It says "promises made– promises broken–" and asks about the bond money and campuses. It demands COD leadership to be truthful and more accountable.

Campus administrators say we should know more about west valley campus construction and completion plans and deadlines by next fall.

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