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Palm Springs sues College of the Desert for West Valley Campus planning records

Leaders of the City of Palm Springs announced a new lawsuit against College of the Desert Monday, claiming the school failed to release requested public documents about the plans for the West Valley Campus. Mayor Lisa Middleton said the city has been unsuccessfully trying to obtain planning and development records since December of 2022.

"As most of you know, the College of the Desert originally envisioned a 650,000 square foot West Valley campus on land donated in 2011," said Mayor Lisa Middleton, recalling the years of planning already involved in the proposed campus. The Palm Springs Campus is currently projected to be constructed at the site of the former Palm Springs Mall, near Farrell Drive and Tahquitz.

"The legacy of a broad support for COD, Coachella Valley wide, and decades in the making, has been lost. It has been lost in a matter of a few months."

palm springs Mayor Lisa Middleton

Check Out Our In-Depth Interview with Mayor Middleton Below:

"Eleven years later, COD officials have presented a dramatically reduced campus and now appear to ready to build a campus of just 114,000 square feet that would not open until 2027 - 28. By that time, nearly 20 years will have passed since COD first voted in 2007 to select Palm Springs for its West Valley campus," Middleton said.

"A reduced West Valley campus does not do enough to meet the needs of the students in the western part of the Coachella Valley or our workforce," Middleton said.

Middleton outlined the history of tax measures approved to support the construction of the new campus, both before and after the plans for the location changed. "Our residents have voted to tax themselves nearly $1 billion on promises made by cod for a West Valley campus," she said.

"We've been trying to December 8, to get documents that show how College of the Desert has changed their plans for a campus on the West Valley," said City Attorney Andrew Jared, "and we've been met with reluctance on their part. They are now saying that those documents will not be available until November 18." He says that repeated attempts to get the documents were "met with nothing but excuses."

Statement from College of the Desert:

Earlier today, College of the Desert received a copy of the complaint filed by the city of Palm Springs. COD is committed to openness and transparency in its daily operations. COD takes its obligations under the California Public Records Act seriously and responds within the time frame set by statute. Through its lawsuit, the City suggests that the College has “delayed” responses to the City. This is simply not the case. The College has received several separate letters seeking different documents. Just one of the City’s requests, for example, includes sixty-seven categories of documents, and therefore requires the College to search multiple locations for potential documents, review the documents to determine if they are responsive, assess whether they should be released pursuant to the California Government Code, and then prepare them for production. The College has provided multiple responses documents already. Therefore, the College has, and will continue to operate in good faith to respond to the City’s inquiries. However, the College has limited staff and several sources of documents it must carefully review and assess whenever it receives a Public Records Act request, including requests from the City. COD attorneys and the Board of Trustees will be discussing the lawsuit at a future meeting date.

The land involved as a previously proposed location for the campus, near Tramview Road, is also a cause of conflict. In July, News Channel 3 reported Palm Springs offers to buy back land originally planned for COD West Valley Campus, near Tramview Road, as long as the project is finished on the new property.

WATCH: Palm Springs offers to buy land originally planned for COD West Valley Campus as long as project is finished on new property

College of the Desert issued a news release late Monday morning, saying the City of Palm Springs was delaying the proposed sale of the property. The funds from that sale, expected to $5.7 million, would be spent by COD on the Palm Springs Development Project, according to the release.

"In 2014, the City and COD announced the move from Tramview to the mall site based on the request from the City," a statement from the College of the Desert reads, "Beginning January of 2016, representatives from COD met with representatives from the City to discuss the Tramview Property, and the parties agreed that the Property was not suitable for COD’s Palm Springs Development Project, the City did not object to COD’s plan to sell the Property or claim COD was somehow obligated to build a campus on the Property, and the City agreed that it did not have a right to reclaim the Property if COD did not use it for a campus and that the City was not entitled to any payment received as a result of the Property sale."

College of the Desert officials claim the City of Palm Springs is "refusing to process" a developer's "proposed residential project application," even though the sale is in escrow.

In July, Palm Springs' City Attorney Jeffrey Ballinger told News Channel 3 that an intention by College of the Desert to sell the land to a private developer was being done without consultation or an agreement with the City, ignoring the legal requirement that COD agreed to as recorded in the deed restriction to only utilize the property for the West Valley Campus. 

"...the City continues to inappropriately use this Property sale as leverage to attempt to direct COD’s decision making regarding the Palm Springs Development Project at the mall site."

College of the Desert

The College of the Desert statement continued, in part "Despite the delay of the sale of the Tramview property, COD continues to move the Palm Springs Development Project-Phase 1 forward at the mall site." 

Original campus site plans on the corner of Indian Canyon Drive and Tramview Road

You can read the response in full below.

“COD absolutely worked, planned, and followed a sale process for the Property with the City fully informed and in agreement.  Again, to suggest otherwise is not even remotely accurate,” said College of the Desert Attorney Andreas Chialtas in a response letter to the City. 

The college held a virtual forum in August to update their latest timeline for the West Valley Campus. You can see that report here and below. At that August meeting, Mac McGinnis, Construction Consultant for College of the Desert said, "We're anticipating about 2 years of construction, it's a large project, it covers a large site so we're showing completion there late 2026."

"As the years stretch into decades, the size of the campus continues to shrink," Middleton said Monday morning, "The concepts shared at the recent August presentation are vastly different from what was originally promised to the community."

The next Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for September 16.

"During the upcoming September 15, 2022 Board of Trustees meeting, an in-depth presentation of the findings from the programming phase will be shared. At the meeting, the members of the newly-formed Citizens Advisory Group for the Palm Springs Development project will be announced," a statement from the College reads.

You can see slides from this week's planned meeting here:

You can see the feasibility studies for the Palm Springs Development as they are posted to the meeting agenda:

Stay with News Channel 3 for continuing updates. Hear from leaders of the City of Palm Springs and the College of the Desert in reports on News Channel 3 at 5:00 and 6:00.

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Miyoshi Price

Miyoshi joined KESQ News Channel 3 in April 2022. Learn more about Miyoshi here.


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