A massive housing development boom on the north side of Palm Desert is expected to bring up to 10,000 new residents.
With more than 1,000 new homes already completed and nearly 5,000 total expected to be built in the near future, concerns are mounting over the lack of necessary services and amenities to support the expanding community and a potential strain on the area.
"The growth is a good thing, and change is a good thing, but we need to get ahead of that growth," said Stephen Nelson, president of the Genesis HOA in north Palm Desert.
Examples of the ongoing development are apparent, including what Nelson said is a lack of essential infrastructure. A lot near his community hat was once promised to be local shops remains undeveloped, and what residents call the "sidewalk to nowhere" along Gerald Ford Drive outside the community leaves pedestrians with a pathway that suddenly stops in the sand.
"We want a walkable area," Nelson said.
Residents in north Palm Desert also face challenges in terms of education. As the only pocket of the city in Palm Springs Unified School District, students living there must travel to neighboring cities like Rancho Mirage or Cathedral City. Nelson said this can result in hour-long bus commutes and early mornings to make it to school on time.
For years, the Palm Springs Unified School District has owned a 25-acre school site on Gateway Drive in North Palm Desert, intended for a Kindergarten through 8th-grade school. However, due to declining enrollment and a lack of sufficient development, the school remains unbuilt, leaving students without a nearby educational facility.
"We purchased that land back in 2006, and then the homes never came. The district has been sitting on that land for about 17 years now, waiting for that area to fill in," said Julie Arthur, executive director of PSUSD's facilities planning and design.
The cost to build the long-awaited school is estimated at $90 million, with approximately $2 million required annually for its operation. With the current declining enrollment and limited funding, the school's construction remains on hold until sufficient student enrollment can be generated.
Beyond educational concerns, residents are also worried about the strain on local transportation. The Monterey Avenue and Cook Street interchanges to I-10 are already crowded with traffic, partly due to the Acrisure Arena. Plans for a long-awaited Portola Road exit could cost more than $100 million, with funding sources still uncertain.
Public transit poses another issue, as there is no east-west SunLine bus route along Gerald Ford Drive until at least 2025.
Eric Ceja, Palm Desert's Economic Development Director, acknowledges the pressing need for services to accompany the influx of new residents. "We're seeing new development and new residents come into the area. And we need rooftops in the area to start putting services," he said.
To address some of these concerns, conceptual designs for new community infrastructure have been proposed. One of the key planned developments is a 27-acre regional sports park near the new housing communities. The proposed park features a botanical promenade and easy access to green open spaces, providing recreational opportunities for the growing population. A smaller, more passive neighborhood park is planned off Dinah Shore Drive. Both parks remain in the planning phases.
The city is addressing safety concerns with plans for a new North Sphere Fire Station near Gerald Ford and Frank Sinatra drives. The station is expected to improve response times and the delivery of medical and other emergency services, aiming to keep pace with the area's future growth. Its completion is expected in Fall 2025.
John Peña, a La Quinta City Councilmember who has seen the valley's grow since before he was first elected in 1984, acknowledged the challenges of timing services with new residents' arrival. "It's difficult because you not only have to do the timing with the infrastructure. And then you have to develop the amenities that your residents are going to want and need," Peña said.