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Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Lone Holdout in Coachella Valley Wildlife Plan Changes Mind

Desert Hot Springs may sign on to habitat plan, 7-11-07

By Denise Goolsby and Mariecar Mendoza • The Desert Sun

The Desert Hot Springs City Council voted Tuesday to work with the Coachella Valley Association of Governments on a regional plan it originally rejected that is designed to balance environmental needs and the area's growth.

The council voted 3-1, with Councilwoman Mary Stephens dissenting and Councilman Hank Hohenstein absent, to work with CVAG and the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission to join the long-planned Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.

"We chose not to participate and it is now my firm belief for the betterment of the community as a whole that the city must, in good faith, negotiate," Councilwoman Yvonne Parks said. "It's in the best interest of the city and its economic future."

Councilwoman Mary Stephens was not as enthusiastic.

"I have a problem with this," she said. "I don't like the idea of this being last-minute."

Seven developers and residents spoke at the meeting, many opposing the move.

Desert Hot Springs was the only valley city not to join the plan last year, citing concerns that it would not be able to move forward with two projects - a golf resort and a possible College of the Desert campus.

Since then, CVAG has revised the multi-species plan without the city and plans to have it fully approved sometime this fall.

The 75-year conservation plan would protect 240,000 acres of open space for 27 endangered and threatened species - including the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard and Peninsular bighorn sheep - while still allowing the valley's population to nearly triple to 1.1 million by build-out in 2066.

The current plan that is set to expire next month protects the lizard but not the other species.

John Wohlmuth, executive director of CVAG, said he's worked with the city for the past week and a half to draft the Memorandum of Understanding the council discussed Tuesday.

CVAG's position has been, "Does Desert Hot Springs want to participate in the plan and, if so, how can we help them in the future," Wohlmuth said.

The agreement's proposed conditions include:

A major plan amendment to include Desert Hot Springs.

The county's support of Desert Hot Springs' proposed annexations.

A follow-up agreement to address the potential development of a College of the Desert campus on Palm Drive on county land.

The formal agreement is expected to come before the City Council on Aug. 7.

The city's initial opposition was tied to its aspirations to develop Palmwood Golf Club, a 2,114-acre project off Indian Avenue and Highway 62 that would include two golf courses, a 400-room hotel and 1,800 homes.

The Riverside County Local Agency Formation Commission, which has annexation authority, approved Desert Hot Springs' annexation of land for the Palmwood Golf Club in April.

After the approval, many agencies challenged the decision. In May, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club sued the agency.

The two environmental groups claim the commission violated provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act by annexing the land and is jeopardizing the multi-species plan.

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