Investigative

CVAG's 24 Million Dollar Mistake

Details on scoring error that sank CV Link grant

KESQ Invesigates why the state denied...

PALM DESERT, Calif. - The CV Link took a big hit in December when the state unexpectedly canceled a 24-million dollar grant it had planned to award to the Coachella Valley Association of Governments.

The CV Link was designed to be an active transportation corridor the length of the Coachella Valley for people to walk, bike or drive a low-speed electric vehicle.

But advocacy groups say the Coachella Valley Association of Governments presented the state misleading census data to overstate its benefit to disadvantaged communities.

A CVAG statement in December said the project had been incorrectly scored, but offered few other details.

Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez said, "In terms of what you're pointing out, I think we deserve to have a little conversation and say what was the strategy? What happened?"

Hernandez also serves on CVAG's Executive Board.

The California Transportation Commission (CTC) yanked $24-million from the CV Link after eight other groups revealed the CVAG application, "selectively listed only those Census tracts that qualified as a disadvantaged community under the program guidelines." CaliforniaWalks said that gave the project a higher overall score than it should have received.

A letter from CaliforniaWalks stated the project application only used Census Tracts in Mecca, Thermal and Oasis,  communities that aren't even included in this project.

The CVAG project map did not include Census tract data from La Quinta, Indian Wells, Palm Desert or any city further west.

CaliforniaWalks called the application a "misleading presentation of data," and the "severely disadvantaged communities" it presented in this application, "may never benefit from this project."

CVAG Executive Board Member, Indio City Council member Glenn Miller isn't sure about motivations.

Miller said, "You'd think they would do extra due diligence to make sure those numbers were accurate because you knew people were going to look at them."
  
According to the US Census, the median household income in Mecca is $26,047. In Indian Wells, it's $90,749.

The poverty rate-- in Indian Wells-- 4.6%. It's 43.1% in Mecca.

CVAG Executive Director Tom Kirk declined our interview requests for this story even though his name is on the CV Link application.

CVAG Transportation Board Chair and Indio Mayor Mike Wilson admits they should have included the entire project's census tracts.

Wilson said, "To say it was a purposeful misrepresentation? I would say not, because all we were doing was trying to show there were disadvantaged communities within the project."

Wilson says it was an honest error, and cites the state's response in supports of that. The CTC rescored the CV Link application instead of throwing it out.

Wilson said, "That in itself speaks volumes as to whether this was intentional or unintentional."

Another round of state awards is now expected to add 5.5 million dollars to the total, but the project has divided the community.

Rancho Mirage has opted out, and Indian Wells officially has no position.

Despite the error, both the Riverside County Transportation Commission and the Southern California Association of Governments have now recommended CV Link get this latest $5.5-million dollar award.

The CTC decision is expected next month when its board meets March 7.

Palm Springs will host a public meeting Monday Feb. 13 for people to learn more about the path's community benefits. That meeting is at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Cathedral City plans to break ground on the CV Link path later this month. No date has yet been set.


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