PALM DESERT, Calif. - Until last month, it appeared the CV Link was all approved for some big expansions next year. But that new active transportation path construction is now uncertain. The KESQ News Channel 3 I-Team is digging into the Desert Healthcare District's announcement it's still considering its commitment to a $10 million dollar CV Link grant most thought was a done deal. I-Team Investigator Jeff Stahl reports the Coachella Valley Association of Governments asked the City of Palm Desert to hold off on its portion until it finalizes the grant with the Desert Healthcare District this week. The Desert Healthcare District plans to hold a study session on CV Link funding November 7th.
"We had to take extra time to make sure it was the right project, the safest project," said Palm Desert City Council member and CVAG Transportation Committee member, Jan Harnik. The City of Palm Desert is ready to build five new miles of CV Link path, with construction set to start early next year.
Harnik said, "First we have to say safety. We're all aware of the fatalities and serious injuries we've seen throughout the entire valley so it's important for that reason."
Harnik and CVAG Executive Director Tom Kirk walked the path's end at the popular Bump and Grind Trailhead with News Channel 3 just hours before the Desert Healthcare District Board meeting where board members surprisingly said discussions still need to be held on funding it.
"A bike path may not be what the needs are today. That should be debated," said Desert Healthcare District Treasurer Mark Matthews at a board meeting on September 24th. That uncertainty is now putting plans in doubt for the path here, which if built will feature new shade structures and water fountains at the Bump and Grind trail.
Kirk said, "We've had too many deaths on Highway 111, whether it's in Rancho Mirage or Indian Wells and throughout our communities. Far too many deaths that can be prevented by creating a path separate from the street."
From the Bump and Grind, the new CV Link trail will cross Highway 111 on Painter's Path, past shopping to College of the Desert, then jog north to Magnesia Falls Drive.
Plans at Magnesia Falls and San Pablo call for the CV Link path to go from the south side of Magnesia Falls to the north side continuing east toward Palm Desert High School. This also will be an intersection soon toward another community connector, the San Pablo line, taking the CV Link to Highway 111 toward El Paseo.
The 7,650 feet of new path will connect users to College of the Desert, the Civic Center Park and Aquatic Center, Lincoln Elementary, Palm Desert Charter Middle School, and Palm Desert High.
"Plus it's in the midst of neighborhoods that are really family-oriented neighborhoods," said Harnik adding, "So it will be a tremendous asset for them."
This 5 Mile stretch of CV link through Palm Desert will end at the Indian Wells city limit line. It represents 15 miles of CV link construction CVAG hopes to start in the year 2020. Bidding documents estimate the project construction costs at $3 to $4 million dollars and six to ten months to build.
"This has been a long road. And this is a critical part of the project," said Kirk who added, "CV Link keeps bicycles and pedestrians separate from traffic."
Again, this is all IF it's key funding from the Desert Healthcare District comes through. The District in August listed the CV Link project on its outstanding grant and grant payment schedule.
But in a Program Committee Meeting September 10th, the agenda minutes show members questioning how many other monies have been 'secured' versus 'received."
The District complains it has not had a participatory role in the path's design phase and in ensuring its' public health-related objectives are secured.
But a July 25th letter from CVAG to the DHCD board stated CVAG, "has provided quarterly, written updates to the District about the project's progress. These reports were not required by the MOU, but CVAG felt that they would give the District the most updated information and allow for any input as these updates were routinely included in Board agenda packets." The CVAG letter also stated in-person presentations to the District board to receive feedback, the most recent update on July 18, 2019.
It questions the loss of Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells as CV Link participants and complains, "The Health Impact Assessment does not provide sufficient evidence that the CV Link will have a positive impact on the health of the District population."
The July 25th letter from CVAG to the DHCD board stated the path's connections to schools and community centers for recreation, employment, and health, "will further encourage active transportation and physical activity, thereby helping us improve the Coachella Valley's public health and air quality."
Most importantly, the District states the Memorandum of Understanding with CVAG may have expired November 30th of 2015-- nearly four years ago. A hot mic captured board members saying after their September meeting, "It's up to the board to decide. The contract expired."
That statement at the Healthcare District Board meeting accompanied questions of whether it's more important to take care of people's health?
Without that $10-million dollar grant, the entire CV Link proposal could be threatened.
A CVAG representative Erica Felci said, "The MOU does not have an expiration date. What it does have is one contingency: CVAG had to secure at least $12.6 million within 30 months (or by November 2015) in order for the MOU to remain in place. CVAG notified the District in late 2013 that it had secured $12.6 in federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funding – and then went on to secure state and federal grants that put the total funding secured at more than $100 million. I would also note that the District has booked this as a liability on its financial records and that we are tracked as an approved and current grant."
The July 25th letter from CVAG, signed by Kirk, to the DHCD board also stated, "losing the match could put the remaining funds at risk."
A CVAG representative, Erica Felci told News Channel 3, "Should there be delays in the availability of District funding, CVAG will have to rethink its 2020 construction plans." CVAG also provided the I-Team with the signed Memorandum of Understanding with the Desert Healthcare District. But also in the MOU, the District reserves the right to revoke any financial commitments if it becomes necessary to address a major District or Desert Regional Medical Center related financial obligation. A statement from CVAG's Felci responded, "the District hasn't made any such suggestions."
Read the documents below for more details:
More: I-Team investigations
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