RIVERSIDE, Calif.― Community groups and environmental organizations applauded the Riverside County Board of Supervisors’ unanimous vote Tuesday to quash plans for a new city of 20,000 residents near Joshua Tree National Park.
“I couldn’t be happier with the vote,” said Gary Gray of the San Gorgonio Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Paradise Valley is the wrong project in the wrong place. The Coachella Valley needs thoughtful development in underserved communities, not leapfrog sprawl projects that serve only a few. I’m grateful that Riverside County’s supervisors did the right thing and stopped this ill-advised project.”
The Paradise Valley development would have covered 1,850 acres of open desert adjacent to the southern boundary of the park, with 8,000 luxury homes and 1.4 million square feet of commercial and light industrial space.
“Communities in the Eastern Coachella Valley need clean water, affordable housing, schools, parks, and increased public services,” said Lesly Figueroa of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “Paradise Valley would have diverted county resources away from communities in need to serve an unnecessary project in the remote desert. What’s worse, the project would have made it harder to do appropriate development in those already underinvested unincorporated communities. The people of the Eastern Coachella Valley deserve better than to have these types of developments that will not positively benefit the low-income and communities of color in the Eastern Coachella Valley. These developments literally leapfrog past them, and the ECV stays the same.”
The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 against the proposal, which has long faced opposition over its likely harms to the area’s ecology and economy. The development would have undone the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, a painstakingly crafted compromise that protects the regions’ imperiled species while smoothing development in urban areas.
“Paradise Valley would have hurt wildlife, eroded Joshua Tree’s dark night skies, and boosted traffic congestion between Joshua Tree and the park-deprived communities of the Coachella Valley,” said Chris Clarke of the National Parks Conservation Association. “This is a victory not just for Joshua Tree National Park, but for communities near the park as well.”
Proponents of the Paradise Valley project have refused to follow the conservation plan’s procedures, putting the agreement in danger and threatening sustainable development elsewhere in the Coachella Valley.
“The Paradise Valley Project would have destroyed thousands of acres of irreplaceable habitat including majestic wildflower displays and desert dry wash woodland that is crucial for birds, mammals and other wildlife,” said Nick Jensen of the California Native Plant Society. “Now it’s time to protect this land permanently, not only for the plants and animals that call the project site home but also for the people of California.”
“The board was right to reject this ill-conceived project, which would’ve destroyed rare desert habitat and blocked critical wildlife corridors next to Joshua Tree National Park,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The sprawling development also would’ve undermined Coachella Valley’s carefully crafted conservation plan, which protects 27 endangered and threatened species and 375 square miles of conservation lands.”
Tuesday’s vote followed strongly worded recommendations from the county’s Planning Department and Planning Commission urging the Board to deny the project.
Paradise Valley would have razed some of the best remaining desert dry wash woodland habitat in Southern California. That habitat is crucial to many animals, including desert bighorn sheep, desert tortoise and migrating birds.
Dry wash woodlands grow in seasonally flooded desert washes, and the washes crossing the Paradise Valley site have a long, established history of severe flooding. In the event of flood, earthquake or other natural disaster, all 20,000 residents would be expected to use one small freeway onramp for access.