Press Release Nov 6, 2019

Riverside County Rejects Destructive New City Near Joshua Tree National Park

Riverside County Board of Supervisors unanimously rejects city proposal that threatened Joshua Tree National Park wildlife, night skies and surrounding communities.

RIVERSIDE, CA – Community groups and environmental organizations are applauding a decision by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to quash plans for a new Riverside County city of 20,000 residents. The new city, dubbed “Paradise Valley” by its proponents, would have covered 1,850 acres of open desert adjacent to the southern boundary of Joshua Tree National Park with 8,000 luxury homes and 1.4 million square feet of commercial and light industrial space.

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 against the proposal, which has long faced pointed opposition over its likely economic and ecological impacts. At the forefront of opponents’concerns with the project was the potential undoing of the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). The MSHCP is a painstakingly crafted compromise that protects the regions’ imperiled species while smoothing development in urban areas. Proponents of the Paradise Valley project have refused to follow the MSHCP’s procedures, putting the agreement in danger, and threatening sustainable development elsewhere in the Coachella Valley.

“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, California Desert Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “This is a victory not just for Joshua Tree National Park, but also for nearby communities.”

“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.”

“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 type of developments that will not positively benefit the low-income and communities of color in the Eastern Coachella Valley whereas these developments literally leapfrog past them and the ECV stays the same”.

“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 did the right thing in denying this poorly sited project that would have destroyed rare desert habitats and blocked critical movement corridors for wildlife next to Joshua Tree National Park,” said Lisa Belenky, an attorney with 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 in one of the fastest-growing regions of the country. The MSHCP allows smart in-fill development to proceed while discouraging sprawl development projects that require significant new infrastructure.”

The Supervisors’ vote followed strongly worded recommendations by the county’s Planning Department and Planning Commission urging the Board to deny the project.

In addition to the impacts to the MSHCP, wildlife, and night skies, Paradise Valley would have razed some of the best remaining desert dry wash woodland habitat left in Southern California. The lands provide crucial habitat 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 history of violent flooding. Were a natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake strike the development, all 20,000 or so residents would be expected to use one small freeway onramp for access, putting residents in danger.

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