Palm Desert mayor, council tout city's fiscal outlook, focus on higher education
Sherry Barkas - Palm Springs Desert Sun, March 30, 2022
Palm Desert leaders touted the city as fiscally sound with educational, recreational and business opportunities for everyone, built on a foundation formed by founders with vision and responsible leadership, at the state of the city address on Wednesday. Mayor Jan Harnik and council members also said the city’s true heroes are its residents and businesses, at the event hosted by the Palm Desert Area Chamber of Commerce at the Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort & Spa. The state of the city presentation was mostly done via a 20-minute video in which all council members did a presentation on a key topic. The video began with Harnik holding a key to the city as a symbol of all who have contributed to the growth and development of Palm Desert since its incorporation in 1973. “Every city has a story and Palm Desert’s story has been shaped over the years by strong values that built this community from a small desert outpost to become the heart and thought-leader of the Coachella Valley,” Harnik said. “Palm Desert has grown into a community with something for everyone. Our values are constant. Our vision evolves.”
Education as a priority Since long before the city’s incorporation, Palm Desert has been the home of higher education in the Coachella Valley, starting with College of the Desert. Today, the city is home to satellite campuses for University of California, Riverside and California State University, Palm Desert. A full four-year, standalone CSU campus has been the long-term vision of city officials, residents and others who have donated the land and built the infrastructure to one day make that a reality. The city has upped its effort to see that dream a reality over the past couple of years, Councilmember Karina Quintanilla said. “Thanks to the foresight of our city leaders, Palm Desert continues to be an expanding destination for relevant, high-quality and accessible education,” Quintanilla said. “The importance of providing equal access to high-quality education cannot be understated and has been a foundational value for the city over the past 25 years.”
Growth and development
A “clear and strategic vision” for growth and development has been key to the success of Palm Desert and something the city’s founding leaders embraced, Councilmember Gina Nestande said. “It was their foresight that led to the development of El Paseo as a high-end retail shopping destination,” Nestande said. The city’s founders also set aside nearly 30 acres designated for what is today Civic Center Park, and planned-ahead for a future university off Cook Street, where the CSU campus is situated on land donated by the founders, she said. “Because of their foresight, our city has developed into a thriving community that offers something for everyone,” Nestande said, with its dining and retail, art and other amenities. As the city expands with development on the northern end of town, it has partnered a consulting firm to help develop a strategic plan for rounding out the development with residential, commercial and other needed amenities, Nestande said.
“Fiscal responsibility continues to be a cornerstone value for the City of Palm Desert,” said Mayor Pro Tem Sabby Jonathan. The city has traditionally made “prudent decisions” with the community’s future in mind, Jonathan said. “Since the founding of Palm Desert nearly 50 years ago, our city has grown to be an economic leader in the Coachella Valley,” he said. Putting money into reserves for “a rainy day” helped the city and its businesses weather the pandemic, Jonathan said. The city provided more than $3 million in relief funds to its businesses during the pandemic. “Thoughtful planning in the past meant that Palm Desert had the resources to help community members during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jonathan said.“In fact, we now have more active businesses in Palm Desert than we did before the pandemic,” he said.
Saluting residents, businesses
The safety of everyone in Palm Desert was a concern of the city’s early leaders, who invested in infrastructure needed to prevent street flooding during major storms. That has since been extended to new parts of the city as they have been annexed, Councilmember Kathleen Kelly said. “Our early leaders saved enough land not just for one regional park, but for three regional parks for every part of the city, accompanying small neighborhood recreational opportunities,” Kelly said. She then held up the residents and businesses of Palm Desert as the true heroes and heroines of the city. “Who are the heroes and the heroines responsible for this great visionary work? You. You, the residents and businesses of Palm Desert have inspired the visionary planning of the past because at the center of our city’s values has been trust in our residents and our businesses,” Kelly said. The city made a commitment early on to engage its residents and businesses in discussions about Palm Desert’s needs, and to listen to their input and ideas, Kelly said. That has been done through its various commissions and committees and grown to today’s EngagePalmDesert.com website, where residents can find out what’s happening in the city, give feedback and ask questions, Kelly said. Coffee with the Mayor and other programs have also been launched in recent years, which have offered “a great opportunity to meet new people and hear fresh perspectives,” Kelly said.
'Unite Palm Desert'
Harnik then took the stage to finish the program, highlighting the importance of public safety to the council and staff. “Without public safety, without our community members, our visitors, our businesses feeling secure in their homes and on the streets, in their schools and in their businesses, we have nothing,” Harnik said. Making sure police and fire personnel have the tools they need to do their jobs is a priority, she said. During the pandemic, the city launched its “Unite Palm Desert” initiative – “a program that reminds us in many ways that when we work together, when we take care of our neighbor, we are better. We are better together,” Harnik said. She also thanked city staff. “They get the work done,” Harnik said. “They’re amazing.” Harnik closed with an African proverb she believes speaks to Palm Desert’s vision and philosophy: “It says, ‘If you want to go somewhere fast. Go alone. If you want to go far. Go together.’”