Fatal Flaws of Golf Cart Joy Ride
Cover photo of golf cart crash by Blake Lyons
Coachella Valley, CA – What used to be called the WRUT [Whitewater River Urban Transportation] Plan was re-branded as the Golf Cart Path. Others call it the tongue twisting 11e1 Parkway (we will call it The Path) and it is starting to get press coverage, especially since supporters of The Path are grabbing millions to build the WRUT. Rather than rehash supporter’s and detractor’s sound bites and media spin, we opted to go straight to a report commissioned by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments listing the fatal flaws in The Path plan even though CVAG as a body is in favor of getting stuck in this rut.
Make no mistake, the CVAG report detailed here is supposed to be an argument in favor of the plan. It is polished and typical of an organization easily paying for high-priced promotional pieces looking rich in engineering and design support.
Taking a more blunt approach, detractors argue against spending millions that will leave poor cities poorer when money needed to clean the air and improve poor city resident’s lives is gobbled up for a golf cart joy ride for people living a life of luxury.
Detractors argue the greed of rich cities will benefit a few wealthy residents deceptively robbing the poor cities of Desert Hot Springs and Coachella of money needed for more worthwhile projects.
Reverend Carl McPeters from Indio, California said he wants the funds to be used to help seniors and the working poor, specifically pointing to the need for weatherization of homes to help hold down electric bills. He said that is a far better use of funding. Others advocate providing natural gas vehicles to community service organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, the Senior Center and Family Services of the Desert plus building sidewalks with landscaping to save lives and hold down dust.
While intended to support The Path, detractors will find comfort that the CVAG commissioned report is a fancy report rife with rhetoric, struggling to justify the expense of The Path. Every once in a while, however, the truth surfaces in the report.
CVAG paid three companies to write the report – LSA Associates of Palm Springs, Alta Planning and Design of Los Angeles and RBF Consulting of Palm Desert.
Even though a total price tag of $80 million to $100 million has been announced by supporters as the total project cost, no one really knows how much it will cost to purchase all the land or the cost and time needed to complete the Environmental Impact studies for the 20 to 30 foot asphalt and concrete pathway. Similar environmental concerns held up local freeway overpasses for over a decade, suggesting the funding, if allocated to The Path, will not be used for quite some time.
“Land purchase alone will easily bump the price another hundred million,” said Peter Welsh, a local real estate expert. Other expenses are only vaguely defined in the report. No one knows how much it will cost to build bridges to cross the freeway, over roads, railroad tracks and streambeds. “It’s easily tens of millions more they did not address,” said Welsh.
Highly valued for their privilege and privacy, golf courses such as Thunderbird, Morningside, Rancho Las Palmas, Monterey and Indian Wells are specifically targeted. The CVAG report advocates opening up gated communities to daily traffic of hundreds of golf carts, pedestrians, and other vehicles entering without security checks.
“The more people using it the more safe The Path will be,” said Tom Kirk, the un-elected and high-paid boss of CVAG.
Importantly, the CVAG report goes on to clarify there is no easy or inexpensive way to prohibit dirt bikes and other gas powered vehicles from using the path.
No One Knows
On what it will take to maintain The Path and to provide security once it is built, the report is clear – no one knows. The attraction of a beautiful alternative route through some of the nicest properties in the Palm Springs desert area will require maintenance and security. Just as roads require police, so will an open public path, especially where users travel through country clubs where right-of-ways will be taken.
The need for security was specifically raised by detractors at two recent forums that addressed The Path. “I’m concerned about how this destroys public safety,” said McPeters. He said you can’t build something of this magnitude without taking into consideration public safety, saying it is impractical to have security checkpoints at every country club and that means anyone from the public can simply drive a golf cart into gated communities.
“The backs of homes on the fairway are exposed to anyone who wants to break in,” McPeters said. “Those country club security guards will be stuck on the streets while the robbers are stealing stuff out the back using the golf cart path.”
According to Kirk, seven million dollars is needed to pay for “planning” to create answers for what no one knows.
More Money Needed
The report concurs by stating the $100 million price tag is only what the CVAG report calls a “down payment” and that
untold millions more will be needed for security and maintenance. The report suggests BLM Rangers will patrol The Path, apparently unaware the government’s lack of funding has now reduced the current number of Rangers to two officers covering territory extending from the Whitewater River to the Arizona border.
To cover the cost of construction, the report states CVAG proposes using $53 million of air quality mitigation fees provided by South Coast Air Quality Management District resulting from construction of a new power plant in Desert Hot Springs. Other funding will be taken from Coachella Valley road paving funds, shaving money from other, critical road projects.
David Hoopes, resident and planning commissioner in Desert Hot Springs takes exception to the emphasis the report places on Hwy 111. Hoopes said, “As much as possible should be spent in Desert Hot Springs.” The new powerplant is approximately two miles from the downtown of the city.The CVAG proposal to use all the Desert Hot Springs power plant funds raised concerns about the lions share of mitigation fees largely benefiting wealthy cities. The report notes the official name of The Path is the 1e11 Parkway, denoting its main emphasis is the Hwy 111 corridor of the rich Valley cities.
Its a Toll Road
To solve the problem of keeping gas powered vehicles off the path, the report suggests the path use “toll booths” or “keyed access gates” to limit undesirables from entering sections of the path that will pass through country clubs. The report does not address the limiting factor this will have on those that cannot afford to live in some of the wealthiest communities in America. The leader of CVAG took offense when asked how much the cost will be to joy ride the toll road.
“It’s not a toll road,” said Kirk when addressing the report that clearly identifies the use of toll booths.
Rich Cities Push Slow Path
Community groups supporting The Path include the Coachella Valley Community Trails Alliance [located in Palm Desert] and the Desert Recreation District, which represents the cities of La Quinta, Palm Desert, and Rancho Mirage – but not Coachella and Desert Hot Springs!
Think twice if you think The Path will speed up access to work, school, or events. The route is geared towards recreation and is impractical for the most part. The meandering Path will not speed up access across the Coachella Valley as maximum speeds for golf carts are limited to 25 mph. Incredulouosly, the report says slow speeds of The Path will encourage the local economy.
“The limited driving range of [Neighborhood Electric Vehicles] NEVs will encourage people to shop locally,” the CVAG report states. It adds, “The lower transportation speeds will foment community interaction and cohesion. The corridor, along with amenities such as interpretive sites and charging stations, will create space where people can interact with one another.”
Detractors call that a fabrication of fancy words, conveying pie in the sky sentiments that do not address planning realities.
It is not true that the limited driving range of NEVs will encourage people to shop locally. The Path runs through a dry river wilderness, making it impossible to “foment community interaction and cohesion.” However, it is true that golf cart drivers will have plenty of time to interact with one another – while waiting for their carts to charge.
In order to make the path palatable, the report writers states “Providing the infrastructure to use these vehicles will avail low-income families of a relatively inexpensive option for transpiration. The report suggests “bicycles and electric vehicles will be rented and shared to enable people to use these modes of transportation without having to purchase one themselves.” The report states those “share and rental stations” are only planned for Rancho Mirage and La Quinta residents to enjoy.
The report states “the Whitewater River transforms into a river of blowing dust and sand during strong wind events.” These events are frequent. High traffic roads like Gene Autry have been closed for weeks at a time. Bad days are so severe that high winds blowing gritty particulates can sandblast the flesh off exposed skin. Imagine running out of battery power when a sand storm comes up and you only have the thin skin of a fiberglass golf cart between you and the cutting effect of hurricane force winds.
It’s difficult enough for steel cars and trucks traversing the sandstorms of the dry riverbed during these storms jolting vehicles and making it difficult to drive. The reality of people suffering a medical emergency on The Path is not considered in the report. An ordinary ambulance [a gasoline powered vehicle] will not have access to the The Path Toll Way.
The report also states “paving maintenance roads along one levee of the Whitewater River” for The Path “will help to alleviate some of the particulate matter generated when strong winds funnel through the Whitewater River channel.”
However, there is not a supporting study or the suggestion of science to back up that claim.
A paragraph in the report suggests that the health benefit of using the golf cart path for walking or with bicycles as a healthy way to get to school. Yet no part of the golf cart path leads to any school in Desert Hot Springs or Coachella. Only La Quinta High School and COD are specifically identified as beneficiaries.
Security Problems for Country Clubs
The Path will be taking land from 27 golf courses and it suggests two may have to be redesigned. Many of these country clubs are protected by guard gates controlling motor vehicular access. Unrestricted entry of electric vehicles via The Path opens a security problem that is not addressed in the report. Without the expense of an imposing block wall, electric vehicles can easily leave the path, traverse the fairway and gain easy back door access to formerly protected homes at some of the most exclusive estates in the area. It’s a dream for any thief with a golf cart.
Also, country club golfers will not likely appreciate the creation of a block wall obstruction and homeowner associations will most likely fight to maintain security. It’s unlikely homeowners associations will easily “give away” land for The Path.
“The property along the Whitewater River is divided among public owners, tribal owners, private owners, and homeowner associations. The Regional Trails Study discovered numerous discrepancies in ownership and parcel information between Coachella valley Water District data and the County Assessor’s records. Ownership and easement status will have to be clarified for an unknown number of parcels.”
“You can take this to the bank,” McPeters said. “The Path will have opposition from private property owners and homeowners associations representing some of the most private and privileged real estate in the United States.”
The reverend also said opposition will most likely also rise to protect sensitive biological habitat and tribal lands protected by powerful Indian tribes. “Even if The Path gets all the power plant funding they want, this fantasy will very likely be tied up in the courts for an eternity. For CVAG rob the poor cities of important funding needed now would be a crime.”
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