Proposed California budget includes $59 million for CSU Palm Desert campus

Sherry Barkas Julie Makinen
Palm Springs Desert Sun
State Assembly members Chad Mayes (right) and Eduardo Garcia take questions from the audience during a press conference to announce a $79 million state budget request to fund a student center building at the CSUSB Palm Desert campus in Palm Desert, Calif., Friday, April 22, 2022.

A proposed state budget that includes $59 million to build a student center at the Cal State University San Bernardino campus in Palm Desert is on its way to California's governor for his input.

“This is not a done deal,” Assemblymember Chad Mayes, I-Rancho Mirage, told The Desert Sun. “What it means is that the Senate and Assembly have come to an agreement on what their priorities are and what their budget looks like,” Mayes said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom could make revisions — including reducing, increasing or nixing the funds altogether — before sending the proposal back to lawmakers.

There will be additional budget hearings within the Legislature, which has until June 15 to submit a revised budget for Newsom to sign.

“I’m very, very optimistic, but we can’t claim success yet,” Mayes said.

Mayes and Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, had requested $79 million for the student center. The two local legislators were joined by Coachella Valley civic and economic leaders when they held a press conference in April at the CSU Palm Desert campus to announce they were pushing for the appropriation of funds in the 2022-23 state budget.

'Let’s fight like hell:':Mayes, Garcia ready to battle for $79M from state for CSU Palm Desert

“Let’s fight like hell” to get these funds, Mayes said during the event, emphasizing that getting the student center funded was his top priority.

Garcia said there is still time to advocate for the full $79 million, and the two assembly members will continue their fight.

“I think that it’s not done until it’s done,” Garcia said.

“Given that we have a small window to continue to advocate for the rest of the money, that’s what we’ll do in the coming days,” Garcia said, and encouraged local leaders and residents to help by continuing to call and email their support to him and Mayes.

“I feel very good that leadership in both houses, the Senate and the Assembly, have listened to our outcry that we need this investment for our region and for purposes of greater access to education and economic development diversity,” Garcia said.

Campus would be a 'game-changer'

Palm Desert and Coachella Valley leaders have been working toward a standalone campus for more than 25 years on 168 acres of land donated to the state by the city.

Palm Desert Mayor Jan Harnik was excited to hear the proposed budget includes $59 million for a student center, and now hopes the appropriation will win the governor’s support, as well.

“This is a game-changer,” Harnik said. “This is a future changer for our valley.”

Elected officials from throughout the Coachella Valley have long said a standalone campus would mean a greater ability to serve historically under-represented minorities, low-income and first-generation students.

The nearest four-year campuses are at least 40 miles away, including the home campus of Cal State San Bernardino.

A standalone campus also would help to build a diversified economy, said Joe Wallace, president and CEO of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership.

In 2020, CVEP and the City of Palm Desert created a partnership to advocate for expanding the CSU San Bernardino campus in Palm Desert. The nonprofit organization Priority One Coachella Valley was formed and seeded with $150,000 from the City of Palm Desert to continue the push for a standalone campus.

“This is a perfect example of how focused regional actions can make things happen that have profoundly positive impacts,” Wallace said.

“Securing the funding for a student center will transform the CSU Palm Desert campus into a fully functional college campus that can accommodate 4,000 students,” Wallace said.

A vision started 36 years ago

Cal State San Bernardino classes were first offered in Palm Desert starting in 1986 in temporary classrooms on the College of the Desert campus. In 2002, classes were moved to 168 acres of land donated to the state by the City of Palm Desert with the intention that a standalone Cal State University Palm Desert would one day be built.

To date just 18 acres of the site have been built out to include three academic buildings and a 300-seat theater, all constructed with local philanthropic dollars.

The infrastructure is in place and environment impact report completed years ago, making the site build-ready for expansion.

The planned two-story 23,700-square-foot student center can hold up to 4,000 students and will include a tutoring/mentoring center, career center, expanded campus library, group study space, cross cultural center, bookstore, food services, student health center and a recreation and wellness center.

With costs rising, it is unknown how much the center will cost to build, and what additional funds will be needed, but Harnik said she will do all she can to find that money.

“What it is to me is motivation, and it’s a start,” she said to getting the rest of the money needed and the center built.

“With everything that has happened with costs and prices and labor in these last couple of years, I’m not sure anyone knows what the actual cost will be. But I know $59 million is well on the way to where we need to go,” Harnik said.

Mayes can be reached through his district office at 41608 Indian Trail Road, Suite D-1, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270, (760) 346-6342.

Garcia's offices are at 48220 Jackson St., Suite A3, Coachella, CA 92236, (760) 347-2360, and 1101 Airport Road, Suite D, Imperial, CA 92251, (760) 355-8656.

Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the cities of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be reached at sherry.barkas@thedesertsun.com. Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherryBarkas