Editorial: Palm Desert deserves the next California State University campus
A quarter century ago, leaders in Palm Desert started down a path they believed would one day lead to the city becoming home to its own California State University campus.
California State University, San Bernardino-Palm Desert Campus today serves a population of 1,600 students. It offers 19 degree programs and allows students to complete credits toward another 11 graduate or doctoral programs.
This satellite campus has indeed come far, but still is not the “California State University, Palm Desert” that the city, and many partners across the desert community, have been working toward.
The university system’s powers that be currently are considering where (and even if) the system should build a new standalone campus, which would be the 24th CSU.
Palm Desert has a strong case. The state should build it here.
'Table set' for a valley university
To begin with, the vision for a full-fledged university in our mid-valley is already far along the way toward success when it comes to development.
The above-mentioned 1,600 enrolled students attend classes in four state-of-the-art buildings that include academic facilities and a 300-seat theater.
As for community support, Palm Desert provided the nearly 200-acre site, worth an estimated $44 million today, adjacent to Interstate 10 at Cook Street and additional financial investments of some $17 million. Each of the nine valley cities have made other generous gifts and a plethora of charitable foundations have combined efforts to build this campus.
Let that sink in: No state funds have been used so far in building this premier facility for the California State University system.
Note to CSU Regents: You’re being offered the deal of the century here. The table has been set, with perhaps 20% to 25% of your new standalone campus already created for you. And there’s another 160 acres or so to grow into, all integrated into the city’s own General Plan and future infrastructure visioning. The site can be quickly developed, with hundreds of units of adjacent housing of various types already in the works under the city’s University Park plan.
As far as need (one of the measures being considered in this vetting process), Coachella Valley students looking to continue their education after high school are 60 miles or more in distance from the closest full-fledged public university (UC Riverside is nearest to us). That distance is an insurmountable barrier for many from our valley who could do well in higher education, but lack the means to move away from home to go to school.
In addition to offering a local university option for our valley’s 5,500 or so graduating high school seniors each year, a standalone CSUPD with a full array of degree programs likely would be the only four-year degree option for many students from our lower-income communities. Making college accessible must be one of the measures being chased in this process. This campus will serve students seeking to be the first in their families, like many from lower-income, predominantly Latino communities in our eastern Coachella Valley, to attain a college degree.
A CSUPD would benefit all residents
For those without college-age children who might ask, “What’s in it for me?,” think about this: The university represents a vitally needed diversification of our economy. This resource will help create a skilled, educated workforce vital in today’s global economy. Added to our valley’s relatively affordable housing, when compared to tech-heavy areas like Silicon Valley or L.A.’s Silicon Beach, this becomes a great draw for firms looking to expand.
Simply said, this will mean better-paying jobs, with the benefit that many of our own young will end up studying and then staying here to build their careers and lives. Their taxes will be paying for your benefits and city amenities for generations to come.
Despite the legwork already having been done here, this is far from a done deal.
Yes, on paper — and for those who taken a drive out to north Palm Desert to see how this gleaming campus continues to rise from what were once shifting sand dunes — this probably seems like a slam-dunk proposition. As in all things when it comes to California projects and politics, it isn’t that simple.
During a recent discussion with the Editorial Board, officials from Palm Desert and the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership noted that “our campus that should’ve been” is now being chased by four other suitors — Concord, Chula Vista, San Mateo County, and San Joaquin County (Stockton).
One disturbing aspect of our recent session: the local contingent’s declaration that they only just learned, weeks ago, that other sites were now in the mix for Palm Desert’s presumed “next in line” spot for a CSU.
We find that hard to believe.
In his January 2019 state budget proposal, Gov. Gavin Newsom requested that $2 million be allocated for CSU specifically to study the feasibility of creating a Cal State for San Joaquin Valley, likely in Stockton (Stockton currently is home to a satellite campus of CSU Stanislaus). The budget that was approved by the Legislature later that spring instead committed $4 million in funding for a CSU study of the feasibility of five sites, including Palm Desert, or perhaps no new campus at all.
The feeding frenzy was on.
The message from Sacramento seems to be the next CSU that is authorized — if there even is a commitment to a new standalone campus — could be the last one. Those who’ve been working so long to make a CSUPD a reality, led by our Sacramento legislators — Assembly members Chad Mayes and Eduardo Garcia and whoever voters decide on this spring to complete former Sen. Jeff Stone’s term — must redouble their efforts to win this competition.
If local backers did let their focus drift, secure that their decades-long efforts had them in partnership with the state on glide path to an autonomous campus, it is imperative that all now pull in the same direction to ensure Palm Desert’s impressive resume is not lost in this now-crowded mix. Our desert needs and deserves a university of its own.