Palm Desert Attorney Jim Ferguson predicted he would likely be “burned at the stake” for filing a lawsuit that could bring to an end any hope for the CV Link. He wasn’t far off the mark.

If verbal jabs were torches, Ferguson would be charred and reduced to a pile of ashes.

One of the most vocal critics of Ferguson’s lawsuit is Indio Mayor Pro Tem Michael Wilson, one of the leading and most outspoken supporters of the CV Link, a controversial $100 million, 50-mile transportation corridor in the Coachella Valley.

Wilson, who has served the city for 21 years, called the lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 13, “frivolous with a capital ‘F.’ ”

At the heart of the lawsuit is the allegation that “illegal” funds are being used to build it.

The CV Link has been one of the most scrutinized and attacked projects in the Coachella Valley since he has become an elected official, Wilson said.

“This has been accomplished by a very select few but loud detractors. One of these detractors, who have been the main attack proponent, has been seen in public with Jim Ferguson on many occasions and they have spoken against this project together at the same forums,” Wilson said.

It is interesting that during the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process and current National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Process, Jim Ferguson himself has made no comments on the public record or filed any responses to the environmental clearing house process, Wilson said.

“What record has Jim Ferguson established to challenge the project, at least from an environmental challenge?” Wilson asked. “This process has been ongoing for multiple years with no actual or factual challenge on the public record (nor has he) filed any such arguments.”

Since this project was facing severe scrutiny, specifically by Rancho Mirage and some in Indian Wells, it has been systemically and thoroughly processed to literally be “bomb proof,” Wilson said. Not only has Coachella Valley Association of Governments staff tirelessly vetted this project but also our partners in transportation, Riverside County Transportation Commission staff and Southern California Association of Governments staff, have also thoroughly vetted this project and entitlement process.

Wilson said if he had to make an educated guess, he said Ferguson likely filed the lawsuit at the behest of the city of Rancho Mirage and Dana Hobart.

“Because of the severe scrutiny (a lawsuit) would bring to Rancho Mirage or Indian Wells publicly, and the fact that they know they’ve damaged so many relationships with the rest of the cities and county in the Coachella Valley, with Jim’s lawsuit they could say it wasn’t them that sued the project. Make no mistake about it, though, Rancho Mirage has spent a lot of political capital and financial capital trying to derail this project. They’ve made exhausted arguments against the project on the record and filed voluminous documents and arguments attacking the environmental. That’s where Jim comes in. He is basically the puppet for the puppet master. Once again, the old bait and switch routine has been unveiled.”

Wilson said residents should ask themselves one question then look at the merits of the lawsuit. If a project of this magnitude was handed to you free and clear for your residents to have recreational opportunities that connect all cities and the county through a protected pathway system would you take it?

“What’s the real reason behind the effort to kill this project?” Wilson asked rhetorically. “No Measure A funds have been used or expect to be used for this project. The current funding received for the project is almost all restricted grant funding. So what’s the real catch? I believe it to be more in line with the elitist attitude of a couple of cities not wanting “certain elements” of people from the east valley passing through their jurisdictions using this pathway. It’s a sad reality but in my own opinion, more true than not.”

Indio Mayor Pro Tem said Indio sees the benefit of  CV Link to its residents who enjoy biking and walking.

“Why anyone would do anything to impede the progress is of concern,” Holmes said. “I wonder why they are opposing it at the level they are.”

Hobart, Mayor Pro Tem of Rancho Mirage, said he played no role in Ferguson’s lawsuit, but praised his effort.

“Considering that Mr. Ferguson’s lawsuit mirrors much of what Rancho Mirage has been contending over the past two-plus years, I believe that there is considerable merit to Ferguson’s contention that CVAG is misusing our road repair Measure A tax funds for their CV Link project,” Hobart said. “In 2002 when the public authorized a half-cent increase in our sales tax they believed the money would be spent as advertised – to repair our “crumbling” roadways. Nor do I believe CVAG has secured the required consent or authorization from the various affected cities that is required to justify building such an immense, expensive project. Ferguson is a skilled attorney who would have first researched the issues before committing to the litigation.”

Cathedral City Mayor Pro Tem Greg Pettis said he does not support Ferguson’s actions.

“Mr. Ferguson is late to the table,” Pettis said. “All these issues have been discussed ad nauseam by the CVAG transportation commission and executive committee. The CVAG attorney also concurs. The entire City Council of Cathedral City is in support of CV Link and look forward to it being finished first in the valley.”

Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon said he has not read the lawsuit and had not sought the city attorney’s opinion.

However, he said, “Our Council voted to support the CV Link, a large portion of which is in the city of Palm Springs.  I stand by that decision of our Council.”

Moon added that he “shall be watching the legal process on Mr. Ferguson’s lawsuit with interest.”

Indian Wells City Manager Wade McKinney said the City Council has taken no position on the lawsuit but said the City Council has made it clear in the past that it does not want Measure A money to be used on the project, does not want it running down Highway 111 and does not want it going through the Indian Wells Golf Resort. Furthermore, Indian Wells could not approve the CV Link without a vote of the residents, he said.

A spokeswoman for the city of La Quinta, said the City Council does not comment on pending litigation. Palm Desert Mayor Jan Harnik did not return either a phone call or email to her office.

A hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2018 before the Honorable James Latting.