RANCHO MIRAGE – Two weeks after the so-called grand opening of a multimillion dollar Observatory, questions remain about how much it really cost and exactly how it was financed.
Currently, there seem to be more questions than answers. As city leaders try to answer questions from City Council candidates, residents and the media, they seem to make matters worse. No one can provide a straightforward answer. Why?
In an email newsletter the City of Rancho Mirage Public Library sent Saturday, subscribers were told, “With so much public interest in the new Observatory on the Library campus we wanted all of you, our e-mail readers, to have more details about this new Valley asset.”
It sounded promising but failed to deliver.
The newsletter, issued from the Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory, answered questions such as:
- Why did the City decide to build an observatory?
- How far can the telescope see?
- How do the quality of our images compare to other observatories?
And, of course, how much did it cost?
Here’s what Library Director David Bryant, who is leaving his post this month, wrote in the newsletter.
“The total cost of the Observatory project, which includes all exploratory costs, specialized surveys, construction and all equipment was $4.2 million. The Observatory project was funded with non-City trust fund monies that would have been returned to the state if not spent locally. The ongoing operations and maintenance of the observatory are being funded with restricted library funds.”
It is doublespeak in an attempt to provide an answer without really providing one and people have taken note.
Keep in mind that in 2016 members of the media were told it would cost $3 million. By 2017, they were told it would be $3.6 million. Now, residents are told it is $4.2 million. What caused the price hike? No one is talking.
Neither Mayor Charles Townsend Vinci nor G. Dana Hobart, both of whom are seek re-election on Tuesday returned requests for comment.
“I’m still confused on exactly who paid for it and the total amount,” said Katherine “Kate” Spates, a candidate for City Council in the April 10 election.
Robert “Bob” Mueller, also a candidate in the Tuesday election, did not mince words.
“It’s not surprising to see the city attempt a flattering face on this boondoggle,” Mueller told Uken Report. “To the city’s comment, ‘The Observatory project was funded with non-City trust fund monies that would have been returned to the state if not spent locally,’ what’s wrong with NOT spending taxpayer dollars — particularly on such a non-essential endeavor?”
Mueller added, “It seems incongruous that the Council’s leading CV Link objection was “excessive cost” while concurrently blowing $4 million on an observatory no one asked for. Under the best of circumstances, the observatory remains an expensive $4.2M novelty.”
The entire answer on how much it cost “skirts the issue of the funds used to build the observatory and omits the many other ways the funds could have been spent in our city,” said Michael Harrington, a candidate in the Tuesday election. He said it does not come close to answering his questions.
Harrington said he believes the funds for the observatory came from the Redevelopment Agency.
“But the city won’t admit that now with the election pending. It has been omitted from the city email because the city is being used for the incumbents’ campaign,” Harrington said. “That is an FPPC violation.”
He suggests that residents fact-check information in the newsletter, which he calls a “campaign” e- mail, with prior news reports and public data.
“Fact-checking, we see that the observatory was initially to be completed in September 2017 for a total cost of $1.7 million dollars. Instead it cost $4.2 million dollars so far and is still not even open as of April 2018,” Harrington said. “Maintenance costs have not been disclosed, either. The observatory was falsely compared to Griffith Observatory which was built with funds privately bequeathed by the Griffith family. Renovation was later completed by private-public partnerships.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Rancho Mirage Observatory where all of the funding is from money the city could have spent — and should have spent — on projects that would benefit the majority of the community’s residents.
“Let’s start fact-checking – now,” Harrington said.