Cathedral City is hosting a rally to keep the planned Roadrunner Auto Technology Training Center in the community

CATHEDRAL CITY — Activists as well as political and community leaders alike plan a “Build It Here” rally Saturday to visibly and vocally lean on College of the Desert officials to build a long-planned auto training center within city limits.

The rally is set to begin at 9 a.m. at the Cathedral City Festival Lawn at 68-600 Avenida Lalo Guerrero, adjacent to the Civic Center.

Voters in the Coachella Valley approved Desert Community College District Bond Measure CC in 2016, a $577 million bond. The Roadrunner Motors Project is one project set to be financed by Measure CC, a $577 million bond measure to pay for capital construction projects. In 2017, Stone James, Cathedral City Economic Development Director assisted COD with a Cathedral City site search. In 2019, College of the Desert purchased 5 acres located between Desert Lexus and the VW Dealership.

Then boom.

On Oct. 27, 2021, Dr. Martha Garcia, President of College of the Desert, announced the cancellation of Roadrunner Motors in a press release.

“This was done without consultation with Cathedral City officials, staff and the public,” Terry Applegate, who is helping organize the rally, told Uken Report. “To do this without input from the Cathedral City residents shows the complete lack of respect they have for us in Cathedral City.”

On Feb. 24, the City Council voted to invite Dr. Garcia to attend a meeting at a date of her choosing, to answer questions and concerns from our council and residents. That offer was rebuffed.

On March 20, Applegate said she sent a letter to Aurora Tenorio Wilson who represents a number of residents in Cathedral City on the Board of Trustees. Applegate said she was disappointed (which is an understatement) that a trustee that represents residents in Cathedral City, would vote to cancel the Roadrunner Campus, without bothering to get input from us. I received no response.

“The Board of Trustees has completely mishandled the construction projects of the Roadrunner campus, as well as the Palm Springs campus,” Applegate said. “At this point, I truly believe that the California Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, the Riverside County District Attorney, and the California Attorney General should be investigating the way the bond money is being spent.”

There is a Citizens Bond Oversight Committee, Applegate said, but it is NOT an independent body. The website, agenda, reports and procedures, are all controlled by COD. If citizens want to apply to be on the Bond Oversight Committee, they send their letter to the COD Office of the President, who then makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees, who then decides who gets appointed. The Bond Oversight Committee meets quarterly, which is too infrequent. At this last meeting, COD did not attach reports, as required by the Brown Act. And, they limited public participation to a MAXIMUM of 15 minutes for the entire meeting, another Brown Act violation.

COD keeps saying that the Roadrunner campus is over budget by $10 million, Applegate said. Yet, their information is erroneous and they refuse to show true figures and data.

For instance, Applegate pointed out, at the March 18 Board Report titled “Roadrunner Motors Project,” they state that new cost of the project is $35.6 million. They have an asterisk on that page which states “auto program reports additional instructional needs.” That is NOT a cost over-run. If you change the projections, of course, the budget will change.

On the next page, Applegate pointed out in an email, they site “Perez Road Access, extensive retaining walls, extensive land grading” etc. as required site improvements and use that as a justification as items driving up costs. The Board never included a Perez Road access. The original plan was for PEDESTRIAN access to the bus stop. I read the Geotechnical Investigation Report, which does NOT say extensive land grading is needed, but rather REMEDIAL land grading.

“I want to be clear that I am writing as a resident/activist,” Applegate wrote. “My goal is to get the Roadrunner Campus built here in Cathedral City.”

The rally is an initial step in the process to “Build It Here.” On April 6, at 3:30, the Board of Trustees will review “3 possible sites” for the Roadrunner Campus.” I believe that Cathedral City gave COD 13 sites to review. At this meeting, two sites from Cathedral City will be reviewed, as well as a site in Indio. Would COD ask the board to consider a site in Indio without having all the required geotechnical investigations being completed?  So, a fair question is, how did Indio get put into this mix only a couple months after Dr. García was hired

On April 22, at the regular meeting of the Board of Trustees, the Board will vote to approve one of the sites.

“I think this is a rigged process and merely window dressing.” Applegate alleged. “We want Cathedral City residents to attend both meetings and voice their opinions.”

This warrants a deeper investigation from not just our local journalists, but investigatory bodies that can oversee that the bond funds be spent equitably, she implored  Cathedral City residents will continue to pay taxes on this bond measure with nothing in return.

“Can I state with certainty that shady deals have been made behind closed doors?” Applegate asked rhetorocally. “No, as I am not on the board and have not been privy to discussions. At the same time, the Indio Campus Extension, which broke ground last week, is more than 100 % over-budget, but was approved by the Board of Trustees. I think it is fair to call for an investigation, as well as a civil grand jury regarding Brown Act violations. Secrecy is partnered with an attack on democratic rights.”

Applegate recalled that when she moved to the desert in 2006, COD was in the news frequently over the years for several scandals. They had to re-pay the state millions of dollars for over counting classroom hours, there were investigations regarding the football team and the police science program. When I visited friends in the San José area who worked in different community college administrations, they asked me what was going on with COD.

“I think board leadership is lacking,” Applegate said. “It is clear from statements from Trustees that there is a lack of understanding of the role of a community college, a lack of understanding of the role of the trustee, and a lack of understanding of what bond funds can and cannot be used for. At the previous board meetings, one of the trustees said she had a conversation with our mayor about wanting to use funds for re-doing downtown Cathedral City. And she stated that she wanted to “share the love” with several cities. Bond funds CANNOT be utilized for such projects. Measures B & CC bond measures are clearly worded in what they can and cannot be used for. I find it scary when our trustees do not understand the basics, and I fear that COD has returned to its previous days of scandal.”

In an Oct. 27 statement to residents, then-Mayor Raymond Gregory said, “The most disturbing part of the decision to shelve the new Roadrunner Motors Automotive Technology Center at the Cathedral City Auto Center is not that the project will not move forward, but that so much time, effort, public input, and taxpayer dollars are being wasted just to free up funding for another project in a different community without any input or study as to what that means for those who supported the project and were counting on it. When the local bond passed that was to fund the center, there was a promise that the spending of funds would follow a process, have oversight, and be in the best interest of those students needing the education the facility would provide and those businesses and the public needing the skilled work that was to follow. It seems apparent those promises and that trust have been violated in the raw exercise of political power, outside the prescribed process and without transparency. It is just wrong.”

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  • Build It Here: Cathedral City