La Entrada – Coachella OKs La Entrada Development Plan

The Desert Sun

June 11, 2014

A massive multi-use project expected to drastically grow the city over the next 20 years has cleared another large hurdle.

The City Council voted 5-0 Wednesday to approve a first reading of a development agreement for La Entrada, with a new section that requires construction of 500 affordable housing units — double the original proposal — by the project’s completion.

The project, expected to be a game-changer for the modest city, promises to bring with it new community parks, neighborhood walkways, more local stores and even an entertainment or athletic stadium.

Though Las Vegas-based New West Development anticipates breaking ground in 2015, residents and community leaders worried that the absence of affordable housing in this plan would exclude low-income residents from this highly touted project.

New West Development, however, proposed construction of 240 affordable housing units — or about 3 percent of the total housing plan — in a new section of the development agreement on Wednesday. Still, some social justice advocates and at least one city leader said that wasn’t enough.

“Personally for me that’s an issue of concern, given the demographics of the community,” said Councilman Emmanuel Martinez. “To me it’s about equity…I think there’s room to do a little bit more.”

City leaders, last fall, first expressed concern over the lack of affordable housing in the plan.

Michele Hasson of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability — a statewide organization focused on strengthening low-income, rural communities and regions by advocating for equal access to opportunity, environmental justice and good government — also asked developers for a higher percentage of low-income housing.

“Why stop here? Why not make this agreement as great as it can be?” she said, adding that many residents in the east valley are on waiting lists for affordable housing complexes. “Let’s think big. This is something big.”

The dais became a negotiating table for about an hour as council members and developers struggled to come to a consensus on the number of affordable housing units that the project should include.

The council ultimately motioned to approve an agreement that will ensure construction of 500 affordable housing units. The term “affordable” includes housing for seniors, low-income residents and the disabled.

About 240 affordable housing units will be constructed in the first and second phases of the project. The other 260 will be constructed by the project’s completion in 2032.

Council members and representatives of New West Development said there will be more time to evaluate the city’s housing needs in the years to come, particularly as city staff performs annual reviews of the project.

But for most, La Entrada will take this city well-beyond the need for affordable housing — many expect the development to completely change the demographics of an already-growing, young city.

“This is an opportunity for people to move up,” said Mayor Pro Tem Steven Hernandez. “I’m pretty proud that this development is coming.”

Hernandez said the new community will provide residents with a stepping-stone to advance economically.

Plans for the $1 billion project include about 7,800 houses, condos and apartments on 981 acres; extensive retail and office commercial space; new school sites, parks and a fire station; and a highway interchange at Avenue 50.

U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, also expressed his support in a recent letter to the city, calling the interchange a “game-changer.”

The development will generate $1.1 billion in labor wages over 20 years, $3.4 billion in taxable sales revenue over 20 years and 21,000 in jobs, according to Terry Manley, president of New West Development.

“We can create a true economic engine,” he said.