'Glorious' Golf Project Proposed for Coachella Valley

In November, planning continued on a large-scale golf-related project located about 15 miles east of Coachella, Calif. The 5,400-acre site is situated between two environmentally-sensitive areas, Joshua Tree National Park and the Mecca Hills Wilderness. Among the more salient features of the proposed Paradise Valley project is an 800-acre golf resort with "several" golf courses and a golf academy.

Backed by Glorious Land Company, a development firm based in City of Industry, Calif., the project also involves a 2,323-acre community with nearly 10,000 housing units; a 220-acre shopping center with cafes and restaurants; a business center covering 208 acres along Interstate 10; 111 acres of parks, community centers and a concert hall; an 89-acre "international" resort with timeshare units and hotels; a 70-acre business and technology college and other schools; a 48-acre Christian retreat; and an 18-acre medical center.

Glorious Land is headed by architect Eddie S. Wang, whose former company designed the Morongo Casino Resort in Cabazon, Calif., and The River shopping center in Ranch Mirage. During an interview with report Jim Sams in the (Palm Springs) Desert Sun, Wang said, "The market is there. I do believe that if we do it right, it will be a good example."

The developer has already convinced Riverside County officials to put language in the General Plan to allow a review process for Paradise Valley. Though it has only recently come to light in area newspapers, the project has been in the design and development stages since 2000.

The project is one of a string of development proposals for the barren mountains and hills that jut out of the Coachella Valley floor. Environmentalists fear that Paradise Valley - essentially a new city - will be squeezed between the two wildernesses, thus threatening the indigenous wildlife and plants in those areas. This part of the valley is now devoid of even rural homesteads.

Neighborhood activists are armed and ready to combat such large-scale developments. They have been fighting a proposed golf course and housing development in the Santa Rosa Mountains. In September, the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy and other groups successfully completed their $26 million purchase of the proposed Joshua Hills development site north of Palm Desert.

Now comes another challenge. "It's hard to say what we're going to be left with in 20 or 30 years," said Joshua Tree spokesman Joe Zarki in comments to Sams. "We are a wilderness landscape in an increasingly urban setting."

John Husing, an economist from Redding, Calif., who's serving as a consultant to the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, said developers are pitching projects like Paradise Valley because land is getting scarce in the Coachella Valley. The valley's population is expected to grow from about 350,000 now to 500,000 in 2020.

"The area from Palm Springs through Indian Wells is getting pretty built out and a lot of the development is now going down to the Coachella and Indio areas," Husing said. "It's pretty clear that you are going to have to start thinking about unconventional places to go beyond where the market has gone now to accommodate the growth forecast."

Another large-scale project that has attracted the attention of environmentalists is the 19,000-acre Beverly Springs project. Dubbed a "pipe dream" by local pundits because of its dubious financing, that project - which apparently won't have a golf course - could result in a new city of 20,000 people. Among the features of Beverly Springs - a city that "embodies the American dream" according to its primary backer, former pro football player Khevin Pratt - are a 1,000-foot tower "rivaling the Eiffel Tower in architectural grandeur," a monorail, a 65,000-seat football stadium, a hotel, a casino and homes that would be priced from $7 million to $500 million.

Before Glorious Land fulfills its dream of building Paradise Valley, it must undergo a phalanx of reviews. In January of this year, the company submitted an application for a specific site plan to Riverside County, a move that initiated a long process that will require the project's backer to file detailed development plans and prepare a massive Environmental Impact Report. The report will address a host of potential impacts, including endangered species, air quality, schools, traffic and water.

"We intended to allow the land owners to make their proposal or make their case for it, because there are so many unknowns," said the county's deputy planning director, Jerry Jolliffe. "It does give them the ability to move forward with their plan."

For its part, Glorious Land says it will ensure that Paradise Valley is in harmony with its environment. The company's attorney, Paul Selzer, said the development's beautiful surroundings will be a major selling point. "We can't destroy it," Selzer told Sams. "If we do - if this becomes something that is not very attractive - people won't come."

If Coachella Valley's environmental activists have their way, Glorious Land may never have the opportunity to prove Selzer's point.