Fighting to Keep Paradise Valley Unpaved

By Nick Jensen

Proposed site of the Paradise Valley development. Photo: Chris Clarke

Just as we take a breather from the recent Centennial development decision, another leapfrog mega-development is threatening precious Southern California habitat – this time at the southern border of Joshua Tree National Park. Located about 15 miles east of Indio in Riverside County along Interstate 10, the Paradise Valley Specific Plan proposes to build 8,490 new homes and 1.38 million square feet of commercial and retail development. This location serves as a critical corridor between the national park and conservation lands in the Orocopia Mountains and Mecca Hills to the south.

Paradise Valley Map

Background and timeline

In March 2018, CNPS submitted comments on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Riverside County recently published a Final EIR, which includes responses to our comments. Next, the project goes before the Riverside County Planning Commission. If the Commissioners recommend the Paradise Valley development for approval, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors likely will vote on it in 2019.

CNPS and our partner organizations are working hard to stop this poorly planned project in its tracks. Here are just a few of the reasons why we oppose the Paradise Valley project:

Habitat destruction — The project will disturb or pave over 1,800 acres of diverse desert habitats, home to desert tortoise and rare and common plant species. Field reconnaissance on the project site in 2018 revealed that the site is currently undisturbed with few non-native plants observed.

Hall’s purple bush (Tetracoccus halli) Photo: John Game

Incomplete data — Rare plant surveys of the project site were fragmentary and inadequate. Surveys did not include reference site visits to known rare plant populations in adjacent areas. Reference site visits are necessary to ensure that rare plants are detectable during field work. The inadequacy of the project’s survey work is exemplified by Hall’s purple bush (Tetracoccus hallii), which was documented by independent botanists not associated with the pre-project surveys. Hall’s purple bush is a shrub that is detectable year round, and should have been found by the project’s botanists.

Inadequate vegetation maps — The maps produced for the EIR are coarse and lack the detail necessary to adequately assess potential impacts. Instead of using the modern classification system in the Manual of California Vegetation, they rely on antiquated Holland habitat types from the 1980s.

Palo Verde tree (Parkinsonia florida )Photo: Chris Clarke

Microphyll woodland destruction — The project would destroy more than 1,100 acres of microphyll (aka “desert dry wash”) woodland. CNPS detailed the importance of this microphyll woodland habitat in this recent blog post. This habitat is associated with seasonal watercourses and is critical to ensure the healthy function of desert ecosystems. Microphyll woodland is characterized by palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) and ironwood (Olneya tesota), and is habitat for 90 percent of Sonoran Desert bird species.

Ignores conservation value — Paradise Valley is located in the Desert Tortoise and Linkage Conservation Area (DTLCA) portion of the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (CVMSHCP). This area has been highlighted for its conservation value.

Inadequate mitigation — The maximum allowable disturbance of microphyll woodland in the DTLCA is 760 acres, and Paradise Valley exceeds this disturbance threshold by 400 acres. The project has failed to prepare adequate mitigation measures for these impacts.

Potential legal violations — Given that the project is covered by the CVMSHCP, it must undergo Joint Project Review (JPR) with the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission, and state and federal agencies to ensure that it is consistent with the conservation objectives of this plan. Instead of undergoing JPR for the entire project, the developer proposes to evaluate it consistency with the CVMSHCP on a piecemeal basis, as portions of the project are built. We argue that this approach is illegal and that Paradise Valley must undergo JPR before it is allowed to proceed.

Based on these reasons, and many more, we are advocating for the Riverside County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to reject Paradise Valley and send the project back to the drawing board.

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) Photo: Chris Clarke

What you can do

  1. Sign this petition initiated by the Center for Biological Diversity
  2. Attend future hearings of the Riverside County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors and voice your opposition to the project. CNPS will post updates about these hearings on social media.
  3. Call the Board of Supervisors and tell them to oppose Paradise Valley.

Nick Jensen, CNPS Southern California Conservation Analyst

Nick Jensen is a conservation analyst for the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) in Southern California and a fellow of the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation. Jensen recently earned his PhD in botany at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG)/Claremont Graduate University. As a graduate student he produced the first Flora of Tejon Ranch (* in preparation) and studied evolutionary patterns in perennial jewelflowers.  For more information please contact him at Nick Jensen at njensen@cnps.org.

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