In April 2016, a number of concerned Palm Springs residents banded together to form the Save Oswit Canyon (SOC) movement. The goal: Stop a real estate developer’s plan to build several hundred homes—and a flood-control dam which would measure the length of a prone Empire State Building—in the beautiful canyon.
In the three-plus years since, SOC conservationists have fought battles on multiple fronts. SOC supporters have held rallies, lobbied politicians, gathered thousands of signatures to file a public initiative, raised funds, fought in the courts and negotiated with developers in an effort to buy the environmentally sensitive acreage off of South Palm Canyon Drive.
Fast-forward to July 17, when the SOC team issued a press release with the cryptic heading, “The Fate of Oswit Canyon Has Been Determined! Will It Become a New Neighborhood or Will It Be Preserved?” Media attendance was requested at a press conference to be held the following day at Oswit Canyon.
At 9 a.m. the next morning, SOC founder and president Jane Garrison stepped behind a podium emblazoned with a majestic photo of an endangered bighorn sheep. After some brief introductory remarks, Garrison commented: “I have some good news, and I have some depressing, urgent news. The good news is that, after a 3 1/2 year battle, the developer has finally agreed to sell the property.”
The small but energetic crowd erupted in cheers and applause. “That is a huge hurdle that we’ve gotten over,” Garrison said. “We’ve been working with the incredible Jim Karpiak (executive director of the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy), and the CVMC has been hard at work behind the scenes for awhile now to find us federal and state grants to purchase this property. The city of Palm Springs has been great and has agreed to contribute to the purchase of this property, because we all know that the only way to truly save open space is to buy it. We can battle this in court for years and years, and we will if we have to—but we don’t want to. We want to purchase it and conserve it for our generation and for generations to come.
“Now, the depressing news,” Garrison continued. “We are in the process of working everything out, but we have estimated that we are going to be $1 million short” of the more than $6.6 million total needed.
“I’m appealing to my friends, neighbors and the community to say that, ‘We can’t lose this piece of property. Not over a million dollars,’” Garrison said. “It would be so tragic. If every single resident of Palm Springs donated only $25, we would be there. It’s an easy number to achieve if everyone put their minds into helping.”
Garrison went on to urge people to donate, and to also consider staging house parties or other types of fundraisers—because the $1 million shortfall has to be made up by Dec. 31. Garrison tried to get more time to raise the funds, she said, but the developers would not cooperate.
“I think we can do it,” Garrison said. “We collected over 5,000 signatures in 30 days. … I know we can do it, but I’m here, because I can’t do it alone. So I’m asking for help. It would be so tragic to lose this ecosystem that is home to endangered bighorn sheep, to bobcats, to foxes, to mountain lions, to protected migratory birds.”
Garrison said two generous donors have pledged up to $50,000 each in matching donations for individual contributions made between now and the end of August, thus doubling their impact.
“I can’t stress enough,” Garrison said, “that this is our only chance. So I’m urging all residents to make a donation. Whatever you think you can afford to donate, double it.”
Karpiak, of the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy, next addressed the audience.
“We’re a state agency, and we try to bring funding to the Coachella Valley whenever we can,” he said. “We mostly focus on acquiring land for conservation. This land is critical now. Due to a regulatory quirk in how the multiple species conservation plan of the Coachella Valley was drafted, and the fact that it was tribal land at one time, this (parcel) is not included as protected land under that plan. … This land is valuable for its stunning beauty as well as for its big role in the ecological system here.
“We’re putting together a package of funding. We don’t know how much yet, but we’re working with the federal government to get some more grants. Several million dollars have been mentioned, but it’s probably not going to be enough, since this is valuable land, but hopefully with the help of the community, we will fund it successfully.”
Palm Springs City Councilmember Geoff Kors also spoke briefly to the group.
“We have a great opportunity right now,” Kors said. “Sometimes people have said (to me), ‘Open space doesn’t build roads or provide any resources for the city.’ And I always respectfully say, ‘I disagree.’ It is our open space and our mountains that draw tourism. And that, actually, does pay to pave our roads and provide for public safety. It’s one of the reasons so many of us live here, and why are property values are what they are. So, it’s critical, just from an economic point of view, that preserving open space is so critical for our city.
“The city in the past has done such a great job with the Chino Cone, and now we’re looking at property near the tram, and at Rimrock, and now this. This really is a great step in the right direction. It only gets done as a public/private partnership.”
Donations, which are tax deductible, can be made at saveoswitcanyon.org.