It was on Nov. 21, 2008, in downtown Coachella when “an initial kick‐off meeting and afternoon walking tour was conducted by the project team and city staff,” according to the Coachella Pueblo Viejo Plan (CPVP) “Vision” section.
Over the next seven months, community workshops were held; input was solicited from key city representatives; and the look of a future revitalized downtown area came into focus.
“Pueblo Viejo is the civic and cultural heart of Coachella,” said the CPVP plan final draft. “The community is proud of the historic charm, locally owned businesses, and vibrant civic center. As you enter through the attractive gateways on Sixth Street, you are immersed in a lively street scene offering shady walkways, cooling water fountains, outdoor dining and unique shopping. Once-empty lots are now filled with mixed‐use buildings that respect the heritage, climate and community values. Family‐friendly events and festivals fill the streets and public spaces. As you relax in the clean, well-maintained civic center core, you know … you have arrived in Pueblo Viejo!”
However, this is not the reality that greets you today if you visit those downtown blocks; more than 10 years later, the plan has yet to bear fruit. However, further revitalization may be finally coming to downtown Coachella: The city recently announced it was getting a nearly $15 million boost to fund affordable housing and a transportation center, in the form of a grant from the state via the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program (AHSC).
“We are happy to be the recipients of a $15 million grant that we worked very hard to get for the past three years,” said Jacob Alvarez, Coachella’s assistant to the city manager, during a recent phone interview. “This is an area (of California) that hasn’t been supported before—and that includes pretty much the whole Coachella Valley, Blythe and Imperial Valley, for that matter. So this is our first award, and we’re pretty excited about it.”
Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez touted the grant in the press release.
“This is another great project to enhance the Pueblo Viejo neighborhood downtown,” Hernandez said, according to the release. “The convenient location offers easy access to jobs and services at the new Department of Public Social Services building and sits next to the recently acquired Etherea sculpture. Plus, it is a short walk to the new library, expanding senior center, and shops and restaurants.”
The grant is slated to fund 105 net-zero-energy affordable housing units and a SunLine/vanpool hub with shade trees and public restrooms. The project will also bring 2 new miles of bikeways and 3,000 feet of new sidewalks.
While the funding is for another project and not the Coachella Pueblo Viejo Plan, the $14,895,407 gives the city the keystone redevelopment funding it has needed for more than a decade.
“Probably a good six to eight months ago, we received an urban greening grant to plant 188 trees, create connecting sidewalks and build an urban hiking path,” Alvarez said. “We see all of this as a nice addition to our overall vision, and we’re in the process right now of having these features designed as well.”
These are all stems in creating a centralized community and business hub in the eastern valley city that was incorporated in 1946.
“The AHSC is a grant program through the Strategic Growth Council of the state,” said Alvarez said. “They’re advocating for you to build in a way that reduces vehicle miles traveled, because that will help reduce greenhouse gases and other air pollutants by keeping some vehicles off the road. This is provided to us from the cap-and-trade payments made by corporations to the state.”
The city is calling the newly funded project the Downtown Coachella Net Zero Housing and Transportation Collaboration, with partners including the SunLine Transit Agency, the Inland Regional Center, CalVans and the Chelsea Investment Corporation. When asked if the other partners were contributing funds to the effort, Alvarez said they were not.
“In fact, I believe (SunLine) will be receiving some of the (grant) funds to buy additional hydrogen buses,” Alvarez said. “And then there is CalVans as well; that will receive roughly 40 vans for people to use in carpooling. They will pick up at the transportation hub where people can park their cars and travel together to common destinations (around the valley).”
How soon will the transformation become apparent to the city residents? Alvarez said the project could be completed in less than two years.
“We’re in the design phase, and that is running from now through January or February 2020,” Alvarez said. “We (soon) expect to get the conceptual drawings from Chelsea Investment Corp., the developer. We anticipate that there may be shovels in the ground by July 2020, if everything goes smoothly. The grant expires, I believe, on June 30, 2021, which is the end of the fiscal year for both us and the state. So we have about a year to complete the work (after groundbreaking).”