• Steve Brown

NPCA details plants and animals in danger from planned Paradise Valley development

Chris Clarke of the National Parks Conservation Association talks about the planned new city for Joshua Tree National Park's southern border - Paradise Valley.
Chris Clarke of the National Parks Conservation Association talks about the planned new city for Joshua Tree National Park's southern border - Paradise Valley.

Chris Clarke, Desert Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, provided a presentation on the planned new city for Joshua Tree National Park's southern border, at a meeting of the Mojave Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, January 16, at the Hi-Desert Nature Museum in Yucca Valley.

Clarke's presentation detailed the plants and animals that will be impacted by the development if it is approved. The new city, resurrected from a larger scale proposal originally put forth more than a decade ago, would be called Paradise Valley. It would include around 8,500 housing units (homes, townhomes, condos, and apartments) with more than 20,000 residents, 1.4 million square feet of commercial and light industrial space, along with the necessary supportive infrastructure, and would place it on more than 1,000 acres of prime habitat for the threatened desert tortoise.

More than 1,000 acres of prime habitat for the threatened desert tortoise will be eliminated by the Paradise Valley development.
More than 1,000 acres of prime habitat for the threatened desert tortoise will be eliminated by the Paradise Valley development.

Paradise Valley would be sited directly on the southern border of Joshua Tree National Park, and north of the Mecca Hills and Orocopia Mountains wilderness areas, creating a new obstacle for wildlife and sand transmission corridors in the area. The development would disrupt a critical migration path for desert bighorn sheep, according to Clarke, while also destroying over 1,000 acres of prime habitat for LeConte's thrasher. LeConte thrashers, a species of concern in California, are experiencing a population decline in the Coachella Valley, and Imperial Valley, due to increased urbanization and development.

Over 1,000 acres of prime habitat for LeConte's Thrasher will be destroyed by the Paradise Valley development.
Over 1,000 acres of prime habitat for LeConte's Thrasher will be destroyed by the Paradise Valley development.

Clarke began his talk by explaining that Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, the Pasadena socialite and desert plant enthusiast who was the driving force behind the designation of Joshua Tree National Monument, had originally envisioned the monument running from a point north within the current Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, south to the Salton Sea, encompassing a broad range of desert ecosystems from the lower Colorado Desert to the Mojave. Shavers Valley, where the new city will be built if Paradise Valley is approved, sits in the midst of the land Hoyt wanted to see preserved.

While the area may not look like much from the windows of cars driving by at 80 miles an hour on Interstate 10, Clarke noted, looks, as often can be in the desert, are deceiving. The area is located within a Sonoran-Mojave transition zone, and is mostly desert dry wash woodland. "Paradise Valley is right in the heart of that woodland," Clarke said, noting that the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (CVMSHCP) restricts the amount of desert dry wash woodland that can be destroyed by developers. "This would destroy more than is allowed, and would make the plan (CVMSHCP) irrelevant."

Clarke recently hiked the land slated for development and called it "a really life changing place to visit," and noted "its sheer beauty is remarkable." He added there were large concentrations of barrel cacti on the site with some more than five feet tall, and said there was very little in the way of invasive species present on the land.

He also added that the developers had missed a few plants in their specific plan for the development. Some had been called to their attention thanks to the California Native Plant Society, which sent an official response to development plans which noted some extremely rare plants may have been missed.

Concerns voiced by Clarke were not restricted to plants. "This is right smack in the middle of core habitat for the threatened desert tortoise," he said, displaying an overlay of the project boundaries over the area's tortoise habitat, and noting its potential impact on genetic diversity for the species.

The large area carved from the middle of the habitat for desert tortoise was similar to that carved from that of the habitat for the LeConte's thrasher, a California species of concern. In addition, he explained how the planned new city would interfere with a program by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce Sonoran pronghorn antelope to the desert.

Sonoran pronghorn antelope at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.
Sonoran pronghorn antelope at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

Without the Paradise Valley development, which Clarke described as "a cork" preventing northward expansion of the pronghorn, the species could re-establish itself all the way into Nevada.

An additional serious concern Clarke voiced during his presentation is the fact the Paradise Valley plan is not complying with the requirements laid down by the CVMSHCP, and if allowed to proceed without compliance, will sabotage the conservation plan, and render it invalid for future development proposals. This would permanently undermine protections the conservation plan sets for 27 species.

The Paradise Valley plan goes before the Riverside County Planning Commission later this month. It is expected to be approved by the Planning Commission. From there it will go to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors for their consideration. It is important to submit comments prior to that date, and if possible, to speak out about the project at these meetings. For those interested in providing written public comments on the Paradise Valley project, here are some talking points from Clarke to consider including in your letter. Our added comments are in italics.

Paradise Valley talking points

Building a new suburb on desert wildlands next to Joshua Tree National Park is just a bad idea.

This new city would place 20-25,000 new human residents directly along the southern border of the park, furthering the urban walling off of the national park, with serious consequences for the ecological integrity of the park.

The project would irrevocably change an important dry wash network that serves as habitat and a corridor for migration and genetic connectivity between Joshua Tree National Park and wildernesses to the south.

Wildlife connectivity is crucial for the future genetic health of animal populations, as well as for survival of those species as they cope with climatic changes. Not only could wildlife connectivity be impeded, but sand transport corridors, important to the future of desert habitat for wildlife, could also be seriously impacted.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intends to reintroduce Sonoran pronghorn south of Joshua Tree National Park. This project would block their primary route into the Park and impede their reestablishment in the California desert.

The project site is a rich and diverse “old-growth” desert habitat, with cacti hundreds of years old, thick vegetation including ocotillos and palo verdes, and rare plants.

We've hiked the site, as has Clarke, and it's rich with stunningly beautiful desert plant life. This project would eradicate that established habitat and replace it with generic suburbia.

Despite “dark-sky” provisions in the plan, Paradise Valley would bring hundreds of thousands of new light sources to one of the darkest parts of the desert, threatening Joshua Tree’s “Dark Sky Park” status.

This would also seriously impact the night sky near the development, a part of the park that was previously relatively untouched by locally generated light pollution.

The project would generate thousands of new vehicle trips a day on a stretch of Interstate 10 that is already dangerously crowded. Local air quality would be damaged as a result.

The so-called “affordable” housing component of the project is still out of reach of average Riverside County residents. Fewer than one percent of the residences in the development would qualify as affordable housing. This will be expensive resort housing and will not serve communities in need of housing.

The Paradise Valley community, however, would need workers who could not afford to live there, resulting in more vehicle trips, more pollution, and more stress to expand the development in the future.

The Coachella Valley already has many failed housing developments on the fringes of the desert. There is nothing that indicates Paradise Valley will be any more successful.

Removed by a long distance from jobs and resources in the Coachella Valley, it is entirely possible this development could become a near abandoned eyesore providing no economic benefit to the county whatsoever, and just become a problem for county government in the future.

The project would use up far more than the amount of disturbance authorized by the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (CVMSHCP) for desert dry wash woodland in the Desert Tortoise and Linkage Conservation Area. There would also be huge impacts to the threatened desert tortoise. The project offers only extremely speculative and conceptual mitigation to meet the CVMSHCP Conservation Objectives. The project will thus fail to meet those objectives and would be a devastating blow to the CVMSHCP.

The Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan needs to be strictly followed and respected by county government, if not by the developer. We need to demand that its requirements be followed to the letter - the fate of species in the area demand it. The CVMSHCP has been the product of decades of work, and subverting it is not in the public interest.

The project and the County have violated the CVMSHCP requirement that any development proposal in a Conservation Area go through the Joint Project Review (JPR) process with the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission before the project application is deemed complete and before a CEQA document is prepared. The County’s flimsy rationale that individual implementing projects will someday get a JPR is patently bogus. If this project is approved, the CVMSHCP will have been completely subverted and undermined.

If Riverside County government refuses to follow its own requirements and does not care about the environmental impact of development projects, it is up to us to demand that they do. The voices of citizens who live outside of Riverside County need to be respected by county government as this project will impact not only the county, but federal lands owned by all of the American public. It is not permissible for Riverside County to hold the American public in disdain while ignoring their own planning requirements so a private developer may profit. The county's willingness to ignore their own requirements leaves them open to legal action that could delay or halt the development. It is in the best interests of all parties to follow the JPR process that is required.

In addition to Clarke's points for consideration, one additional serious objection needs to be included: This Paradise Valley development cannot be isolated and looked at as a singularity. In all likelihood, if it is built, it will either need to expand on lands previously set aside for preservation, or it will become the first in a series of leapfrog developments eastward along Interstate 10 from the Coachella Valley to the Colorado River (or it could expand and also become the first in a series of developments). This would drastically and permanently damage the environmental integrity of that part of the Colorado (Sonoran) Desert, and would end connectivity of Joshua Tree National Park with wildlands to the south. In short, Paradise Valley would set a destructive precedent for further development along the southern border of Joshua Tree National Park.

While planning commissions often look at each project as existing in isolation, in reality, the wildlands of places like Joshua Tree National Park can die by a thousand cuts. Each cut is not fatal, but in totality, fatality is certain. No one may be certain which cut will be the one that kills, but the fact the last cut did not, does not mean the next won't. Joshua Tree National Park is already under an enormous amount of stress environmentally. While county government may not think it is their obligation to consider the environmental integrity and future of federally managed lands, it is in our best interests to see to it that this becomes a consideration when they deliberate on projects such as Glorious Land Company's Paradise Valley.

Make your voice heard on the Paradise Valley development.

Send your written comments to:

Russell Brady, Project Planner Riverside County Planning Department 4080 Lemon St., 12th Floor Riverside, CA  92501 (951) 955-3025

Please copy Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel (Manny) Perez's office with your comments as Paradise Valley is located within his district.

For more information on the proposed Paradise Valley project:

And the EIR:

Paradise Valley site map:

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