Another look at the Whitewater River parkway

A month ago, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments released its cost-benefit analysis of the proposed Whitewater River Parkway – a 46-mile cross-valley paved pathway for pedestrians, bicycles and neighborhood electric vehicles — projecting $18.29 in economic benefits for every dollar of its $80-million price tag.

The day after, when my first story on the report appeared, I had an email from a reader saying I had let CVAG off too easily, that the figures didn’t hold up.  I emailed back, pleading patience — we would be taking a closer look. The result, based on interviews with a range of experts and local stakeholders, will be in Sunday’s Desert Sun.

And, on a related issue, as part of my research for the article, I checked in with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the agency which holds the purse strings on the $53 million in air quality improvement funds that CVAG and dozens of other valley cities, businesses and agencies are pursuing. The district has received dozens of grant proposals for the money — mitigation funds for the 850-megawatt Sentinel natural gas power plant being built in North Palm Springs — with CVAG going for $40 million of the total for the parkway.

But just how many applications have been received and the total amount requested remains unknown because the district is refusing to release any information even remotely related to the money or grant applications.

This is something of a conundrum. In its original request for proposals for the $53 million, the district cautioned potential applicants –

“Please note that AQMD considers information submitted in response to the RFP in the public domain.”

When I asked district officials about this, they said, basically, “Oops, we didn’t really mean that.” 

Under California’s Public Records Act, a public agency can withhold applications from the press and public if their release might impair the deliberative process by revealing the thought processes of government decision-makers.

We are pushing the AQMD, arguing that releasing the number of applications and the total amount requested can in no way reveal the thought processes of decision makers.  For one thing, we don’t know who the decision makers are and likely never will because the district will also be withholding any information on the number or areas of expertise of the people on the panel evaluating the grant proposals.

Our argument is that if Coachella Valley residents are to trust the AQMD to fairly distribute the $53 million, some level of transparency and accountability will be required.