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Proposed California surf park is rejected by city council

A developer’s proposal to build a surfing lagoon in the Coachella Valley desert was turned down by the city of La Quinta after residents raised concerns about noise, lighting and the resort’s significant water use during a period of severe drought.

The five members of the city council unanimously voted Wednesday night against a zoning change that would have allowed the developer to build the resort and surf park.

Mayor Linda Evans said she loves the surf park concept and would love to see another built in La Quinta at some point.

“I think this is a cool project,” Evans said. “But I don’t think it’s in the right place. And maybe the timing isn’t great because of the drought.”

The developer of the 386-acre Coral Mountain project in Riverside County had requested a zoning change for what was once planned to be a golf course community. Instead, the wave park was planned with 600 apartments and a hotel with up to 150 rooms.

The wave pool would have stretched over 12 acres and required 18 million gallons to fill.

During a meeting that lasted more than six hours, opponents said the surf park would pollute a quiet neighborhood with noise and light and waste precious water while California and the Southwest suffer from a mega-drought exacerbated by climate change.

“We’re at a point in history where we can’t freely waste water,” said Laura Dolata, a local resident. “When the water crisis hits a critical point and water needs to be drastically reduced and rationing becomes a reality, having a functioning wave park becomes a problem for all of us.”

Dolata and others pointed out that residents were told to conserve water at home or face penalties on their water bills if they exceed their outdoor water budget. With the Colorado River in short supply and the Southwest becoming hotter and drier from climate change, opponents have argued that cities in the Coachella Valley should not agree to water-intensive developments.

The uproar runs parallel to a larger debate about how the Coachella Valley — with its 120 golf courses, artificial lakes and thirsty grass-filled settlements — should adapt to increasing water shortages.

At least four other new wave pools or lagoons are planned to be built in the valley. The plans were recently snubbed by Last Week Tonight comedian John Oliver, who declared it was “just monumentally stupid”.

The developers and their supporters said the resort would boost La Quinta’s economy with a world-class wave pool. The developers offered to contribute money for city lawn removal rebates, which they said would more than offset the water needed to fill the wave pool.

“I am so excited about this project. I think it’s unique,” said Connie Varelli, who owns property nearby. “It will revitalize and improve our community.”

The wave pool would be the second in the country to use technology from Kelly Slater Wave Co., creating waves up to 6 feet tall. The technology debuted in 2015 at a Central Valley surf ranch, where Slater caused a stir when he shared a video of himself surfing pristine crashing waves miles from the ocean.

Some supporters of the project said they traveled to surf the wave in Lemoore and were thrilled. They said they hoped to catch similar waves in the desert.

“It’s just a beautiful wave to surf for a long minute and for people like me who have small children and young families I think it will be a great attraction,” said resident Danilo Kawasaki.

Others said they would move to La Quinta to buy a house there. The property sits at the base of Coral Mountain, which towers over the desert floor.

Chuy Reyna, a former pro surfer, said Lemoore’s wave pool is like “pebble beach for golfers” and will help promote La Quinta as a surfing destination.

Some supporters wore t-shirts that said “ON BOARD”.

They argued that noise would be minimal and touted the tax revenue the resort would bring. They noted that the Coachella Valley Water District has already approved all of the development’s water use, which would total more than 900 acre-feet per year.

The valley’s towns, farms, and golf courses rely on both groundwater and water from the Colorado River.

“I know the rest of California is going through a major drought. But we have plenty of water here,” said Paula Turner, a local resident who was hoping to build a home next to the surf park.

John Gamlin, president of CM Wave Development LLC, said the wave pool’s annual consumption is estimated at 26 million gallons, much less than a golf course, which can consume up to 1 million gallons per day in the desert.

However, opponents disputed the developer’s estimate of how much water would evaporate from the pool, arguing that evaporation would require significantly more refills in breaking waves and heat.

Karen Tomcala, a La Quinta resident, urged the city council to reject the zoning change, saying they should instead approve a different type of development that “would bring revenue to the city without depleting the precious water resources on which our existence is based.” depends”.

“They are the leaders who determine what La Quinta stands for,” Tomcala said, “and how we stand as a community at a time of climate change that is really scary.”

The flow of the Colorado River has shrunk dramatically during a 23-year mega-drought that research says is being made worse by global warming. Southern California’s water districts are under pressure to shoulder significant reductions as the federal government pushes solutions to prevent the river’s largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, from sinking to dangerously low levels.

Jay Famiglietti, a water scientist who directs the Global Institute of Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, sent a letter to the city council underscoring the seriousness of the situation.

“My research, simply put, has shown that California and the American Southwest are running out of water,” Famiglietti said in the letter, which was read at the meeting. “The Colorado River drainage basin is drying up, Lakes Powell and Mead are at unprecedented low levels, and cuts in surface water allocations are being actively negotiated.”

Famiglietti said depletion of groundwater in the area far outstrips water losses in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. He said that the region’s water supplies are “declining rapidly due to climate change, overallocation and mismanagement of groundwater,” which “demonstrates that every drop counts and greater conservation efforts are needed to secure La Quinta’s water future.”

James Vaughn, an attorney for the developers, said the Coachella Valley Water District’s assessment showed there would be enough water for the project. Vaughn said the valley’s aquifer, which has been boosted by imported water, is in relatively better condition than the Central Valley’s declining aquifers.

“You can’t solve the Colorado River challenge by turning down a good project,” Vaughn said. “The wave pool will invest $6 million in local water conservation. That makes it part of the solution.”

But several residents said the offer to help pay for lawn removal discounts didn’t allay their concerns about what they called water waste.

“Water is the new gold,” said Carol Adler. “Without water, no claim.”

Lisa Jeffrey expressed concern about traffic, noise and the party atmosphere, but also said: “We are going through a mega drought and it’s appalling how this could impact the environment.”

Guillermo Casillas, who owns a house next to a property, said he wasn’t opposed to building on the land but he was strongly opposed to the wave pool. He pointed out that the water at nearby RV parks in the eastern Coachella Valley, including one where relatives live, is contaminated with toxic arsenic and is undrinkable.

“We just don’t have enough water for this particular project,” Casillas said. “I’m 100% against it because we just can’t waste this water. … We need water for drinking, not for surfing.”

Before the vote, city council members explained their reasons for rejecting the zoning change.

Councilor Steve Sanchez said he’s not at all concerned about water, but was concerned about the impact of a zoning change on those who have owned homes in the area for years.

“It is of great concern to me that the people who live in this community never expected a wave park to be built,” Sanchez said.

Councilor John Peña agreed. “We never really anticipated having 600 short-term rentals in an area that’s mostly residential.”

After the vote, Garrett Simon of Meriwether Cos., a project partner with CM Wave Development, LLC, said in an email that they plan to “evaluate our options.”

Meanwhile, other large water features are planned to be built elsewhere in the Coachella Valley.

A development that includes a 50-acre surf lagoon, Thermal Beach Club, has already been approved by Riverside County regulators. Construction has begun at Rancho Mirage on Disney’s Cotino development, which will include a 24-acre lagoon, this time without waves. And two more wave pools are in the works in Palm Desert and Palm Springs.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-22/proposed-california-surf-park-rejected-by-city-council Proposed California surf park is rejected by city council

Alley Einstein

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