Proposed surf park in California desert is rejected by La Quinta City Council

Ian James, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

James Vaughn, a lawyer for the developers, said the assessment by the Coachella Valley Water District shows there would be enough water for the project. Vaughn said the valley's groundwater basin, which has been boosted by imported water, is in relatively better condition than the declining aquifers of the Central Valley.

"You can't solve the Colorado River challenge by denying a good project," Vaughn said. "The wave basin is going to 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 rebates didn't assuage their concerns about what they called a wasteful use of water.

"Water is the new gold," Carol Adler said. "If there's no water, there's no entitlement."

Lisa Jeffrey expressed worry about traffic, noise and a party atmosphere, but also said: "We are in a megadrought, and it's frightening how environmentally this could impact us."

Guillermo Casillas, who owns a home next to property, said he's not against building on the land, but he strongly opposes the wave pool. He pointed out that at nearby mobile home parks in the eastern Coachella Valley, including one where relatives live, the water is contaminated with toxic arsenic and unsafe to drink.

"We just don't have the water to spare for this particular project," Casillas said. "I am 100% against it, because we just can't waste that water. … We need water to drink, not to surf on."

Before voting, City Council members explained their reasons for rejecting the zoning change.


Council member Steve Sanchez said he wasn't at all concerned about water, but he was concerned about the effect of a zoning change for those who have owned homes in the area for years.

"It's a big concern of mine that the people who live in that community never expected a wave park to be built," Sanchez said.

Council member John Peña agreed. "We have never really anticipated having 600 short-term rentals out in an area that is basically residential."

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

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

A development with a 20-acre surf lagoon, Thermal Beach Club, has already been approved by Riverside County supervisors. In Rancho Mirage, construction has begun at Disney's Cotino development, which will include a 24-acre lagoon, this one without waves. And two other wave pools are in the works in Palm Desert and Palm Springs.

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