Almost 21 years ago, I joined the Coachella Valley Association of Governments. It was through starry eyes and innocence that I quickly realized that I was without a real clue as to what CVAG was about, what it had already accomplished, or had a true comprehension of the organization I had joined. It didn't take long before I started to understand how CVAG was truly instrumental in assisting all of its jurisdictions in tackling regional issues. I also recognized the cohesive nature that existed among its members in working together to accomplish regional goals set by all the cities and tribes in the Greater Coachella Valley. Perhaps that is why CVAG's mission statement continues to mean so much to me: "CVAG is an organization through which its members do things for themselves, together." Those words still ring true today.
One of CVAG's most significant achievements was an important ballot measure responsible for funding so many of our transportation projects here in the Coachella Valley. Successfully voted into law by the residents of Riverside County, Measure A is a one-half cent sales tax intended to pay for transportation improvements through CVAG operating in conjunction with its jurisdictions. Along with Measure A, a fee called the Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fee (TUMF) was also established. The TUMF insured that future development in the Coachella Valley would help pay for the impacts from the increase in vehicle traffic created by the new developments, as well as the wear and tear increased traffic would have on the roads. Passage of the measure took place in 1988. Named in the measure language were certain projects that CVAG essentially promised to build in the future. The completion of those named projects culminated in a September 29th "Promises Kept" celebration. So what lead us to the gathering of CVAG members and local community leaders?
During the time leading up to the passage, CVAG staff consisted of an Executive Director, Lester Cleveland; Director of Transportation, Nick Nickerson; and a handful of other staff members busy working on other CVAG projects. Prior to the passage of the Measure, CVAG worked with an ad-hoc funding subcommittee made up of a representative from each jurisdiction including Palm Desert Councilmember Richard Kelley (Dick Kelly) and Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Eli Birer, who served as co-chairs. Both Cleveland and Nickerson served as staff to this subcommittee. According to Nickerson, whom I sat down with to discuss the history of Measure A and the Promises Kept by CVAG, the plan was to make Measure A a public/private partnership that would fund projects across the Coachella Valley, while focusing on the projects to be "named" in the Measure. A significant point never lost by CVAG members and staff back then, and to this day, was ensuring that Measure A dollars return to the source. In other words, the tax dollars collected in the Coachella Valley would return to the Coachella Valley.
In his recollection of the planning process, Nickerson stated that it was through the great efforts of Cleveland, the subcommittee and past SunLine General Manager Richard Cromwell which generated the wording that would shape the future of the CVAG transportation program. Remembering Cleveland as an "expert at consensus building," Nickerson pays tribute to Lester's efforts that kept the subcommittee and interested parties, including developers, working together. According to Nickerson, "Lester always said that there was not one problem that can't be fixed or resolved if you put it on the table and discuss it."
Of course part of the process since the original projects were named was to perform a periodic Transportation Project Prioritization Study (TPPS), where consultants are hired to review and prioritize a list of proposed regional projects from each jurisdiction, based on specified criteria. The jurisdictions obtain funding for those projects, while CVAG identifies the regional share of the prioritized project funding, and construction begins.
Notably, the County of Riverside, City of La Quinta, and CVAG recently completed the final named Measure A project...the final "promise kept" from the original measure language. The list of named projects in the original 1988 Measure A ballot language were: Palm Drive (I-10 to Two Bunch Palms), Mid Valley Parkway (Gene Autry Trail to Monterey Street), Fred Waring Drive (Highway 111 to Indio Boulevard), Jefferson Street (Avenue 54 to Indio Boulevard), Highway 86, and State Route 111 (Cathedral Canyon to Date Palm Drive). On a warm fall evening, CVAG celebrated the completion of the last segment of the final named Measure A project, along with many of its members and partners. Sadly, some of those involved in the original Measure A efforts have passed away, but thankfully we were joined by the spouse of one very important long time Palm
Desert Council Member and transportation advocate, Dick Kelly.
A Visit with Mary Helen Kelly
Not long after the Measure A event at CVAG, I sat down with Mary Helen Kelly, widow of Dick Kelly. Mary Helen reflected on what inspired Dick to care so much about transportation issues of the Coachella Valley. He saw the issues facing a growing Coachella Valley as a reason to develop the Valley as a whole and not leaving the improvements to individual cities to tackle alone. "Never do anything alone," were the words Dick would share with Mary Helen. According to Mary Helen, Dick would refer the Coachella Valley as if it were a ship, "if one end sinks, the whole thing sinks."
Mary Helen shared how much Dick enjoyed working with CVAG staff, especially Nickerson. Dick also visited with developers to recruit them to assist in the passage of Measure A, as well as to "convince them" that the TUMF program would benefit the Valley, including them in the long run.
When asked to describe her late husband, Mary Helen said, "Dick's dedication was to make things better for future transportation and other projects in the Coachella Valley." Mary Helen added that Dick was, "a caring person. He truly cared about his community."
What I Learned
Now, all of these years later, a slightly older, a bit wiser self reflects on how funding from Measure A, and working with leaders in the community, gives me a firsthand knowledge of an amazing story...the history of an incredible organization. Because of the commitment of our community leaders and their early efforts through CVAG, our transportation system will continue to make life better in the Coachella Valley. As we embark on future projects, such as the Jefferson Street Interchange, I am reminded we have large shoes to continue to fill. In addition, our future seems brighter with the outlook of alternative transportation through CV Link and passenger rail service in the Valley. CVAG and its partners continue to work together in order to benefit Coachella Valley residents and visitors. What an exciting time to part of this team!