IVAN VALENZUELA/Coachella Uninc
MECCA – The streets near Mecca Elementary School are undergoing a series of improvements as part of a $1 million project recently approved by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
Work began this week, during Coachella Valley Unified School District’s spring break, and is expected to last two months. The project focuses on the sidewalks, repaving of streets, and improvement of drainage. These upgrades have long been needed by Mecca Elementary School students and the residents who utilize Coahuilla, Date Palm, and Fourth streets.
“This Coachella Valley community has special needs,” said John J. Benoit, Riverside County Supervisor, in an interview with Coachella Unincorporated. “It is a place where I have focused, and the County has focused, a lot of attention. Because of the community’s demographics, it can’t be self-sustaining the same way [as] Indian Wells, Palm Desert, or Rancho Mirage. So we have recognized those needs and aggressively pursued alternative ways to improve the overall ambience and lifestyle in those areas, and I think it’s very clear in Mecca…where we’ve had success in doing that.”
The improvements are a continuation of a five-phase plan that started in 2010 and was halted shortly after the third phase in 2013. Funds for the improvements, previously funded through redevelopment funds, were no longer available after California eliminated Redevelopment Agencies in 2011. Up until then, Redevelopment Agencies (RDAs) were county and city departments authorized to use a portion of property tax dollars to improve areas that had become neglected or blighted.
Funding for this round of improvements is mostly provided by Riverside County gasoline taxes and through the state’s Safe Routes to School program.
With the remaining two phases set to start, residents are hoping that these improvements are part of a larger picture.
“The improvements are needed, long overdue, and a step in the right direction, but we still need more improvements in other areas of Mecca,” said Eduardo Guevara, who lives one block away from the school. “But it’s a good start.”
When asked about other areas in Mecca that need attention, Guevara noted, “I would like to see the same kind of improvements, like sidewalks and roads being repaired all over Lincoln Street. There aren’t any sidewalks. I know children that studied with my son that mentioned that they walk all over the other side of Mecca, and they have to walk down Lincoln Street. They complain about the security issue, but mostly it’s about the dust and walking in the dirt.”
The two-phase project should be completed in June. When asked about future plans in the development of the eastern valley, Benoit stated, “There are in the legislature now, and over the last two years since RDA went away, several proposals that up until now, none have been approved by the governor. We’ve built 7,300 or so low to moderate income housing units with RDA. We no longer have that tool. We hope that they’ll come along and give us another tool to replace it.”
Guevara is optimistic about the upcoming improvements.
“I don’t think it’ll take too long,” he said. “I think that, from what I’ve seen and read, the area is going to get better.”