Shaping the Future

Shaping the Future

Over the five decades since the city’s first mayor, William Rawitzer, promised a trajectory of “gracious living and distinctive development,” Rancho Mirage has grown steadily and responsibly, with a high quality of life and preservation of the beautiful natural environment always among the highest priorities.128_C-11-16, Page 1 - Copy

Hollywood celebrities, U.S. presidents, pro golfers and tennis players, and titans of industry may have made Rancho Mirage a recognizable name, but it’s the stewardship of elected leaders and determined staff that retains the city’s shine and appeal as a world-class place to live and visit.

City leaders have orchestrated many civic improvements and enhancements. Some are aesthetic while others were pursued with safety in mind. Many are cultural, educational, and environmentally conscious, and still others have increased recreational opportunities. All serve to augment a city whose story has only begun.

Modernizing the City

One of the earliest orders of business was a 1975 ordinance to bury power lines and remove the utility poles that marred the landscape along Highway 111. The City later widened portions of the highway and more recently installed traffic synchronization equipment to improve flow along heavily traveled routes, including Highway 111; Bob Hope, Country Club, and Dinah Shore drives; and Monterey Avenue.

129_RM ELEMENTARY SCHOOLThen the educational landscape began to take shape with the city’s first public primary school: Palm Springs Unified School District (PSUSD) opened Rancho Mirage Elementary on Indian Trail Road in 1980. In 2013, the City used grant funds to construct a sidewalk along Mirage Road so students from the school could safely walk to the Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory. The same year, PSUSD opened Rancho Mirage High School on Rattler Road. The school has since gained renown as home to David Green’s Musical Theatre University at the on-campus Helene Galen Performing Arts Center. In the private sector, venerable Palm Valley School, founded in 1952 in Palm Springs, moved to a 40-acre campus in Rancho Mirage in 1992. Its educational offerings extend from pre-school through high school.

129_Tolerance Education Center

The Tolerance Education Center in Rancho Mirage was founded by a man determined to teach as many people as possible about the horrors of the Holocaust and the hatred that engendered them. Holocaust survivor Earl Greif led the cause, and the 3,800-square-foot space opened its doors to the public in 2009. Located on Landy Lane, the Tolerance Education Center presents lectures, films and other tolerance-themed programs to adults and welcomes children for field trips.

Protecting the Bighorn Sheep

Rancho Mirage and other cities in the Coachella Valley are home to the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, which inhabit dry, rocky, low-elevation desert slopes, canyons, and washes along the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains. In a portion of their range that forms the southern boundary of Rancho Mirage, urbanization began to expose the sheep to dangers such as predators, poisonous plants, parasites, and even automobile collisions while on the valley floor in search of water.

130_C-24-4  BIGHORN-rvIn 1987, the Rancho Mirage City Council set aside 939 acres a Desert Bighorn Sheep Preserve at the west end of Frank Sinatra Drive. The council noted that the majestic mammal had been a symbol for the City since its incorporation. The City seal adopted at the first council meeting read “Realm of the Desert Bighorn” under a graphic showing the curved-horn creature. Though updated with a more abstract design, the city’s logo remains the head of a bighorn sheep.

About 15 years later, the City decided to erect a fence to safeguard the animals and run thousands of feet of PVC piping up hillsides to create artificial springs in three remote locations. Completed in 2002, the “million-dollar fence” stands eight feet tall (so the sheep cannot jump over) and extends approximately five miles over rugged terrain. It took about three years to develop a plan and acquire easements for the protective fence. Building took place in five phases, and equipment, including portable generators for power tools, was flown to the site by helicopter. A biologist from the nonprofit Bighorn Institute consulted and offered advice at every step of the project. Installation of the artificial springs — watering holes, in effect — round out the project and have been integral to its success. City staff and the Bighorn Institute perform regular maintenance.

132_04RMN19 - Ram sculpture - CopyThe same year marked the launch of The Path of the Bighorn Sheep, a public art project conceived by retired physician and arts advocate
Dr. Jane Smith to educate the public about the plight of the animals and raise funds to support Bighorn Institute’s research, conservation, and education programs through the sale of the sculptures.

The project called for 40 life-size fiberglass sculptures to be painted by local artists and celebrities and placed in high-visibility locations throughout the Coachella Valley. Sculptor Joe Wertheimer created the model for the male sheep perched on a rock, elevated as if overlooking a herd, and Alexandra Sheldon, then board president of the Bighorn Institute, championed the project in the community.

The community’s reaction to the sculptures was overwhelming, with a final tally of 107 painted rams. As of 2023, 33 of the sculptures remain on display across the valley, including seven in Rancho Mirage, located at the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, Eisenhower Health’s Lucy Curci Cancer Center, Mirage Center, Powers Carpet One, Rancho Mirage City Hall, Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory, and Bennion Deville Homes. Wertheimer’s painted sculpture, titled “Bridging the Gap” and sponsored by Alexandra and Sidney Sheldon, is displayed in the main lobby at City Hall.

Although Peninsular bighorn sheep remain a federally endangered species, their numbers have improved in the Northern Santa Rosa range above Rancho Mirage due in part to the installation of the fence. Today, the bighorn sheep population hovers around 270, up from a low of 100, and vehicular tragedies no longer occur in the city.

“The fence is about more than the bighorn sheep,” adds former City Manager Randy Bynder. “It’s a statement on the importance of preserving the mountains as a scenic resource for the City.” The mountains comprise about one-eighth of the City’s 25 square miles, and almost all that land is in public ownership by the City, Bureau of Land Management, or California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This means the land will be preserved as open space in perpetuity for future generations.”

Betty Ford Center: On the Grow

It wasn’t long after Gerald and Betty Ford retired to Rancho Mirage that the city’s healing and transformative environment became the obvious home to the iconic Betty Ford Center. During her husband’s presidency, the former first lady was an outspoken proponent of women’s rights who notably raised the issue of breast cancer awareness following her own mastectomy. She also famously made addition a topic of discussion following her disclosure of her own struggle with alcoholism and substance abuse.135_Betty Ford portrait

The Betty Ford Center opened in 1982, and in 2014, the iconic alcohol and drug treatment center merged with The Hazelden Foundation to form the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, “a mission-driven, community-oriented behavioral healthcare organization.”

In 2021, Hazelden Betty Ford embarked on a $30 million, multiphase campus renovation to expand access to treatment resources and help even more people who struggle with addiction.

The first phase of the renovation — a new entrance — was completed in June 2022. Next comes a new building that will add 44 beds to its existing 100 beds, significantly increasing its capacity to serve clients for years to come.

Sensei Porcupine Creek

Rancho Mirage has distinguished itself as a luxurious, gracious, and enchanting place to live and visit, and the City isn’t resting on its laurels. Transient occupancy tax, collected on every hotel room night, is expected to double in the next five to 10 years, providing funds for improvements in the community, continually elevating the quality of life.

Developers are already investing and building in the city with promises of transformational properties with next-level amenities. Two of the most exciting new developments, Sensei Porcupine Creek and Cotino, Storyliving by Disney, embody this spirited progress.

136_Golf at Sensei Porcupine CreekThe exclusive, six-star Sensei Porcupine Creek boutique resort opened in 2022 and promotes The Sensei Way, a medically grounded philosophy of healthy living through modes of “move,” “nourish,” and “rest.” Owned by Oracle founder Larry Ellison, the 230-acre property already features a peerless 18-hole golf course and tennis facilities with hard and clay courts; Sensei by Nobu dining menu created by Nobu Matsuhisa and Sensei cofounder Dr. David Agus; and distinctive spa experiences.

A wellness retreat like no other, Sensei Porcupine Creek offers 22 luxurious accommodations, including intimate rooms in the Estate House and adjacent casitas and private villas, and plans to expand.

The resort will reroute the golf course to make room for bungalows and villas, growing capacity to 50 accommodations. New amenities will include a restaurant, dining deck, upgraded spa complex, and retreat facilities. The plan allows for of up to 250,000 square feet of resort development on a 191-acre portion of the existing 230-acre estate.

“New and improved” — the intersection of innovative and conventional lifestyles — is the calling card for active and affluent professionals who are still working, amassing wealth, and interested in next-gen amenities.

Cotino, Storyliving by Disney

Cotino, Storyliving by Disney, which is being developed on 618 acres in the heart of Rancho Mirage, is set to transform the city from the “country club capital of the world” to the center of desert dining, shopping, and entertainment.

139_Cotino_Incredibles planCotino won approval in 2019 in part as an homage to Walt Disney, who owned a home in Palm Springs and often enjoyed time in the Coachella Valley with his family.

Disney has partnered with Scottsdale, Arizona–based DMB Development on the massive, mixed-use community of about 1,700 homes ranging from condominiums and cottages to estates and single-family homes. Cotino also includes a separate 55-and-up neighborhood; mixed-use district with a range of shopping, dining, and entertainment; a beachfront hotel; and a beach park with recreational activities, including standup paddleboarding in a 24-acre grand oasis lagoon.

The first Storyliving by Disney community, Cotino invites adventurous homebuyers to “write the best chapter in the story of your life.”

Cotino’s amenities will be open to the public with a day pass or an Artisan Club membership.

138_An aerial view of Cotino the first Storyliving by Disney community cc“We are developing the community in a way that provides a breadth of housing options, is sustainable, and shows that we have thought deeply and carefully about the area’s culture and history,” says Brent Herrington, CEO of DMB Development. “We want to create a community that will benefit not only residents, but also the surrounding region.”

Cotino, which will be managed by Disney Cast Members trained to deliver world-class service and, of course, fun, broke ground in early 2022 and expects the first homes to be completed in 2024.

Certainly, Rancho Mirage has come a long way since its early roots as a desert playground for presidents and celebrities. Its achievements are vast, and the momentum only continues to gain pace. It’s incredible to imagine what the next 50 years might bring — what Rancho Mirage be when it’s time to celebrate its centennial.

On the Horizon

Progress always seems to top the City’s planning and council agendas. As this book was in production, several significant developments made news:

140_desert island CC from Realtor siteMiguel Nelson, the new owner of desert island country club — which opened in 1971 with 226 luxurious condominiums in three towers situated on an island surrounded by an 18-hole, Dennis Muirhead–designed golf course and a 25-acre lake — plans to dramatically upgrade and expand the club’s offerings. Nelson won the City’s approval to add a 34-key, one-story boutique hotel; 11 condo-hotel units; and hotel grounds with tennis courts, a pool, a café, a cabana, and a yoga pavilion, along with additional onsite parking, on approximately 17.2 acres of the site. A new golf training park and golf maintenance building will replace an existing driving range. Desert Island remains the only high-rise club in the Coachella Valley.

The children’s discovery museum of the desert, which had closed for a long period during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, will reopen in March 2024, following a “reimagination” of its offerings and a five-phase capital campaign. The results of Phase One unfold in the Main Gallery (Building One), a whimsical, creative, and exciting space for 0- to 8-year-olds that presents different ways to “Imagine,” “Express,” “Move,” “Experiment,” “Explore.” and “Dream.” It contains almost 40 new, hands-on exhibits. Subsequent phases include a renovation of all three buildings, a building expansion, new construction, and an exterior plan. The goal is to expand experiences and programming to include all ages and family members.

the river at rancho mirage, a 27-acre open-air mall and entertainment plaza, has been a vibrant part of the community since it opened in 2002. The River offers an array of appealing dining and entertainment options. Standout restaurants include The Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s, Yard House, and Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewery — perfect for a bite and a drink before or after a movie at the state-of-the-art, 15-screen Cinemark Century theater. In the fall of 2023, The River welcomed Dave & Buster’s, a 22,000-square-foot establishment featuring a lively restaurant, a stylish bar, a buzzing arcade, and a 40-foot high-definition TV screen for the big games. Several businesses — Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, River Nails & Spa, Hats Unlimited, and Bath & Body Works — have been open at The River since its inception.140_The River-4745

In July 2023, the Rancho Mirage City Council unanimously approved zoning changes for 35 acres of land off Monterey Avenue near Dinah Shore Drive that could include up to 400 homes, 150,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and a hotel with up to 150 rooms.

It’s been an impressive, ranches-to-riches first half century for Rancho Mirage, and a wave of new and improved developments, businesses, resorts, attractions, and events signals the city’s star will shine bright for generations to come. The common thread through the years has been leadership focused on continually enhancing the quality of life for the people who live and visit this beautiful and luxurious sweet spot in the Southern California desert.