6/20 PLANNING COMMISSION / HOMELESS COMMITTEE & 6/22 WASTEWATER MEETING RECAPS
Clarification on parking, a homelessness workshop, and a highly contentious Wastewater Committee meeting
CITY PLANNING COMMISSION, JUNE 20, 2023
At the City of Twentynine Palms Planning Commission meeting held on June 20, 2023, two new Planning Commissioners1 were sworn in following the resignation of former commissioners Eileen Leslie and Jason Dickson. Jessica Cure, who has lived in the area for about a year, along with lifelong resident Alexander Garcia, made an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and were thus thrown into their first Planning Commission meeting, which covered an amendment to the City’s Development Code that addressed “off-street parking and loading” and a Homelessness Committee “Study Session.”
The parking discussion was prompted in part by Committee Development Director Keith Gardner’s mission of tidying up the City’s current code of ordinances through reconciling conflicts in the current code and resolving differences between current code and the City’s General Plan. The purpose of this most recent amendment is to align commercial parking requirements with with residential parking requirements, and removing some of the red tape involved in off-street parking requirements.
The adopted amendment does not apply to parking spaces but merely clarifies wording regarding off-street parking and loading. There is currently no parking space requirement, whether it be commercial or residential.
Ultimately, the motion to find the project exempt from CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) and forward the recommendation to City Council to approve the development code amendment was approved 5-0.
Community Development Director update
The Morongo Basin Community Health Center is run by the Morongo Basin Health Care District and has offices in Yucca Valley and in Twentynine Palms. The Center offers sliding scale treatment that residents can access by phoning (760)365-9305 for an appointment. Services in Twentynine Palms were recently consolidated at the office located at 6380 Split Rock Ave. The proposal is to build a 4,900 sq ft addition to this facility, and the City planning staff will make a decision to award an administrative use permit on July 3.
Per an email with City Manager Frank Luckino, health care services and the expansion are enabled by funds collected by the lease of Hi-Desert Medical Center (owned by the Morongo Basin Health Care District) to Tennent Health Care. The Hi-Desert Memorial Healthcare District then uses those funds to own and operate the clinics.
Posted above is a screen shot from video of the meeting —Desert Trumpet wonders why no mention of this item was in the agenda and why the development documents were not attached to the agenda for public review.
Commissioner Leslie Paahana asked if the project was set back far enough from the washes in the area, and Gardner confirmed it was and that the project was also approved by the City engineer.
According to Community Development Director Keith Gardner, administrative use permits are announced publicly at the Planning Commission and in the newspaper. If a Commissioner requests public hearing due to objections, it can be held — that would also be noticed in the newspaper.
Residents may be interested to know that the classified section of the Hi-Desert Star and Desert Trail are often keys to upcoming City news due to requirements for public notice for ordinance changes, public hearings, certain permits, and other selected City business.
HOMELESS / HOUSING COMMITTEE STUDY SESSION
The number of people who lack housing in Twentynine Palms has increased,2 and a Homeless / Housing Committee was formed to find resources and make recommendations to the City Council. All five planning commissioners serve on this committee as well as two community members, Andrea Keller and Veno Nathraj. For the first time, the meeting was recorded. Committee business starts at 26:43 on the video - it’s a useful discussion, and we advise interested community members to watch it.
The Homeless Committee study session kicked off with a presentation by Deputy Brandon Duval3, a representative of the San Bernardino County Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement (H.O.P.E.) program, and he gave an overview of homelessness in the Morongo Basin. Also attending from the H.O.P.E. team were a probation officer, a sergeant and two other deputies. Again, we ask why this presentation was not listed on the agenda.
The H.O.P.E. program is a four-person team lead by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, and they are in charge of the Department’s homelessness outreach for all of San Bernardino County, which covers more than 20,000 square miles. The Deputy stated that the last time they had an operation in the Morongo Basin area they had “two or three” unhoused community members who met the H.O.P.E. program’s housing requirements, but those individuals did not want to leave the Morongo Basin for housing in other parts of the County. Currently, San Bernardino County offers housing options for the homeless but these options are located outside of the Morongo Basin, meaning that if an individual wishes to use those housing resources, it would require them to leave the area. He requested that the Homeless Committee possibly conduct research into finding a venue to house them locally.
Duval went on to say that the H.O.P.E. team has contacted 72 different entities (including individuals and families), and said that, to date, only ten have been given documentable assistance, stating it is hard to keep track of referral success. He also emphasized the area has seen a significant rise in homeless seniors on fixed incomes, particularly since the pandemic.
This year to date in Twentynine Palms, the H.O.P.E. team has contacted 46 individuals and collected stats on drug and alcohol use and mental health but it is self-admitted. Duval noted 60% of those who self-reported involve mental health cases. Most people get out of homelessness after one year, according to the Deputy, but he emphasized that the longer an individual remains homeless, the higher their susceptibility to mental health issues.
Commissioner Paahana asked if the Deputy was requesting that transitional housing be established here in the Morongo Basin, and he responded that very few local motels are willing to accept the housing voucher system that the County offers. “Find other providers willing to step up and assist with providing some of that housing,” said the Deputy.
The study session ended with the Committee planning to identify resources available to the City, led by member Andrea Keller. Committee member Nathraj stated that the most expedient of temporary and permanent affordable housing is old hotels. Krushat wondered what the City can manage given its budget and resources.
Commissioner Paahana inquired as to whether the Committee could ask Council what their goals are in the forming of the Committee and in what the City feels it can accomplish regarding the homelessness issue. Paahana also made an excellent point that City services for the homeless are hard to find (as are many other City and County services for the disadvantaged in Twentynine Palms) and that there is a need to create a welcoming culture when it comes to services.
Planning Commission Chair Jim Krushat stated he would like to “narrow the objective of this committee so we can bring something tangible…to City Council.”
Responding to Code Enforcement Officer Chris Giunta’s comment about just six homeless wiling to participate in the recent Point in Time Count, new Commissioner Alexander Garcia spoke to his own outreach and support of the unhoused and encouraged the need to develop relationships, “I think the biggest issue is the relations we have with the houseless…building those relationships and showing that ….we’re not trying to temporary (sic) fix everything - and actually give them resources and actually show that they’re people and that we care about them. It goes a long ways.” Garcia concluded by saying, “It’s really exciting to see what you guys are doing…it’s awesome.”
The meeting concluded with a discussion of how often the Committee should meet. The consensus appeared to be that the Homeless / Housing Committee should be a standalone Committee meeting once a month.
It should be noted that throughout the Committee meeting, Chair Krushat is ticking off agenda items that were not shared in the noticed agenda. Failing to share the agenda along with attachments for presentations for the Homeless / Housing Committee is a violation of the Brown Act and we hope this is rectified before the next meeting of this Committee. (The Brown Act was passed by the state of California in 1953 to ensure transparency in local government.) For instance, the presentation that Andrea Keller discussed sharing with Committee members prior to the next meeting should be attached to the agenda for that meeting. Hopefully a standalone meeting will solve this issue.
The Committee agreed that their next meeting on homelessness will take place Thursday, July 27 at 4:30 PM. The next Planning Commission meeting is Tuesday, July 18 at 5 PM.
WASTEWATER COMMUNITY ADVISORY COMMITTEE, JUNE 22, 2023
On Thursday June 22, the Twentynine Palms Wastewater Community Advisory Committee met in what turned out to be a highly contentious meeting with a packed audience. At times, the meeting even overflowed to standing-room only. Despite occasional hecklers and a rowdy crowd, Committee Chair Karalee Hargrove continuously emphasized to the audience that the committee is merely advisory and that ultimately City Council will be making the final decision regarding wastewater and sewer implementation in the City of Twentynine Palms.
Far more residents were in attendance at the Wastewater Advisory Committee meeting than the Planning Commission and City Council meetings combined, yet Committee meetings are not recorded by the City for members of the public to view later, nor are they live-streamed, unlike Planning Commission and City Council meetings - this lack of documentation also makes accurate reporting challenging. We request greater transparency from the City in this topic of intense concern and that, going forward, meetings be live-streamed and archived. Contact your City Council representative!
The primary issue voiced by residents speaking at the meeting was the geographic placement of the wastewater treatment plant. At the podium, Twentynine Palms resident Joseph Carder stated he knows residents who are currently seeking legal counsel to see what options they have to force the City of Twentynine Palms to halt the project.
Residents addressed concerns regarding a possible decrease in property values in areas close to the proposed wastewater treatment plant, concerns of stench in the surrounding area, as well as the potential for swamp coolers in nearby residential areas to absorb toxins from the treatment plant that can aerate throughout homes. Others spoke to potential health issues and the proximity of the proposed wastewater plant to a senior housing community, which may potentially impact the immune systems of senior residents.
Local anti-wastewater activists have dubbed the area within a one mile radius of the project as the “stink zone.” Activist Joseph Carder has repeatedly emphasized that they are not opposed to the project in its entirety but merely the proposed location of the wastewater treatment plant.
City Manager Frank Luckino stated that despite the City’s potential to receive funding grants from various state and federal entities for this wastewater project, it would ultimately cost the City and its affiliates more than $23 million dollars to implement and see this project through.
At the City Council meeting Tuesday June 27, 2023, Hargrove alluded to the most recent Wastewater Advisory meeting as being one of the most difficult meetings in her entire twelve-year political career. She also requested that Council members not attend the meetings to ensure the Committee can ultimately submit an unbiased recommendation to the Council. Council member Octavious Scott and Mayor Pro Tem Steven Bilderain were both in attendance at the most recent Wastewater Committee meeting.
You can read more about the City’s wastewater plan and proposed site maps on the City website, linked here.
Disclosure: Desert Trumpet co-founder and editor Cindy Bernard is a member of the Public Arts Advisory Committee, which is a part of the City of Twentynine Palms.
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The Planning Commission consists of new members Cure and Garcia as well as Chair Jim Krushat, Vice Chair Max Walker, and Leslie Paahana.
According to the County’s “2023 Continuum of Care and Homeless Count and Survey Final Report,” the number of unhoused has increased by 25 percent in the last year, and now number 75 men, women, and children in Twentynine Palms.
Spelling is approximate, name was not spelled out in the meeting and appearance was not noted on the agenda.
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