CITY COUNCIL RECAP: AUGUST 8
An apology from the mayor and resident concerns about the TBID dominate the meeting
Anticipated fireworks at Tuesday’s City Council meeting were averted when Mayor MacArthur Wright offered an apology in lieu of the expected Code of Conduct discussion.
Adding to the pressure was a pre-meeting rally led by Joseph Carder of stopthesewer.org, which was billed as “Stop the Council,” over concerns that the proposed Code of Conduct was intended to suppress dissent among Council members.
The tension in Council Chambers at the start of the meeting was addressed in Reverend Don Thursby's invocation:
For those of us who gather, there are a fair number of green sheets circulating so this will be a meeting with some discussion. We pray that as we do so that we will remember that all of us are human beings and that we are neighbors of each other and as we deal with issues that are of great importance and sensitivity to each of us in our own way that you will help us to find a way to share in that conversation with a sense of decorum of respect for differing opinions and in the end we will come up with a new direction that will be to the best benefit of this crazy place in the Hi-Desert that we call home.
The invocation, and later, Mayor Wright’s apology, lead to a mostly congenial meeting until Public Comment when three speakers expressed on-going dissatisfaction with the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID).
Just two items were removed from the Consent Calendar for discussion, with the balance, items 3-7, 10 & 11, being approved 5-0.
#8. Community Events Grants - The City has allocated $50,000 for grants funding community events. A subcommittee consisting of Councilmembers Daniel Mintz and Octavious Scott reviewed 19 applications and recommended an initial round of $12,000 in funding for four projects scheduled for October and November. The subcommittee anticipates funding further projects scheduled for later in City’s fiscal year. Mintz also discussed meeting with the TBID to seek additional funding to “either fund more events or make these events bigger.” The current ask was approved 5-0.
The Twentynine Palms Book Festival proposed by Patrick Zuchowicki of Desert General was funded for $5,000. The festival is schedule for Saturday, October 28, with events taking place at Desert General and the Twentynine Palms Community Center.
Morongo Basin Spell a-Thon, proposed by Debbie Medina of the Friends of the Twentynine Palms Library, received $1,000. Last year’s event took place in March in Joshua Tree.
CMC Howl Poetry Slam, submitted by Sandy Smith of Copper Mountain College, received $1,000. In 2022 this event toured four Morongo Basin locations, stopping in Twentynine Palms at GRND SQRL.
AfroLab, submitted by Everton Gordon of Kitchen in the Desert, received $5,000.
#9. Agreement with Caroline Partamian - This item was pulled from the Consent Calendar due to a request by Veno Nathraj, who wished to comment and address the authority of the City Manager on contracts. The City Manager can approve contracts to $25,000, anything over that amount requires Council review. Correct procedure was followed since at $37,800 the contract is over the City Manager’s limit.
This contract is to compensate Partamian for producing Workshop29, a series of four free workshops and a wrap event kicking off in October 2023. Workshop29 is funded by a $100,000 Creative Corps grant received by the Public Arts Advisory Committee (PAAC). Kate Lee Short, the Vice-Chair of the PAAC, used the opportunity to provide a quick review of the upcoming programming, stating that a full presentation would be made to Council in September. Approved 5-0.
12. Twentynine Palms Lighting and Landscaping Assessment District #1
Per the staff report the District funds “the ongoing maintenance of the improvements in the public right-of-way, including parkway landscaping, retention basin landscaping, irrigation systems, street furniture, public art, and perimeter block walls, street lighting, and other related improvements.” No public comment on item. Approved 5-0.
DISCUSSION AND POTENTIAL ACTION ITEMS
13. Morongo Basin ARCH - ARCH, a primary provider of homeless services in Twentynine Palms, relies on City Council for gap funding to cover needed expenditures prior to the receipt of grant monies. The funding is then repaid once the grant is received.
Astrid Johnson of ARCH addressed Council, noting that a location had been identified for a navigation / warming and cooling center that would provide health and job assistance services as well as services dedicated to unhoused minors. Per City Manager Luckino, the Housing / Homeless Committee has also recommended a portable shower be placed at Shadow Mountain Church. Per Johnson:
We have a lot of homeless that actually are quite skilled. They just simply need a hand up on getting showers like we're talking about with the shower trailer. Getting good nutrition, getting fresh clothes and then getting matched up with available jobs here in the area.
Although ARCH’s request was for another $20,000 promissory note, Council member Joel Klink wondered whether Council could just give them the requested funds. City Manager Frank Luckino advised that $75,000 is already budgeted for homeless and housing so there was a source for funding in place. A 5-0 vote for a $20,000 grant was greeted with applause from the public.
14. Council Code of Conduct - An excerpt from the statement read by Mayor Wright regarding the withdrawal of the agenda item:
To my esteemed fellow Council members, I extend my sincere apologies if my intentions were misconstrued as an attempt to curtail or regulate our expressions or actions. As elected representatives, we stand as the voice of our esteemed citizens, and my intent was never to interfere with this fundamental duty. I deeply regret any misunderstanding that may have arisen from the presentation of this agenda item. To the cherished residents of Twentynine Palms, I offer my heartfelt apology for any an unintended implication that I sought to hinder or impede our Council members from dutifully representing your interests. My commitment to this City and its citizens is unwavering and my sole desire is to work for the betterment of our community.
The statement and withdrawal were met with applause.
15. Aha Projects! - The $1 per year lease enabling the artist-developed miniature golf course Mojaveland to relocate to property adjacent to Theater 29 was approved 5-0.
16. Resolution Approving Second Amendment to Franchise Agreement with Burrtec Waste and Recycling Services, LLC, to Implement Organic Waste Recycling Requirements Imposed by New State Law (SB 1383). - An amendment to the franchise agreement with Burrtec to enable the collection of organic waste was approved 5-0.
STR owner Eileen Leslie, Hotelier Veno Nathraj and resident April Ramirez each targeted the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) in their comments. All three speakers attended the July 27 TBID meeting and expressed dismay at learning that the District has $530,000 in reserves (their current fiscal year budget is approximately $285,000). There were concerns that the budget discussed by TBID members at the meeting was not attached to the agenda distributed to the public, making it difficult for contributing businesses to engage in an informed dialogue about expenditures.
Leslie and Nathraj accused the TBID of selectively distributing a petition for the changing the Council reauthorization from one year to five years. Additional concerns voiced include mismanagement, lack of measurable proof of marketing effectiveness and failing to use available monies to fund events that would being tourism. Commenters advocated for the dismantling of the TBID. These remarks are coming before Council as the TBID approaches its yearly reauthorization.
Andrew Fulbright and Joseph Carder spoke to the sewer. Carder admitted that the Mayor “pulled that rug right out from me” and thanked him for withdrawing the Code of Conduct, adding that he wished the future agenda item for moving the wastewater plant had been on the agenda instead while Fulbright expressed concern that the cost of sewer installation would push elderly retirees on a fixed income and others out of their homes.
Cindy Bernard advocated for the recording and archiving of committee meetings to increase City transparency. She also pointed out that while the Code of Conduct was withdrawn, there are still unresolved issues in the existing Conflict of Interest Code which lacks the financial disclosure categories required by the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). The lack of categories means that all City officials have the same level of financial disclosure, whether they sit on Council or on an arts committee such as the PAAC. City Manager Luckino commented that this issue is on the August 22 Council agenda.
Alice Lawson expressed concern for a lack of crosswalks in the neighborhood adjacent to Oasis Elementary to better protect children walking to school from speeding cars.
Sandy Smith promoted the educational opportunities at Copper Mountain College and thanked Council for supporting the upcoming HOWL Poetry Slam.
The next City Council meeting is schedule for Tuesday, August 22 at 6pm at City Hall.
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