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COUNCIL MEETING RECAP - THE MAJORITY SHIFTS
A review of the meeting proceedings, outcomes and comments by DT members present at the meeting.
Has change come to City Council? The first 2023 meeting on January 10 did indeed show promise as was mentioned in our agenda highlight article. The meeting featured a rare split vote on STRs with a staff recommendation failing and the agenda topic tabled until further research could be done by staff. An increase in questions asked and discussion among the Council members was a welcome switch from past meetings. You can view the meeting on the city website or on YouTube.
# 9. Development Code Amendment - Pot Belly Pigs Amending the development code to allow pot belly pigs as pets within the City limits was approved with one owner asking that her pig be allowed to stay, despite noise complaints. Animal Control Officer Roy Boyd pointed out that noise complaints from pigs are to be handled just like any other animal noise complaint. Approved 5-0
#10. Electric Vehicle Charging Stations and Parking Requirements Electric Vehicle Charging Stations and Parking requirements. Amends the development code to reflect State Law. Approved 5-0.
#11. Appeal of VHR22-195 This item prompted the most discussion among Council and staff. Twentynine Palms resident Kat Talley-Jones, representing herself, her husband and several neighbors, appealed granting a short term rental (STR) permit to Josh Seigel, principal of Fieldtrip Hospitality, for new consrruction located on Sullivan Rd on the west side of Indian Cove.
The structure in question appears to be built from the ground up to operate as one unit in a boutique hotel chain distributed throughout the Morongo Basin and managed by Fieldtrip. There was more Council discussion than usual with Mayor Wright appearing to be particularly conflicted about his vote. Several members of the public also spoke, wondering why a STR permit was being considered prior the completion of construction and that new construction is going straight to STR in a housing crisis. Alex Garcia spoke from personal experience with assisting the homeless describing families, including children, living in cars.
Still, Councilman Mintz made a motion to deny the appeal of the permit and Councilman Klink seconded. However the motion failed 2-3 when Mayor Wright and Mayor Pro Tem Bilderain were joined by new Council member Scott, all expressing concerns about the structure and permit. After further discussion a motion was made to table the decision to grant Seigel a STR permit until further information could be gathered regarding the STR ordinance. This is the first time Council has failed to uphold the position of STR owners on an issue before Council.
It’s unclear how long the Council decision will stand as there is not currently anything in the development code or STR ordinance preventing new construction from operating as a STR immediately upon passing inspection. Councilman Bilderain picked up on public comment and having looked at the structure in person, questioned whether construction was completed. He also wondered how a STR permit application could be filed prior to final inspections, pointing to another element of the Code that needs tightening up.
DISCUSSION AND POTENTIAL ACTION ITEMS
#12. Initiation of Study of Two-story Homes in Indian Cove This item was also related to new “direct to STR” construction. At least two of the pending STR permits are for new two-story builds in the Indian Cove neighborhood that 1) are managed by Fieldtrip and 2) are sited on the lots so that neighbor’s views are blocked and privacy invaded. After several public comments and Council discussion about building heights, it was unanimously agreed that a CIty-wide study of two-story homes / appropriate building heights needed to take place immediately. Note: The first step of this study is an agenda item on the upcoming January 17 Planning Commission meeting.
#13. Planning Commission Appointment After some discussion, the Council decided against changing the method used to appoint Planning Commissioners. All Council members will review the 10 applications received. In 2020 when two positions were open, there were only two applicants. The increase was attributed to activists and Council members in Districts 1 and 4 encouraging residents to apply. After review of applications, a two-member committee consisting of Mayor Pro Tem Bilderain and Council member Scott will conduct interviews and present their recommendations to Council.It should be noted that Bilderain and Scott represent the two districts not currently represented on Planning Commission: 1 and 4.
Thoughts on the meeting:
Octavious Scott is a refreshing new presence on the City Council. His questions opened up discussion leading to an engaged Council expressing differences on the issues. This engagement flipped the usual power dynamic between City Manager Luckino and Council. That said, Members in unfamiliar roles made the meeting confusing at times, but this should get ironed out with more experience. Mayor Wright’s sense of humor and easy demeanor is also welcome change.
Some Council members, especially Councilman Mintz, continue to chafe at the division of the City into districts, as happened again when it was suggested that Planning Commissioners be appointed by district to ensure fair representation. However it should be pointed out that racial, gender and party diversity on Council is in part due to districts. While Mayor Wright was elected in 2014 prior to districts being imposed in 2017, District 4 was flipped from City mainstay John Cole to Democrat Karmolette O’Gilve in 2018 and from O’GIvie to Libertarian Octavious Scott in 2022.
Admittedly population size makes finding candidates a challenge, but an equal consideration is the lack of term limits. It’s difficult (and costly) to run against entrenched incumbent candidates such as Council members Mintz (first elected in 2010) and Klink (first elected in 2004). Both Council seats are helped by the 2017 district lines, which were drawn to retain their seats, dividing the neighborhoods of Chocolate Drop (Mintz) and Harmony Acres (Klink). These divisions remained intact after 2022 redistricting, while other neighborhoods were reunited.
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The original version of this article stated that Community Development Director Keith Gardner was also on the Planning Commission appointment subcommittee. This was reported based on notes taken by reporters at the meeting and by review of video from the meeting starting at 1:44:52. Planning Commissioner Gardner pointed out the error, which was confirmed by minutes of the meeting not available until February 15, well after this article was published.