FEBRUARY 15 COUNCIL MEETING RECAP
A review of the meeting proceedings, outcomes and comments by DT members present at the meeting.
It was a marathon meeting for the City Council. A 24 item/310 page agenda that started with a workshop at 5:15pm adjourned at approximately 8:25pm. Presentations, discussions and misinterpretations filled the evening, leaving some attendees shaking their heads.
In addition to comments from the packed and engaged public, a number of email comments were received by the City. In a change to recent policy, emails were acknowledged by Mayor McArthur Wright (District 5) but not read aloud by City Clerk Cindy Villescas. Although the Brown Act doesn’t require that emails be read into the record, shouldn’t they be made available to the public as a handout as Yucca Valley sometimes does? We urge that such emails be read in the future or if time is lacking, be made available by other means.
The recap of the meeting follows. We encourage our readers to view the entire meeting to stay informed about the happenings of our city government.
#1 COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANT WORKSHOP
Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) is a federal program targeted at improving low and moderate income communities and eliminating and preventing “slums and blight.” Four non-profit organizations, Morongo Basin Unity Home, Reach Out Morongo Basin, 29 Palms Community Food Pantry and Mil-Tree Veteran Project, as well as the City of Twentynine Palms Parks and Rec Department, gave presentations totaling $220,000. Twentynine Palms expects to receive less than the total requests - $163,002.
While some grant funds are disbursed at the beginning of projects, others require organizations to draw on their own funds first and file for reimbursements from the granting agency. These “reimbursement grants” can be a challenge for nonprofits with small budgets. At the end of the workshop Kary Minatrea, Recreation Division Manager, said that in the past nonprofits were given an assist through the City, temporarily advancing funds to help these nonprofits.
During a break between the workshop and the regular meeting, City Manager Frank Luckino approached homeless advocate and Aligning Resources Challenging Homelessness (ARCH) Director Astrid Johnson and asked why ARCH didn’t apply. Johnson replied that she wasn’t aware of the grants. We followed up with an email to Luckino inquiring how nonprofits were notified. He replied “all the past applicants and recipients were notified via email.” This interaction prompts two questions:
1. For a frequent City partner like ARCH, should there be targeted outreach to ensure they are aware of critical funding opportunities? Small nonprofits are often overworked and an email can be missed.
2. Why not do broader public outreach? The City is growing and isn’t it possible that new nonprofits have moved into the City who may be unaware of these funding opportunities?
#16 HOLIDAY CLOSURE
District 2 Councilman Joel Klink (District 2) requested Item 16, which proposed revisions to the current holiday leave schedule for City employees, be removed from the Consent Calendar and be opened for discussion. The revised holiday schedule was proposed after employees from each City department were polled on their holiday leave preferences. Two specific holidays were requested: Juneteenth, in lieu of Columbus Day, and Cesar Chavez Day.
Councilman Klink suggested that employees get their birthday off instead of Cesar Chavez Day, which is a federally recognized holiday commemorating the labor and civil rights activism of Cesar Chavez. Mayor Pro Tem Steven Bilderain (District 1), did not align with Klink’s proposal, “Majority of them feel Cesar Chavez Day is a day they want… They brought Cesar Chavez up for a reason.”
Ultimately, Council agreed to push the holiday schedule proposal back to City employees with the sole question, “Would City workers rather have their birthday off or Cesar Chavez day off?”
#18 APPEAL OF VHR22-195
Next up on the agenda was a public hearing addressing the appeal of a vacation home rental permit in Indian Cove. The property in contention, located at 68467 Sullivan Road, is owned by Josh Seigel, a principal of Fieldtrip Hospitality. Fieldtrip is a short-term vacation rental home company that boasts management of over 20 luxury vacation home rental properties throughout the Morongo Basin including the Invisible House.
The STR appeal, initially submitted by Twentynine Palms residents Katherine Talley-Jones, Dennis and Gale Corsini, and John Wall in November 2022, argued “that the [STR] owner and limited liability corporations with which [Seigel] is associated, such as Evoque Modern and Fieldtrip Hospitality, are taking advantage of our neighborhoods and VHR building codes to construct and operate hotels that belong in commercially zoned areas and not in neighborhoods.”
When the Planning Commission reviewed the initial appeal submitted by residents in November, it was denied because, pending building inspection, the property developers at 68467 Sullivan have abided by City regulations. Talley-Jones then appealed their denial, thus putting the issue before City Council which tabled the appeal pending further research.
The Council ultimately voted 4-1 to deny the appeal, with Councilman Octavious Scott (District 4) as the sole dissenting vote.
Note: We are preparing a longer article addressing the issues raised in this hearing - it’s here.
#20 MISSON STATEMENT OF THE PUBLIC ART ADVISORY BOARD (PAAC)
The staff report for this item recommended that Council approve a resolution setting the number of PAAC members and adopt the revised Mission Statement of the PAAC.
The revised Mission Statement seeks to address various administrative items that were not in the current Mission Statement, including establishing the number of members on the PAAC, a four-year term of office, and committee appointment criteria. Also included in the revision are a set of goals the Committee seeks to accomplish which include oversight of City initiated and funded literary, visual, and performing arts programming, public art installations, and expansion of a granting in the community. Numerous community members expressed their support for the revised Mission Statement in person and via email.
Anna Stump, Vice Chair of the PAAC, said “If I have a plumbing problem, I call a plumber who’s certified,” implying that public art issues should be addressed by professional artists, specifically those with expertise, education, and knowledge in the arts. She argued that newly revised Mission Statement will bring credibility to the PAAC.
“This type of experience is really important to have when looking at how we can grow, how we use funds, how we broaden the perspective of how we bring culture together here in Twentynine Palms,” said Wonder Valley artist and PAAC applicant Kate Lee Short.
Councilman Klink argued that the PAAC membership should be limited to residents of Twentynine Palms, Wonder Valley, and Desert Heights, with a majority of members being residents of Twentynine Palms. He also said he had “a bad taste on art” after a negative experience with an artist in the past, and suggested Council review appointments to the PAAC alongside the PAAC Chair Cindy Bernard’s expertise.
One of the bullet points in the revision that seeks to make the PAAC “work with the City Manager and the Community Development Director in determining appropriate arts project budgets and locations and to serve as the selection panel for all City initiated arts projects and events,” which confused Mayor Wright (District 5) as he misinterpreted this to mean that the PAAC would impede independent artists.
”If we have a local artist or something that wants to do something I think they have the right to do it. We don’t control people like that,” said Wright.
Bernard responded. “Of course we’re not controlling what everybody does in the entire City….It’s not like we’re going to control anything. It’s just, we’re going to look at it [City initiated and funded projects] and say ‘yeah, that looks right, the budget looks right, and it looks like it’s going to work out.’”
Councilman Daniel Mintz (District 3) said he could not vote on the revised Mission Statement and asked that it be rewritten. Bernard emphasized urgency in a vote being taken that night so the City did not miss the deadline on a much needed grant application opportunity. The Council agreed to vote on the number of members that night but delayed voting on the applications, setting up an Ad Hoc Committee consisting of Klink, Bilderain and Bernard to review applications on Thursday, February 16. Councilman Scott requested the ad-hoc committee could be used to clear up some of the language in the revised Mission Statement.
Note: The Ad Hoc committee met and Twentynine Palms residents Kat Talley-Jones, a writer, and Ryan Heffington, a choreographer, were recommended for appointment with Wonder Valley resident and artist Kate Lee Short, recommended as an alternate. We expect these appointments to take place at a special meeting of Council on Wednesday, February 22. The next meeting of the PAAC is Wednesday, February 22 at 5:30 pm in Council Chambers.
#23 PLANNING COMMISSION APPOINTMENT
Despite the record number of 15 applicants for the three open seats on the Planning commission the Council chose to reappoint two incumbents and one new applicant, Eileen Leslie. See CITY GROWS AND DIVERSIFIES, THE PLANNING COMMISSION SHOULD TOO published on February 9 for more information on the Planning Commission appointments.
FUTURE COUNCIL INITIATIVES
City Manager Luckino announced that the VHR Ordinance will be discussed at the February 28 meeting, although the required notice has yet to be publishing in the local press.
Councilman Scott clarified why he voted “nay” on the appeal denial. He stated he had not received an answer to his question on how STRs are injurious to the community, and asked that City Council form a Housing & Community Development committee to take on STRs and the homeless issue. Luckino stated that staff was already working on that due to direction received from the Planning Commission.
Rich Middleborough, President, Board of Directors, of Morongo Basin Ambulance announced that they now had Certified Critical Care Transport Paramedics. MBA is also one of three ambulance services in San Bernardino County to offer in-field ultrasound.
Astrid Johnson thanked Council for the City funding received by ARCH. She added that ARCH is still waiting for their County grant money and they are in need of additional funds. ARCH has been buying sleeping bags to help the homeless during freezing nights and have not be able to assist with any other aid due to the lack of funding. The Council immediately asked the City Manager if it would be possible for City funds to be dispersed by the next meeting for the ARCH program.
Geneesa DelFalco, a City resident who works independently and assists ARCH, advocated for a shelter and a cooling/warming center for the homeless. She gives out blankets, food and other items to homeless, many of whom are families with children.
Hotel owner Veno Nathraj urged the City to reduce the number of STRs in the City. He stated that STRs are at 50% occupancy. Nathraj advocated that reducing the number would increase available rental homes and provide more housing for the homeless.
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