Discover more from The Desert Trumpet
MARCH 14 COUNCIL MEETING RECAP
A review of the meeting proceedings: County Supervisor Dawn Rowe, Strategic Planning and the PAAC
At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14 the Twentynine Palms City Council plowed through a much shorter agenda than usual, including a surprise visit from San Bernardino County Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe, a continuation of the strategic planning process, public arts in the City, and the perennially popular topic of wastewater treatment.
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.
AWARDS, PRESENTATIONS, APPOINTMENTS AND PROCLAMATIONS
Supervisor Dawn Rowe provided updates on various county issues. Regarding short-term vacation rentals, Rowe stated that the county "revised our short term vacation rental ordinance" and is currently studying the need for a cap on rentals. The study, expected to be released in August or September, aims to find a balance between investors, neighborhood character, affordable housing, and visitor accommodations.
Rowe failed to mention that the cap was originally planned for March 2023.
Regarding funding for wastewater treatment, Rowe mentioned the allocation of $1 million from the America Rescue Plan Act for groundwater safety. Rowe thanked Twentynine Palms City Manager Frank Luckino for bringing the project to her attention, but also noted that the funding has certain timelines attached to it.
Redistricting has expanded the third supervisorial district's territory, making it more challenging for Rowe to serve diverse communities. Rowe explained, "I have 109,000 residents that live in the unincorporated areas of the county that have no other representation," and admitted that she is "stretched a little bit" in trying to serve all of these communities.
Operation Hammer Strike, aimed at combating illegal cannabis cultivation, led to the establishment of two permanent Law Enforcement Task Force teams. Rowe acknowledged that "we're coming into the growing season," implying that these teams might face challenges in maintaining vigilance and tackling the issue during this period.
The County's workforce development program, aimed at supporting displaced workers and youth, has limited resources. Rowe mentioned that they are "hiring somebody from the Morongo Basin to help in this program," but it remains to be seen if this will be sufficient to support the program's needs.
Lastly, Rowe discussed the monthly open house at her office in Joshua Tree as an opportunity for residents to express community concerns. She announced that the next open house will be Wed, Mar 29 from 4:30 to 6:00 PM at the Bob Burke Government Center in Joshua Tree. This open house will focus on special districts.
Rowe began holding these monthly open house events as a substitute for the previous Municipal Advisory Council, or MAC. Said Rowe, “this is an opportunity to recreate the MAC with [Joshua Tree, Wonder Valley and Pioneer Town] having representation. I did not get enough applicants and so we pivoted to doing a monthly open house at my office in Joshua Tree.”
The first “open house” was held February 9 at the Bob Burke Government Center and was not attended by Rowe, but had a robust staff presence. In a lamentable oversight, as of this writing nine days prior to the event, neither this nor any future open house events appear to be listed on the calendar of upcoming events on Dawn Rowe’s Supervisorial web page, on Dawn Rowe’s Facebook Page or on her Instagram.
No items were moved from the Consent Calendar by Council, but two members of the public spoke regarding Item #8, Wastewater Treatment Design.
Andy Watson spoke on behalf of the Desert Knoll HOA and the Turtle Rock tract. He said that in 2008 these developments were required to build package treatment plants instead of septic. These plants help wastewater from Desert Knoll and Turtle Rock meet required thresholds for pH and nitrate levels, at a yearly cost of about $12,000 or $240 per resident per year. In May 2022 the California Resources Control Board mandated a $16,000 assessment of conditions at the plant, which came back with $75,000 of improvements which must be performed by May 2024.
However, Desert Knoll and Turtle Rock lie outside the current sewer Phase 1 boundaries. Therefore Watson asked the City to consider either modifying the sewer boundaries, or assisting Desert Knoll and Turtle Rock residents with this unexpected expense.
Then Jeff Johnson spoke to advocate for septic tanks as he has done at prior Council meetings. He concedes that denser areas near downtown would benefit from sewer and he favors the proposed WWTP (wastewater treatment plant) location. But he argued that septic provides superior “plume flow” back to the aquifer, resulting in better aquifer recharge than WWTP. He advocated periodic City inspections of local septic tanks to keep them from leaking nitrates into groundwater.
DISCUSSION AND POTENTIAL ACTION ITEMS
Item #9 -- Strategic Planning Guidance Document
City Manager Frank Luckino briefly ran through these 10 items:
New shelter/animal control. A new animal shelter for the City could cost $10M, so this isn’t a trivial expense.
Additional detective. Cost estimate included in agenda packet.
Ball field lights. $2M! Will need debt financing, but will yield ongoing energy savings from migrating from incandescent to LED lighting.
Theater 29 expansion. Increase seats from 90 to 150.
Housing and Homeless Advisory Committee. Luckino met with the Planning Commission last week regarding this, and Planning agreed to take it on as a new subcommittee including two additional members from the community. For these two additional members, Luckino suggested one person with a real estate background, then another who’s a homeless advocate. He said Astrid Johnson with Morongo Basin ARCH would be "a natural" for this slot.
Debt Financing to pay for major improvements.
Revenue Augmentation, also to pay for major improvements.
Emergency Response Plan. Improved emergency management and planning for the City.
Councilmember Joel Klink kicked off discussion of this item noting that the existing shelter is “way past the point of band-aides,” it's old and shot. Klink argued that homeless issues and a new animal shelter must be the City’s top priorities, and warned that the City risks having "homeless dogs because we won't have any space to take care of them."
Luckino agreed that a new shelter is a top priority, but said construction wouldn't begin until January, 2025 with completion expected January, 2026. So the City would have to make do until then.
Councilmember Octavious Scott chimed in, saying he agreed with Klink that shelter and homelessness are the City’s two top priorities. Scott added that the additional two members of the new seven-member homeless subcommittee should be chosen quickly. Finally he said that candidates for the two new members should be reviewed by the same subcommittee who reviewed the recent applications for Planning appointments, and the other council members voiced no objection to this idea.
The vote on the Strategic Planning Guidance Document item was held and it passed unanimously.
Item #10 — Budget Adjustment Request for the Public Arts Advisory Committee (PAAC)
The Public Arts Advisory Committee (PAAC) requested a budget adjustment to expand their grant funding, assess public art maintenance needs, and hire additional staff. Community Development Director Keith Gardner explained that the PAAC intended to "expand the amount of money they give out in grants from $6000 to $10,000," perform an assessment of city-owned public art for maintenance, and hire a grant writer and an assistant to help with their daily duties.
Council member Joel Klink inquired about the PAAC's current budget, and Gardner responded that they typically have a $15,000 budget, but some funds have already been spent. The request for an additional budget adjustment would bring it up to $21,000.
Cindy Bernard, the PAAC Chair, clarified that most of the request was to augment the Youth in the Arts program and provide grants for funding community arts events through applications. They also aimed to hire a grant writer and a part-time assistant to replace an existing staff member who wished to retire.
Councilmembers debated the budget adjustment request in light of the City's strategic plan. Council member Daniel Mintz expressed concerns about the City's ability to fund the request, saying "I think we have a lot on our plate. And I'm not sure I can go with any more funding for that."
In contrast, Council member Octavious Scott argued that for the increase, saying "This is actually a part of our strategic plan. We want to plan arts and events, this is part of our strategic plan." Scott later mentioned that he would prefer the majority of the funds to be used for arts-related events.
Bernard stated that if the budget were to reach $20,000, then $10,000, or 50% of the budget, would be allocated towards grants for youth organizations and arts events in the city.
The motion for the budget adjustment was ultimately not approved, with a 3-2 vote against it. Mayor McArthur Wright and Council members Mintz and Klink voted against the motion while Council member Scott and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Bilderain voted for it.
Item #11 — Revised Mission Statement for the PAAC
A revised mission statement for the Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC) was presented by Community Development Director Keith Gardner, but questions were raised by some Council Members concerned about what they perceived as statement's length and complexity.
Gardner emphasized the importance of the Committee's advisory role, stating that "the major difference that you see between this version and the one before is it stresses the advisory role, not an implied mandatory role."
The revised statement clarified that the Committee has five members, with an option to go up to seven, and an alternate member to stand in when necessary. Council member Klink was opposed to the idea of an alternate member, stating that "all the other committees are five members." However, Council member Scott argued that having alternates for committee members was not an issue, pointing out that "there is a difference between a commission, a committee, and the council."
Council member Mintz voiced doubts about the length and complexity of the revised mission statement, stating, inaccurately, that "this went from a half a page mission statement to four pages." In fact, the statement under review was 1-1/2 pages, matching the length of the prior statement. PAAC Vice Chair Anna Stump acknowledged the length of the statement, but argued that the changes were necessary due to the committee's expanded purview, which now includes a broader range of arts and addressing issues with the maintenance of city-owned artworks.
However, Bernard, pointed out discrepancies between the revised mission statement presented and the language approved by the PAAC. Mayor McArthur Wright suggested that the discussion be brought back to the next City Council meeting to resolve the issue.
The PAAC is an advisory committee responsible for the oversight of the City's public art initiatives, including the selection and placement of artworks throughout the City. The Committee's revised mission statement aims to expand its role and responsibilities.
Gardner apologized for any confusion and promised to bring the revised mission statement back to the next meeting for further discussion.
City Manager Update
City Manager Frank Luckino discussed several topics, including the Channel Trail project, which is facing some retaining wall issues but should be completed by the end of March or early April.
The Hilltoppers annual event will take place on April 1st, and the organizers would like the Mayor and Council to attend. They are also interested in organizing more events in the City due to the warm hospitality they've experienced. The Hilltoppers are a motorcycle club formed in Long Beach in 1945 which holds two Grand Prix races a year, one in Twentynine Palms and one in Johnson Valley OHV area.
Regarding wastewater treatment, Lucking reiterated that Council has approved the project and a grant application will be submitted to the State this month.
Luckino added that the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians is excited to collaborate with the City on this project: “We met last week with the Twentynine Palms Band of Mission Indians. They are very excited and interested to be part of this to work together with the City, which I think raises awareness from the State on the project, which is a good thing.” It’s unclear here whether Luckino was implying any specific collaboration around wastewater with the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians, versus simply trying to get their buy-in on the project in a general way.
Luckino noted that the Council has also approved an outreach contract to address the public's concerns about the wastewater project's cost, saying “The number one question that people will ask is how much [this will be costing them] right? That's that's the number one thing.”
Finally, Luckino reminded the Council that they’ll soon be asked to appoint five members to a wastewater advisory committee to “serve as a buffer between the Council and the community.”
Disclosure: Cindy Bernard edits and writes for the The Desert Trumpet as well as being Chair of the Public Arts Advisory Committee, which is a part of the City of Twentynine Palms.
Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our live chat in the Substack app.
Thanks for reading The Desert Trumpet! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.