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MARCH 28 COUNCIL MEETING RECAP
A lengthy invocation, an expensive fitness court and the PAAC mission statement, again
The meeting kicked off with one of the longer invocations, this time given by Pastor Mike Maddy of Shadow Mountain Community Church, an evangelical church located in El Cajon. Pastor Maddy used the over-5 minute sermonette to discuss peace, referring to the concept of the “peace child,” which derives from Sawai beliefs as characterized by the work of Missionary Don Richardson in Papua New Guinea. Pastor Maddy included this description of the region and its indigenous people in his invocation, “very difficult place to go and live and then there's swamps and malaria and difficult people live there — very tribal.” While Pastor Maddy was speaking in the service of peace, his assumption of the superiority of Christianity over indigenous belief systems is couched in colonial systems that have wiped out indigenous cultures.
A casual survey of recent invocations yields that almost all are given from a conservative Christian perspective. Responding to an email asking how invocation speakers are selected, City Manager Frank Luckino replied, “The invocations are spread out from the ministerial association.” Luckino is referring to the Twentynine Palms Ministerial Association. While the website claims, “our volunteers and support come from a wide range of spiritual and religious beliefs”, all of the religious institutions listed are Christian.
In 2014 the Supreme Court affirmed the right of local governments to open meetings with a non secular invocation. However, that doesn’t mean that community members can’t request more variety in the perspective of the invocations.
For the sake of brevity we’ll link to two articles on the subject so we can get on to the rest of the evening’s business.
An update on Twentynine Palms High School Activities was presented by the High School Associated Student Body City Council Representative.
San Bernardino County Sheriffs Department Captain Robert Warrick introduced new addition Lieutenant Al Huff.
Southern California Gas Public Affairs Manager Deborah McGarry read a statement regarding the issues with the recent increases and decreases in natural gas bills. She noted that SoCal Gas does not set prices and that state legislation has been passed to make California a carbon-neutral state. As of 2045, natural gas will be phased out.
CLOSED SESSION ANNOUNCEMENT
Mayor McArthur Wright explained that during closed session Council authorized the City’s joining nationwide litigation on the opioid crisis, with the potential of settlement funds being disbursed to San Bernardino County.
AWARDS, PRESENTATIONS, APPOINTMENTS AND PROCLAMATIONS
Proclamations declaring March to be Women’s History Month and Irish-American Month were read.
#4-10. All items were approved on the consent calendar. 5-0
#11. Wastewater Services This is being continued to the May 9, 2023, meeting
DISCUSSION AND POTENTIAL ACTION ITEMS
#12. 2023 Healthy Cities Campaign Grant. Scott Clinkscales, Community Events Coordinator for the City’s Parks and Recreation office, presented a proposal by the for-profit business, National Fitness Campaign, to set up a fitness court in Knott Sky Park (reported on in the Desert Trumpet on March 26—we noted that it was overpriced and lacked a shade structure). La Quinta, Beaumont and Cherry Valley currently have this fitness court installed in their communities. Fitness equipment installed in Luckie Park back in 2013 cost $98,000. Community input was based off a pre-pandemic survey conducted for “Pioneer” Park, a proposed project that remains unfunded.
Clinkscales noted that the Knott Sky Park location for the potential fitness court was based on high visibility, picnic shelter, and access to public restrooms. The concept of the Company’s fitness court would entail users have access to a smartphone and download an interactive fitness app that walks users through workouts. It was also noted that eventual placement of a shade structure would be planned.
Karen Harper, resident in the Knott Sky Park neighborhood, said she never received any information about this project and asked when was the survey done. Council member Joel Klink then reminded the council that the City has a large project for the Animal Shelter that will need funding.
Council member Octavious Scott asked if other vendors could be sought for quotes as the National Fitness Campaign project would cost the City an additional $170,000 on top of the $30,000 grant.
City Manager Luckino stated that if the City decides to proceed on the agenda item, it would allow them to explore other options, implying that the City does not have to move forward with National Fitness Campaign’s proposal.
City Council voted 5-0 to advance the concept with more information requested and alternate locations to be suggested.
#13. AB (Assembly Bill) 1708 (Muratsuchi) on Theft
The Council voted to support Assembly Bill 1708, which, if passed, would refine “the definition of shoplifting…and would require a person convicted of petty theft or shoplifting, if the person has two or more prior convictions for specified theft-related offenses, to be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, or for 16 months, or two or three years.” The bill also includes protections for victims of vehicle theft and credit card fraud.
Captain Robert Warrick spoke on the proposed bill, noting that $400 used to constitute grand theft but that has since increased to $950. This is because of Prop 47, passed by California legislators in 2014. The legislation also amended sentences for repeat offenders and raised the criteria for grand theft consideration, meaning crimes previously considered felonious grand theft would get bumped down to misdemeanors. Captain Warrick mentioned “people literally going into stores with calculators” and that this has been a problem with retailers such as Target, Walmart, and locally, Stater Brothers.
“A lot of times [retailers] won’t even bother to call us because it’s not worth the time,” added Warrick.
The claim that dropping the penalty for shoplifting from Grand Theft to a misdemeanor has resulted in an uptick in crime has been disputed.
Council voted to support the proposed assembly bill, which seeks to abate the issues claimed by the Captain and address the legislative loopholes in Prop 47’s language.
#14. East Valley Regional Steering Committee
Council member Scott was nominated to represent the City on the East Valley Regional Steering Committee, which is part of the San Bernardino County Interagency Council on Homelessness. The Committee works with other agencies to advocate for the homeless and those at-risk residing in San Bernardino County.
#15. Fire Safety Plan
In what has been a seemingly lengthy process, the City Council continued the discussion started at their February 15 meeting on the closeout of the Fire Safety Plan with the Twentynine Palms Water District.
When the Twentynine Palms Water District annexed the fire department to San Bernardino County years back, the Twentynine Palms Water District did not have available funds to pay off their PERS (Public Employees’ Retirement System) liability. San Bernardino County Fire refused to take on the liability, so the Twentynine Palms City Council agreed to take on that PERS pension liability instead.
According to City Manager Luckino, the entire process is based on U.S. Treasury bonds and closing out the PERS account is an arduous procedure that is not necessarily “user friendly.”
The Council approved setting up an internal loan to assist with the dissolution of the Fire Safety Plan.
The Twentynine Palms Fire Station is owned by the City of Twentynine Palms and leased to San Bernardino County Fire for $30,000 per year. “Every three years would be $100,000 dollars,” said Luckino.
The City intends to pay themselves back for the PERS agreement with the $30,000 annual lease money they receive from San Bernardino Councy, pending approval of the action from the Twentynine Palms Water District— the entity who ultimately owns the PERS agreement.
#16. Mission Statement of the Public Arts Advisory Committee (PAAC)
The Council reviewed the revised Public Arts Advisory Committee (PAAC) Mission Statement for the second time removing the option for an alternate and noting that the PAAC would be an advisory committee.
Public comment was given by Gary Daigneault, who said he was speaking on behalf of the Board of Directors of Theatre 29 and its volunteers. “We are concerned that the PAAC appears to be empire building,” he said. “We are concerned that people who don't understand theater are trying to gain oversight of a very niche art.” Daigneault went on to claim, “What they should not be doing is interfering with any artistic processes going on, which require a very specific and disciplined set of artistic skills. We are concerned with an apparent politicization of the PAAC.”
Daigneault, who effectively owns local Morongo Basin radio station Z107.7 FM, is the Board President of Theatre 29, a beneficiary of City of Twentynine Palms largesse. The building that houses Theater 29 is owned by the City, which rents the building to the non-profit for $1 per year. Although Theatre 29 is subsidized by City residents, it has exclusive use of the building and controls decisions on lending the facility to anyone else wishing to produce events requiring a theater. It is the only theater in the City.
What Daigneault appeared to be objecting to was the expansion and updating of the PAAC’s 2004 mission from overseeing public sculpture installations to “envision literary, visual, and performing arts programming” and guiding public art performances and installations. Specific tasks were outlined in six points that were adapted from a cultural arts policy first proposed by artist and then Planning Commission member Chuck Caplinger in 2009.
Like Caplinger’s 2009 proposal, outlining specific duties for the PAAC failed at Council. Despite the use of the words “advisory” and “optional” in these points, Council decided that these details were not needed and deleted them from the Mission.
While Council didn’t appear to be concerned about the motivations of the current PAAC members, they expressed reservations on how future PAACs might interpret these points. However, by eliminating them, Council in fact leaves the exact duties of the PAAC open to interpretation.
Potential Future Items:
Regarding San Bernardino County, City Manager Frank Luckino noted that the county will be reviewing their STR (short-term rental) policy and possibly implementing a cap on short-term rentals. Whether that cap will apply to the entire county or specifically impacted communities such as Joshua Tree is yet to be determined.
Disclosure: Desert Trumpet co-founder and editor Cindy Bernard is currently Chair of the Public Arts Advisory Committee, which is a part of the City of Twentynine Palms.
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The z107.7 / KCDZ is owned by the Morongo Basin Broadcasting Corporation of which Daignault and his wife are principals.
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