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ON THE AGENDA: CITY COUNCIL FEBRUARY 15 MEETING
Packed agenda covers block grants, a STR appeal (again), the PAAC, a mid-term financial report, Planning Commission appointments, and more
City Council chose love over business this month, moving their meeting from Valentines Day to the Wednesday, February 15, unceremoniously kicking the Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC) out of their meeting slot. A 24 item agenda for a total of 310 pages greets the Council at their second regular session of 2023. Note that this is a two part session, with the Community Block Development Grant “workshop” starting at 5:15pm and regular business starting at 6:00pm.
There are multiple opportunities for public comment at every Council meeting. Since our Council rarely makes themselves available to residents outside of Council meetings please use the opportunity of Council meetings to question your Council members on the issues affecting our City.
Public comments for all items are limited to three minutes per agenda item but the public is entitled to fill out multiple requests. The public can also send comments via email to Council members and the City Manager and cc the City Clerk requesting that comments be read at the meeting.
As is our usual, we’ll be pointing to agenda highlights but encourage Twentynine residents to read the full agenda.
#1. 2023/2024 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Workshop Presentations.
Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) is a federal program targeted at improving low and moderate income communities and eliminating and preventing “slums and blight.”
Per the staff report there are five organizations presenting requests totaling $220,000. Twentynine Palms expects to receive less than the total requests - $163,002.
Item #14 on the Consent Calendar recommends prioritizing the $150,000 request for Luckie Park, leaving just $13,002 for the other four projects if passed.
Each organization is allotted three minutes to present their project:
Mil-Tree Veteran Integration Project: $10,000 for Health Services
Reach Out Morongo Basin: $20,000 for senior services
Twentynine Palms Community Food Pantry: $20,000
Morongo Basin Unity Home: $10,000 for improvements including a shade structure
Twentynine Palms Adult Literacy Program: $10,000
City of Twentynine Palms Parks and Recreation Department: $150,000 for Luckie Park renovations including Basketball Courts.
#18. Appeal of VHR22-195 This appeal is on new construction in Indian Cove that’s designed to be operated as a short term vacation rental (STR). Should new construction designed for commercial use be allowed in residential zoning? Where’s the line between residential construction and boutique hotels? This appeal was originally presented at the Nov 15, 2022 Planning Commission meeting, where it was denied. The appeal was presented at the January 10th city Council meeting and was tabled on a 3-2 vote until the Council could gather further information. See item #11 of the Jan 10th meeting. See our article on The Evolution of Short Term Vacation Rentals for more information on what’s at stake with this appeal.
The Council majority who temporarily tabled the appeal In January was clearly conflicted and appeared to recognize that the owners of VHR22-195 and several other structures in Indian Cove were exploiting a loophole in the law that needed to be closed. Councilman Scott wondered if there were grounds for the appeal due to the structure being “injurious” to the neighborhood, and Mayor Wright and Mayor Pro Tem Bilderain also had difficultly denying the appeal. Additionally the appellants pointed out that the structure was built in the Joshua Tree National Park buffer zone without any additional scrutiny from Planning.
However, if even Fieldtrip describes themselves as “a distributed full-service boutique hotel”, language also used by the appellants, one wonders if this is a purely commercial venture with no residential use. If they are indeed “purpose-built”, as indicated in the above screen shots, shouldn’t that intent be disclosed in their development and permitting paperwork?
The challenge before Council is that nothing in the STR ordinance allows them to vote in favor of the appeal. It should be an interesting discussion.
#19. Public Hearing On Issuance Of Tax-Exempt Bonds For Twentynine Palms Apartments And Resolution Approving The Issuance Of Bonds.
Per the staff report - this is the Issuance of $9 million in bonds necessary to finance the “acquisition, rehabilitation, improvement, and equipping of a 48-unit multifamily rental housing project generally known as Twentynine Palms Apartments” located at 5862 Bagley Avenue. The company requesting the financing is Highland Property Development LLC.
DISCUSSION AND POTENTIAL ACTION ITEMS
#20. Mission Statement of the Public Arts Advisory Committee (PAAC).
The PAAC is working to redefine its mission and recognize that “public art” encompasses the literary, performing and visual arts. This evolution of the PAAC follows on being included in the strategic planning “Top Ten.” They are also seeking to develop an assessment and maintenance plan for the 13 public artworks owned by the City, including the iconic Chuck Caplinger “29!” sculpture used in City signage and branding.
#22. Financial Report - Fiscal Year 2022-23 Mid-Year Budget Update.
Just one quick observation: a $226,886 increase in expected TOT without an attendant increase in Sales Tax indicates that tourists are sleeping in Twentynine Palms but not shopping or eating here. This is the issue that landed PAAC and DBA “events” on the strategic planning Top 10 — how can the City develop content that will keep tourists from traveling to Yucca and Joshua Tree for food and souvenirs?
#23. Planning Commission Appointment.
Despite receiving a record number of 15 applications for three positions, the subcommittee of Mayor Pro Tem Steven Bilderain and Council Scott are recommending the reappointment of current Commissioners Jason Dickson and Max Walker. To fill the seat vacated by the passing of Greg Mendoza, the subcommittee is recommending restaurant and STR owner Eileen Leslie.
Per the staff report the only alternatives listed for the council are:
1. The City Council could modify the subcommittee's recommendation and continue to recruit for the vacancies.
2. Provide other direction to Staff.
We go into greater depth on these recommendations and suggest several other alternatives in our February 9 opinion piece CITY GROWS AND DIVERSIFIES, THE PLANNING COMMISSION SHOULD TOO.
#24. Intention to terminate/close the inactive Fire Safety Plan
The Twentynine Palms Fire Department predates the incorporation of the City of Twentynine Palms, so was formed under the Twentynine Palms Water District (TPWD) as that was the only governing body at that time. However, TPWD funds could not be used to support the Fire Department so it was funded by a special fire tax paid to TPWD.
In 2016, after voters turned down a new fire tax multiple times, and the City decided to also not contribute, a decision was made by all the agencies involved that San Bernardino County Fire would take over fire service for the area. This left an unfunded California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) balance for Fire Department employee pensions.
Because the City of Twentynine Palms was obligated to provide fire service in its articles of incorporation, the City (with LAFCO approval) decided to pay the unfunded liability of the Fire Department.
You may ask, why wasn’t this paid off a long time ago? The City Manager decided to wait and watch the market — potentially paying off a lower rather than higher figure.
The payoff and dissolving of the Fire Department CalPERS will also permanently dissolve the Twentynine Palms Fire Department, while leaving sufficient pension funds to compensate the former employees. This is the beginning of a 6-8 month dissolution process.
Disclosure: Cindy Bernard is currently Chair of the Public Arts Advisory Committee, which is a part of the City of Twentynine Palms.
Thanks to TPWD General Manager Matt Shragge for providing history on Item #24.
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