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ON THE AGENDA: CITY COUNCIL MEETING MAY 23RD
A contentious solar farm and sewer taxes on downtown businesses make up May 23rd's City Council Agenda.
As is our usual, we will be pointing to City Council agenda highlights but encourage Twentynine Palms residents to read the full agenda here.
AWARDS, PRESENTATIONS, APPOINTMENTS AND PROCLAMATIONS, AND CONSENT CALENDAR
Along with a Proclamation Recognizing May 2023 as California Tourism Month, six items make up this meeting’s Consent Calendar.
The Consent Calendar consists of several items that can be approved with one vote. Generally, they are routine items but Council has the option to pull any item from the Consent Calendar for discussion. Despite the number of items, all public comment happens prior to the vote on the full list.
#5. Steel drum roller Bomag BW 120 sl-5.
Recommends the City approve purchase of a steel drum roller Bomag BW 120 sl-5 to the tune of $53,450.40 to replace the dilapidated steel roller purchased in 2002 and assist with overlay paving within the City.
#6 & #7. Accept the SR 62 Raised Median Project and Accept the Twentynine Palms Channel Trail Project
Recommends that Council acknowledge that Phase I of the Channel Trail Project is now complete, as well as the SR-62 median installed in front of Stater Bros and Grocery Outlet. Council approved installation of the median project after a series of car accidents and fatalities that have occurred on this extremely busy portion of Highway 62.
#9. Presentation of the Proposed Two-Year General Fund Budget for Fiscal Year 2023-24 & 2024-25.
STAFF RECOMMENDATION: The City Council approve the following:
Resolution No. 23., approving the Fiscal Year 2023-24 & 2024-25 General Fund Budget. This includes the City’s Annual Spending Plan, Cost of Living Adjustments for City employees, a $105,000 fund for purchase of an Animal Control vehicle, $5,000 towards acquisition of a street sweeper, and transfer of $65,000 from the City’s general fund to subsidize the Sewer Fund.
DISCUSSION AND POTENTIAL ACTION ITEMS
#10. Intention to Levy Monthly Sewer Fees on Property Owners and Businesses in the Project Phoenix area.
A Resolution of the City Council of the City of Twentynine Palms Declaring its intention to levy and collect assessments pursuant to Section 5471 of the California Health and Safety Code for Fiscal Year 2023-2024.
Direct City Clerk to schedule a public hearing to notify the public of the City's intent to place the sewer fees on the Tax Roll for Fiscal Year 2023-24.
Per the City Manager’s report, “The City had an outreach meeting on February 20th, 2020 to discuss the rates and methodology. Staff felt after the meeting that most of the businesses and/or owners were comfortable with the rates as proposed comparing to the Hi-Desert Water District (HDWD) rates… The average Consumer Price Index for the past 12 months for the region was 4.6%. Staff recommends adding this 4.6% to last year’s annual assessment to cover inflation for sewer costs.”
On Tuesday, June 13th, 2023, the City Council will conduct a public hearing on the question of the levy of the proposed annual assessment.
“The sewer rates identified in this report are proportionate to water usage and are governed by Proposition 218. Only one written protest to the proposed rate was received before the Public Hearing held on February 23, 2021, which accounted for only 3% of the total votes and did not meet the threshold for rejecting the proposed fee. As such, on February 23, 2021, the sewer rates were adopted by more than a two-third vote of the City Council.”
The City used the Protest Process to levy this tax against Project Phoenix property owners, which required 33% of property owners to submit ‘protest votes’ to the City within a required time frame to prevent this tax from being levied by the City. Only 3% of that requirement to stifle the tax levy was met.
The sewer tax will affect Project Phoenix businesses along the south side of Highway 62 between Tamarisk and Cholla Avenue.
#11. Potential Commercial Solar Field
Per the Staff Report, “City staff has been in discussions with E-Group PS LLC, as represented by K&L Gates, for the placement of a potential commercial solar farm to be located on approximately 175 acres located on all or part of Assessor's Parcel Numbers 0612-201-05 and 0612-201-01.”
The two parcels in contention are immediately east of the Harmony Acres neighborhood. Both adjacent parcels are zoned as RL5 Single Family Residential.
“Currently, the City's Development Code does not allow for commercial solar farms. However, recent State legislation (AB 205) essentially dictates that if a local jurisdiction does not permit a solar farm, then the State would assume jurisdiction, while the City would not receive any consideration at all. If the City processes the application, then the City would be in a position to receive public benefit and have control over conditions of the project.”
A May 17th letter from an international law firm representing the E-Group PS LLC states, “E-Group is seeking to partner with the City to develop a 54 MW commercial-scale solar project on 175 acres that would provide clean, renewable energy while providing local jobs and significant community benefits to the City. E-Group is aware of the City’s moratorium and that the City may have concerns regarding solar projects but is confident that, if given the opportunity, we can address any aesthetic, environmental, and other concerns during project development and the permitting process, with a significant monetary investment from E-Group in a public benefits package to the City.”
The letter continues, “In the event that the City elects to maintain its current moratorium and not work with E- Group, E-Group will pursue approvals through the permitting process recently established through Assembly Bill 205, which is intended to facilitate the approval of renewable energy projects by the State without any local approval. If approved by the State, the City will have far less control over project design and conditions of approval and would receive substantially less in public benefits. While this is not E-Group’s preferred outcome, it is willing to vigorously pursue this route if needed.”
E Group PS LLC is an out-of-state Delaware based limited liability corporation with two Temecula based principals- Tomas Oresansky and Martin Melicharek, along with agent Peter Bobro, who lease the Single Family Residential zoned parcels from Las Vegas based Proactive Properties LLC. A principal of Proactive Properties is “Barrett & Mulopulos.”
In 2012, the City of Twentynine Palms enacted a strict ban on commercial-based solar fields, essentially prohibiting their development within both City boundaries and its unincorporated sphere of influence. The prohibition of commercial solar fields in Twentynine Palms was covered in a 2012 KCET article written by local Morongo Basin journalist Chris Clarke. “The [Planning] Commission concludes that it cannot be demonstrated that allowing the development of Commercial Solar Fields shall provide a direct, tangible benefit to the community through the provision of improved community infrastructure, increased personal, sales, or property taxes, or provide reasonable and sustainable, long term employment to residents or visitors to our community, and whereas Commercial Solar Fields can be shown to have direct, adverse impacts to the aesthetic quality of the desert vistas the community now enjoys, deleterious effects to the tourist industry that the community depends on, potential adverse impacts to property values for the properties adjoining or surrounding such facilities, potential decreases in the quality of life for those individuals that reside with properties adjacent to or surrounding such facilities, and potential serious impacts to the biologic, cultural and social resources of our community.”
Since 2019, Commercial solar projects are banned in rural unincorporated portions of San Bernardino County as well, per San Bernardino County Supervisor ordinance. The environmentally friendly alternative to commercial solar fields is rooftop solar, which is popular among some Morongo Basin residents and, according to a federally funded 2016 study conducted by National Renewable Energy Laboratory has the potential to meet over 74% of California’s energy needs.
#12. Vacation Home Rental Ordinance
Request to reduce the insurance requirement for short term rental (STR) operators from $1 million to $500K.
FUTURE COUNCIL INITIATED ITEMS:
#3. Discussion on working with non-profit organizations to establish a "Heating Shelter" during the Winter months.
In coordination with local non-profits, City Council will consider establishment of a local Heating Shelter operable during winter months. In a City with at least one day of snow fall per year, consistent below freezing temperatures, and a rising homeless population, this is highly appropriate.
#5. Identify ten (10) lots to start a self-help construction program.
Identification of ten potential lots to start a self-help construction program, initially introduced by District 4 Councilman Octavious Scott.
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