ON THE AGENDA: CITY COUNCIL MEETING JUNE 13
With a packed agenda, the City wraps up fiscal year-end business, reopens the controversial Project Phoenix sewer tax, and appoints new Planning Commissioners.
As is our usual, we will be pointing to City Council agenda highlights but encourage Twentynine Palms residents to read the full agenda here.
The public has multiple opportunities to comment at every Council meeting. 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 requests to speak on multiple items and may also speak during general public comments. To comment, pick up a green form at the desk, fill it out, and hand it to the City Clerk who is usually sitting at the desk at the front of room on the right side. 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.
AWARDS, PRESENTATIONS, APPOINTMENTS AND PROCLAMATIONS
This meeting’s invocation is by Pastor Nick Foley of the Set Free Church in Wonder Valley, yet another evangelical Christian denomination. This church is associated with the Southern California Baptist Convention; in 2011, student Domaine Javier, was expelled from its college in Riverside for being a transgender woman.1
Isn’t it about time the City encouraged speakers affiliated with more accepting religious institutions? How about secular and inspiring invocations? Desert Trumpet encourages residents to sign up for Council invocations by writing City Clerk Cindy Villescas at email@example.com. On May 19 we sent an inquiry to City Manager Frank Luckino on how far out invocations are booked, he is checking with the City Clerk on the schedule and we will update once an answer is received.
The Council will also make a presentation to CHP Explorer Post 870 for participation in the Cash for Trash and Recycling Program. Proclamations will recognize Juneteenth Independence Day and the month of June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
The Consent Calendar consists of several items that can be approved with one vote. Generally they are routine items, but the 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 Council vote on the full list.
#5. Approval of the City Council Minutes from May 23.
#6. Approval of the City Warrant Register totaling $3,328,747.64. (A warrant register provides detailed information of payments made to suppliers during the last fiscal year, which in Twentynine Palms, ends June 30. Line items for #6 and 7 are here.)
#7. Approval of the Project Phoenix Warrant Register totaling $10,822.80.
#8. Recommends the Council approve the annual contract with the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department for Law Enforcement Services in the amount of $5,323,535 plus incidental expenses. The contract provides for two patrol deputies at all times in addition to one traffic officer (40 hours per week), a school resource officer, two volunteer citizen patrol units, two detectives (one new detective for this fiscal year), and related support services.
#9. Accept the Completion of the Luckie Park Pool Project for a total cost of $4,884,904. The Desert Trumpet noted cost overruns for the pool here. From the initial estimate of $500,000 in 2021, the renovations have come in substantially over budget. Nonetheless, by all reports, the much-needed plunge and its water slide are a welcome resource and a big hit with families.
#10. Fire Station Lease: The City Council approve the Fire Station lease with the County of San Bernardino. As part of the annexation of the Twentynine Palms Water District's Fire Service into San Bernardino County Fire, the City purchased the Fire Station from the Water District to then be leased to the San Bernardino County Fire District. The initial lease period was seven years (2016 to 2023). This is the renewal of the lease increasing it to ten years, from 2023 to 2033. Annual rent in the first year is $35,208 with a 2% annual increase for ten years.
#11. Designating Authorized Signers on the City's Bank Accounts. This adds District 4 Council member Octavious Scott, sworn into office in January 2023, as an authorized signer and removes former Mayor Karmolette O'Gilvie, who was not re-elected in November 2022.
#12. Updating the list of those authorized to access the Local Agency Investment Fund (LAIF). This state program offers local agencies the opportunity to participate in a major portfolio, which invests hundreds of millions of dollars, using the investment expertise of the State Treasurer's Office investment staff at no additional cost to the taxpayer. The City currently has $9 million in “idle” funds invested in the LAIF.
#13. Senate Bill 1 Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Account Project List Approval and Budget Amendment. The bill requires each local jurisdiction receiving funds to submit a list of street maintenance projects each year to be eligible for Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Account (RMRA) funds. Fiscal year 2023-2024’s RMRA allocation for the City of Twentynine Palms is estimated to be $670,851.
In its April 18 meeting, the Planning Commission held a hearing about revising the Development Code to distinguish temporary use permits from film permits. Currently in 29 there’s no such thing as a film permit. If you want to film commercially, you must apply for a temporary use permit. The City now wants to bring 29 into alignment with other nearby jurisdictions wanting to encourage filming by making it more straightforward to get a film permit. See more in our recap here.
#14. Development Code Amendment: Temporary Use Permits The Council’s decision will result in a revision to the city’s Development Code that creates temporary use permits. These permits ensure that a temporary use is compatible with surrounding land uses and to protect the rights and minimize the adverse effects to adjacent residences/landowners. The County lists uses here—they include temporary construction yards and storage units, for example.
#15. Development Code Amendment: Film Permits The Planning Commission approved the draft ordinance to revise the Development Code to create a new category of film permits. 4 to 1. Commissioner Walker voted against it after expressing doubts about the new ordinance reining in adult filmmaking in the City.
#16. Proposed 2-year Project Phoenix Funds Budget for FY2023-24 & 2024-25
#17. Proposed Two-year Special Funds Budget for FY2023-24 & 2024-25
The hearings on the Project Phoenix and Special Funds budgets mark the conclusion of a process taking place every two years that started with strategic planning in January. These budgets were discussed in our May 9 agenda preview and Council discussion was included in our write up of the May 9 Council meeting.
The Project Phoenix budget includes “Public Art" for $15,000 that was originally allocated to support permanent commissioned artworks to be selected via a request for proposals from artists. However, the project collapsed due to insufficient outreach, including a lack of outreach to local tribal representatives. Additionally, the City failed to set aside sufficient funding to complete one artwork, let alone fabrication, transportation, installation, commissioning, and maintenance costs for several artworks.
At the May 23 Council meeting, Anna Stump, Public Arts Advisory Committee (PAAC) Chair, advocated that in lieu of commissioning new works, the City allocate the $15,000 to the iconic “29!” sculpture used in City logos and street signs and located at the intersection of Highway 62 and Bullion. The 2009 sculpture, which should have a uniform brown/rust colored surface, needs repair due to damage caused by holes drilled into the work, exacerbated by weathering.
Stump also advocated for moving the sculpture to Project Phoenix / Freedom Plaza. Mary Jane Binge then spoke opposing such a move. Both speakers as well as Council appeared to agree on the desire for an “Instagram moment” in the City but differ on what it should consist of and where it should be located. Discussion was limited once City Manager Frank Luckino noted that the $15,000 was not on the May 23 agenda, and that it would be included in this agenda.
To review these budgets in detail read the City staff report and Finance Director’s PowerPoint presentation on Project Phoenix budget and the Special Funds budget.
DISCUSSION AND POTENTIAL ACTION ITEMS
#18. City Manager's Written Report and Intention to Levy Sewer Fees for FY 2023-24.
Once again, the Council will discuss and approve—or not—the City Manager’s written report on the intention to levy sewer fees for Project Phoenix businesses and organizations in the coming fiscal year. The discussion of this levy at the May 23 Council meeting (covered here) grew heated, and the Council voted 4-1 to table the discussion.
Beginning March 2021, the City began providing sewer service to Project Phoenix customers, with a centralized septic tank serving the private businesses, the multi-purpose facility, and Joshua Tree National Park Visitor/Cultural Center. The City proposed to increase taxes for these business and the Park to cover the sewer’s operating and maintenance costs; these taxes would be tied to the consumer price index.
Project Phoenix business owners were notified of this tax increase through a Protest Process, which required 33% of the impacted property owners to submit “protest votes” to the City to prevent this tax from being levied by the City. Many of the Project Phoenix businesses impacted by this tax increase lease the properties from owners rather than owning outright, meaning they did not have the opportunity to protest the tax levy as the protest forms could only be submitted by property owners, some of whom are not local. Out of 19 affected parcels, only one property owner protested the tax increase.
The City Manager’s report notes that “Revenues from sewer charges are projected at $12,636 for FY 23/24, and expenditures are projected at $83,328. The expenditures include $56,528 for maintenance, inspections, pumping and emergency calls, $24,100 for water quality monitoring; and $2,700 for permitting. The operating loss of the sewer fund is projected at $70,692, which the General Fund will subsidize.”
At the May 23 meeting, City Manager Lucking proposed a 4.6% increase based on the Consumer Price Index per the original plan but due to objections, Council member Joel Klink suggested the increase be reduced to 2.6%. However, due the topic being tabled, no decision was finalized.
Several Project Phoenix business think the tax is burdensome and could have a chilling effect on hiring staff (see the May 23 Council recap); some local taxpayers don’t want to subsidize the Project Phoenix sewer. It should be an interesting discussion.
#19. Planning Commission Appointment.
At the May 16th Planning Commission meeting, two Planning Commissioners surprised the public by resigning. New appointee Eileen Leslie saying, “I want to apologize because I wouldn’t have taken this position knowing I would have to recuse myself on so many issues” and Jason Dixon stepped down due to leaving the state for a new job.
Even though nearly six months had passed since a record number of applications were submitted for the two Planning Commission positions open in 2022, the City decided against issuing a call for new applicants, Instead they returned to the existing pool of applications to choose two new commissioners (see submitted applications linked above). The City also retained the existing subcommittee of Mayor Pro Tem Steve Bilderain and Council member Octavious Scott.
The new appointees Alexander James Garcia (District 4) and Jessica Cure (District 3), if confirmed, serve the remaining terms of Leslie and Dixon, and will be up for reappointment in February 2027. District 1 remains unrepresented due to two Commissioners residing in District 2.
Cure is the principal of Cure Designs, and “prides herself on her ability to manage large real estate projects, from property finding to rental marketing and everything in between.” On her application she stated, “I have a deep understanding for what city planning entails as well as a passion for community building.” She moved to 29 Palms in 2022.
Garcia is a lifelong resident of 29, who has worked as a chef and tattoo artist and is a member of the Joshua Tree Rotary Club. A community organizer and advocate, he has spoken on behalf of the homeless at past Council meetings. On his application Garcia stated, “I want what’s best for the masses and not just the individual.”
The next regular session of the Planning Commission is slated for 5 pm on June 20.
FUTURE COUNCIL INITIATED ITEMS:
Exploring seasonal banners throughout the City
Maintain vs. non-maintained roads
Discussing working with nonprofit organizations to establishing a heating shelter during the winter
Reviewing materials that can be used for commercial driveways
Identify ten lots to start a self-help construction program
Disclosure: Desert Trumpet co-founder and editor Cindy Bernard and writer Kat Talley-Jones are currently members of the Public Arts Advisory Committee, which is a part of the City of Twentynine Palms.
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