OUR TOP STORIES OF 2023, UPDATED!
STRs and residents pushing back against resorts and glamping top the list
Thanks to our dedicated readers, Desert Trumpet stories received more than 67,000 views in 2023! Listed below are the articles that garnered more than 1,000 views each over the course of the year, grouped by topic, with relevant updates. Not making the list is our coverage of the sewer and wastewater plant — perhaps residents suffered from wastewater fatigue over an issue they saw as not impacting them directly or that seemed too far in the future. The long-touted sewer plan limped to an anti-climactic deferral at the final Council meeting of the year as a long-requested USGS study is finally funded.
#1 Short Term Rentals (STRs)
Issues surrounding short term vacation rentals topped the list. The close of 2023 finds a pro-resident Twentynine Palms City Council engaged in a game of ping pong with the pro-business Planning Commission over tighter controls on STRs. Outcome? TBD.
ON THE AGENDA: CITY COUNCIL, NOVEMBER 14, 2023 (November 13, 2023)
2 OF 5 CITY PLANNING COMMISSIONERS FORCED TO RECUSE (May 1, 2023)
THE PLANNING COMMISSION'S TURN ON STRS (April 17, 2023)
DIGGING DEEPER ON FIELDTRIP, EVOQUE AND BLU SEQUOIA (February 24, 2023)
THE EVOLUTION OF SHORT TERM VACATION RENTALS(January 8, 2023)
#2 Communities Push Back Against Resorts and Glamping in Residential Zoning
With Yonder submitting a pre-application for a 130-cabin resort in Indian Cove in December and the Planning Commission following Hipcamp’s written recommendation to allow camping on vacant parcels in November, the battle over tourism development in rural living zoning has finally landed in Twentynine Palms City limits. Developers may want to proceed with caution, however, as local residents joined with their Morongo Basin neighbors in celebrating a big win when the County Board of Supervisors voted to kill the Flamingo 640 glamping project on December 19.
BIG WIN FOR FLAMINGO HEIGHTS COMMUNITY (December 22, 2023) 938
OPINION: "We have a housing crisis, not a recreation crisis" (December 9, 2023)
ON THE AGENDA: PLANNING COMMISSION, NOVEMBER 7, 2023 (November 6, 2023)
LOCALS GEAR UP TO PUSH BACK AGAINST TOURIST DEVELOPMENTS (November 7, 2023)
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK’S STILL GOT IT (October 19, 2023)
FLAMINGO 640 DEVELOPER READIES APPEAL OF CONDITIONAL USE PERMIT DENIAL (September 21, 2023)
WONDER VALLEY AND MORONGO BASIN PUSH BACK AGAINST BIG GLAMP(June 15, 2023
#3 Hurricane Hilary
By the time rain and wind from Hurricane Hilary reached 29 over the weekend of August 19 and 20, the storm’s power had diminished, and we did not see the amount of destruction experienced in the Coachella Valley. Reported rainfall locally ranged from 1.5 to 4 inches.
The City and County prepared for flooding and loss power. The Desert Trumpet provided emergency information, including how to obtain sandbags and details on the art of filling them. We are grateful that we could provide a service to readers and a bulletin board for posting information in our comments section.
During an August 22 City Council meeting, Astrid Johnson of ARCH acknowledged the successful community effort to support the homeless during the storm. Jane DeFalco said that 59 people from throughout the Morongo Basin were housed at the Motel Six over the weekend. This included four former military families without housing, seniors with dementia, and eight young children as well as men and women who camp in one of the city’s washes.
Hurricane Hilary was one of two extreme weather events that found the City funding homeless residents in local motels (the other was a snowstorm and extreme cold on March 1). We suggest more than an ad hoc approach to dealing with climate emergencies that are certainly in our future.
STORMY WEATHER PART 2 (August 19, 2023)
STORMY WEATHER - EMERGENCY INFO (August 18, 2023)
ON THE AGENDA: 8/29/23 PLANNING COMMISSION AND HOMELESS COMMITTEE MEETING (August 28, 2023)
#4 The Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) Is Dissolved (then not)
Confidence in the effectiveness of the Twentynine Palms TBID was low at the end of last summer. At the time, it had $560,000 in its reserves and no clear evidence that any of its promotional actions merited the 1.5% Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) surcharge paid by hotel and short-term rental guests that funds the TBID.
Public dissatisfaction came to a head in the August 22 City Council meeting (reported here), when ten City residents spoke against reauthorizing the tax that funds TBID or recommended strategic planning.
On September 12, in a surprise 3-2 decision, Council voted to end TBID and the 1.5% assessment with the close of its fiscal year on September 30. And then—in a special September 18 emergency meeting, the City Council reconsidered this decision after several residents recommended that the TBID be restructured but not abandoned. Since then, a contentious strategic planning session took place during which public comment was limited to one minute per speaker.
At its December meeting, TBID members Heidi Grunt and Patricia Knight joined the public in being vocal about issues with the strategic planning session. And while restructuring appears to be off the table, the TBID voted to codify a fair granting process for its next round of public funding. Does the filling of an empty seat in January hold promise for a fresh perspective? Stay tuned.
TWENTYNINE PALMS CITY COUNCIL VOTES TO END TBID (UPDATED) (September 13, 2023)
#5 Conservative Churches Continue to Embed Themselves in City Government
Resident dismay at the intermingling of Twentynine Palms City government with conservative Christian churches reached an apex in May when City funds and social media were used to promote a prayer breakfast using City branding and the City seal. This prompted a cease and desist letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) to Mayor McArthur Wright, a minister and President of the Ministerial Association:
“The separation of church and state is among the most fundamental principles of our system of government. As Twentynine Palms’ highest elected official, you are charged with great responsibility and have been given significant trust by its citizens, including those citizens who may not share your religious viewpoint. We ask that you disassociate the Mayor’s office from prayer breakfasts and any other religious events, and that you cease using your public position to advance your personal religious beliefs.”
However, a public information request submitted by The Desert Trumpet revealed that instead of heeding the FFRF request, City officials continued to promote personal religious beliefs with taxpayer funds. The final Council meeting of 2023 concluded with a prayer led by Mayor Wright from the Council dais.
OPINION: CROSSING THE LINE (May 16, 2023)
#6 First-Time City Council Grants
Twentynine Palms City Council moved to develop a system for supporting special events. The need for community events, especially arts and cultural events, was raised during the Equity and Social Justice Workshops held earlier this year, and was also a theme in City Council strategic planning sessions, making the top 10 needs for the City. While the brevity of the application made for easy filing but the application was short on the details granting agencies usually require to make an informed judgment.
Nineteen proposals were reviewed by Council sub-committee members Daniel Mintz and Octavious Scott. However, just four grants totaling $12,000 were awarded at the August 9 Council meeting. The funded events were: Twentynine Palm Book Festival ($5,000), Morongo Basin Spell a-Thon ($1,000), CMC Howl Poetry Slam ($1,000), and AfroLab ($5,000). To date, only the Twentynine Palms Book festival has been realized. We were unable to find scheduled dates for the Spell a-thon, the Poetry Slam or Afrolab. Please contact The Desert Trumpet at email@example.com if you have information regarding any of these City-funded events.
The balance of the funds were held for events taking place “later in the fiscal year.” Despite the fiscal year ending on June 30, Council has not indicated when the remaining $38,000 will be released.
29 PALMS OFFERS $50,000 IN GRANTS FOR EVENT FUNDING (June 21, 2023)
#7 Looking For A New City Manager
After serving Twentynine Palms for eight years, City Manager Frank Luckino decamped for warmer waters in Desert Hot Springs at the end of October. A long-time member of Yucca Valley’s power structure, Luckino left behind a mixed legacy in 29, including several ambitious projects in various stages of planning, completion and reassessment. City stalwart Larry Bowden was hired as Interim City Manager.
At the October 24 meeting, City Council voted against hiring an outside recruitment firm and directed Human Resources to conduct the City Manager search. Per City social media, applications are due January 18. To apply download an application from the City website.
OPINION: WHO SHOULD WE HIRE? (October 14, 2023)
Desert Trumpet writer and editor Cindy Bernard is a member of the Events Subcommittee of the TBID.
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