PLANNING COMMISSION RECAP: SEPTEMBER 19, 2023
Social and environmental justice in Twentynine Palms and beginning to address planning for campgrounds (and glampgrounds) in 29.
This report on the September 19 Planning Commission meeting is a little tardy—citizen journalists have day jobs and absorbing fall planting projects—but it is worth knowing about the discussions that took place that evening.
The next meeting is Tuesday, October 3, which will look at the short-term rental code; we’ll have an overview of that crucial meeting up soon. The October 17 meeting will include the Homeless Committee study session—we hope that the Planning Committee meeting will include an agenda for the Homeless Committee as well and that this important meeting is livestreamed in its entirety.
Four commissioners attended the September 19 Planning Commission meeting; Commissioner Walker had an excused absence.
#1. The minutes from the Aug 29 PC meeting, which included some very brief notes from the homeless committee meeting, were approved.
#2. GPA - Equity and Social Justice Element.
“There are many benefits and living in a rural community,” said John Criste, discussing the state of environmental justice in Twentynine Palms, “but there are also a lot of disadvantages that come with that isolation.”
Criste, President of Terra Nova Planning & Research in Palm Desert, spoke to the draft report on social justice and equity in Twentynine Palms his firm prepared as background for the social justice and equity element the Planning Commission sends on to the City Council to be adopted as a City General Plan amendment.
“It is important to note at the outset that the General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) and the public have generally indicated that Twentynine Palms is an equitable and just community and does not suffer the same levels of social and economic segregation and inequities that stem from historic race and xenophobia-based policies seen in many other communities.” [Equity & Social Justice Element, p. 3]
However, it’s also noted, “As with most communities, there are still undercurrents of racial bias and the impetus for the ESJ Element comes from a collective desire to expose and openly discuss these undercurrents.” Major themes pointing to racial bias derived from community meetings included:
• Protect everyone and clearly communicate that racism and xenophobia
are not tolerated in Twentynine Palms
• Prevent biased law enforcement
• Need to address discriminatory behavior in local schools
• Need for minority representation in the school district faculty
• Unfair housing practices
• Need for inclusive public art and murals
The report, included in the Planning Commission’s agenda packet, points out key social justice and equity issues facing the residents of Twentynine Palms:
Although income varies from district to district, there are no disadvantaged neighborhoods per the indicator used for this report.1 Throughout the City and in unincorporated areas, however, there needs to be better access to:
Affordable and decent housing
Check out the report for data Criste and his associates gathered from public hearings and meetings in 2022 and 2023 of the GPAC as well as from City, County, and State sources.
In discussing housing, an acute need locally, Commissioner Pahana asked short-term vacation rentals making housing less available. Criste responded:
There was a lot of comment and concern [in hearings and in the GPAC] about the neighborhoods being undermined by the short-term rental market….We did not want to take a position, and we got the impression that this could be an important economic development component of the town. So essentially this is saying that that that community input needs to be considered when these licenses are being approved. And let's all be sensitive to this issue because it has real effects on our on the residential neighborhoods.
Commissioner Krushat, an STR owner who has been directed to recuse on STR discussions, noted that:
…the noise complaints really weren't there. And we had more issues with long-term rentals than we ever had with short term…Right after COVID boomed up and then it leveled out. We have seen a steady but continual drop….I see more homes around me revert to long-term rental. It was a contentious issue for a while, but I think it's good that we at least we address it.
The purpose of the Equity and Social Justice Element is to understand and address racism, dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries, homophobia, and other forms of injustice and social inequity. It identifies policies and programs that preserve and enhance the strength and integrity of the social fabric of Twentynine Palms.
This element arose out of the Council’s 2021 resolution declaring that racism is a public health crisis and condemning racism, xenophobia, and racial injustice and the requirement of State’s Senate Bill 1000, the Planning for Healthy Communities Act of 2016, that cities and counties adopt an environmental justice element.
The Planning Commission conducted a public hearing and forwarded a recommendation to the City Council that the social justice and equity element be adopted as a General Plan amendment.
#3. DCA23-000012 - Joshua Trees.
Keith Gardner explained that the “State has made their determination on Joshua Trees that gives local jurisdictions the choice as to whether to administer permits to remove the trees or to defer to the state.”
Commissioner Pahana asked how long it would take the State to grant or deny permits or levy fines, and Gardner thought it might take a month or so. Because so few Joshua Trees grow in the City, he said, “this is not a large issue for us.”
The Planning Commission voted 4-0 to amend the development code to defer to the State. - This Development Code Amendment (DCA) was approved 4-0. The city will not be handling any permits pertaining to Joshua Trees. They will be deferred to the state.
#4. DCA23-000002 Nonconforming Building, Lots and uses.
The Planning staff is suggesting changes to Development Code Chapter 19.142, which provides guidance on existing structures that do not conform to the planning code.
The code element limits nonconforming uses and regulates whether they can be enlarged, occupied after they have been abandoned, or altered or restored if they have been damaged or destroyed.
After Keith Gardner gave examples of nonconforming uses, such as lots without public access or easements or are smaller than outlined in Rural Living zoning, the Commission voted 4-0 to accept the amendment to Development Code.
#5. DCA23-000004 Mobile Home and Special Occupancy Parks.
Commissioner Krushat reported that the Commission had received a letter from Hipcamp, which is “the most comprehensive resource for discovering and booking unique outdoor stays including tent camping, RV parks, cabins, treehouses, and glamping,” suggesting changes to the development code; the commissioner did not read the letter, nor is it included in the agenda packet. The letter reportedly claims that low-impact camping areas it represents have different acreage requirements and density requirements than if they were full-service campsites. (The Desert Trumpet is submitting a Public Information Request for a copy of the letter from Hipcamp.)
The Commission noted the need to consider mobile home parks separately from campgrounds, which are lumped together in the current code. Commissioner Krushat said, “Right now the minimum acreage is 10 acres for mobile home parks. We have an issue with affordable housing. And if somebody came in and said I have this great five-acre lot, and I'd like to put a mobile home park on it, why not? It can lead to more affordable housing.”
Twentynine Palms resident Richard Card spoke during public comments. Card, online as Wonder Airlines, won an Airbnb OMG grant to build a dream home inside an airplane fuselage. He also owns a short-term rental in 29 and another in Joshua Tree.
What, he asked, is in the City’s Development Code regulating creative and unique structures on land zoned for rural living? Gardner responded that this will come up as the Development Code is updated.
Commissioner Paahana requested more time to study commercial campground and RV park requirements, and the development code amendment change was tabled for further study, with discussion to resume on November 7.
#6. Downtown Specific Plan Allowable Land Uses.
At the July 18 Planning Committee meeting, staff of the City’s planning office recommended a series of clarifications, consolidations, and updates to allowable land uses table in Article 2 in the City’s development code. The City’s planning staff proposes to implement the same list of allowable uses for zones in the Downtown Specific Plan. The Commission voted 4-0 to accept these recommendations.
Desert Trumpet writer Kat Talley-Jones is a member of the Public Arts Advisory Committee, which is a part of the City of Twentynine Palms.
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This report used CalEnviroScreen 4.0. However, other tools, such as the California Healthy Places Index place Twentynine Palms in the lowest 25% of communities in the State for community healthiness based on a combination of income, education, and other factors.
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