RECAPPING: PLANNING COMMISSION ON MAY 2 AND CITY COUNCIL ON APRIL 25
Commissioners request that staff research density solutions as requested by Council
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Planning Commission, May 2
Chair Jim Krushat kicked off the meeting by mentioning that he’d be recusing for the short term rental (STR) ordinance hearing, the sole topic on the agenda. Commissioner Eileen Leslie was absent, but would have been required to recuse. Both own STRs – Krushat possess one permit, and Leslie has five. In his statement, Krushat added that he did not own a permit at the time he served on the Ad Hoc STR Ordinance Committee in 2021-22. However, it’s unclear as to when Krushat made the mandatory disclosure of a potential conflict. His STR permit was approved in November 2022 and his permit application was filed in May 2022. The final STR committee meeting was in January 2022, four months before Krushat applied for the permit.
Community Development Director (CDD) Update and Two-Story Homes
Several topics were covered by CDD Keith Gardner in the update including the downtown-specific plan, campgrounds, the new homeless committee and possible regulation of Joshua trees.
Gardner kicked off the report discussing two-story homes: The feedback we're getting from legal and from the State is that once you are zoned for 35 feet, down zoning is very much frowned upon. It's probably not going to fly because the State is really pushing higher densities, taller buildings, and more housing….Two stories down to one story just isn't going to happen. But we'll continue to look at it.
It was unclear whether proximity to a national park was mentioned when asking for guidance from the State. SB9, the bill that allows homeowners to increase density, appears to conflict with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which evaluates the environmental impact of construction projects. CEQA element one, “Aesthetics”, includes asking whether projects
“Have a substantial adverse effect on a scenic vista?”
“Substantially degrade the existing visual character or quality of public views of the site and its surroundings?” and/or
“Create a new source of substantial light or glare which would adversely affect day or nighttime views in the area?”1
So wouldn’t one need to reconcile those questions against the density increases potentially allowed by SB9? Yes and no. The SB9 fact sheet states, “Because the approval of a qualifying project under SB 9 is deemed a ministerial action,2 CEQA does not apply to the decision to grant an application for a housing development or a lot split, or both.”
However, SB9 does have some environment provisions, including, “Examples of conditions that may disqualify a project from using SB 9 include the presence of farmland, wetlands, fire hazard areas, earthquake hazard areas, flood risk areas, conservation areas, wildlife habitat areas, or conservation easements.” Additionally, “a project is not eligible under SB 9 if it is located in a historic district or property included on the State Historic Resources Inventory or within a site that is designated or listed as a city or county landmark or as a historic property or district pursuant to a city or county ordinance.”3 So mark this discussion to be continued….
STR Ordinance Revision Study session
Because both Commissioners participated in the April 23 STR ordinance study session, legal had ruled that those ordinance provisions had to be revisited and that public comment would need to be reopened prior to discussion — essentially a rerun of the prior session. However, the remaining three Commissioners, Vice Chair Max Walker and Commissioners Leslie Paahana and Jason Dickson, appeared to have little enthusiasm for the process with Walker failing to open comment at the time required and most recommendations from the prior session standing with little discussion despite Council recommendations to the contrary:
Reduction in the number of STRs per entity, Section 19.41.013
Recommendation - keep the current cap of five permits
Allowing STRs connected by a carport, Section 19.41.020
Recommendation - sent back to staff for more information
Reduction in insurance requirement, Section 19.41.035
Recommendation - keep the current requirement
Good Neighbor class requirement, Section 19.41.060
Recommendation - keep the current requirement
Single Family Residences (SFRs) built for Vacation Home Rental
Recommendation - have to wait until construction is completed prior to applying for permit
Density per neighborhood
Recommendation - Since Council has directed density be looked at, Planning should do its “due diligence” and request that staff study implementation of a density ordinance
National Park buffer zone
Recommendation - no change from prior meeting
The longest discussion took place on density, with the recommendation taking place prior to public comment despite legal’s direction. While the Commissioners agreed that there was no reasonable way forward, Walker and Paahana were open to staff looking at potential plans while Dickson was against density restrictions.
Community members Cindy Bernard, Mary Jane Binge, Veno Nathraj, Susan Peplow and Heather Vescent addressed the Commissioners once comment was allowed. Bernard, having served on the STR Advisory Committee, handed out copies of a density plan based on adjacency crafted for the Committee and pointed out that prior CDD Travis Clark said the plan was feasible4; Binge expressed exhaustion with the STR discussion and addressed each point; Peplow claimed that density regulations would hurt property values; and Nathraj advocated for a lower number of permits per entity and against a reduction in insurance.
Vescent, who had participated in the crafting of the original ordinance in 2015, reminded the Commissioners that permits per entity was set at five due to a single owner’s concern about their five permits and offered to help the Commissioners figure out density. She also advocated for more empathy for”casual VHR owners” who live on the property and rarely rent, pointing out that regulations directed at purely commercial STRs, such as the high insurance requirement, harm these “casual owners.”
Next the Commissioners considered the seven items recommended by staff:
Number of VHR's allowed per parcel.
Recommendation: One permit per parcel.
Parking, Section 19.41.065
Recommendation: tabled for further information
Conditions of Approval, Section 19.41.065 and 19.41.070
Response time for nuisance complaints, Section 19.41.070
Recommendation: tabled for further information
Storage of recreational vehicles.
Recommendation: they can be stored
Recommendation: Owners need to notify Planning of structural modifications
Issuance of additional permits such as Film, Temporary Use Permit, Home Occupation Permit, etc
Recommendation: STRs are allowed to apply for these
In his introduction to the staff recommendations Gardner expressed the need for clarity on punishments and citations for violations and presented a “very very draft internal document” working towards consistent offense guidelines. On several items Code Enforcement Officer Chris Giunta commented on enforcement issues providing real world examples of how the code operates.
The Commission’s discussion of the staff items lasted more than an hour and was needlessly protracted at times, with considerable circling back to similar statements —Walker’s command of the gavel being much more lenient than recused Chair Krushat. At times it appeared that the Commission had failed to do basic homework. For instance, the discussion on permits per parcel flipped back and forth between one permit per parcel covering all structures or permitting per structure. Yet Commissioners seemed unaware of the precedent set by the San Bernardino County STR ordinance which caps STR permits at two structures per parcel.
Concluding public comments were made by Bernard, Binge and Vescent. now joined by Jonathan Hume and new resident Bo Campbell who pointed out, “…everything on this list already has a rule and regulation attached to it…anyone in this room, gotten a speeding ticket in their life? Everyone. You face the consequences? Let's have consequences. If you fail to live up to the rules (they) have consequences. Let's not pretend like we can solve all the problems before they happen.”
City Council, April 25
The Council meeting has already been recapped by our friends Kurt Schauppner at The Desert Trail and Heather Clisby at z107.7 but we have a few points to add to their coverage:
Presentation of the Preliminary Two-Year General Fund Budget for Fiscal Year 2023-24 (Year 1) & 2024-25 (Year 2)
We’ve requested context from City Manager Frank Luckino so that we are better able to report on the sequence of budget discussions happening at Council. Look for further discussion in the May 9 agenda preview.
Wastewater Advisory Committee
There was some confusion on this topic as residents were asked to apply for this appointment with Council receiving six applications for the five positions from Joseph Carder, Karalee Hargrove, Nathaniel Mather, Elliot Balsley, Veno Nathraj, and Sean Michael. Yet when it came to finalizing appointments, Mayor MacArthur Wright and Council members Daniel Mintz and Octavious Scott suggested names who had not applied: Gerald Turner, Dawn Benton and ex-Council member Karmolette O’Gilvie.
O’Gilvie has since stepped down. Councilman Scott has recommended applicant Veno Nathraj as a replacement, pending Council approval at the May 23 meeting.
The first Wastewater Advisory Committee meeting is Monday, May 8 at 5:00 pm in Council Chambers.
Disclosure: Desert Trumpet co-founder and editor Cindy Bernard is currently Chair of the Public Arts Advisory Committee, which is a part of the City of Twentynine Palms.
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2022 CEQA Checklist
A ministerial act can be a decision a bureaucrat makes following ordinances or laws to the letter without interpretation. There’s more in Wikipedia: “a ministerial act is a government action performed according to legal authority, established procedures or instructions from a superior without exercising individual judgment.”
From STR Advisory Committee proposals by Cindy Bernard dated January 13, 2022 “In order to preserve the residential character of our neighborhoods, STVHRs cannot be located “next door” to each other. Accordingly, no permit shall be granted to any lot that shares a border or point with a lot permitted for STVHR use. This includes permits with temporary statuses such as “”Pending” or “Suspended”.
NOTE: Per 1/12/22 discussion with Community Development Director, this is within the capabilities of the current buffering tool. it is possible to run a buffer of 5ft in the system which would show properties that share borders. Most easements are within parcel boundaries in 29 Palms. The exception is downtown where there are ally ways. Locations that are across the street or across an ally way would not be picked up with a 5 ft. buffer.”
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