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RESIDENTS COME OUT FOR AUGUST 23 COUNCIL MEETING
Comments on Homelessness, Road Maintenance, USGS / Sewer, City Manager, TBID, STRs, Two-story Buildings and Council Pay Highlight Meeting
A quick follow up on our On the Agenda summary for the August 23 Council Meeting. We were happy to see many area residents at the meeting, several of whom spoke in public comment including Twentynine Palms residents Pat Flanagan, Jeff Johnson, Terrence Latimer, Anne O’Hare, and Lawrence Salcido as well as Joshua Tree Resident and Twentynine Palms property owner and STR manager Susan Peplow who effectively acted as cheerleader for Council in several public comments.
On to our summary:
#1. H.O.P.E. TEAM, #14. HOUSING TRANSITION SUPPORT AND #16. AFFORDABLE HOUSING
#1. H.O.P.E. stands for the The Homeless Outreach and Proactive Enforcement Unit of the Sheriff’s department. Deputy Mike Jones from the Sheriffs HOPE team gave an update on the program. The team is comprised of Sheriffs deputies and partners that include Behavioral Health care workers, the Veterans Administration, Registered nurses, local nonprofit groups and many others.
A Point in Time count conducted by San Bernardino County on February 22, 2022 showed an increase in the homeless population County wide from 3,125 to 3,333 persons. That count indicated 15 homeless in 29 Palms, of which 14 were unsheltered. Deputy Jones’ presentation focused on 29 Palms and he reported that since January 2022 there have been 72 contacts some of which are recurring individuals. According to the Deputy, most 29 Palms homeless are “short term”, defined as being homeless anywhere from 1 month to less than a year.
#14. Astrid Johnson spoke on the behalf of Morongo Basin ARCH (Aligning Resources Challenging Homelessness) requesting for a bridge loan from the City for $50,000 ($10,000 for 5 months) to cover aid to those that need it in the 29 Palms area. The loan is needed until County grant monies are received. Councilman Steven Bilderain moved that $20,000 of the requested funds be granted instead of loaned and that the remaining $30,000 be repaid with no interest. This motion was approved unanimously.
#16. City Manager Frank Luckino asked that the contract approval for 91 units of affordable apartment housing be tabled. The reason it was on the agenda was that a NOFA (Notice of Funding Availability) scheduled for Fall 2022 has been pushed back to 2023. Staff will continue to work on the project and the developer will be seeking entitlement from the Planning Commission in September or October. Motion was made an approved unanimously to table this item. Council will be presented with this project again either later this year or early in 2023.
Does this mean that funding for the only active affordable housing project on City books won’t be applied for until 2023? One wonders what the timeline for funding approval is, the chances that funding will be approved and the degree all of this further delays this project at a moment when housing is desperately needed.
#11. UNITED STATES GEOLOGIC SURVEY (USGS)
Two residents, Pat Flanagan and Jeff Johnson, spoke during public comment in favor of the USGS survey. Johnson cited a report done by Ray Kolich (former Twentynine Palms Water District General Manager) last year and added he has yet to find any reports that state that septic tanks are affecting our groundwater. Johnson wondered why sewer construction would begin prior to the completion of the USGS report and further stated that septic tanks are helping to replenish the water supply. Council voted to move ahead with the survey.
#12 TOURISM BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT (TBID)
The TBID is funded by a voluntary 1.5% Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT) which sits on top of a mandatory 9% TOT for a total TOT of 10.5% on room rates for overnight stays in hotels, STRs and RV spaces. The work of the TBID was very professionally presented by Marketing Director Breanne Dusastre. The estimated budget for 2022 - 2023 os $285,000 was approved unanimously.
Last weeks agenda overview questioned the reduction in funding in the budget for new signature events and the lack of arts funding given the emphasis on both of these items in the TBID presentation - the Desert Trumpet addresses this in detail in a separate article on City arts and culture funding: An Arts City Which Doesn’t Fund the Arts.
#13 PAVEMENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (PMS)
This was an information item only with a report presented by City Engineer Ken Bailey. The PMS is a database created from a survey of all City streets and is used to prioritize their repair and upkeep. The PMS was last completed in 2016 and is to be done every 5 years. City roads are also graded on condition in a Pavement Condition Index.
The City has 152 miles of paved roads. 86.7 miles have been overlaid or seal coated since 2011. Several roads are slated for spot grind and overlay (removing/grinding off a layer or the current asphalt and then putting down a new layer) beginning in October 2022. Several roads are also slated for chip seal (applying a coat of liquid asphalt then a coat of fine aggregate).
One resident spoke in regards to Peterson Road, a dirt road within the City limits that is impassable during extreme weather events. She said that most residents that live on that road are elderly and unable to maintain the road themselves. During discussion City Manager Luckino stated that there is only a standard for paved roads and no standard for dirt roads. The City considers most dirt roads non-maintained, so maintenance falls to the parcel owners on that road — and there are approximately 50 miles of dirt roads within the city limits.
Councilman Klink asked Public Works Supervisor, Craig Stacey, if it would be possible to start the process of contacting the parcel owners at the rate of one dirt road per year to see if they will dedicate land easements for road standardization — the process of making non-maintained roads into City-maintained roads. Since most dirt roads are currently categorized by the City as non-maintained, every parcel owner would have to dedicate a road easement to the City in order for the road to become part of the City-maintained road network. The term “your touch it you own it” was heard in regards to being able to do routine maintenance on non-standardized dirt roads by the City.
City Manager Luckino stated that “if the council so chooses” he could bring this back to Council with more comprehensive information as to the process of having parcel owners dedicate land for road standardization. Resident Anna O’Hare asked that the Council have the City Engineer present the cost issues related to maintaining paved roads. O’Hare said that this information had been presented several years ago and that updated information needed to be made available.
#15. CITY MANAGER CONTRACT AMENDMENT
City Manager Luckino’s contract is renewed by the City on an annual basis. The overall pay and benefits increase for this renewal is 2% — no mention was made of City Manager Luckino having been Finance Director until February 2022, a job now performed by Abigail Hernandez-Conde.
Despite this reduction in duties, the pay increase was unanimously approved by the council — details were in our agenda preview.
#17. VHR POLICY UPDATE
Currently there are 336 active STVHR permits and 172 pending — if all pending permits are approved the City will exceed the limit of 500 permits by eight permits. City Manager Luckino stated that staff is adding a waiting list of 25 applications.
Councilman Joel Klink initially suggested the 500 permit cap that was eventually made law, and Council as a whole felt this cap should remain in place until 2030 to give the City time to build additional housing (which is already delayed per item 16). However this meeting found Councilman Klink leading the way in suggesting the new ordinance be revised and that the cap be subject to review every two to three years.
The City has enlisted Desert Beacon to present a “Good Neighbor” class monthly for VHR owners and operators. A sample of the training package will be presented to Council in September. It’s interesting the that the “Good Neighbor” policy suggested for STR guests by the STR Advisory Committee has become the title of the STR Management Class also suggested by the Committee. We maintain that most STRs are businesses, not neighbors.
In public comment, two letters were read both of which pointed to the lack of a distinction between home share STRs and STRs that are operated as businesses 100% of the year. One of these, by Heather Vescent, was published in the Desert Trumpet. Vescent also described being unable to meet with Council to discuss her concerns. Council maintained their silence on this issue after the letters were read.
Road Maintenance and New Two-story homes in Indian Cove
Resident Lawrence Salcido addressed Council regarding the proliferation of two-story houses in the Indian Cove neighborhood and the resulting loss of views and privacy. He also expressed concern about speeding and traffic on Indian Cove Road, which leads to the National Park. Council and City Manager Luckino immediately started discussing the topic, which is unusual during general public comments. Councilman Klink asked for the two-story house issue to be further researched while City Manager Luckino stated that council action would be required to change the development code to restrict building height. City Manager Luckino also stated that he would work with the Sheriffs Department on increased patrolling for Indian Cove Road.
Council Accessibility and Pay
A letter from Cindy Bernard, based on her Desert Trumpet editorial 29 Palms Residents Deserves an Accessible City Council, was read into the record by the City Clerk. Bernard referenced professional and timely responses received during a recent interaction with Yucca Valley Town Council members and the difficultly residents have in reaching Twentynine Palms Council members. Yucca Valley pays their Council a stipend of $1000 per month where as Twentynine Palms pays less than $500 a month.
Councilmen Bilderain and Klink jumped in immediately. Bilderain stated that he feels Council get paid enough and claimed he wasn’t aware of the stipend when he ran for office. He went on to say that he doesn’t reply to constituent emails as many complain about the same thing. Bilderain appears agitated by Bernard’s letter in the video of the meeting. Klink stated that he has been on the Council 18 years and the stipend has never been increased, implying that an increase is unnecessary. Both Councilmen stated that they serve for the City and both Councilmen missed the point of the letter.
The Brown Act
It should be noted that while discussion and comments by Council and City Manager on both of these topics was welcome, the Brown Act prohibits Council and Staff from discussing items not on the agenda, such as general public comments. This is why Council are generally silent during public comments on non-agenda items. Mayor Karmolette O’Gilvie, acting as meeting Chair, or the City Manager should have pointed this out. Councilman Mintz, who does sometimes remind Council of the rule, was absent from this meeting.
The entire agenda and video can be found at: https://citwentynine-palmsca.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=350