STRS DOMINATE THE CONVERSATION
February 28 Council Meeting Recap
We recommend reading recaps already published at Z107.7 and the Desert Trail - we will quickly mention a few items before moving onto Twentynine Palms City Council’s first discussion on updating the STR revision adopted last year. We encourage our readers to view the entire meeting to stay informed about the happenings of our City government.
#4 MORONGO BASIN ARCH
Morongo Basin ARCH received $25,000 for their help with the local homeless community following a presentation by organization president Astrid Johnson and Jen Deflaco from Street Outreach. According to their website, “Morongo Basin ARCH (Aligning Resources Challenging Homelessness) is a 501C3 non-profit organization. We began in 2008 by meeting the needs of the homeless in the Morongo Basin in California. We have two major programs, food and sheltering.”
With the assistance of hotel operator and Motel 6 owner Veno Nathraj, Morongo Basin ARCH successfully provided temporary housing shelter for 46 individuals during the recent winter storms over the last two weeks.
#7 A RESOLUTION FOR FINDING AND DETERMINING THE PUBLIC INTEREST AND NECESSITY FOR APN 067-113-02
In a 5–0 vote City Council approved pursuing the acquisition of a parcel off Freedom Way to build affordable senior housing downtown. Pending revisions to the title on the land, the City seeks to pursue a purchase of the land from the owner rather than utilizing eminent domain.
#9 TOURISM BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT (TBID)
The TBID, which controls a $285,000 budget derived from TOT taxes, has been operating without any of the administrative conventions providing accountability for other City Commissions or Committees. Staff recommendation was to bring this Committee in line with others such as the Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC) and the Planning Commission in regards to terms, appointment process and membership requirements. Council agreed.
#8 VACATION HOME RENTAL ORDINANCE REVIEW (video time stamp approximately 42:00 should you wish to view it)
The move to review the Vacation Home Rental Ordinance—first adopted in May 2022—garnered several comments from residents on all sides of the contentious issue. A review of the current ordinance was presented by Community Development Director Keith Gardner. Currently, the ordinance limits 500 STVHR permits to 500 in the city, which has approved 480 permits with over 22 pending. Once the 500 cap is reached, the remaining will be waitlisted.
An avenue to meaningful appeals?
One of the first issues raised by Councilman Octavious Scott (District 4) was the resident’s ability to appeal the granting of a STR permit. City Manager Frank Luckino described the granting of permits as “ministerial,” meaning that if the process is followed according to the ordinance, then a permit is granted. Scott pointed out “that it’s almost a moot point for residents to even appeal” as there is no valid reason per the ordinance pre-licensing.
Past appeals have pointing to language in the ordinance referring to “changing the characteristic of the neighborhood,” which in the revision was rephrased as “injurious to the community.” Appeals based on this language have not been successful and in fact the only instance where the issuance of a permit was suspended was for operating without a permit prior to applying. Councilman Scott reiterated the need to clarify the meaning of “‘injurious to a community’ so that the residents of Twentynine Palms actually have a legitimate reason to appeal a VHR.”
Luckino felt that the term could be post license for nuisance complaints such as parties where there is a provision in the ordinance for fines or revoking a license (and interestingly referred to a potential revocation in process). Councilman Scott emphasized the difficulty of maintaining a sense of community for residents when their neighborhoods are being taken over by STRs constantly occupied by transient guests, using a theoretical example of being the lone long-term resident on a street with nine STRs. Scott argued that in that example, “I feel that my rights as a property owner have been trampled upon, because my community no longer exists.”
Written and in person public comment
Mayor McArthur Wright summarized three email responses that had been received, “highlighting” comments in the letters: Per the Mayor, STR owner and manager Susan Peplow wrote that response to the Good Neighbor classes has been positive and added that housing development should be encouraged “as it comes to us.” She also pointed out that many rental properties are held as LLCs and suggested that ownership declarations be required in permitting and renewal. Adriene Jenik advocated for limiting the number of permits allowed, the number of permits one entity can own and for controls on purpose built STRs due to “the unregulated then under-regulated encroachment STRs having a negative impact on our communities” and addressed the need for affordable housing. Mary Hotovy echoed Jenik in arguing for strong regulation.
Several residents also addressed Council during in-person public comments, echoing the letters by Peplow, Jenik and Hotovy. Most speakers addressed one or two primary issues. However writer and Public Art Advisory Board Member Kat Talley-Jones, whose STR appeal was recently denied by Council, read a list of recommendations that included limiting purpose-built STRs, not permitting until construction is completed, separate permits for all structures on a parcel, density limits, permit limits and integrity of the National Park overlay in the General Plan.
Because of the number of residents speaking, we thought it would be useful to credit them and recap the issues they addressed. For residents working as STR owners or elsewhere in the accommodations industry, we’ve appended “STR owner” or the name of their business to their name. Comments are edited.
Heidi Heard and STR owner Mary Jan Binge spoke to density. Binge suggested limits per neighborhood while Heard commented on Councilman Scott’s concern about defining “injurious to community.” To Heard, injurious was also being surrounded by STRs and losing a neighborhood’s sense of community. In general public comments at the conclusion of the meeting, Planning Commissioner and STR owner Jim Krushat offered a dictionary definition of “injurious” as being “illegal, unhealthy or unsafe.”
Good Neighbor Class
Ann Congden (owner of first STR permit granted) read a comment by Ash Maharaj (Harmony Hotel and STR owner). They agreed that seasoned STR owners without violations needed to take a “Good Neighbor” course. Congden added that an annual get together of STR owners to share ideas and best practices might be helpful. Jonathan Hume (STR owner) read the letter from Susan Peplow, who instructs the Good Neighbor class, which characterized the response as positive.
Planning Commissioner and STR owner Jim Krushat, encouraged the Council to review the notes from the AdHoc STR committee from last year. He stated that the AdHoc committee had recommended a maximum of 2-3 STRs per entity.
Purpose Build STRS
Russel Kohn and Brian Salman echoed Jenik, Jones and Hotovy’s concern about new construction that’s designed to operate as a STR from the ground up. Included in Kat Talley-Jones’s list was suggested language on this issue: All new single-family residence construction ineligible for STR permits unless the owner resides in the structure 7 months out of the year and is registered to vote at that address.
John Talley-Jones requested that the integrity of the National Park Overlay be upheld when considering permitting new construction.
Oasis Inn owner Veno Nathraj echod some of the prior concerns and asked the Council to investigate the current occupancy rate of STRs. Having been recognized earlier in the meeting for providing temporary housing for those in need of shelter during recent storms, Nathraj expressed his concern with landlords converting rental homes occupied by single families into STRs.
Back to Council
After public comment, each Council member summarized changes they’d like to see in the ordinance. Below is our recap of those positions in order of speaking.
Council member Octavious Scott (District 4)
•Define “injurious” in the ordinance
•”Close the door” on purpose-built STRs
•Address the eviction of renters when homes are flipped to STRs
•Control density by neighborhood, perhaps not more than 5% STR
Council member Daniel Mintz (District 3)
•Reduce insurance required for permitting from $1,000,000 to $500,000
•Clarify clause on connected structures (example a carport connecting two structures as was brought up in an appeal of a Planning decision late last year)
•Reexamine Good Neighbor Class if owner has no violations|
•Use Good Neighbor Class to excuse or reduce fines
•Brought up property rights issues, assuming that was referring to purpose-built STRs
Mayor Pro Tem Steven Bilderain (District 1)
•”When you’re building a residence, you’re building a residence, not a VHR”
•Set maximum height on homes (Luckino commented this is being addressed in
•Set limit of permits to three per entity, grandfather in current permit owners who own
more than three
•Pay better attention to construction in the buffer zone of Joshua Tree National Park
•Need to limit numbers by percentage and by location “they can’t be on top of each other”
Council member Joel Klink (District 2)
•Keep the cap at 500 homes
•Set number of permits per entity to two, “let other people have their chance of having
a VHR and making a little money on it”
•Define areas to limit VHRs, perhaps by percentage, such as Hanson Tract and Indian Cove area (Luckino pointed out the need for Council to define areas)
•Current permit holders (480) do not need Good Neighbor Class, future permit holders need class, unless permit holders have violations
•Doesn’t like the modern look of the new builds, “limit the glass, too modern”
•Agreed with Mintz on insurance, due to inability to insure STRs at $1,000,000 when they have swimming pools
Mayor McArthur Wright (District 5)
•Agreed with Councilmembers Bilderain, Klink and Scott on need to address density
•Agreed with “what everyone’s been saying”
•Also agreed with Commissioner Krushat about reviewing the Planning Commission documents.
City Manager Luckino’s recap for Plannning Commission review (with some Council input on language)
•Clarify attached structures
•Renewals don’t have to take the Good Neighbor Class, permit holders with violations incur a fine AND have to take the class.
•New construction limitations
•Ownership limit at two or three with grandfather clause
•Keep cap at 500
•Density limits based on adjacency and percentage, Planning Commission to define
areas for percentage limitations
•Review STR Ad Hoc Committee notes
Disclosure: Cindy Bernard is currently Chair of the Public Arts Advisory Committee, which is a part of the City of Twentynine Palms. Jonathan Hume and Kat Talley-Jones have both written for The Desert Trumpet.
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