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TOURISM BOARD FEELS THE HEAT
September 27th City Council meeting prompts exhortation to work together
A relatively brief agenda resulted in a 1-1/2 hour meeting due in part to contentious public comment on the authorization of the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID). The TBID is funded by a 1.5% Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT) which sits on top of a 9% TOT for a total of 10.5% on room rates for overnight stays in hotels, STRs and RV spaces yielding an estimated budget for 2022 - 2023 of $285,000. In addition to general marketing the TBID is responsible for the VISIT29.org website and the Twentynine Palms Visitor Center.
Multiple STR owners Eileen Leslie (3) Sarah Beck (2) and Mary Jane Binge (3) and hotel owner Veno Nathraj claimed variously that the tax was unnecessary, that the TBID lacked budget transparency and that their promotion was ineffective. Beck was concerned about consistent booking and wondered how the TBID was helping Twentynine Palms based STRs stay full ––although one can assume that several factors, including market over saturation in the Morongo Basin, might affect booking. With regards to transparency, it was clear that the business owners had missed the TBID presentation at the August 23 meeting of City Council, where Marketing Director Breanne Dusastre gave a comprehensive presentation.
Mike Usher, owner of GRND SQRL and President of the Downtown Business Association (DBA) which runs the Rediscover29 website had a different take and spoke to the reallocation of most of the Special Event and Sponsorship budget to rebuilding the five year old TBID Visit29 website: To continue to make large profits off of an issue (STRs) directly impacting the citizens that live in town full time, and simultaneously reducing nearly all funding for events that bring business opportunities and entertainment for residents, is shameful and disrespectful to the residents of 29 Palms.
TBID responded that should they receive viable event proposals at their meetings they would be willing to dip into their $300,000 reserve to fund them. One might wonder why this possibility wasn’t mentioned sooner when the gutting of arts and event funding was pointed out at the August 23 meeting as well as in recent Desert Trumpet articles. It was unclear whether TBID has a process for considering proposals from the general public or whether there was anyone on the TBID board qualified to review arts and culture proposals.
To continue to make large profits off of an issue (STRs) directly impacting the citizens that live in town full time, and simultaneously reducing nearly all funding for events that bring business opportunities and entertainment for residents, is shameful and disrespectful to the residents of 29 Palms. — GRND SQRL owner and Downtown Business Association President Mike Usher
The theme of attending TBID meetings in order to have a voice continued as TBID Board members, Heidi Grunt, Ashe Maharaj and Marketing Director Breanne Dusastre joined Council Members in pointing out “why hadn’t these complaints been raised in their meetings?” All acknowledged that pubic attendance at their meetings is rare.
That City communication is poor on committee meetings, including TBID meetings, remains an issue. The City has two public calendars which don’t sync, and email notifications are held until agendas are posted only a few days prior to meetings. The October TBID meeting date had not yet been posted to the City system, for instance. When Council meeting attendees were informed that TBID meetings take place on the “third Thursday of the month at 3:30pm” (which is missing on the TBID webpage), it was pointed out that the time is difficult for business owners. Mayor O’Gilvie suggested shifting the time to 4 or 4:30pm.
Adding to business owners frustration is Council’s continuing policy of holding public hearings during Council meetings. It appeared that business owners in the accommodations sector received a notification letter from the City about the public hearing and were expecting a discussion instead of being limited to three minutes each. The owners’ requested that the vote authorizing TBID be tabled until further discussion could be scheduled. Their request was turned down and TBID was reauthorized 5-0 with the advice that the TBID, residents and business owners work together. Additionally Council will considering adding two at-large positions to the the TBID in January. A temporary subgroup focused on events is to be formed in the meantime.
Other bits and pieces from the meeting:
New Community Development Director Keith Gardner was introduced.
The Business Loan Improvement Program will be expanded but be limited to external improvements.
And finally, under the topic “Future Council Initiated Items”, Mayor Karmolette O’Gilvie asked that the recently revised STR ordinance be revisited. This was misreported by z107.7 as “a consensus that the VHR policy will need to be revisited again”. The z107.7 report was corrected after the authors of this summary pointed out that discussion of STRs and a vote by Council would have violated the Brown act since STRs were not on the agenda. Despite that, Council member Daniel Mintz seconded O’Gilvie’s suggestion as long as there was “no rush.”
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