MeetingsTwentynine Palms

Twentynine Palms’ controversial TBID defunded at last night’s City Council meeting

City Council got an earful at last night’s public meeting as a number of TBID members – owners of hotels, motels, RV resorts and short-term vacation rentals – turned up to protest the city’s plan to reauthorize a 1.5 percent surcharge on their businesses.

After listening to a variety of complaints against TBID, Council voted against the tax, effectively disbanding the group, which was first established in 2017 as a way to raise money for marketing aimed at attracting more tourists to the city. If it had passed, it was estimated the surcharge would raise about $350,000.

Complaints included questions about how past TBID-derived funds were spent and the effectiveness of the marketing performed. Another point of contention was the fact that short-term rentals are not being required to meet accessibility standards established by the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

“Our civil liberties are currently being violated by short-term rental properties,” said Elizabeth McLaughlin, who said she spoke as a concerned citizen and advocate for individuals with disabilities. “The Americans with Disabilities Act has been in effect since 1990, yet people with disabilities and the agencies that represent them still need to push for accommodations to demand the rights we are entitled to under [the] law.”

After several more speakers brought up issues with TBID and expressed an impassioned lack of support for how it was working, City Manager Frank Luckino tallied the protest vote at eighteen percent. They needed to be over fifty percent to halt the authorization.

“These are eighteen percent of businesses and stakeholders that are invested in this city,” said Councilmember Octavious Scott. “A yes vote today is forcing them into a relationship that they don’t want to be in, and there’s an alternative that we can do. We can let it die, and we can bring it back with the businesses that actually want to be a part of it.”

Council then voted on an alternative measure brought by Scott to kill the authorization, which did not pass, but then when it came time to vote on passing the authorization, it failed. Councilmembers Daniel Mintz and Joel Klink voted to pass the authorization, while Scott, Mayor Pro Tem Steven Bilderain, and Mayor McArthur Wright rejected the measure.

“Even though it’s 18%, you guys are making the most noise,” Wright said, addressing the TBID members in the audience. “Clearly we need to go in a different direction.”

Also up for a vote was the creation of the Morongo Valley Arch Navigation Center at 6594 Adobe Road for $32,000.

“We need a place for people to go,” said Astrid Johnson of Morongo Basin ARCH, mentioning an incident where a man recently died, perhaps due to lack of services. “We need to make sure people have access to water. If they need food, clothing if they need services, this is going to be a place in Twentynine Palms to offer it.”

Several other members of the public supported the idea of the center, and mourned the lack of addiction treatment and mental health services.

“We have nothing here in our city to facilitate anybody that is wanting to get clean and straighten their lives up,” said Deanna Perez. “I’m wondering about the steps for getting something going?”

“No one just gets into drugs, something bad happens to them,” said another speaker. “If you can help your citizens get back on their feet, they’re going to give back to the city.”

Scott said the plan for the navigation center would include getting help with rehabilitation programs, and Wright mentioned the organization Set Free is opening a ranch that addresses addiction. “We’re looking at different organizations to assist ARCH.”

Council also voted to approve a motion to negotiate to establish a self-help construction program in the city.

Executive director of Coachella Valley Housing Coalition (CVHC), Pedro Rodriguez, said they recently received a two-year grant from USDA, and have funds available to provide the tech support needed for the program.

Councilmember Scott thanked CVHC and other supporters  for coming to the meeting. “We’re at 40 percent home ownership in this city. It’s low,” Scott said. “We’re in a housing crisis and we can use every tool at our disposal.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Eileen Leslie said she was mistreated at a public meeting by the chairperson of a wastewater committee, creating a “hostile environment” when she was approached by the chairperson and the chairperson’s spouse and was “chastised and bullied.”

Council member Scott made a motion to disband that committee. “It’s an embarrassment at this moment,” Scott said. Scott also requested a future item “to stop the sewer treatment altogether.”

Council did not disband the committee but agreed the incident deserved further discussion at a future public meeting.

Another resident mentioned traffic speeding down Sunnyvale Drive near El Paseo and the danger posed to children, and suggested the city look into measures to address it. Council agreed to do so.

During an update from the city manager Frank Luckino, he noted that the city is continuing to look at how to keep Luckie Park pool open longer, but a proposal for how to do it had not yet come in. Other updates included discussions of how to keep retail sales taxes that go to Amazon fulfillment centers local and the complexity and costs of keeping IT secure.  

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