City Hall Slow to Relinquish RDA Funds | January 19, 2012
29 Palms, CA -The town of Twentynine Palms is actually not a town at all, but rather a tiny city. It is situated in a very isolated portion of the Morongo Basin desert, about 15 miles East of Joshua Tree. State Route (SR) 62 runs through the modest municipality. Just outside of downtown a lone signpost on SR 62 reads “No services for 100 miles.”
It’s a rustic and proud village with a rich history dating back to the early pioneers of the 1800s. Actually, according to one local Indian shaman (a retired rocket scientist), the town’s desert oases (watering holes) were known even to Pre-Columbian Mayans. Native Americans made their pilgrimage to Giant Rock and then into deep, hidden caves in Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP) where they conducted secret ceremonies.
With the movement spurred by manifest destiny, the town was eventually populated by pioneers after the Native Americans, and now the current population of denizens. The elders of Native American villages or smaller hamlets disappeared over time, and were eventually replaced by the seated 29 Palms city council, and the present city manager, Richard Warne.
The group is now grappling with what to do with all the money borrowed in risky debt bond ventures. That money is now up for grabs due to the ratification of Assembly Bill (AB) 1x 26.
Like all other cities, 29 Palms is mandated by California law to dismantle its defunct redevelopment agency (RDA) by February first, and place all of its millions in loans into a trust account. However, the city council is sitting on its hands apart from becoming the successor agency to the former RDA.
The city manager, Warne, has made but one meaningless statement, noting he and his cohorts have to “think about the future development of the town.” The 29 Palms city council is not talking at all. They are now all hunkered down at city hall along with legal counsel from Rutan & Tucker.
By comparison in neighboring Yucca Valley, Town Manager Mark Nuaimi, had this to say about the state mandates regarding RDAs:
“The loss of the funding will affect investments in road improvements, flood control, parks, a proposed civic center consolidation, a general plan update, and the state-mandated sewer system.
There has been no similar admission by the 29 Palms group. That’s because they are trying to hatch all of those golden eggs by themselves to fund what the city manager has called the Grand Project Phoenix. The community at large considers this to be a voracious squandering of public funds.
The project was to showboat a new $8.7 million dollar structure to house an unnecessary performance venue for the tiny city. The total cost of the boondoggle, including a superstructure in a FEMA flood zone, was estimated to be $14 to $15 million dollars of borrowed funds.
The early pioneers in 29 Palms had a nice theater, which has been in operation continuously since the early 1930’s, according to owner Mark Clemons. The theater still shows outdoor movies at the Drive-In under the same name of Smith’s Ranch. Movies have been showing in one form or another at Smith’s Ranch since before Gone With the Wind was featured there.
Clemons ran for 29 Palms City Council in November of 2010. He is one of the biggest critics of the sitting city council for driving the town into a sand slog. He believes it doesn’t take mega-millions of bond debt to have a family outing. He believes the city has five incompetent city councilmen running the city attempting to pass out millions of taxpayer’s borrowed funds to a local theater group.
Unlike other California cities who have already began to dismantle their redevelopment agencies, and therefore make safe taxpayers money, 29 Palms remains an island.
One prominent local blogger, Dan O’Brien, wrote: “(29 Palms) City Manager Richard Warne seemed to be hoping beyond hope that the legislature will revive RDAs.”
In contrast, Kurt Schauppner, editor of the local paper, The Desert Trail, had a New Year’s resolution suggestion. He wrote “For members of the Twentynine Palms City Council: We resolve to move forward with Project Phoenix, a plan which could breathe new life into downtown Twentynine Palms.”
There is more. On the 29 Palms city website, there is a feature called “Videos on Demand.”