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Open Letter to Theatre 29 President Brian Tabeling

By   /   March 12, 2014  /   15 Comments

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Updated  3-12-14 @  9:25 with photo and caption. Greetings Mr. President.

My name is Ben Holstrom. I am a local taxpayer living in the Twentynine Palms sphere of influence unincorporated area of Desert Heights.  I do My property taxes are collected by the county of San Bernardino and then subsequently disbursed pay  taxes in the City of Twentynine Palms. I’m sorta a disgruntled local taxpayer concerned about the terms and conditions of Theatre 29 paying back the taxpayer the loan your friends on the City Council fronted your group for your electronic sign. BTW, congratulations on yesterday’s Grand Opening of the new Theatre 29 electronic sign I helped paid for. Please don’t misconstrue this letter. All you folks at the city playhouse known as Theatre 29 are doing a fine job and proving community theater productions on grand scale. Since your genesis in 1999 you folks have blessed the area with entertainment beyond expectation. Nonetheless, my concern is the non-disclosure repayment plan: Is there such a plan? If no plan, them I am very concerned. One of your previous presidents back-pedaled not very long ago on a promise to raise $1,000,000 of private money to help fund the new and duplicated subterranean performing arts theater under the old RDA Project Phoenix (which is illegal now) to build your theater group this venue. You remember Project Phoenix (PP)  In a public meeting when you were a board member of the 29 Chamber of Commerce regarding PP, you approached me and we had a conversation about PP. You disclosed you had been working on the planning of the duplicated city theater with city officials for a long while before the public even had knowledge, disclosure or input. Nothing illegal about that since under the defunct RDA statutory requirements, the public was cast aside and had no input (due to the lobbying efforts of the California League of Cities).

Official city Image of the building under which the multi-million subterranean performing arts theater was to be build. The first version of the playhouse  is pictured immediately below.


This is an image of the first version of the old RDA proposed duplicated Project Phoenix (PP) playhouse. It remains a mystery who funded the $10,000 for this draft design. It was alleged the funds came from out of the then county supervisor discretionary funds, but the supervisor stated it did not come from his funds. This draft design was scrapped because city officials, Chamber and Theatre 29 board members opted for the more costly design immediate shown above this image. Consequences: $30 million debt over 30 years spanning three generations of taxpayers. Brian, see what you folks have left  taxpayers with? Nothing but debt.

As you know or should know, the city shall be operating in red ink without the usual one million dollars left over in surplus finds — and owes $31 million over 30 years spanning three generations in connection with PP. Can yo u understand my concern now? Do you care? Personally, I would like to see he day when Theatre 29 becomes self-sufficient like the Hi-Desert Cultural Center. Therefore, as a local taxpayer I hereby request an accounting of terms and conditions of paying back the city your taxpayer’s loan. Respectfully submitted, /S/ Ben Holstrom Email: bholstrom@gmail.com a/k/a internet handle Branson Hunter Postscript: A CPRA request will forwarded to the city requesting the the  total cost of the electronic sign, any repayment plan on record and all emails pertaining to the deal.

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About the author

Branson Hunter

(This story was posted by Cactus Thorn contributor Branson Hunter)

"The ends do not justify the means." If you use illegal mean to accomplish a legal and even desirable result, the good result does not make the bad means you used justifiable.


  1. Larry Briggs Larry Briggs says:

    Ben, you do not live in the 29 Palms sphere of influence. That ends at Indian Trail. You live north of Indian Trail in the County of San Bernardino.

    • Hi Larry,

      I will defer to your information since as a Realtor it’s your business to understand these things. If you are correct, then I am misinformed. However, Yesterday I checked a map to establish clear boundaries and it at encompass my location.

      Can you provide a Link? Larry, are you saying my taxes are NOT collected by the county and then redirected back to 29, or are these two separate issues?

      I’ll get back with you Larry. Thanks a bunch for raising this issue. My concern now is my taxes being collected by the county and direct to the city. If this is correct — buddy I have standing.

      Have a great day, Larry.

      • Larry Briggs Larry Briggs says:

        Living in the county, regardless of the sphere of influence, means none of your taxes go to the city. My link is Fidelity Passport which is a link to the County records. Your assessor parcel number is 0633-251-25. You might want to go to the county assessor’s office in Joshua Tree and double check me and get the final word from the county on how your taxes are allocated.

    • Steve Spear Steve Spear says:

      You both are part right and part wrong. The 2008 SOI map ends where Larry says. However There is a proposal in 2012 I think that passed the city and thete is a LAFCO resolution pending to adopt new boundaries which would take in 19,000 acres to the city SOI which includes all of Desert Heights.

      As for taxes Branson only pays sales tax. However his interest in what the city does or foes not do can be deemed legitimate. The city not caring for infrastructure effects his vehicle. The city ignoring fire serviced for the Indian Cove area of the city effects Desert Heights.

      A Sphere of Influence or SOI is not a one way street where the city gets to impose its will and at the same time ignore those citizens that it is trying to impose its will upon via a SOI.

      Just some thoughts.

  2. Larry Briggs Larry Briggs says:

    Steve, can you check on the 2012 resolution being approved by the county? Must have missed that city meeting. Thought we were talking about property taxes, not sales taxes.

    • Steve Spear Steve Spear says:

      LAFCO 3101. Staff report continued from May 16, 2012 and approved by LAFCO on June 12, 2012. As per LAFCO report city approved the expansion of it SOI.

      I think had something to do with that first solar field on Lear avenue.

      Welcome to the SOI of 29 Palms Branson.

      • Larry Briggs Larry Briggs says:

        Thanks for the info. You are correct. It’s on LAFCO’s home page, under maps/ cities and towns/ 29 palms.

  3. Steve Spear Steve Spear says:

    We are talking property taxes but to disregard or dismiss the thoughts of individuals that are affected either positively or negatively by an entity asserting SOI concerns is disingenuous on the part of the entity that does so.

    Branson’s concerns as well as Almut Fleck’s or the list of others that do not live in the city proper are valid and need to be addressed by a city that seeks to expand its influence without incorporation. Again it is not a one way road.

    • Larry Briggs Larry Briggs says:

      If folks in SOI’s have a concern about the actions or inactions of the city they could bring it to the attention of their County supervisor who would contact the city. I agree it’s not a one way street. I don’t believe Almut lives in a SOI.

      • Steve Spear Steve Spear says:

        No she does not but her concerns as well as others in Wonder Valley need to be weighed by city officials.

        Unfortunately going to your BOS will accomplish nothing other than being told that the county has no impact on cities and towns and you will be told to take it up with the elected officials of the respective city or town.

        All I am trying to say and think you agree is that if a city or town desires to exert influence on my property values, my infrastructure, my safety, by expanding their SOI then that city or Town MUST be responsive to my concerns and not dismissive.

        I have had this discussion with others in the city who think that because someone does not live in the city limits then should not even show up at a council meeting and if they do the council can disregard their input.

        Clearly I disagree with that approach preferring instead the team concept.

        As usual it was fun take care Larry.


        • Larry Briggs Larry Briggs says:

          Almut is a regular speaker at the city council meetings.

          • Steve Spear Steve Spear says:

            I Know and I am thankful for that.

            Only trying to relay to the readers that there are some in our city that thinks she, Branson, Dan, and others should not speak at all because they do not live within the city limits.

            Some of these others, according to these people, have even been appointed to various committees in the city. I doubt that, but these rumors and the perception of only people in the city have a say in the city’s actions is myopic.

  4. Thanks very much to Steve Spear and Larry for sharing their information.

    The Mission Indian Tribe may have wholly or in part contributed to the theaters half of the expenses for the electronic sign? We will find out if the city wants to be transparent.

    Whatever the case, the theater group must get off their addiction to public funds. That is dead wrong and unconscionably. Taxpayers were never intended to subsidize Theatre 29. Just look at the mess it has impacted on taxpayer with greed and outrageous desires.

    Just because the 29 Chamber and Theatre 29 play musical chairs on their respective board of directors and over the years have become cronies with past and present council members, the folks need to be self-sufficient and tame their backdoor Machiavellian ways.

    If they want public funds,first have it put on the council agenda. Don’t first go to city hall and lay the foundation getting what you want. That is sneaky, underhanded and flies in the face of transparency and open government.

    The local theater has exclusive use of the city building taxpayers own, the city went into debt for scores of millions to placate the group, then the electronic sign – what’s the next free perks going to be?

    I renew my request and challenge Brian to speak up and share the information I requested with the public.

    • Dan OBrien Dan OBrien says:

      The Theater at tops has a seating capacity of 90 individuals per show. An entire run of a play may get 1000 seats available. Half the seats go empty and the other half that are filled half of those are comped.

      We have maybe 40-50 guild members tops.

      So what we have is one tiny recreational facility catering to a equally tiny minority of citizens consuming an huge amount of both the treasury and the city’s good will.

      If it was self supported using no government funds or facilities I’d think that it could do what it wanted, but expecting year in and year out a stipend from the city is… well… err…. ahh… B U L L S H I T ! !

  5. Partial Breakdown on Financing the Electronic Theatre 29 sign:

    The city initially paid for the cost. The cost is generally $18,000. Total costs unknown. The TRIBE committed a generous donation of $6,000 toward the sign. Taxpayers paid half of the cost. The playhouse people are to pay $3,000 within a year (see below).

    The $6K the TRIBE paid: I believe that the TRIBE was approached and pressured that their $6K donation be given to the playhouse people in order for them to reduce their one half amount to $3 K.

    It’s the TRIBE’s prerogative to transfer their $6 K donation to the theater, and that the theater use it for their payment to taxpayers. But I believe there was an intervention by a third party or parties asking the TRIBE to use their donation, transfer to to Theatre 29.

    However, if they were approached first by one of the council members or staff and hit on to pay the theater’s part, there is a big problem here. Collusion, conspiracy, and interfering with contractual relations.

    Collusion: Law. a secret understanding between two or more persons to gain something illegally, to defraud another of his or her rights, or to appear as adversaries though in agreement: collusion of husband andwife to obtain a divorce.

    In either scenarios, those entities would have defrauded taxpayers. Because if the TRIBE’s intent was to initially donate to the total cost of the sign, then taxpayers are being screwed, while, once again, the theater people have stuck it to taxpayers.

    Early this afternoon I spoke with the city manager. He was going to get back with me on questions I asked. At this time it is not knows if the agreement was verbal or written. It is not knows if the theater people have already paid their $3 K, or not.

    I was hoping to obtain public information without having to file a request for information.

    Endnote: Given the sneaky wheeling and dealing of the theater ringleaders, the hubris of several council members’ propensity for handling business outside council meetings, I’m beginning to not have a good feel for this.

    Transparency anyone? I smell a mini conspiracy either by the city, the theater, or both. Were taxpayers’ constructively defrauded a few thousand dollars due to the preferred Machiavellian style of theater ringleaders or one or more elected officials?

    Why would the TRIBE simple give the $6K to Theater 29 without coercion.

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