Stunt man Carl Rice lights himself on fire for a crowd during a fundraiser Nov. 30 in Joshua Tree. The event raised money for a legal battle with the county over Dollar General.
Dollar General’s Joshua Tree foes stay fired up
By Courtney Vaughn, Hi-Desert Star
Posted: Friday, December 6, 2013 11:10 pm | Updated: 11:24 pm, Fri Dec 6, 2013.
JOSHUA TREE — Opponents of Dollar General raised about $4,000 last weekend and watched a man set himself on fire in protest during a fundraiser for their legal battle.
Proceeds from the event went to a legal fund for petitioners in a lawsuit against San Bernardino County. The lawsuit was filed in court in July by the Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance and alleges the county improperly permitted a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General retail store to be built on the corner of Sunburst Avenue and Twentynine Palms Highway.
That suit was one of two filed against the county after it issued a permit to Dynamic Development, LLC, which represents Dollar General. The other suit, filed by Kerri Tuttle, Peggy Lee Kennedy and David Fick, was dismissed Oct. 29, according to court records.
The Downtown Business Alliance alleges the county’s Land Use Services staff and the Board of Supervisors didn’t follow California Environmental Quality Act procedure. Petitioners claim county officials should have considered Dollar General’s inconsistency with the Joshua Tree Community Plan and should have conducted an environmental impact report before making any permit decisions. In their opening brief, they accuse the county of trying to conceal the identity of the occupant by characterizing the project as a “general retail store.”
Babak Naficy, attorney for the Joshua Tree alliance, said by phone Friday that the project is inconsistent with the community plan’s goals and policies for Joshua Tree, which means it could have greater effects than what the county acknowledged.
“Ultimately, the objective of the lawsuit is to force the county to comply with the law,” Naficy said.
In a staff report, the county said it lacked evidence to show that a Dollar General would have major impacts like urban decay or blight.
“The county never actually engaged in that kind of analysis,” Naficy said.
Joshua Tree isn’t the first small community to oppose Dollar General. Similar community efforts have taken place in New Hampshire, Vermont, Mississippi, Massachusetts and Florida, in small or historic communities fighting to preserve a specific character.
In Sheffield, Mass., the Berkshire Eagle newspaper reported the local planning authority rescinded Dollar General’s permit to develop there. The town is now engaged in a lawsuit with Dollar General developers, according to the Eagle.
Last weekend’s fundraising efforts involved a rummage sale at the corner of Park Boulevard and Twentynine Palms Highway in Joshua Tree.
The event was completed with stunt man Carl Rice setting himself on fire in protest Saturday afternoon, as a small crowd gathered around with cellphone cameras and video recorders in hand.
Dan O’Dowd, one of the organizers of the rummage sale, said the proceeds and donated items exceeded his and other opponents’ expectations.
“Several people brought in some high-dollar items, others told us, ‘Go get ’em,’ and one lady quietly showed her support by dropping off a Sony PlayStation without saying anything,” O’Dowd said by phone this week.
The sale is one of three avenues the plaintiffs have taken to raise money for attorney’s fees.
They also took donations through a Go Fund Me page and solicitations on Facebook. David Fick, who is handling the finances for the group, confirmed Friday that Naficy agreed to a $15,000 cap on his fees for the group.
The suit is the latest effort by residents to keep large scale development out of Joshua Tree. It might not prevent the chain retailer from developing in Joshua Tree, but it sends a message to the county and future developers, O’Dowd said.
“Our mission has always been that we don’t settle and we’re fighting it all the way to the end no matter what the cost is,” O’Dowd said.
“We have sent a message that’s loud and clear to any box house … that they are going to be up to their neck in activists that are going to push them as hard as they’ve ever been pushed.”
A court hearing is set for Jan. 17 in San Bernardino.