Defend Joshua Tree has received the following statement from the JT105 Alliance on the final resolution of the Alta Mira project…
THANK YOU – IT IS DONE !!!
After ten years of fighting, the community of Joshua Tree has prevailed against the threat of the Altamira Gated Community. The San Bernardino Board of Supervisors voted on April 16, 2019 to rescind all approvals for the project. The developers, YV105 LLC, still own the property. If they decide to pursue another development, they would have to start the design, environmental studies, and approval process from scratch, likewise for anyone who might purchase the property.
The development was proposed to surround Friendly Hills Elementary School. 105 acres lush with Joshua trees, creosote, cacti, yuccas, and wildlife would have been bladed. If not left as a dust field like so many failed developments, 248 homes would have been shoehorned onto 10,000 square foot lots (0.23 acre). Its maze of cul-de-sacs would have been encircled with wall and fence, keeping out wildlife and neighbors.
In 2007, the developers approached a few community members, and were told that the project would not fit with the community. They returned in February 2009 and presented the project to 100 community members; no one was in support.
From 2014 to 2016, the San Bernardino County Planning Staff reviewed the proposed tract map, and pushed through a Mitigated Negative Declaration, rather than requiring an Environmental Impact Report, ignoring the obvious inconsistencies of the project with both the County General Plan, Development Code, and the Joshua Tree Community Plan. Over 60 well-written public comments were sent in questioning the conclusions of the Initial Study. The Morongo Basin Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) unanimously approved a resolution against the project, written by members Pat Flanagan and Richard Lutringer.
Only three Planning Commissioners were present March 24, 2016 at the first Planning Commission meeting to witness hours of well-spoken public testimony by dozens of citizens. After hard questions from the Commissioners, the Developers asked for the hearing to be continued, obviously hoping for the other two Commissioners to be more sympathetic.
San Bernardino is a county spread wide and far, with very diverse goals and objectives for land use. Joshua Tree also has the responsibility of considering the wildlife and human visitors that move in and out of the National Park. Residents can only vote for one Supervisor, who then appoints only one Planning Commissioner. The other County Commissioners and Supervisors have no direct interest or understanding of local conditions, and cannot be held accountable for their votes, even when the project is specific to Joshua Tree. Unincorporated communities like Joshua Tree have only their Community Plans, which are legally adopted land use documents, to truly represent and protect the community’s interests. The County staff and elected officials are entrusted to enforce these Plans.
On April 7, 2016, the Planning Commission passed the project 4 to 1 (Smith dissenting). The clock started ticking, and the public had 11 days to fundraise, write, and submit an Appeal of the Planning Commission Decision to the Board of Supervisors.
The local Joshua Tree community organized: within three days, over 160 people signed a petition and the “JT105 Alliance” was formed. Janet Armstrong Johnston jumped into the role of coordinator and along with Kip Duff, Gayle Austin, David Fick, Robert Rootenberg, and many others, wrote the 66-page Appeal document. Randy Polumbo generously donated the $1331 fee. Frantic calls and re-writes happened up to the last possible moment. The Appeal almost got stuck in Coachella Festival traffic but was submitted successfully 45 minutes before the deadline.
After a questionable hearing on September 13, 2016, where a possible 2 to 2 vote which would have stopped the project was not allowed to proceed, the Board of Supervisors held a second hearing on September 27. The absent Supervisor, who did not witness the hours of public testimony, returned with no questions and voted for the project. The project was passed 3 to 2 (Ramos and Lovingood dissenting).
The clock started ticking again, and The JT105 Alliance had 30 days to file a CEQA lawsuit. (CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a self-executing statute. Public agencies are entrusted with compliance with CEQA and its provisions are enforced, as necessary, by the public through litigation and the threat thereof.) A GoFundMe account was started, and lawyer Babak Naficy was hired. 92 people contributed to the lawsuit fund. The lawsuit was successfully filed on October 28, 2016.
Then began over two years of respectful and cordial settlement discussions with the Developer’s managing partner, Ron Schwartz, trying to find a solution that the community could embrace. YV105 listed the land for sale, with the tract map included as part of the sale. The Mojave Desert Land Trust helped in discussing possible conservation easements, but in the end the Developers decided to avoid court and clean the slate.
The JT105 Alliance wants to thank the over 250 people that contributed time, expertise, and money over the years, with a special shout out to the Morongo Basin Conservation Association. The lawyer is all paid, and the remaining $193 in the account was donated to MBCA.
Janet Armstrong Johnston, Kip Duff, Gayle Austin, David Fick
JT105 Alliance worker-bees