TRUMP ADMIN PROPOSES TO NEARLY TRIPLE ENTRANCE FEE TO JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK

Joshua Tree National Park is one of 17 national parks under consideration for massive entrance fee hikes under a current proposal by the Trump Administration. Under this proposal, if you were to visit the Park on any day during the five months when it is busiest, you would now pay $70 per car. Currently the entrance fee is $25 for a pass that lasts 7 days.

This is a massively stupid proposal. Here’s a good thinkpiece on the situation, via Crosscut — bolds are DJT’s…

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A $70 barrier to equity at national parks
by Glenn Nelson

My circle of colleagues is jammed with people of color who were inspired to work for equity and inclusion in the outdoors after a transformative experience at one of the keystone national parks in our country. Acadia. Grand Teton. Yosemite. All of those sources of inspiration landed among the 17 “highly visited” parks where peak-period fees have now been proposed to skyrocket from $20 to $25 up to $70 a car.

It’s a nonsensical, drop-in-the-bucket answer to the National Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog that is about $12 billion and counting. The new fee structure is projected to generate an annual increase of $70 million, which barely makes a dent in the backlog. It won’t even make that dent until 2018, if and when the fee structure is administered.

This is a feckless proposal by a feckless administration that would impose the additional cost of eroding equity, which already threatens the long-term viability of the national park system.

My conversion to working on behalf of equity and the outdoors took place at Mount Rainier. And I now live in a neighborhood in the most diverse part of Seattle that is named for the majestic peak that looms in our background every clear day. It’s the first national park to which I took my oldest daughter, Sassia, and we have a place we love near the Paradise River, where we can just be – with the marmots, gurgling water and the rest of nature’s wonders. And each other.

We also live in a region that is challenged by explosive growth, rising costs and other stressors that make parks like Mount Rainier or Olympic essential respites. So navigating a fee hike instead of a day hike feels like stumbling over a tree root. Consider the impact of layering the issue of inclusion on top of all that.

I’m certainly not making the tired, dishonest argument of equating race with poverty, therefore suggesting brown folks simply cannot afford an increase, much less the current rate of about $25 per car. On the contrary, the real fear is an additional deterrence on a list that already includes factors such as lack of awareness due to lack of cultural and generational connection, and major barriers like transportation, not to mention workforce demographics. In other words, if national parks aren’t your thing, a $70 price tag is not going to help make it one.

This is not exactly the playbook for building a future constituency that not only will continue supporting the existence of the National Park Service, but help it face escalating trials related to climate change.

Yes, the fee increases apply only to the busiest five-month contiguous period of visitation at only 17 national parks (which in addition to aforementioned four, include Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Shenandoah, Yellowstone and Zion). The parks, of course, have well-defined busy periods because of time and inclination factors among potential visitors. These also are “highly visited” units because they are the most iconic and inspirational; you don’t try to win Major League Baseball fans by funneling newbies to the winter leagues.

The Department of Interior has the additional motive of relieving pressure from parks to which people routinely refer as being “loved to death.” I hate that. There’s such a thing as being ignored to death, too. Just ask the brick-and-mortar retail industry about that. And if certain units are that overcrowded, then implement the kind of lotteries and permitting strategies that already are being vetted. At least such systems will be based on chance and not certain regression and likely exclusion.

Deferred maintenance — which the new higher fees propose to address — is a real problem for the National Park Service that deserves serious solutions. In March, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the National Park Service Legacy Act, which would provide continuous, sustainable funding to address high-priority maintenance projects. The funding levels are estimated to ramp up to $500 million by 2027. Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) joined Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) in introducing companion legislation two months later in the House. There also are private efforts underway, such as the Restore America’s Parks project, led by Pew Charitable Trusts, in partnership with the National Parks Conservation Association.

One of my more memorable visits to Mount Rainier last year was a drive in the park with its deputy superintendent, Tracy Swartout, now on detail with the Pacific West regional office. She once helped better connect Congaree National Park to its surrounding African American community in South Carolina, so we periodically get together to talk diversity in the parks. A good part of this day, however, was spent looking at some of the crumbling historic architecture and other infrastructure that burdens Rainier’s day-to-day sustainability and long-term outlook. The next day would be a major holiday, so we also checked on overflow areas.

In light of everything we saw and considered that day, I asked Swartout if she wished she could limit the crush of visitors who would overwhelm her staff, the park’s facilities and further stress its infrastructure.

“No way,” she replied. It was a sentiment I wish would resonate all the way up the chain of command in her agency.

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DOLLAR GENERAL ENTITY ASKS WATER DISTRICT FOR WILL-SERVE LETTER

June 21, 2017: Joshua Basin Water District General Manager Curt Sauer reports to the District’s Board of Directors that the District has received a request from an architectural firm representing a person that will do a Dollar General business in Joshua Tree for a will-serve letter for that business. The firm has submitted water and sewer plans for the building, five months after notifying JBWD they were requesting a will-serve letter. The plans are being reviewed. If they’re approved, then the District will move ahead with issuing a will-serve letter. The ownership issue is complicated enough that Sauer says he is directing District staff to craft a customized will serve letter — the usual one will not do — and will do due diligence to make sure the District is issuing the will serve letter to people who actually have the right to receive it. The applicant will need to provide to JBWD staff satisfactory evidence of a contractual agreement with the property owner. Timeline is uncertain.

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GOOD NEWS ON ALTA MIRA HOUSING PROJECT!

Big update from local activists at the JT105 Alliance….

The JT105 Alliance filed a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) lawsuit against the County and the developers of Altamira on October 28, 2016. Since then, 89 people have donated $8,683, to pay for the legal expenses via check or on https://www.gofundme.com/stop-altamira. THANK YOU!!!! We have paid the lawyer and the court fees for the filing of the well-written petition, and hopefully have enough to pay for their time, since. We are waiting on the second invoice, and will send out word if we need more funds.

The CEQA lawsuit process requires a mandatory settlement discussion to see if the case can avoid trial. The JT105 Alliance offered the developers two options to possibly avoid trial. The best result of a trial would be that the judge would demand that they do a full Environmental Impact Report. That takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. For us opposing the project, we would have had to continue arguing through this long EIR process, all with the hope that the end result would be that an alternate design be required. SO, with that in mind we sent these two options.

1) Donate the land to the Mojave Desert Land Trust. THE MDLT would have to decide whether to accept the donation. We can’t speak for MDLT, but there is a good chance that they would not want to hold that parcel in perpetuity. If they did accept it, they may hold it temporarily, and try to do something like the following option with the land.

2) Redesign the tract map so that the western third/half, which is crossed by streambeds/flood plain, would remain natural as a conservation easement, or possibly County Floodway. The eastern section would be divided into 1 to 2.5 acre lots. No mass grading. Grading would only occur, as needed, for the few roads, driveways, and approximately 40 house pads. No wall or gate. They would not need the large, ugly, drainage retention basin right along Alta Loma. The waste treatment plant could be reduced in size as well, or possibly it could work out that they don’t need one. That is exactly the thing that the developers need time to really look into. The roads, that we suggested would encourage traffic away from the four-way stop at Alta Loma/Sunny Vista.

The developers were much more interested in looking into these options than we expected. We had a conference call with five of the core JT105 Alliance leaders, our lawyer, their lawyer, and the County lawyer, in January. We could not discuss any specifics until the agreement was signed by the judge. After some discussion, a six-month stay was agreed upon, on March 17, so that the developers could explore these options, during which they are not to pursue any permits for construction. So, we can still sue at the end of the 6 months, or after 4 months, with written notice.

Shortly after the agreement was signed, an eagle-eyed community member notified us that the developers had listed the project for sale, with the tract map approval as a key marketing point! The developers did not tell us this. They listed it in December, and we had our conference settlement call in January. http://www.loopnet.com/Listing/20103802/Alta-Loma-Drive-Sunny-Vista-Road-Joshua-Tree-CA/ This breach of trust does not really impact the bottom line. IF they were to sell the land, the lawsuit, and the wrath of hundreds, would be inherited by the new owner if they tried to pursue the tract map as it is. The realtor has been informed. Any potential buyer should be savvy enough to google “Altamira Joshua Tree” (or similar) and up comes tons of information, showing ten years of resistance.

Another important issue that we need to stay on top of is the update to our Joshua Tree Community Plan. A few of us went to the November Planning Commission workshop about the updates. The consultants ran through over a dozen plan updates, showing zoning map changes. When they got to Joshua Tree, Commissioner Weldy pointed out that the area where Altamira is proposed was still at a higher density. In the discussion with Planning Staff that followed, it dawned on the Commissioners that we were not getting the opportunity to review these map changes. So, they directed the Planning Staff to bring these map changes back to the communities for review. When that does happen, we need to downzone that area as it should have been back in 2007 to align with the Joshua Tree Community Plan (which is one of the main points of the lawsuit). They had suggested some other zoning changes to JT, without any real substance behind the decisions, so all of it needs to be discussed.

See http://www.mbconservation.org/alta_mira_housing_project for more information. Some new documents may not be available for a few days.

Posted in Alta Mira, Joshua Tree Community Plan, JT 105 Alliance, Mojave Desert Land Trust, Morongo Basin Conservation Association | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hi-Desert Star: “SOLAR PROJECT AT JOSHUA TREE AIRPORT PUT ON HOLD”

GOOD NEWS!

From local newspaper the Hi-Desert Star:

Solar project at Joshua Tree airport put on hold

Posted: Friday, March 17, 2017 4:23 pm

By Leah Sanson, Hi-Desert Star

JOSHUA TREE — The NextEra corporation is stopping, at least for now, construction of the solar farm planned in the old Roy Williams airport, a company official confirmed this week.

“We are not proceeding with immediate construction of the project,” Steven Stengel, a representative of NextEra, said.

Joshua Basin Water District General Manager Curt Sauer first announced the company’s turnaround at a board meeting on Wednesday.

Sauer said the project manager mentioned the hold on the project about three weeks ago.

“They decided that they will not pursue this project anymore at this time,” Sauer said in a phone interview. “They may decide to pursue it later, though,” he added.

The project, a utility-scale solar farm 2.3 miles from Joshua Tree National Park, has been under fire from some Joshua Tree residents for more than a year.

After the San Bernardino County Planning Commission approved a permit application from NextEra, a group of residents appealed the decision to the county board of supervisors.

The supervisors upheld the permit on Aug. 16, 2016.

Afterward, a group of locals and environmental groups sued the county and the corporation, saying standards for environmental protections had not been followed. David Fick, a Joshua Tree resident involved in the lawsuit, said litigation is ongoing with NextEra and its subsidiary, Joshua Tree Solar Farm LLC.

A lawsuit was also filed against the county by the SoCal Environmental Justice Alliance over the project, Fick said in August.

County court records show the group petitioned for a judicial order against Joshua Tree Solar Farm and San Bernardino County in May. They alleged the county and the company failed to prepare an environmental impact report or analyze all potentially significant effects of the project.

NextEra also wrangled with Joshua Basin Water District over water service. The water board at first voted against providing water for the project. Sauer made an agreement with the company, requiring it pay for a delivery of State Water Project water to replace the local water the project will use.

Sauer said the water that the company purchased from the state is still expected to replenish the aquifer in the spring.

The company bought 84 acre-feet from the state, which would last 40 years.

A construction crew hasn’t been on the property for some time. “There hasn’t been activity on-site since the middle of November,” Fick said.

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TODAY IS THE DAY FOR WILLOW CROSSING

To help protect the desert we love, please give to the Mojave Desert Land Trust’s #Protect62 Campaign today.

Matching funds will double your donation — today only. Help keep the native Joshua Tree forests intact along Hwy 62!

Donate here: givebigsbcounty.razoo.com/us/story/California-Desert-Land-Conservancy

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LAWSUIT LAUNCHED BY JOSHUA TREE LOCALS TO STOP PROPOSED ‘ALTA MIRA’ GATED HOUSING PROJECT

https://www.gofundme.com/stop-altamira

JT 105 Alliance is seeking to raise $20,000 to fund its lawsuit against the proposed 105-acre, 248-unit Alta Mira gated housing project. Over $2,000 has been raised already.

You can donate here: STOP ALTA MIRA! gofundme

You can also send a check to: “Janet Johnston” or “Gayle Austin” PO BOX 2022, Joshua Tree, CA 92252, if you would like the full amount to go to the cause. (Gofundme takes 8%.) Include your email so they can contact you. Email jt105alliance@gmail.com if you have any questions.

From Joshua Tree resident and JT 105 Alliance activist Janet Johnston:

The Altamira gated development, proposed in the heart of Joshua Tree community of Friendly Hills, will blade 105 acres of native Joshua tree woodland, shoehorn 248 speculative (and relatively expensive) homes onto 10,000 sq.ft. lots, and then encircle and enclose its maze of cul-de-sacs with wall and fence. This design is completely out of character with the area. The existing rural neighborhood is currently built on 18,000 to 2.5 acre lots, all built as needed by locals, on open, natural desert streets, through which all neighbors and animals are welcome to travel.

The San Bernardino County Planning Staff said this project would have no potential impact on the environment, and pushed through a Mitigated Negative Declaration, rather than requiring an Environmental Impact Report which would have revealed the obvious issues, and would have required an alternate design. The County did not review the project for consistency with either the County General Plan, or the Joshua Tree Community Plan, which is a required “finding” by both State and County Law.

The Planning Commission passed the project (4 to 1) in April, the JT 105 Alliance (an association of concerned community members) appealed, and then after a very questionable hearing, the Board of Supervisors passed the project 3 to 2, on September 27, 2016. The JT 105 Alliance filed a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) lawsuit, and we now need our extended community, and desert-loving guests to help pay for the lawyer, filing fees, and costs associated with this action. The core JT 105 Alliance members have spent, and will spend, hundreds of hours of volunteer time, as they see the importance of stopping this project for future of our Morongo Basin, and for the benefit of all our National Park Visitors.

Help spread the word!

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WILLOW CROSSING

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We were deeply distressed recently when the Institute of Mentalphysics/Joshua Tree Retreat Center, without a permit, cleared 3-plus acres of their land at the corner of the 62 and La Contenta to make a parking lot. Bad enough that this was permanent destruction of intact, native habitat — it was also a crucial part of the wildlife corridor, a place of rest and refuge for wild animals making the dangerous transit across the highway. No longer.

What Mentalphysics did was awful — but there’s something we can do to try to mitigate it. The Mojave Desert Land Trust is appealing to the public to raise $15,000 to kickstart the ~$400k acquisition of 80 acres of wildland on the other side of Mentalphysics, next to MDLT’s headquarters. When purchased by the Land Trust, this land (nicknamed “Willow Crossing”) will become PERMANENT, PROTECTED WILDLIFE CORRIDOR. We need to help make this happen.

Please, follow the link to donate what you can: Scenery Worth Saving #Protect62

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