Good desert etiquette

Screen Shot 2019-03-31 at 10.10.42 AM

via Christine Pfranger

Also: do not jaywalk across the 62 — it is extremely dangerous.

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Photograph of the Dollar General construction site in Joshua Tree, posted earlier today on Facebook…


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They won their court cases, secured their permits and now they’re building their damned Dollar General in #JoshuaTree at the corner of Sunburst and the 62.

This magnet is available at Joshua Tree Outfitters (61707 29 Palms Highway in downtown Joshua Tree)

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GOOD NEWS on Altamira: “It is done and we have won”

Defend Joshua Tree has received the following statement from the JT105 Alliance on the final resolution of the Alta Mira project…


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

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Park Superintendent David Smith: “The campgrounds and park will stay open per directions from the Administration, but no staff will be available to check visitors in or charge fees. … All visitor centers and restrooms will be closed and all staff will be furloughed. We will have a skeleton crew of Law Enforcement rangers available to respond to illegal activities or emergencies. Similarly, fire will be available to respond to emergency events.”

Additional clarification just in: “Campgrounds remain open, but as National Park Service personnel are furloughed, reservations will not be observed. Vault toilets throughout the park will remain open. Park visitor centers, flush toilets, water filling stations, and dump stations will be closed.

So: this precious 1,250-square mile National Park is now open and staffed, according to word on the street, by 3 to 4 law enforcement officers.

The Winter Holiday season is one of the busiest periods of the year for the Park — if not the busiest. The Park now sees 3.5 million guests per year. Campgrounds are full, or close to it.

Because there is no staff, no entrance fees will be collected. Thus, there will be no revenue from one of the busiest times of the year, which will create a budget deficit.

Because there is no staff, no trash will be collected.

What do people do in Joshua Tree National Park when there is no law enforcement presence?

Chris Clarke on Twitter comments: “[During last year’s shutdown] there were off-road vehicles trespassing and cutting new two-ruts near Geology Tour Road, among other places.”

What do people do in the Joshua Tree area when there is no law enforcement presence?

Jaysa Burros on Facebook comments: “The mess that is Giant Rock, once a sacred place is a good example of what to expect. Spray paint all over the rocks, trash, people blowing off fireworks and running over all of the vegetation with off road vehicles, destroying a fragile ecosystem the wildlife relies upon for their survival, and making a beautiful place hideous. I don’t understand why people are excited for nature and outdoors only to party like it’s the end of the world and respect nothing about the land. That’s what cheap Vegas hotel rooms are for.”

This is madness. The Park is going to be trashed.

The Trump Administration needs to do the right thing and order the Park closed until the government shutdown ends.

Congressman Paul Cook needs to step up for the Park, and for his local constituents who will now be burdened with inevitable trash/restroom overflow from the Park, and pressure the Administration to close the Park.

Do it now, before irreversible damage is done.

Congressman Paul Cook in DC: 202.225.5861

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From the JT 105 Alliance

December 14, 2017

Thank you to all that have worked so hard, and contributed towards the goal of stopping the Alta Mira development in Joshua Tree.

Our California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit from October 2016, is still open and active, and it is doing its job, for now. In mid-September, we granted the developers a second six-month stay to give them more time to explore alternate designs or solutions for the property.

As of now, we are not pushing fundraising. The lawyer is paid up to date, and there are no other outstanding expenses. The ball is in the developer’s court, as they say. If you feel moved to donate, we won’t say no. You can either mail a check to “Gayle Austin”, PO Box 2022, Joshua Tree, CA 92252, or donate through

If the developers sell the property, and if the buyers were to pursue the same tract map, then we would act on the lawsuit and go to court. If the developers decide to proceed with the tract map, themselves, and we go to court, we will need some quick and intense fundraising. We have all the confidence in our great community that you would once again, rise to the challenge. After all, hundreds of us have been working together to prevent this development for 10 years.

Thank you,
JT105 Alliance

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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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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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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 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. 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 for more information. Some new documents may not be available for a few days.

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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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