Press reports on Tuesday’s 4-1 loss on appeal at SBC Board of Supes

From the San Bernardino Sun – June 4/5, 2013:

Despite dissent, board OKs Dollar General in Joshua Tree
by Neil Nisperos, Staff Writer

SAN BERNARDINO — Construction of a 9,100-square-foot store in the rural community of Joshua Tree brought dozens of people – both supporters and opponents – to the San Bernardino County supervisors meeting on Tuesday to argue over the arrival of Dollar General to the artistic, desert community.

The supervisors, on a vote of 4-1, denied an appeal and upheld the Planning Commission’s approval of the Dollar General project.

Third District Supervisor James Ramos, whose district includes Joshua Tree and who voted against the project, offered support for the opponents of the store.

“You drive through the community and see the small mom and pop stores that are not in the caliber of a 9,100-square-foot store that could alter the character of Joshua Tree “¦ that’s not the character Joshua Tree wants to be known for,” Ramos said.

Project opponents, some from the Joshua Tree Business Alliance, say the incursion of an outside retail chain would economically harm locally owned businesses in town and would disrupt the community’s independent and artistically minded character.

“There’s a big issue here with corporate-owned stores and what they do to a rural community that has a vibrant economy already based on ‘ma and pa’ type businesses,” said Joshua Tree resident Peggy Lee Kennedy. “When you bring in a corporate chain store, it creates an aggregate affect on the economy. It drives other stores out of business andit creates empty stores, and it’s called urban decay and it’s a very big issue when these stores come in. ”

They fear the arrival of Dollar General would usher in more corporate chain businesses to the town and destroy the small-town, rural atmosphere that, in addition to the surrounding national park, attracts tourists to the area.

“A lot of people make their money from tourism, and if we’re just like anyone else it will hurt our income. It’s going to hurt what we moved out there for,” said resident Keri McParland. “A lot of people moved out there for the unique beauty of the area.”

“They’re a million dollar company,” Pardip Gill said. “They are direct competition to our convenience store. They would sell the things we sell at half price and then run us out of business.”

Supervisors who voted for the project said there was no language in the development code for them to deny it.

Proponents said the store plan is in compliance with the county’s land use requirements under the general plan and the project would bring jobs to the area.

“We’re developers and business owners,” said Jim Depierro, the property owner of the site. “We believe in a free economy and free development, and we’re more concerned about a group stopping a project like this “¦ We see no issue with the process and can’t understand why there’s opposition to it.”

Resident supporters of the project wore yellow shirts that read “Vote yes on Dollar General.” They argued the store would provide products at a fair price, at a place that would help them save on gas money.

“First of all,” Joshua Tree doesn’t have any stores to shop in except for convenience stores, so something a little bit bigger than that with the groceries and the hygiene products, we could really use,” said resident Mary Milligan.

Dollar General would provide the same products and goods as other convenience stores in town, but at a larger size. The other main store in town, a convenience store named Sam’s Market, is about 3,500 square feet.

The project site is on an acre and a half on Route 62, on the eastern edge of the downtown area, a third of a mile from the center of downtown.

The population of Joshua Tree as of the 2010 census was at 7,414. It is surrounded by Joshua Tree National Park, an international tourist attraction.

From the Hi-Desert Star (June 5, 2013):

Dollar General store gets OK to build in Joshua Tree

By Courtney Vaughn

JOSHUA TREE — County supervisors granted Dynamic Development LLC permission to develop a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General retail store here.

The decision came Tuesday afternoon, following months of controversy and hours of public testimony from two locations.

The county Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to uphold planning commissioners’ January decision granting a permit for Dollar General on the corner of Twentynine Palms Highway and Sunburst Avenue. James Ramos, the supervisor whose district includes the Morongo Basin, cast the dissenting vote.

The issue came under review by the supervisors after the Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance and individuals filed an appeal of the permit.

Despite receiving letters and emphatic protests of the chain retail store, supervisors said they had no solid ground to prevent Dynamic Development from building a store along the highway in Joshua Tree.

Opponents of the store repeatedly cited the Joshua Tree Community Plan, which encourages small businesses in Joshua Tree that are compatible with a rural desert character.

Despite its merit in laying out a vision for the community, county staff and most supervisors warned, the plan doesn’t specifically exempt a business like Dollar General from building in Joshua Tree.

“The Joshua Tree Community Plan articulates a vision of the community … it sets their vision, it is not the sole source of regulation for land use, though,” Terri Rahhal, planning director for the county, said Tuesday.

Residents and business owners said allowing a 9,100-square-foot retail chain store would hurt locally owned small businesses in Joshua Tree and conflict with the character of the unincorporated village.

George Kopp spoke on behalf of the appellants of the permit, saying Joshua Tree has undergone dramatic changes over the last decade to become a unique, visitor-friendly area devoid of corporate influence.

“Joshua Tree was targeted by a different type of investor that was focused on quality of life,” Kopp said. “We created a vibrant downtown district … this chain store is out of scale, out of character and out of compliance with our community plan.”

Kopp’s sentiments and warnings about incompatible land uses were echoed by Douglas Carstens, an attorney with Chatten-Brown & Carstens.

“The Joshua Tree Community Plan protects independent, privately-owned business in the downtown district,” said Carstens, who predicted “urban decay” if the store is permitted to build.

Mark Ostoich, a representative for Dynamic Development, levied the same reminder to supervisors that he stressed to planning commissioners in January.

“The concern I have is that when you boil this down, this sounds like an economic issue, not a land-use issue,” Ostoich said. He told supervisors that in deciding whether to grant a permit, they can only consider the land use, not the user.

“This is an economic dispute driven by the local business community that does not want competition,” Ostoich said. “The customers aren’t here, they’re the silent majority in and around Joshua Tree.”

Supervisors and Dollar General representatives heard the store likened to a “black eye” by Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce President Eva Soltes and “a cancer” by local artist Shari Elf.

Ramos took issue with the approval of what will become the largest commercial building there. He defended opponents of the project.

“Joshua Tree’s economic plan says to encourage and support small businesses,” Ramos said. “I believe a community has its own right and destiny to form (the community it wants).”

Dotting the rows of opponents in San Bernardino and the Joshua Tree videoconferencing center were small groups of individuals in bright yellow shirts that read, “Dollar General Supporting Local Families.”

Most of them chose not to speak on camera, but registered their support in writing. Two supporters confirmed they were asked to attend and sign petitions in support of the store by Dollar General’s public relations firm.

Some who spoke needed no coercion to urge supervisors to reject the appeal.

“The Dollar General would provide much-needed services to the low-income people of Joshua Tree,” Julian Gonzales, a Joshua Tree realtor, told the board.

Before casting her vote to reject the appeal of the permit, Supervisor Josie Gonzales cited statistics about Joshua Tree that indicate 86 percent of the area’s residents rely on economic assistance and 96 percent of school children there qualify for reduced-cost lunch programs.


About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in the rural wilderness of Joshua Tree, California, where I am a partner in with Stephanie Smith.
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