Joshua Tree Barnstormer

The Facts Shall Set You Free

Planning the Crap Out of Joshua Tree

What?  Joshua Tree Community Plan Update Workshop

When?  Thursday, September 19, 2013, 6 to 8:30 p.m. 

Where?  6171 Sunburst Street  Joshua Tree, CA

We’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that the County of San Bernardino Land Use Services Department is in the process of updating the Community Plans of all of its unincorporated areas, in order to develop standards and guidelines as part of the state-mandated General Plan update process that is already underway.  Tomorrow evening, from 6 to 8:30 pm, the Department will kick off the  Joshua Tree Community Plan Update process by hosting a community workshop and discussion.  County Land Use Services Director, Tom Hudson, will moderate.    “We want to know what the people of Joshua Tree want to preserve, what they would like to change or encourage, what they want their community to look like, and how we can accomplish their goals,” Mr. Hudson said.

Residents who are concerned about the future of Joshua Tree should plan to attend the workshop and be ready to discuss their ideas and concerns about the look and landscape of their community and other issues central to Joshua Tree’s character and sense of place.  Community plans address a variety of development factors, including new businesses, housing and design guidelines.  Development rules, desert preservation, downtown design, economic development, and tourism will all be on the table at the workshop.

The workshop comes on the heels of failed settlement negotiations between the County and Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance (JT DBA).*   In July, the JT DBA sued the County and its Board of Supervisors for approving the Joshua Tree “General Retail Project” and issuing a Conditional Use Permit that violated the California Environmental Quality Act, State Planning and Zoning laws, and the Joshua Tree Community Plan.  Despite vociferous opposition from Joshua Tree residents and business owners, the Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 1 in favor of approving the retail project, with Third District Supervisor Jamos Ramos casting the lone vote of community support.  


*in the matter of Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance v. County of San Bernardino and San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.

Donate Today

“How quickly anything on Earth runs down without steady infusions of energy.”  ~Kurt Vonnegut

Due to lack of community support / funding,  JT Barnstormer is on indefinite hiatus.

I know.  We’re all torn up about it, too.

But isn’t this the lesson of life?  That the things we love don’t last, so we damn well better appreciate them while they’re still around to be appreciated?

You know how every once in a while, your favorite Public Radio or Public TV station runs a pledge drive where they stop playing shows and music and start talking about all the great things they do and why you should call now to donate, because a pledge of $100 gets you a pair of tickets to any show this year at the Hollywood Bowl, the complete box set of Yo Yo Ma’s Greatest Hits, OR a year of bicycle tune ups from Fixie’s Circus Shoppe and Bicycle Repair.  Or, if you call right now and make a pledge of $1,000, they’ll give you a pair of tickets to any show at the Hollywood Bowl, the complete box set of Yo Yo Ma’s Greatest Hits, AND a year of bicycle tune ups from Fixie’s Circus Shoppe and Bicycle Repair?  And you know you should donate, because you listen to NPR every single morning on your way to work, but deep down you wish that somebody really rich would call in and donate, like, $10,000, so that NPR could go back to their regularly scheduled program and so that you could hear All Things Considered.

This post is our version of the pledge drive.

I’m not going to hold you hostage by making you pay to read posts or download letters – that would be counterproductive.  However, I may remind you from time to time that there’s a person on the other end of things, that someone worked all night long and straight through the Thankssgiving holiday so that you wouldn’t have to.  In fact, later on tonight I will be posting a document here that I’ve been working on for the better part of a year, one that’s been a long time in coming.  You’ll be able to put it to use immediately, as a stand-alone document or otherwise, and for a variety of purposes, from our long overdue Shop Local campaign to your next “appearance” on Gary’s Up Close and Personal show. Here is the ammunition you requested, that explains why we’re fighting, what there is to lose, and what to do about it.  I haven’t forgotten my commitment to those of you who don’t want to or can’t or don’t have time to read the Initial Study for the Joshua Tree Retail Project but still want to say something about it and want it to matter, want your voice to be heard.   Later this week I’ll post your sign and send letter(s), along with some direction on how best to use it/them.  I’ll provide the ammunition, you’ll be the weapons.

In the meantime, please donate.  And if you’ve been checking back here to see if I’ve posted anything about Dollar General yet, or if you’ve been planning on signing and sending my sign and send letter, if I ever get around to posting the damn thing thank you very much, perhaps consider donating now – especially if you haven’t ever donated, or keep forgetting to donate.  Maybe you fully intended to donate but then one thing led to another and then I didn’t post for a while and you questioned my commitment and then now you feel kind of silly donating now, after all this time, or maybe this is just too much pressure….   Maybe you think I should post more often, or more regularly, to work for / earn your donation….

Whatever your stance, whatever your reasoning, please consider donating now.

Perhaps you thought we were doing it wrong but never had the time to tell us how to change for the better.  Maybe you always wanted to blog for us but never got around to volunteering.  Maybe you know us personally and you think we should pick up the dog poop in our yard, for god’s sake.  Meanwhile, we’re over here trying to figure out how to pay our mortgage using Facebook “Likes,” and when we say “we’ve been sleeping on the couch,” we don’t mean proverbially.

The internet can be a lonely place, and an environmental-law-and- policy-related blog can be even lonelier (I think I just saw a tumbleweed roll by in here).  We don’t mind the quiet (that’s why we moved to the desert, after all), but we do mind the silence.  So say something, even if you can’t make a donation, or say something, in addition to making a donation.  Drop us a line to say you’re there, tell us why you’re reading, why you’re interested, or just that you’re interested.

Hearing from you reminds us why we fight, why we write.  Getting a note or a donation from you is like getting a hug, via email.

Hug away, Morongo.

Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone Solar Regional Mitigation Planning, Workshop #2

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is hosting a second public workshop for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone (SEZ) Solar Regional Mitigation Plan (SRMP) on October 24 and 25, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the Hampton Inn Tropicana, 4975 S. Dean Martin Dr., Las Vegas 89118.

Vegas baby!

The topic of the workshop will be baseline conditions and unavoidable impacts and will include a field tour to the SEZ on Oct. 24.  

Like I said, Vegas, baby!   Oh wait, does that say S-E-….Z?  My bad.

In August, BLM described their solar energy program and discussed the development of regional mitigation plans as outlined in the July 24 Final Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). At the first workshop, more than 70 participants, including representatives from federal, state and local government, Tribes, the solar industry, utilities, environmental and other non-governmental organizations were asked to provide thoughts and ideas about mitigation for the Dry Lake SEZ, as well as ideas on future environmental monitoring and adaptive management for the SEZ.

An agenda for the October workshop, summary of the August workshop, frequently-asked questions and a preliminary list of data sources BLM is reviewing in support of the identification of unavoidable adverse impacts can be found on the Dry Lake SEZ Mitigation Project website.   The impacts associated with the Dry Lake SEZ are listed in this memo.

Those interested in attending the Oct 24/25 workshop or who would like to provide comments on the materials posted on the website should RSVP and send comments to:

NOTE:  RSVP by October 17 to reserve a bus seat for the field trip. 

Visit the Solar Energy Development PEIS website for more information:

One Point Four Five Acres of Retail Heaven? {Whereforarthou, Hopeful Homesteader?}}

Community character.  What the hell is it?  Why do we want it?  Who cares?

Here is where we step off into the great divide.  Technical jargon like ‘Community Character,’ ‘Secondary Economic Impact,’ ‘Urban Decay,’ ‘Significant Unavoidable,’ ‘Consistency Analysis,’ will become commonplace in the argument against the Retail Store formerly known as Dollar General.   In the coming days (and, hopefully, weeks, if the County gives us more time with the Initial Study) I’m going to be getting down and dirty with the California Environmental Quality Act, the County Development Code, and the General Plan and Community Plan, the goals, policies, and objectives of which have brought us together today.

In a nutshell, State Law (CEQA) and the County Code (Development Code) both require a consistency finding with the County General Plan and Joshua Tree Community Plan.  Technically, the County mustn’t approve the Joshua Tree Retail Project unless they declare the project is consistent with the County General Plan and the JT Community Plan.  If inconsistent, the finding can’t be made / the County can’t “find” that the project is consistent.

If you run screaming into the vast desert landscape, I understand.  I’ve done my share of the scream-n-run, believe me.  But I hope you stay.  Not just because I’d like to speak the same language,  for a while, anyway, but because I’d like us to be in this together.  Because the desert is something worth fighting for.  Because we all care about it deeply.  Because if we don’t fight for it, who will?


The Morongo Basin corridor stretches across the desert, from Morongo Valley to the Dale Mining District east of Twentynine Palms. Water is scarce and rain is rare. Growth follows a boom-bust cycle; and legend has it that the “boom” phase breeds excess and dishonesty and makes men do things they’d never dream of otherwise.

Money, is it the root of all, or the key to all?  The be all end all, or the beginning of the end?  The ways and means, or the means to an end?

The Small-Tract (“baby”) Homestead Act passed in 1938 and went into effect a decade later.  Homesteaders leased their land from the government until they finally were allowed to purchase it outright in 1948.   By that time, the Basin had piped water in some areas, electricity, telephones, schools, stores, a newspaper and a paved highway, but hauling water and driving on dirt roads and was still a way of life for many.

The idea behind “baby homesteads” was to bring men and the Creator closer together, and the Act was viewed by some as a “phenomenon of social release…emblematic of spiritual renaissance” (Ainsworth 1955: 2).  The desert economy boomed as the five-acre settlers descended upon the desert in a “joyous mass movement…transforming the face of the desert” (Ainsworth 1955: 2).

An advertisement in the Desert Spotlight stressed the beauty and healing properties of the desert, as well as the economic opportunities awaiting those who invested in hotels, motels and other businesses (Anonymous 1946). People began looking for retirement or vacation homes away from the smog and problems of cities.  Because water was more easily available in Morongo Valley and 29 Palms, those areas grew first, but the towns of Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley were heavily promoted. Yucca Valley in 1946 was billed as the “cream of the desert” by Orange County developers.

Col. E. B. Moore, who led the movement to bring veterans to the high desert, established headquarters in Joshua Tree. He helped newcomers file claims, drew detailed maps,  and  helped people locate their claims (he created the Desert Map for this purpose (Hickman n.d.)).  He also spearheaded the movement that opened 172,640 acres of former military base property to homesteaders. By the mid-1950s, well-paved roads connected Amboy on Highway 66 with Highway 99 via Twentynine Palms. The old road through Twentynine Palms eventually became known as the “Roadrunner Route” and was used by southern Californians who vacationed on the Colorado River. During this brief, shining period in American history, the hopefulness of these desert homesteaders must have been palpable.


By the turn of the century, the developers and builders began exploiting the cheap lands available in the desert, building tract homes to replace homestead cabins.  The incorporation of Yucca Valley and 29 Palms brought concomitant “civilizing” changes of population growth, including a state highway, a college, a hospital, a police force and fire department.  And in between then and now, what happened?  Whereforartthou hopeful homesteaders?

Was it real or myth, that “fierce, independent spirit of the hardworking pioneers?”  And is it still flourishing or was the flame of hope extinguished long ago?  I’d like to believe it still dwells within us, that each of us holds a key that keeps the flame lit, the fire alive.  That the story of the desert lives on, lives still.  That the someday stories are being written here, being written now.

“Communities and commonwealths, like men, have their childhood, which is the formative period.  It is the first permanent settlers who impress themselves and their character on the future.  Powerful influences may, in later years, produce important modifications; but it is early influence which is farthest reaching, and is generally decisive.   It is easier to form than to reform; easier to mold molten iron than to file the cold cast.”  

from Our County, its Possible Future and its Present Crisis, by Josiah Strong

I’d like to believe.

“Only as life itself grew more complex and man sought refreshment for his spirit by leaving the crowded places and going close to the heart of nature did the American desert reveal itself to him in its true beauty.  He saw then for the first time that its fancied harshness was not harshness at all, but simplicity.  He saw that its starkness was not starkness at all, but genuineness.  He heard, in his inner self, the silence speak to him with the manifold message of the Lord.
The tracts themselves are located largely in a great arc extending through the gigantic counties of San Bernardino and Riverside.  These two counties with a combined area of 17,478,400 acres … they contain some of the finest and most scenic desert land on the globe.
One quality is shared by all this diversified desert.  Every part of it is remote and tranquil in its silence and detachment.  Every part is an invitation to the weary and the worried.  It is a proper setting for all the legend and romance which surround it. …
Always, through, the desert lies there brooding in its communion with the infinite and never designs to  reveal its hidden secrets.  In its heart lie wondrous mineral resources — gold and silver and copper and uranium and semi-precious gems.  These are not the concern of the Five Acre Tract people.  They seek and nearly always find –  a different kind of treasure.  It is a treasure distilled of crimson sunsets flaming across the mountain peaks, of breathless dawns born in the flush of rose-hued hills, of gentle winds scented with sage and a restfulness born of contentment and renewed health.
Actually, the land around 29 Palms wasn’t adapted for farming.  Most of the people who had taken up homesteads were interested in health rather than in raising crops.  … Witmer was astounded.  He saw the almost complete lack of crops, but he found a race of hardy, happy people who glowed in their isolated surroundings and valued a sunset more than money and health more than the conveniences of city life.  They told him their stories.  He became convinced that the desert offered unlimited possibilities for saving sick people – not only physically, but in restoring their mental and spiritual confidence.
Plenty of proof was available…  It was in this atmosphere, with tanks rumbling across sand dunes, the smell of crushed sage in the air, the sound of machine guns chattering and howitzers booming that Col. Moore became acquainted with the desert.  From the 1st moment, he took to it.  The vast distances, the soft lights at sunset and dawn, the simplicity and the beauty all appealed to him.  In the few moments of relaxation he was able to steal from his arduous duties… he steeped himself in desert lore. The “high desert” in the area around Joshua Tree, 29 Palms, Victorville, 3000 feet or higher, and therefore a more exhilarating atmosphere. When Col. Moore took the meandering road up from Whitewater through Morongo to Joshua Tree he felt a thrill of “coming home” – of being in the right place where he belonged.   The sky was brilliantly blue, the air was a tonic, the silence was a benediction.
“Joshua Tree was the kind of place where you could drive on either side of the street without anybody knowing the difference because there were so few cars around anyway,” Mr. Branthoover said in discussing his own introduction to desert living. “Everybody who was out here was what you would call ‘the desirable element.’” We never thought of locking our doors and it did me good to see people come out here and get the best of their asthma or arthritis.” Mr. Branthoover has aided in the building up of Joshua Tree which is the western entrance to Joshua Tree National Monument.  Even thought he misses the privilege of being able to drive on either side of the street nowadays, he finds a satisfaction in sharing the benefits of desert living with so many congenial people.  He is proud of the little community park that Joshua Tree has created and of the Community ambiance made possible by the cooperative spirit of the residents.
Colonel Moore, Mr. William Zeitz, Dr. Norman C. Cooper, and many of his friends, … were so enthusiastic personally about the 5 Acre Tracts that they made filings as a group in a section they called “New Horizons,” north of Joshua Tree.  This beautiful vision with its spreading panorama and invigorating air appealed to scientists, artists, doctors, authors, professors, engineers, military officers, and a host of others.  Plans were made for obtaining water, generating power, and building roads while at the same time preserving the wildness of the primeval desert.
Inevitably, as choice areas were selected for such projects, conflicts arose with real estate dealers who wanted to develop subdivisions.  This happened early at New Horizons.  Finally, though, the 5 Acre Tract People won out, and Colonel Moore was able to go ahead with his plans for his own Silver Moon Rancho and his hobby of studying solar energy in the clean desert air… (out of the conflict grew certain hostilities).
And out there in the vast American desert a new spirit dwells. It is the multiplied heartbeat of humanity…everything that breathes in the fragrant air, every eye that dwells upon the long sweep of arroyo plain and mountain, and moves to the azure sky of day and the glittering stars of night, every intake of the heavenly odors of sage and the murmuring breeze is symbolic of a boon enjoyed by untold thousands.”
Excerpt from:   AINSWORTH, Ed. FIVE ACRES OF HEAVEN. Presented by Col. E.B. Moore and Mrs. Marion U. Moore of Joshua Tree, California, to All Those Who Love the Desert. (Los Angeles: Lithographed by Homer H. Boelter), 1955. 8vo, 30pp, 46 illus., color frontis. after John Hilton painting. Wrappers subtitled “Story of the Great American Desert.”
Historical information culled from Morongo Basin Historical Society and Town of Yucca Valley websites.
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