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July 28, 2014

DHS Planning Commission - July 17, 2014

CUP Flamingo Hotel

This is a proposal to re-establish the 33-room hotel with spa and restaurant. The main issues are the architecture and landscaping. The restaurant is not included in this proposal. "The proposed improvements including rehabilitating the destroyed area, repainting the facades, making parking lot improvements to comply with current ADA standards, installing new landscaping, installing private outdoor patios on some of the units, new trash enclosure, providing drainage improvements and interior tenant improvements." The building is legal nonconforming in its setbacks. The legal requirements for setbacks are "20 feet in front, 10 feet at the rear, and 15 feet on the sides adjacent to a street." The actual setbacks at the Flamingo are "11 feet from the Pierson Boulevard, 3-10 feet on the street side yard, and 112 feet from the rear property line." [Wow, if only they could just average all their setbacks, they'd be fine.] With 33 rooms and a 1,040 sq.ft. restaurant, the hotel is required to have at least 51 parking spaces. The proposal provides for 55 parking spaces.

Improvements along Pierson:

  • Provide a new porte-cochere at the entrance for customer drop-off with sky blue catamaran wind sails fabric covering the entryway.
  • Install a 16-foot tall pink flamingo sculpture in a rock bowl fountain that will have a pink lava appearance (at night) under the porte-cochere.
  • Maintain existing aluminum frames to the doors and windows that will match the new porte-cochere frames.
  • Provide new channel letter signage with LED Illumination on building frontage as detailed on Sheet A-11.
  • Resurface the existing block walls with new plaster.
  • New meandering sidewalk.
  • The predominant color of the block walls and the structure will be "egg shell" with the exception of the flamingo and fountain.

On the drawings the pink flamingo is described this way: "16' height pink flamingo metal sculpture made out of reflective metal back light with hidden yellow/red flickering LED light to give a 'rise of the phoenix.' (Sculpture oriented in direction of fault line vortex.)" There will be water air jets located in the bottom of the fountain to give the appearance of boiling water with blue light.

If they don't play a recording of "The Firebird" every evening when they turn the lights on for the fountain, then they just don't know what they're doing. The version by Yes would be advisable since it's only 3m49s long compared to 47 minutes when the Vienna Philharmonic plays the original (this link will take you directly to the 43-minute mark because that's where you want to be, with volume up high - get that man a towel).

Along Tamar:

  • Renovate or replace "Egg Shell" block wall*.
  • Provide new "Blushing Bride" pink wrought iron fences, gates, and railings.*
  • New Butterfly roof with "smoke tan" plaster surface and decorative columns.
  • New standard sidewalk.
  • Window and door frames will be extruded aluminum with a grey color.*
  • The Porte-cochere and fountain elements will also be a major part of the Tamar Street Elevation.
* These apply to the Foxdale side as well.

Otherwise along Foxdale:

  • The ends of the "smoke tan" Butterfly Roof will be visible on Foxdale Drive.
  • Complete removal of public restroom on second floor; no guest rooms will be impacted.

Interior, besides all the obvious things (new paint, new smoke detectors, etc., etc.) these are the changes:

  • Provide a handicapped lift for the large pool.
  • New Day User Facilities to include lockers, restrooms, and showers.
  • Provide covered areas to the laundry, bar, and spas to match porte-cochere.
  • Refurbished pink railings on stairs.
  • New Pink doors to guest rooms.
  • "During the evening hours the LED lighting will provide a pink glow to the eaves."
  • Butterfly roof will have major view from all vantage inside the facility.
  • New private catamaran covered seating areas with flame pit.

The project will be done in phases over a 5-year period. Here are the phases as initially presented.

  1. Will include renovation of the front lobby, exterior walls along street frontage, exterior landscaping, day guest locker room, laundry room, new butterfly roof, on-site pools, and guest rooms 11-19.
  2. Will include slurry seal of the parking area and the southern perimeter wall along the property line.
  3. Will include the remainder of the hotel rooms, the porte-cochere, the pink flamingo, rock bowl fountain, covered patios, covered spas, and covered bar area.
  4. will include the retention basin, landscaping in the parking lot, and the regrading of the parking lot.

But during the Commission meeting the owner said he had decided to put the pink flamingo and fountain in phase 1.

The developer will also be required to install ribbon gutters on Tamar and Foxdale, and to complete the 7-foot sidewalk on Pierson and install 4-foot sidewalks on Foxdale and Tamar.

New commercial facilities are required to agree to be annexed into Community Facilities District No. 2010-1. New developments are also subject to PTAX2, a public safety parcel tax that never expires, and is different from the better known PTAX1. But at the time of this hearing it was not clear if the Flamingo Hotel would be subject to either of those, because it is not new. Conditions 56 (CFD) has been modified to say "...unless the City Attorney determines that existing facilities are not required to join the CFD."

Condition 75 required the hotel to dedicate an additional 10 feet to the public right of way along both Pierson and Tamar, but the building is so close to the right of way now, this change would put it IN the right of way, so the condition will be deleted.

Commissioner Gray asked if the recommendations of the ALRC were binding on the Planning Commission. Rich Malacoff said that the Commission can revise ALRC recommendations.

Martín Magaña came to the podium to make a public comment and related some of the history of the hotel in the last few years.

Attorney Quintanilla said he is researching the issue of whether the hotel must join the CFD.

Vice Chair Sobotta moved to approve the CUP with no revisions other than some corrections made by staff. Approved 5-0.

Location of Marijuana Dispensaries and Cultivation Sites

City Attorney Quintanilla laid out the legal issues for the Commissioners. He explained that the cultivation process and the dispensary have to be tethered together. Everyone who cultivates, works at the dispensary or acquires medical marijuana must be a member of the collective. Some cities, however, do not permit cultivation. Some dispensaries cultivate in the same building where they dispense.

[It's entirely possible that when the laws are in place to permit dispensaries and cultivation in Desert Hot Springs that the Palm Springs dispensaries might move their cultivation facilities to DHS, where land prices are cheaper and we have award-winning water. I don't know if the quality of water can be a selling point with marijuana, like it has been with beer.]

Attorney Quintanilla said that regulations on placement of dispensaries do not have to be in place for the City Council to submit a tax to the voters or for the voters to vote on it. So the Planning Commission has a good amount of time to study this. The City Council, however, is working under tighter time limits to get a tax on the ballot in November.

Michael Picardi came up to comment. He is a medical marijuana user. He and his partner go to Palm Springs tow or three times a month and spend close to $300. He said dispensaries should be treated like liquor stores - you have to be 21 to buy, you have to have an ID. He sees deliveries happening at dispensaries, so he's not sure cultivation has to go hand-in-hand with a dispensary. He urged the Commission to put dispensaries in commercial districts. His preferred location would be the northwest corner of Palm & Hacienda [the almost Fresh & Easy location]. It's open there and on a busy corner and on a bus line. [Is it a coincidence that a real estate sign has appeared on that property in just the last few weeks?]

Attorney Quintanilla said that all ages can have medical marijuana, but if they're under 18 they have to have a guardian get it for them.

Andrew [last name unclear] came up to comment. He said bills before the legislature will probably pass in the next couple of months. One provision in pending legislation is the separation of cultivation and dispensing.

The specific bill he was talking about is SB 1262. Attorney Quintanilla said he has stopped trying to track medical marijuana bills. If one gets to the Governor and he signs it, then Mr. Quintanilla will look at it.

Tom Miller, President of Express Delivery, came to the podium. He said the suggestion that the dispensaries be one mile apart wouldn't work.

A Mr. Hernandez spoke next. He's a grower for a couple of collectives. He asked the Commission to consider the square footage tax. [The Planning Commission will not be considering the possible taxes at all.] He said there are a lot of growers who steal electricity. Some dispensaries, he said, are looking at the bottom line price, not the health of their members. He is of the opinion that a square footage tax would help to correct these problems. He said the marijuana needs to be tested for pesticides.

Chair Gerardi asked Acting Chief Neujahr to give his perspective on this issue. The Chief came to the podium and said medical marijuana in California is approved by law. There is a law on the books. It must be understood that we are administering a law, not trying to prevent it. This is different from dealing with things you don't want to happen. "We're massaging it to make it fit in our community."

"The two most important things from a safety standpoint," the Chief said, "are drugs, which is marijuana, and money." The collectives know how to conduct business. They know how to sell. They know customer service. There is still a big black market for high quality marijuana. As a result, the collectives are prime candidates for burglaries and robberies. Then there are those stacks of money. Federal law is only now changing to allow banks to accept cash money from marijuana retailers. That means "stacks and stacks of money" build up until they can get it into the system. Therefore, there is a potential for serious crime.

Chair Gerardi asked him where he would suggest locating dispensaries. Chief Neujahr used Las Vegas as an example. They did not consider the tourist areas to be appropriate locations for dispensaries. So they have barred them from The Strip and from Fremont Avenue. They did allow the dispensaries to be in areas with easy access. He said the Commission might consider whether they want a dispensary right on Palm, or would it be better a half a block back from Palm, but still in the commercial area.

[Chief Neujahr may not have noticed that most of the commercial areas along Palm Drive are only as deep as one parcel. Go back a half a block and you're deep in a residential zone.]

The Chief said he would not suggest placing them in industrial areas. Most industrial areas are rural, unlighted, and in Desert Hot Springs the biggest industrial zone is down by Indian and I-10, where response time would be slow. If the Police have to run out there, then they're taken away from the rest of the city for quite a while. He said that any time you want to prevent something from happening, you want it close in, you want it visible.

Commissioner Gray said that a dispensary in Yucca Valley in an industrial area was robbed several times. He would not support a requirement that cultivation and dispensing take place in the same building.

Acting Chief Neujahr came back to the podium saying he wanted to add a couple of things to the discussion that are best practices. It is recommended that the same location restrictions that are put on a hard liquor bar be applied to dispensaries in terms of distance from schools, churches and parks. A lot of cities regulate it that way.

Commissioner Romero said that "in a former life" she was a banker. When the Bank of America burned down, the only thing left standing was the vault. The new Bank of America now has glass "this thick" between the teller and customer. She said the city can regulate how a facility is constructed, what it looks like inside. She also pointed out there are four pharmacies in town, they are not very far apart, and they're in convenient, safe, well-lit locations.

Attorney Quintanilla said that if the requires a Conditional Use Permit for dispensaries, then the city will be able to deal with the needs of a specific location (lighting, security, etc.).

Commission Parker said that a good location would be near medical clinics. He said the dispensaries need to be seen as part of the medical industry, rather than as something like a bar or liquor store. He said dispensaries should be in commercial zones and on bus lines, but otherwise the city should not regulate the location.

Mr. Parker said he had heard of a proposal to charge a $50,000 fee for a dispensary to open. He's opposed to that, if it's true. That would make it impossible for a small business person to operate and all we would have in town are "the big corporate players. The Coca-Cola of pot," he said. [Applause]

Commissioner Gray said "Today's it's medical marijuana; tomorrow it's recreational marijuana." He said he uses medical marijuana himself for anxiety. He described some of the security provisions at the dispensaries in Palm Springs. He proposed city staff to use the same rules as Palm Springs. The only difference between DHS and Palm Springs in this issue, is that we don't have industrial areas integrated within the populated parts of the city. He did not think that there should be a distance requirement between individual dispensaries, but there should be distance requirements from schools, churches and playgrounds. Mr. Gray moved to adopt the security requirements that Palm Springs has for its dispensaries. Vice Chair Sobotta seconded that.

Chair Gerardi said those security features are the same any good business would use. He also wondered if dispensaries on Palm Drive might have a negative effect on family tourism.

Mr. Gray said that some of the unpermitted dispensaries in Palm Springs don't have all the security features that the permitted dispensaries have. Mr. Gerardi said the fact they are illegal tells him that they are not following best practices for the business.

Mr. Gray said he would consider withdrawing his motion if the Commission could meet again in two weeks with a copy of Palm Springs' regulations.

The Commission settled on July 31 at 6 PM for their next meeting. Mr. Gerardi asked staff to provide a copy of Palm Springs rules and regulations on medical marijuana along with our own regulations for liquor stores and bars.

Mr. Malacoff said the Vortex Specific Plan needed to be addressed as well. If the city wants to permit dispensaries in the Vortex Specific Plan area (or not), then that should be explicitly stated in the final action so there won't be any questions.

Code Enforcement Activity Update

This item was placed on the agenda at the request of Commissioner Gray specifically to discuss a banner at 13279 Palm Drive and delivery of the Desert Star Weekly to vacant homes.

Mr. Malacoff said the banner at 13279 Palm Drive has been taken down.

Mr. Gerardi asked about a banner behind Starbucks that says "Valley Meat Market" that has been up for a long time; and the banner for the gym in the shopping center at Mission Lakes and Little Morongo has been up for ten months. He said the rule on banners should be enforced uniformly.

Mr. Gray said that the Las Brisas project has a McDonald's banner. He went on to repeat his little fantasy that the city pays code enforcement "a million bucks." [In public meeting after public meeting over the last few months it has been stated repeatedly by reliable people (like Amy Aguer) that the cost of code enforcement in the 2013/14 fiscal year was under $600,000 and no one ever projected it to be in the neighborhood of a million.]

Mr. Gray said the code enforcement officers don't see the banners.

Mr. Malacoff said he would pass along the instruction to code enforcement to do a "banner sweep." Attorney Quintanilla pointed out that each Commissioner could pick up a phone and report these things to code enforcement and there's even an app you can download for your smartphone. Mr. Gray said code enforcement doesn't respond to his complaints. Mr. Quintanilla said that the party who reports the violation should then let city staff know that code enforcement has not acted on a report. Mr. Malacoff said he has had success using that app.

Mr. Malacoff has spoken to the managing editor at Desert Star Weekly and he will follow up to make sure they are not delivering to vacant houses. Mr. Gray said the newspaper is delivered to the middle of his street and his street is littered with Desert Star Weekly trash.

Mr. Gray said all the "for sale" signs on the Skylight Lodge (Palm Drive across from Stater Bros.) exceed the limit and he wants someone to look into it.

Here's what the city sign ordinance has to say about real estate signs from 17.44.050 H and I:

H. Real estate signs for residential sales provided, however, that there shall be 1 sign per street frontage not exceeding 4 square feet in area and 5 feet in height and the sign is unlit and is removed within 15 days of close of escrow or the rental or lease of the residential property. Open house signs, for the purpose of selling a single house or condominium and not exceeding 4 square feet in area and 5 feet in height, are permitted for directing prospective buyers to property offered for sale.

I. Real estate signs advertising the sale, rental, or lease of commercial and industrial premises provided that the following requirements are satisfied: (1) one sign per street frontage not to exceed 32 square feet in area, (2) eight feet high maximum, (3) such sign shall be removed upon sale, lease or rental of the premises or 24 months, whichever comes first. Thereafter, 1 sign per premises not to exceed 16 square feet in size and 5 feet in height based upon a 1 acre lot area is allowed for the sale, lease or rent of the premises. Real estate signs shall only be placed on vacant property for 1 year as long as the sign is maintained in an orderly manner. A sign application, but no fee, shall be required to be submitted in order to monitor the time frame of real estate signs. Any real estate sign left unmaintained on vacant property shall be considered an illegal sign and subject to removal or abatement at owner’s expense, as provided by this chapter.

Skylight Lodge has only one street frontage, so it's permitted only a total of ONE "for sale" sign.

Planning Services Contract Procedure

What this concerns is how to pay for additional personnel in the Planning Department that are hired to handle an increased workload created by a developer. There are two basic ways it can be paid for: 1) the city can bill the developer for the actual expense of the new personnel, or 2) the long suffering taxpayers can pick up the tab. Specifically, the development we are talking about will be Walmart. Processing Walmart's paperwork will require a big chunk of city time. Who should pay?

Mr. Malacoff explained that even though a developer may pick up the expense for additional personnel, the developer has no control over the personnel and doesn't decide who the city should hire (or sign a contract with).

Mr. Gray said that having the developer pick up the expense "just skews the results." "It doesn't feel good to me." Commissioner Parker agreed, saying whoever pays dictates the results. Mr. Gerardi asked him to specify how that affects the results. The alternative is the city hires someone and the taxpayers pay. Mr. Parker suggested that it could be done without letting the developer know who the city has hired to work on their project.

How many people have we got that are nominally in the Planning Department? Two? Three? If there's an additional body one day, how are we going to keep that a secret from Walmart?

Zoning Ordinance Review

It was after 8:30 PM at this point, so Mr. Malacoff suggested putting this item off to the Commission's regular August meeting. But Cliff Lavy had put in a public comment card, so he came up to speak. He said there was a lot of misinformation at the previous Planning Commission meeting. He provided a copy of the parts of the City Code that apply to RV parking. He said that the misinformation was expressed at about the 2-hour point in that prior meeting.

He then talked about the mobile home park on the 5th Street and the plans to get someone from the state to begin to do something about it. Mr. Lavy asked to have all the Planning Commissioners present at the planned inspection.

Attorney Quintanilla referenced Title 25, the mobilehome parks act. That prevents the city from enforcing certain state rules, but it does not prevent the city from enforcing its own code. There is a state mobile home park inspection office in Riverside which is not very responsive, he said. Mr. Quintanilla said that in Cathedral City the city has a rent control ordinance for mobile home parks and encouraged the tenants of a rundown mobile home park to request reductions in their rent.

The only item left on the agenda was fences. The Commission decided to put that off to the August meeting.

Staff Comments

Mr. Malacoff said some residential developments are being reactivated and are going through plan-check. The city is hoping to hire an Administrative Assistant for Community Development soon, and they need to fill the Director position. A Public Works Director is needed as well.

Mr. Gray asked if a payment of about $250,000 is due from Skyborne. [At the November 19, 2013, City Council meeting the City Council approved a deal whereby Skyborne would pay off a debt of $200,000 to the city in annual installments of $50,000 each, the first one being paid in 2013.] But Mr. Gray said there is some debt of $250,000 that is several months delinquent. Attorney Quintanilla said a payment schedule had been worked out.

Mr. Parker said that if development begins anew in Agua Dulce, the city should be aware that the previous developers left a big pile of junk there right behind the post office that needs to cleaned up first.

Mr. Gerardi said he wanted to publicly encourage the Mission Springs Water District to be a little more aggressive in administering rules and regulations to reduce water usage. He suggested smart timers and incentives to residents who take out their lawns. He said DWA and CVWD do this, "but our water district, for some reason, seems so focused just on making revenue that they don't provide an incentive for residents to reduce their water consumption."

Mr. Gerardi seems to be unaware that MSWD's tier pricing (which DWA does not have) is intended to encourage people not to waste water. Water use in MSWD is already far lower than it is in other districts. Here are the numbers from 2009:
DWA - 1.87 acre-feet/year/account
CVWD - 1.22 acre-feet/year/account
MSWD - .78 acre-feet/year/account

After the rate increase a few years ago, consumption dropped considerably and never rose back. Here's my report on an MSWD meeting in 2011 where water consumption was discussed. It's easy to see that overall water consumption and water consumption per capita have been consistently dropping by significant amounts since 2006 and 2004, respectively. Conservative projections are that in 2020 water consumption per capita in MSWD will be 231.6 gallons per day. The state law at the time set a goal of 264 gallons per day. So, whatever MSWD is doing, water consumption is dropping. If people want MSWD to spend ratepayer money to get the customers to do faster what they are already doing, that can be done. It just takes money - which can be obtained through another rate increase...which will have the beneficial effect of lowering consumption still more.

Also, Mr. Gerardi said he has filed papers to run for the PSUSD board.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | July 28, 2014 at 08:10 PM

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