Lunn Campaign In 29 Palms Revolves Around Effort To Shore Up Fire Department

(September 9) It is not surprising that ensuring the continued viability of the Twentynine Palms Fire Department is for Adam Lunn, one of six candidates for the Twentynine Palms City Council in the November election, the issue he sees as the most critical one facing the city.
Lunn was a member of the advisory committee formed by the Twentynine Palms Water District in April to assist it and its board of directors with mapping out a strategy for funding the fire department.
Since 1958, the fire department in Twentynine Palms has been overseen by the water district. The department has grown to include two fire stations and seven firefighters to cover the 59 square miles within the Twentynine Palms City Limits and the 29 square miles of unincorporated county area that also falls under the water district/fire department’s 88-square mile jurisdiction. The city does not contribute to, participate in or subsidize the fire department’s operational budget.
In 2012, water district voters rejected Measure H, a tax increase proposal, and the water district explored  surrendering authority over the fire department to the county fire department.
That same year, the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission  indicated the water district would need to find augmenting funding for the fire department or relinquish control of it.
The water district and the city of Twentynine Palms worked on a proposal to have the county’s fire division subsume the fire department but that goal was not achieved after county fire chief Mark Hartwig said that in working within the confines of the $1.244 million in available special tax funding for local fire service, he would need to close down one of the fire stations and reduce the department to no more than four firefighters.
So far the water district has maintained control of the fire department but as of July 1, 2013 the district closed out its Lear Avenue Fire Station.  The water district is now leasing the station to Copper Mountain College, which is using the facility to conduct fire science courses.
All of the fire department’s operations are now run out of the Adobe Road Fire Station, known as Station 421, and its paid personnel have been reduced to five. Response times to certain portions of the 88-square mile fire protection jurisdiction have increased.
The water district earlier this year made a commitment to keeping the fire department in place and under control, creating the Twentynine Palms Citizen Advisory Committee, of which Lunn was named chairman. The committee has recommended that the city of Twentynine Palms pitch in with regard to making sure the fire department is adequately funded. Incorporated in 1987, Twentynine Palms has yet to evolve into a full service municipality. It contracts with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement service and the water district exists as an independent agency that provides water and sewer service as well as fire protection for the city of 25,768 and its surrounding area.
Earlier this year, Twentynine Palms Fire Chief Jim Thompson and Twentynine Palms Water District General Manager Tamara Alaniz obtained an endorsement from Lunn and the committee he chaired to again seek voter approval of an increase to the parcel tax imposed on residents within the water district’s boundaries.
The current parcel tax is $80. Lunn and his cohorts have advised that the district ask their customers to approve a $20.40 per year increase to that assessment on developed property and a $10.20 increase on vacant parcels. The committee has further suggested that the measure authorize the increase for three years and give the district the ability to add a three percent annual inflation adjustment in the years beyond 2018.
Lunn has followed that recommendation up with his city council candidacy.
“Here in Twentynine Palms, we have an issue with fire department funding,” Lunn said. “Specifically, the goal of the advisory committee was to seek out more funding and ideas to assist in running the fire department, which in Twentynine Palms is part of the water district. What it comes down to is the water district has limited resources and we are looking for any avenue for funding, anything that would help to pay for fire department operations. This requires that the district work with the city. Either the city gets on board and helps with the issue of the fire department funding or the department has to fold in the next couple of years.”
The city’s involvement “does not necessarily require a takeover of the fire department but the city and water board working together to solve this issue,” Lunn said.
He is now looking to get on the city council, Lunn said, because as it is currently composed, the city council has not shown the same enthusiasm for preserving the fire department as exists at large among the city’s residents.
“They have had a few joint meetings with the water district board over the last couple of years, but the city has pretty much been against cooperating with the water district and working together on this problem,” Lunn said.  “The perception of the public is ‘We are a community and why don’t we solve this as a community.’” Lunn said that if the voters recognize what his position on this issue is, he is likely to be elected.
Beyond the fire department issue, Lunn said, he is animated about how Project Phoenix will ultimately play out.
In 2011, through its redevelopment agency, the city of Twentynine Palms gave final go-ahead to Project Phoenix, which is to include a community center, a 250-seat theater, classrooms, a civic plaza, a park, a paseo, residential units, a wastewater treatment plant, and improvements to the downtown fire station.
That action came just three months before the legislature passed AB X1 26 and AB X1 27, which shuttered more than 400 municipal and county redevelopment agencies up and down the state.
Despite warnings from the state that the city needed to dispense with its redevelopment efforts, the city nevertheless proceeded with the Project Phoenix initiative.
Twentynine Palms officials maintained that AB X1 26 and AB X1 27 are trumped by federal securities regulations, meaning the money the Twentynine Palms Redevelopment Agency bonded for in 2011 must be utilized only for the purpose that bondholders were told the money would be applied toward.
Twentynine Palms City Attorney A. Patrick Muñoz, of the law firm Rutan & Tucker, asserted in filings with the Sacramento Superior Court that the non-taxable bonds issued in 2011 created specific obligations between the city, as the issuer, and the bond purchasers, and as such are enforceable obligations. If the city allows the state to use the money for a purpose other than what the city had specified in marketing the bonds to the bond buyers that would constitute fraud, according to Munoz.
The city filed its paperwork in Sacramento Superior Court because AB X1 26 and AB X1 27 contained language requiring any legal challenges to the law take place there.
The city in 2012  followed Muñoz’s recommendation to have  the city’s successor agency lay claim to the redevelopment money and declare its intent to proceed with Project Phoenix.  AB X1 26 and AB X1 27 provided for the creation of locally based oversight boards to see to the discharging of remaining redevelopment money.
The state of California and its Department of Finance insisted that Project Phoenix could not proceed. The city of Twentynine Palms, however, persisted in its challenge with regard to the Phoenix funds.  The key issue in the case was the question of whether an agreement between the city and the successor agency known as the bond proceeds agreement is valid in light of the laws which dissolved redevelopment agencies. The California Department of Finance asserted the agreement was not valid and as a result the city could not spend the bond proceeds on Project Phoenix. The department further asserted that the city acted in bad faith and hence the bond proceeds agreement should be invalidated.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny disagreed, and instead held that the city acted appropriately, in good faith, and in compliance with the laws that existed at the time the bond proceeds agreement was adopted.
The state has appealed that ruling.
“Project Phoenix is also going to be a big issue in the election,” Lunn said. “The judge ruled that yes, the city does have the ability to spend the bond money, but the state has appealed the ruling, so it is not over yet. Right now we are in limbo. We can’t spend the money because we’d have to pay it back if we lose the appeal.
“As a candidate, I’m on the fence,” Lunn continued. “The project is a lot bigger than it needs to be, on the whole. I am all for building the infrastructure, and improving our ability to build because we have infrastructure in place. I approve of the necessities, but I am not in favor of the niceties [such as the theater].”
Lunn said his election to the city counsel would push the city toward a slightly different theory of governance.
“The safety of the community is the most important thing the city council needs to look after,” he said. “I would re-examine the budget. I have slightly different priorities. A dog park is not a necessity. We could better use that money for the fire department.”
Lunn said he is qualified to hold office.
“I’ve been teaching city government with the American Legion for years,” he said. “I’m probably the most learned candidate on the ballot regarding the fire issue.”
A graduate of Twentynine Palms High School, Lunn attended Copper Mountain College and American Public University.

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