29 Palms Initiating Work On Long Delayed Project Phoenix Downtown Redevelopment

Project Phoenix, the energetic downtown redevelopment effort that the City of Twentynine Palms proposed over a decade ago is to begin in earnest this month.
At its February 23 meeting, the Twentynine Palms City Council voted 4-to-0, with Mayor Dan Mintz absent, to give final approval to 17 contracts associated with the project.
After allotting $8,647,540 toward the work in the first phase of the project, the city solicited bids and was overwhelmed with 90 responses. This allowed the city to drive the cost of that work down to $7,581,439. In the action taken at the meeting, the council included a $657,000 contingency allocation to cover any possible cost overruns or change orders
Project Phoenix was conceived as an undertaking by the Twentynine Palms Redevelopment Agency aimed at constructing a community center, a 250-seat theater, classrooms, a civic plaza, a park, a walkway, residential units, a wastewater treatment plant, and improvements to the downtown fire station. The project was put in jeopardy in 2011, however, when 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.
Twentynine Palms intrepidly pushed ahead with the project, based upon Twentynine Palms City Attorney A. Patrick Muñoz’s assertion that the project had been initiated prior to AB XI 26 and AB XI 27 going into effect, and that the $12 million the redevelopment agency bonded for in 2011 had to be utilized only for the purpose that bondholders were told the money would be applied toward.
The California Department of Finance fought the city with regard to its contention, leading to the city taking legal action in Sacramento Superior Court, where Judge Michael P. Kenny ultimately ruled against the Department of Finance in April 2014 and granted the petition for a writ of mandate on behalf for the City of Twentynine Palms, allowing the city to utilize the bond money for the fulfillment of Project Phoenix. After appealing Judge Kenny’s ruling and losing, the Department of Finance on May 14, 2015 capitulated, stating in a letter it would no longer oppose Twentynine Palms’ last remaining redevelopment agency project.
The city is using the firm of Tilden-Coil to serve as the project manager.
The project has been adjusted from what it was originally conceived as. The work to begin this month relates to the Community Center and the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center elements of the current plan.
Eventually, the $12 million in tax allocation bonds that were issued for the project will be augmented with another $9 million in funding, and the $21 million project, centering on the property at Twentynine Palms Highway and Yucca Avenue, will establish a “pocket park,” from which a paseo, or walkway, will wend to what is to become the Twentynine Palms Community Center, a cultural center and the new Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center. Other elements of the project include the undergrounding of utility lines, specific infrastructure and utility improvements, and the construction of sewage lines which are to lead from downtown businesses to a package treatment plant.
-Mark Gutglueck

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