YUCCA VALLEY — The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians are the new owners of a group of Joshua trees now growing in Yucca Valley but to be moved to landscape the tribe’s botanical gardens, honoring their history with native plants.
The Yucca Valley Planning Commission approved a native plant permit Tuesday, allowing Burrtec to move 23 Joshua trees on its project site near the Monterey Business Center.
The vote was 4-0 with Commissioner Margie Trandem excused from the meeting.
“This request is a little different,” Deputy Town Manager Shane Stueckle said. “Is it appropriate for these to be taken out of the area?”
The question was pondered by the commission without a single Yucca Valley resident in the audience.
“Survivability (of the Joshua trees) is the primary concern,” Stueckle said. “It’s a very emotional issue.”
In the past, the local government has held dozens of public hearings on native plants, Stueckle said.
This project “far exceeds anything in the native plant code,” created in 2010, Stueckle said.
“The Joshua trees are going to have a higher level of care,” Stueckle said.
Kathy Graham, a representative with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, spoke as well.
“We’re trying to create an educational trail,” Graham said. “It is very important to the tribe.”
Graham requested 18 of the smaller variety of Joshua trees since the larger trees are harder to transport and transplant. She said a biologist will care for them.
“The survival rate of the larger Joshua trees may not be viable,” she said.
Over the years the commission has heard from the public on both sides of the native plant issue, from environmentalists who sought to enhance protection of plants to developers who would have loosened regulations in order to spur growth.
In Tuesday’s approval, commissioners said the tribe will need a full consultation with Mike Branning, a Yucca Valley nursery owner with decades of experience with Joshua trees. Also, they will need to dig up the trees using a large spade versus a backhoe, since the space has a higher success rates, Stueckle said.
Commissioner James Henderson, who said he has been at the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians reservation, wondered about viability.
“I’ve never seen a Joshua tree ever in that area,” Henderson said.
After hearing a lot more details on the project, Henderson was pleased.
“I appreciate the level of detail you went into,” he said.
Scott Rice, a landscape architect on the project, also spoke Tuesday.
“The tribe is creating a botanic garden,” Rice said. “This is a very culturally significant project for the tribe. They are going to baby these trees.”
Rice, who has experience transporting trees from the Morongo Basin, said they have at least a 75 percent chance of survival.
Graham also promised to keep the planning commission up to date on the progress of the Joshua trees. “I’d be happy to come back anytime,” she said.
A third speaker, Mike Kraemer, said as the project manager he intends to follow all of the biologist’s recommendations. This includes making sure the new location’s holes are twice the size of the root ball and full of a vitamin B mix and nutrients.
“We’re going to do everything possible to make sure they all survive,” Kraemer said.
The future of all Joshua trees is currently being considered at the state level.
The Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group, filed a petition on Oct. 15 asking the California Fish and Game Commission to list the western Joshua tree as threatened under the state Endangered Species Act. If that designation were approved, it could end up curbing development on thousands of acres of private desert property.
Old Town murals and the future
The Yucca Valley Planning Commission also spent some time musing about murals in Old Town, such as the nostalgic Maytag man on Chet’s Appliance.
Owners of businesses with murals could face more regulations and code enforcement.
“Some people like the Chet’s mural and some people don’t,” Stueckle said. “Everyone has an opinion.”
Commissioner Brad Napientek said he is not a fan of allowing businesses to advertise within murals and does not approve of the Maytag man mural.
“To me this is advertising and I don’t think it is appropriate,” Napientek said.
Discussions have included grandfathering the older murals into a new mural program.
“We should embrace the energy that is happening,” Councilman Jim Schooler said.
Commissioner Clint Stoker it was disappointing to see the “Zen Spaceman” mural painted over at the direction of the town. Stoker said he is an advocate for the uniqueness of the area.
“It’s been tough for his business,” Stoker said of the mural’s removal from the walls of Desert Curios. “It’s not the same impact as the space guy.”
Stoker also suggested implementing an arts council to help foster the arts in downtown.
Murals on building walls do not comply with the town’s sign and mural ordinance, adopted in 2004.
In June, the commission’s discussion on Old Town murals and signs brought out a gathering of artists, Old Town business owners and residents worried the town’s code enforcement would push out a new wave of artistic entrepreneurs.
“The murals added life to the town,” said business owner Jeff Burges, owner of Desert Curios.
The commissioners did not take any action on mural regulations Tuesday, but the topic will return on future agendas.