YUCCA VALLEY — About 20 seniors of the Morongo Basin gathered in the Senior Center Thursday to discuss county services and other issues bothering the elders of the community with 3rd District Supervisor Dawn Rowe.
Rowe, who has been on the county board of supervisors since December, answered the attendees’ questions about affordable housing, code enforcement, who to contact for services and more.
“This district is interesting,” Rowe said. “Where we live, here in the desert, access to health care, access to anything we need is harder.”
Rowe, a Yucca Valley resident, said she is working on a few projects related to the Morongo Basin: night sky ordinances, the influx of short-term rentals and affordable housing.
Many of the attendees asked Rowe about ordinances governing Airbnbs and other vacation rentals and asked if they were benefiting the local community. These rentals reduce the number of houses on the market or available for rent, and this was concerning, they said, especially for retired seniors.
Rowe said the Airbnbs in Yucca Valley and in Twentynine Palms pay their transient occupancy taxes directly to the cities through Airbnb, but in unincorporated areas, like Joshua Tree and Morongo Valley, the TOT go directly into the county’s general fund.
While this is not ideal, she said, the county can’t return that money to the local areas because Airbnb does not break down which area of the district that the money comes from.
As far as her personal opinions about short-term rentals, Rowe said she thinks the government has to balance allowing residents to make money with keeping the desert rural.
“I’m a big fan of ways to make money and Airbnbs do that,” said Rowe. “I guess in government when we’re upsetting both sides, we’ve done something right.”
Rowe said one of her main concerns is code enforcement on those rentals. The county areas of the Morongo Basin do not have full-time code enforcement officers, so when a problem arises, the sheriff’s station often gets called or residents have to wait for code enforcement officers to drive from elsewhere in the county.
“The Sheriff’s Department is stretched really thin,” Rowe said. “We want to allow them to work on the high-priority calls and leave the code enforcement issues to code enforcement.”
Code enforcement officers handle illegal dumping, fire hazards and more.
“We need to have one full-time in here in my opinion,” Rowe said. “I just asked for two in our next year’s budget.”
Rowe encourages everyone with a smartphone to download the SBCode app, which allows residents of San Bernardino County to report code violations at any time of the day. Those without smartphones can call code enforcement 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at (909) 884-4056 or (760) 995-8140.
Rowe said the districts with the most reports have the easiest time getting allocated officers, so she encourages locals to say something if they see a violation.
Rowe went on to discuss some of the services available to seniors for housing and transportation.
“We have quite a few services out here but no one seems to work together,” said one of the attendees, Beverly Scott. “It’s hard for us to know where to go if we need help. Everything is so fragmented and so spread out that nobody knows where to go.”
Many in the room echoed this frustration.
“These are life-and-death matters,” said Martha Oswalt. “And this might be my last chance to speak up, but by golly I’m here.”
Rowe advised everyone that the best thing to do is to get informed, to know the local services and to be advocates for their community.
“The most important thing is to understand your resources,” Rowe said. “Get to the right person in the right department to make an impact.”
Rowe said while she might not be the best person to speak on local services, since many of them are run through the city or nonprofits, her office can always be contacted for information on county services.
To contact Rowe’s office, email SupervisorRowe@sbcounty.gov or call (760) 366-1488.