Approved Minutes, November 10, 2014 Meeting


Regular Meeting – November 10, 2014 – 3:00 p.m.
73-710 Fred Waring Drive,
Conference Room 115 Palm Desert, CA 92260



John J. Benoit, Riverside County Supervisor, District IV
Jean Benson, City of Palm Desert
Buford Crites, State Assembly Appointee – (Chairman)
Kathy Dice, California State Parks
Patrick Kemp, Natural Resources Agency
Eddy Konno, California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Chris Mills, City of Palm Springs
Allan Muth, University of California
Cheryl NaBahe, Bureau of Land Management
Larry Olinger, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
Eraina Ortega, California State Department of Finance
David Smith, Joshua Tree National Park Service
Mary Roche, City of Indian Wells
Ellen L. Trover, Senate Rules Committee Appointee
Ted Weill, City of Rancho Mirage – (Vice-Chairman)


Kathy DeRosa, City of Cathedral City
John Donnelly, Wildlife Conservation Board
Kristy Franklin, City of La Quinta
Scott Matas, City of Desert Hot Springs
Joan Taylor, Governor’s Appointee
John Ladley, U.S. Forest Service (Non-voting Member)


Jim Karpiak, Executive Director
Kerrie Godfrey, Associate Director/AGPA


Britt Wilson, City of Rancho Mirage


1.0       Call to Order & Introductions

Chairman Crites declared a quorum with 13 voting members present at 3:05 p.m.

2.0       Approval of Minutes of September 8, 2014 meeting

Chairman Crites asked if there were any comments, additions or corrections to the minutes; there being none, the September 8, 2014 minutes were approved as distributed with one abstention.

3.0       Public Comments on Items Not on the Agenda

There were no public comments.

4.0       Closed Session

There were no closed session items.

5.0       Action Items – Public Hearing

Item 5.1: Jim Karpiak reported about the status of the Northern Coachella Valley hiking trails. At the last meeting the Board identified 5 trails out of the Northern Coachella Valley Hiking Trails Plan for potential development; Corkhill and Pushawalla sites were recognized as the easiest and most economical. Long Canyon, Golf Center Drive and Keys View follow in the priority list, which staff has been focusing on. Most significantly, the Conservancy has retained a local wildlife biologist to look at the potential habitat impact and to refine the hiking routes  in  order  to  avoid  and  minimize  habitat  impacts.  He  also  developed detailed cost estimates for the environmental review and the construction of the Corkhill and Pushawalla trails. Further work has been done on the Long Canyon and Golf Center Drive trails; however, the Keys View trail site has turned out to be more difficult than we thought so no further work will be done for this trail for the time being. So today, we are seeking for the Boards authorization to spend up to $145,000 to develop the environmental review for the Corkhill and Pushawalla trails and then complete further due diligence on the other two trails. All would occur within the next two years with the hope that we could open the first two trails by the winter of 2016.

The Corkhill trail is a loop trail and mostly already exists in terms of social trails, old roads and OHV tracks. What is contemplated for this project is the construction of a graded parking lot about 50×75 feet with construction of a berm to prevent flooding and then adding signage to the existing trail area. Jim pointed out an additional area on the trail where the trail would need some construction and  rerouting  to  replace  some  existing  social  trials  that  trespass  into  some habitat areas. This construction is approximately 7/10th  of a mile and is can be done by hand. As for the environmental review; we are going well beyond the requirements under the Multiple Species Plan in terms of habitat analysis. We will be conducting surveys for this trail for the flat tailed horned lizard, Lecontes thrasher and burrowing owls. We will also conduct focus surveys for the fringe toed lizard. The trailhead would be located on CVCC property. BLM as well as CNLM own the adjacent properties. Although the CNLM land around the trail is soon to be transferred to CVCC for management purposes. There seems to be a lot of excitement from the community, the trial also connects to other potential trails under the Northern Coachella Valley Trails Plan so it could be expanded in the future.

The second site is the Pushawalla Canyon site located off of Dillon Road and Tinker Rd. The trailhead would be a small parking area and could be accessed without a 4WD vehicle. There is an existing 1.3 mile roadway where hikers can walk into the Canyon although the canyon itself extends 10 miles into Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP) up to Geology Tour Rd. and is currently recognized as a Joshua tree Trails Corridor. The trial is mostly located on land owned by BLM and FODM. Similarly the environmental review will exceed the MSHCP requirements. We are planning surveys for the burrowing owl and desert tortoise. This trail only requires minimal work such as a graded road/parking area and trailhead kiosk. There is no trail construction needed as the trail already exists and has been subject to human use. So, we would complete a little clean-up work and put up small directional signage to keep people from getting lost.

David  Smith,  JTNP  Superintendent,  noted  that  they  are  looking  into  the possibility of constructing a vehicle barrier in the canyon to discourage off road vehicle use which is occurring right now. So that is one thing that the JTNP Service will be doing to assist with the management of this trail system as well as partnering with BLM for signage at the parking lot.

Mr. Ollinger asked if there is a possibility in a flash flood that we will have our improvements washed out.    Jim responded that there are not many improvements; the parking area is outside of the natural wash area so we don’t think that the area would be washed out.  Obviously signs or a kiosk could get washed out but those are not difficult to replace. Chairman Crites added that the old road that goes from the parking area to the JTNP boundary has suffered the effects of wash out and is difficult to use and it will remain that way. Olinger, responded by saying, so, if it did wash out it would be a minimum expense to replace it. Jim responded, yes.

So as far as the environmental review; we haven’t completed that yet and we expect this will be a big part of the expense; possibly over $40,000. It would be a CEQA process with a mitigated negative declaration under NEPA because there is federal land involved and we believe that a biological assessment will be all that is required. We don’t expect any adverse impacts to species based on the analysis by the wildlife biologist. Based on the findings in the review, we may have to do more environmental work or possibly reroute the trails, everything is subject to change after further environmental review. The major expense on the construction is the grading of the parking area for the both sites and some trail construction at Corkhill. We are contemplating using CALFIRE prisoners to do the work under technical and police supervision as appropriate; saving a significant amount of funds on construction. The biologist, Geary Hund, obtained some estimates for the construction costs which we expect to cost around $74k. We hope to save money by getting volunteer assistance through construction donations or perhaps some environmental professionals could help do some of the surveys with appropriate certifications. The costs are a little higher than we anticipated based on Herman’s Hike costs because we have more species involved based on the habitat in this area. Additionally, on the Corkhill Trail we are contemplating completing trail construction to avoid impact to the habitat so that is the reason for the additional costs.

Funding is available from Prop 12; the 2000 Parks Bond and the funds will expire if not used by 2016. The use of these funds is absolutely appropriate for this sort of recreational purpose. In terms of the procurement process; we are looking for a budget item approval for authorization to spend these funds. We had initially contemplated working through the Friends where they would seek a grant to complete this project however, they currently have staffing limitations and Geary Hund has now taken a full time federal job so his services are no longer available for this project. He may still be available on a limited basis to manage the project and then we could separately bid for the environmental and construction portion of the contract with FODM or another nonprofit for volunteer work. We are hoping to complete the environmental and title work completed by spring as some of the habitat surveys need to be done in winter and spring. Hopefully we can get our approvals and start construction by fall of 2015 and goal would be to open in winter of 2016.

Jim continued to discuss the other two trails. The Long Canyon trail would extend up from the bottom of the valley floor to the top of the canyon. The Mohave Land Trust is currently working on acquiring the land at the top where they are contemplating installation of a trailhead. Our review of the environmental impact doesn’t show any problems or obstacles although this is a more complex project as clean up is needed and there are some public safety issues at the bottom of canyon that we need to address through some sort of MOU with BLM or some other agency to help with policing. The JTNP has expressed some concern about having a big barrier at the bottom of the canyon as it is a wider canyon, so therefore, more work to be done on this trail. Similarly the construction needed on the Golf Center Road Trail is similar to Corkhill; the trail will surround a dune area which is already developed around the perimeter. The construction would be minimal; no significant habitat obstacles have been identified. We also have to coordinate with the City of Indio to get title to the Trailhead area. Indio Staff is willing to donate the land but, there is a process to go through to get this accomplished. There may also be some issues based on the habitat analysis and re-routing the trail which may require some negotiations with the private property owners.

The fifth trail extends from the valley floor to Keys View at the lower boundary of JTNP. This trail requires much more construction based on its geography and we recently learned that it is not in a designated JTNP trail corridor so the regulatory process will be much lengthier.  So, at this point we recommend holding off on this trail so we can continue work on the first four trails.

David from JTNP concurred with Jim and said the regulatory process for a Keys View trail would be long.

Jim responded by recommending to move forward on the first two trails and continue  with  our  due  diligence  on  the  second  two  trails.  He  strongly recommends this project as it is part of our mission and there seems to be a lot of support from volunteers, hiking clubs, and non-profit organizations. This could also help get support for the Conservancy and its mission in general.

Ellen Trover moved that the Board authorize 1) expenditure of up to $145,000 in Prop 12 funds to support the 2014-15 Project and further due diligence activities on future potential trails project; and 2) proceeding with environmental review, entitlement and other project planning activities related the Corkhill Road and Pushawalla Canyon trailheads and associate trails, and upon receipt of environmental clearances and entitlements, implementing construction of those trails in accordance with applicable state law and Conservancy procurement policies.

Al Muth commented that although these are good projects and the trails are well planned he believes as he pointed out to our consultant, Geary, the locations of the trails have potential problems with Fringe Toed Lizards. Al really would like to take these hikes when they are done but, having said before, philosophically his priority would be spending the money on land acquisition before we go to any trailhead improvements and such. So, I sure hope you pass this project but, he noted he was going to have to vote no just to be consistent.

Chairman Crites pointed out for the colleagues on teleconference call that John Benoit and Jean Benson had joined the meeting at 315.

David Smith from JTNP noted that his unit has 8 patrol rangers to patrol tis vast area. He also noted that there was a dead body found in one of the canyons in the southern portion of the JTNP last week. He continued by saying that the last time he had a ranger in one of those canyons was probably over a year ago. The neat thing about these trail projects is it provides protection through use by visitors into those areas. Additionally, he pointed out that because their partners at  BLM  would  be  managing  the  trailhead  there  is  going  to  be  more  of  a monitoring presence in the area from this as well as from citizens hiking. The JTNP sees this project as a “win-win” scenario. We often get donations of property from the MLT and you folks helping us to preserve our land as well but often we don’t have the resources to protect those areas and this is a nice way to actually provide those resources to protect these areas.

Ellen Trover moved for approval; John  J. Benoit seconded  the  motion. The motion passed with one nay and thirteen ayes.

Item  5.2:  Jim  Karpiak  reported  about  the  Consideration  of  Proposition  1 Implementation.

 Jim noted that the water bond, Proposition 1, was voted on last Tuesday and passed by the voters. The Conservancy Directors recently met in Sacramento and have been told by the Governor’s Office and Resources Secretary that they are very serious about implementing Prop 1 as fast as possible. The hope is to begin granting funds by July 1, 2015. As discussed at the last meeting, there are some detailed procedure requirements in the bond itself that need to be addressed. For example, the Conservancy for its $10M bond funds needs to draft competitive solicitation and evaluation guidelines and they have to be published with three public hearings about them before they are adopted. Then they need to be approved by the Natural Resources Agency (RA). We are awaiting some direction from the RA and the Attorney General on how best to proceed with this process.

While waiting we are working with other Conservancy Directors to prepare draft proposals. The key task now is to draft guidelines that both substantively reflect the water action plan requirements and will be used to judge the quality of proposals as well as the procedural requirements. The proposed schedule would get us approved guidelines by March or April but, it could move faster. The RA is going to be providing draft or sample guidelines so hopefully that will make the process move faster. This water bond has much stricter requirements than prior water bonds for how we use the funds. For example, for property acquisitions, we will need demonstrate how the project implements the Water Action Plan.  Also, there will also be other types of projects such as restorations of habitat areas or ponds, flood prevention or the like.

We’ve already started talking to the various water districts, the Salton Sea Authority and other agencies that are more involved in water preservation, etc., in hopes of not only getting input from them but getting them interested in providing applications for grant funds or partnering with our current non-profits on joint projects. Based on the input received from the RA, staff plans to provide draft guidelines in January for board input and based on that we would be able to publish them for the public hearings to occur later in the year. I am open to having volunteers help on this if there is anybody who has particular expertise or just an idea.  I also may contact some of you as I am puzzling through ideas. At this point I am looking for any direction if you have any to provide. Jim asked for questions or comments. No comments or questions were made.

Item 5.3: Approval of the Meeting Schedule for 2015.

Mary Roche moved for approval, John J. Benoit seconded and the board voted unanimously to approve the motion.

Item 6.0: Reports.

Item 6.1: Kerrie Godfrey reminded the members of the ethics training course required by 12/31/2014. Need alternates also, federal has their own.

Item 6.2: Jim Karpiak updated the Board on acquisition planning activities.  He noted that we are coordinating with FODM in selecting new areas to send out letter of interest to willing sellers. There are also some ongoing negotiations for larger projects in work. The Conservancy has an appraisal in progress for the Palm Hills Project; 2,800 acres in the monument. We have also completed an appraisal for the potential purchase of the Shumway Ranch which is 640 acres off of Highway 74. This project is complicated by some houses on the site so we are looking at potential resolutions to these issues. He noted that he has also been performing outreach to other organizations and non-profits; the Center for Natural Land Management is interested in purchasing some property in Dos Palmas so they may be looking to the Conservancy for a possible grant.

Jim also provided an update on the legislation to include Indio and Coachella as members of the Conservancy Board. He noted that we were not able to get it into the  hopper  last  year  in  time  for  the  legislation  to  be  heard  so  we  are contemplating doing it this year. We’ve submitted it to the RA for approval to be submitted as part of an official state departmental legislation but, we have not heard back from them yet. However, we’ve gotten the go ahead from the department to have local legislators introduce it as a non sponsor bill.

Item 6.3: Board member comments.

Buford Crites thanked Jean Benson and Kathy DeRosa for their service and congratulated them on their retirements. He also welcomed David Smith as a new Superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park.