By Marshall Smith, Staff Reporter
and J.P. Crumrine, Editor
Editor’s note: At the end of each year, the Town Crier looks back at the headlines that made the biggest local news during the year. The summaries of five major stories are presented here in the second of a two-week series. Readers are encouraged to comment on these and other 2011 stories.
Abundant business changes
In a normal year, stories about the changing Idyllwild business profile appear quarterly. This year, because of rapid turnover due to the economy, we wrote one almost every month.
The major local stories were the reopening and revitalization of the Pine Cove Market and Gas station in April and the continued rejuvenation, under President Nick Todd, of the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce. Chamber membership is holding steady with 119 business memberships and 32 individual memberships.
In June, the Tahquitz Inn reopened under Rainbow Inn owners John Simpson and Lon Mercer, and co-owners Allan and Sheryl Lehmann, as the Apple Blossom Inn. Brendan Collier’s Hub Cyclery expanded to a larger location in Oakwood, and Idyllwild got its own psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas B. Jackson, M.D.
In July, Lanny and Lorraine Hardy became the new owners of the iconic Creek House Restaurant. The Hardys added lunch and expanded hours. And Jay and Steve Johnson took over management of Village Market, a property and building they own.
In August, The Grey Squirrel closed, taking with it a business moniker long associated with Idyllwild, and the Quiet Creek Living Room Gallery took over its location later in the year.
In September, the Mountain Restaurant, whose ownership had changed in January, closed its doors under new owners Jambey and Emily Dixon. The Idyllwild Health Center, long an anchor at Fern Valley Corners, relocated to the former chiropractic offices on Lower Pine Crest. Idyllwild Pines installed a new management team hoping to be more collaborative and to build bridges to the community.
In October, Richard “Dick” Rennick, founder of the national franchise American Leak Detection, bought Idyllwild Vacation Rentals and installed it in the Village Center complex. Also in October, ARF and Sadie’s Clinic moved to a new site on Highway 243, previously Idyllwild Technologies.
In November, Julie Johnson bought B’s Mountain of Books and renamed it INK. Doug Yagaloff and Scott Douglas put their popular Mountain Harvest Market up for sale, because both owners were, as Yagaloff said, “burned out.” They intend to keep it open and fully staffed and stocked until and if the right buyer is found. The Cigar Box opened in The Fort with tobacco and accessories.
Also in November, Patty McKee’s Candy Cupboard, bucking a history of business busts, celebrated 30 years at the same location. Energy Transfer Partners L.P., operating as Amerigas, bought longtime Hill propane supplier Ballard Gas. Locals Dave and Julie Dillon bought the popular Idyll Awhile Wine Shoppe & Bistro in Village Centre. Also Curves became a Village Centre tenant because their previous location is now part of the new library project.
In December, Patricia Cruz and Curtis Henshaw opened Angels in the Cottage in the old Rustic Cabin location.
“No new taxes, no tax increases without popular approval” were the promises emanating from legislative bases such as Washington, D.C., and Sacramento in 2011. However, the lexicon of elected officials distinguishes between taxes, which pay for the government that serves and protects us, and fees, the price or cost of specific services. The distinction is analogous to an entrance fee to a state park or paying your accountant to prepare your tax return.
In 2011, as a result of this distinction, the California Legislature imposed a fire prevention fee on property located within a State Regulated Area (SRA) — essentially an area which depends on CAL FIRE for fire protection. The Hill is in an SRA.
In July, the Legislature authorized an annual $150 fire prevention fee and assigned implementation to the state’s Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. In November, a newly constituted board approved a $150 fee, which could be reduced if the property were within an independent fire protection district such as Idyllwild.
During the intervening months, the amount of the fee level bobbed more than a dribbling basketball. In August, the board set the fee at $90, with a $45 reduction for a local fire district and another $10 reduction for properties that pass local inspections.
When the governor’s office learned of the proposed regulations and that the estimated revenue fell considerably short of its estimated collections, $50 million this year and about $200 million annually, amendments to the July legislation were drafted.
Two weeks later in September, state officials submitted the changes to the Legislature, which included raising the fee to $175 and setting the minimum fee level at $150. The proposed changes would allow for a $25 reduction for properties where the owner already pays a fee to a local fire district.
The Legislature took no action on the proposed changes before adjourning in October. However, during that month, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed four new members to the board. At its November meeting, the board rescinded its August decision and voted to impose the $150 fee with a $35 exemption for local fire districts.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA) stated that once a property owner pays the newly imposed fee, the association would file a lawsuit to upend the whole idea as an illegally imposed tax.
Karl Vosburgh, HTJA executive director, emphasized that one aspect of their suit will be the double taxation situation that exists in several special fire districts such as Idyllwild. They are prepared to go to court once the state collects the initial fees, Vosburgh said.
Some of the fire protection fees can be used for grants to local fire districts or fire safe councils for fire prevention activities such as creating defensive space, sheltered fuel breaks or evacuation plans The board’s first 2012 meeting will address the fire fee implementation regulations.
Cohen replaces Lowman
For 25 years, since the founding of Idyllwild Arts Academy (IA) in 1986, Bill Lowman served as president, headmaster and fundraiser in chief. In 2011, the school’s leadership changed.
The school that exists today is there in large part because of Lowman’s vision and his ability to sell its mission to strategic partners. Survival in the early years was also due to Lowman’s creative risk-taking, as he came to call the edgy bets he made to support the nascent school. Lowman guided the growth of academy enrollment from 80 to nearly 300, an annual budget from $800,000 to $15 million, expanded full-time employees from 18 to more than 100 and stabilized a summer program that had been losing money.
On June 17, Brian D. Cohen, dean of faculty and teacher at Putney School in Vermont, became IA’s second president, moved into Lowman’s old office and took responsibility for guiding IA’s future. Cohen shares with Lowman a commitment to providing substantial scholarship aid to students. “The money Bill has raised has gone into the kids,” said Cohen. “Scholarship assistance is off the charts.” At IA, 67 percent of the student body receives aid. At Putney the figure is 40 percent. According to Cohen, “Twenty percent is high for many independent [private] schools.”
Prior to taking up his duties, Cohen talked to the Town Crier about what he finds exceptional about IA. “It’s the investment of creative trust by faculty and mentors in each student with the result that everybody here, students as well as faculty, knows what they’re doing.”
In making the transfer to Cohen, Lowman said, “I’m handing off the school to Brian that I had hoped to do. There are many people who have been working on this for many years. This has been a team effort.”
Cohen is focusing on an ambitious expansion of the academy’s physical plant and building IA’s endowment. Like Lowman, Cohen is an artist, a distinguished printmaker whose books and etchings are held by major private and public collections throughout the country.
In assuming the reins, Cohen said, “I take on leadership of the school with great respect for its traditions, with humility and admiration for all that Bill Lowman has done, and with enormous excitement and anticipation.”
Progress on the construction of a new Idyllwild Library proceeded methodically and gained momentum during 2011. In December, a construction contract was awarded to Hamel Contracting, Inc. of Murrieta. Unless something unexpected occurs, by this time next year, the Hill will have a new and larger library.
The current library, one of the county’s most popular on a per-resident basis, was outgrowing its current location on Lower Pine Crest Avenue more than a decade ago. In 2000, the Friends of the Idyllwild Library approached Suburban Propane about donating a small strip (2,000 square feet) of land to the library.
Although Suburban was willing, getting the county to approve the gift and use became an unending negotiation, which two 3rd District Supervisors, first Jim Venable, and then Jeff Stone, had to mediate.
In August 2010, the county Board of Supervisors authorized $1 million for the acquisition and renovation of a new site for the Idyllwild Library. At that time, Stone’s staff expected the new library would open in the first quarter of 2011.
In November, three months later, the Supervisors authorized the Economic Development Agency (EDA) to negotiate the purchase of the Cornet building in Strawberry Plaza for the new library site. At that time, optimistic participants expected the new facility to be open by the third quarter of 2011.
In early 2011, architects began meeting with the Friends to design the new facility. Participants hoped construction would begin in the spring and the library would open in November.
The planners discussed seating, book storage, outdoor areas, skylights and interior design, including a possible fireplace. By May, the architects and Friends realized that planning and designing the facility had and would require more time than originally expected.
“The Friends were offering very detailed suggestions,” said project lead architect Dan Benner of HMC Architects in Ontario. “They know how a library should operate. The process has been very collaborative.” Noting the extra couple of months of consultation, Benner said “This has been well worth the last couple of months. The project is now 10 times the project it would have been had we stuck to the original plans.”
To utilize the best of local libraries, the Friends took field trips to other new county libraries. By July, EDA staff projected completion of the library project in the spring of 2012. But the design plans were still incomplete and a request for contractors was not issued until October. On Oct. 20, EDA staff and Friends met with prospective contractors at the Strawberry Plaza site. Final bids were due in early November.
Finally the construction contract for $1.7 million was awarded at the board’s Dec. 20 meeting at a total project cost of $2.2 million. Hamel did not expect to begin work until January 2012 and the contract provides for a six-month schedule to complete work. Friends and residents expect the new Idyllwild library to open during the summer of 2012.
Community dialogue produces action
In a year marked by disunity and divisions, a yearlong effort to build bridges of greater understanding within the community is bearing fruit. After two hate crime incidents in 2010, a small group began meeting with a facilitator and mediator from the Department of Justice to discuss the incidents and how best to respond.
After nine months of preparation, the organizing group hosted two community dialogue meetings at Idyllwild School in June 2011. The goals of the meetings were to help participants understand what community values they want to promote as part of their town’s identity, and what each person could do to help foster a community where tolerance and mutual respect are prevalent.
Attendees at those meetings coalesced around three projects they believed could further those goals: a free film series themed around diversity issues; a family mentoring training geared to producing trained volunteers who could assist at-risk families; and a “neighborhood watch” that could extend throughout all Hill communities and enhance neighborhood safety.
The first two ideas found support within the community and are functioning. The free film series, “Seeing Diversity,” screens every other Sunday at 4:15 p.m. at the Rustic Theatre and is followed by a discussion group at the Quiet Creek Living Room Gallery next door to the Rustic. Organizers chose to screen major films that examined issues of sexual identity, HIV-AIDS discrimination, autism and homelessness, racial discrimination and religious persecution.
Three films were shown in 2011 and three more films will be presented in 2012. The next ones are the documentary “Paper Clips,” about a middle school Holocaust project; “To Kill a Mockingbird” about race discrimination in the deep South, and “Milk” about sexual orientation prejudice and political activism.
The family mentoring project graduated six community members, trained in a process created by Family Promise (www.familypromise.org). These mentors have been trained to assist economically vulnerable families. The group, headed by Allan Morphett, will next meet with local service organizations to explain the mentoring program. Service groups, churches, camps and other organizations that are aware of community members in need can provide referrals.
Editor’s note: Staff Reporter Marshall Smith is actively involved in the community dialogue, film series and family mentoring programs.