June 7, 2008

New group tries to head off base expansion

High Desert Star

JOHNSON VALLEY — A new group called the Partnership for Johnson Valley reports giving a presentation about the Johnson Valley off-roading area to staff at the Twentynine Palms Marine base recently.

The group’s presentation was prompted to news the military is considering a portion of the Johnson Valley Open Access as one option for a base expansion.

The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Partnership for Johnson Valley’s presentation was part of an ongoing effort to exchange information with the Marines and show the impact an expansion would have on a diverse group of people.

The partnership identifies affected stakeholders as including land owners, off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, geocachers, historical organizations, mineralogists, equestrian groups, remote-control plane organizations, the film industry, other business groups and youth groups.

“The partnership is reaching out to all of the stakeholders who could be impacted by the expansion of the Twentynine Palms Marine base,” said chairman Harry Baker.

In a news release, partnership Executive Director Mark Howlett quotes one of the stakeholders as warning filmmakers would leave the state if Johnson Valley is closed to public use.

“Johnson Valley is critical to the film industry because it represents the largest open, unrestricted area in California where filmmakers can shoot 360-degree desert scenes,” Howlett quotes Sheri Davis, director of the Inland Empire Film Commission, as saying.

“Without Johnson Valley’s diversity and ease of use, the industry will simply leave California to film elsewhere.”

According to Davis, “Annually, Johnson Valley open-access represents 10,000 California-based film industry jobs.”

The original meeting with the military was orchestrated by Ed Waldheim, a past commissioner of the California OHV Commission who represented OHV interests in Sacramento for 10 years.

At the original meeting, a coalition of groups was asked to participate to represent local stakeholders. They were invited back by the military to give a formal presentation.

After their second meeting with the military, the coalition participants agreed to form a partnership and establish themselves as a non-profit under the California Trail Users Coalition.

Partnership leaders have been cooperatively working with the military and the stakeholders in an effort to explore alternatives to the proposed land expansion, Howlett states.

The partnership is led by chairman Harry Baker with Howlett as executive director and Wayne Nosala as secretary.

They are asking for the support of other interested people in the area and seeking new members.