July 26, 2011

'Smoketree painter' Carl Bray dies at 94

Artist Carl Bray with author and friend Ann Japenga

Written by Coburn Palmer and Mariecar Mendoza
The Desert Sun

Carl Bray, a famous desert artist and “smoketree painter” who lived in Indian Wells and built the Carl Bray house and gallery along Highway 111, died Saturday morning from natural causes in Banning. He was 94.

J. Patrick Bray called his father “absolutely complex,” and said while he remembers his father painting, he also said Carl Bray easily could have been an engineer.

“He built a crazy steam car out of an old golf cart he bought that we thought was going to blow up on him one day, but no, it never did, and he just drove it around the house,” he said, laughing.

Bray was born in 1917 in Prague, Okla. He studied art during the Great Depression at Miami College in the Dust Bowl state, while working on farms to pay his tuition.

He moved west to find work in 1936 and landed a job with the railroad in Southern California, where he worked for more than 40 years.

He married his wife, Luella, in 1939 and moved 20 miles east of Niland.

The railroad job took Bray and his wife to the Los Angeles area during WWII, where they bought property in rural El Monte, built a house and started their family of four.

In the early 1950s, Bray bought a Highway 111 frontage lot in Indian Wells for $1,000. Working weekends and vacations, he built a house and gallery, and the family moved to the desert in 1953.

At the time there was little development in Indian Wells. The Brays' neighbors included a few cabins, a dance hall, two small groceries, two gas stations, a dance hall and a café.

Bray continued working for the railroad while his wife ran the gallery. In the early 1960s, the Brays started to spend summers in Taos, where he had a gallery on the plaza for several years.

Bray retired from the railroad and continued to paint. His paintings are owned by celebrities and held by the city of Indian Wells in its permanent collection.

The couple sold their Indian Wells property at the turn of the century and moved to Banning.

His wife Luella died in 2008, and the 50-year-old property in Indian Wells, with its signature paint palette sign, was demolished in 2010. The Indian Wells City Council is still discussing plans to replace it with a memorial park.

“Carl was a person that you kind of felt that you'd always known very well,” said Adele Ruxton, president of the Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation

The funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Fellowship in the Pass Church, 650 Oak Valley parkway in Beaumont.

He is survived by his children Mary Weinhold (Bill), Sylvia Bray (Bernardo Larque), J. Patrick Bray (Linda), Michael Bray (Patt); nine grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren.

July 21, 2011

County Route Marker Program gets its kickoff on Route 66

Highland Community News

San Bernardino County, CA -- No highway in the world has captured the hearts and minds of travelers as much as Route 66, which is why the County of San Bernardino plans to designate a portion of this roadway "County Route 66" as it establishes the County Route Marker Program.

Board of Supervisors Vice-Chairman Brad Mitzelfelt initiated the program after noticing route markers in other California counties. A portion of historic Route 66 in his First District was the natural choice to launch the program, with other routes to be added in the future.

"Marking specially designated roadways will help motorists navigate the largest county in America by creating route numbers that won't change as drivers enter and exit city and county areas," Vice-Chairman Mitzelfelt said. "Signage along the route will highlight and celebrate sites of cultural and historical interest, generate tourism, and promote the county's image."

Vice-Chairman Mitzelfelt is using $45,000 of his office's discretionary funding to pay for the signage on the route. No federal dollars or other funding sources will be tapped for this effort.
More than 250 miles of this iconic highway run the length of San Bernardino County from Upland through Needles, making a portion of Route 66 by far the most appropriate place to launch the County Route Marker Program, the first to be added in the state since 1983. Signs placed at various intervals along the route will serve as "bread crumbs" for travelers to follow as they explore significant landmarks.

County Route 66 will begin on National Trails Highway in the unincorporated community of Oro Grande at the border of the City of Victorville, continue north onto Main Street in the City of Barstow, continue east on Interstate 40, travel north on Nebo Street near Barstow, head east on National Trails Highway, and then north on Goffs Road to its junction with US-95.

Cultural and historical sites along this alignment include the City of Barstow and the communities of Daggett, Newberry Springs, Ludlow, Amboy, Cadiz, Chambless, Essex, and Goffs, as well as the Mojave National Preserve. This alignment can be expanded to include additional portions of or all of Route 66 at a later date.

The California County Route Marker Program was established in 1958 to mark county routes of major importance and public interest that are constructed and marked to sufficient safety standards. San Bernardino County will become the 43rd of California's 58 counties to participate in the program.

The program requires the county and the cities through which the routes pass to adopt resolutions formally establishing a specific county route. The City of Barstow next month plans to consider a resolution to establish County Route 66, which would authorize the posting of signs within city. Once Barstow acts, the Board of Supervisors will consider adoption.

"I appreciate Barstow's partnership in this initial effort establishing a County Route Marker Program in San Bernardino County," Vice-Chairman Mitzelfelt said. "I have no doubt other cities will want to establish similar partnerships for roadways through their communities."

The county has received letters of endorsement from the California Historic Route 66 Association and the California Route 66 Museum.

July 7, 2011

Commission will reduce fee used to protect habitats

Irony: Halt to Eagle Mountain impacted enviro plans to buy critical habitat

Coachella Valley Multiple Species
Habitat Conservation Plan area
Written by Keith Matheny

Coachella Valley -- A developer fee that supports a valleywide species habitat protection plan will be reduced.

The Coachella Valley Conservation Commission, which consists of representatives from the nine valley cities, Riverside County and local water agencies, plans to reduce the mitigation fee supporting the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.

The plan protects 240,000 acres of open space and 27 plant and animal species in and around the Coachella Valley, including the threatened desert tortoise, peninsular bighorn sheep and desert pupfish.

The planned fee reduction is $130 per acre for commercial or industrial development, to $5,600 from $5,730.

The fee will drop $30 per acre for developments of up to eight units in affected areas, to $1,254 from $1,284.

Tom Kirk, Coachella Valley Association of Governments executive director, said the fee reductions are prompted by a new “nexus study” required of governments to occasionally evaluate the appropriateness of fees charged for new development.

Declining property values due to the struggling economy did not have a large impact on the fee, Kirk said, because the properties often purchased for habitat protection are remote and less desirable for building, which tends to keep land values more flat.

The habitat protection program hit a potential snag in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling overturning a land exchange that in effect halted the Eagle Mountain Landfill near Joshua Tree National Park.

The multiple species plan was counting on $250 million in long-term funding from the landfill, Kirk said, and developers potentially faced a huge fee increase without it.

But CVAG officials worked with federal and state agencies, environmentalists, and the local building industry, eventually striking a deal to continue with plans to buy critical habitat lands most susceptible to development over the next 20 to 30 years, but to shift lesser priority land purchases out up to 40 years, Kirk said.

“It drove down the fee a little bit, which was a heck of a lot better than raising it a whole lot,” he said.

Riverside County Planning Department Deputy Director Greg Neal said county supervisors are having staff return with an amended plan for a county board vote.

Other member governments will similarly have to amend their ordinances, he said.

Though the multi-species plan was adopted in 2007, to date it has raised only about $2 million in development impact fees — far below projections — due to the down economy, Kirk said.

“One of the many ironies of the plan is, when we have wildlife interests knocking at our door saying, ‘Why don't you acquire more land?' we need more development to do it,” he said.

The program has relied on about $5 million in federal grant funds and $13 million in CVAG transportation mitigation fees to pay for acquisitions, property management and biological monitoring, Kirk said.

“At CVAG, we look at it much like a developer does,” he said. “We'd rather pay a fee to help build interchanges on the I-10 than deal with the uncertainty and high cost of dealing with endangered species on a case-by-case basis.”