New residents to the Morongo Basin seek work-life balance while posing urban challenges

Don Simkovich

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A view of Yucca Valley housingJeffrey Poland, Broker, Coldwell Banker Roadrunner

The High Desert is luring people from Los Angeles to settle in the towns of Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms. Toss in Pioneertown for good measure.

The state of housing is a topic under study this week as the Yucca Valley Town Council will hold a planning session, asking the public for input to guide residential development while preserving the region’s environment and neighborly ambiance.

The meeting takes place Tuesday, Aug. 10, at 6 p.m. in the Yucca Room of the Yucca Valley Community Center, on Dumosa Avenue, north of Twentynine Palms highway. Click here to access the planning commission’s meeting information.

Moving in is nothing new, but ...

The migration is nothing new and has been happening for the past 60 years, says Realtor Jeffrey Poland, the past president and incoming president for 2022 of the Joshua Tree Gateway Association of Realtors.

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Jeffrey Poland, Broker, Coldwell Banker Roadrunner RealtyJeffrey Poland

“People have always been moving out of LA and buying less expensive homes in this area,” he says.

His parents packed up and moved from East LA, re-locating to the Morongo Basin where he grew up and is now an 18-year veteran of the local real estate industry.

Today’s homebuyers are different.

But what has changed in the current migration are the expectations of homebuyers. In the past, families who settled in to the surrounding area of Joshua Tree worked locally in the Valley and in the Palm Springs area. But now new residents who sold their homes in Los Angeles often have enough equity to purchase a home for weekend use or use it to telecommute to the jobs they still have in the urban sprawl along the coast.

The influx of homebuyers

New residents are also streaming in from Orange County and San Diego County and settling in the eastern reaches of San Bernardino County.

In the past, new residents would commute to the Coachella Valley for jobs. But now there’s work in the local schools and hospital districts.

Telecommuting was already happening but intensified due to the COVID-19 virus which forced workers out of the offices in 2020 and into alternative settings like their homes. It’s now possible to stay employed from a distance with firms around Los Angeles, Irvine, or San Diego.

If employees need to drive to the office once a week for an in-person meeting then they can easily do so, says Poland, because LA is less than three hours from the Morongo Basin area.

Poland says Joshua Tree and Pioneertown are the coveted addresses and he’s seen sales prices for desirable homes rise from the mid-1$50s into the $ 300,000 to $ 400,000 range. He says the north Joshua Tree area used to be “nothing, but now I see homes being created by LA architects.”

Rentals are also expensive and the growth has caused a backlash of resent against LA settlers.

Living in the age of hospitality spaces and selfies

Many see a profit potential throughout the Morongo Basin by establishing more Airbnb units to serve the burgeoning drove of tourists making their way into Joshua Tree National Park.

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Joshua Tree's unique scrub brush vegetation continues spreading in popularityLydia Koh, Unsplash

The National Park Service estimates that 2.4 million park visitors generated $122 million in economic benefits in 2020, despite the park being closed for about 50 days due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In 2015, data shows $96.7 million in spending and in 2016 that number hiked to $123 million.

Poland says Joshua Tree “used to be only German tourists and rock climbers,” but now the use of Airbnbs and the popularity of Instagram has changed the people-scape.

“People drive in from the cities to see the stars at night and snap selfies with Joshua trees during the day,” he noted.

The popularity of Stagecoach and the Coachella music festivals have also brought in traffic with concert-goers flooding into Pioneertown for dining with artists who make surprise appearances.

Investments in Airbnb properties will continue as individual investors and large-scale developers seek a piece of the continuing tourist economy. Hospitality is also causing a boom among cleaning businesses, remodeling and construction companies.

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The Juniper Room, Whisper Rock Ranch, Joshua TreeRoberto Nickson, Unsplash.com

Local residents who have built up equity are selling off and moving out of state to Utah, Texas, and Florida among other states.

Urbanization’s challenge

The Morongo Basin area is miles away from inner city Los Angeles, but the open spaces offer another opportunity for illegal pot farms. The local Hi Desert Weekender reports that aerial photography from October 2020 “identified 129 potentially illegal grow sites within the Joshua Basin boundaries” and about “34 million gallons of water are being used to support the illegal cultivation of marijuana.”

Illegal pot farms have boomed in business since Proposition 64 was passed in 2016. Cultivation and personal use was legalized while having an illegal farm changed from being a felony to a misdemeanor.

The area’s crime rate, according to City Data, rose by 23% compared to 2018 and in the last 5 years “Yucca Valley has seen increasing violent crime and decline of property crime.” Yucca Valley still has a lower crime rate than Desert Hot Springs and Palm Springs.

Nature still calls

Even though the area has become what Poland called a “mini-Sedona [Arizona]” there’s still plenty of nature to enjoy like off-roading.

The alpine forests of Big Bear with its rain and snow are just over an hour to the northwest. San Gorgonio is to the south and so is the greater Palm Springs area with golf courses throughout the Coachella Valley and the annual music festival of Coachella and Stagecoach in Indio.

Poland says, "It's like the Wild West."

That reference applies to both people and nature.

Also read the related article:

Yucca Valley is a California town people are moving to—not away from

For more outdoor information click on:

Joshua Tree National Park Association

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I interview entrepreneurs, and dig into the news around Southern California, giving a voice to business owners, artists and more. I also co-write the thriller novel series Tom Stone Detective Stories.

Pasadena, CA
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