Janet Armstrong Johnston | Ep 104

Listen to the episode here.

Originally from the Philadelphia area, Janet became enamored with the desert while traveling through New Mexico on a family vacation to visit her dad’s one and only uncle in San Diego. Driving through the desert she thought, “I have to come back to this place.”

Attending school for architecture in Cincinnati, Janet decided she wanted to get into the construction side of the business and through a co-op program at the college, she'd heard about Habitat for Humanity and landed a co-op in Atlanta, GA. While there, she caught Albuquerque architect Antoine Predock on the cover of Time magazine - this was her way back to the desert.

Though the Predock office continued to say no co-op opportunities were available, Janet remained hopeful and persistent. She drove to Albuquerque, having no interview appointment. While there, Janet worked at the youth hostel where she was staying and picked up a job waitressing at the local pancake house. The people were unique and interesting and she quickly realized she wanted to live in this kind of environment. And she finally ended up with a six month work session with the Predock firm.

Though Janet thought she might continue her schooling in New Mexico, her last co-op experience was in Berkeley, CA, where she was eventually hired on with a firm where she discovered straw bale construction. The firm received a call to build a straw bale home for composer Lou Harrison in Joshua Tree, known today as Harrison House Music, Arts and Ecology, and Janet found herself in Joshua Tree to work on the project. This project would also be the beginning of Janet's interaction with the San Bernardino County planning, development, land-use and code enforcement departments.

Janet's ability to navigate county codes and ordinances became very useful later, in her role helping to fend off what became know as 'Alta Mira', a proposed 248-home, gated community on about 100 acres of land in Joshua Tree. Janet's knowledge and dedication was instrumental in this matter and after 10 years of, the developers decided to move on. You can read all about it here.

When Janet arrived in Joshua Tree, she knew only one person, George, who was associated with the Harrison House project. There was no Crossroads, just Park Center Deli, known today as Park Rock Café, next to the JTNP Visitors Center. This was Janet’s social scene until she was introduced to the local radio station, which helped her get more information about events happening in the community.

Our conversation about the County and the former Alta Mira project leads us into a discussion of how and where neighbors can get involved in the community, so as not to be caught off-guard about the goings on around town and make their voices heard. We also discuss the serious crisis of a shortage of long term rentals, multi-family units or apartments in Joshua Tree, one that Janet sees more and more local families with school-aged children experiencing, and strongly suggests it would behoove the community to come together to talk about these issues in proactive, rather than reactive, ways.

Janet's Company - StrongArm Construction

AAA Map - Indian Country