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Antelope

By LARRY KANTER Staff Reporter Like sibling rivals getting on in years, Palmdale and Lancaster twin cities of the high desert are putting their differences aside to focus on cooperative ways to increase their economic clout. Palmdale and Lancaster have each given away millions of dollars in development subsidies and forfeited tax revenues in their zeal to gain auto dealerships, shopping centers and other retailers. But those incentives have come at a price less money for police, parks and other services. As a result, the two cities are now weighing a plan to share future sales tax revenues. In theory, the proposal would reduce competition between them for new business since each community would share equally in the tax revenues. “The tens of millions of dollars that have been spent to bring retailers into the market could have been spent on other quality-of-life issues,” said Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford. The arrangement would be the first of its kind in California, but one that does not seem surprising for the Antelope Valley. Separated from the rest of Los Angeles County by the San Gabriel Mountains, the Antelope Valley is in many ways a region unto itself. And despite their often intense rivalry for jobs and business, the Valley’s two biggest cities Lancaster and Palmdale have been cooperating for years on a variety of fronts. In 1992, the two cities formed the Antelope Valley Transit Authority to coordinate local bus lines as well as shuttle service to Los Angeles. It also was five years ago that business leaders created the Antelope Valley Regional Partnership in an effort to boost the region’s industrial base. More recently, the Antelope Valley seceded from the South Coast Air Quality Management District to create its own Antelope Valley Air Pollution Control District. In doing so, the Antelope Valley was explicitly distancing itself from the AQMD, which has come under attack for being too tough on business, in particular small business. And the distancing may grow greater still. The Legislature last month approved a bill, AB 303, which would create a commission to study splitting L.A. County into two or three smaller entities including a new, separate county encompassing the Antelope Valley. “We are a distinct region, and there is a natural inclination towards self-determination,” said Assemblyman George Runner, R-Lancaster, who authored AB 303. “There is a great deal of change taking place in the Antelope Valley. There is a sense of regional self-sufficiency that is coming into its own.” If signed by Gov. Pete Wilson, AB 303 would authorize L.A. County and its cities to create and finance an advisory body called the Los Angeles County Division Authority, which would examine the pros and cons for splitting up the nation’s most populous county. “L.A. County, in terms of geographic size and the size of its population makes it very difficult to deliver services,” said Runner. “When you have a local government official who represents two million people, it hampers the ability of that official to truly be accountable and responsive.” The flurry of regional efforts raises the question: Are Palmdale and Lancaster likely to one day join forces as the city of Antelope Valley? Combined, the two municipalities would have a population of more than 240,000, making it the third largest city in Los Angeles County, after Los Angeles and Long Beach. But Ledford said he doubts any such union will occur. “The cities are both unique in their own right; they each have their own unique identities,” he said. “But jobs created in Palmdale benefit Lancaster and vice-versa. There is no reason that we can’t coordinate our efforts.” Indeed, every time Lancaster negotiates for a new development, it does so knowing that Palmdale stands ready to offer a more enticing deal and vice versa. With aerospace comprising most of the area’s industrial base, both cities were hit hard by the defense cutbacks of the 1990s and are often desperate for new employers. Last month, for example, Lancaster gave $1.6 million in incentives to Michael’s Stores Inc. to build a regional distribution center. In a similar vein, Palmdale agreed two years ago to refund 50 percent of the sales taxes generated by Dillard’s department store to the company in exchange for locating in that city. The potential for escalating bidding wars for new development led to the proposal for sharing sales taxes. Details of the joint sales tax plan have yet to be worked out, and it would ultimately require voter approval. Business interests accustomed to playing each city against the other to get the best deal may turn out to be a potent foe. Howard L. Brooks, executive director of the Antelope Valley Board of Trade, a local business association, said the sales tax plan would diminish incentives for bringing business to the Antelope Valley. “If I know I’m going to get half of the tax dollars, why should I do the work to bring the businesses here?” Brooks asked. But Brooks did agree that it makes sense to abandon granting incentives to attract retail businesses. “Incentive dollars should be used to bring in industrial, not retail, jobs. If industry is here, the retailers will come anyway,” he said. “But a cooperative attitude is a good idea.” Cooperation seems to have worked with the new Antelope Valley Air Pollution Control District, which was born July 1 after a six-year effort to break free from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The new district will serve a population of about 320,000 and an area of about 1,300 square miles. “The air pollution problems here are not nearly as severe as in the basin,” said Vern Lawson Jr., executive director of the Lancaster Economic Development Corp. and a member of the new district’s board. “It is an issue of home rule. Now we’ll be able to more adequately control our desert airshed.” Lawson said the district’s less stringent regulations will help attract industrial businesses to the region particularly companies from elsewhere in Los Angeles that might be considering moving out of the state. “The Antelope Valley offers an option to companies thinking of leaving the state entirely,” he said. “They can come here and still be in a position to use their suppliers and keep that tax base in L.A. County.”

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