CHRISTOPHER WOODARD Staff Reporter Long regarded a bedroom suburb, Santa Clarita is seeing a job boom that is transforming it into more of a self-contained employment center, saving residents from that dreaded commute into Los Angeles. The number of home-grown jobs in Valencia alone has increased from an estimated 21,000 in 1994 to 31,000 today, and the trend is expected to accelerate as more companies are driven out of Los Angeles by the lack of developable land, traffic congestion and crime. “We’ve seen 20 companies from the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles relocate to the Valencia area in the past 24 months,” said Craig Peters, a senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis Inc. “The relocation trend to the area, which is fueling job growth, has been tremendous.” Consider: ? PacTen Partners, a West-L.A.-based developer, is so confident about the shift in employment from Los Angeles to Santa Clarita that the developer plans to build an $85 million, 700,000-square-foot office park in the Valencia Commerce Center on speculation meaning it is being built without tenant commitments. ? Century City-based Princess Cruises will soon begin moving its 700-worker customer service operation into a new six-story office building currently under construction on Town Center Drive, a mixed-use, Main Street-like assortment of stores, offices and movie theaters near the Valencia Town Center shopping mall. ? Explorer Insurance Co., a Burbank-based auto insurer, is building its new headquarters in Valencia, a move that will bring an estimated 400 jobs to the Santa Clarita Valley and save its workers who already live there the daily commute. ? Lincoln Property Co., a developer based in Irvine, acquired a former Lockheed Martin Corp. research center and has begun marketing 425,000 square feet of existing office and manufacturing space there. The company is confident enough about the potential job growth in the area that it plans to develop an additional 120 acres for office and manufacturing uses at its Rye Canyon Business Park. “Our employment is growing significantly,” said Marlee Lauffer, spokeswoman for Newhall Land & Farming Co., the developer behind the Valencia Town Center as well as Valencia Gateway, a 4,500-acre industrial center that includes several parks. “People who live here are finding more job opportunities.” Neither the city of Santa Clarita nor the state Employment Development Department keep statistics that would provide a breakdown of the number of jobs in Santa Clarita. But according to statistics compiled by the Southern California Association of Governments, employment in Santa Clarita jumped from 26,443 jobs in 1987 to 40,795 in 1994, the latest year for which numbers are available. Newhall Land & Farming’s own estimates show that Valencia, excluding the Santa Clarita communities of Saugus, Newhall and Canyon Country, saw the creation of 8,000 new jobs since 1994, a 34 percent increase. Lauffer said one measure of the city’s popularity to business is the 1 percent vacancy rate at the company’s Valencia Gateway, which includes the Valencia Industrial Center, the third-largest business park in L.A. County, and Valencia Commerce Center, a new business park north of state Highway 126 and west of Interstate 5. That new park is planned to eventually contain 12 million square feet of space. “We had a goal of selling about 50 acres (in both parks) in ’98, and we’re going to exceed 100,” Lauffer said. The company opened the Valencia Commerce Center in 1995 and already various developers have built 2 million square feet there and another 1.1 million square feet are currently under construction. So what’s the draw? According to Mike Haviland, Santa Clarita’s economic development director, a big part of the answer lies in the community itself. Santa Clarita was ranked by the FBI in 1997 as the fourth safest city in the country among municipalities with over 100,000 in population. The community has good schools, plenty of shopping and institutional amenities like the College of the Canyons and Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, said Haviland. With the economy picking up, companies are growing and need room to expand. However, the San Fernando Valley and the rest of Los Angeles are running out of land, forcing many companies to look north. The city has no business tax, and a lot of companies see the community as a source of willing labor, given most residents’ loathing of the morning crawl to Los Angeles. A city survey conducted in each of the last three years has consistently showed that residents would be willing to take a 10 percent pay cut to avoid the commute, said Haviland. “We tell potential employers there’s a latent job market here that would love not to commute.” Denny Fuerst, vice president of special projects for Princess Cruises, said access to labor was his company’s primary reason for moving to Santa Clarita. “A lot of people want to work closer to home, and they want to work for a company with a national and international reputation and in a good clean job,” he said. Secondarily, the company considered the attractiveness of the area and the availability of a suitable parcel. For Fuerst, a Santa Clarita resident, there is the added attraction of not having to commute to Century City, a drive that takes more than 10 hours a week and more than 500 hours a year out of his busy schedule. Peters of CB Richard Ellis said the industrial real estate market in Valencia has been active for the last 10 years, but the office market is just starting to take off, much like Irvine’s office market did years ago. Peters’ client, Lincoln Property, only recently began marketing its existing “North Campus” site in what was the Lockheed Martin research facility, and is already in negotiations with entertainment and manufacturing companies interested in moving there, said Peters, who declined to name the companies. Lincoln has committed to undertake a $7 million to $8 million renovation of the campus, including development of an executive golf course, a volleyball court, jogging and hiking trails as well as a full locker room. The company also plans to develop speculative industrial and office space on 120 acres of the property, he said. “You’re seeing a lot of companies come to the area, and a lot of jobs being created. That ends up pulling traffic off the freeway,” he said. Nyal Leslie, chief executive of PacTen, said his company expects more businesses to be driven out of L.A. as they run out of room, and look to expand in Santa Clarita due to its availability of land, employment base and quality of life. “We clearly believe the demand will be there,” he said. PacTen plans to develop its project, dubbed “Valencia Corporate Point,” in four phases, with three buildings in each phase. The company plans to begin the first phase of construction in September, with construction scheduled for completion in spring 1999. Goetz Wolff, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, said it’s common for communities on the fringes of aging urban cores to expand their employment base as businesses, like residents, flee the congestion and crime of the cities. “Something communities in the outskirts usually have is space,” said Wolff. “For a significant number of businesses, there’s something quite appealing about having access to larger space that can be built to their own specs.” Still, Wolff doesn’t expect a mass defection from Los Angeles for many businesses. While a move might make sense for many workers, most companies have relationships with suppliers and buyers that have taken years to develop, he said.