By JENNIFER NETHERBY Staff Reporter Topping the Business Journal’s list of the biggest cities in the San Fernando Valley is no surprise, Los Angeles. While the entire city may not lie in the Valley, 1.6 million of its residents do. Coming in a distant second and third were Glendale and Santa Clarita, respectively. L.A. and Santa Clarita operate at opposite ends of the spectrum: L.A. is the oldest city in the county, chartered in 1850, while Santa Clarita is one of the newest, incorporated in 1989. With an operating budget of $3.9 million and 143,000 residents, the city of Santa Clarita spends less per capita than any other city in the county its municipal budget works out to an average of about $27 per resident. Los Angeles, on the other hand, doubles most other cities with a $2.7 billion operating budget for it 3.7 million people averaging about $725 per person. For area cities, the good economy is turning the late ’90s into a golden era, with new business and redevelopment reinventing formerly troubled areas. The city of San Fernando is moving ahead with a theater and retail project in the city center. Lancaster and Palmdale report drops in local unemployment and increases in industrial projects. And on the western edge, land in Calabasas and Agoura Hills is in high demand among technology firms. The latter two cities, among the smaller ones on the list, are seeing some of the biggest increases in commercial construction, especially involving the high-tech industry. Calabasas City Manager Charles Cate said the city’s 3 million square feet of available business/industrial space is all but built out, with only 500,000 square feet remaining. The city, incorporated in 1991, is just now finishing The Park Center, which will house City Hall and a public library, as well as retail and office space. “The Park Center project is really our city center,” Cate said. Calabasas, with a population of 19,500, is just now seeing the final build-out of its biggest residential project. The Oaks at Calabasas, approved before the city was incorporated, is finishing its last 500 homes. Nearby Agoura Hills is also seeing exponential growth in commercial development, with 1.7 million square feet in the pipeline. The city, with 21,600 residents, is already built out as far as homes are concerned. Residential growth has been centered in the Santa Clarita Valley. Just 10 years old, it was the location of 20 percent of the housing starts in Los Angeles County in 1998, according to the Meyers Group, which tracks new construction. Santa Clarita has also attracted business from the film industry, which spent $394 million in the city in 1996, the most recent year for which figures are available. Lancaster and Palmdale in the Antelope Valley, Nos. 4 and 5 respectively on the list, report an upsurge in residential and commercial growth, after a lull. Lancaster City Manager Jim Gilley said industrial projects are on the rise, with the 1 million-square-foot Rite Aid distribution center leading the way. The city is also trying to lure more big industrial projects in sizes from 100,000 to 1 million square feet. “We’re excited about everything,” Gilley said. Neighboring Palmdale is in the midst of a boom in retail and industrial growth. Aerospace jobs have returned to levels of late 1980s, Dillards department store and El Torito are moving in and industrial projects, built on speculation, are going up, said City Manager Robert Toone. When it comes to business taxes, Calabasas, Agoura Hills and Glendale are the lowest, with none. Behind Los Angeles, the cities of Glendale and Burbank have the most city employees, with 1,500 in Glendale and 1,310 in Burbank. Both cities are home to entertainment giants. “Sensible development” on hillsides has become a buzzword in both cities. Expansion of the Burbank-Pasadena-Glendale Airport continues to be among the most important political issues facing the twin cities; Burbank’s City Council has blocked the expansion, fearing it would lower the quality of life for residents. Both Glendale and Burbank elected new council members in the past few weeks, which could take the airport issue on a new course. In San Fernando, retailers and movie theaters have expressed interest in filling some of the town’s vacant space, city administrator John Ornelas said. “The city recently adopted a revitalization plan to identify regional areas as well as local areas for commercial revitalization,” Ornelas said.