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Palmdale Moves a Step Closer to Ritter Ranch Annexation

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A countywide commission took the first step Wednesday toward allowing the city of Palmdale to annex 50 square miles of largely rural land, drawing groans from residents of the scenic Leona Valley, part of which is included in the tract.

The Los Angeles County Local Agency Formation Commission voted unanimously to include the area in Palmdale’s sphere of influence. The designation gives the city more clout in county planning discussions for the area but also sets the stage for annexation of the land, which would increase Palmdale’s size by more than half.

The land is the site of one of Southern California’s largest proposed developments, the 7,200-dwelling Ritter Ranch. After Wednesday’s meeting, Palmdale’s city manager, Bob Toone, said the city will probably ask to annex Ritter Ranch later this year.

“This is just a first step. We’ve got some work to do,” Toone said.

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Toone said Palmdale planners would carefully analyze the project’s impact on adjacent rural areas, although he admitted that the land closest to Leona Valley would probably acquire an urban character, with sidewalks and clustered homes.

Representatives of Leona Valley--35 square miles of large country-style homes, orchards and pastureland west of 50th Street West--gathered after the LAFCO meeting to harshly criticize the Palmdale city administrators and planners, saying the officials were blinded by development pressure.

“The city of Palmdale has no plan for the Ritter Ranch land except what the developer tells them,” said Bob Mallicoat, president of the five-member Leona Valley Town Council.

Mallicoat and other town council members said they will discuss with their attorney the possibility of taking legal action to prevent annexation of any part of the valley.

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The development group proposing the 10,625-acre Ritter Ranch is headed by entertainment industry executives Merv Adelson and Irwin Molasky, builders of the upscale La Costa resort near San Diego. Their plans would add 20,000 residents to an area now inhabited by 2,000, according to city and county planners.

Some LAFCO members said they were voting for expansion of the sphere of influence reluctantly and want to see efforts to preserve the rural flavor of the area in future annexation requests.

County Supervisor Ed Edelman, who serves on the commission, said the city of Palmdale and the Ritter Ranch developers should establish a buffer between Leona Valley and the development.

Commissioner Larry J. Calemine, a San Fernando Valley developer, recommended that Leona Valley residents and Ritter Ranch representatives meet to try to resolve their differences.

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“You’re going to be neighbors,” Calemine said. “Rather than being feuding neighbors, you ought to get together and work it out.”

Mallicoat, however, was skeptical that the developers would be interested in reaching a compromise with Leona Valley residents, especially after years of friction between the two sides.

“There’s no need for Ritter Ranch to negotiate with us if they’ve got Palmdale in their back pocket,” he said.

There was even disagreement Wednesday about whether the sphere of influence actually dips into Leona Valley.

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LAFCO Executive Officer Ruth Benell told the commission that the eight square miles of the valley included in the sphere of influence followed a natural ridgeline and were somewhat separate from the rest of the valley.

Mallicoat and other residents held up a photo after the meeting that appeared to prove their point that the area is within the valley’s bowl.

Asked about the two accounts, Toone sided with Benell: “It depends on what you consider part of the valley.”

Next Step: When Palmdale is ready to annex this land, it will have to file a request with the Local Agency Formation Commission, a step the city manager said may be taken later this year. At that time, public hearings must be held and environmental reviews conducted before a vote can be taken.

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