High Desert Considers a County of Its Own : Antelope Valley: Business leaders say they are treated like a remote stepchild. They meet with a San Bernardino breakaway faction.
Antelope Valley business leaders, complaining that they are treated like a remote stepchild by mostly urban Los Angeles County, said Tuesday that they will consider a campaign to secede and join San Bernardino neighbors in a new all-desert county.
The Antelope Valley leaders met in Lancaster with backers of a breakaway drive for desert areas of San Bernardino County. Both sides agreed to pursue separate campaigns, but with the goal of making the two regions independent so they can be combined someday.
“This area is different from the Los Angeles area. We live, eat and breathe desert problems and they don’t,” said Frank Roberts, president of the Antelope Valley Board of Trade, a chamber of commerce-type organization for the 2,000-square-mile Mojave Desert area that forms the northeast portion of Los Angeles County.
About 60 people attended the meeting organized by the board, including representatives of the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster, the Antelope Valley Building Industry Assn., local newspapers and radio stations, and many local businesses.
Loss of the Antelope Valley would reduce the size of Los Angeles County, now 4,083 square miles, by nearly half. It also would remove Los Angeles County’s fastest-growing and most undeveloped areas. But it would affect only about 300,000 of the county’s 9 million residents.
Roberts said the Antelope Valley has air pollution, traffic, growth and other problems that need to be treated differently than those of the Los Angeles Basin. He and others also said the Antelope Valley suffers because it is more than 60 miles northeast of the County Hall of Administration in downtown Los Angeles.
Roberts said he expects the Board of Trade to formally approve a move to investigate the feasibility of a secession campaign within a month or two, despite the difficulties such a campaign would face. No new counties have been created in California since Imperial became the state’s 58th county in 1907, and all eight attempts to form new counties since 1974 have been defeated.
Those included failed campaigns in 1976 and 1978 to form a new Canyon County out of an area of about 730 square miles centered on the Santa Clarita Valley, which did not include the Antelope Valley. Also in 1978, Los Angeles County voters rejected proposals to create new counties out of the South Bay and Palos Verdes Peninsula areas.
Among the eight campaigns statewide, voters in the proposed breakaway areas typically approved the changes. But in each case, the campaigns failed to get the needed majority approval from voters countywide, according to Peter Detwiler, a consultant to the state Senate’s Committee on Local Government.
For an initiative to get on the ballot, a petition to form a new county in the Antelope Valley would need the signatures of 25% of the region’s nearly 98,000 registered voters. To pass, such a measure would need to receive a majority of votes in both the Antelope Valley and all of Los Angeles County.
The plan to create Mojave County out of the mountain and desert areas of San Bernardino County made it to the ballot there in June, 1988, winning in the affected areas but losing countywide. Backers of the effort who attended Tuesday’s Lancaster meeting said they are trying to get another measure on the ballot by June, 1994.
Mel Yarmat, a leader of that drive and co-owner of the Adelanto-based High Desert Mavericks minor league baseball team, said a successful Mojave County could join with the Antelope Valley someday, forming a high desert union “that should have been a long time ago.”