SANTA CLARITA / ANTELOPE VALLEY : Cities Battle Over Storm Water Damage to Roads : Litigation: Lancaster accuses Palmdale in a lawsuit of failing to control runoff from new housing tracts.

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Generally speaking, rain is a welcome sight in the parched Antelope Valley. But water--or at least aftershocks of too much of it--is causing a rift between the valley's two cities.

The spat comes as Palmdale and Lancaster have tried to dispel a common conception that a "cactus curtain" divides them--that the cities are unwilling to cooperate to better the valley as a whole.

At the center of the tiff is a lawsuit that Lancaster filed this month against Palmdale because it believes that the efforts of the upstream city to control storm water are inadequate.

"Some issues can't get resolved without going the course we're going now," said Lancaster Assistant City Manager Dennis Davenport, adding that he hopes that the lawsuit does not hurt the rapport between the two cities.

Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford said he too hopes that the suit does not damage Lancaster-Palmdale relations. However, he expressed frustration over Lancaster's decision to file a lawsuit rather than simply work directly with Palmdale to resolve the matter.

Through the courts, Lancaster hopes to mandate that its neighboring city improve its control of storm water runoff from new housing developments.

Lancaster's lawsuit alleges that Palmdale simply does not know how to properly control storm water runoff and blames Palmdale for extensive damage that two Lancaster roads suffered from the 1992 and 1993 winter rains.

Lancaster, which also names developer US Homes in the suit, is seeking more than $105,000 in damages from Palmdale as well as a court order prohibiting the city from continuing its current flood-control practices.

Lancaster believes that Palmdale is responsible for the damage on a two-mile stretch of 60th Street West between avenues L and J and a similar length of 70th Street West from Avenue K extending north.

Ledford responds that the flooding problem is not caused by new home developments allowed by Palmdale but instead is primarily produced by runoff from undeveloped land. He believes that the lawsuit will not resolve the issue and instead just tries to place blame.

"We would rather work a solution," Ledford said. "Attorneys do not retain water, facilities do."

Flooding problems in the recent wet winters, however, prompted Palmdale to file a suit of its own. Last summer the city filed a suit against 18 developers, construction companies and engineering firms seeking $350,000 for reimbursement of damages that Palmdale suffered in the rains and subsequent flooding. That suit is pending.

At a meeting two weeks ago of Lancaster and Palmdale officials, Ledford said he and another Palmdale councilman proposed a joint project of the two cities that he contends would solve the west-side flooding problem. Ledford said Palmdale is proposing a 30-acre park at Avenue M and 70th Street West that would also serve as a detention basin in the winter.

"We just felt that's a more effective way to spend our money," Ledford said, adding that Lancaster said it does not have money to help build the park/detention basin project. "All we can do is respond to the complaint. If they're not interested in correcting the problem, why should we be?"

Davenport said the city had no choice but to file the lawsuit after Palmdale denied five claims for damages Lancaster submitted after the floods in February, 1992, and January of this year.

Furthermore, the suit contends that if the courts do not require Palmdale to change its flood-control methods Lancaster will continue to suffer damage every time it rains.

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