It’s rural and they want it to stay that way

Times Staff Writer

The stunning skyline drew Edith Jeske to small-town Acton 35 years ago, the rugged Sierra Pelona to the north and the snow-capped San Gabriel summits to the south. Before her lay the sprawling high desert wilderness dotted with enclaves named for their beauty: Littlerock, Pearblossom, Sun Village, Juniper Hills.

“It was rural,” said Jeske of the sleepy town of about 9,100 people, 50 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. But today she feels the rustic community, where she lives on 2 1/2 acres, is increasingly being eroded.

In Acton, plans for a Panda Express and a Starbucks have sparked outrage among residents. In other communities in north Los Angeles County, the march of subdivisions and ranch-mansions has unnerved the countryside dwellers.

“The county is encroaching and trying to bring in more development than we really want here,” said Jeske, the retired owner of an agricultural equipment rental business.


It’s a sentiment shared by many of the estimated 85,500 people who make their home in the unincorporated areas of the Antelope Valley -- a region of sparse settlements, vacant land, horse farms and agriculture.

Development -- where to allow growth, and where to limit it -- is among the key issues confronting county planners as they navigate the intricacies of updating the Antelope Valley Area Plan.

The plan seeks to provide guidelines for the future needs of the county’s unincorporated communities, including how and where housing should be built, where roads should be developed, and where commercial districts should be allowed and open space preserved.

“Our job is to try and balance all the different desires and needs,” said Mitch Glaser, supervising regional planner at the county’s Department of Regional Planning.

The last update of the plan for the Antelope Valley’s unincorporated areas was in 1986. In addition to Acton, the plan covered more than two dozen rural communities that cover 1,011 square miles, or 38% of the unincorporated areas of L.A. County, excluding Angeles National Forest. The forest accounts for 30% of unincorporated county land.

A recent meeting in Sun Village offered residents a chance to make suggestions to county officials about how they envision the future.

“We want more bike trails and horse trails, and maybe an Olympic-size indoor pool,” said Sun Village educator Vanessa Thomas. She moved from the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles to the Antelope Valley 18 years ago and recalled “being hooked” when she saw horses in her backyard.

Stickers posted on boards read “Stop Building Homes on Small Parcels,” and “No More Building of Infrastructure.”

The population of unincorporated Los Angeles County -- the largest portion of which is in the Antelope Valley -- could double by 2035, said Jeff Lustgarten, a spokesman for the Southern California Assn. of Governments. The population increase would inevitably require new residential and commercial development, regional planners said.

“Growth is going to happen,” said Robert Glaser, a senior planner for the county. “Our goal is how to try and accommodate it.”

That’s not what Acton resident Carl Young wanted to hear. He and others are angry about a San Francisco developer’s plans to build at least five restaurants in Acton, including a Panda Express Chinese food chain, a Subway sandwich shop and a Starbucks.

“It doesn’t fit into the confines” of the current general plan, said Young, who owns 10 acres in Acton.

County officials have determined that the project meets development standards, but Glaser assured Young that concerns about future commercial development would be studied as part of the plan update.

His colleague Mitch Glaser, who is no relation, noted that it was not the county’s intention to “encourage urban sprawl.” He said planners would probably seek to concentrate future development around existing built-up areas.

Other attendees provided an array of suggestions.

In Littlerock, known for its antiques stores and fruit stands, some truck owners want to continue parking their big rigs on their property, as opposed to having to pay for a designated lot.

In Lake Los Angeles, an area dotted with Joshua trees, residents called for better local healthcare services and more transportation and activities for school-age youth.

From Leona Valley, a community characterized by rolling hills, cherry orchards and horse barns, came a request for a children’s park.

Glaser, the supervising regional planner, said the update of the area plan was expected to be completed by the end of next year.