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THE ANTELOPE VALLEY: A Vision For Sustainable Economic and Urban Development

By Robert F. Dannenbrink Jr.  FAICP,AIA

In 2014/15, I was an urban design/planning member of a consulting team, Madrid Consulting Group-consisting of two economists Henry Madrid (Team Coordinator) and Jim Suhr, and a fellow urban designer/planner, Michael Metcalfe.  We were a sub to the primary consultant, Iteris, a transportation planning firm working on a major mobility study for North LA County called “North County Multimodal Integrated Transportation Study” (NCMITS) for the client LA Metro (1).

Our task was to identify opportunities for a preferred site in the Antelope Valley (AV) for an “Inland Port” (Logistical air/truck/rail freight distribution and associated industrial support activity not in a seaport location) in the vicinity of two local airports- Fox Field in Lancaster (168,000 pop.) and Palmdale Airport in Palmdale (151,000 pop.).  Initial analysis and consultation with regional agencies like SCAG, lead to the conclusion that such a “pure” Inland Port was not viable “at this time” in the Antelope Valley, but that basic economic and job production was a viable and necessary pursuit for the local jurisdictions-Lancaster, Palmdale, and adjacent unincorporated LA County areas.  Thus our original assignment was altered in “name,” but not for basic intent.  What was assessed were the necessary pre-conditions, transportation systems, and required related industrial value-added uses needed to potentially attract and justify an Inland Port potential for the future. It was determined that the overall community goal was the desire to enhance local economic development and better utilize existing airport, rail, land, and other local assets for the AV region as expressed by LA County Supervisor Antonovich’s office for this District:

  1.  Enhance economic development in the Antelope Valley-ideally driven by industrial development and anchored by freight transfer/distribution facilities and associated uses.

  2.  Better utilize existing Antelope Valley assets, such as relatively low cost developable land, airport facilities, favorable development regulations, and other supportive elements.

  3.  Take advantage of existing and planned multi-modal transportation systems that could help facilitate freight development and eventually attract Inland Port related uses.

  4. Plan and encourage freight distribution and terminal facilities that can enhance the conditions necessary to attract international trade from the Los Angeles/Long Beach Ports.

  5. Create the physical environment and favorable development, as well as business conditions that will attract Inland Port related uses.

  6. Incorporate sustainable development policies into all aspects of future development.

The area has a jobs to employee imbalance with approximately 54% of the employed residents commuting 45 minutes or more out of the area to other parts of LA County for work.  This area is characterized by very low density sprawled development (average slightly over 2 people/acre) with much scattered development sites leap-frogged over open land areas.  The land surrounding Palmdale Airport is actually within the US Air Force Plant 42 property (approx. 8 sq. miles) which contains sites of notable aerospace/avionics & aircraft manufacturing by Lockheed, Northrup, and Boeing.  LA World Airports (LAWA) has recently turned over the old passenger terminal (former commercial service) to the City of Palmdale.  The runways are shared with USAF and the aerospace firms.

Our team identified four large undeveloped areas adjacent to the two airports totaling nearly 20,000 gross acres (over 31 sq. mi.).  The original scope asked to identify a single preferred site. It became apparent to our team that the best interests of this multi-jurisdictional area would be to identify and promote these sites as a “Unified Regional Economic Development District,” with benefits to all three.  It was also the cities desire to have more than just a single preferred site identified. (It should be noted that we were informed the two contiguous cities have not always had amicable relationships which could be a hindrance to a cooperative collaboration on regional benefits.)

The Regional Vision

The acreages vary among the four areas, but each should be planned as future industrial development integrated with “Live/Work Villages” to promote “smart growth” and compact development as sustainable land use models for future urbanization in the AV.  This type of mixed-use development referred to as “Healthy Communities” is advocated by the American Planning Association as a better direction for new and revitalized communities. To serve a regional interdependence and public transportation connectivity among these areas, advanced public transit corridors, such as Light Rail Transit (LRT), electric streetcar, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), or multimodal combinations, primarily in street Rights of Ways (ROW) are proposed and strongly advocated to permit travel between the areas allowing workers to reside in one and work in another, if not the same location, maximizing benefits to employees and employers.  Varied industries generated by future economic activity may locate variously among the four locations at sites that best fit their requirements (e.g. air cargo, truck or rail access for logistical, manufacturing, secondary and value-added support services, etc.).  Many communities have found that “tracks in the ground” provide the private development sector more assurance of a commitment to advanced multimodal transit (rather than bus only) and enhance the incentive for private investment around planned station stops with Transit Oriented Development (TOD) within the walkable half-mile radius as well as along the transit corridor itself.  A separate transit feasibility study will need to be conducted to determine specific systems, ROW routes, stations, and vehicle types best suited to the various segments as illustrated in the vision plans.

Varied housing types should be planned in the medium densities (e.g. 15 to 50 DU/AC with a large percent of affordable units) to provide more walkable urban neighborhood character as a choice or alternative to the prevailing “auto centric” low density dispersed sprawl as present, thus affording greater feasibility of public transit and reduced use of single occupant vehicles and reduced VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled).  Reduced VMT supports reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality, sustainable community development, and quality of life.

The Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA), the LA Metro, and MetroLink (2), are existing regional agencies that can implement public transit corridors.  An AV public transit system, in addition to present bus system, can integrate all four opportunity areas with Downtown Lancaster and the MetroLink/Amtrak stations, the Palmdale Transportation Center and California High Speed Rail (station proposed), a future passenger terminal at Palmdale Airport, a potential AV Polytechnic University Campus, the subject industrial activity areas, business incubation centers, Downtown Palmdale, other concentrated employment centers, urban activity centers and community support services sites.  A similar special purpose agency (or Joint Powers Authority/JPA) could be created to act as a business promotion as well as administrative coordinator for planning, guidance and implementation of various public/private joint development and funding programs.  The proposed Desert X Press from Las Vegas to LA also has a stop in Palmdale.

The combined development in all four areas could yield approximately:

  1. 12,300 gr. ac. of Industrial/Office Park

  2. 78,290 DU (at 20 du/ac ave.) = possibly 170,000 new residents

  3. 1,390 gr. ac. Commercial (local,community scale retail/office)

Site assessments were made for all four sites which included some restrictions for residential due to aircraft operations (noise/flight hazard corridors). Our scope required a Master Plan to be prepared for one site.  For three sites we prepared sketch land use plans.  We had interactive sessions with staff from all three jurisdictions and there was essentially positive reception of our proposals.  We also met with a host of other regional agencies and task forces. We chose to do a Concept Master Plan and illustrative vision concepts for the LA County site because it is virtually 100% owned by LAWA and thus it enhances the prospect of a unified development plan with logical phasing of infrastructure.  Generic concepts developed are applicable to all the other sites. The other three sites are characterized by multiple small parcel ownerships posing a challenge for assembly into larger sites and integrated master planning especially without redevelopment authority.

Relating to Orange County, with the County nearly built out, there does not exist such large undeveloped flat lands as found in the AV.  (Exceptions would be -Seal Beach Naval Weapons Site and Los Alamitos Joint Training Base. Portions of the former Tustin MCAS and El Toro MCAS-Irvine Great Park (although they have adopted plans) could also develop such integrated “Live/Work” sectors.)  The Irvine IBC is undergoing a transformation into a “Live/Work” district by private redevelopment of industrial sites for higher density multifamily residential enclaves.

However, the OC has older residential areas in proximity to large industrial employment and business districts that may offer opportunities for redevelopment in recycling older housing stock into more sustainable medium density enclaves of work force housing close to jobs similar to our AV proposals.  The older industrial/office developments may also be opportunities for recycling into new start-ups and high tech type users.  Increased residential densities would also make advanced forms of public transit more feasible.  Unlike the AV, these transformations into “Live/Work” sectors  would be smaller in scale and more incremental interventions primarily through private sector redevelopment, but public partnership is essential to achieve the support necessary for more “sustainable and healthier communities.” (3)


(1)  Los AngelesCounty Metropolitan Transportation Authority

(2)  SCRRA/Southern California Regional Rail Authority/MetroLink Commuter Rail Services

(3)  The author prepared a concept, in 1981 on behalf of OCAIA Urban Design Committee, for transformation of OC’s urban development pattern into a series of various sized “Metro Centers” of mixed business, retail, entertainment, medium to high density residential linked by advanced transit modes.  He also worked on the Irvine IBC transformation concepts while with EDAW/AECOM.

Illustration Credits:

1  AV Unified Economic Development District Vision–R. Dannenbrink

2  LA County/LAWA Master Plan–R. Dannenbrink & M.Metcalfe

3  Conceptual Case Study Illustrative Plan–R. Dannenbrink& M.Metcalfe

4  TOD 3D (axonometric) Aerial–R. Dannenbrink

5  Overhead vision sketch @ TOD (generic)–R. Dannenbrink

6  Street view @ TOD (generic) –R. Dannenbrink

7  Street view Typical Workforce Housing –R.Dannenbrink


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