May 30, 1992 - From the May, 1992 issue

Antelope Valley Trends: Palmdale/Lancaster Prove Their Resilience

Greg McWilliams, Vice President of Kaufman and Broad Home Corporation, outlines the housing trends in the Antelope Valley amidst a recession.

After enduring defense and aerospace job losses, a glut of over­priced housing, and more than a few prominent articles in national publications that all but declared the area dead, the Antelope Valley housing market is proving its resilience, as major developers have shifted their product emphasis back to the affordable, entry-level housing that characterized the market boom of the 1980s.

Growth Amidst Recession

According to the latest market research from the Meyers Group, Antelope Valley housing inventory is down 38% from 1990. Even more encouraging is the rate of new home sales, up 40% to approximately 3,800 units in 1991, compared to 2,700 units sold the year before. The majority of new product is priced well under $150,000 in most areas, in sharp contrast to two years ago, when many new Antelope Valley projects were pushing or exceeding the $200,000 level.

However, the recession is still being felt in many ways, including its impact on the planning process. Large master-planned communities, with development horizons stretching out over the next decade, have largely been put on hold. For many small to medium-sized builders, financing remains difficult to obtain. Builders who overpaid for land toward the end of the ‘80s are discovering that their project plans no longer “pencil out,” as development costs now exceed the prices their finished homes can fetch in today’s market.

Except for the changes in construction financing, however, most of today’s obstacles are cyclical issues that will even out as the economy gradually recovers. Although defense cutbacks have hit the Antelope Valley hard, most observers think the area’s economy is becoming sufficiently diversified to withstand the impact.

In the meantime, local officials are pushing hard for the importation of more “clean” industries and commercial development, to support the Valley’s future job growth and continue its evolution from commuter community to a self-sustaining economic center.

Policies for Balanced Growth
Because affordable housing is so much a part of the Valley’s economic underpinning — and because local officials understand the importance of achieving a balance between housing and local job growth — the slow-growth movement has yet to find a receptive audience here. Historically, the emphasis has always been instead on balanced growth, and that has not changed.

Palmdale and Lancaster, the Valley’s two major cities, are both currently in the process of adopting new general plans that are designed to achieve continued balanced growth in the years ahead, even as the Valley’s population is expected to double by the year 2010, to more than 400,000. Palmdale is currently considering a hillside grading ordinance and other regional infrastructure improvements, including drainage and sewer improvements and road projects.

As is the case throughout California, all of these improvements entail impact fees and exactions, which have risen steadily in recent years. This phenomenon explains in part the recent building boom in the community of Rosamond, in the north end of the Valley, near Edwards Air Force Base. Hundreds of new homes have gone up in Rosamond over the past two years — most priced under $100,000 — and plans are on the boards for thousands more in the near future. Why? Simply because Rosamond is about a mile over the county line, in Kern County, where development fees are significantly less.

The Fee Dilemma

The problem of builders being forced to pay (and pass along to new home buyers) the cost of improvements benefitting all residents, simply because they are unwilling to tax themselves, is a statewide one. But because it is still part of L.A. County, the Antelope Valley shares in L.A. County’s fiscal woes.

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The recent L.A. County Transportation Commission proposal to impose a fee on all new homes as part of the Congestion Management Program — the first ever such fee proposed within the county — would hit the Antelope Valley especially hard, since the majority of the county’s new housing is being built there (the fee has since been dropped from the CMP)

If transit dollars were to go directly into programs designed to ease the commuting burden of Valley residents — 65% of whom still drive “over the hill” to work — such a fee would be easier to swallow. But Valley residents and builders have a harder time understanding why they ought to be paying for subways and light rail systems located more than 60 miles from where they live, and which they’ll likely never use.

The long-term solution to our congestion problems, of course, is for more people who live in the Valley to actually work there, and that is only a matter of time.

Until that happens, the short-term solution lies in public-private partnerships such as community based vanpool programs. For example, a vanpool program recently launched by my company is taking fourteen private autos off the Antelope Valley Freeway every day of the week.

It’s not the whole answer, but it is a positive step in mitigating the problems associated with long commutes.

Future Planning Trends

In terms of future residential planning trends, I would watch for the development of more mixed density projects, as builders move from traditional 4-6 dwelling units/acre site plans to more 6-10 d.u./acre plans. These newer projects will also feature more shared recreational facilities and common areas. However, the majority of Antelope Valley housing will continue to be single-family detached — very few condos or apartments have gone up recently, and there is little demand for them.

Once the economic tea leaves turn positive, look for the resumption of builders’ plans to develop large­scale master-planned projects, some of which call for 5,000 or more housing units. In spite of their gargantuan size, these projects will offer much more orderly and efficient planning, greater land-use diversity, more innovative mixes of housing types and densities, and better use of finite resources (read: water) than the smaller, individual subdivisions that have typified growth (not just in the Valley but throughout the state) in years past.

In the future, downtown Los Angeles planners and other local officials will have to be more cognizant of emerging trends and events on the other side of the mountains, because there’s every reason to believe that the majority of L.A. County’s new housing will continue to be built in the Antelope Valley, with its abundant space and affordable home prices. As it continues to grow, the Valley will also have an increasing impact on those of us living “down below,” drawing away more valuable resources. For these and myriad other reasons, land use and housing trends in the Antelope Valley will bear ever closer scrutiny in the years to come.

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© 2022 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.