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Palmdale Airport plans still up in the air

But the city has regained control from Los Angeles World Airports

By Merdies Hayes

OW Contributor

Plans are still being debated about the future of Palmdale Airport after the city finally took control of the facility in August from Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). Right now, Palmdale officials are working out the final details with Edwards Air Force Base in an effort to pursue air carriers and resume commercial flights out of the Antelope Valley. Edwards is the primary user of the facility.

Passenger service was canceled at the facility in late 2008. Near the airport’s closing, only one in three seats, roughly 22 of 66 seats, was occupied on a typical commuter flight. At that point, United Express had attempted twice-daily flights to San Francisco using Skywest Airlines turboprops, but that 18-month effort ended because of a lack of demand for air service. Also, Palmdale Airport was one of the 200-plus air traffic control towers nationwide scheduled for closure as part of cost-cutting measures by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2012.

In March, the Palmdale City Council voted to take on key oversight portions of the airport from LAWA, the Los Angeles airport authority, which had operated the facility since 1967. Now, Palmdale will operate the terminal building, a parking lot and a taxiway. LAWA still owns more than 17,000 acres of airport land adjacent to the dry lake bed made famous by the many space shuttle landings as well as historic military test flights.

Saving the solar way

AV officials tackle dust, hail, how to store sunshine

By OW Staff

Expanding civilization within the desert has always been a precarious proposition. So it is with the new solar power projects taking place in the Antelope Valley. The issue this time is determining how to deal with the natural environment which can provide numerous obstacles to progress.

There has been considerable uproar lately regarding the constant dust storms that besiege the northern-most portion of the Mojave Desert where a number of high-tech green energy projects are being built. Dust and solar plates do not mix because build-up on the glass panels will diminish energy output. This becomes a problem because solar panels are now mandatory in Lancaster in newly constructed homes.

An agreement was reached between solar power developers here and in Kern County regarding sand storms (or “haboobs”) and their affect on delicate machinery.

The agreement includes efforts by developers to put in preventative measures that will keep solar panels operating efficiently even in dust storms and inclement weather. Last spring, Los Angeles County halted work on the nearly-complete Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One project because of violent dust storms and, according to some residents, the possible spread of Valley Fever, an malady often caused by blowing microscopic fragments of rodent and bird feces. This dust can be kicked up during the building of solar facilities or any construction.

During a recent meeting of the Rosamond Municipal Advisory Council, representatives from the Kern County planning department and from the Kern County Board of Supervisors admitted to residents that they have experienced the same difficulties with their solar projects and told attendees that, essentially, they’d have to be resigned to the elements.

“The sites where solar is being built are all different, the dust issues are different and the solutions are different,” said Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner. “But the dust caused by the severe wind event we had over the Memorial Day weekend was not because of the solar. This is the desert. When you have 70-mph winds, you are going to have dust.” And not just dust. Earlier this week, a violent hail storm swept through Lancaster along Highway 14. With golf-ball-sized hail pelting solar installations, there is the possibility of regular damage to these multimillion-dollar installations which local officials tout as the energy source of the future.

The health concern about Valley Fever was further explained by recent figures released by the Centers for Disease Control which show an increased incidence of the potentially lethal, desert-specific, fungal respiratory disease in the Central Valley, just north of the Antelope Valley. Despite these concerns, it would appear solar power in the Antelope Valley will play a vital role in region’s economic future.

Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris set three years ago a “net zero” power goal for his city: that is, to harness energy from the sun and become 100 percent power-independent. So far Lancaster is halfway there, producing the most solar power per resident in the state. All future home construction in Lancaster will include solar panels, as will the new businesses being built locally (i.e., Kaiser Permanente’s expansion in Lancaster, as well as the new City of Hope facility).

‘Cactus Curtain’: the thorns of pride

Fighting has gotten very personal

By Merdies Hayes

OW Contributor

While Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill remain fiercely divided regarding the nation’s fiscal and social path, Palmdale and Lancaster continue to wallow in their own political “sandbox.” Instead of “reaching across the aisle” for camaraderie, solutions and goodwill, the respective city halls are firmly entrenched on each side of the so-called “Cactus Curtain.”

It’s an old term, probably dating back to 1962, when Palmdale broke away from Lancaster to become the first city in the Antelope Valley to incorporate. Until then, both communities appeared to share responsibility for developing the desert landscape into a livable, workable and profitable alternative to the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, as well as making the region the world leader in aeronautics innovation and production with Edwards Air Force Base at the center. The biggest battles encountered then amounted to little more than the annual high school football rivalry.

Fifty years later, a dividing line has emerged at Avenue M, the thoroughfare that effectively divides mayors R. Rex Parris of Lancaster and his counterpart, Jim Ledford, in Palmdale. And like a determined “goal line stand,” each side is not budging-whether the subject be retail or auto malls, solar plants, federal lawsuits, election strategy, the use of parklands and even fireworks sales. Parris is nearing the middle of his third term as mayor of Lancaster (the city was incorporated in 1977); Ledford is serving his 11th term as mayor of Palmdale.

The cities are demographically and economically similar, but the two political leaders have an almost nonexistent working relationship-even though the two once served in the Antelope Valley Republican Assembly. From Parris holding up a “Chuckie Doll” at a council meeting this year in mockery of Ledford, to the former claiming the latter is a “bully” running his own “fiefdom,” the rhetoric has been strong and often vitriolic. Today, Palmdale puts out a regular email to the press debunking what it claims are “unsubstantiated” public statements from Lancaster, with the latter city quickly following suit.

The war of words may have begun in earnest in 1990 with the construction of Palmdale’s Antelope Valley Mall on Rancho Vista Boulevard. The mall eventually lured away Lancaster’s J.C. Penney and Sears stores, touching off a continued campaign of economic warfare which, by Parris’ estimate, has cost both cities more than $100 million in lost revenue. The mall’s location was bitterly contested for several years until Palmdale offered the developer millions in incentives to build on the site near Highway 14 in the city.

Two years later, Palmdale built an auto mall . . . Lancaster built its own shortly afterwards. While both auto malls were to receive millions in government aid to stay in business, Palmdale eventually won the “stare down” when it decided to take full control of its facility from the various automakers for $6 million … along with the promised federal aid.

In 1993, Lancaster gave $7.3 million in redevelopment funds to a developer to help build a Costco; later the city handed over 4.5 acres of parkland to keep the big-box retailer pleased. In short order, Palmdale city hall agreed to refund up to $2 million in sales tax revenue in a successful effort to entice Dillard’s department store not to open in Lancaster and to come to their city. Like a high-stakes tennis match, the economic ball has kept bouncing across Avenue M.