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Runner calls for one city, one Valley
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press September 29, 1999 .
By BOB WILSON Valley Press Staff Writer


LANCASTER - Assemblyman George Runner on Tuesday proposed unification of the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale and the formation of a single municipality comparable in size to St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Tucson, Ariz.
So what do we call it? Palmcaster, or Landale? Antelope is already taken. Maybe Greater Antelope?

Runner, R-Lancaster, said the proposal would save money and give the Antelope Valley more clout.

The legislator raised the idea - espoused in 1994 by former Lancaster City Councilman Michael Singer - during a luncheon sponsored by the Antelope Valley Board of Trade.

Board of Trade President James Charlton noted the idea had been raised privately by Lancaster City Manager Jim Gilley during another meeting in recent weeks.

The combined General Fund revenues of the cities would total between $60 and $65 million, Runner said. Of that, he estimated between $6 million and $12 million likely is wasted on duplicate efforts.

Those sums "could be invested in economic development, in more cops on the street, on parks, on art, on cutting assessments that people pay," he said. "Those are the kinds of things that we could" do by creating one city out of two.

"I guess the thing we have to do is at least give it discussion, and the reason why I bring it to the table, is because I think it's worthy as a topic of discussion," Runner said.

The reason for raising the issue is because it has been touted as a secret agenda by some candidates vying for seats on the Palmdale City Council, Runner said.

"So rather than having it whispered, I think it's a great topic to put right on the table," he said.

Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford called the proposal proof that Lancaster's leaders and political power brokers are anxious to gain control of his city, which is on track to surpass Lancaster as the largest and most lucrative municipality in the Antelope Valley.

"I think George is a very ambitious politician, and I don't know exactly what his plans are, but I know he's looking for a home when term limits force him out of the Assembly," Ledford said.

That home could be either on an expanded Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which Runner is trying to accomplish through state legislation, or it could be as the head of the new city he is proposing at the local level, the Palmdale chief mayor said.

Asked if he would seek election in the new city, Runner laughed and said it was not part of the discussion.

Lancaster Mayor Frank Roberts said unification of the cities was part of his 1992 campaign for the Lancaster City Council.

Since then, he has changed his view on the matter, Roberts said.

Such a step essentially would require both cities to return to a state of unincorporation and begin anew under a different government, he said.

Rather than that drastic step, "Wouldn't it be better for us to all just agree to get along?" Roberts asked.

As both cities grow and become more stable, the need to compete will dissipate, he predicted.

"You don't see Long Beach fighting with Lynwood" or other South Bay cities, he said.

Runner said he knew the proposal would send "shivers up the backs" of current and aspiring local politicians.

But the move would make it easier to manage the Antelope Valley's coming influx of hundreds of thousands of new residents and the construction of new roads, homes, schools and parks, Runner contended.

It also would stabilize local municipal financing, attract more revenue from state and federal sources, end a wasteful duplication of services and give the region more political clout.

"The question is: Are we structured right now in a way that will take the very best advantage of the opportunities that lay ahead of us?" Runner asked.

Under the current structure, "Unfortunately, oftentimes we are hobbled in our ability to plan and truly do all that we could do because we have a lot of political entities," he said.

"Some people might argue that a variety of voices may be good," Runner said. "I'm here to tell you, a variety of voices just makes noise.

"I believe a clear voice commands action and makes a difference," he said. "The other issue, along with a clear voice, is that it's a loud voice."

Ledford contended Runner would support a clear, loud single voice only if it were under his control.

"I've already indicated this is a platform endorsed by what I call the Lancaster slate of candidates of Rick Norris, Mike Dispenza, Kevin Carney and Rod Penner, all backed by George Runner," Ledford said.

"This is their agenda," to get a majority on the Palmdale City Council that could vote to force Palmdale to share its sales taxes with Lancaster and eventually give up its independence, he said.

"I can tell you that Jim Gilley, Frank Visco and Rex Parris control a machine that is politically driven, that is very involved in all elections, and it's (called) control politics," Ledford said.

"And I do believe that they would ... use this control-politic machine to get their candidates elected," he said. "And I believe they wouldn't promote this if they didn't think they couldn't control the political environment for the entire Antelope Valley.

"If he gets this Lancaster slate elected, Runner will have control of this Palmdale council, and I cannot believe that the power people behind the organization - the Gilleys, the Parrises and the Viscos - are certainly not going to look out for the best interests of Palmdale," the mayor said.

"Ultimately, it's control is what George is looking for, and it's certainly what his support base is looking for," Ledford said.

"And I find it ironic that a person who is complaining about the county of Los Angeles being too large to serve its constituents would promote the creation of a city too large to serve its constituents."

Runner said the two issues were not contradictory because creating one large city to represent the Antelope Valley and reducing the control of Los Angeles County government both make economic sense for local residents.

"I'm hoping to not sound inconsistent here, because I do believe there comes a point of size that is efficient and effective to operate," he said.