The silence and starkness of Baker and Hume canyons, where the wind disturbs only an occasional quail, belies the boisterous debate about the land's future that has ensued since Los Angeles County proposed putting in a facility for off-highway vehicles.
"This isn't just a couple of trails for dirt bikes," said Winthrop Taylor, who lives half a mile from the 531-acre site, just north of Santa Clarita. "We're talking about a major day-and-night, charge-admission, competition-racing facility."
A public hearing is scheduled at a local elementary school tonight on the plan by county officials to allow two or more motocross tracks, a flat track, caretaker's facilities, a bicycle motocross facility, storage space, wash racks for vehicles, a pro shop, training areas and trails.
Supporters of the track say owners of the nearly 70,000 registered off-road vehicles in the county need a facility closer to urban areas.
"The ones that there are are horribly overcrowded and there is a tremendous demand," said Dana Bell, an officer of the American Motorcycle Assn. "If you don't provide people with a legal place to do this, then you'll have truck paths in places that are not appropriate."
Residents of the equestrian area are vociferously opposed, saying the off-road tracks will bring noise, traffic and pollution. They say it makes more sense to expand the state's 20,000-acre Hungry Valley off-road park in Gorman, which draws more than 110,000 visitors a year.
Opponents also accuse Supervisor Mike Antonovich of using the park as a political payoff to a longtime campaign donor, Ray Watt, head of Watt Industries Inc., which owns the site. Watt has given about $28,000 to Antonovich campaigns since 1984, state records show.
"It's just pay-back for a good ol' boy," said John Kachelek, who moved to his 13-acre Baker Canyon Road lot five years ago so he and his wife could house their horses.
Both Antonovich and Watt, through their aides, deny the allegation.
"We can make more money on the land if we developed it," said Donal MacAdam, an associate with Watt Industries.
The county had been set to approve the development of a $156,000 master plan for the off-road park in the summer, but the vote was delayed at the request of Antonovich in order to hold tonight's meeting.