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Lancaster Wants Say on Area Near Base

Development: City officials seek to keep housing away from land earmarked as test site for space shuttle prototype.

August 31, 1996|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lancaster city officials appeared before a state Senate committee in the first step of a complex effort to keep residential developers out of a desert area that they hope will become a modernistic spaceport.

The city is trying to gain a "sphere of influence" over a portion of Edwards Air Force Base that is earmarked as a test site for the X-33, a prototype for the next generation of the space shuttle.

This legal standing would provide a foothold against construction of housing tracts on surrounding land, where future homeowners could oppose turning the test site into a permanent facility.

"We just want to make sure that people don't build houses in there and we end up with terrible noise-impact issues," City Manager Jim Gilley said. "That really has been the death knell for so many Air Force projects."

A sphere of influence designates land that could eventually be annexed by a city, and many cities in growing areas have spheres that extend well beyond their borders.

Although a sphere of influence does not give a city legal jurisdiction over an area, it gives the city greater legal standing to support or oppose development there. In this case, Lancaster would hope to influence the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which has jurisdiction over the area next to the base.

The X-33 program is seen as a potential boon to the struggling Antelope Valley.

Earlier this summer, Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works division in Palmdale was awarded a $1-billion contract to develop the prototype. The reusable rockets will be designed to allow NASA to shuttle astronauts and equipment to and from space stations.

If the prototype proves successful, and if it can be applied to other uses, the X-33 could be mass-produced, adding several thousand jobs and billions of dollars to the local economy.

Lancaster has been positioning itself as a home base--a desert version of Cape Canaveral--for the new shuttle.

Toward that end, Gilley and City Councilman Jim Jeffra traveled to Sacramento on Thursday for a complicated bit of maneuvering before the Senate Rules Committee.

They spoke in support of an amendment to AB 296 that would allow the city to gain a sphere of influence over 19,200 acres of federal land in the northeastern Antelope Valley. That influence would extend to adjoining privately owned property.

"The timing is critical because Lockheed Martin is going to be spending millions of dollars on the launch site," Gilley said. "We want to be sure that this is the permanent site."

The amendment's supporters hope it will pass through the Local Government Committee and then the Senate itself this morning. It could then proceed to the Assembly, said Matt Rexroad, chief of staff for Assemblyman William J. "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale), who is sponsoring the amendment.

"I hope that we are done here by Saturday night," Jeffra said. "So far things are going smoothly."

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