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3 High Desert Areas Fastest-Growing

Population: The communities of Palmdale, Acton and Lake Los Angeles top the list in L.A. County, where the number of people increased by 7.4%.

April 03, 2001|ANNETTE KONDO and MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Despite a grueling recession that clobbered the High Desert with foreclosures and layoffs, Los Angeles County's top three fastest-growing communities are all in the Antelope Valley.

Palmdale held onto its title as the county's fastest growing city with a population increase of 69.5% since 1990, followed by Acton with 62.5% and Lake Los Angeles at 44.5%, according to the 2000 Census. The county's population increased only 7.4%.

A larger populace often means growing pains.

Take tiny Acton, a rural, horsy enclave tucked off the Antelope Valley Freeway southwest of Palmdale. Acton residents are clearly antagonistic toward rapid growth in their community.

In January, 200 people crammed the community's small town hall to protest a proposal by Albertson's, which wants to build a market. Angry speakers said they support their hometown grocer, Acton Market, and don't need a fancy, bigger competitor,

The appeals of such communities as Acton and Lake Los Angeles, both unincorporated, are attractive housing prices and a rural lifestyle, said Andy Malakates, a demographer with the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Department.

Palmdale and Lancaster were the first High Desert boomtowns, and now some home buyers are looking for the suburbs of those cities, he said.

"They still look rural, even though they have fast growth," Malakates noted. "You can get a lot more house for the same money."

Median home prices for 2000 were $253,000 in Acton, $92,500 in Lancaster and $106,500 in Palmdale, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a La Jolla research firm. The median price in Los Angeles County for 2000 was $199,000.

Ranch parcels with a house and from one to 10 acres of land generally are in the $300,000 to $600,000 range, said real estate broker Linda Kirk.

"A lot of people want to get out of the rat race. They want a simpler lifestyle," said David Weary, president of the Acton town council. "It's quiet, which is really nice. At night, you don't have all of the lights, noise and traffic."

Despite Acton's ranking as the second-fastest growing community in the county, Weary said the growth is still not particularly noticeable. "They keep building homes, but I haven't seen any large tracts developed in recent years, although there are some on the boards."

The Census Bureau calls Acton a Census Designated Place, or CDP, which means it is a distinct community but not a city. The community now has 2,390 residents, according to the census.

The area of the Acton CDP has more than doubled in the last decade; the Census Bureau defined it as triangular and bounded by Sierra Highway to the north, Soledad Canyon Road on the southeast, and Red Rover Mine Road on the west.

The county Planning Commission postponed its meeting on the Albertson's issue until May 30. Because a large turnout is expected, the hearing will be at Santa Clarita City Hall.

Ed Paralta, who owns a gasoline station in Acton, said the supermarket plans "are threatening our lifestyle. The people of Acton don't want it."

Many of these north Los Angeles County destinations--Acton, Lancaster and Santa Clarita--look much like their suburban siblings farther south decades ago: predominantly white.

Whites make up at least 84% of Acton, 52% of Lancaster and 49% of Lake Los Angeles.

Only Palmdale, which in 1990 was among the nation's fastest-growing cities and was California's fastest-growing city with a 460% increase, is more diverse. Palmdale's population includes 41% to 43% whites, 34% to 38% Latinos, 14% blacks and 4% Asians.

"Everyone comes out here because the prices of houses are so much cheaper," said Christine Damron, 30, who lives in Palmdale. "Everywhere you look, a new batch of homes is going up. And they are selling."

Palmdale's robust growth, demographers say, is partly tied to the High Desert town's expanding boundaries. A decade ago, the city was 77 square miles; today it is 102 square miles.

Two large developments to the west of town--City Ranch and Ritter Ranch--make up nearly half of this annexed land and are expected to add 12,000 homes.

Palmdale just opened its second 18-hole golf course, and the dusty desert is giving way to manicured lawns. Longtime residents said suburban sprawl threatens to merge Lancaster into Palmdale, a much-feared "Los Angelization" of the former rural-flavored communities.

Despite the growth at Lake Los Angeles, a high number of vacant houses that plagued the community a decade ago continue to be a problem today, said Judy Kunkle, who has lived in the community for 21 years.

Homes with half an acre of land or more can be purchased for less than $80,000, but many people abandon them when they grow tired of the hardships of desert living and the long commute to jobs in Los Angeles, she said.

"We've grown from rural with a lot of class to a community with a lot of classics," Kunkle quipped, referring to growing numbers of people who turn their residential lots into used car depositories.

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