By Mark Gutglueck
Using the pretext that Barstow will become host to a modernized rail yard as the consequence of a $1.5 billion commitment to make it the logical location of an intermodal facility to warehouse and transload freight brought by train coming into the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach onto trucks for distribution to the rest of the country, the Victorville City Council on Tuesday pulled the plug on its 16-year-long commitment to develop the Southern California Logistics Rail Authority’s Victorville Intermodal Facility.
In 2007, the City of Victorville entered into an agreement with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company to carry out the eventual development of an intermodal logistics facility at Southern California Logistics Airport.
While Victorville officials justify the termination of the agreement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe as one that is driven by market conditions and currently prevailing economic trends, those with a more in-depth understanding of the city’s and region’s history recognize that the Southern California Logistics Rail Authority was from its inception a dispensable element in the strategy formulated by Victorville city officials more than three decades ago to outmaneuver San Bernardino County and other High Desert municipalities to take over control of what was then George Air Force Base and is today Southern California Logistics Airport.
The base, originally named the Victorville Army Air Station when it was crash built in the summer and fall of 1941 as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ direct involvement in World War II fast approached, was located on the outskirts of Victorville and closer to Adelanto. In 1988, it was announced that George was to be shuttered by the Department of Defense in 1992.
Victorville city officials, led by Mayor Terry Caldwell and City Manager Jim Cox, were intent upon excluding other political and governmental entities in the region from controlling the facility following its civilian use reconversion. Correctly assessing that Adelanto likewise would be intent on asserting exclusive control of the aerodrome and understanding that the federal government would prioritize dealing and cooperating, during the base decommissioning process, with a regional governmental collective rather than a multitude of individual municipal entities, Caldwell and Cox formulated an approach by which they essentially feigned making a cooperative effort involving San Bernardino County, the City of Hesperia and the Town of Apple Valley under the aegis of the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority, known by its acronym VVEDA. Using VVEDA, Victorville put together a competing proposal for the inheritance of the Air Force Base property and its conversion into a civilian airport and logistics hub.Adelanto, asserting that the Air Force Base was actually more proximate to Adelanto than it was to Victorville and that Adelanto controlled the water supply to the base property, pressed forward with convincing the Department of Defense that it rather than VVEDA should more logically have final control, development rights at and ownership of the base property.
Caldwell, who was an attorney and well-versed in the methods by which government operates, worked in close cooperation with San Bernardino County, Apple Valley and Hesperia through the joint powers collective of the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority, known by its acronym VVEDA, to convince the federal military base re-use authorities that VVEDA offered the best alternative for reclaiming the base. Adelanto, dominated by then-City Administrator Pat Chamberlaine, spared no expense in carrying out the effort to claim the base property as its own. Utilizing its adjunct municipal authority in a way that was not merely questionable but most likely illegal, the City of Adelanto used its redevelopment agency to issue bonds to provide financing to pay for its legal effort to not only assert its claim of ownership rights to the base but to block the efforts by VVEDA. Then-Adelanto Redevelopment Attorney Robert Zaiden Corrado was more than willing to collect what in the final analysis totaled more than $7 million in legal fees to file motion upon motion upon motion with the court system, none of which had any effect other than delaying the ineveitable.
Meanwhile, Victorville had been maneuvering behind the scenes to effectively take control of the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority, paying not only for the legal representation of the authority in its legal responses to the filings made by Corrado on behalf of Adelanto, but secretly defraying Hesperia and Apple Valley’s VVEDA membership dues. In this way, the voting members of the City of Hesperia and the Town of Apple Valley on the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority board of directors became what were essentially puppets of Victorville, or more essentially, Caldwell and Cox.
Chamberlain, Corrado and a series of warring political factions on the Adelanto City Council proved no match for the more patient, knowledgeable, sophisticated and well-connected Caldwell and Cox.
On Friday, April 29, 1994 James Boatright, then the Air Force’s deputy assistant secretary for installations, signed a lease giving the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority essential dominion over 2,300 acres at the base. On January 9, 1995, the Air Force announced that it would deal with VVEDA exclusively in the discussion with regard to the annexation of the remaining 3,039 acres on the base that VVEDA had not yet leased. At 9 p.m. on February 1, 1995 after a vote of the city council, then-Adelanto Mayor Judy Crommie and then Mayor Pro Tem Mary Scarpa signed a copy of an agreement previously signed by VVEDA officials that had been forged between the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority and the City of Adelanto in which both entities agreed to end the legal wrangling over the base. With the signing of that peace pact, Adelanto gave up any land claims at the base and further utterly capitulated on all other ownership, entitlement, management, taxing authority and control issues while retaining its previously established water rights on the base property.
With the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority having prevailed in the competition to assume control of the base property, one the last remaining steps to be taken by Victorville, Caldwell and Cox was to have Victorville shake off the fictional VVEDA mantle so that Victorville could take over de facto control of the Air Force Base. Once VVEDA safely had the base secured, Caldwell and his support network machinated further to have Victorville assume from the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority primary responsibility, control and ultimately ownership of the air base, rebranded as Southern California Logistics Airport. Victorville thereafter solidified its dominance over the airport through the creation of the Southern California Logistics Airport Authority, which was dedicated to the redevelopment of a 132-square mile area in and around the former Air Force base. Known by its acronym SCLAA, the Southern California Logistics Airport Authority was chartered with the five members of the Victorville City Council serving as its board of directors.
In 1996, Caldwell and Cox had their Hesperia and Apple Valley puppets on the VVEDA board delegated the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority’s decision-making authority with respect to Southern California Logistics Airport to the Southern California Logistics Airport Authority.
To keep up appearances, Victorville yet needed to make a show of managing the airport in a way that would be beneficial to the High Desert region as a whole. It made progress in that direction in July 2000 by welcoming its unsuccessful nemesis in the battle for George Air Force Base, the City of Adelanto, into VVEDA. While VVEDA was then, and remains to this day, an essentially meaningless vestige of the competition for control of the base, the continuation of the authority and the outward show of cooperation with Aelanto under the aegis of VVEDA – even though it has not even marginal meaning or impact over what occurs at the airport – further legitimizes Victorville’s primacy at the airport.
In 2001, the City of Victorville/the Southern California Logistics Authority and the former Victorville Redevelopment Agency entered into a Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement to form the Southern California Logistics Rail Authority. It was apparent to virtually everyone who was paying attention that the Southern California Logistics Rail Authority was another element of the ruse to ensure that Victorville obtained and maintained control over the Air Force Base property/airport. One obvious indication of this was the fate of a railroad spur from the existing rail line in the area that the Air Force had constructed to a set of base warehouses. That spur had been used for conveying supplies, critical airplane parts, weaponry and machinery to the base. Upon the closure of the base, the spur remained as a convenient means of conveying cargo and merchandize not only to but from the base. Nevertheless, one of the first things that Victorville officials did upon VVEDA obtaining ownership of the base was to tear out the rail spur. In doing so, Victorville officials offered the justification that they were committed to transforming the former base’s runway and accompanying aviation facilities into the premier civilian airport in the Mojave Desert and that such 20th Century contrivances as railway lines were passé, out of keeping with creating aviation facilities that embodied cutting edge technology and futuristic industrial operations.
Despite the claims by Victorville officials that they were dedicated to the concept of establishing the remainder of the base property that was not being directly used for aviation and its surrounding property as an intermodal transportation hub involving air cargo, rail freight and nearby Interstate 15, the Southern California Logistics Rail Authority remained dormant and there was no progress to speak of with regard to developing the Southern California Logistics Victorville Intermodal Facility.
Victorville city officials, who never aggressively pursued, indeed only made a minimal showing of interest in the Southern California Logistics Victorville Intermodal Facility, now maintain that they have lost interest in the concept because the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company has made pursuing the $1.5 billion, 4,500-acre integrated rail facility to be known at the Barstow International Gateway a corporate priority.
The modernized railyard, which will employ upwards of 15,000 people, will be located on the west side of Barstow and will accommodate both traditional and automated direct transfer of containers that arrive in the High Desert after having been taken off ships at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, lowered onto train cars that were then sent by rail through the Alameda Corridor to Barstow.
Victorville city officials say whatever momentum once existed toward the Southern California Logistics Victorville Intermodal Facility has now come to a screeching halt and that building the 3,500-acre rail facilities next to Southern California Logistics Airport no longer makes any sense.
Whether accompanying plans to develop as much as 20 million square-feet of manufacturing facilities, factories and foundries along with warehouses in the area surrounding the airport will survive has yet to be determined. Like the rail facility, that Southern California Logistics Industrial Core plan has remained dormant.
By Mark Gutglueck