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CITY

OF

Q U AR TZ

Three-quarters of a century later, forty thousand Antelope Valley commuters slither bumper-to-bumper each morning through Soledad Pass on their way to long-distance jobs in the smog-shrouded and overdeveloped San Fernando Valley. Briefly a Red Desert in the heyday of Llano (1914-18), the high Mojave for the last fifty years has been preeminently the Pentagon’s playground. Patton’s army trained here to meet Rommel (the ancient tank tracks are still visible), while Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier over the Antelope Valley in his Bell X-l rocket plane. Under the 18,000 square-mile, ineffable blue dome of R-2508 - ‘the most important military airspace in the world’ - ninety thousand military training sorties are still flown every year. But as developable land has disappeared throughout the coastal plains and inland basins, and soaring land inflation has reduced access to new housing to less than 15 per cent of the population, the militarized desert has suddenly become the last frontier of the Southern California Dream. With home prices $100,000 cheaper that in the San Fernando Valley, the archetypical suburban fringe of the 1950s, the Antelope Valley has nearly doubled in population over the last decade, with another quarter million new arrivals expected by 2010. Eleven thousand new homes were started in 1988 alone. But since the Valley’s economic base, not counting real-estate agents, consists almost entirely of embattled Cold War complexes Edwards Air Force Base and Plant 42 (altogether about eighteen thousand civilian jobs) - most of the new homebuyers will simply swell the morning commute on the Antelope Valley Freeway. The pattern of urbanization here is what design critic Peter Plagens once called the ‘ecology of evil’.2 Developers don’t grow homes in the desert - this isn’t Marrakesh or even Tucson - they just clear, grade and pave, hook up some pipes to the local artificial river (the federally subsidized California Aqueduct), build a security wall and plug in the ‘product’. With generations of experience in uprooting the citrus gardens of Orange County and the San Fernando Valley, the developers - ten or twelve major firms, headquartered in places like Newport Beach and Beverly Hills - regard the desert as simply another abstraction of dirt and dollar signs. The region’s major natural wonder, a Joshua tree forest containing individual specimens often thirty feet high and older than the Domesday Book, is being bulldozed into oblivion. Developers regard the magnificent Joshuas, unique to this

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