GORMAN EYES ANNEXATION TO KERN COUNTY L.A. COUNTY SERVICES TOO FAR AWAY.
GORMAN - In this tiny mountain outpost along Intestate 5 marked by a few gas stations and a water tank bearing its name in bold letters, some property owners have envisioned a community of homes, businesses and a church, and they're willing to move county lines to make it happen.
Local property owner Clyde Martin is leading the drive to move 1,915 acres of this unincorporated area from Los Angeles County into Kern County by pushing the county line 1.5 miles south.
``Any rural community like this that is some distance from a metropolitan area, they often struggle some to be healthy economically,'' said Martin, who began considering annexation when his plan to build a church for his 80-member Mennonite congregation stalled in county red tape.
``We haven't had a new business since Carl's Jr. opened some 10 years ago. ... I think it's depressed to the point where Gorman is becoming a ghost town very slowly.''
About 30 people live in Gorman, north of Santa Clarita and west of Lancaster, and 17 of the area's 21 property owners have signed onto his annexation petition. The rest appear neutral, Martin said.
County officials on both sides are studying the proposal before submitting a formal petition to the Local Agency Formation Commission, which rules on municipal boundary changes in the county.
``It's pretty much in the beginning of the whole process,'' said Norm Hickling, a deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, whose Fifth District borders Kern County. ``There is just a tremendous amount of things that needs to be considered. ... We have to make sure everything makes sense.''
David Price, director of Kern County's Resource Management Agency, which oversees planning, infrastructure and economic development, said, ``We want to know what the cost will be to provide proper service to the folks. (Between tax revenue and service costs), we want to maintain some parity there.''
Gorman was a key pit stop on the old Ridge Route through the Tehachapi Mountains. The Ralphs family - whose name adorns the Southern California grocery chain - owned much of the land here but has since pulled up stakes.
Gorman's importance waned as vibrant communities developed on both ends of the Grapevine, though the outpost still gets its share of truckers and other travelers.
Domingo Fernandes, who runs a local 54-room motel, said guests usually consist of the stranded - either from vehicle breakdown or snow - though the spring wildflower bloom and the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area draw good crowds.
``When their cars break down, they stay here,'' said Fernandes, who moved here three years ago.
Interstate 5 bisects the village. The main commercial drag to the north boasts a single strip mall, lodgings, and some gas stations. A schoolhouse, more gas stations, fast-food joints and ranch homes dot property to the south.
A Lebec-based developer and church deacon, Martin has spent two years applying for a permit to convert a former state Department of Water Resources office into a Mennonite church. The county line rests on a ridge to the north; it was moved there in 2002 in a Kern County annexation, he said.
The squat, one-story building purchased for about $120,000 appears to have been abandoned for some time: Windows are boarded up, and a faded water agency logo adorned a tattered door. Only the fresh coat of exterior paint and new roof shingles betray new ownership. It took months to get permits for the improvements, Martin said.
Part of the problem: The closest county regional planning office is some 43 miles away in Lancaster.
``When I went to Lancaster, they said we need a permit for this,'' Martin said. ``But they thought it was in Kern County. That just shows you how unfamiliar the departments are.''
Martin also owns about 40 acres here and wants to build about 60 homes, which he believes could inject new life and spur businesses in the area.
``Every community needs some growth,'' he said. ``I'm not talking a major subdivision, but even that is healthy, though, if it's done properly.''
And Kern County is better situated to serve Gorman, Martin said. It has sheriff's stations and other public offices five to seven miles away in Frazier Park and in Lebec, which share Gorman's ZIP code. A Kern Regional Transit bus route has linked Gorman to the rest of the county since 2000.
The closest staffed Los Angeles County sheriff's station is 45 miles south in Santa Clarita. Other county agencies have satellite offices in the Antelope Valley.
``I'm not saying that they're trying to ignore us,'' Martin said. ``All I'm saying is, Kern County has the mountain communities up here - all of them except for Gorman - and provides services.''
Fernandes, who supports Kern annexation, agreed.
``We are right on the other end of L.A. County,'' he said. ``Kern County would be more responsive. We have all the facilities just about two miles away. All of the people who work here live in Frazier Park.''
``As communities in a rural area, we need to work together and stick together,'' Martin said. ``We really work together as one community. Why would the ZIP code 93243 - why would there be a county line in the middle of it?''
Eugene Tong, (661) 257-5253
(1 -- color in AV edition only) Clyde Martin, deacon of the California Bible Fellowship, hopes to get the remote, tiny town of Gorman annexed to Kern County.
(2 -- ran in SAC edition only) no caption (Gorman)
(3 -- ran in AV edition only) After trying in vain to get a permit from L.A. County to use this building for California Bible Fellowship services, deacon Clyde Martin says it would be easier to annex the area to nearby Kern County.
David Crane/Staff Photographer