November 27, 2010 12:00 PM
Brooke Edwards

Adelapple Victeria? Hespelanto Appleville? Or perhaps just Victor Valley?

“If there ever was a time to have serious discussions about consolidating, with all the municipalities struggling as they are — and despite how monumental a task it would be — the time is now,” argued Mike Stevens, a 35-year Victor Valley resident and community activist.

Stevens said he’s been advocating for Victorville, Hesperia, Apple Valley and Adelanto and their chambers of commerce to merge for many years, looking at how forming one large city could streamline operations, save on administrative costs and give local cities more clout with state and county agencies.

It’s an idea that’s gaining steam across the state, as cities look for ways to cut costs.

Gus Morrison, five-term former mayor of Fremont, is proposing merging that city with two of its neighbors, according to a report in the San Francisco Gate. The city of Vernon might be forced to merge because of its financial difficulties. And Fred Smoller, director of Brandman University’s public administration graduate program, told the Orange County Register he’s questioning why they have seven cities serving half the county’s population and 27 cities to serve the other half.

“Jurisdictions are getting so fiscally pinched that they’re looking for anything that might help just a little, and I applaud them for doing that. But I don’t think they’re looking in the right place,” said Douglas Johnson, fellow with Claremont McKenna College’s Rose Institute of State and Local Government. “It’s very hard to merge two or more cities together, with the massive financial details to work out. And I don’t know that you gain all that much.”

Most cities would be reluctant to take on the bond debt, pension obligations and other hurdles their neighbors might bring to the table, Johnson said, with too little money coming out of Sacremento now to make the additional lobbying power worthwhile.

And just because you merge two cities doesn’t mean you would necessarily be able to let half of the workers go, he argued, with the same number of building permits to be processed, water meters to be read and so on.

“You might be able to consolidate some of the high-profile, high-salary positions,” he said, for just one department head rather than four. “But you’re not going to be able to make large staff cuts, and you’re talking about millions in transaction costs to merge.”

There’s also the issue of city character.

“I don’t think it is a practical idea for lots of reasons — not the least of which is local community identity,” said Victorville Councilman Terry Caldwell, who’s the longest-standing local elected official. “…That’s why cities incorporate in the first place.”

Johnson echoed that sentiment, pointing out that the town of Apple Valley doesn’t even want to be called a city and so it would be hard to imagine they’d want to become part of a very large one.

Local cities do already have much in common.

With the exception of Apple Valley’s Fire Protection District, every local city now contracts with San Bernardino County for fire and police services.

The four cities all share a regional redevelopment agency, with the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority including portions of each municipality. And all of the cities are controlling members of Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority, handling sewage service for the entire area.

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Brooke Edwards may be reached at (760) 955-5358 or at bedwards@VVDailyPress.com.