Do you know that moment when you’re driving north on Interstate 5 through the Tehachapi Mountains when the wide expanse of the San Joaquin Valley comes into view?
On a clear day, it’s an impressive sight. But next time you’re there - look around. Most of what you see, from the hills down to the valley floor is a part of the Tejon Ranch –the largest privately owned piece of land in California.
And it’s here – right at the base of the mountains, where Interstate 5 and Highway 99 meet that developers from the ranch are planning a new town – known simply as Grapevine.
Right now, it’s where travelers stop for coffee, gas, charge their Teslas and order hamburgers. It’s also home to giant warehouse distribution centers for brands like IKEA and Caterpillar. But it could soon also be the site of 12,000 homes, apartments and condos, according to Barry Zoeller, spokesperson for the ranch.
“It really is a long range plan of how do we develop a community to meet the needs of all the workers that are currently employed at Tejon Ranch Commerce Center,” Zoeller says.
The community aims to house the 2,500 employees that currently work at the commerce center and 5,000 future workers in commercial developments that will be built in coming years. And Zoeller says the development is consistent with a 2008 settlement between the ranch and environmental groups that set aside 90 percent of the ranch’s 270,000 acres for conservation.
Zoeller says Grapevine will be a complete community “with entertainment options, recreation options, grocery stores, sites for schools – everything self-contained so you don’t have to drive to go get all of those.”
But the history of this connecting piece of California dates back to the 1850s.
“The location at the base of the Grapevine was home to what was called Rose Station and Rose Station was one of the stage coach stops on the Butterfield Stage Coach Line, which went from San Diego up to the gold fields in the Sacramento area,” Zoeller says.
“It was complete with a post office, obviously the stage coach stop. It had general stores, boarding houses, a bordello or some kind of saloon – this was the Wild West we are talking about.”
Zoeller says Tejon Ranch is adding to the history already present at the base of the Grapevine.
“It was always the crossroads of people going north and south and east and west,” Zoeller says. “So it’s always been a center for California Commerce. Approximately 65 million people a year pass by the site, 14 million people a year stop at the commerce center and another 11 million we expect will be stopping at the Outlets at Tejon Ranch.”
And it’s this sheer volume of visitors that Tejon Ranch wants to capitalize on. Earlier this year, construction began on a 325,000 square foot outdoor shopping mall which will house more than 70 stores offering designer goods at discount prices. The Outlets at Tejon Ranch are estimated to cost $90 million.
“So what would have been considered a weigh station for travelers and a location for the distribution of goods will now become a destination in and of itself with people coming to shop at all these designer stores to get those designer brands at valued prices,” Zoeller says.
But those in Bakersfield and other neighboring cities should be a little wary of the outlets, says Kern County District Four Supervisor David Couch.
“What ought to be a concern to the City of Bakersfield and other cities is more the retail side of that,” Couch says. “All cities are very aware of sales tax generators that pull sales tax dollars from their communities.”
Couch also says that there are two sides to how the Tejon Ranch projects will impact Kern County.
“You can look at it on its face and say this is going to have an impact because you’re going to have an increase of property tax, an increase of sales tax, an increase in jobs available – and all those things are positive,” he says. “The flipside of that is you get more traffic, more services being needed. It’s not a free lunch.”
He adds that increased business in the area could also add to pollution. But Zoeller says Grapevine will address those concerns by “deemphasizing the automobile and emphasizing a more sustainable lifestyle.”
He says the development will be built in a series of compact villages, with bike trails and pedestrian features.
Zoeller says the company has already requested modifications to Kern County’s General Plan to accommodate the new plan, but it’s too early to discuss details like environmental review, sources of water and potential sites for schools.
Tejon Ranch is also building a 25,000 acre 3,500 home Tejon Mountain Village mountain resort community overlooking Lebec in the Tehachapi Mountains. The approved project will break ground soon.