Barstow is a natural transportation hub: railways and freeways connect the town with Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Arizona. Recently, though, Barstow has begun to outgrow its rest stop image by attracting jobs that will boost its population and housing demand. With prices much lower than in many other areas of southern California, including nearby Victorville, Barstow’s affordable housing will likely attract residents employed in Barstow and in the surrounding region.
Located midway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas along Interstate 15, Barstow sees more than 55 million people in 19 million vehicles passing through the city each year, according to the city of Barstow’s website.
“For years, Barstow was a railroad, fast food, gas station town for travelers really heading to Las Vegas and Arizona,” Tom Berchtold, a real estate consultant and broker with Gold Point Realty, said. “The downtown has been cleaned up and they’re really trying to bring it back to looking like Main Street USA, so that gives the town quite a character.”
“The thing about Barstow is that it’s located strategically right at the crossroads of the I-15…Interstate 40, Highway 58, and then the rail hub that’s located here is I think the biggest this side of the Mississippi,” Dave Strachan, broker/associate with Elite Realty and a local investor, said.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad’s classification yard is located in Barstow, so cargo transport by rail and truck are major elements to Barstow’s economy. Nearly 60 percent of the goods delivered through the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports move through Barstow on their way to the east coast, Joseph W. Brady, co-founder of the Bradco Companies and co-owner of Coldwell Banker Golden West Real Estate, said.
Air cargo transport also has a big impact on the local economy. Victorville, located 30 miles south of Barstow, is home to the Southern California Logistics Airport, which is poised to become one of the largest international cargo airports in the nation, according to the city of Barstow’s website.
The airport is becoming an intermodal facility that will be attached to the Santa Fe rail line, “and it’s going to try and take a lot of the cargo that’s coming into L.A.,” Strachan said. The airport is projected to directly generate 10,000 to 15,000 jobs, and the ancillary jobs it generates will number in the tens of thousands, he said.
Some of the people employed at the airport are going to live in the Barstow area, Brady said. “I think that’s why the world is now taking a very hard look at Barstow, Victorville and the correlation—30 miles is nothing.”
A $45 million study was approved for development of a Maglev Train, a high-speed passenger train, which would travel from Las Vegas through Barstow to Anaheim. This would make commuting a realistic option for Barstow residents, but the project is just a study at this point.
Barstow’s population was just 23,575 at the beginning of 2005, according to the city’s website, but as jobs in the area increase, the population is likely to grow.
Military bases in the area are strong and the national training center is expanding with more jobs, many of which are civilian jobs, Ann Marie Hammond of Coldwell Banker Golden West Real Estate in Barstow said. Because Barstow is the nearest city to the training center, many military families live in town, she said.
“Barstow was also recently designated as a California Enterprise Zone, which provides a lot of tax incentives to companies and businesses that locate out here,” Strachan said.
This 15-year designation is given by the state to stimulate companies to invest in lower income areas, he said. “Home Depot recently opened their doors here to take direct advantage of the Enterprise Zone, and Wal-Mart has also announced that they’re planning on building an 8,000 square foot distribution center.”
Proper marketing and utilization of the California Enterprise Zone will attract more companies and better, well-paying jobs to the area, Strachan said. “If the jobs are here, the rooftops will follow.”
Unlike many cities which claim to want business but don’t really welcome it, Barstow wants business and good quality developers, “and they welcome you with open arms,” Brady said. “They use common sense. Their city council is hands on. The mayor, Lawrence Dale, is probably the hardest working mayor I have ever seen.”
Industrial development is occurring in the western part of town, where IDS Real Estate Group purchased 1,200 acres that is now called the Barstow Industrial Park, Brady said. That purchase “exemplifies the fact that they believe that there will be a very strong industrial market…out there someday,” he said.
Adjacent to that industrial park is a 40-acre site Wal-Mart purchased for a 900,000 square foot refrigerated distribution facility, Brady said.
Barstow is currently in the process of trying to secure a dual American Indian gaming casino/resort in the Lenwood outlet center area in the south end of town, Strachan said.
The prospects for the California legislature granting approval on the casinos are good because it would be beneficial for both the state and the city, Brady said.
Many investors are waiting to see what happens with the casino approval, but land in that area will become more desirable once approval is granted, Brady said.
Affordability and appeal
Barstow residents benefit from a relatively low cost of living, with affordable housing in comparison to other areas of southern California. Barstow is probably the most affordable market in the state, Hammond said.
“One of the problems in these major areas like L.A. is that a lot of it has become overpriced for most people,” Berchtold said. “San Bernardino County has the most affordable houses, and Barstow, being located in San Bernardino, has some major advantages….real estate prices are still very low here. For example, land sells for as low as $25,000 a parcel.”
Barstow’s price for homes is “$180,000 plus or minus on the resale side, and although the housing market is slow, those people that just cannot afford to live within southern California and can’t find employment within that area are going to move on out there,” Brady said.
Barstow’s affordability attracts lower income residents who are unable to afford to live in larger cities such as Los Angeles. Changes to the Section 8 low income housing system in Los Angeles have caused many of those people to relocate to Barstow, Hammond said.
This can be an opportunity for investors who provide low income housing and benefit from Section 8 guaranteed rent, but it also brings increased crime to the city, Hammond said. “We do have a new chief of police in our city just recently, and we’re really seeing that our police…are really making an effort to make sure that none of this gets out of hand.”
It may be inexpensive, but Barstow is within easy reach of a variety of recreational and entertainment opportunities. “It’s still a rural area but has access to big cities,” Berchtold said. “Within an hour’s drive, you could play golf, fish, waterski, access…major airports, San Bernardino University, theater, just about anything you want.”
The high desert climate provides plenty of sunshine. Barstow’s convenient location and nice weather make it a natural retiree destination, but it will need more infrastructure development, including nice residences and golf courses, in order to attract retirees.
With developments occurring in both business and housing, “Barstow is really starting to develop into more than a little town and a rest stop for travelers,” Berchtold said. “I think in the future here it’s going to be very good for jobs and a place to live.”