The other shoe has officially dropped: The two biggest cities in the Victor Valley are now embroiled in a lawsuit.

"I have now received and reviewed the lawsuit that has been filed by Victorville that challenges Hesperia's agreement with the Brownings on [California Environmental Quality Act] grounds," Hesperia city attorney Eric Dunn said Friday afternoon. "We will be reviewing it with the city council and responding to it."

The city of Victorville is suing the city of Hesperia over the planned move of Valley-Hi Toyota from Victorville to a spot on Amargosa Road. Notice of the suit was served at Hesperia City Hall Friday afternoon.

Toyota Motor Sales USA has ordered local dealerships to upgrade their existing locations, requiring that they operate on a minimum of 13.3 acres and have immediate freeway access by 2012. Valley-Hi Toyota's Victorville location is on a 7-acre lot, below even the current 12.8-acre standard required by Toyota. Kent Browning, the owner of Browning Desert Properties, settled on a 16.701-acre parcel on Amargosa Road, and Browning Desert Properties will pay $5.85 million for the property.

Even as the deal was approved by the Hesperia City Council on October 18, Victorville was threatening legal action, alleging the 50 percent sales tax refund Hesperia was offering Valley-Hi for the first 10 years the dealership was open in the city constituted an illegal "gift of public funds." (The deal requires Valley-Hi to operate in the city for at least 15 years.) Even at a discounted rate, the Toyota dealership will generate more sales tax than almost any other business in Hesperia: A staff report by the city of Hesperia estimates the new Toyota dealership will bring in an estimated $900,000 in sales tax revenue the first year it's open for business.

"The major objection from the city of Victorville's standpoint is the predatory nature of going to a neighboring city and saying 'if you'll move to our city, we'll give you [money] back to fatten your bottom line with,'" said Victorville Mayor Terry Caldwell. "If that practice takes root, it becomes open warfare."

Valley-Hi Toyota "either needed or wanted a bigger footprint," he said. "If they did not see a footprint [in Victorville] that they did want or was acceptable, there's certainly nothing inherently wrong with looking for a footprint in another locale. ... Perhaps the site in Hesperia is the place they're going to go. But if they're going to go anyway, why do they have to have a sales tax return of 50 cents on the dollar?"

According to Caldwell, there's little question that it was the tax rebate that enticed Valley-Hi to cross Bear Valley Road and move to Hesperia.

"If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's probably a duck," he said. "I hate the concept of the cities getting into these kinds of battles. We've avoided it for years. The last time this happened was back in the late '80s and early '90s, and we've avoided warfare for a very long time. ... I would hope that, in return, people would accept that Victorville has to do what's in the best interests of the 105,000 people we represent."

It's common, even routine, for cities around the country to try and entice businesses into their taxable territory by providing additional services, and Victorville does the same. But it's the sales tax rebate that's the problem, according to Caldwell.

"You're taking what's generally a community asset," sales tax, "and basically giving it back to the private sector," he said. "That, in my mind's eye, is different than helping get the infrastructure in place," such as street widening or installing curbs and gutters. "It's a one-time expense."

Hesperia's attorney said the city complied with all relevant laws when it helped convince Browning to make Hesperia the new home for the Toyota dealership.

"The city is aware of the limitations in state law in relocating and assisting businesses," Dunn said, "And we're aware of those limitations and we've addressed them in our documents."

Caldwell said that if Hesperia's tax rebate plan succeeds, every other major business in the Victor Valley would demand the same sort of rebate from their local city. While Victorville's sales tax revenue is obviously in immediate jeopardy in this case, he said the tax rebate should concern every resident in the region.

"Sooner or later, everyone's ox is going to get gored. I'm fearful not for just the city of Victorville, but for the Victor Valley," Caldwell said. "We're all in it together, or at least we should be."

But the Victorville lawsuit -- at least this time around -- is not targeting the alleged illegal gift of funds. Instead, the city of Victorville is accusing Hesperia of being out of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. If the suit is successful -- and CEQA suits tend to have a relatively quick resolution process -- the city will be forced to do an in-depth environmental study.

At this time, Victorville is going with a CEQA suit, which doesn't directly speak to the city's major objection because of the use-it-or-lose-it nature of CEQA suits: There's only a short period that such a suit can be filed after a project is announced.

"On behalf of the citizens of Hesperia, I have to keep my mouth shut," Mayor Rita Vogler said, directing all inquiries to Dunn, as did city officials. "I feel good about our position. And that's about it."

"Hesperia has every intention of following through with this project," Dunn said.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.