Peninsula Cities' Wealth Worries Departing Official

Times Staff Writer

Wealth is changing the four cities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and not necessarily for the better, says the city manager of one of those cities who is leaving after 12 years.

"This has been a family-oriented community for a long time, and I'm worried that that's being lost," said Harry Peacock, who will leave his office in Rolling Hills Estates City Hall for the last time on Friday.

"It's an economic reality that the people moving in here now are a lot more wealthy than the people who are already here," he said in a wide-ranging interview. "The older residents are more concerned about the community than the new crop. I feel they're not as much community-involved."

An example of that, he said, is the fact that attendance has been dropping for two or three years at the annual city birthday celebration in September. "It's not as big as it used to be and neighborhoods are not as involved in setting up booths," he said.

Median Incomes

Median household incomes for 1985 in the four cities range from an estimated $55,000 in Rancho Palos Verdes, the largest city on the Peninsula, to $75,000 in Rolling Hills, a private community and the smallest. In between are Rolling Hills Estates, with a median income of $56,000, and Palos Verdes Estates, $65,000. Estimates are based on the 1980 Census.

Peacock, who is 44 and will begin a new job Tuesday as city manager of the Northern California community of Saratoga, said about half of the Peninsula's residents--including him--would be unable to afford to buy their own homes today.

When he came to the city in 1973, Peacock paid $49,500 for his three-bedroom hilltop home. It is now on the market for $215,000.

Citing declining enrollment and the closing of schools on the Peninsula, Peacock said he is concerned that there is a trend "away from community" and toward an enclave of wealth.

Not as Many Children

"Back a generation, this place was just jammed with kids," said Peacock, adding that community involvement traditionally has been focused on children. Those youngsters have grown up and "the typical family that is going to have young children can't afford to move on to the Peninsula. The population is not dropping, so kids are being replaced by adults."

Peacock said there is a plus side to the change: Residents are spending more time on the Peninsula "because they like it, and are seeking more of their goods, services and entertainment there." Office and retail space has increased, he said.

As to his change of locale, Peacock said he had mixed emotions about leaving a city he has called home, but he said "it is time for me to have a change."

Praising Peacock's work, Mayor Jerome Belsky said the City Council accepted Peacock's resignation "with the greatest of reluctance."

From his longtime vantage point as the chief administrator of a communmity of 7,000, Peacock sees the four Peninsula cities as enjoying a kind of separate togetherness.

Operate as Unit

"The Peninsula is a unit more than people realize," he said. The four cities have a joint recreation program. Three of the cities, excluding Rolling Hills, operate their own transportation system under the banner of Palos Verdes Transit. While Palos Verdes Estates has its own police department, the other three make up a law enforcement region under the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Last year, Rancho Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills Estates joined with the county to widen a portion of Hawthorne Boulevard.

But, Peacock said, the four cities hold tenaciously to their own identities.

"Rolling Hills is the city behind the gates and Palos Verdes Estates is the grande dame of the Peninsula because there is a conservative, restrained sort of mantle about the city," Peacock said.

"Rancho Palos Verdes is a Baby Hughie, the biggest kid on the block, and the youngest, but it doesn't know its own strength and it likes to throw its weight around. Rolling Hills Estates is the most diverse. Every neighborhood has a homeowners association, and the city has the (county) landfill, the (Chandler gravel) quarry, a country club, Peninsula Center, and is the employment center for the Peninsula."

Settling Down

Peacock said Rolling Hills Estates sparred with "Baby Hughie" for a few years before settling down to be friends. Rancho Palos Verdes sued to block a 1973 plan to expand the Peninsula Center shopping mall, which is near the boundary between the two cities, but the plan died anyway, Peacock said. When Rancho Palos Verdes was later considering an expansion of Marineland, Rolling Hills Estates threatened to sue. "We were afraid of traffic all over the Peninsula and asphalt bluffs," he said.

When the Courtyard Mall went up in the Peninsula Center area in 1979, however, Rolling Hills Estates gave Rancho Palos Verdes a portion of its sales tax revenue from the mall because that city's proximity to the center would add to its street maintenance and police costs. "We buried the hatchet," Peacock said.

Occasional proposals that the Peninsula cities be merged have never gone anywhere, Peacock said, because "residents fear the loss of individuality and local control, and the impersonality of a big city."

And he is not an advocate of unification.

"You would get rid of three city managers, but then you'd get three or four assistants you don't have now," he said. "You might save $100,000 to $200,000."

Less Responsive

He said one large city government "can be less responsive, playing one group off against another. Issues unique to one area may not get the attention they deserve. The major fear of Rolling Hills Estates if there were one city is that horses would be forced out. Would there be allocations of money for horse trails, or would the money be spent on police or sidewalks?"

Back in 1968, five years before Rancho Palos Verdes became a city, Rolling Hills Estates was going to annex all of the unincorporated Peninsula, Peacock said. But a political shift on the City Council killed the idea. "The new people wanted to keep the population small and have a manageable city," he said.

Peacock came to Rolling Hills Estates from Gardena, where, he said, he was asked to resign as chief administrative officer after ing a change in the City Council majority.

"The people here are a close-knit family and generally are in consensus on major policy issues," he said. "I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven when I got here," he said.

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