The easiest way to upgrade a neighborhood is to change its name, some Canoga Park homeowners have decided.
Residents of a three-square-mile section of Canoga Park have launched a campaign to rename their community "West Hills" in the hope that property values will climb and insurance rates will drop as they distinguish themselves from Canoga Park's factories and aging subdivisions.
But the name change idea has drawn quick fire from others in Canoga Park, who say the secessionists are snobs who threaten to damage the community.
The proposed West Hills community would be at the western edge of the San Fernando Valley in an area bounded by Roscoe Boulevard on the north, Woodlake Avenue, Sherman Way and Platt Avenue on the east, Victory Boulevard on the south and the Los Angeles County line on the west.
Some 4,700 single-family homes and 35 businesses are within the proposed boundaries.
"There are interests here that deserve distinction. This is a very highly motivated, dynamic area ," said Joel Schiffman, head of a group that calls itself the Committee for the Official Designation of West Hills.
During the past weekend, the committee began circulating petitions that call upon city officials to approve the designation. Group members said they hope to get the name changed next month--at the same time postal officials open a new substation near the center of the West Hills area.
"City Councilwoman Joy Picus suggested the petition drive. She said if an overwhelming majority of the residents want it, she will ordain it," said Schiffman, a 32-year-old lawyer who moved to Canoga Park a year ago and began planning the name change campaign three months later. Two other attorneys, Richard Delliveneri and Fred Gober, also are leading the drive.
"At one time, Canoga Park and Van Nuys were distinguished," Schiffman said "Now, they are recognized as areas of light industry and commercial. Out here, we're 99% residential."
West Hills supporters say their boundaries include hilly neighborhoods but exclude commercial development in Canoga Park's flatland. Also included is a 303-home subdivision in an unincorporated area at the edge of Canoga Park that has called itself West Hills for two decades.
The supporters claim the West Hills name would give the area prestige that has eluded it as part of Canoga Park. They contend the new identity would also give them political clout in pushing for parks and creation of a new local ZIP code--something that could pave the way for lowered home and auto insurance rates for the area.
"The name West Hills will add 5% to the value of homes," real estate sales agent Lynn Garvanian said Monday.
"The name Canoga Park doesn't always conjure up the image of what you find west of Woodlake Avenue. I'd hate to think that people think about the Pussycat Theater on Sherman Way when they think about Canoga Park," said Garvanian, whose firm is helping finance the name-change campaign.
The downtown area in the vicinity of the sexually oriented theater also is the location of the town's barrio. Although the 91,336 population of Canoga Park is predominantly Anglo, the most recent U.S. Census listed 4,121 Latinos as living in its central area. Last week, federal immigration officials raided a nearby street corner where day laborers gather each morning to solicit jobs.
Canoga Park Chamber of Commerce President William Vietinghoff said Monday that his group will oppose the secessionist movement on grounds the western residential area is important to the town's total makeup and balance.
He said it is important that Canoga Park have a wide range of housing--from inexpensive apartments near the center of town to the large, single-family homes at its western edge, which have sold for as much as $360,000.
"We'd question where the movement is coming from--developers, isolated homeowners? To whose benefit will it be?" Vietinghoff asked.
Picus was unavailable for comment Monday.
In Canoga Park, people are quickly choosing sides.
"I don't want to put Canoga Park down, but to me, it sounds like an old city," said Lee Auna, who moved into a newly built home in west Canoga Park two weeks ago. " 'West Hills' has more charm. It sounds fresh. I think it's a wonderful idea. I signed the petition."
"It is a little more prestigious sounding. It will be good for the area," said 26-year Vanowen Street resident Milton Miller, who also signed the petition Monday.
But Howard Schultz, who has lived for 10 years in the unincorporated tract that bears the West Hills name, refused to sign the petition when it was presented to him.
"It's the first step in becoming part of L.A. city," he said.
"It seems like a snob-appeal thing to me," said Millie La Porte, a 26-year Canoga Park resident who lives outside the proposed West Hills boundary but works inside it as a secretary at the 700-student Chaminade College Preparatory.
"I live in Canoga Park and I like the name. Anyway, can you imagine having to change the name on all of our school records? We have 40 different forms and letterheads and 3,000 alumni we'd have to notify. I don't even want to think about it."