To motorists zipping by on the Pomona Freeway or navigating around the bends of Turnbull Canyon Road, this bedroom community might seem a mishmash of incongruous features.
Single-story California ranch homes sprawl across the base of the Puente Hills. Horse stables dot the countryside, surrounded by picket fences and lush green fields.
Higher up in the hills, custom-built luxury homes--some selling for $1.5 million--command breathtaking views of the San Gabriel Valley.
But spread out in the flats below is a bustling hub of Korean, Chinese and Latino businesses sitting alongside Anglo establishments--a testament to the rapid growth of the area's immigrant populations.
Finally, there are the only two landmarks in town that draw tourists from all over: a 1,531-acre dump and a glistening Buddhist monastery, the largest in the Western Hemisphere.
Hacienda Heights "is difficult to characterize," said Bill Lynch, 60, who owns Kwik Copy Printing on Gale Avenue. "It's just a good place to live and a good place to own property. Just a good place."
But some community leaders believe they can weave all the diverse elements together and make Hacienda Heights more than just a bedroom community. They are resurrecting a long-fought campaign to become Los Angeles County's newest city.
Next week they plan to kick off a voter petition drive for an election on the issue. They also intend to start enlisting volunteers and contributors for the effort.
However, Hacienda Heights has a history of aborted attempts to become a city that might discourage even the most determined proponents of incorporation.
In 1982, just as residents were gearing up for a November cityhood election, opponents of the move discovered that some of the signatures on a petition calling for the vote had been forged. Los Angeles County officials canceled the election.
Then, three years later, another cityhood drive failed when political squabbling erupted among those spearheading the effort.
But now, community leaders say they've learned valuable lessons from their past mistakes, and are determined to succeed this time.
They already have a backer in Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana, whose newly configured 4th District includes most of Hacienda Heights. Dana said this week that he will support the incorporation drive--a clear shift in attitude from former Supervisor Pete Schabarum, who did not favor Hacienda Heights cityhood.
"It looks like an area whose time has come to be a city," Dana said Monday. "I'll assist them in any way I can if they come up with a viable plan. I would even consider letting them use my name on their literature."
Dana's help is important because he holds a seat on the county's seven-member Local Agency Formation Commission, which reviews all cityhood applications. It then recommends to the Board of Supervisors whether to proceed with an election, in which a simple majority would be needed to approve cityhood.
In 1982, LAFCO found there was a large enough tax base in Hacienda Heights to support a city government. The supervisors had set an election date shortly before the signature fraud came to light. This time around, cityhood advocates believe the area is in even better financial shape because of a surge in local business activity.
But community opposition may resurface. Charlie Gray, a member of a group that opposed the first drive to incorporate, said opponents plan to reorganize when the cityhood effort gains momentum.
"We don't need another layer of government," Gray said. "The community runs along smoothly. What services are we missing? We've got wonderful everything."
The pro-cityhood group's reasons for wanting to incorporate are virtually the same as they were nine years ago, and similar to views shared by cityhood proponents in areas from Malibu to the San Fernando Valley.
Cityhood proponents portray the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which governs unincorporated areas, as a political behemoth that takes too much away in taxes--most recently in the form of a new 5% utility tax to fund mental health programs--and doesn't give much back in the way of services directly to the community.
In a city, they say, residents would have more control over a number of issues, including how their tax dollars are spent, the size of homes that may be built, the kind of commercial development allowed and whether to beef up police patrols.
"We need a City Council where the individual citizen can have a one-on-one opportunity to meet with elected officials," said Jim Baker, who is heading a seven-member committee that will run the cityhood campaign. Baker is vice president of the 35-year-old Hacienda Heights Improvement Assn., a residents group.
Wil Baca, who is on the cityhood committee, noted that each supervisorial district is vast--Dana's stretches from Marina del Rey to Diamond Bar and encompasses 1.8 million residents. "Hacienda Heights people are tired of being told the supervisor is supposed to be our mayor and City Council at the same time. That's impossible."
Hacienda Heights, with 52,000 residents according to recently released U.S. Census figures, faces a unique set of problems and concerns that an incorporation drive is sure to bring to the surface.
One is the issue of the landfill. Cityhood proponents want to include an area next to the Puente Hills dump--whose elaborate waste treatment system has drawn camera-toting tourists from as far away as Taiwan--within the proposed city boundaries.
The dump, already the country's second-largest landfill, is slated for possible expansion into an area next to a residential neighborhood in Hacienda Heights. If the area were part of an incorporated Hacienda Heights, cityhood advocates believe they would have more power to stop the expansion, which is vehemently opposed by residents groups and some politicians.
LAFCO excluded the dump expansion site from the proposed city limits during the first incorporation drive, but cityhood proponents hope to persuade the current members of the commission to allow the area to become part of the city of Hacienda Heights.
Clearly, Hacienda Heights is not what it was nine years ago. In 1982, the community was predominantly white, upper-middle class, and Republican, with some Latino enclaves.
Today, Hacienda Heights still is known for its upscale neighborhoods and political conservatism; both of its state legislators are Republicans, Sen. Frank Hill and Assemblyman Paul Horcher.
The area's median income is $56,450, according to a private consultant to the U.S. Census Bureau. Property values in Hacienda Heights shot up during the late 1980s, as they did elsewhere in Los Angeles County. Today, a single-family tract home costs about $450,000, said Gaddis (Top) Maddox, manager of Century 21 Young Realty in Hacienda Heights. New homes are rarely less than 3,000 square feet, he said.
But instead of drawing more Anglo families over the years, the area has become a destination for Chinese and Korean newcomers, many of whom immigrated to less-expensive areas in Los Angeles a while ago and are "moving up" to a neighborhood with nicer homes and better schools.
Hacienda Heights' Asian population increased 157% between 1980 and 1990, a figure comparable to growth in neighboring cities in the East San Gabriel Valley. Latinos increased by 28% and blacks by 56%. By contrast, the community's Anglo population decreased 31%.
The ethnic shift is most visible along the community's major thoroughfares, Hacienda Boulevard and Gale Avenue. Signs printed in Chinese, Korean and English advertise restaurants, banks and barbershops. There are 10 Korean churches in Hacienda Heights alone, and 46 in the East San Gabriel Valley.
However, incorporation proponents say they don't expect the ethnic mix to be much of a factor in whether Hacienda Heights wins cityhood.
Baca said recent immigrants, especially those who don't speak English, are unlikely to be citizens yet.
"The only ones who count," he said, "are registered voters."
Hacienda Heights cityhood proponents will have six months to gather signatures from at least 25% of the area's 22,764 registered voters to call for an election. The Los Angeles County registrar-recorder/county clerk's office will verify the signatures, at a cost to the incorporation committee of up to $1.50 per signature, plus a $6,000 filing fee. If enough signatures are valid, the Local Agency Formation Commission will decide whether to recommend a vote on Hacienda Heights cityhood. The County Board of Supervisors then has 60 days to decide whether and when to schedule an election. If 50% or more of the registered voters protest, the board must reject the cityhood application.