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Getting Centered in L.A. Can Be Numerical Experience

Statistically, Los Angeles is perhaps the most interesting metropolis in the world.

But statistics are notoriously boring unless one can illuminate them with imagination.

Allen E. Edwards of Sherman Oaks writes to examine dimensions and perspectives of the city that are rarely contemplated.

Restricting himself to the city itself, and not the county or the greater Los Angeles area, Edwards notes first some of its geographical oddities.

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In altitude it ranges from 5,049 feet (in Tujunga), which is higher than all but a few of the mountains east of the Mississippi, to below sea level at Terminal Island.

Many cities, he points out, have rivers running through them; but few others, if any, are divided both by a river and a mountain range. (Yes, the Los Angeles River is still a river.)

Few other cities, he notes, have had forest fires within their limits. Few also can boast snow-clad mountains and sunny beaches at the same time, with a 40-degree difference in temperature.

Edwards points out that several full-fledged municipalities are completely surrounded by Los Angeles (including Beverly Hills, though they don’t like to admit it), and that some unincorporated county areas also lie within its boundaries.

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Perhaps the most interesting, and utterly useless, of Edwards’ discoveries is the city’s exact geographical center, “a feat hitherto never accomplished.” From above, he notes, it looks like a squashed orange. But imagine it as an absolutely flat horizontal plane. “This plane will have a unique point where it can be absolutely balanced with the entire plane remaining horizontal--its center of gravity.”

How one arrives at this point, he says, is to take the Auto Club’s 4x6-foot map of the city, cut it out along the city’s perimeters, glue it to a quarter-inch foam board, then trim the edges to the boundaries. Drive a straight pin into the floor, remove its head, and balance the map on its point. It will balance at the city’s center of gravity. Then find this point on a U.S. Department of Interior Geological survey topographic map.

The center of gravity, he assures us, will be on land owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in Franklin Canyon--about midway between Beverly Hills and Studio City. “A few homes can be seen from it on distant ridge lines. A many-pointed buck deer was recently killed by a poacher almost within sight of it, and coyote spoor is abundant in its proximity. Oak trees surround it on three sides and during the rainy season a pond is next to it. A modest plaque marks the spot.”

From the fact that a plaque marks the spot, I infer that Edwards may not have been the first to discover the geographical center. However, I am happy to refer to it as Edwards’ Point.

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In any case, given its numerous other peculiarities, I do not find it hard to believe that the geographic center of Los Angeles--its center of gravity, if you wish--is a wilderness marked by coyote spoor. The knowledge will no doubt gratify Eastern critics who still like to think of Los Angeles as a cultural wilderness.

Speaking of statistics, I have received an update of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce’s statistical report on “the Los Angeles five-county area.” From the chamber’s name you can see that it no longer concerns itself with the city and county of Los Angeles alone; it also includes Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, which together constitute a formidable economic organ.

People hardly understand the enormous economic realities of this area, the report says. “Consider just this fact: the area encompasses 168 separate incorporated cities ranging in size from Los Angeles with nearly 3.5 million residents to Vernon with 152, all in five separate counties that cover 34,000 square miles and stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the California/Arizona border.”

This area has a larger population (14,531,529) than all the states except New York, Texas and California itself. In manufacturing it exceeds every other U.S. city. Its gross product is exceeded by that of only 11 nations.

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In 1980, 60.5% of the five-county population was white; 24.1% Latino, 9.3% black and 6.1% Asian. By 1990 it was 49.8% white; 32.9% Latino; 8.8% Asian and 8% black.

In the decade from 1980 to 1990, the area gained 3.034 million people. Where did they come from? Legal immigration, illegal immigration and, surprisingly, 1.425 million from “natural increase"--the excess of births over deaths. In Los Angeles County alone the natural increase is running at a rate of 115,000 a year.

If the boom continues, there will soon be no place to move but that wild center of gravity among the coyote spoor.


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