SANTA CLARITA / ANTELOPE VALLEY : There's a There There, but Where? : Image: Santa Clarita searches for an identity. Even city officials can't decide what it is.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As City Council members recently watched a slide presentation designed to lure companies to relocate their businesses here, it became apparent that people hold very different views of what "here" is.

Mayor Jan Heidt complained that some of the advertising concepts focused too much on attracting yuppies to an area with a rich rural history and a substantial elderly population.

And Councilman Carl Boyer thought that brochure photos were retouched to enhance the blue skies overhead even though L. A. smog dissipates over the Santa Susana Mountains.

More than five years after parts of Canyon Country, Saugus, Newhall and Valencia incorporated to form a bona fide city, Santa Clarita's primary marketing goal is to educate people, even some of its own residents, to think of it as one large city and not four little ones.

"It's embarrassing to say, but there are people who live in this city who don't realize they live in Santa Clarita," said Mike Haviland, the city's director of economic development.

Forging an identity has been a problem since Santa Clarita's birth. When it was just a few months old, directory assistance operators denied that the place existed. A package mailed to a Santa Clarita print shop ended up in Santa Clara.

And when the the city sponsored a motto contest last year, the City Council still couldn't agree on a catchy phrase that captured the essence of Santa Clarita--whatever that is. Motto entries ranged from the sincere "This Town is You" to the sarcastic "Land of the Golden Dweeb." In the end, the council scrapped the motto contest.

As for the promotional campaign, the aim is not devising a slogan for the city. It's getting people used to the name of the city. Haviland targets industries that serve local businesses as well as growth industries in the Los Angeles area, and uses Santa Clarita's quality to sell the city.

City officials say Santa Clarita, long regarded as just a bedroom community, needs more businesses of all kinds. More than half of the city's 147,000 residents commute out of town to work, said Connie Worden, who operates Metropolitan Transit Assn., a transportation consultant firm.

Santa Clarita officials reach out to the tourism industry through rack literature displays, attend trade shows and advertise in trade magazines to court the film industry and other industrial and retail business leaders.

The promotional brochures paint a portrait of an All-American city. One brochure shows a boy, a Huck Finn look-alike, holding an American flag and wearing a straw cowboy hat, as he perches on a weathered wooden fence. Others show the city's gleaming new mall, high-tech equipment and well-preserved wide open spaces.

The city has budgeted $74,000 for direct mail marketing and other advertising tools this year, Haviland said.

One of its efforts to achieve that goal has been to design a simple logo separate from its city seal. The green and brown logo features the city's name in slick, script type with a thick-lined outline of a broad mountain range in the background.

City logos, says one advertising expert, can be a boon or a bust depending on how it's received.

"You have to come up with a symbol that conveys the emotional impact you want to portray," said Harry Webber, president of Smart Communications Inc., a Los Angeles advertising firm.

Webber worked on the successful "I Love New York" campaign as an associate creative director for Wells Rich and Greene, a New York advertising firm. The campaign, symbolizing the word "love" with a heart, was initiated to counter the image of a city rife with crime, traffic, overcrowding, and just emerging from financial default. "That image was so striking people noticed it."

Santa Clarita doesn't suffer from a poor image, and welcomes comparisons with Los Angeles, Haviland points out. It boasts being the safest city in Los Angeles County and one of the safest in the nation for its size. It also touts the impressive average annual household income of its populace--$60,000.

In addition to the logo, which is prominently displayed on brochures sent to targeted audiences throughout Los Angeles County and beyond, the city encourages businesses to use "Santa Clarita" in their business names.

Gail Foy, the city's public information director, mails letters every six months to Los Angeles radio and television stations reminding them to identify the separate communities as Santa Clarita.

"It works for a while and then they do what they want," she said.

"The day an L. A. country radio station said, 'From the shores of San Clemente to Santa Clarita,' we were thrilled," Foy said.

And while the distance from downtown Los Angeles, 35 miles, is one of its prime selling points for prospective home buyers, it can be a drawback for industrial and retail companies looking to relocate, Haviland said. Some business owners view the Santa Clarita Valley as extremely remote, perhaps because it's hidden behind the Santa Susana Mountains.

"That physical barrier creates a mental image, but the fact is we're a 30-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles," Haviland said.

But creating an image outside your borders can be difficult when there's no consensus on that image at home. The debate over the city's image has centered largely on development, the issue prompting citizens to pack the council chambers with standing room-only crowds.

Developers who fear restrictive city building laws are resisting annexation and building outside the city limits where they can develop land without adhering to city regulations generally stricter than those enforced by Los Angeles County.

"They have made it virtually impossible to deal with developers who own land in the unincorporated areas," Boyer said.

John Drew, a slow-growth proponent, said he supports business relocation to the Santa Clarita Valley and views business expansion as a way to decrease commuter traffic and a positive step toward stabilizing the local job market.

Santa Clarita residents, it seems, want the best of both worlds without the complications, Haviland said: "People want a Nordstrom, but they want to be able to ride their horse up to it."

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