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What’s in a Name? : Residents work to change community names in effort to improve image, distance themselves from troubled areas

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What’s in a name?

Plenty it seems, at least for Buck Johns and his fellow residents of Santa Ana Heights. Thanks to a recent change in their postal designation, they can now say they live in upscale Newport Beach.

Johns and his neighbors have been trying to become a part of Newport for 17 years, he said. Now, the last hitch is getting the city to annex the 193 acres of Santa Ana Heights and make the marriage official.

Santa Ana Heights is miles away from the city of Santa Ana, but people often get the two areas confused, Johns said. And, while Santa Ana suffers urban ills such as gangs and shootings, “Newport Beach is one of the most exclusive addresses in Southern California,” Johns said. “Who wouldn’t prefer to be in Newport Beach?”

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Property values in Johns’ neighborhood are expected to increase as a result of the address change. But not all the residents of Santa Ana Heights are happy. Half of Santa Ana Heights is being left behind in the name change. That half is the less expensive and less attractive part and hasn’t been welcomed by Newport Beach, which consented to the name change for the most affluent area.

This is but one example of the battles waged by many Southern Californians fighting to change the names of their communities in an effort to get a richer image and to disassociate themselves from more troubled neighborhoods.

The phenomenon of recent name changes is particularly evident in the San Fernando Valley, which Father Juan Crespi named in 1769. Ever since, residents have been naming and renaming their communities.

The past few years have brought on a bumper crop of name changes. All of Sepulveda and a part of Granada Hills were renamed North Hills. Valley Village was created out of a small chunk of North Hollywood. Chandler Estates was “moved” from Van Nuys to Sherman Oaks.

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Even The Times got into the act, with a contest two years ago to rename all of the San Fernando Valley. More than 400 people responded with suggestions such as Rancho de los Ranchos, Beige-Air, McValley and Twenty-Nine Malls.

What’s the point of all this? Does it really matter what we call Sepulveda? Isn’t a rose still a rose by any other name?

The answers to these questions depend on who you ask. Name-change advocates contend that a new name can enhance community pride and property values. Critics see it as an attempt by the “haves” to distinguish themselves from the “have-nots.”

In March, residents of the La Tuna Canyon neighborhood of Sun Valley in the San Fernando Valley started a petition drive to rename their community Rancho La Tuna, divorcing themselves from blue-collar Sun Valley.

La Tuna Canyon has about 450 homes, many of them horse properties. By contrast, the rest of Sun Valley is more densely populated and commercialized.

About 75% of La Tuna residents have signed petitions urging the Los Angeles City Council to approve a new name, said Arline DeSanctis, chief field deputy for Councilman Joel Wachs, who represents Sun Valley.

“The San Fernando Valley over the last 10 years has experienced negative change in terms of crime and density,” DeSanctis said. Some residents think that by renaming their community they can also remake their image, she said.

Sun Valley is a divided community, said Jan Liptak, a 20-year resident and president of Sun Valley Residents Assn. “One section is more upper-income and the other section is more lower-income.” The more well-heeled residents, she said, “want to get away from the negative image associated with Sun Valley.” Liptak wants to see Sun Valley remain whole. “We all rise and fall together; a name change is not going to make the crime go away,” she said.

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While Liptak urges togetherness, La Tuna residents are debating what to rename themselves. While most support the name Rancho La Tuna, others like La Tuna Hills, Rancho Tujunga and just plain La Tuna.

The most recently renamed San Fernando Valley community is Sherman Village. It’s so new and so small that even many veteran realtors have never heard of it.

Sherman Village is a mini-neighborhood with 80 homes to the north of Sherman Oaks and to the south of Valley Village, which itself got a new name three years ago.

In 1991, a two-square-mile area of upscale residences to the east of Laurel Canyon Boulevard became Valley Village after an 18-year fight by neighbors to divorce themselves from North Hollywood. The homes in Valley Village sell for up to $100,000 more than comparable homes in the rest of more blue-collar North Hollywood.

Most of southern North Hollywood became Valley Village--except for one small neighborhood north of Sherman Oaks. Those residents felt as if they were living in a no-man’s-land, so last fall they got their own identity--Sherman Village.

The year 1991 was a banner year for name changes. That was the year Sepulveda disappeared off the map. First, the western portion of Sepulveda changed its name to North Hills. Then a small part of South Granada Hills joined the new North Hills. By the end of 1991, the eastern part of Sepulveda was so upset at having been abandoned by neighbors west of the San Diego Freeway that they too successfully lobbied to change their turf to North Hills too.

The same year, the 45-block area of Chandler Estates switched from Van Nuys to Sherman Oaks, followed by yet another defection from Van Nuys to Sherman Oaks only a few weeks later.

Temmy Walker, vice president of Prudential/Rodeo Realty in Woodland Hills, recalled selling a home in Van Nuys where the buyer threatened to pull out of the deal when he called the post office and was told the property was in Van Nuys and not Sherman Oaks.

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“I’m not going to live in Van Nuys,” the buyer told Walker.

The deal was salvaged when Walker urged the buyer to call the office of Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky. A deputy explained that the area had just changed its name officially from Van Nuys to Sherman Oaks.

Walker believes the name-change phenomenon “is all an ego thing.” People often get behind a name change because “they don’t believe they have enough status.”

And while a name change might help some with status, its effect on home prices is open to debate.

Changing the name of Sepulveda to North Hills has had no effect on property values, crime or anything else, Walker said.

But Bobbi Miller, vice president and manager of the Woodland Hills office of Fred Sands Realtors, thinks some name changes can have a significant impact.

When the western part of Canoga Park became West Hills in 1986, she recalled, “it’s my perception that West Hills property became more valuable immediately with the name change. Everyone wanted to be in West Hills.”

Today, agents in the San Fernando Valley say that some would-be buyers won’t even look at Reseda and Canoga Park, but they will look at West Hills.

While some communities debate name changes, others debate ZIP codes.

In the San Fernando Valley, 5,200 Arleta residents signed a petition to revive their community’s old ZIP code--91332--so they will no longer have to share the 91331 ZIP with their more crime-plagued neighbors in Pacoima. The change is backed by the Van Nuys District of the U.S. Postal Service, but so far officials in Washington have said no.

Meanwhile, Arleta residents are protesting with a “return to sender” campaign and dumping into postal drop boxes thousands of pieces of junk mail delivered to Arleta residents with a Pacoima address.

Debates over ZIP codes have been going on ever since they were introduced by the Postal Service. And Southern Californians have been debating--and changing--community names ever since Los Angeles was a pueblo.

--Cerritos was previously known as Dairy Valley.

--Smeltzer disappeared into Huntington Beach and Westminster in 1951. That same year Talbert became Fountain Valley, according to information provided by Thomas Bros. Maps.

--Norwalk has a long list of previous names: New River, Siete Alisos, Sycamore Grove, Corazon de los Valles, Corvalles and Norwalk Station.

--San Dimas used to be Mud Springs.

--The City of Gardena was incorporated in 1930 by combining Moneta and Strawberry Park.

--In the San Fernando Valley, Woodland Hills was Girard, Tarzana was Runnymede, Studio City was Lakewood, Northridge was Zelzah, part of West Hills was Canoga Park, and all of Canoga Park was Owensmouth, Sun Valley was Roscoe, North Hollywood was Lankershim and Reseda was Marian.

Thomas Bros. reports that it is continually adding new community designations to its street guides, directories and maps.

Last year, Thomas Bros. put Del Aire on the map. Sandwiched between Hawthorne, Lennox, Lawndale, El Segundo and the City of Los Angeles, Del Aire has existed for many years, but many people were unfamiliar with it because half of Del Aire is in Hawthorne and the other half is unincorporated L.A. County.

“Over the years there has been talk of Hawthorne annexing the rest of Del Aire, but the neighbors want no part in it,” said Tom Quintana, public information officer for the City of Hawthorne. “They’re very proud of their identity.”

Other areas that are part of Hawthorne have also kept their identity, Quintana said. These include Moneta Gardens (which overlaps Gardena), Holly Park (which overlaps Inglewood) and a community in southwest Hawthorne named Holly Glen, or simply “The Glen.”

In central Los Angeles, a number of community groups push for neighborhood identity. These areas include University Park, West Adams and most recently, Jefferson Park.

This area--bounded by Adams Boulevard on the north, Exposition Boulevard on the south, Crenshaw Boulevard on the west and Western Avenue on the east--was named as an official community by the City of Los Angeles in 1988. As use of the name has become more popular, say locals, so too has neighborhood pride.

“We didn’t want to be identified as South-Central,” said Gus Harris Jr., chairman of the business committee of the Jefferson Park Improvement Project. “Everybody was referring to the area as South-Central so we decided to select a name,” he said. Jefferson Park now has its own identity, Harris said, and “it has brought a cohesiveness to the area.”

A growing number of L.A. neighborhoods yearn for some cohesiveness to keep property values stable and crime at bay. Another example of this is a few miles northwest of Jefferson Park, adjacent to Beverly Hills.

Carthay Circle was planned in 1921 and founded by developer J. Harvey McCarthy. This 136-acre community bounded roughly by Fairfax Avenue and Olympic, Wilshire and La Cienega boulevards isn’t really a circle at all--but nobody seems to mind. The neighborhood has retained much of its original charm, complete with several pedestrian walkways that bisect this quiet enclave.

In the 1980s, the neighborhood just south of Carthay Circle was designated by the city of Los Angeles as a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), notable for its Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. This neighborhood is now known as South Carthay and it has its own neighborhood association, signage and newsletter. New arrivals even get a four-page brochure detailing the history of this 14-square-block collection of well-manicured homes and apartments.

Capitalizing on the cachet of Carthay is yet another nearby neighborhood, Carthay Square, which is just south of Carthay Circle and east of South Carthay. This neighborhood couldn’t become part of South Carthay’s HPOZ, so residents got together and formed their own neighborhood association.

“I think it’s very important to have a name,” said Wayne Saks, community relations representative for South Carthay and owner of City Lights Realty. “It’s such a massive city that having a name and a neighborhood association is a way for people to feel they have some control.”

Creating a community identity has helped to minimize crime and maximize property values, Saks said. “We can’t realistically improve all of the Westside, but we can preserve our own neighborhood.”

Ron Galperin is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

The Name Game

SENTIMENT BUILDS: Residents usually seek to change their community name either to establish an independent identity or to distance themselves from a name that has become tarnished. Sometimes a new identity begins with something as simple as a few residents--and local real estate agents referring to an area in a way that has a bit more cachet.

PEOPLE POWER: Neighbors may form an association and refer to their area more frequently with the new name. Residents may also launch a petition drive for a name change.

POLITICS AS USUAL: Cities generally require city council approval for a name change, and that support usually begins with the backing of a local city councilperson. The more voter support the more likely it is that a name change will win political support.

IT PAYS TO ADVERTISE: Real Estate agents are vital in getting communities renamed or re-identified. Many name changes start out as community designations in local real estate ads. Realtors often support name changes because they make marketing a house in certain areas easier.

MAIL CALL: Residents who want to change their ZIP code along with their community name need the backing of Postal Service officials in the local district and in Washington. This can take years of bureaucratic maneuvering.

BORDER LINES: State-sponsored county panels called Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCO) regulate changes in boundaries for cities and other agencies. If a city boundary change is involved in a name change, LAFCO approval is needed.


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