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Villa Park Leads List of Local Affluent Cities

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

This innocuous little city, tucked away in a corner of Orange County, has once again made news. And once again, it’s done so without trying.

Villa Park (pop. 5,897), which has neither a bank nor a single street remotely resembling Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, has just been named one of the 300 wealthiest towns in America--and the wealthiest in Orange County.

The source of this information is Manhattan-based Worth magazine, which lists six Orange County communities of varying size and demographic allure as being among the wealthiest in the 50 states.

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In addition to Villa Park--which placed 67th--Corona del Mar (75), Coto de Caza (93), Newport Beach (151), Laguna Beach (207) and the Tustin Foothills (233) also made the list, in which Rolling Hills, in Los Angeles County, earned the distinction of No. 1.

The editors of the magazine say the survey shows the “face of wealth in America is changing,” from being centralized in the high-profile, WASP-dominated strongholds of the Eastern Seaboard to being spread more liberally around the country and among various racial groups.

Where those places are also marks a change, the editors say, as does the way in which wealth is exhibited. Never before thought of as adjectives to describe the wealthy, “low profile” and “anonymous” are increasingly characteristic of the well-to-do, say the people at Worth.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald once told Ernest Hemingway, “The rich are different from you and me,” to which a contemporary reply might be, “Yes, they’re more discreet, more secretive and much less inclined to show it than they used to be.”

Fred Maley, the city manager of Villa Park, where the Worth article was discussed at a City Council meeting this week, agreed with the magazine’s thesis that the nature or wealth itself appears to be changing--particularly in Orange County.

“I don’t want to use the term nouveau riche, but we’re seeing a newer, far more moderate form of wealth in America and especially in Villa Park,” Maley said. “The income is here, the property values are here, but it isn’t revealed as extremely as you would see among individuals in older, more conservative wealth locations.”

Not all the prosperous people in Villa Park fit common demographic patterns, Maley said, noting that some of its wealthiest residents are among its 10% Asian population or its Latinos.

“And there’s another important distinction too,” he said. “Most of the wealth here is earned income rather than asset wealth.”

In Laguna Beach, city officials greeted the Worth piece with a similar sense of pride and elan. They contend the wealth of their city is manifest primarily in vigorous philanthropy--not conspicuous consumption and glitz.

“The benefit to our community of having a wealthy population is that there are a lot of wonderful benefactors who donate to all the worthy causes and they don’t expect anything for it,” said Sandy Thornton, the manager of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce.

For every glaring example of wealth, many in Laguna Beach point to the city’s artistic and bohemian aspects and even to the fact that mixed in among its wealthy are people living on the edge yet somehow surviving.

Worth noted that privacy and anonymity appear to be shared virtues of the new strain of American wealth. That is evident in South County’s Coto de Caza, where the entire community is walled off from the rest of the world by a thick iron gate.

Nancy Holmes, the editor-at-large of Worth, said the magazine sought to uncover the wealthiest towns in America by zeroing in on 1.3 million “microgrids” provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. The microgrids, measuring between one-sixteenth of a square mile and one square mile, covers every populated inch of ground in the United States.

“We used this system to scour the nation for communities with average annual incomes of $100,000 or more,” the article says.

The magazine discovered that Nassau County, N.Y., listed more cities in the top 300 than any other region in America. New York state listed the most counties, with California No. 2.

Villa Park earned the distinction of finishing ahead of such arrestingly wealthy burgs as Malibu (74, one place ahead of Corona del Mar), Beverly Hills (83) and Calabasas (91).

Villa Park was revealed to have an average household income of $171,000 and an average home value of $503,700. The county’s other highest-ranking cities were listed as follows:

Corona del Mar (average household income, $147,900; average home value, $558,100); Coto de Caza (average household income, $160,700; average home value, $459,900); Newport Beach (average household income, $120,600; average home value, $508,131); Laguna Beach (average household income, $102,300; average home value, $457,700); and Tustin Foothills (average household income, $119,600; and average home value, $389,700).

But it’s Villa Park, where the Ralphs grocery store is the biggest business in town and residents mail their letters not in a post office but in the local pharmacy, that epitomizes the changing face of wealth in America, said Holmes, the magazine editor.

“The old East Coast WASPdom, where--admittedly--large residues of wealth still reside, just ain’t the end-all and be-all anymore,” Holmes said. “You still find those places concentrated on the East Coast, but what our survey showed was a new type of wealthy place--like Villa Park, for instance.”

Also contributing to this report were Times staff writer Lisa Richardson and correspondent Bill Billiter.

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Living Large

Worth magazine ranked the 300 wealthiest communities in America, based on average household income and home value, and Orange County held its own. A look at the nation’s top 20 and the county’s top five:

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Household Home Rank Community income value 1. Rolling Hills, Calif. $305,700 $587,900 2. Hewlett Bay Park, N.Y. 348,500 570,600 3. Hewlett Harbor, N.Y. 306,000 572,700 4. Saddle River, N.J. 301,700 573,400 5. Kings Point, N.Y. 273,100 575,800 6. Atherton, Calif. 241,600 583,800 7. Jupiter Island, Fla. 239,400 562,400 8. Hillsborough, Calif. 226,300 589,300 9. Oyster Bay Cove, N.Y. 274,200 568,300 10. Los Altos Hills, Calif 230,400 583,900 11. Laurel Hollow, N.Y. 269,400 569,400 12. Muttontown, N.Y. 225,900 575,700 13. Old Westbury, N.Y. 234,700 564,600 14. Sands Point, N.Y. 234,900 561,300 15. Woodside, Calif. 239,900 558,700 16. Westover Hills, Texas 383,500 534,700 17. Hewlett Neck, N.Y. 306,700 536,800 18. Upper Brookville, N.Y. 218,900 565,800 19. Chevy Chase Section Three, Md. 226,000 558,700 20. Belvedere, Calif. 200,400 582,700

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ORANGE COUNTY CONTENDERS

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Household Home Rank Community income value 67. Villa Park $171,000 $503,700 75. Corona del Mar 147,900 558,100 93. Coto de Caza 160,700 459,900 151. Newport Beach 120,600 508,131 207. Laguna Beach 102,300 457,700

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Source: Worth magazine


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