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A Neighborhood by Any Other Name . . . .

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Think of it as geographic cosmetic surgery.

A linguistic nip here, a name change there, and suddenly, your nondescript neighborhood is primo real estate.

That was clearly the hope of the 100 or so residents who showed up recently at a meeting to discuss changing the name of a chunk of Van Nuys to something more, well, glamorous.

Hey, it worked for a onetime Van Nuys resident named Norma Jean.

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Held in an elementary school on Erwin Street, the meeting took place even as the rest of the city was breathlessly waiting to find out whether O.J. was found liable in his civil trial.

“I know there were several competing interests for your attention tonight,” name change co-chair Mark Thurston joked.

But don’t kid yourself. For homeowners, nothing is more important than property values. As a result, this gathering of East Valley homeowners was as passionate as a big-league soccer match.

For four years, a cadre of residents of this square mile of Van Nuys has been trying to secede, if only in name, pulling out the area bounded by Woodman Avenue on the west, Victory Boulevard on the north, Tujunga Wash on the east, and Oxnard Street and Burbank Boulevard on the south.

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A growing number of homeowners in this still-to-be-named community have come to believe that their houses would be worth more if they call themselves something--anything--other than Van Nuys.

You can argue against it. There are restaurants in China that serve something they call “Super Deer.” Call it what you will, it is still rat.

But Los Angeles is a city in which the superficial is taken extraordinarily seriously. Can you instantly enhance the status of a North Hollywood neighborhood by calling it West Toluca Lake? Maybe. Does North Hills smell sweeter than Sepulveda? You tell me.

“We’re trying to create a community here,” Thurston says of the “amorphous square” of about 1,200 homes that would be affected by secession. “We’re trying to effect a name change.”

Sharon Mayer is chief field deputy for City Councilman Mike Feuer, in whose district the rebellious neighborhood lies. Other breakaway communities, such as Valley Village, which separated from North Hollywood, were born with the City Council’s support. But Mayer hints that Feuer might balk at blessing a new neighborhood in his district unless it wins the approval of his new Livable Neighborhoods Council.

The Livable Neighborhoods Council wants to consider the interests of all the “stakeholders” in the area, including business owners, the councilman’s representative tells the community group.

The homeowners visibly bristle at the notion of nonresident business owners, or a councilman who may have an agenda of his own, deciding their fate.

A woman chides the councilman’s rep for suggesting that the residents should seek the approval of a Johnny-come-lately council, however dear it is to the councilman. “I’ve polished these seats for many years with my ever-widening behind over this issue,” says the citizen activist.

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Mayer warns that there is no formal written system for getting a new neighborhood name. And, once you get one, there is no guarantee that your neighborhood will actually benefit from a mellifluous moniker.

All you can hope for is an official name sign from the city, she cautions.

“It doesn’t give you a new ZIP Code. It doesn’t give you enhanced property values,” she says. “That needs to be very clear.”

Resident Jeff Siegel, a mortgage broker, notes that you can call your neighborhood anything you want. I have a writer friend who lived in this landlocked area and called it Van Nuys by the Sea.

Siegel says that when he moved here, he and his young buddies called the community Lake Van Nuys.

“It was on my checks,” he says. “It was no problem. Your mail will get delivered.”

Every once in a while, he admits, the post office put a little question mark after Lake Van Nuys. But the carrier unfailingly found the house.

A tense moment comes when a man who lives just north of Victory Boulevard asks if he and his neighbors can join the proposed new community. The petitioner is apparently unaware of the 1st Law of Valley Geopolitics: south and west, good. North and east, bad.

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What names, someone asks, are being considered? My first thought is, why not shoot the moon? Call the neighborhood Belgravia or Bel Air. Malibu Hills has a nice ring.

But reason, of a sort, prevails. Some residents favor College Park, in honor of nearby Valley College. Others like Walnut Park or Walnut Grove.

After an hour and a half, someone points out that California ZIP Codes have already been assigned to neighborhoods with those three names. The group reluctantly postpones the vote on the name change, and the residents disperse to their homes in linguistically unrehabilitated Van Nuys.


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