Rowland Heights tries again for cityhood


Advocates in Rowland Heights have launched a second campaign for cityhood in order to give residents greater control over local services, development and increasing traffic.

Petitioners in this east Los Angeles County community of 51,000 must collect signatures of at least 5,300 registered voters by June, officials said. If the state’s Local Agency Formation Commission finds Rowland Heights to be financially self-sufficient, the issue could go to voters as early as November.

Incorporation would give residents more say about their future, said members of the Rowland Heights Advocates for Cityhood, the 20-member group of residents, business owners and volunteers behind the push for cityhood.


“L.A. County is extremely large and [county] supervisors are burdened by the different areas they have to cover,” said Szu-Pei Lu, president of the group. “The county isn’t set up to focus their attention on individual communities like Rowland Heights. If you have someone local to take care of local issues, they’ll be more attentive to what local residents want.”

Rowland Heights is one of more than 120 unincorporated areas in the county, including East Los Angeles, which is also pushing for cityhood. Once a rural community with citrus and avocado farms, Rowland Heights rocketed to urban sprawl in the 1980s and ‘90s as Chinese and Korean immigrants transformed the region into a heavily Asian middle-class suburbia.

Cityhood would mean that Rowland Heights could make decisions about development and the delivery of such services as water and road maintenance, advocates said. Currently, residents serve on advisory boards and must defer to the county on key issues.

For example, the county is negotiating on behalf of Rowland Heights in plans to build a football stadium in the nearby city of Industry, said Robert Lewis, secretary of the advocacy group. But the location -- near the intersection of the 60 and 57 freeways -- could funnel heavy traffic into the community, he said.

“That’s another reason we want a seat at the table of government,” Lewis said. “The county is doing the best job it can for the entire county, but what’s good for the county doesn’t necessarily have a good impact on our community.”

The advocacy group’s first attempt to petition for cityhood failed last month. In order to qualify for the ballot, petitioners needed 5,354 signatures, or 25% of registered voters in Rowland Heights. They submitted 5,185 signatures, 169 short of the required number. In addition, many signatures were found insufficient by the county registrar-recorder.

“Quite a few signatures were found to be invalid because the people who collected the signatures wrote in the addresses and dates for the people who signed them,” said Sandor L. Winger, executive officer for the agency formation commission. The state panel has the authority to permit a vote on cityhood.

On Dec. 31, volunteers launched a new campaign to collect signatures, Lewis said. They have not counted the signatures collected since then, he said.

Most of Rowland Heights is in the county’s 4th District, represented by Supervisor Don Knabe. He has not taken a position on the drive for cityhood, said spokesman David Sommers.

But Knabe “does fully support the will of the people, in that if the voters and residents of Rowland Heights feel that becoming a city is what’s best for them and their needs, he’s all for it,” Sommers said. The supervisor’s main concern is that the proposed new city has a sufficient tax base to pay for municipal services, Sommers said.

Rowland Heights and other communities can become cities if they prove that their revenues and expenditures would allow them to sustain themselves financially. Only after the agency formation commission approves the proposal for cityhood can the issue go before voters.

Fewer than half of the communities that seek incorporation succeed, Winger said. They can run up against a number of obstacles, including lack of voter support.

But Lu’s group is undaunted.

“If you have a City Council elected to oversee activities for one area, there’s local control and focus and attention to the area,” Lu said. “That’s what we would like.”