The Los Angeles City Council agreed Tuesday to redraw neighborhood boundaries to allow an area of about 1,800 homes in Van Nuys to join the more upscale community of Sherman Oaks.
The 10-2 vote, which was met with the boisterous cheers of proponents, was the latest in a series of name changes in the San Fernando Valley over the last few decades. In this case, proponents argued they were isolated from Van Nuys by an industrial zone and identified more closely with residents of Sherman Oaks, where they shop and send their children to school.
But the vote -- with Councilmen Tony Cardenas and Jose Huizar opposed -- was a bitter ending for residents of Van Nuys. The community has lost thousands of residents in recent years after similar secessions by residents formed the communities of Lake Balboa and Valley Glen.
In a packed council chamber, opponents publicly accused the name change advocates of greed, snobbery, and in one instance making a comment perceived by some as racist.
Van Nuys Neighborhood Council President Lydia Mather said the council's vote had showed a "total disregard for the combined population of Sherman Oaks and Van Nuys" by dismissing the objections of their neighborhood councils, which voted overwhelmingly against the proposal.
"A lot of people cried over this," said Mather, who said the debate had been personal and divisive. The name change advocates "are standing on the necks of the 80,000 people in Van Nuys to get their leg up in their sense of prestige and property values. . . . The minute we lose them, it hurts us."
The boundary change will annex a small portion of Van Nuys bordered by Sepulveda and Burbank boulevards and Oxnard Street and Hazeltine Avenue, but will exclude the stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard that runs through the middle.
Laurette Healey, the boundary change applicant, said it was natural in a vast metropolis like Los Angeles for residents to identify with smaller, like-minded communities.
"As people try to embrace who their neighbors are and what their community is, I think that the naming of it gives them that sense of belonging here," said Healey, a candidate for the vacant 2nd District council seat.
But one opposition speaker after another suggested selfish motives. Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council President Jill Banks Barad told the council, "It became very clear to us that the real reason for the name change was their unabashed desire to increase property values and because the proponents believe they are better than the people living in Van Nuys."
Banks Barad said Healey told her neighborhood council "that they were of common complexion and values as the people in Sherman Oaks."
Healey does not recall saying those words: "If they were [spoken] -- and that's a big 'if' -- that would be referring only to infrastructure, and the infrastructure differences, if you will, between the two communities," Healey said.
Cardenas, the most forceful opponent of the plan on the council, criticized the group's tactics -- repeatedly returning to the purported comment by Healey. And he took issue with pictures on the group's website -- since removed -- which he said showed dilapidated homes and trash in Van Nuys. Urging his colleagues to vote no, Cardenas said the council should not reward "bad behavior."