Canoga Park shrank about one-third Friday when City Councilwoman Joy Picus agreed to rename a three-square-mile section of the west San Fernando Valley community West Hills, in response to a four-month campaign by residents.
"I'm going to go home and I'll probably uncork a bottle of champagne," said an ebullient Joel Schiffman, co-director of the Committee for the Official Designation of West Hills Inc., after Picus gave the go-ahead for the name change.
"I think we're creating a tremendous community involvement. There is a community identity that didn't previously exist, a forum for people to be involved in community affairs," said Schiffman, a lawyer who moved to the community just over a year ago and began planning the campaign for a name change several months thereafter.
Technically, the name change means little because the fledgling West Hills, like Canoga Park, is still part of the City of Los Angeles. But group leaders said they hope that the new name will distance the more affluent, largely West Valley residential area from Canoga Park's fading factories, aging subdivisions and X-rated bars and movie theaters.
Schiffman and about a dozen other group leaders went to Picus' district office Friday afternoon to present more than 5,000 signatures they had gathered urging the name change. The signatures represented 3,364, or 77%, of the 4,333 households in the area.
Picus had earlier said she would approve the new name if an overwhelming majority of residents favored the change. But group members were surprised, Schiffman said, when Picus agreed to the new designation on the spot.
The mood was festive as Picus held up a cardboard replica of a West Hills sign and said she would ask the city transportation department to make two copies for posting at the edge of the newly named community.
"This is very impressive. I like seeing community people take an interest in their area," Picus said, as she accepted a West Hills T-shirt from the group's co-director, Fred Gober.
The new community will be bounded by Roscoe Boulevard on the north; Woodlake Avenue, Sherman Way and Platt Avenue on the east; Victory Boulevard on the south and the Los Angeles-Ventura County line on the west.
Councilman Hal Bernson, meanwhile, indicated Friday that he will grant permission to residents of three Canoga Park neighborhoods in his district that are seeking to join the West Hills community. Noting that the movement will cost the city virtually nothing, he said, "If an overwhelming majority of people favor the change, I'm sure I would support it."
The three areas in Bernson's district are generally north of Roscoe Boulevard, south of Nordhoff Street, west of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and east of Fallbrook Avenue.
No City Council action is necessary for the change, Picus said.
The name West Hills was coined from an unincorporated 303-home neighborhood next to Valley Circle Boulevard at the west edge of the San Fernando Valley.
One of the group's first goals will be to seek a separate ZIP code from the U.S. Postal Service. Group leaders hope the effort might lead to lower insurance rates and higher housing values.
Schiffman said a community forum will be formed to "capitalize on the enthusiasm we saw in this campaign."
Even William Vietinghoff, immediate past president of the initially reluctant Canoga Park Chamber of Commerce, was encouraging. He said the chamber will work cooperatively with the new community.
"This is the result of a long process, and we want to be a part of it," he said. "The democratic process is such that these people have the right to do what they want."