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What's in a Name? : Residents work to change community names in effort to improve image, distance themselves from troubled areas


What's in a name?

Plenty it seems, at least for Buck Johns and his fellow residents of Santa Ana Heights. Thanks to a recent change in their postal designation, they can now say they live in upscale Newport Beach.

Johns and his neighbors have been trying to become a part of Newport for 17 years, he said. Now, the last hitch is getting the city to annex the 193 acres of Santa Ana Heights and make the marriage official.

Santa Ana Heights is miles away from the city of Santa Ana, but people often get the two areas confused, Johns said. And, while Santa Ana suffers urban ills such as gangs and shootings, "Newport Beach is one of the most exclusive addresses in Southern California," Johns said. "Who wouldn't prefer to be in Newport Beach?"

Property values in Johns' neighborhood are expected to increase as a result of the address change. But not all the residents of Santa Ana Heights are happy. Half of Santa Ana Heights is being left behind in the name change. That half is the less expensive and less attractive part and hasn't been welcomed by Newport Beach, which consented to the name change for the most affluent area.

This is but one example of the battles waged by many Southern Californians fighting to change the names of their communities in an effort to get a richer image and to disassociate themselves from more troubled neighborhoods.

The phenomenon of recent name changes is particularly evident in the San Fernando Valley, which Father Juan Crespi named in 1769. Ever since, residents have been naming and renaming their communities.

The past few years have brought on a bumper crop of name changes. All of Sepulveda and a part of Granada Hills were renamed North Hills. Valley Village was created out of a small chunk of North Hollywood. Chandler Estates was "moved" from Van Nuys to Sherman Oaks.

Even The Times got into the act, with a contest two years ago to rename all of the San Fernando Valley. More than 400 people responded with suggestions such as Rancho de los Ranchos, Beige-Air, McValley and Twenty-Nine Malls.

What's the point of all this? Does it really matter what we call Sepulveda? Isn't a rose still a rose by any other name?

The answers to these questions depend on who you ask. Name-change advocates contend that a new name can enhance community pride and property values. Critics see it as an attempt by the "haves" to distinguish themselves from the "have-nots."

In March, residents of the La Tuna Canyon neighborhood of Sun Valley in the San Fernando Valley started a petition drive to rename their community Rancho La Tuna, divorcing themselves from blue-collar Sun Valley.

La Tuna Canyon has about 450 homes, many of them horse properties. By contrast, the rest of Sun Valley is more densely populated and commercialized.

About 75% of La Tuna residents have signed petitions urging the Los Angeles City Council to approve a new name, said Arline DeSanctis, chief field deputy for Councilman Joel Wachs, who represents Sun Valley.

"The San Fernando Valley over the last 10 years has experienced negative change in terms of crime and density," DeSanctis said. Some residents think that by renaming their community they can also remake their image, she said.

Sun Valley is a divided community, said Jan Liptak, a 20-year resident and president of Sun Valley Residents Assn. "One section is more upper-income and the other section is more lower-income." The more well-heeled residents, she said, "want to get away from the negative image associated with Sun Valley." Liptak wants to see Sun Valley remain whole. "We all rise and fall together; a name change is not going to make the crime go away," she said.

While Liptak urges togetherness, La Tuna residents are debating what to rename themselves. While most support the name Rancho La Tuna, others like La Tuna Hills, Rancho Tujunga and just plain La Tuna.

The most recently renamed San Fernando Valley community is Sherman Village. It's so new and so small that even many veteran realtors have never heard of it.

Sherman Village is a mini-neighborhood with 80 homes to the north of Sherman Oaks and to the south of Valley Village, which itself got a new name three years ago.

In 1991, a two-square-mile area of upscale residences to the east of Laurel Canyon Boulevard became Valley Village after an 18-year fight by neighbors to divorce themselves from North Hollywood. The homes in Valley Village sell for up to $100,000 more than comparable homes in the rest of more blue-collar North Hollywood.

Most of southern North Hollywood became Valley Village--except for one small neighborhood north of Sherman Oaks. Those residents felt as if they were living in a no-man's-land, so last fall they got their own identity--Sherman Village.

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