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It's Right on the Tip of Their Tongues

Secession: Residents of Valley and harbor area narrow list of possible names.

April 03, 2002|SUE FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Camelot made the cut. So did San Fernando Valley, Mission Valley, Rancho San Fernando and Valley City.

Those are the names chosen Tuesday night by popular demand, as Valley secessionists huddled inside a North Hills car dealership to decide the big question: what to name the proposed Valley city.

It was grass-roots democracy at its finest, according to the secession group Valley VOTE. More than 100 Valley residents voted for their favorite names by slapping navy-blue stickers on posters listing the 25 choices.

Then, in the Valley's own version of the electoral college, the executive board members of Valley VOTE cast their votes with hot-pink stickers.

Ninety minutes later, the vote was in. The five winners now go to the state agency studying whether to put secession to a citywide vote in November. If that happens, those names will appear on the ballot so that Valley voters can pick their favorite.

It was a rollicking night of impassioned speeches in a stuffy conference room at Galpin Ford. Old women in orthopedic shoes and young men in baseball caps took the podium to pitch their favorites to the overflow crowd.

"I have a late nominee," shouted David Morris, a Malibu resident who showed up to make sure the Vals didn't choose an "ugly" name.

"It's got valid pronunciations for both Anglos and Latinos," Morris said. "The name I'm thinking of is Valparaiso."

"Huh?" said an elderly man in the back of the room.

"It means Valley of Paradise," yelled a woman wearing a denim jacket. "Do I get a prize?"

Valparaiso, as it happens, didn't even make the top 10. The way the contest was structured left it to Valley VOTE board members to choose the final five names after the public picked its 10 favorites. In the end, the board's pink stickers overrode Valley View in favor of Camelot.

At the same time Tuesday, residents in the harbor area, which is also seeking secession, pared down the list of names for their proposed city to five. Cabrillo Beach was the top choice, followed by Pacific Harbor, Pelican Shores, Port Cabrillo and Angel's Gate.

Harbor secessionists also took a decidedly grass-roots approach, mirroring the personality of the community.

"We're an earthy bunch of people down here," said group leader Andrew Mardesich. "We're blue collar, middle class.

We don't have a bunch of wealthy, sophisticated types. Most of us have lived here all our lives, so this was a true grass-roots campaign."

From the start, Valley VOTE's process of naming its new metropolis was decidedly public, reflecting the secessionist yen for local control.

Rather than hiring a consultant to devise marketable names, Valley VOTE took the question straight to the people, collecting almost 400 suggestions via mail, fax and telephone.

"This is the people's thing," Valley VOTE President Jeff Brain said. "It's their choice. It's their city."

But the notion of naming by popular vote chilled seasoned branding experts.

"It's not the best way to do it," said Michael Fanuele, director of brand strategy for New York-based J. Walter Thompson, the nation's oldest advertising agency. Instead, he said the decision should be left to a small group of people who have considered well what the new city is supposed to represent.

"Naming seems to be one of those areas in which, if you ask lots of people to really think about it, you come up with more problems than solutions," Fanuele said.

"Take the Ford Thunderbird, an amazing, sexy, fast car. You ask a man on the street and he might say, 'Thunder is noisy. As a matter of fact, thunder is bad. Thunder happens when there are storms. I don't like the name.' As soon as you throw out a name, it becomes emotional. That's a dangerous thing when you're trying to have a rational civic debate."

Branding gurus say that the best product names describe essential attributes, appeal to consumers and distinguish themselves from competitors.

In the Valley's case, Valley VOTE simply whittled its list down to the most popular 25 submissions. They included dreamy titles like Hope City, historic names along the lines of Lankershim and Mulholland City, and plainer labels like New Valley or El Valle.

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