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Moving Up, but Not Away

Real estate: Renamed neighborhoods often give residents cachet and higher property values.

February 11, 2002|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long before there was talk of Valley secession, there was secession in the Valley. For more than a decade, San Fernando Valley neighborhoods have been breaking off from established communities, giving themselves new names and almost instantly reaping benefits.

Starting in 1987, West Hills was carved out of Canoga Park, North Hills left Sepulveda, Valley Village and West Toluca Lake ditched North Hollywood, and Valley Glen and Lake Balboa said farewell to Van Nuys.

Some observers say these neighborhoods haven't changed anything but their monikers. But members of neighborhood associations and others say a name change is more than skin deep. It can give a neighborhood cachet, boost property values and increase its political clout.

To use the jargon of marketing, a new name can brand a neighborhood as something more desirable than its surroundings. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but many believe that West Toluca Lake has a ritzier perfume than North Hollywood.

"It does make the houses more attractive," said Susan Park, who manages a real estate agency in Woodland Hills. As a lifelong resident, she has watched the map of the Valley sprout half a dozen new names over the last 20 years.

"I was surprised when I first saw it," Park said of the phenomenon. She recalled when an attractive area in Reseda, known as Tampa Estates, suddenly annexed itself to the tonier community to the south: "One day we turned and said, 'Wait a minute. That used to be Reseda and now it's Tarzana.'

"It's mostly perception that drives it," she said of the uptick in home prices that often follows a new neighborhood name.

Peter Sanchez said he has never checked, but he believes his house in Valley Village is worth more than a comparable house outside the area. Valley Village, which got City Council approval to rename itself in 1991, is bounded on the west by the Tujunga Wash, on the north by Burbank Boulevard, on the east by the Hollywood Freeway, and on the south by the Ventura Freeway.

Sanchez, a claims supervisor for an insurance company in Century City, sits on the board of the Valley Village Homeowners Assn. and is one of the founders of its new Neighborhood Council of Valley Village.

"If you sent me a letter, you could put Valley Village on it, you could put North Hollywood on it, you could put Los Angeles on it, and it would still get there," Sanchez said. But the designation Valley Village gives the 22,000 people who live there a distinctive identity, especially in a sprawling city like Los Angeles, he said.

Valley Village's Roots Extend to 1939

Sanchez put together a brief history of the community for its newsletter, The Valley Villager. In 1939, residents adopted the name Valley Village and an ambitious plan for a model community with bike paths and pocket parks. Although that utopian vision was never fully realized, more recent residents decided to keep the historic name for their breakaway community.

At first, most other Angelenos didn't know where the community was, Sanchez said: "It was probably Valley What?" But over the last decade, its profile has grown and "the name has helped the community pull together and to be recognized."

"When I moved here [in 1993], I didn't even know it was Valley Village. I just liked the house," said Sanchez, who owns a 1,000-square-foot, Depression-era cottage on Irvine Avenue.

Sanchez quickly learned that a coherent community has more juice in dealing with local politicians and thus more control over its destiny. For Valley Village, Sanchez explained, the community's bible is its council-approved "specific plan," a document that fleshes out the community's credo that "this is a residential area, and we want to keep it a residential area."

Neighborhood Sets Its Development Rules

The plan has allowed Valley Village to keep out new fast-food restaurants, automotive businesses and homes higher than 30 feet. "We want this to stay a quaint little neighborhood," said Sanchez, who enjoys such small-town amenities as the Fourth of July parade. The homeowners association has fought to rid Chandler Boulevard of billboards on its median strip and to have West Park renamed Valley Village Park.

"Whenever new commercial construction or expansion happens in Valley Village, the association is watchful," the newsletter promises. Ongoing quality-of-life battles include a sound wall on the Hollywood Freeway and blocking expansion of Burbank Airport.

Tom Weston is founder of the Weston Group, a Westside ad agency that counsels builders on winning names for housing developments. Now a resident of Brentwood, Weston lived in Woodland Hills during the late 1980s when western Canoga Park was reinventing itself as West Hills.

West Hills Just Sounds Better

"It has tremendous impact," Weston said of the effect of a community name change. "Some of that is as simple as West Hills sounding better than Canoga Park."

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