Lake Balboa is awash with angst as residents living around it find themselves suffering from a bizarre identity crisis.
Homeowners in the community near the center of the San Fernando Valley have been stunned to learn that "Lake Balboa" doesn't exist -- even though city signs designating that name for the area have been posted for the last five years at their neighborhood's boundaries.
The name mix-up was discovered when residents of an adjoining residential area petitioned the city to also change their community's name from Van Nuys to Lake Balboa.
City leaders acknowledged this week that the Lake Balboa community designation was never officially authorized. Instead, City Councilman Dennis Zine merely instructed street workers in 2002 to post the blue community signs as a courtesy to residents.
Councilman Richard Alarcon, chairman of the council's Education and Neighborhoods Committee, warned that those who boast of having a Lake Balboa address could risk fraud charges if they list that location when selling their homes.
"There is no Lake Balboa, " Alarcon told residents at a community meeting this week.
Adding to the controversy, the real Lake Balboa -- a 27-acre Sepulveda Flood Control Basin pond filled with treated wastewater -- isn't in Lake Balboa either.
Or in Van Nuys, for that matter.
It's in Encino. And residents there are none too pleased that Van Nuys homeowners have attempted to appropriate the Lake Balboa name.
The debate marks another twist in the long tradition of neighborhood name changing that started in the San Fernando Valley in the 1980s.
In many cases, the changes involve upscale neighborhoods trying to shed what residents consider the unwanted baggage of older communities. Valley Village and West Toluca Lake broke off from North Hollywood, while Valley Glen seceded from Van Nuys and West Hills from Canoga Park.
Lake Balboa would be another secession from Van Nuys. Residents living in an area roughly bounded by the 405 Freeway on the east, the Los Angeles River on the south, Roscoe Boulevard on the north and White Oak Avenue have lobbied for the name change as a way of unifying the area politically and improving property values.
They contend that the freeway effectively cuts their neighborhoods off from the rest of Van Nuys, the site of the Valley's first subdivision. A Lake Balboa address would distance them from the gritty reputation that Van Nuys sometimes suffers, they argue.
But it is drawing complaints from Van Nuys residents and business owners such as Ron Feinstein, who have labeled the attempted breakaway as "divisive and disheartening to those of us who give so much time to clean up our community."
Steven Leffert, a retired science and math teacher who has lived in Van Nuys since 1969, organized what began as the bid to join the Lake Balboa neighborhood. He said real estate sales statistics show that homes with a Lake Balboa address have escalated in value at nearly twice the rate of those with Van Nuys addresses.
"The overarching factor was real estate values," he said.
Several real estate agents were in the crowd of about 100 attending Monday evening's hearing at the Van Nuys Civic Center.
Alarcon suggested that they exercise caution in using the Lake Balboa name when selling homes.
"The legal name is not Lake Balboa. I'd talk to my lawyer if I were you. I believe it puts you in jeopardy" to advertise homes for sale as being sold there instead of Van Nuys, he said.
Alarcon said he supports the concept of residents defining their communities by renaming them. But he said the new approval system requires a broad public consensus.
With the name change proposal now in limbo, city officials will work with residents to produce a satisfactory compromise, Alarcon said.
In the case of Lake Balboa, Zine -- whose council district at the time included part of Van Nuys -- asked the city's Department of Transportation to erect the name signs, and a ceremony commemorating them was held in April 2002 at Balboa and Victory boulevards. But Zine never entered a motion before the council to make the name change official, said Sharon Sandow, his chief of staff.
L.A. is famous for renaming neighborhoods, often at the request of residents who believe that living in, say, North Hills rather than Sepulveda might boost property values.
There are now nearly 180 designated neighborhoods in L.A. -- but there is a growing feeling at City Hall that the name game needs to be tamed.
City rules now require the City Council to approve neighborhood name changes -- something that didn't happen in the case of Lake Balboa and perhaps other neighborhoods.
It's far from a new trend -- but officials said neighborhood naming is growing in popularity.
In the last decade, dozens of Los Angeles-area communities have adopted names -- some historic, others made up.
Also, city officials have posted signs designating parts of some communities by their original subdivision names. There are hundreds of the old subdivisions such as Silver Lake, neighborhoods originally built with such names as Ivanhoe Hills, Manzanita Heights, Primrose Hill, Sunset Heights, Capitol Hill, Childs Heights and Crestmont -- the tract that advertised itself 80 years ago as "the Smiley Heights of Los Angeles."
The actual Lake Balboa, which is part of the city's Anthony C. Beilenson Park, is not located within the Lake Balboa area designated by Zine's signs. Leffert said his proposal would cure that by designating Sepulveda Flood Control Basin land between Victory Boulevard and the Los Angeles River "Lake Balboa." That nonresidential area is currently part of Encino.
Losing the lake doesn't sit well with Encino community leaders.
"We are vehemently opposed to anyone stealing part of Encino," said Sherman Gamson, secretary of the Encino Neighborhood Council.