The Housing Chronicles Blog: Battle of "Part of Sherman Oaks" heats up

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Battle of "Part of Sherman Oaks" heats up

Back in March, I blogged about the importance of neighborhood distinctions in L.A., citing a recent attempt by a relatively small portion of Van Nuys to be absorbed into neighboring Sherman Oaks.

The reason this battle ignited my interest was that I have several friends who live in the affected area, plus I own some property there and had learned first-hand the differences between the two.

Given the constant ebb and flow of neighborhood boundaries being re-drawn and renamed (such as a portion of West Van Nuys to Lake Balboa, North Van Nuys to North Hills to Encino or a part of North Hollywood to Valley Village), I figured the change would pretty much meet little or no opposition by local neighborhood councils as well as by the L.A. City Council. I thought the reasoning laid out by the proponents on the group's Web site,, was rational and was merely meant to correct a previous error of nomenclature by the city. Boy, was I wrong!

Much to my surprise, I recently learned that the leaders of both the Van Nuys and Sherman Oaks neighborhood councils were officially opposing the renaming effort. From an email I received:

Van Nuys Neighborhood Council President, Lydia Mather and Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council President, Jill Barad site NEW reasons why it will be detrimental to Van Nuys if our community were to be allowed to be renamed Sherman Oaks.

The opponents to our name change application met with Councilmember Wendy Greuel according to her staff. In this meeting Lydia Mather stated that our community constituted 20% of all single family homes in all of Van Nuys.

This figure is important because it is an established fact that home ownership contributes greatly to the stability of any neighborhood. However, as we learned more about the evidence presented to the Councilmember - we began to wonder if all is what it seemed.

Apparently, Lydia Mather's 20% statistic was not presented in writing and Ms. Mather did not say which map these statistics are based on...

Regardless of our findings - we all concluded that our community may have a high level of home ownership compared to other parts of Van Nuys, but the people living in this community have a right to self- determination - AND WE ARE MORE THAN A STATISTIC.

I once served on the board for a similar neighborhood council in San Diego called 'Uptown Planners,' and I can tell you first-hand that decisions made by these groups are not always rational. On our board, we had a split between those who knew change was inevitable (including several architects) and those who said "No" to any change or new development because it made them uncomfortable (as well as a semi-coherent magpie who just liked to complain).

After one particularly contentious meeting, a reporter called me for comment because I was "one of the few rational voices on the board." But the City of San Diego took our meetings quite seriously, even sending out a representative from our City Councilman's office each time we met. I shudder to think how many bad decisions are made because a few people get drunk on power.

From my experience, I can only guess that Jill Barad, a 33-year resident of Sherman Oaks, simply doesn't like the idea of 'her' neighborhood boundary expanded -- even if it negates the rights of residents for self-determination. How I wish that all of my own personal opinions, with little respect to fairness or relevance, could also be made into law! That power Ms. Barad wields must be heady indeed.

As for Ms. Mather, I can sympathize with her more, because having a portion of her designated neighborhood join a better-managed one to the south on her watch has got to be embarrassing -- and an inconvenient failure should she some day want to seek higher office in local politics. But neither should her personal ambition thwart the rights of individuals to self-determination.

Fortunately, the President of the Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce disagrees with both Ms. Barad and Ms. Mather, and has voiced his support of the name change, including laying out specific, rational reasons for doing so. Perhaps they could learn something from him? From his open letter to Councilwoman Grueul:

Dear Wendy,

The Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce believes that citizens of Los Angeles should, within the framework of City governance, be allowed the right of self-determination to choose inclusion in the neighborhood that is most consistent and appropriate with the community in which they live and identify.

Such a choice should not be at the expense of other citizens but, rather, in a manner that is reasonable and intelligent. This identification should make sense in terms of City services and administrative representation.

The residents and business people in the area north of Burbank Boulevard and south of Califa Street and east of Sepulveda Boulevard and west of Hazeltine Avenue are currently caught in a political and educational no man’s land.

These citizens are within the 2nd Council District and are lucky, in my opinion, to have been represented by you as their Councilmember. So there currently exists a Los Angeles City perspective that includes these families and businesses in the community of Sherman Oaks.
The children of this area all go to elementary and middle schools located south of their residences within Sherman Oaks. So the Los Angeles Unified School District and the State of California have determined that this area in question is part of the educational community of Sherman Oaks.

It has been argued that taking these residences out of Van Nuys would remove an important part of Van Nuys. I would ask, “How is that so?” and “Is this objection more important than the prior determination of City Council boundaries or the long-standing sense of school community?”

The Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce does not think so.

Changing the name of this area will not hurt anyone that lives or works north of this area. Changing the name of this area will not alter the governance or the school association of this area or that of anyone else.

Complaints about this area name change are based of issues of self-image and associations for which the good people of this hamlet had no responsibility. They just want to be included in their own community.

Wendy, I grew up in this very area and I know this area very well. The residents of this area have always felt affinity for Sherman Oaks. School and shopping locations, as well as political representation, have made it so. And my own father often stated, when asked, that he lived in Sherman Oaks.

I fully understand that the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council and the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council have voted against this request for area name change.

But I do not think that the stakeholders in this area are getting a fair hearing in those venues.
I was the lead negotiator representing the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council in the initial border dispute with the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council at the time of NC formation. We never even discussed this area, nor did we do any due diligence and ask these residents for their input. I now realize that we erred in not doing so.

I ask, in the name of the Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce, and in respect for the wishes of the residents and businesses of the area in question, to right that initial wrong. Please allow the children of this area to be included in the same community as the other children at their schools. And allow the citizens of this area to be included in the same area as other citizens in your council district.

Such an action by you would cost the city little. But it would unite this area with the community that they have lived in and identified with for the last sixty years.

Yours in the interest of good citizens and stronger communities in Los Angeles, and with warm personal regard, I am

Dr. Robert “Bob” Cohen
Sherman Oaks Chamber of Commerce

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