East San Gabriel Valley Plan Collaboration with the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Department

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The Homestead is pleased to be collaborating with the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Department on its East San Gabriel Valley Plan project, one of eleven planning areas for unincorporated communities within the county plan process.  The long-range vision looks at smart growth; community services and infrastructure; a strong and diverse economy; managing environmental resources, and healthy, livable and equitable community building.

With land use and policy issues at the forefront, area plans could also involve community and specific plans and zoning specific to communities, with particular attention paid to transit, transportation corridors, and the preservation or transition of industrial districts.

In addition to a land-use analysis of unincorporated areas, the project involves “consistent outreach and collaboration with stakeholders,” with this latter including “community residents, local businesses, community-based organizations, external public agencies, and other County departments.”

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The East San Gabriel Valley planning area is basically east of I-605, south of the San Gabriel Mountains and Angeles National Forest, and north of Orange County and west of San Bernardino County.   This is an area of over 210 square miles, of which a quarter is unincorporated, and this large area has representation from three of the five districts of the county’s Board of Supervisors (remarkably, there have been five supervisors since the board was created way back in 1852 when there were maybe 10,000 people in the county instead of many millions!)

Within the planning area’s boundaries are 13 cities, including City of Industry, and 21 unincorporated communities. While some of the latter are widely recognizable, such as Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Avocado Heights, Valinda, and Charter Oak, most are pretty obscure.  These include Covina Islands; East Irwindale; South San Jose Hills; West Puente Valley; and Northeast La Verne.

Demographically, the population of the East San Gabriel Valley Area is about a quarter in unincorporated areas, totaling about 240,000 persons, while incorporated cities have some 730,000 residents.  Rates of owner-occupied dwellings is higher in unincorporated areas than in cities and in the county broadly among the 285,000 or so units.  In terms of ethnicity, unincorporated areas are 58% Hispanic, 27% Asian and 11.5% White, while in cities those numbers are about 55/18/21, respectively.

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Population density is quite high in places like South San Jose Hills, east of La Puente and west of Walnut along Valley Boulevard; in the West Puente Valley, west of La Puente and east of !-605; and in neighboring areas like La Puente, Valinda, Baldwin Park and the like, while the lowest areas of population concentration are either undeveloped resource areas in the Puente Hills/Chino Hills section or in the San Gabriel Mountains foothills or an unusual example like the City of Industry, with its very low population but high levels of employed persons at work in its many businesses.

Not surprisingly, the largest of the unincorporated communities in population are Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights, which combined are over 100,000, both more than double those areas beneath them, including West Puente Valley (24,500); Valinda (23,000), and South San Jose Hills (22,000), though these last three are among the most densely populated in the planning area.

Median household income ranges from under $50,000 in Pomona to double that or more in Walnut, West San Dimas, East Azusa, and west and north Claremont.  Also not surprising is that among the lost median household incomes among unincorporated communities are those with the highest population density, as West Puente Valley, Valinda and South San Jose Hills are three of the four lowest, above North Pomona, which has the fifth highest density in population.

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Among the issues identified are: infrastructure; mobility; economic health; environmental matters; and others.  A department summary for the plan notes that “many of the traditional suburbs . . . are maturing and facing infrastructure capacity issues and limited mobility options.”  This means that improving transportation is significant, while the area “includes environmental and hazard constraints.”

The Puente Hills, which forms the southern boundary of the plan area, has “fault traces and wildfire threats,” with the latter and the hazard of landslides creating potential “safety hazards” in foothill communities at the northern edge of the region.  Another area of interest has to do with Significant Ecological Areas (SEAs) in terms of “sub-regions of biodiversity that require protection.”

This information is obviously crucial to the process of developing the East San Gabriel Valley Plan and what the Homestead has done in the last two weekends is serve as a host site for two community workshops carried out the Department of Regional Planning.

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On 9 March, regional planning staff discussed the plan and its process, presenting visuals showing the information presented here and more and giving verbal presentations about how the plan is being developed.  A staff member from the Theodore Payne Foundation spoke about native plants as a way to show where some of the plan components are heading in terms of environment, water use, and aesthetics.  I gave a brief history of the Rancho La Puente to give some early historical background about much of the territory falling within the planning area.

Then, last Saturday the 16th, Fonografía Collective, a consulting firm, conducted, with county planning department and library staff, its second workshop gathering photographs and community stories, following one held in early February in Bassett.  The idea here was to hear directly from local residents about their experiences living in the very diverse communities within the plan area and to get some documentation, in terms of those photos, as part of the information being compiled for the plan.

For the Homestead, offering the site for plan events is part of our broader community engagement and outreach.  It also is an opportunity to talk about the early history of the area, especially in noting the common theme of immigrants seeking a better life, whether it was William and Nicolasa Workman coming from New Mexico or newer residents migrating from, as just a couple of examples, east Asia or Mexico and central America.

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It is also very useful for the museum to have access to the detailed information provided by the Regional Planning department in terms of the area’s demographics.  Knowing where these communities are, what their demographics entail, and what the thinking is from the county about how to improve infrastructure and services is helpful for us in terms of what we can do to better our outreach.

After all, history is a guide to the future, whether this relates to development patterns, transportation layouts, ethnic migrations and other factors over time.  Though our interpretive period ends at 1930, having covered a century from the Mexican era in a rural, ranching region to an increasingly urbanized and industrialized economy, though still with a large agricultural component, especially in the East San Gabriel Valley, we can make reference to connections between that era and our own, including the future.

We hope to continue our collaborative efforts with the Department of Regional Planning in whatever ways are beneficial to their work on the East San Gabriel Valley Plan, bearing in mind that our approaches to discussing the area’s history should, whenever possible, keep the future firmly within our sights.

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