A ‘Brand’ New Sunland Tujunga?

By Michael J. ARVIZU

What is in a brand?

Residents of Sunland and Tujunga discussed this question as a grassroots branding initiative continues to be waged with the goal of bringing potential businesses and visitors to the two cities.

The discussions were held during a special town hall meeting at North Valley City Hall in Tujunga on May 19.

Efforts to revitalize Sunland and Tujunga sparked the branding initiative by community leaders, who hope to officially use the moniker “Gateway to the Angeles National Forest” to position the two cities as a cut above neighboring communities.

Since about the 1970s, the Sunland and Tujunga areas, located about five miles west of La Crescenta, have been branded as the “Gateway to the Angeles National Forest” due to their proximity to the Angeles National Forest entrance on Big Tujunga Canyon Road, which begins off of Foothill Boulevard in Sunland.

(Like Angeles Crest Highway in La Cañada, Big Tujunga Canyon Road in Sunland serves as one of the main arteries into Angeles National Forest.)

“One reason La Cañada is associated with the forest is due to Sport Chalet,” asserted resident Jerry Sherman. “And maybe we can get some good sporting goods stores here in our city, such as REI.”

The so-called “Gateway” slogan was conceived by a group of residents who called themselves “Gateway ‘76.” Hoping to capitalize on their proximity to the forest’s entrance, residents adopted the slogan.

The Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council (STNC) which, along with the Sunland-Tujunga Chamber of Commerce, supports the branding initiative, said Jon von Gunten, STNC group representative and liaison to neighborhood watch.

Over time, however, this effort became stagnant and the slogan has since been marginally used to identify the communities. It is not found on either the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council or Sunland-Tujunga Chamber of Commerce websites, the letterheads of any community organization, or official publications.

“You can cook this up and get it out there, but until it shows up on everybody’s stationary, their advertising, it’s not going to go anywhere,” said Little Landers Historical Society member Lloyd Hitt. “It’s just going to die.”

According to Hitt, branding initiatives go back at least 40 years in Sunland and Tujunga. Many of those initiatives, however, died out due to lack of support from the community.

“We must market, or we will hit oblivion fast,” said von Gunten. “[Branding] is what towns do to get noticed. Branding is just a new word for what people think of you. That goes for everything from companies, towns, cities, politicians.”

The present branding initiative is taking place in concert with a new logo being designed for Sunland and Tujunga that will feature the official slogan. Several logos have already been submitted by local artists, and the final design – voted on by the community – will be chosen in July.

“We needed to communicate the brand,” said Paolina Milana, a resident of Tujunga. “The quickest way to do it is through a visual, to let people see what we could look like. The participation from the community is on the logo.”

But Sun Valley resident, business owner and Sunland-Tujunga Chamber of Commerce member Phil Tabbi personally believes the “Gateway” moniker is not appropriate for the two cities.

“We are the foothills. We are not the national forest,” Tabbi said. “A lot of us believe that we want to be a destination and not a gateway to somewhere else.”

And with many communities already branding themselves as a “gateway” to some place, Tabbi said, Sunland-Tujunga should strive to have its own identity.

“We have equestrians, we have artists. We have a lot of different people,” he said. “We have nothing to do, in my opinion, with the forest.”

Inspired by her “love,” she said, for the cities, in July 2013 Milana paid about $1,000 out of her own pocket to trademark the “Gateway” name, securing it, she said, against anyone else who might want to use it now that the branding initiative is at full steam.

Once chosen, the logo and slogan would appear in official Sunland and Tujunga publications, websites and social media, as well as on city banners, flyers, signs and posters.

“If you do a search on us, nobody has a clue who we are or what value proposition we offer,” said Milana, speaking about Sunland and Tujunga’s presence on the internet. “That’s bad for us. That’s hurting us. It’s keeping all of these businesses away from us.”

In the future, Milana said, the trademark would have to be transferred to an appropriate nonprofit organization that would be able to raise funds in order to promote the slogan with banners or memorabilia.

“We need money to actually communicate this out,” Milana said.”It’s not payment for salaries.”

Community reaction to the branding initiative, and the “Gateway” slogan itself, has been mostly positive, based on online polls of the community, Milana said, with the majority of residents in favor. Other slogans have been submitted for consideration, Milana said, but none are as distinct as the “Gateway” slogan.

Tabbi feels the branding initiative lacks community input and falls under a “private agenda,” he said, undertaken by a few community leaders, the five-member branding initiative committee, and supported by only two community organizations, in particular, the Sunland-Tujunga Chamber of Commerce and Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council.

“I think it should be looked at better and have the community get their input, instead of a private person pushing what their idea is down our throats,” Tabbi said. “I don’t disagree with branding the town.”

And, Tabbi said, the community has been given little to no information on how to voice an opinion on the branding initiative.

“I go up and down the boulevard, and people ask me, ‘What is this branding? I’ve never even heard of it,’” Tabbi said. “I think the residents should know and get a better view on this.”