Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

The History Behind the Sagebrush District Controversy

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

A constant theme in the story of the Crescenta Valley is that of border wars. Throughout our history we have been cut up and divided many times over. Residents see the Crescenta Valley as having clear borders geographically – defined easily by the Verdugo and San Gabriel Mountains to the north and south, and the smaller hills to the east and west. But the reality is that we are carved up between four different municipalities: City of Los Angeles (Tujunga), unincorporated L.A. County (La Crescenta/Montrose), Glendale and La Cañada Flintridge. The school districts and utilities follow entirely different boundary logic irrespective of those civic boundaries. It’s a mess, and fights crop up constantly.

The latest fight to break out is that of the so-called “Sagebrush District.” The fight is actually decades old and is just heating up again. The issue is this: a small chunk of the western edge of La Cañada (the Sagebrush District) is in the Glendale Unified School District, and they would rather be in the La Cañada School District. The boundaries of the Sagebrush District are Foothill Boulevard to the south, Pickens Canyon to the west and to the east an imaginary north-south line falling along tiny Rosebank Drive. Inside the Sagebrush District are the many beautiful homes along Ocean View Boulevard and Castle Drive, running up into the San Gabriel Mountains, gorgeous properties perched on the east side of Pickens Canyon. The area clearly looks and feels like La Cañada, with home sizes and property values to match, and it is La Cañada civically. Yet it lies in the Glendale Unified School District, so the 400 or so students living in this portion of La Cañada go to Glendale schools.

How did this happen? Going all the way back to 1875, Lanterman and Williams purchased the entire Crescenta Cañada Valley and had it split into 48 roughly 100-acre lots. The north-south boundary lines were surveyed as straight lines and surveyors ignored the natural geographic lines such as Pickens Canyon. In 1881, Dr. Briggs purchased half of that land lying from the aforementioned Rosebank Drive line west, and established what we think of today as La Crescenta.

Fast forward to about 1950. The area above Foothill between Rosebank and Pickens Canyon contained only a handful of homes with the rest of the land still in native sagebrush. They were part of La Crescenta – the four or five kids living there went to Glendale schools and their mail came up the hill from the Montrose Post Office. Annexation fever was in the air, and Glendale was gobbling up the Crescenta Valley. Local water supplies couldn’t keep up with booming demand and Glendale offered its bountiful municipal water in exchange for chunks of CV. While many areas of CV embraced willingly Glendale’s offers, others viewed it with mistrust of “big government.”

The few CV residents scattered amongst the sagebrush to the east of Pickens Canyon adopted the latter mistrust and banded together to avoid being annexed by Glendale. Their simple tactic was this: Change post offices. They were part of the Montrose Post Office delivery area, and they were betting Montrose would go to Glendale, dragging them with it. The 20 or so homes, along with their sagebrush, petitioned to be served by the La Cañada Post Office instead. The school district boundaries were not addressed and so the convoluted Sagebrush District was formed.

When La Cañada incorporated in the ’70s, it followed the postal boundaries, and thus the now populous Sagebrush District became officially La Cañada, except for the schools that remained Glendale.

Today the fight in the Sagebrush District is about money. Millions of dollars in Sagebrush District property tax money currently goes to Glendale schools and, of course, La Cañada would rather have the money. The Sagebrush homeowners consider themselves La Cañadan and would see an increase in property values if they were part of the higher-performing La Cañada schools.

I think eventually La Cañada will offer a high enough cash payout to Glendale to get the Sagebrush students and this boundary fight will be permanently over.