The Bumpy Road to Cityhood for La Cañada Flintridge

I’ve written previously about La Crescenta’s failed attempt at cityhood in ’64. There are many locally who wonder why we don’t try it again. La Cañada Flintridge went through its own failed attempts at self-governance before finally achieving success in 1976. It strikes me as ironic that La Cañada should achieve cityhood before La Crescenta. La Crescenta was laid out by Benjamin Briggs to be a city, with its town center at La Crescenta and Foothill, complete with a post office, school, church and park. La Cañada, by contrast, was laid out by Lanterman and Williams to be agricultural, with no clear center. Times change.

La Cañada began its move toward self-determination when it formed its own school district in 1960 and built its own high school in ’63. That removed a significant tie to Pasadena and Glendale, and foreshadowed the first cityhood effort for La Cañada. In ’64, a group of community activists mounted a campaign to incorporate La Cañada and Flintridge into its own city, logically encompassing the same boundaries as the new school district. Flintridge, however, was having none of that! Whereas La Cañada was affluent and their property values were good, Flintridge was super-wealthy and their property values were astronomical. In the view of many Flintridge residents, joining with the lower demographics of La Cañada would only hurt their property values. But the reality was that there were more La Cañada residents than Flintridge residents, so a straight vote would win for La Cañada Flintridge unification.

Interestingly, just before the vote was to happen, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors suddenly redrew the proposed city boundaries to exclude Flintridge. That destroyed the whole deal and, amid charges that the board of supervisors was “bought off” by wealthy Flintridge landowners, the dream of cityhood died.

Bad blood between the two communities continued through the ’60s as Flintridge pursued cityhood on its own or, alternately, annexation to Pasadena. Neither plan went anywhere though. Another effort at cityhood was put forth again in 1969, but Flintridge again resisted and that incorporation effort was stillborn.

Meanwhile, other forces were at work in Sacramento through the ’60s, forces that were pushing for urban development and for unincorporated areas such as La Cañada and Flintridge to join with larger cities. Along with this came legislation that gave cities increased powers to annex surrounding communities. In the early ’70s, the “hungry, hungry hippos” of annexation, Pasadena and Glendale, both infamous for gobbling up their neighbors, submitted a plan that showed both La Cañada and Flintridge their futures in no uncertain terms. It was a scene reminiscent of the famous story of the judgment of King Solomon in which two women claimed the same baby. He told them he would cut the baby in half so they could each share equally, which made the two women resolve their dispute on their own. In this case Pasadena and Glendale proposed to the County that they divide the Cañada Valley in half just west of Angeles Crest. Pasadena obviously would get the eastern half, and Glendale would take the smaller western half over to Ocean View, the prize plum of Descanso Gardens going to Glendale. With the prospect of both La Cañada and Flintridge being cut in half, the two warring communities suddenly decided to play nice. In November 1976, La Cañada and Flintridge voted overwhelmingly for incorporation, and the new city of La Cañada Flintridge was declared official. A hyphen between the two names was specifically left out to demonstrate the unity between the two.

The new city was not negatively affected by the usual start-up fees of cityhood. They had a good tax base from the beginning and a wealthy, highly educated population from which to choose leadership – leadership that within one year of cityhood had amassed an unheard of $10 million budget surplus. And it’s only gotten better from there. Incorporation has been very good for La Cañada Flintridge. A community that was once divided is now united and has control of its own destiny.

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