T H E   S T O R Y   OF   C E R R I T O S
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1965 - Zoning Changes

1965 was an especially important year for the community. When the county re-appraisal caused property taxes to double, many people decided to support a change in zoning and this time the pro-change voters won 440 to 324. Zoning was changed from agricultural to residential. Soon subdivision requests for one thousand homes were filed with the city. Model homes were opened in the first subdivision - Stardust Homes. The houses ranged in price from $24,000 to $30,000 reasonable for the middle-class residents that Dairy Valley hoped to attract.

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ABC School District
More homes mean more children and more schools. Dairy Valley had considered forming its own school district, but the trend was to unify the many small districts. In 1965, the voters of three districts decided to combine them into a single large one, so Artesia district (founded 1875), Bloomfield (founded 1885), and Carmenita (founded 1902) became the ABC Unified School District. Dr. Murrell Miller became superintendent in January 1966. He had to work within an $8 million budget and try to get necessary bond issues passed so that school sites could be purchased and construction begun.

Dairy Valley had rather grudgingly allowed Artesia District to build Haskell School (then an elementary) in 1959, and Cabrillo Lane in 1964, both on Del Amo Boulevard. In 1965 Carver Elementary, Tetzlaff Junior High schools, and Gahr High School were completed and Furgeson Elementary was under construction. District plans called for a total of twenty-eight elementary, six junior high, and three high schools to meet the needs of what they expected to be a population explosion.

The city budget was $334,457, including the salaries of Stanley A. Morgan, assistant to the city manager, and William Stookey, city engineer. Stookey, educated at M.I.T. and CalTech, had previously been chief engineer for the $3 million water supply system. Neal Irving and Associates of Norwalk was retained to prepare a new Master Plan. Assemblyman Gonsalves had helped obtain a $33,000 state grant to help pay for it.

Tony R. Cordeiro was elected to the city council May 4, 1966 to replace Alex Moore. The city staff grew with the addition of Wallace Crenshaw as office engineer, Scott C. Brand as Water Superintendent, and Jean Hultberg to help in the office. The council chamber was partitioned into offices, so council meetings were moved to Valley Christian High School's auditorium.

The General Plan was adopted as a guide for development so that the city would have a balanced economy and be an attractive place for families to live in. 48.1% of the total land area was allocated for residential development, 17.7% for commercial, industrial, and professional use, and the remaining 34.1% was to be used for such public purposes as schools, parks and recreation, flood control, utilities, public streets and city government buildings.

The city's tenth anniversary passed unnoticed, as the staff was “too busy making the change from a rural to a suburban community,” a newspaper reporter was told.

Mayor Jim Albers christened the new $3,500,000 water project by breaking a quart of milk across the big concrete pipe. When he became mayor in 1966, Fred Troost presented a Dairy Valley black and white cow statue to Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Chenevert who, with their five children, was the first family to move into a Dairy Valley subdivision.

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A New Name & Image

The Chamber of Commerce members decided not to merge with the Artesia chamber and that the name “Dairy Valley” would have to go. Dairyland had shed its name and bucolic image early in 1965 and had renamed itself La Palma after the boulevard that ran through the town. Cypress had been Dairy City only a few months before the name was changed back.

The Chamber of Commerce commercial and industrial committee suggested the name “Cerritos” because it would identify the city with the college that was becoming well-known in Southern California and would have a historic and romantic tie with the “old California” rancho days.

Actually, Rancho los Cerritos was the westernmost portion of the old Nietos Ranch. None of it was east of the present San Gabriel River channel - in fact, the boundary was about where Bellflower Boulevard is today. Abel Stearns had spelled the name “Sierritos” when he made the survey map in 1834. The name means “little hills,” but just what hills were referred to isn't known.

The ranch had been bought in 1843 by Don Juan Temple, an American who had come to California in 1827. Temple built an imposing house for his family and operated a ranch which had on its pastures 15,000 cattle, 7,000 sheep and 3,000 horses. The house has been restored as a museum and can be visited by the public. Its grounds adjoin the Virginia Country Club in west Long Beach.

The drought of 1863-64 forced Temple to leave the cattle business, and he sold the rancho to the Bixby brothers and their cousin Dr. Thomas Flint for about 75 cents an acre. For years, thousands of sheep were grazed on the property. In 1882, 4,000 acres were optioned to William E. Willmore. His efforts to create Willmore City failed, but a later group re-founded the settlement and named it Long Beach. The northern portion became an enormous beanfield, which eventually became Lakewood and Somerset (now Bellflower).

The borrowed name seemed to be a winner - somehow “Los Coyotes,” though more historically accurate, doesn't have the best connotation, and “Freeway City” lacks the class that the chamber members and city administration sought in creating a new image. On January 10, 1967, the voters elected to change the name of their city to Cerritos.

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Second Decade
What a different place it had become in ten years! The acres of feedlots had begun to give way to housing tracts. By April of 1968, thirty-one tracts were completed or underway - a total of 2,164 homes. The 605 and 91 freeways were under construction, crossing the community in each direction. Enormous drainage, water, and sewer projects were underway, some interconnected with systems that served Norwalk, La Palma, and Lakewood.

Cerritos was not going to be like so many other new communities that had mushroomed with little direction. From the beginning of the change to suburban development, the city council and administration knew they wanted to attract solid, middle-class homeowners. Utilities were to be underground with no maze of poles and lines across the skyline. There would be an abundance of parks, large recreational centers and smaller neighborhood playgrounds. A variety of commercial centers and an unintrusive industrial area would be planned.

Patton D. Winslow replaced Louis Struikman on the city council. Winslow was an engineer and professional real estate broker and appraiser. Back in 1963, he had presented to the council a petition for gradual phasing in of residential development.

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Farewell to the Dairies
About this time, Jim Albers moved his cows to a new dairy in Chino. The land he'd bought in 1931 for $600 an acre sold for $31,000 an acre. The dairymen had succeeded in what they'd set out to do - stretch out the time they could operate in the area and enjoy the profits that development would bring to it.

The first section of the Artesia (91) freeway was dedicated in June, 1968. The program featured “Daisy, the educated cow,” trained by her owner, mayor pro-tem Tony Cordeiro, to chew through the traditional grand-opening ribbon. This was a farewell for the remaining 90,000 cows who would be leaving the area. Eventually they would be loaded into trucks and taken to new feed-lots. This was also evidently the last of the “cute cow” presentations. Cerritos would emphasize its parks and progress!

Visitors from the Sister City arrived in October. In their honor, Cerritos streets were named for the city, Itepatinga; the state, Bahia; the country, Brazil; the mayor, Espinheira; and San Salvador, the home city of a visiting city planner. There were three other Brazilian mayors, interpreters, and U.S. State Department officials in the visiting party. Cerritos-Artesia service clubs and the Chamber of Commerce honored the visitors with dinners and presentations, remembering the hospitality the Brazilians had lavished on our representatives, Mr. and Mrs. Leal. A bumper sticker from the 1969-1970 era reads “Cerritos - The Freeway City - A Prestige Address - The Geographic Center of Southern California.”

For the next several years, Cerritos led the county in the number and value of building permits sold. The peak year was 1971, when 3,367 permits valued at $90 million represented 70% of the single family units being built in Los Angeles county. From 4,373 in 1968, the population steadily climbed - in 1970 it was 15,856; in 1971, 21,500; a special census in 1972 showed 37,738. Assessed valuation had grown from $28.5 million in 1958 to $124.3 million in 1973, when the population was 40,750.

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First Non-Dairy City Council

The city council reflected the change. Jim Albers and Frank Leal were the dairyman “old hands.” They were joined in 1970 by new members Barry A. Rabbitt, an engineer; James S. Reddick, whose business was sales and public relations; and an attorney, Robert J. Witt. Jim Albers resigned after a month and was replaced by Frank D. Lee, an engineer. Frank Leal resigned the next year and was replaced by James Pearce. For the first time there was not a single dairyman on the city council.

William Stark resigned as city manager and was replaced by John De Weerd, a former assistant administrator and director of the Los Cerritos Redevelopment Agency.

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The concept of redevelopment was a national one, beginning after World War II, when it was obvious that many cities were suffering the results of suburban development causing urban decay. In order to reverse the trend, legislation was passed so that funds could be raised to replace slums and urban “blight” with new revenue-producing commercial, industrial, and recreational facilities. All over the country cities began to have face-lifts. In some, historic buildings were restored. In others entire sections were razed so that new development could take place. Funds came from “freezing” taxes in the area, and issuing bonds for the cost of development that, in time, would insure more in future tax revenues and economic growth. The redevelopment agencies had great power, being able to condemn buildings, relocate tenants, to buy and resell land, make plans, install necessary streets, and by issuing their own bonds, raise money.

The Los Cerritos Redevelopment Agency was established November 17, 1970. It was to involve 940 acres of underdeveloped pasture lands in the western part of the city, and invest some $30 million. Plans included a large retail and business center and a concentration of automobile dealerships. The result would be an increase in property values, and more sales tax revenues, local trade, and available jobs.

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Citizen involvement

Citizens advisory committees had existed since the city's founding and many people loaned their expertise to commissions that were concerned with planning, health and safety, parks and recreation, library, property maintenance, and home owners advice.

Service organizations proliferated - Lions, Rotarians, and Women's clubs already existed as Artesia-Cerritos organizations. In addition, the Optomists, Epsilon Sigma Alpha (a service sorority), Friends of the Library, Cerritos Art Association, and the Cerritos Garden Club gave members an opportunity to become involved. The Garden Club encouraged home landscaping and polled the citizens before declaring the marigold as the city flower.

Several parks had been dedicated and more were being constructed. Bettencourt Park received an environmental planting award, being built over a former dump near Coyote Creek. It also provided a steep slope of which the city of “little hills” was a bit deficient.

Patricia Nixon, wife of the newly-elected United States President, had come to the ground breaking, September 5, 1969, of a park located on the farm where she had lived as a child. The family house was to become a museum and recreation center.

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Artesia - Cerritos to Merge

It seemed obvious that merging Cerritos and Artesia would be a logical move. Not only would it prevent duplication of facilities and services, but it would be possible to plan for the entire area. Both city councils were in favor of the idea and a number of community meetings were held, but when 69% of the Artesia voters cast their ballots, 1,362 voted “no” and only 1,140 voted “yes.” Many Artesians resented the fact that they were to be absorbed into the newer community, the whole area becoming Cerritos. Others feared that their small, older homes would be razed by the powerful redevelopment agency

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Our Own Library
Cerritos went ahead with its own development. After long debate over whether to rejoin the county library system and share a branch library with Artesia, Cerritos decided to build its own library facilities. Groundbreaking was delayed until the strawberries had been harvested from the field at the site at Bloomfield and 183rd, but in June 1972, the ceremony was performed. Appropriately, the participants feasted on a fifteen-foot long strawberry shortcake. The building was completed and open by August of the next year, with Margaret N. Sloane as city librarian.

Other new city officials were Arthur W. Brewer, Director of Environmental Affairs; Frederico Gabriel, Director of Human Affairs; Gordon Stith, Director of the Department of Internal Affairs; Susan Raycraft, Community Participation Director, and Jerry Barnes, Public Information Officer.

As the community grew, the school district did also. Administration offices were moved into a new complex at 166th and Norwalk Boulevard, and between 1969 and 1974 ten schools were completed. Seven of the schools were elementary. Carmenita Junior High replaced the old Carmenita school although the old building was retained for use by the ABC Adult School. El Dorado (now called Tracy) was a continuation high school, and Cerritos High School was completed in 1973 to serve students from the eastern part of the city. Cerritos College campus had expanded to cover 140 acres and served 10,997 registered students. Charles W. L. Hutchison was picked as Superintendent of ABC District in October 1969 and would keep that position until 1976.

City Park East on 166th was the first large park to be completed (1971). Loma, Saddleback, Friendship, Westgate, Sunshine, Ecology, and Brookhaven were neighborhood parks with play equipment and picnic facilities. The city recreation staff provided a wide assortment of services and supervision. Liberty Park was dedicated in 1974 with eight acres of lawns, playing facilities, and a community building similar to the one at City Park East.

Plans were underway for a large regional park that would be constructed near Del Amo and Bloomfield. The site had been used for the fertilizer co-operative after the 183rd Street location had become part of the 91 Freeway. For the time being, it was an informal motorcycle park where young people could ride their dirt bikes. Unfortunately, the neighboring communities of La Palma and Lakewood were almost as unhappy about the noise of the motorbikes as they had been about the smell of the fertilizer.

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Los Cerritos Center

At last the people of Cerritos could do all their shopping locally. Not only were there several neighborhood shopping centers clustered around major grocery stores, but we had one of the most popular major shopping malls in the area, Los Cerritos Center.

Ernest W. Hahn, Inc. was the builder of the 100 acre shopping center at Gridley Road and South Street. The first phase opened in 1971, the second in 1972. Anchored by major department stores - Sears, Robinsons, Broadway, and Orbachs - there were 150 smaller stores providing great retail variety in very pleasant surroundings.

The mall was completely covered, air conditioned, and beautifully decorated and maintained. City council members and the then current “Miss Cerritos” were kept busy with “grand opening” ceremonies, cutting ribbons and, at one time, a long string of pearls to open the new stores.

There were also two major discount department stores, Gemco and Fedco in the city. Other stores and offices were in construction on South Street and the area north of 183rd. Once considered for a “theme center” to be called “The Vineyard,” it became the location of the Best Plaza with a Best Products showroom and a number of other stores. Light industries and business offices were to fill the area north of the railroad tracks all the way to Artesia Boulevard.

The effect of all this development can be seen in the statistical report. Gross taxable retail sales in 1970 were $20,200,000. In 1971 they rose to $42.9 million, doubled to $86.2 million in 1972, and almost doubled again in 1973 to $165.2 million. Sales in 1974 amounted to $207.5 million and would continue to grow as the surrounding area discovered Cerritos to be a delightful commercial and business center. A Los Angeles Times report on redevelopment considered Cerritos as the prime example of what could be done with excellent planning and investment.

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Los Cerritos Industrial Park
The Industrial Park was developing also. Airstream Trailor, All American Nut Company, and TMCO Carburetor were in operation by 1969. Fashion Furniture and La Veche opened in the big industrial park near Valley View and Artesia Boulevard and were joined by many other industries and warehouse facilities. The proximity of three freeways and developed rail connections helped tenants of the new industrial center trans-ship an enormous variety of products.

City codes for the industrial center were very strict. There were to be no noxious uses, heavy manufacturing or truck terminals. Noise, odors, glare, vibration, and exhausts had to be controlled, and storage, refuse and maintenance area had to be screened from view. The buildings were set back with lawns, trees, and flowers planted for a parklike atmosphere.

In 1972, Frank D. Lee and Dennis G. Bradshaw were elected to the city council to join Barry A. Rabbitt, Robert J. Witt, and James S. Reddick. This council retained their seats through the 1974 and 1976 elections.

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Bumps Along the Way - 1972 and 1973
There were a few bumps along the way, of course. Housewives were upset to find black widow spiders in their backyards and were reminded that they hadn't been urban very long. There were still skunks, opossums, and foxes around and we enjoyed hearing meadowlarks and occasionally sighting a pheasant on the larger vacant lots. Only twenty-one dairies with 7,000 cows remained in the city.

The city fathers and chamber of commerce had a philosophical clash over zoning. The city cut off the chamber's $850 subsidy and took back the office furniture. Manager John Corcoran resigned to take a chamber of commerce management job in Compton and was replaced by Bill Borne.

Merchants protested the strict sign ordinances that got national attention when Toys R Us was told that their “R” could not be reversed in their sign. The star at Carl's Jr. could not be on the roof, and the Big Boy statue at Bob's restaurant would have to be in the lobby. The city did not need billboard revenue anymore and the billboards disappeared, except for temporary signs at housing tracts. Nor did they need neon signs, flashing lights, banners, or whirly-gigs. The Cerritos Big Yellow House restaurant was painted a tasteful cream.

Horseowners organized to protect their stables and riding trails near the San Gabriel river, but their days were numbered as the city prepared for the development of the auto mall.

Gaylord Knapp, former Director of Environmental Affairs and Planning, became City Manager replacing John De Weerd.

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Awards for Excellence
Cerritos received the University of Southern California award for comprehensive planning, financial and management program in 1973. In 1975, Liberty Park was judged the best community park in the state, the National Sports Foundation gave the city an award of merit for excellence in park and recreation management, and the planning division received an award for energy conservation.

Experts came to look over the buffer walls that were being built near the freeways. With two major routes cutting across the town, there was a need to cut down the amount of noise and dust of the traffic and to provide more safety. Cerritos since 1972 was the first city to make the buffers a requirement for tract developers, and the city began construction of walls near the older tracts on the freeway routes. The walls were eight feet high, built of concrete block, and constructed on landscaped berms.

In 1975, the Chamber of Commerce sponsored the first (and only) annual Rodeo at Artesia High School stadium - perhaps it was too much of a reminder of our rural days. Future entertainments featured carnival rides. The Fourth of July was observed annually with all day entertainment and a night fireworks display at City Park East, sponsored by the city and its “Let Freedom Ring” committee.

Mrs. Nixon made a rare public appearance to dedicate Patricia Nixon elementary school in 1975. Her husband had resigned the Presidency the year before and the couple had retired to San Clemente, California.

The Los Coyotes Redevelopment Agency was established May 7, 1975 to involve development of parks and public facilities on 1,615 acres on the eastern side of the city.

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