T H E   S T O R Y   OF   C E R R I T O S
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1976 - Twentieth Anniversary

1976 was the two-hundredth anniversary of the nation and Cerritos' twentieth, and it was well celebrated with a parade and carnival. The population of the city had grown to 46,212.

The regional park opened - eighty-eight acres with swimming pool, lake, lawns and playing fields, gymnasium, meeting rooms and picnic facilities. It was constructed with city funds matching a federal Housing and Urban Development department grant totaling $3 million, and $6 million of county revenue bonds. The dedication gala on October 22, 1977 lasted all day, involving local, county, and state politicians and every organization in the city. Music was supplied by bands from Artesia, Gahr, and Cerritos high schools.

Cerritos won legal victories when the state supreme court upheld the city's right to make zoning changes in local land use and the county superior court upheld the Cerritos sign ordinances.

Cerritos Plaza at South Street and Carmenita, and Cerritos South and Fountain Plaza shopping centers on South Street near Gridley were doing business. Whitney Education Center was dedicated, the last school facility to be built by the district. Charles W. L. Hutchison retired as Superintendent and Dr. Gene Tucker was hired. Heritage Park featured a New England village and Bicentennial theme, and Ironwood Nine was completed - a 29 acre nine-hole executive golf course.

The third city reservoir was constructed at Gridley and 166th, bringing, with the two reservoirs completed in 1971 and 1975, storage capacity to over 24 million gallons. Eventually the newest reservoir would be covered with a park, providing another pleasant little hill.

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1977 - Special census
Results of a special census were given in 1977. The population was 46,212, residing in 13,204 houses. 72.7% owned their homes, which were valued at between $25,000 to $70,000 or more. Only 4% of the wage-earners were employed in Cerritos, and about 71% commuted over twenty miles to work. Over half the residents had degrees or some college education, and they earned an average of $15,000 to $35,000 per year. The community was showing greater ethnic variety as well. The 1972 special census had showed 81.78% Caucasian population, while in 1976 the percentages were 66.7% Caucasian, 5.2% Black, 10.2% Oriental and 9.3% Hispanic.

The 1977 city election brought to the city council new faces that reflected the changing times. Diana S. Needham, a woman and environmentalist, and Alex H. Beanum, an engineer. Frank Lee was re-elected, but resigned after questions were raised about his residency in Cerritos. After a special election, Dr. Daniel K. Wong took the vacant council seat.

The year began with two local calamities. Vandals set fire to the little house where Patricia Nixon had lived, and the building was so badly damaged that it was later razed and a rose garden planted on the site. During the winter storms, the enormous willow tree that stood in the civic center near the library blew over. It was over a hundred years old - perhaps the last of the mass of willows that Daniel Gridley had written about in the 1880's. At first it was expected that the big trunk would be cut up and hauled away, but the tree did not die. It remains horizontal, its branches forming a new thicket of willows that shade a picnic table.

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1978 - A New City Hall

The old city hall on Pioneer had become a hodgepodge of temporary offices and trailers housing the city's 158 employees. Council meetings had been held in various high school auditoriums. The highlight of the year would undoubtedly be the completion and dedication on March 18, 1978, of a splendid new city hall.

The new facility, a three story building located with the library at the corner of 183rd and Bloomfield featured an ultra-modern architectural style. The new council chamber would seat 210, three times the capacity of the first city hall's meeting room.

The use of a unique solar energy system which supplied heat and hot water for the building gained national attention. This was the period when the nation became energy conscious. Decreased oil resources had forced drivers to line up at the pumps to refuel their cars, and public buildings had cut back on heating, lighting, and air conditioning in response to President Carter's request.

Mayor Robert Witt presided at the dedication ceremonies that were attended by representatives from the county, state, and national governments and nearly two thousand townspeople. Governor Jerry Brown spoke on the use of solar technology as a method of energy conservation.

This completed for the time the development of the civic center. Beside the city hall and library buildings, there was an amphitheater area, fountains which were both decorative and an essential part of the solar energy system, a small park, and mounded landscaping with trees, shrubbery, and attractive concrete seating areas.

1978 is also remembered as the year state Proposition 13 passed, the famous Jarvis amendment that protected homeowners' property taxes while it handicapped the government. Cerritos would not be as seriously affected as many other cities, as local citizens had never been charged a city property tax, but the council made economies to pare $4.7 million from the 1978-1979 budget and fees were to be charged for some services. County and state budgets were severely affected.

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Cerritos Auto Mall
During 1979, the Cerritos Redevelopment Agency worked on the improvement of Studebaker Road, and in October S & J Chevrolet broke ground for the first auto dealership in the Cerritos Auto Mall, directly west of the 605 freeway, between 183rd and South streets. Eventually it would be joined by other dealerships in buildings that featured a distinctive “New Orleans” style. Beautiful landscaping, a bandstand, and distinctive paving added to the atmosphere - about as different as one could imagine a row of car dealerships could be.

Neighboring towns would be chagrined to find car sales concentrated in Cerritos. Parent companies were very strict about the distance between dealerships, and the cities that were affected saw their valuable sales tax rebates go to the community they'd once disdainfully dismissed as a collection of cow pastures.

Dennis Bradshaw retired from the council in 1980 and Don Knabe was elected to replace him. At the time, Knabe was the Western Region Director of Optimist International, a service organization. Later he was to become administrative assistant to county supervisor Dean Dana.

As mayor, Diana Needham permitted Toys R Us to reverse the “R” in their sign on the Cerritos store. Even the Gallup, New Mexico Independent had run a story on Cerritos' restrictive ordinance and it was a detriment to the community's progressive image.

A new corporate yard was constructed to house the maintenance departments and equipment. Like city hall, it had solar energy features, and with conservation of such importance, the council followed through by requiring subdivision builders to include solar collectors on half of the new houses they built.

Work was underway on the “natatorium,” an indoor Olympic swim center with solar features adjacent to City Park East. The park was enlarged and had more playing fields and handball courts added. In cooperation with the ABC school district, athletic facilities at Gahr High School, were improved and a stadium and track built.

Commercial developments included additions to “Restaurant Row” in the Best Plaza on 183rd. Now there were thirty-five nice places to eat in Cerritos with a wide range of specialties, though fast-food drive-ins were outlawed. A new wing was added to Los Cerritos Center, anchored with an up-scale Nordstrom department store and a number of other shops.

Cerritos could be considered a “mature” city and councilmen had a different set of problems to deal with. Some of the 25,000 city park-strip trees were lifting sidewalks. Appreciation for the problems of handicapped citizens led to reworking curbs to make corners more convenient for wheelchairs. Spaces especially for handicapped persons were set aside and marked in all the public and commercial parking lots. Crews were sent out to erase “grafitti” marked on private and public walls as territorial identification by gang members from neighboring communities. The sheriff's department was helping with crime intervention programs and Neighborhood Watch groups were being organized. A large new county fire station was built on Pioneer Boulevard.

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1984 - "An Urban Success"
The Los Angeles Times had fretted over Cerritos' growing ethnic population without evidently realizing that the non-Caucasian newcomers that came to the area were more affluent and educated as the original homeowners. Families moved from Cerritos not so much in “white flight” but because of job transfers or upward mobility to new, prestige homes in Orange County. In 1984, the Times featured Cerritos again and described it as “a suburban success: an experiment in urban design resulted in a progressive, tax-rich city.” Cerritos was ranked second after Bethesda, Maryland, as the wealthiest city of 50,000 in the nation. Median income was $31,813; median homes cost about $120,000. The population was now about 55,220.

Most of the city's people enjoyed the excitement of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Banners in Olympic colors decorated the thoroughfares and the civic center, and several citizens participated in the run that carried the Olympic torch across the nation. The Cerritos Natatorium was used by several synchronized swimming teams for practice. One day, traffic was cleared from the Artesia (91) freeway for bicycle races and townspeople gathered to watch. Buses from Cerritos College transported people to the Los Angeles Coliseum or to the other venues that were scattered around Southern California.

The 1985-1986 city budget was $60.9 million, which the retail sales tax refund of $11.9 million helped to pay. 165 people worked full time for the city and in addition there were twenty permanent part time and 150 seasonal part time employees. The school district had grown to 28,681 students enrolled, 908 certified teachers, 68 administrators, and 945 classified employees. The school budget was almost $75 million. Cerritos College had an enrollment of 17,569 students.

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The "Golden Triangle " Becomes "Town Center"

At last the city was ready to deal with the big triangular area between the Artesia Freeway, Bloomfield, and 183rd. The local newspapers referred to it as the “Golden Triangle” and it was the last large undeveloped area in the community.

There had been no lack of novel ideas - housing was out, as whatever was built would be needed for tax production. So was development as a golf course. Claude Pomeroy had made a proposal in 1970 for a novel doughnut-shaped shopping center, but that was considered inappropriate because of the proximity of the Los Cerritos Mall. In 1971 there was a proposal to build a Polynesian cultural center that would feature an artificial ocean with six islands and a volcano that would erupt nightly. The developers guaranteed that the volcano would be non air-polluting, but the idea was still very unpopular with neighboring home owners.

The most acceptable idea was to combine public facilities such as a community theater-convention center with a hotel and several office and commercial buildings. Starting times were snarled as suitable occupants and cooperative developers were found. At the same time, Norwalk, Downey, and several other communities were building or planning to build hotel facilities and competition was keen.

The Los Coyotes Redevelopment Agency began to landscape the Bloomfield and 183rd parkstrips and construction began on a freeway overpass and access routes on Shoemaker Avenue.

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"Park-Like" Ambience

Like all the city's previous developments, a percentage of the property would be extensively landscaped. Rambling sidewalks, a naturalistic stream with waterfalls and boulders, lawns, and trees added to Cerritos' “park-like” ambiance.

Throughout the city, medians had been planted with pines or eucalyptus trees and blooming daylilies and agapanthus. The walls separating housing tracts from the major streets were by now covered with vines and the park strips had been planted with trees, shrubs, and flowers. Even commercial parking lots were required to have planted dividers. To help make all this greenery economical, work was underway on a system that would bring treated waste water to the parks, medians, and other greenery strips. Reclaimed water had been used for the greens at Ironwood Nine for several years.

By 1986, Cerritos' population was 56,000. The land area was 95% developed, and assessed value was $2 billion. South Coast Business magazine featured Cerritos in its July issue, stating that 2,032 businesses were located in the city.

Ann Joynt was new on city council, having defeated Alex Beanum. Mrs. Joynt taught in local high schools and had been a member of the planning commission. Dr. Gene Tucker decided to leave the ABC District Superintendent position in December and the school board began searching for a replacement. Kenneth Moffett was selected for the job and began work the next August.

A number of large building projects were underway. Cerritos Corporate Tower, a Krausz Corporation building, would fill the last site in the Best Plaza area. A branch post office would provide services at Carmenita Road and 183rd and relieve crowding at the Artesia post office.

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The Library Grows

Major remodeling and a large addition to the library would add 20,000 square feet of needed space. On the national average, 20% of the public uses public library services. In Cerritos, 65% of the citizens and many from neighboring cities were registered, borrowing 450,000 individual items each year. The children's area was to be tripled to 7,000 square feet and include an arts and crafts area. The theater had become office and storage and would again be used for public programs. A large community room with dividers and kitchen facilities would be available for meetings and receptions. In the new wing there would be a large reference area, study space for a hundred and lounge seating for seventy readers. Visitors would be delighted with the bright, open interiors with furnishings of polished brass, red oak cabinetry, etched glass dividers and dark green marble counters. The children's area would feature a large fairy-tale castle mural and salt-water aquarium.

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A Mid-Air Collision Brings Disaster

Disasters happen - but no one expected Cerritos to be the site of a catastrophe. Families were enjoying the Labor Day holiday on the morning of Sunday, August 31, 1986, when a Piper Cherokee Archer II collided mid-air with an Aeromexico DC-9 directly over the city.

The Piper Cherokee fell to the unoccupied playground at Cerritos Elementary school on 183rd, just missing the congregation of Concordia Lutheran Church across the street who were leaving the morning service. The DC-9 plowed into a neighborhood just east of Carmenita Road and exploded. Eleven homes were destroyed and seven damaged on Ashworth Place, Holmes Avenue, and Reva Circle. Fifteen residents and visitors, all sixty-four passengers and crew of the DC-9 and the three aboard the smaller plane were killed - a total of eighty-three.

Response by the Los Angeles County Fire and Sheriff's Departments was almost immediate. They were joined by public service agencies from other cities and Orange County, the American Red Cross, city employees and members of the community. Tom Fitzpatrick, Community Safety Coordinator, and Kurt Swanson, Director of Human Affairs, were given the responsibility for acting as liaison with the crash victims' next of kin and supervising the painful clean-up operations. Joan Harvey, Community Participation Coordinator, contacted groups to help with grief counseling for both residents and employees. Bill Morris, Director of Public Safety, lined up contractors to collect debris, remove wreckage and clear rubble. The neighborhoods devastated by the crash were completely cleaned up and operational again in only seven days. This remarkable accomplishment allowed the healing process to begin. The traumatic effect on the people of the community was longer lasting.

The County of Los Angeles Social Services Department and a local Community Response Team coordinated counseling programs and the Cerritos Disaster Assistance Fund was established for recovery assistance to residents in the crash area. 1200 people attended a memorial service conducted at Cerritos College by the Cerritos Ecumenical Council. A booklet and program for dealing with trauma was given ABC district teachers so they would be prepared to help children when school opened the next week.

The incident was covered by national magazines, newspapers, radio and television as attention was given to the international problem of coordinating air traffic near busy airports. Concerned friends telephoned from everywhere, including Perth, Australia.

Investigations by the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Boards would take months to determine the cause of the accident. It would eventually be blamed on “failure of the air traffic control system” and out-dated equipment at the radar control center.

During autumn, the community began to recover and held money raising activities to help disaster victims. Families began to rebuild and repair their homes, and eventually the crowds of news and television reporters and “tourists” began to disappear.

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Proposition H
In November, a local proposition “H” was passed that would limit council members to two consecutive terms. A member could run again after having been out of office for two years. The proposition move had been started by a number of community people who had run for council seats and been defeated.

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