On September 7, 2003, the City of Rancho Palos Verdes,
the youngest city on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, celebrated its 30th anniversary.
Each year is a milestone for all of the people who worked so hard and
so long for incorporation and for all of those who have enjoyed the benefits
Cattle ranching in the area that is now
the Peninsula Center Shopping District.
The story of the City’s fight for incorporation is indeed
an interesting tale. The birth of Rancho Palos Verdes was the culmination
of a series of events that occurred during the first half of the 20th
Century, as well as the actual drive for incorporation, which began in earnest
in the early 1960’s and finally came to fruition in 1973.
Japanese families dry farmed
the south slope of the Peninsula.
Then, for a brief period of time in the early 1900’s,
the Peninsula enjoyed prosperity as a cattle ranch and rich farming area.
During this time, 2,000 head of cattle roamed the open areas. Japanese
families farmed the moist southern slopes with fields of beans, peas and
tomatoes, while the manager of the cattle ranch farmed the dryer northern
slopes with barley for hay and grain.
In 1913, Frank A. Vanderlip, president of the National
Bank of New York, bought the 16,000-acre Palos Verdes Peninsula sight
unseen from rancher Jotham Bixby. Even though Mr. Vanderlip had never
seen the Peninsula, he recognized its strategic location and potential
for development. Mr. Vanderlip had a grand vision to develop the "Palos
Verdes Project" into the "most fashionable and exclusive residential
colony" in the nation.
Abalone Cove looking east
towards Portuguese Point.
The Early Years: 1900 to 1960
At the close of the 19th Century, the Palos Verdes Peninsula was uninhabited,
with the exception of a few sheepherders and their flocks. The high mesas
and sweeping terraces of this land were lonely and barren. There were
no trees, fences, roads or structures of any kind. Then, for a brief period
of time in the early 1900’s, the Peninsula enjoyed prosperity as a cattle
ranch and rich farming area. During this time, 2,000 head of cattle roamed
the open areas. Japanese families farmed the moist southern slopes with
fields of beans, peas and tomatoes, while the manager of the cattle ranch
farmed the dryer northern slopes with barley for hay and grain.
Unfortunately, the area’s remote location and lack of adequate roads
initially thwarted his plans. Later, the Stock Market Crash, the Great
Depression and the onset of World War II crippled the dream. However,
none of these events changed the beauty and desirability of the Palos
Verdes Peninsula, with its magnificent views, beautiful rolling terrain,
mild climate and clean air, as an ideal place to live.
Probably the greatest single event that would shape the future of Rancho
Palos Verdes occurred in July 1953. By this time, Frank A. Vanderlip’s
eldest son, Frank Jr., was the president of the Palos Verdes Corporation,
which controlled the family’s remaining undeveloped acreage on the Peninsula.
Since 1944, the Great Lakes Carbon Corporation had leased a 300-acre tract
of land on the north side of the Peninsula for mining of diatomaceous
earth. Although this mine’s resources had nearly been exhausted, another
rich deposit was known to exist on a 165-acre tract near the crest of
the Peninsula. For two years, the Great Lakes Carbon Corporation had been
unsuccessfully attempting to purchase this property from the Vanderlip
family. Finally, Frank Vanderlip Jr. agreed to sell, provided that Great
Lakes purchase all of the stock in the Palos Verdes Corporation. Upon
completion of the transaction, Great Lakes Carbon Corporation suddenly
owned 7,000 acres of prime undeveloped land, all that was left of the
16,000 acres bought from Mr. Bixby, with the exception of 500 acres retained
by the Vanderlip family in the Portuguese Bend area.
What happened next was not surprising. The plans for mining operations
were quickly discarded and a group of well-know architects and engineers
were hired to create a master plan to develop the property.
The Fight for Incorporation:
1960 to 1973
The grand plan envisioned for the Palos Verdes Peninsula
by Frank A. Vanderlip Sr. was to be only partially realized by the time
of his death in 1937. In the nearly 25 years since he acquired the property,
Mr. Vanderlip’s plan had been fragmented and diluted by a variety of external
Aerial view of Abalone Cove circa 1950's
Point Vicente Lighthouse circa 1920's
Notice the undeveloped hills in the background.
In response to the changing circumstances, the other three
Peninsula cities of Palos Verdes Estates, Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills
Estates incorporated before the largest building boom began in the late
1950 and early 1960s. Fueled by the master plan created by the Great Lakes
Carbon Corporation and the burgeoning economic growth occurring in the
South Bay area, the remaining unincorporated area on the Peninsula began
to develop rapidly and in ever-increasing densities.
The idea of a fourth city was first advanced in 1962 as an answer to
controlling the unbridled development that was occurring in the unincorporated
areas on the Peninsula, which remained under the control of Los Angeles
County. Unfortunately, these early efforts were never able to get off
the ground. In spite of protests from individually affected homeowners
groups, adjacent cities and the local school district, the Los Angeles
County Board of Supervisors routinely granted zone changes. In desperation,
more than 40 homeowners groups joined together in 1965 to form the Peninsula
Advisory Council (PAC) in the hopes that this collaboration would add
weight to their arguments against the proposed zone changes. However,
despite PAC’s best efforts, the County continued to grant more zone changes
for higher densities, with little concern for the sensitive environment.
According to PAC’s records, 43 times they protested to the County, and
43 times they failed.
Then, in 1969, came the new County Master Plan for the Peninsula that
provided for a population density far beyond what the local residents
wanted. In response, a Peninsula-wide organization was formed that same
year called Save Our Coastline (SOC). Unlike previous efforts, SOC was
able to combine political and financial power with experienced local governments
focused on achieving a common goal. However, after several unsuccessful
fights against the County’s Master Plan for the Peninsula, it became evident
that the only way to preserve the environment and to gain control over
local zoning issues was through incorporation of a fourth city.
The drive for incorporation of the fourth city intensified in February
1970 when a formal application was made to the Local Agency Formation
Commission (LAFCO), which was the first step in a six-step process necessary
for successful incorporation. LAFCO approved the application shortly thereafter.
The second step was successfully completed when signatures supporting
incorporation were obtained from the owners of 43% of the assessed valuation
of the land, 63% of the homeowners and 70% of the registered voters. However,
further progress was blocked when landowners representing more than 51%
of the assessed land value protested the incorporation. In response, SOC
filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court seeking to have Section 34311
of the State Code declared unconstitutional. The so-called "one man-one
vote" suit contended that a vote should not be weighted by the land’s
assessed value, but rather by the actual number of voters in the area.
There was further litigation and many setbacks before the State Supreme
Court, in September 1972, ruled 7 to 0 in Curtis vs. Board of Supervisors
that landowners could not prevent voters from determining their own form
of municipal government. This cleared the way for completing the final
steps with LAFCO towards incorporation and permitting a cityhood election
to take place.
The first City Council seated left to right,
Marilyn Ryan, Gunther Buerk, and, Robert Ryan.
Standing Left to right, Dave "Cisco" Ruth and Ken Dyda
The election was finally held on August 28, 1973. An overwhelming
majority of 5 to 1 voted in favor of incorporation. At the same time,
the voters elected five City Council members out of a field on 24 candidates.
The first City Council, consisting of Mayor Marilyn Ryan and Council members
Gunther Buerk, Ken Dyda, Dave "Cisco" Ruth and Robert Ryan,
all ran on similar platforms of low-density land uses, minimum taxes,
and responsiveness to residents.The newly elected City Council held its
first meeting on September 7, 1973 at Ridgecrest Intermediate School.
The first City Hall offices were located in the former
SOC offices in the Golden Cove Center at the corner of Hawthorne Boulevard
and Palos Verdes Drive West. One of the first actions taken by the new
City Council was to declare a building moratorium and to begin work on
the preparing the City’s General Plan. In 1975, City Hall was relocated
to its current location at the former Army Nike missile base on Hawthorne
Boulevard, just above the Golden Cove Center.
City Hall circa 1975
The incorporation of the fourth city came just in the nick of time.
Although some of the developments allowed by the County were larger
and denser than what the City would allow today, they are relatively
few. The overall rural ambience of the community has remained intact.
Photo by Mary Donovan
Abalone Cove Shoreline Park
Photo by Mary Donovan
Rancho Palos Verdes is still an oasis connected yet separated
from the hectic pace of modern city life. For the many families who have
lived in Rancho Palos Verdes prior to and since its incorporation, it
has been, in the words of author Augusta Fink, "the promise of paradise