Leftovers from City Hall: As cities turn 50, the Valley lacks an identity

Sorry this is posted so late. Busy week.

— This year marks something special for the San Gabriel Valley. The last of the Valley’s post-World War II cities are turning 50.

Temple City and San Dimas will reach the half-century mark this year. And Duarte, Bradbury, Baldwin Park, Industry, La Puente, Walnut and South El Monte all reached the milestone within the last five years.

People here love to brag that their cities are “small-town America” where everybody knows everybody and nobody moves away. But the statistics don’t bear that out.

Is there any place in the United States where whites flew away faster?

Take Temple City: In 1970 the city was 98 percent white. In 2000, it was 38 percent, and I bet it will be a lot less when the 2010 figures are published. Temple City may still be Mayberry, but it’s a Mayberry where two-thirds of the families moved there within the last 30 years.

Right now the Valley is so much in flux, I’m not sure what the Valley wants to be, or if there is even a common theme running through it.

Cities in the San Gabriel foothills seem like they want to stay the same – affluent and mostly white.

Diamond Bar and Walnut want to be quiet suburbs for educated immigrant families.

The Puente Valley is a wild card. During the 2000s, La Puente was always talking about projects and revitalizing downtown. Literally nothing has happened in the last five years besides a new community center.

Voters in Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights both flirted with cityhood but decided against it. Both have thriving Asian-American communities and seem to be doing well.

Meanwhile there seems to be little sense of community in the three Valindas.

Industry is Industry, a big powerful alligator-shaped city with a fat wallet and its own agenda, which currently includes an NFL stadium.

Baldwin Park wanted to add more people and nicer homes and condominiums. But that died when the economy dived.

Azusa seems like it’s on a roll. It got the new Target, and the effort to revitalize downtown hasn’t completely been killed by the down economy. The Rosedale home development will eventually start again.

West Covina and Covina seem content to remain suburbs, although Covina recently has talked about an effort to liven up downtown.

El Monte’s going for a transit village by the bus station.

And the whole west side seems like it will continue to be a magnet for Chinese and Vietnamese families seeking opportunity in the United States.

I lived in West Covina until just before my eighth birthday.

But, like almost all my family friends, we moved.

I talked to a colleague who also grew up here to find out what changed, and why he and I probably wouldn’t move back here.

He said it a general shabbiness and lack of care in many of the neighborhoods. In addition, houses in the Valley’s best areas are too expensive for middle-class people like us.

But crime is dropping in almost every neighborhood, and new faces are coming to the political scene. If some of those new faces put their egos aside and learn from their elders, I predict an interesting successful next 50 years. If not, I don’t have a lot of hope.

– Ben Baeder is the Deputy Metro Editor of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.