The San Fernando Valley (known locally and in surrounding areas as “The Valley”) is an urbanized valley located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area of southern California, defined by the mountains of the Transverse Ranges circling it. Home to 1.8 million people, it lies north of the larger and more populous Los Angeles Basin.
The San Fernando Valley is about 260 square miles (670 km2) bounded by the Santa Susana Mountains to the northwest, the Simi Hills to the west, the Santa Monica Mountains and Chalk Hills to the south, the Verdugo Mountains to the east, and the San Gabriel Mountains to the northeast. The northern Sierra Pelona Mountains, northwestern Topatopa Mountains, southern Santa Ana Mountains, and Downtown Los Angeles skyscrapers can be seen from higher neighborhoods, passes, and parks in the San Fernando Valley.
The Los Angeles River begins at the confluence of Calabasas Creek (Arroyo Calabasas) and Bell Creek (Escorpión Creek) at Canoga Park High School beside Vanowen Street in Canoga Park. These creeks headwaters are in the Santa Monica Calabasas foothills, the Simi Hills’ Hidden Hills, Santa Susana Field Laboratory, and Santa Susana Pass Park lands. The river flows eastward along the southern regions of the Valley. One of the river’s two unpaved sections can be found at the Sepulveda Basin. A seasonal river, the Tujunga Wash, drains much of the western facing San Gabriel Mountains and passes into and then through the Hansen Dam Recreation Center in Lake View Terrace. It flows south along the Verdugo Mountains through the eastern communities of the Valley to join the Los Angeles River in Studio City. Other notable tributaries of the river include Dayton Creek, Caballero Creek, Bull Creek, Pacoima Wash, and Verdugo Wash. The elevation of the floor of the Valley varies from about 600 ft (180 m) to 1,200 ft (370 m) above sea level.
Most of the San Fernando Valley is within the jurisdiction of the city of Los Angeles, although a few other incorporated cities are located within the Valley as well: Burbank and Glendale are in the southeast corner of the Valley, Hidden Hills and Calabasas are in the southwest corner, and San Fernando, which is completely surrounded by Los Angeles, is in the northeast valley. Universal City, an enclave in the southern part of the Valley, is unincorporated land housing the Universal Studios filming lot. Mulholland Drive, which runs along the ridgeline of the Santa Monica Mountains, marks the boundary between the Valley and the communities of Hollywood and the Los Angeles Westside.
Government and political representation
The San Fernando Valley contains five incorporated cities — Glendale, Burbank, San Fernando, Hidden Hills and Calabasas — and part of a sixth, Los Angeles, which governs a majority of the Valley. The unincorporated communities (Census-designated places) are governed by the County of Los Angeles.
- The Los Angeles satellite administrative center for the Valley, The Civic Center Van Nuys, is in Van Nuys. The area in and around the Van Nuys branch of Los Angeles City Hall is home to a police station, municipal and superior courts and Los Angeles city and county administrative offices. Northridge is home to California State University, Northridge (originally named San Fernando Valley State College).
- Many branches of the Los Angeles Public Library are located in the Valley.
- For independent libraries see “Incorporated Cities (independent)” in the “Municipalities and districts” list below.
- Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and independent valley city departments.
- Los Angeles Fire Department, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Burbank Police Department, and independent valley city departments.
- City of Los Angeles Neighborhood Councils
The Tongva, later known as the GabrieleñoMission Indians after colonization, and the Tataviam to the north and Chumash to the west, had lived and thrived in the Valley and its arroyos for over 8,000 years. They had numerous settlements, and trading and hunting camps, before the Spanish arrived in 1769 to settle in the Valley.
The first Spanish land grant in the San Fernando Valley (or El Valle de Santa Catalina de Bononia de los Encinos) was called “Rancho Encino” (present-day Mission Hills on the Camino Viejo before Newhall Pass), in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley. Juan Francisco Reyes built an adobe dwelling beside a Tongva village or rancheria at natural springs, but the land was soon taken from him so a mission could be built there. Mission San Fernando Rey de España was established in 1797 as the 17th of the 21 missions.The land trade granted Juan Francisco Reyes the similarly named Rancho Los Encinos, also beside springs (Los Encinos State Historic Park in present-day Encino). Later the Mexican land grants of Rancho El Escorpión (West Hills), Rancho Providencia and Rancho Cahuenga (Burbank), and Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando (rest of valley) covered the San Fernando Valley.
The Treaty of Cahuenga, ending the Mexican–American War fighting in Alta California, was signed in 1847 by Californios and Americans at Campo de Cahuenga, the Verdugo Family adobe at the entrance to the Cahuenga Pass in the southeast San Fernando Valley (North Hollywood). The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the entire war.
Statehood and beyond
The valley’s climate is not, as some describe, a desert, and originally was naturally a “temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublandsbiome” of grassland, oak savanna, and chaparral shrub forest types of plant communityhabitats, along with lush riparian plants along the river, creeks, and springs. In this Mediterranean climate, post-1790s European agriculture for the mission’s support consisted of grapes, figs, olives, and general garden crops. In 1874 dry wheat farming was introduced by J. B. Lankershim and Isaac Van Nuys and became very productive for their San Fernando Homestead Association that owned the southern half of the Valley. In 1876 they sent the very first wheat shipment from both San Pedro Harbor and from the United States to Europe.
Through the late 19th century court decision Los Angeles v. Pomeroy, Los Angeles had won the rights to all surface flow water atop an aquifer beneath the Valley, without it being within the city limits. San Fernando Valley farmers offered to buy the surplus aqueduct water, but the federal legislation that enabled the construction of the aqueduct prohibited Los Angeles from selling the water outside of the city limits. This induced several independent towns surrounding Los Angeles to vote on and approve annexation to the city so they could connect to the municipal water system. These rural areas became part of Los Angeles in 1915. The Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company, a syndicate led by Harry Chandler, Hobart Johnstone Whitley, president of the company, James B. Lankershim, and Isaac Van Nuys, extended the Pacific Electric Railway (Red Cars) through the Valley to Owensmouth (now Canoga Park) and laid out plans for roads and the towns of Lankershim (now Toluca Lake), Van Nuys, Marian (now Reseda) and Owensmouth. The rural areas were annexed by Los Angeles in 1915. The growing towns voted for annexation – for example: Owensmouth (Canoga Park) in 1915, Laurel Canyon and Lankershim in 1923, Sunland in 1926, La Tuna Canyon in 1926, and the incorporated city of Tujunga in an eight-year process lasting from 1927 to 1935. These annexations more than doubled the area of the city.
The aqueduct water shifted farming in the area from dry crops such as wheat to irrigated crops such as corn, beans, squash, and cotton; orchards of apricots, persimmons, and walnuts; and major citrus groves of oranges and lemons. They continued until the next increment of development converted land use, with post-war suburbanization leaving only a few enclaves, such as the “open air museum” groves at the Orcutt Ranch Park and CSUN campus.
The advent of three new industries in the early 20th century – motion pictures, automobiles, and aircraft – also spurred urbanization and population growth. World War II production and the subsequent postwar boom accelerated this growth so that by 1960, the valley had a population of well over one million. Los Angeles continued to consolidate its territories in the San Fernando Valley by annexing the former Rancho El Escorpión for Canoga Park-West Hills in 1959, and the huge historic “Porter Ranch” at the foot of the Santa Susana Mountains for the new planned developments in Porter Ranch in 1965. The additions expanded the Los Angeles portion of San Fernando Valley from the original 169 square miles (438 km2) to 224 square miles (580 km2) today.
Six Valley cities incorporated independently from Los Angeles: Glendale in 1906, Burbank and San Fernando in 1911, Hidden Hills in 1961, and Calabasas in 1991. Universal City is an unincorporated enclave that is home to Universal Studios theme park and Universal CityWalk. Other unincorporated areas in the Valley are Bell Canyon.
The 1994 Northridge earthquake struck on January 17 and measured 6.7 on the Richter Scale. It produced the largest ground motions ever recorded in an urban environment and caused the greatest damage in the United States since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Although given the name “Northridge”, the epicenter was located in the community of Reseda, between Arminta and Ingomar streets, just west of Reseda Boulevard. The death toll was 57 and more than 1,500 people were seriously injured. A few days after the earthquake, 9,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity; 20,000 were without gas; and more than 48,500 had little or no water. About 12,500 structures were moderately to severely damaged, which left thousands of people temporarily homeless. Of the 66,546 buildings inspected, 6% were severely damaged (red tagged) and 17% were moderately damaged (yellow tagged). In addition, damage to several major freeways serving Los Angeles choked the traffic system in the days following the earthquake. Major freeway damage occurred as far away as 25 miles (40 km) from the epicenter. Collapses and other severe damage forced closure of portions of 11 major roads to downtown Los Angeles.
This was the second time in 23 years that the San Fernando Valley had been affected by a strong earthquake. On February 9, 1971, a magnitude 6.5 event struck about 20 miles (32 km) northeast of the epicenter of the 1994 event. The 1971 earthquake caused 58 fatalities and about 2,000 injuries. At the time, the 1971 earthquake was the most destructive event to affect greater Los Angeles since the magnitude 6.3 Long Beach earthquake of 1933.
Parks and recreation
The San Fernando Valley is home to numerous neighborhood city parks, recreation areas and large Regional Open Space preserves. Many preserves are maintained as public parkland by the National Park Service’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the California State Parks, and local county and municipal parks districts.
Small garden parks and missions
- CSUN Botanic Garden
- The Japanese Garden
- The gardens at Adobes
- The Orcutt Ranch Horticulture Center
- The Leonis Adobe
- The Andrés Pico adobe
- Los Encinos State Historic Park
- Mission San Fernando
- Griffith Park, located at the southeastern end of the Valley in the Hollywood Hills
- Sepulveda Dam recreation area
- Hansen Dam recreation area
- Los Angeles River, with parks of various sizes along the part of the river located in the Valley
Mountain open-space parks
- Backbone Trail System
- Bell Canyon Park
- Brand Park
- Chatsworth Park South
- Deukmejian Wilderness Park
- El Escorpión Park
- Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
- La Tuna Park
- Laurel Canyon Park
- Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park
- O’Melveny Park above Granada Hills
- Rocky Peak Park
- Sage Ranch Park
- Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park
- Topanga State Park
- Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve
- Verdugo Mountains Open Space Preserve
- Wilacre Park
Municipalities and districts
Incorporated cities (independent)
Communities of the San Fernando Valley
- Cahuenga Pass
- Canoga Park
- Colfax Meadows
- Granada Hills
- Kagel Canyon
- La Tuna Canyon
- Lake Balboa
- Lake View Terrace
- Mission Hills
- NoHo Arts District
- North Hills
- North Hollywood
- Panorama City
- Porter Ranch
- Shadow Hills+
- Sherman Oaks
- Studio City
- Sun Valley
- Toluca Lake
- Toluca Woods
- Valley Glen
- Valley Village
- Van Nuys
- Warner Center
- West Hills
- West Toluca
- Woodland Hills
The Valley is home to numerous companies, the most well-known of which work in motion pictures, music recording, and television production. The former movie ranches were branches of original studios now consisting of CBS Studio Center, NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Company (and its ABC television network), and Warner Bros.
The Valley was previously known for advances in aerospace technology and nuclear research by companies such as Lockheed, Rocketdyne and its Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Atomics International, Litton Industries, Marquardt, and TRW’s predecessor Thompson Ramo Wooldridge.
The Valley became the pioneering region for producing adult films in the 1970s and grew to become home to a multi-billion dollar pornography industry, earning the monikers “Porn Valley”, “Silicone Valley” (in contrast to Silicon Valley, nickname for the Santa Clara Valley) and “San Pornando Valley”.The leading trade paper for the industry, AVN magazine, is based in the Northwest Valley, as were a majority of the nation’s adult video and magazine distributors. According to the HBO series Pornucopia, at one time, nearly 90% of all legally distributed pornographic films made in the United States are either filmed in or produced by studios based in the San Fernando Valley. The pornography industry began to decline by mid 2000, due, for the most part, to the growing amount of free content on the Internet which undercut consumers’ willingness to pay. In 2007, industry insiders estimated that revenue for most adult production and distribution companies had declined 30% to 50% and the number of new films made had fallen sharply.
Utilities and infrastructure
The Valley is served by the following utility companies.
- Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
- Burbank Water and Power
- Southern California Edison (serves the city of San Fernando)
- Glendale Water and Power
- Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
- Burbank Water and Power
- City of San Fernando
- Metropolitan Water District
- Glendale Water and Power
- City of Los Angeles
- City of San Fernando (Crown Disposal Company, Inc.)
- City of Burbank
- City of Glendale
The automobile still remains the dominant form of transportation in the Valley. Major freeways cross the Valley, including Interstate 405 – San Diego Freeway; U.S. Route 101 – Ventura Freeway / Hollywood Freeway; State Route 118 – Reagan Freeway; State Route 170 – Hollywood Freeway; Interstate 210 – Foothill Freeway; and Interstate 5 – Golden State Freeway. Most of the major thoroughfares run on a cartographic grid: notable streets include Sepulveda Boulevard, Ventura Boulevard, Laurel Canyon Boulevard, San Fernando Road, Victory Boulevard, Reseda Boulevard, Riverside Drive, Mulholland Drive, and State Route 27 – Topanga Canyon Boulevard.
Subway, dedicated transitway, and express and local buses, provided by many agencies, serve the San Fernando Valley. Some of the former rights-of-way of the Pacific Electric Railway, which first accelerated population growth in the Valley, have been repurposed for busways and light rail lines.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates two Metro Red Line subway stations in the Valley, which are located at Universal City and North Hollywood, which connect it directly to Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles. With transfers, they connect the Valley to the entire Metro regional light rail and subway network. Connections are available to Mid-Wilshire, San Gabriel Valley, LAX adjacent, and Long Beach termini. The Red Line’s two Valley subway stations provide access to national travel through Bob Hope Airport and Amtrak and regional travel through Metrolink, Metro Rapid, Metro Local, and the Metro Orange Line.
The Orange Line bus way uses a dedicated transitway route running the east-west length of the Valley connecting the North Hollywood Red Line Station to the Warner Center Transit Hub in Woodland Hills and then heads north through Canoga Park to the ChatsworthMetrolink train station.
Rail and air
Metrolinkcommuter rail has two Valley lines, the Antelope Valley Line and Ventura County Line, which connect the Valley and beyond to downtown Los Angeles and south, becoming one line at the Burbank station.
Amtrak‘s Pacific Surfliner long-distance rail line has stops at Burbank Airport station, Van Nuys, and Chatsworth Station, before proceeding on to Ventura County, Santa Barbara, and Northern California or Union Station and San Diego.
The Valley’s two major airports are Bob Hope Airport and the Van Nuys Airport. The Van Nuys – Airport FlyAway Terminal provides non-stop scheduled shuttle service to LAX and back to the Valley, with parking.
Public schools in the San Fernando Valley is served by two unified school districts mostly by the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Burbank Unified School District in Burbank in the eastern portion of the valley. There are three community colleges in the valley; Los Angeles Valley College in Valley Glen, Los Angeles Mission College in Sylmar, and Los Angeles Pierce College in Woodland Hills all served by the Los Angeles Community College District. The only state university in the San Fernando Valley is; California State University Northridge in Northridge.
In 1994 there were 180,000 PK-12 students attending Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) campuses in the Valley. During the same year, about 45,000 PK-12 students, or one in five of all such students, attended the over 200 private schools in the Valley.
There are two Kaiser Permanente hospitals in the San Fernando Valley, one in Panorama City and one in Woodland Hills serving the valley. Also, there are two Providence hospitals in Burbank and Mission Hills. Besides Kaiser Permanente and Providence hospitals, most of the valley is served by non-profit hospitals such as; Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, Northridge Hospital and Medical Center in Northridge, Olive View Hospital in Sylmar, Encino Hospital in Encino, and Sherman Oaks Hospital in Sherman Oaks.
Valley independence and secession
The Valley attempted to secede in the 1970s, but the state passed a law barring city formation without the approval of the City Council. In 1997, Assemblymen Bob Hertzberg and Tom McClintock helped pass a bill that would make it easier for the Valley to secede by removing the City Council veto. AB 62 was signed into law by Governor Pete Wilson. Meanwhile, a grassroots movement to split the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and create new San Fernando Valley-based school districts became the focal point of the desire to leave the city. Though the state rejected the idea of Valley-based districts, it remained an important rallying point for Hertzberg’s mayoral campaign, which proved unsuccessful.
In 2002, the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles again seriously campaigned to secede from the rest of the city and become its own new independent and incorporated city. The movement gained some momentum, as many San Fernando Valley residents within city limits felt they were not receiving Los Angeles city services on par with the rest of the city and their tax contributions.
Before secession could come out for a vote, the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) studied the fiscal viability of the new city and decided that the new city must mitigate any fiscal loss incurred by the rest of Los Angeles. LAFCO concluded that a new San Fernando Valley city would be financially viable, but would need to mitigate the $60.8 million that the remaining portion of Los Angeles would lose in revenues. Secessionists took this figure as evidence that the Valley gave more money to Los Angeles than it received back in services. This triggered a petition drive led by Valley VOTE to put secession on the ballot. Measures F (the proposed new SFV city) and H (the proposed new Hollywood City, which was on the same ballot) not only decided whether the valley became a city, but voters also got to pick a new name for it. The proposed names on the ballot were San Fernando Valley, Rancho San Fernando, Mission Valley, Valley City, and Camelot. (There was already a separate City of San Fernando in the San Fernando Valley, so that option was not available.) Along with Measures F and H, elections were held for fourteen council members and a mayor.
Valley politicians such as State Senator Richard Alarcón and City Council President Alex Padilla opposed the initiatives. The leader of the LAUSD breakup and former congresswoman and busing opponent Bobbi Fiedler also campaigned against secession. Supporters pointed out that the Valley suffered from many of the same problems of poverty, crime, drug and gang activity as the rest of the city.
Measure F did not receive the necessary votes to pass for the Valley to secede. The proposal passed with a slight majority in the Valley, but was defeated by the rest of Los Angeles due to a heavily-funded campaign against it led by then-Los Angeles mayor James Hahn. Republican Assemblyman Keith Richman of Northridge was voted in as mayor of the stillborn city, which according to vote returns would have been named San Fernando Valley. Richman and other activists behind the secession movement attempted to redirect their civic energies toward influencing Los Angeles city politics, but their efforts largely fizzled. Hertzberg’s 2005 mayoral campaign, which received heavy support in the Valley, nonetheless finished in third place (only a few percentage points behind incumbent Mayor Hahn), and no secession supporters were elected to positions on the Los Angeles City Council.
Had the measure passed, the southern portion of the city would have remained as the city of Los Angeles, with about 2.1 million people. The northern Valley portion would have created a new municipality of 211 square miles (546 km2) with about 1.3 million residents. If secession had passed, the new City of San Fernando Valley would have been the seventh most populous city in the United States, after New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, and Phoenix.
The NoHo Arts District was established and the name chosen as a reference for its location in North Hollywood and as a play off New York City’s arts-centered SoHo District. According to the San Fernando Guide, the change helped develop a “primarily lower to middle-class suburb into . . . a collection of art and a home for the artists who ply their trade in the galleries, theaters and dance studios in this small annex.”
According to the Lake Balboa Neighborhood Council, from 2002 through November 2007 there was a debate about the official recognition of Lake Balboa as a community by the City of Los Angeles. New community names were not sanctioned by the city until January 2006, when the city adopted a formal community-naming process (City of Los Angeles Council File Number 02 -0196). On November 2, 2007, the City Council of Los Angeles approved a motion renaming a larger portion of Van Nuys to Lake Balboa.
As of 2012 the population of the San Fernando Valley was 1.77 million. Of the population 41.0% were non-Hispanic white, 41.8% were Hispanic or Latino, 4.6% were African Americans and 12.7% were Asian. According to the 2010 United States Census, The largest city located entirely in the valley is Glendale. The most populous districts of Los Angeles in the Valley are North Hollywood and Van Nuys. Burbank and the two districts named each have more than 100,000 residents. Glendale has more than 190,000 residents. Despite the San Fernando Valley’s reputation for sprawling, low-density development, the valley communities of Panorama City, North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Reseda, Canoga Park, and Northridge, all in Los Angeles, have numerous apartment complexes and contain some of the densest census tracts in Los Angeles.
Asian Americans make up 10% of the population and live throughout the valley, but are most numerous in the Los Angeles communities of Chatsworth, Panorama City, North Hollywood, Reseda, Canoga Park, Northridge, Porter Ranch and Granada Hills. Unlike the San Gabriel Valley, whose Asian American population is predominantly Chinese, the San Fernando Valley’s Asian American population is mostly Filipino and Korean with smaller concentrations of Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian. Another large ethnic element of the populace is the Iranian community, with 200,000 people living mainly in west San Fernando Valley communities such as Tarzana, Calabasas, Woodland Hills, Encino, and Sherman Oaks. The valley is also home to a large Jewish community, with a large part of its population in the North Hollywood and Valley Village areas. African Americans compose 3.8% of the Valley’s population, living mainly in the Los Angeles sections of Lake View Terrace, Pacoima, Reseda, North Hollywood, Van Nuys, and Northridge.
The San Fernando Valley has a significant population below the poverty level. About 30 percent of Valley households in 2009 earned less than $35,000 a year, including 10 percent who made less than $15,000 a year.The Pacoima district, once considered the hub of suburban blight and of having the highest poverty rate, is no longer such. Other San Fernando Valley neighborhoods such as North Hollywood, Panorama City, and Arleta now have poverty rates which are higher.
In general, the areas with lower poverty rates have become fewer and more scattered, while many of the now affluent communities have become compartmented, having their own private, planned and gated communities. Many of these tend to be on or near the borders of the Valley in the foothill regions.
In August 2005, the median price of an average one-family home in the San Fernando Valley reached $600,000. In 1997, it was only $155,000. In the summer of 2003, it reached $400,000 and by July 2005, it had reached $578,500. From July to August (one month) 2005, it rose by $100,000. A cooling off was noted in 2006, when between November 2005 and November 2006, median prices rose by the smallest amount of any 12-month period since mid-1997. Indeed, November prices were lower than October prices, and sales for November had fallen 19.1% compared to a year earlier. The United States housing market correction affected the San Fernando Valley in 2007–2009, making housing significantly more affordable in the area: the median sales price fell from $660,000 at the peak in May 2007, to $500,000 by March 2008, stabilizing in 2009 at around $330,000 – $340,000. The San Fernando Valley is home to one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. The median home value as of July 2014 is $536,000, the highest in the region in 8 years,