The L.A. 'Burbs

Welcome to the Suburbs! Cerritos, Lakewood, Long Beach, and Lynwood to be exact. Each with storied pasts on their journey towards achieving the American Dream. Each started out a promising L.A. suburb, but how did they end up? Come find out!



A photo of the $40,000,000 library in Cerritos (“Cerritos Millennium Library”)

A History

The city of Cerritos was incorporated in April 24, 1956 (“The Story of Cerritos”). Originally, California was settled by small groups of Native Americans. These groups were usually about a hundred people strong each, and would war against other groups occasionally (“The Story of Cerritos”).

When the Spanish came to California, they created missions (“The Story of Cerritos”). Cerritos was under the jurisdiction of the San Gabriel Mission, which was on Rancho Los Nietos and controlled by a soldier named José Manuel Nieto. After the missions secularized, the land that the San Gabriel Mission governed was divided in 1834 (“The Story of Cerritos”). To avoid property loss due to the nationalization of the missions, the descendants of José Manuel Nieto divided the land into five smaller ranchos: Santa Gertrudes, Las Bolsas, Los Alamitos, Los Cerritos, and Los Coyotes. Los Coyotes was the largest of the ranchos and was owned by Juan José Nieto, José Manuel Nieto’s eldest son (“The Story of Cerritos”).

Around this time, the United States expressed their interest in purchasing the California Territory (“The Story of Cerritos”). Unfortunately, the Mexican government was not interested in selling (“The Story of Cerritos”). In June 14, 1846, a group of American settlers declared California as an independent territory, and declared martial law (“The Story of Cerritos”). The start of the Mexican-American war was here. The Americans won the war, and the Mexican government signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 (“The Story of Cerritos”). The Los Coyotes ranch underwent several owners after 1848, ultimately ending up in the hands of the Los Angeles and San Bernardino Land Company (“The Story of Cerritos”).

During this time, an area called Artesia formed (“The Story of Cerritos”). Artesia focused mainly on farming, but struggled during its early years (“The Story of Cerritos”). In 1955, the area of Artesia wanted to incorporate as a municipality (“The Story of Cerritos”). The new development in Artesia would not include feedlots for farm animals, and new residents would contest the flies and smells coming from a farm (“The Story of Cerritos”). However, four dairy farmers, Jim Albers, Albert Veldhuizen, Leslie Nottingham, and Frank Leal, contested to this development (“The Story of Cerritos”). On April 24, 1956, the City of Dairy Valley was incorporated (“The Story of Cerritos”).

Zoning – From Agricultural To Residential

A picture of “The Broadway” at Los Cerritos Center in the 1970s (now a Macy’s). (Broadway Stores by State)

While the City of Dairy Valley did fine for a few years, in 1965, a county re-appraisal doubled property taxes, and many living in the city voted to move away from its agricultural status to a residential status (“The Story of Cerritos”). Soon, model homes were opened and sold, often for around $20,000 to $30,000 (“The Story of Cerritos”).

More homes meant a need for more schools. There were three school districts that serviced the surrounding areas: Artesia School District, Bloomfield School District, and Carmenita School District (“The Story of Cerritos”). At the time, it was trendy to unify smaller school districts into one large one. In 1966, the ABC Unified School District was formed (“The Story of Cerritos”). Soon after, on January 10, 1967, the city and its inhabitants voted to rename the city to Cerritos (“The Story of Cerritos”). Feedlots and farm animals were gone, and in place of them were residential homes and housing tracts.

During this shift from agricultural to residential, the city-council and administration knew that they wanted “solid, middle-class homeowners” to inhabit Cerritos (“The Story of Cerritos”). They did this by making sure that utility wires were underground instead of on telephone poles, having an abundance of parks and recreational areas, and large commercial centers and industrial areas (“The Story of Cerritos”). The City of Cerritos also decided to open their own library instead of rejoining the county library system. A shopping mall was built to generate revenue for the city, called the Los Cerritos Center. In 1974, over $200 million in taxable sales revenue was from the Los Cerritos Center (“The Story of Cerritos”). In 1979, October S & J Chevrolet became the first auto dealership in the newly opened Cerritos Auto Mall (“The Story of Cerritos”). The Cerritos Auto Mall allowed the City of Cerritos to generate even more revenue to provide for city services, and maintenance.

So the city is able to generate a lot of revenue. Good, right? Not so. Instead of, for example, joining public systems such as the Los Angeles County Public Library System, Cerritos makes their own library system to prevent others from using their city services. Cerritos opens up “public” places such as the Los Cerritos Center and the Cerritos Auto Mall to generate revenue to fund city services, but once these services are funded (by the public) they are not shared with outsiders. From the beginning, Cerritos is a city of exclusion. Not looking so great for the “American Dream.”


Picture of Whitney High School. (“Whitney High School (Cerritos, California)”)

Today, the City of Cerritos is extremely wealthy. The existing Cerritos Library was rebuilt into the new Cerritos Millenium Library, which cost the city around $40 million (Dalton, 1).

The ABC Unified School District has Whitney High School, which is an academy of sorts for high-achieving students, serving grades 7th to 12th (“The Story of Cerritos”). Students have to pass a rigorous test to be admitted to Whitney high school, and has a predominantly Asian demographic (“The Story of Cerritos”). The high school is ranked number 1 in the state, and is ranked number 19 nationally (“Whitney High School in Cerritos, CA | Best High Schools | US News”).

What is interesting is the number of Asians in Cerritos. According to the 2010 census, the City of Cerritos is predominantly Asian at 61.9% of all residents being Asian (2010 Census Interactive Population Search – Cerritos). In the 1960s-1980s, the City of Cerritos had a predominantly white population. According to the 1980 census, the City of Cerritos was 55% white, and 21% Asian (“The Story of Cerritos”). A decade later, and the percentage of white people living in Cerritos went down to 36%, white the percentage of Asian people living in Cerritos went up to 44% (“The Story of Cerritos”).

What had happened? It seems that by focusing on attracting middle-class homeowners to Cerritos in the late 1960s, and creating ways of generating tax revenue such as the Los Cerritos Center and the Cerritos Auto Mall, the City of Cerritos was able to fund a variety of city services, and create great schools that rank high, both in the state and nationally. By doing this, the City of Cerritos attracted a lot of people, mainly Asians, that wanted to live in a safe city that had a great school district which can send their children to world-class universities. By doing this, they were able to diversify the city. However, the cost of living in Cerritos has become higher than ever before. Median values of homes in Cerritos is now, according to Zillow, at $668,100, when it was $120,000 in 1984 (“Cerritos CA Home Prices & Home Values | Zillow”; “The Story of Cerritos”). So while the city was able to become more diverse in terms of race/ethnic population, it has become less diverse in terms of class standing. Cerritos is strictly upper-middle class, and higher today.

So what kinds of problems does this cause for the people that grow up in Cerritos? First off, they are not exposed to people who are less fortunate than they are. Growing up in affluent neighborhoods means they are constantly exposed to the “good parts” of society. You have great schools, great city services, etc. These “good parts” of society are expected by these children.

However, once they step out of Cerritos, they are often greeted with despair. For example, panhandlers are often a normal sight for someone living in, say, Long Beach or Lynwood. However, in cities like Cerritos, you very rarely see them, if at all. The city and the community does a great job at keeping the despair out of Cerritos, but it is worrisome to think that they are shielding the future generation from reality.

Another issue involves city services. Not only is Cerritos hiding reality from its inhabitants, the city actively tries to block non-residents from using its services. For example, at public parks in Cerritos, to even use, say for example, the tennis courts, you have to provide identification proving that you are a Cerritos resident. If you can’t prove this, you cannot use the tennis courts without paying a non-resident fee. In cities like Long Beach, there is no such thing as a non-resident fee for park services, and possibly other things.

Another example is the Cerritos Millenium Library. You cannot borrow books from the library if you are not a Cerritos resident unless you pay the exorbitant yearly fee of $100 per year.

Cerritos actively works to let you know that you are not a resident. Ultimately, Cerritos seems like a really nice city, if you can afford  it. It is not, however, a place where you can find the “American Dream.” To live in Cerritos, you have to be well-established and educated.



“2010 Census Interactive Population Search – Cerritos.” 2010 Census Interactive Population Search – Cerritos. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Broadway Stores by State.” The Broadway. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2016.

Cenovich, Marilyn. “The Story of Cerritos.” The Story of Cerritos. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Cerritos CA Home Prices & Home Values | Zillow.” Zillow. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Cerritos Millennium Library.” Topix. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2016.

“City of Cerritos.” City of Cerritos. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2016.

Dalton, Sarah. “Library Profile: The New Cerritos Library.” The California State Library Connection: Library of California (July 2002): 1-2; 5. Print.

“Whitney High School in Cerritos, CA | Best High Schools | US News.” US News. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2016.

“Whitney High School (Cerritos, California).” Whitney High School (Cerritos, California). N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2016.


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