What officially makes a place a town?

Dear Matthew Alice:

What officially makes a place a town? When the highway department puts up a sign? When it's on the AAA map? Or when you have a post office? In North County, De Luz has no road sign or post office, but it's on the map. Oak Grove has a sign and is on the map but has no post office. San Luis Rey has a post office, is on the map, but isn't really a place anymore, except for the mission. And if I wanted to start Kensville, what would I have to do to get my town's own post office?

-- Curious Ken, Cardiff by the Sea

O Wise and Sagacious One:

Who bears the distinct and delicious pleasure of choosing the numbers for freeways around here? I'm pretty good at picking random numbers and have been seeking a cushy government job that pays six or so figures for doing little or nothing. This sounds right up my alley. Where and to whom should I apply? (P.S.: Here are some numbers I've worked up for the freeways of the future: the 3, the 33, the 233, the 333, the 833. Have any of these already been taken? If so, am I entitled to any back pay?)

-- J. Dennis Boucharde, San Diego

Wise and sagacious? Where do I find the time? Anyway, when Ken becomes Czar of Kensville, I hope he'll make Dennis his Director of Ingress, Egress, and Cruising Around. Dennis may need the job. And if all you want is a "town," Ken, that's not so hard. Just find a spot where you can convince a large number of neighbors that you should start calling yourselves Kensville, put signs on your lawn ("Ken welcomes you to Kensville!"), organize a town council, become a political pain in the butt -- whatever you can do to get people to recognize you. You're still not an independent municipal entity; you can't collect taxes or pave your own streets. To do that in California, you have to be a city (chartered or general-law). But the town of Kensville might end up on a map; that's strictly up to the map makers. If you can convince Disney to build something on your block, that might help.

Usually, towns evolve historically, like P.B. or La Jolla or De Luz. Eventually they might be sucked up by larger cities while still retaining their own quirky identities and names. Lately, towns are more often built in one big swoop. Tuesday, chaparral; Wednesday, Tierrasanta.

If Kensville gets really uppity and wants to start collecting its own taxes and paving its own streets and electing its own mayor, it can start the legal application process for cityhood. But unless Kensvillites have a lot of patience and money -- mostly money -- well, forget it. The research report and application fees will run about 100 thou, then you need to prove your tax base can sustain a city, and whatever jurisdiction you're withdrawing from will fight you tooth and nail. It may not treat you with respect, but it's grown fond of your money.

A whole new post office just for Kensvillians? By federal regulation, you'll need to prove that you live in an area not already covered by the postal service and/or that you somehow can't be served adequately from an existing station. And De Luz, by the way, did once have its own post office, a little shack that was moved into the front yard of each new postmaster.

Sorry to have to tell you, Dennis, but you missed the road-numbering caravan by many decades. And the federal and state systems were set up by legislative committees, so your cut might be a buck and a half, by 19-teens' or '20s' standards. There will be no more interstates. They were planned in the '50s, and once I-15 through City Heights is complete, the feds will be done and probably have a whole box of numbers left over. And if you start getting pressure for a freeway exit sign for Kensville University or the Kensville Visitors' Information Center, tell Ken he'll need to meet state vehicle codes regarding details like proximity to the freeway and number of students; hours of operation and number of public restrooms.... An exit sign is a real coup.

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