Cerritos (formerly known as Dairy Valley because of the preponderance of dairy farms in the area) is a suburban city in Los Angeles County, California, United States, and is one of several cities that constitute the Gateway Cities of southeast Los Angeles County. It was incorporated on April 24, 1956. The current OMB metropolitan designation for Cerritos is "Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA." According to the 2010 US Census, the population was 49,041.
Cerritos was originally inhabited by Native Americans belonging to the Tongva (or "People of the Earth"). Later, the Tongva would be renamed the "Gabrieleños" by the Spanish settlers after the nearby Mission San Gabriel Arcangel. The Gabrieleños were the largest group of Southern California Indians as well as the most developed in the region. The Gabrieleños lived off the land, deriving food from the animals or plants that could be gathered, snared, or hunted, and grinding acorns as a staple.
Beginning in the late 15th century, Spanish explorers arrived in the New World and worked their way to the California coast in 1542. The colonization process included "civilizing" the native populations in California by means of establishing various missions. Soon afterwards, a town called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula (Los Angeles today) would be founded and prosper with the aid of subjects from New Spain and Native American labor.
One soldier, José Manuel Nieto, was granted a large plot of land by the Spanish King Carlos III, which he named Rancho Los Nietos. It covered of what are today the cities of Cerritos, Long Beach, Lakewood, Downey, Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs, part of Whittier, Huntington Beach, Buena Park, and Garden Grove.
The rancho was divided five ways among Nieto's heirs during the nationalization of church property by the Mexican government, with Juan José Nieto retaining the largest plot called Rancho Los Coyotes. Nieto called the area of Rancho Los Coyotes, where Cerritos is located today, "cerritos" or "little hills" although no natural hills exist in modern-day Cerritos.
After the Mexican-American war, the rancho would eventually wind up in the hands of the Los Angeles and San Bernardino Land Company which encouraged development and rail lines to be built by Henry E. Huntington and his Pacific Electric Railway company. It is through rapid development combined with improved transportation systems that formed the modern-day city of Artesia in Rancho Los Coyotes in 1875, and from it, the City of Dairy Valley.
A small general aviation airport was built around 1946 and was called Cranford Airport and consisted of two 2,300' runways, one oriented north/south & the other northeast/southwest. Each runway had a parallel taxiway, and a ramp along the south side of the field had 2 building hangars. The site for Cranford Airport is located on the northwest corner of the intersection of South Street & Carmenita Road. Cranford Airport closed at some point between 1953-54.
The City of Dairy Valley was incorporated on April 24, 1956, as a reaction to nearby Artesia's rapid urbanization. The City's name symbolized the more than 400 dairies, 100,000 cows and 106,300 chickens found within its limits. The cows outnumbered the City's 3,439 residents by 29 to 1. The chickens outnumbered the residents by over 30 to 1. The first business license in the new city was for Walter Marlowe's "Dairy Valley Egg Farms".
Two years later, Dairy Valley voted to become a chartered California city. As land values and property taxes in California rose in the early 1960s, agriculture became increasingly unprofitable, and development pressures increased. In a special election held on July 16, 1963, residents voted to permit large-scale residential development. As a reflection of its newly planned suburban orientation, the City's name formally changed to "Cerritos" on January 10, 1967, after the nearby Spanish land grant Rancho Los Cerritos, which figured prominently in the region and after Cerritos College in neighboring Norwalk.
Cerritos is a prime example of the "fiscalization" of California politics after the tax revolt of the 1970s and the passage of Proposition 13. The only way for California cities to raise long-term tax revenue in light of Proposition 13 was to create as many commercial zones as possible to take advantage of the percentage of county sales tax allocated back to municipalities as sales tax revenue. Cerritos was one of the first cities in Los Angeles County to develop large-scale retail zones, such as the Los Cerritos Center and Cerritos Auto Square, and achieved stunning success. City leaders reinvested funds into the community with large public works projects and an increasing number of community services and programs.
The current progressive nature of the Cerritos government and the unusually strong tax-base is best reflected in its facilities. In 1978, Cerritos dedicated the nation's first solar-heated City Hall complex. In 1993, the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts opened its doors. In 1994, the City unveiled the Cerritos Towne Center project that combines office, retail, lodging, fine arts and dining in an open-air location. In 1997, the City opened the Cerritos Sheriff's Station/Community Safety Center to provide public safety services. In 2002, the City rededicated its public library. In 2006, the City celebrated its golden anniversary with memorials and the unveiling of a sculpture garden. The assessed valuation of the City of Cerritos is $7,177,428,066.
Between 1970 and 1972, Cerritos was the fastest growing city in California. The population exploded from 16,000 to 38,000. Since the 1980s, Cerritos has attracted a large number of Filipino, Korean, Taiwanese, Indian, and Chinese immigrant families.
On August 31, 1986, Aeroméxico Flight 498 on approach to Los Angeles International Airport was struck by a small Piper aircraft that had strayed into an air traffic control zone reserved for commercial flights. 82 people died, including 15 people on the ground. The Piper crashed into Cerritos Elementary School's unoccupied playground, but the Douglas DC-9 fell inverted (upside-down) out of the sky and plowed into dense residential zones, immediately flattening four houses. Eight more houses were destroyed by the subsequent fire before firefighters could bring it under control. The incident is memorialized with a new sculpture installed in the Cerritos Sculpture Garden.