Google Maps' Phantom Neighborhoods Are Confusing Southern Californians. Help Us Keep Track Of Them

Google's arcane mapping practices are still on full display in Los Angeles. Just grab your phone, open the app and see for yourself.

The latest example comes in the form of "Brooklyn Heights," a long-antiquated name for an area in the northern section of Boyle Heights that fell out of use in the early 1900s.

Last month, I reported on Google's mapping system when I noticed two neighborhoods with names that residents and city officials don't use in real life — Silver Lake Heights and North Highland Park.

I reached out to Google about these labels and asked for some basic information about how its engineers build and manage maps, but a company spokesperson declined to comment on the record. A few days later, North Highland Park and Silver Lake Heights had vanished.

RELATED: This Amazing Map Features Every Neighborhood in L.A.

Some apt readers pointed out that "Silver Lake Heights" had been referred to by that name — way back in the 1920s, according to an old map from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Since my first story, I've been exploring Google's L.A. map for more inexplicable labeling. They haven't been hard to find.

Several SoCal residents also reached out about confusing labeling they've noticed in their communities — and it goes beyond Los Angeles city limits.

Some of those San Gabriel Valley labels refer to Census Designated Places, or unincorporated communities of L.A. County. It gets a bit tricky, because many of these areas share a mailing address with a neighboring city. For example, addresses in Mayflower Village show up as Arcadia because they share a postal code with that city, according to Jason Kruckeberg, Arcadia's assistant city manager.

There are also labels for East and West Arcadia, which Kruckeberg clarified are "not specific neighborhoods for planning purposes... just used more often when residents are describing where they live."

Exploring the SGV-area map led to a few more strange finds and digital border disputes, like the case of the real city of El Monte and the very-not-real "El Monte City."

Google even gave this fake city its own borders, which absorb parts of the real El Monte, invade the separate city of South El Monte and overlap into unincorporated communities.

There's also a map view on Apartments.com that shows listings within "El Monte City," using Google data. Could this be a self-perpetuating phantom city? How do discrepancies like this happen on the most popular navigation app on the market?

(Screengrabs via Google)

We simply don't know. Google remains tight-lipped on how and where they get the data that informs — and misinforms —how they map out communities. A Google spokeswoman kept it vague in a recent New York Times story about their mapping practices, saying only that they create their maps using information from third-party data, public sources, satellites and Google users.

It's that last source that might be particularly at blame for all the cartographic chaos, with users geotagging places they call by a certain name that may not be widely referred to, or even accurate.

So, LAist is asking: Do you live where Google thinks you live? What confusing labels have you seen on your local map? Post a screenshot on Twitter and tag @LAist (or email us the weirdness at tips@laist.com and use the subject line "Google Maps").


News happens every day. Here at LAist, our goal is to cover the stories that matter to you and the community you live in. Now that we're part of KPCC, those stories (including this one you're on right now!) are made possible by generous people like you. Independent, local journalism isn't cheap, but with your support we can keep delivering it. Donate now.