Lafayette (formerly, La Fayette) is a city in Contra Costa County, California. As of the 2000 census, the city's population was 23,908. It was named (in 1857) after the Marquis de Lafayette, a French military hero of the American Revolutionary War. Today Lafayette is known for its pastoral rolling hills and upscale lifestyle.

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Origin and Early History

Before the colonization of the region by Spain, Lafayette and its vicinity were inhabited by the Saclan tribe of the indigenous Bay Miwok. Ohlone also populated some of the areas along Lafayette Creek. The indigenous inhabitants' first contact with Europeans was in the late 18th century with the founding of Catholic missions in the region.

These initial contacts developed into conflict, with years of armed struggle, including a battle on what is currently Lafayette soil in 1797 between the Saclan and the Spanish, and eventually resulting in the subjugation of the native population.

Most of what is currently Lafayette was given as a Mexican land grant, Rancho Acalanes, to Candelario Valencia in 1834. The name Acalanes seems to have come from the name of a native village in the area, Ahala-n.

American settlement started with the arrival of Elam Brown in 1846. He purchased Rancho Acalanes in 1848. The settlement continued to steadily grow due to its proximity to San Francisco. Brown founded a mill in 1853.

On March 2, 1857 the LaFayette post office was established by the U.S. Postal Service. Prior to 1857 the community that we have been calling "Lafayette" actually had no known name - though there are undocumented rumors that it was called Dog Town, Brown's Corner, Brown's Mill, Acalanus, and perhaps Centerville.

The name "LaFayette" came together with the community's first post office. In 1857 Benjamin Shreve, owner and manager of a roadside hotel-general store (which faced today's Lafayette Plaza), applied to get a post office for the community, and at first requested the name Centerville. When informed that a post office with that name already existed in California, Shreve suggested La Fayette, after the French general who became a hero of the American Revolution. The first LaFayette post office was established at 3535 Plaza Way and Shreve became the town's first permanent postmaster, holding the job for 30 years. Finally, in 1932 the name of the post office was officially changed to Lafayette, which has remained unchanged to this day.

In the early 1860s, Lafayette was briefly the site of a station for the Pony Express.

During the mid-1900s, Lafayette was transformed from an agricultural village into a commuter town, and was incorporated in 1968.

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Geography and Climate

Mt. Diablo Boulevard

The city is part of the greater San Francisco Bay Area and has its own station on the BART public transit system. Lafayette is situated between Walnut Creek, Moraga, and Orinda, and, together with the latter two towns, is considered locally as part of "Lamorinda".

Lafayette is separated from greater Berkeley and Oakland by the Berkeley Hills (and the Caldecott Tunnel running beneath), a geographical boundary within the East Bay which also represents interesting meteorological, cultural, and political distinctions.

The climate differences can be striking: during the summer, temperatures can soar beyond 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Lafayette and its neighboring cities while the areas west of the hills and nearer to the bay remain up to 20 degrees cooler. Temperature highs are generally from 60-75 degrees from February through May, 75-95 degrees June through November, and 55-60 degrees from December through January.

Temperatures on summer days can reach 100, though generally are in 80s and low 90s. Nighttime temperatures can be as low as the low 30s in December–March, though most of the year low temperatures at night are in upper 40s and 50s.

The region directly east of the hills is generally known for its more suburban or rural atmosphere, and features rolling, grassy hills which highlight a more peaceful and domestic aura. In the southwestern part of Lafayette lies the Lafayette Reservoir, and Briones Regional Park extends into the northern part of Lafayette. Lafayette's wildlife communities include mixed woods and oak woodlands.

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La Fiesta Square

As of the census of 2000, there were 23,908 people, 9,152 households, and 6,754 families residing in the city. The racial makeup of the city was 87% Caucasian, 0.6% African American, 0.2% Native American, 8.2% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.8% from other races, and 3.3% from two or more races. Hispanics and Latinos of any race made up 4.0% of the population.

There were 9,152 households out of which 36% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 65% were married couples living together, 6.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26% were non-families. 20% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.6 and the average family size was 3.0.

The population distribution was broad, with 26% under the age of 18, 4.4% from 18 to 24, 25% from 25 to 44, 30% from 45 to 64, and 14% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 95 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92 males.

According to a 2007 estimate, the median income for a household in the city was $118,900, and the median income for a family was $147,900. Males had a median income of $90,100 versus $51,900 for females. The per capita income for the city was $54,300. About 2.1% of families and 2.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 2.5% of those under age 18 and 5.1% of those aged 65 or over.

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Cross Memorial

In November 2006, area residents began placing crosses on a hill overlooking the Lafayette BART station and Highway 24 "to represent and memorialize the American soldiers who have died in the ongoing Iraqi war." As of May 2008, there are over 4,000 crosses in place, one for each of the troops who have died in Iraq, and there is also a large sign displaying the total number of deaths.

The memorial has generated public attention, media coverage and counter-protests due to its visibility from the commuter thoroughfare below. Also, since the creation of the memorial, there have been several incidences of vandalism. While some show support for the protest, other residents complain that it is disrespectful to those in uniform in Iraq and that it is an eyesore to the community.

View of the memorial from the Lafayette BART parking lot

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Public Libraries

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