Ive seen it all, Asian and white gangs in Granada hills and Santa Clarita, Lake view terrace blacks, and many areas of the Valley including Sherman Oaks, Encino, etc. infiltrated with white gangs, tweekers, and not so clean homes, I also see portions of Pacoima that are real bad but some parts that are OK, East San Fernando and around the East portion of Maclay have some of the most interesting homes,that are clean and have the most beautiful architecture in the Valley.
Area from area you find the same thing in all parts in this Valley of ours, it's just not a Hispanic thing.
I've done extensive research on all of this area and looked at dozens of homes. Both San Fernando and Sylmar vary from a street to street basis but most buyers deciding between the 2 end up choosing San Fernando simply because of the increased benefit to living in an individual city with it's own services and police department. You can literally tell the difference in upkeep when you pass the city limits back into the L.A. jurisdiction. And SFPD's latest survey shows a 2.5 minute response time (one of the fastest in California) and a 100% satisfaction rating.
BTW - Your statement that "the valley has gone to crap due to Hispanics" is EXACTLY the reason I made it a point to mention that San Fernando and Sylmar were places of this demographic - because most people avoid it like the plague due to the numbers when they are actually decent (Sylmar) to nice (San Fernando) areas - unlike other areas like Pacoima and most of Van Nuys with similar demographics that I agree are very crappy places. Seriously, take a drive down the main streets of San Fernando at midnight- NOTHING like you would expect if you just saw "98% Hispanic" on a sheet of paper.. on swap meet days though.. you might get scared off.. LOL
You have some very good answers here.
The rule of thumb I would use is to drive around and look at the general upkeep of the homes in the area. Generally speaking the appearance of the other homes will tell you the type of neighborhood you have.
For example, we were looking at a property in North Hollywood, and it was a flip. Totally re-done home, granite counters, hardwood floors, really great. Then we looked over the fence in the back yard. We drove around, down that street, paint peeling, trash in the front yards, dead grass, weeds growing, it was just such a big contrast from the home we saw, that it was obvious the overall qualify of the neighborhood was lower than the home that was for sale.
The reason that is important is appraisal value. The rule of thumb is never buy the nicest home on the block, because that is all that home will ever be. Buy an ok house on a great street in a great neighborhood, just by adding some new landscaping, sprinklers, and some paint you can add value to the home.
So IMHO your plan should be: Interview and select a Realtor, have a lender evaluate your credit and work out a price range, then start shopping. Good luck.
You should also read this link about appraisals.
Mission Hills (a smaller area next to San Fernando. Part of L.A. but very nice. Good priced homes and some on HUGE HUGE lots. More upscale as you get closer to Granada Hills). Chances are you have not heard of Mission Hills. My favorite section is the section inbetween the triangle of freeways that includes Brand Park and the cemetary. VERY quiet, peaceful, seems like a great place to raise kids.
San Fernando (a great option especially if you are middle or working class hispanic and want a safe hispanic city to live in.. It's 85% hispanic. This is where my husband and I are looking to buy. It's not the prettiest looking area but it's safe, clean, and I always see tons of families walking around.)
Sylmar (an OK option a little more run down, closer to fire zones, part of L.A. so lacks the attention that San Fernando can give because San Fernando is it's own city)
Pacoima (don't even consider it) This is the LAST place I would consider, and my husband and I even looked at North Hills (very run down but he grew up there). There are about 8 gangs there and racial tensions as well. It's pretty run down and the property values are extremely low so you know something is up.
San Fernando is our first option largely because it's the safest affordable area in the valley, and because it is it's own city. Right now we live in Glendale and I can't praise the city enough. It makes so much of a HUGE difference to be in a seperate city and not a part of L.A. If you are not hispanic you should at least be comfortable around hispanic people and enjoy the diversity. For my husband and I it is our dream neighborhood - safe, walkable, urban, clean, hispanic, vibrant, with it's own police department, and very affordable! We drove through the area once at night and saw cops pulling people over 2 times (just regular traffic stops speeding tickets) so that is a good sign that they are active and people care about the community. We drove through the downtown area and it was very clean and nobody was out loitering or looking shadey (it was pretty late in the night). So that was a good sign.