Historically the South Bay cities began after the days of the ranchos. The town of Wilmington was founded in 1858 by Phineas Banning as the port and built up with warehouses, wagon manufacturing shops, and corrals. At that time, there were only the cities of Los Angeles, El Monte, San Bernardino, and Anaheim existing in the whole region. The first Southern California railroad was the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railway, opened in 1869 to serve the Wilmington wharves. It ran twenty-one miles on Alameda Street and the passenger fare was $2.50 one way. The rest of the South Bay was still primarily grazing land.
A few small independent cities — Redondo Beach, Gardena, Hawthorne, and Inglewood — were founded and survived the land boom period of the 1880s. Redondo Beach was actually the first city to be incorporated, in 1887. The whole area became agricultural.
The Beach cities — Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach — were tourist locations with early hotels, piers, and amusement parks. Redondo Beach was at the end of the Big Red Car line which extended from Venice. These cities have retained this tourist focus while also being desirable places to live because of the climate and ocean air.
El Segundo, though on the ocean, grew up as a company town for Standard Oil ("the second" plant). Even today it has relatively few housing units and is concentrating on development as an office employment center to capitalize on its location abutting Los Angeles International Airport.
The Peninsula began development in the 1920s with the City of Palos Verdes Estates and parts of what are now Rancho Palos Verdes as planned residential communities with limited commercial areas. The same pattern extended over the remainder of the area as the other three cities incorporated (two in 1957 and one in 1973) in order to take control of land use from Los Angeles County. The Peninsula is somewhat isolated from the rest of the sub-region and maintains high income residential neighborhoods and "semi-rural" areas. The eastern portion of the City of Rancho Palos Verdes meets San Pedro, part of the City of Los Angeles, and the harbor.
The core of the sub-region, Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, and Torrance, developed throughout the first forty years of the 20th Century but really boomed after World War II. The aircraft industry had begun in the area as early as 1915 in Inglewood. (The first air meet was held at Dominguez Field in 1910.) Oil was discovered in the Los Angeles area in the 1920s and 1930s and refineries and storage facilities were established in the Wilmington area of Los Angeles, and in Carson, Torrance, and El Segundo. Rapid growth in the area was fueled by the conversion of wartime industries into aerospace and related industries. Massive amounts of tract housing were built in the 1950s and 1960s.
The cities of Lawndale, Rolling Hills, and Rolling Hills Estates did not incorporate until the 1950s, followed by Lomita in 1964 and Carson in 1968, during the spate of incorporations generally based on the "Lakewood Plan" of contracting for county services. Rancho Palos Verdes was the last to incorporate, in 1973.
The area diversified during the 1970s and after with cities like Carson, Torrance, Hawthorne, Gardena, Inglewood, and Redondo Beach developing industrial, office, recreational, and retail centers to serve the growing number of residents. Lawndale and Lomita and the Peninsula cities primarily provided housing for these uses.
In the early 1970s the South Bay Cities Association (SBCA) was created when the communities of the South Bay began meeting informally to exchange ideas and information regarding inter-jurisdictional issues such as transportation. The association worked to facilitate sub-regional cooperation and coordination of policies and projects. SBCA was a voluntary organization of South Bay Cities and Los Angeles County. Representation on the SBCA was composed of elected officials (or their designees) from each participating entity.
Over the years, however, it became increasingly evident, that informal communication among the South Bay Cities was no longer adequate to meet the newly emerging demands and opportunities facing sub-regions within the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) six-county region. In 1992 the SBCA agreed to serve as the sub-regional body to participate in the SCAG Regional Comprehensive Plan process. Funds were provided to hire a consultant team and the project began in the spring of 1993. The SBCA began devoting its time to in-depth discussions of Regional and sub-regional issues.
In 1994 the South Bay Cities Association formally became a Council of Governments by establishing a legal Joint Powers Agreement (JPA). Its members are: Carson, El Segundo, Gardena, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Inglewood, Lawndale, Lomita, Los Angeles (Harbor Gateway/San Pedro areas), Manhattan Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates, and Torrance. Starting in 1999, L.A. County Supervisors Don Knabe and Yvonne Braithwaite Burke provided annual financial contributions to the SBCCOG. The county became an official member of the SBCCOG in 2009 with representatives on the SBCCOG Board of Directors from both Districts 2 and 4.