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Population Pressure Point : Continued Immigration of Latinos, Asians With Large Families Puts Strain on Long Beach Services

June 07, 1987|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

Long Beach's population has increased by 45,000 since 1980, surging to levels not expected until 1990 and stretching city services already reduced by budget cuts.

"I don't think we're at a point where any major area of city government is buckling or breaking at the strain, . . . but we certainly can feel the pinch throughout the entire system," City Manager James C. Hankla said last week.

Boosted by the continued immigration of mostly large, low-income Latino and Southeast Asian families, the city's population increased 12.5%, from 361,384 seven years ago to about 406,000 this January, say state analysts in a new report based largely on city and school district data.

Growth was particularly rapid in 1985 and 1986, with about 17,900 new residents settling here. That two-year spurt is greater than the city's growth in the entire 20 years before 1980.

"We are moving more quickly than projected, but we still are not projecting a larger (ultimate) population," said Robert Paternoster, city planning director. "The big surge is over. There is going to be a leveling off . . . . And there is a real holding capacity to the city."

Southeast Asian immigration is steadily decreasing, and a new federal law that penalizes employers of illegal aliens is expected to slow the tide of immigrants from Mexico, he said.

The number of city residents should peak at about 450,000 by the year 2000, Paternoster said, repeating a 1986 city estimate. However, in 1984, city planners estimated a population of 426,000 by year 2000.

Even though Long Beach is in the midst of a residential building boom, a majority of the about 6,400 dwellings proposed last year have not yet been constructed, Paternoster said. In fact, the number of occupied dwellings in Long Beach had increased by only 8,000 to 159,538 in the seven years ending last Dec. 31, the state reported.

"The (current) growth is mostly due to change in family size, . . . so it doesn't mean there are that many more cars and that sort of thing," Paternoster said.

The number of people living in the average Long Beach dwelling increased from 2.3 in 1980 to 2.4 by January, 1987, accounting for nearly 40,000 of the additional 45,000 new residents, according to the state Department of Finance.

Most of the immigration has occurred south of Pacific Coast Highway and west of Ximeno Avenue, especially in the central city, northern downtown and the old Eastside, city planners have said.

Its impact is being strongly felt, said city, school and private health officials, who must find ways to provide services for more people with little or no more money.

For example, since unexpectedly low revenues forced sharp midyear cuts, the city will spend $22 million less than its $270-million budget for basic services for the year ending June 30. And an additional $10 million in cuts is necessary for 1987-88, Hankla said.

The city manager points to a 12.8% increase in serious crimes in 1986 as one result of the population boom.

"In some ways your Police Department is your ultimate social service delivery system," he said.

Parks and health clinics are used more, and the city has had to become more vigilant when enforcing building and health codes because dwellings are increasingly crowded, Hankla said.

Earlier this year, city officials said evictions from substandard or illegal dwellings were up sharply, with at least two families displaced each week from garages.

Meanwhile, administrators of private, nonprofit health programs said they are not surprised by the new population figures. They say they have found it impossible to keep up with the needs of a booming and increasingly poor population.

"We have to keep going around creating services out of nothing. And when we get the services going, they're never enough," said Germaine Schwider, administrator of the Westside Neighborhood Clinic, which expects to treat 8,000 low-income patients this year, twice as many as in 1984.

At the same time, Family Service of Long Beach, which provides psychological counseling, has been "overwhelmed by people who want counseling but can't afford anywhere near what it costs," Executive Director Don Westerland said.

City health officials say the patient load at their preventive health clinics increased from 108,000 visits two years ago to 120,000 last fiscal year.

"Anytime you talk to the workers, they're going to say, 'My God, I can't keep my head above water,' " health administrator V. Gale Winting said. But the need for more health care has been increasing steadily since Indochinese immigration began in 1978-79, he said. "They're not breaking down the door."

3,600 Patients a Month

Nor has Los Angeles County's large, new Long Beach Comprehensive Health Center, which helps the needy once they are sick, had a recent dramatic increase in demand for service, according to administrator Edward Lee.

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