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Racial Lines in County Blur but Could Return : Population: Times study of census finds communities far more mixed. Some experts fear new ethnic divisions.


In the midst of the county's cultural metamorphosis, there are places that have stayed the same and communities that have taken on entirely new identities, a sometimes painful process. Well-to-do Westside communities such as Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, Beverly Hills and Bel-Air have remained overwhelmingly Anglo, but affluence isn't necessarily a key to stability.

Virtually overnight, San Marino, a small, exclusive community of old California families southeast of Pasadena, has become home to a new Asian-American gentry: wealthy businessmen and their families from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Few communities have changed so fast. Asians, less than 7% of the population in 1980, now make up more than a third of the community, while local school enrollment is more than 50% Asian.

San Marino "is like Beverly Hills to Asians," said Linda Chang, an American-born Asian who is a real estate agent in San Marino.

Yet the newcomers' attitude toward the community's natural wealth--its stately aisles of gnarled oaks, carob, camphor, ginkgo and other exotic trees--has led to tensions.

"Asians do tend to cut down trees," Chang said, "it's not that they don't like trees. But it is bad luck to have trees as you open the front door." Responding to a rash of tree cutting, the City Council required people to get permission before removing trees from their front yards.

Asians have brought more than ancient beliefs to San Marino. Their passion for education has helped make a first-rate school system even better, according to Anglo educators.

"The schools here were always good," said Don Bendarus, principal of San Marino High School. "Now it is extraordinary, and it is due to the influence of the Asians. . . . They have raised (standardized) test scores and increased the academic intensity of the place. But it's not just Asians who are working hard. In the face of stiffer competition, Anglo students are also taking school more seriously."

Just west of San Marino and north of the Foothill Freeway is Glendale, a city of 180,000 people where ethnic diversity is the result of waves of refugees from places ravaged by revolution, war and disaster. The pace of change has tested the ingenuity of the community and its school system.

A town with tranquil, Midwestern roots that once prided itself on being the antithesis of Los Angeles, Glendale has undergone three major population influxes in the last two decades: Cubans fleeing the dictatorship of Fidel Castro; Vietnamese escaping the aftermath of war in the 1970s, and, in the last three or four years, Armenians seeking sanctuary outside the Soviet Union and the political instability of the Middle East.

In fact, the census data offers only a suggestion of the cultural mosaic that is Glendale. According to the 1990 Census, Glendale is still overwhelmingly Anglo--63%. Yet included in the Anglo count are the Armenians. Two years ago, Armenians and other students from the Middle East replaced Latinos as the largest ethnic group in the Glendale Unified School District.

Similarly, the census shows the community's Asian population to be 14% in 1990--more than triple what it was in 1980. But within that Asian group are many distinct cultures. According to the school district, Koreans are the largest group, followed by Pacific Islanders and Filipinos. Latinos comprised 21% of Glendale's population in 1990 and included Mexicans, Central Americans, South Americans and Spaniards.

People have come to Glendale for a variety of reasons, said Alice Petrossian, director of intercultural education for the school district. It is the next step up for many Armenians, whose first stop was a cheap Hollywood apartment house. "As they prosper and move up the economic ladder," Petrossian said, "they come to Glendale. Why do they come here? Because Glendale is the center of long-established Armenian communities in Hollywood, Montebello, Pasadena and Encino. They live here, and they can be near their families."

While the 1990 Census parted the curtain on a new, more diverse society in Los Angeles, population experts remain cautious about what the future may hold. A city such as Carson illustrates the uncertainty.

North of Long Beach, along the booming South Bay corridor, the city of 84,000 residents is divided almost equally among blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos. But it is an unstable population, with the Anglo share dropping by almost one-third since 1980 and blacks also losing ground. If present trends continue, the ethnic balance may give way by the next census to domination by Latinos and Asians.

Variations on the Carson theme may be played out in a number of communities where new Asian and Latino majorities appear to be in the making.

In 1980, there was only one community with an Asian population of over 30%--Monterey Park. Today there are 10 such places, and the Asian population of each is still growing. For now, Monterey Park is the only community with an Asian majority, 56%.

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