To understand the future of American politics, look closely at Dana Point in Orange County, a Stanford University professor says. And keep in mind that in a few years whites will cease to be the majority in California.
Around the year 2000, the state estimates, whites will make up less than half of California's more than 31 million people.
Immigration aside, about 150,000 Latinos will reach voting age every year for the next decade and increasingly more of them will vote, says Dale Maharidge, who spent several years studying demographics, politics and race relations for his book "The Coming White Minority--California's Eruptions and the Nation's Future."
Published before the November election, Maharidge predicted a sea change in voting patterns that he believes will transform California.
. "Orange County is a glimpse of the future," Maharidge said. "For years, you could safely bet your bank account on Bob Dornan and be guaranteed of winning, but no more."
Starting in the early 1990s, Maharidge began studying the effects of what he calls the "browning" of California. He started watching how communities dealt with the influx of different ethnic groups around the state, but particularly in parts of Los Angeles and in Dana Point.
"What will happen in California after 1998," Maharidge wrote, "will eclipse any of the real or imagined hype about California's sway in matters beyond its borders. No white society of the industrial world has ever evolved into a mixed culture."
And noting that "California's racial evolution is not happening quietly," Maharidge goes on to chronicle in blunt terms the often wrenching effects immigration has had on communities.
In Dana Point and throughout Orange County, Maharidge said, the vast influx of Latinos, Asians and other minority groups has sharpened class divisions in very visible ways.
"Basically, whites with money and wealthier members of minority groups have retreated to little islands, gated and walled housing developments designed to keep 'those people' out," Maharidge said.
"Well, the world tried that once before, in South Africa, and it didn't work," Maharidge said, adding that "this whole island mentality is going to topple in terms of electoral power."
The process has already started. In the November election, Maharidge said, whites, traditionally 80-85% of all state voters, cast only about 75% of the state's total vote. It was the largest showing ever by non-whites, he said.
Maharidge said he was attracted to Dana Point at the beginning of his research because of the tension then prevailing there between whites and Latinos.
Residents had complained to city officials about the increasing numbers of young men milling on street corners waiting for work, about the increase in crime and vandalism attributed to the spread of gangs, and about the number of renters who hung their laundry outside to dry.
To illustrate these problems, throughout the book Maharidge told the story of Bill Shepherd, a Dana Point homeowner who once ran unsuccessfully for City Council after he became alarmed by sudden changes in his neighborhood, especially crime and gangs.
"I don't mind that we have Mexicans here," Maharidge quoted Shepherd as saying. "But the whites are being taken over by a culture that is not assimilating. The dominant culture does not want graffiti everywhere.
"It does not want a large group of guys congregating outside drinking beer. It does not want vendors going door to door. It does not want laundry hanging out of windows. These were not part of our community five years ago," Shepherd was quoted as saying.
Maharidge says Shepherd's reaction to the changes was both understandable and typical.
"There's a humongous amount of fear out there, especially among whites," Maharidge said, adding that it drives the backlash that has attempted to mandate English-only laws, the anti-immigrant Proposition 187, and the recently approved Proposition 209 to effectively end affirmative action in state contracts, offices and universities.
Reaction to the book in Dana Point has been mostly positive.
Dana Point Councilwoman Judy Curreri, a public health nurse for the Orange County Health Care Agency, who was serving as the city's mayor when Maharidge began his research, said, "I think he was very accurate."
Dana Point has made substantial progress toward solving and dealing with the problems Maharidge described, Curreri said, pointing out that the city now sponsors a telephone job line so workers don't have to stand on street corners.
"We're trying to foster a sense of community for all the community, including the people who live in gated areas," Curreri said.
But not everyone agreed with Maharidge's view of Dana Point. "That guy's an idiot," said Lt. Paul Ratchford, chief of the city's police services.
In his book, Maharidge suggests that the way California reacts to and handles demographic change will affect other states, as immigration begins to alter politics in states such as Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, New York and New Jersey.
Those who embrace the changes now will end up political leaders, Maharidge said.