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VALLEY NEWS

West Valley Is Home to a More Diverse Population

April 01, 2001|ANNETTE KONDO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With whites dwindling in every corner of the San Fernando Valley, more diverse neighborhoods near Chatsworth and Canoga Park are transforming the area's western edge, according to a Times analysis of 2000 census data.

In the last decade, nonwhite racial and ethnic groups that once were centered in the northeast Valley spread west across the Valley floor.

Blacks, Latinos and Asians each grew at rates of 40% or more in neighborhoods near Canoga Park and Chatsworth. Whites are still the majority in both communities, making up at least 56% of the residents, but a decade ago they were at least 72% of the population, according to the census analysis.

The demographic shifts can be as subtle as the fragrance of basmati rice inside India Sweets and Spices on Sherman Way in Canoga Park.

The bustling business, which stocks all things Indian--Hindi videos, takeout orders of masala dosa and parathas, sweet mangoes--has grown in tandem with the communities it serves.

The customer base was much smaller when the store opened 11 years ago, co-owner Avtar Dhaliwal said. But six years ago, India Sweets expanded and customer demand soared after 1997, he said, as more Indian, Pakistani and Iranian families moved to the west Valley.

"I'd rather come here than Little India," said Monish Khare, referring to the Indian shopping corridor in Artesia. "I've been coming to this area for five years, and I've seen a fantastic increase in restaurants."

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Though Asians and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing ethnic group in California, they are widely dispersed across the Valley, said Cal State Northridge geography professor Eugene Turner.

Skilled and middle-class immigrants from Korea, India, the Philippines and Vietnam are quickly "jumping right into the communities they want" in Porter Ranch, Granada Hills and other West Valley suburban enclaves, bypassing the more urban and traditional immigrant areas of Los Angeles, Turner said.

With the exception of Armenians and Iranians who continue to move to the Valley, "the white flight to Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley is fairly significant," Turner noted. The greatest concentrations of whites are in the hills along the southern edge of the Valley, he said.

Neighborhoods in Tarzana, east across Encino, Sherman Oaks to Toluca Lake have the largest concentrations of whites, at least 78%, according to census data that was analyzed with city planning department geographic areas.

The area of most rapid growth in the Valley, 24% in the last decade, was centered around Mission Hills, Panorama City and North Hills. Latinos led with a 69% growth rate and Asians 34%, while whites fell by about 41% and blacks declined by 20%.

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"I think it's a matter of increasing density," said Jeff Beckerman, a demographer with the Los Angeles City Planning Department. He said the area's housing is mostly apartment buildings, and he suspects the increase is due to more people living in existing units.

That area's growth is not surprising, Beckerman said, because in 1998 the most populous census tract in Los Angeles was in the center of Mission Hills. Beckerman and other local officials recommended this triangular tract, bounded by Woodman Avenue, Van Nuys Boulevard and Nordhoff Street, be split into four census tracts, and the Census Bureau agreed, he said.

Second in growth was the Sylmar area, where population expanded by 17%. Whites dropped by about 39%; and the number of Latinos grew by 50%, Asians by 21% and blacks by 16%.

Latino growth in the Valley far surpassed all other racial and ethnic groups. The northeast Valley communities of Arleta and Pacoima have the highest concentrations, between 78% to 83%.

To the north, the city of San Fernando is also a majority Latino community, now 84% to 89%, an increase of 7.6% in the last decade.

Latino growth, however, may not translate to political power.

"Much of it will be the growth of people who don't vote, who are new immigrants," said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute, a public policy center at Cal State Los Angeles.

As the Valley's diverse landscape emerges, it tantalizes political consultants who want to seize the new census data for redistricting.

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Alan Clayton, research chair for the Los Angeles City/County Latino Redistricting Coalition, is already pushing for changes to the Valley's 3rd county Supervisorial District, now represented by Zev Yaroslavsky. "It makes no sense for the board of supervisors to combine the West Los Angeles area with the Valley, which is now very diverse," Clayton said.

But for many Valley residents, the region's diversity is less about politics and more about changes to lifestyle.

Elizabeth Reed, of Woodland Hills, waited with her family on Saturday to pick up containers of steaming rice, beans and other dishes from India Sweets and Spices.

Originally from Guatemala, Reed said she has become fond of eating and cooking food from India. Recently, more of her neighbors in Woodland Hills are from Asia, she said. "Today I will introduce my kids to Indian food."

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Times director of computer analysis Richard O'Reilly, computer project editor Ray Herndon and data analyst Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.

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