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CENSUS 2000 | FOCUS: WHITES

Population Abandons the Older Suburbs for Isolated, Affluent Fringe

March 30, 2001|GEOFFREY MOHAN and PHIL WILLON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Whites in Southern California are increasingly living on the fringe, isolated in affluent enclaves after abandoning many of the post-war suburbs they founded, according to a preliminary analysis of U.S. census data released Thursday.

They retain overwhelming majorities in the region's newest and most distant suburbs, such as Santa Clarita and Palmdale, as well as in its most expensive neighborhoods: Manhattan Beach, Westlake Village and Malibu.

Los Angeles County registered the largest decrease in white population among California's 38 counties, falling 18% from 1990 to 2000. Statewide, white population fell 7%.

The shrinking white population in L.A. County is being displaced by growing ethnic and racial groups in such older suburbs as Downey, Whittier, Hawthorne and Covina.

Long Beach shifted from 50% white to one-third. Whites in Arcadia fell from 65% to 40% of the city's population. Diamond Bar went from 53% white to 31%.

The suburban cities of Torrance and Lakewood barely held on to a white majority, each falling to/ 52%.

Among whites, "the only areas which saw significant growth are on the fringes of urban regions, where new communities are being built," said sociologist and demographer Mark Baldassare of the California Public Policy Institute. Affluent whites and Latinos are continuing to leave urban areas, a trend that began in the 1970s.

The white population in Santa Clarita grew 17% over the decade, the largest increase of any city in L.A. County.

Whites are a majority in 37% of the county's 2,054 census tracts, but make up less than a fifth of the population in a third of the tracts.

"We have to wonder if [whites] are living in communities that are highly segregated," Baldassare said. "We all need to ask them how they came to be there. That's something the census doesn't ask."

To the south, Orange County has evolved from a white suburb to a diverse collection of races and ethnicities.

Numbers Falling in Former Bastion

Whites are no longer the majority in Anaheim, Santa Ana, Westminster, Fullerton, Buena Park, La Habra, Stanton, La Palma and Tustin. Santa Ana--the county's largest city, with 338,000 residents--is now 70% Latino. Over the past 10 years, the white population there has fallen 38%.

In Garden Grove, whites dropped from 55% to 32% of the city's population.

The rapid transition in Orange County has not come without difficulty. Once an area of heavy support for the John Birch Society, Orange County has been linked in some people's minds to intolerance.

Just two years ago, the Anaheim Union High School District angered many by approving a controversial proposal to bill Mexico and other foreign governments for the cost of educating illegal immigrants.

Board Chairman Harald G. Martin, an Anaheim police officer who spearheaded the measure, expressed dismay over Anaheim's rapidly increasing Latino population

In Anaheim, Orange County's oldest and second-largest city, Latinos now make up 43% of Anaheim's 328,000 residents, eclipsing whites who fell from 57% to 36% of the population.

"What they don't understand is that diversity is divisive and deadly. Look at what's happening in Kosovo. Look what's happening in Israel," Martin said. "America became great because America became a melting pot. That's no longer the case. We have people coming to America who don't want to be Americans. They want to be separate."

Other Groups Feel Resentment

Latino activist Amin David of Anaheim, chairman of Los Amigos of Orange County, said Martin's comments and actions are evidence that resentment against the city's growing Latino community remains.

"People resist change, especially if it's ethnic change," David said. "We've become more mainstream. We've been ready for a long time to participate, for empowerment, in the city's political landscape."

Rose Espinoza, who last year became the first Latina elected to the La Habra City Council, said she's aware that some longtime, mostly white residents are concerned that the rapid increase of low-income immigrants over the last decade may degrade the quality of life in the small, north county city.

Despite the "discomfort," however, Latinos have emerged as a significant economic and political force in the city, and those contributions have helped quell any major ethnic tensions.

"I know, among individuals out there, I know there is a concern," Espinoza said. "All I can say is, there's really nothing to be concerned about. These people want the same thing you and I want: a better life, a good place for their children to live."

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