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Farm Region Cultivates a Racially Mixed Landscape

Despite a net loss of white residents, its population grew 12.6% in '90s, thanks largely to a Latino influx.


Despite a strong anti-sprawl movement and increased white flight, Ventura County grew nearly as fast as the rest of California in the 1990s and continued a 30-year transformation from a white farm region to a racially mixed suburban area.

According to the 2000 census, the county's population increased 12.6% during the last decade, a pace far slower than its affluent demographic twin, Orange County, but much faster than Los Angeles County's 7.4%.

Largely because of an influx of Latinos, and despite a net loss of white residents, the number of Ventura County residents rose to 753,197--up 84,181 in 10 years and double the population in 1970. Latinos account for at least two-thirds of the net growth.

The 1.3% annual growth rate for the '90s compares with 2% to 3% a year during the explosive growth of the previous two decades.

Ventura is now the 12th largest of California's 58 counties, down from 11th in 1990.

New census figures reflect established trends, the migration of white-collar workers to commuter havens along the Los Angeles County line and the movement of Latinos and Asians into communities countywide.

The census shows an increase of Latinos in all 10 local cities, and a sharp drop in the number of white residents in Oxnard, Ventura, Fillmore and Santa Paula, all located in the farm regions of the western county.

For Santa Paula newcomer Francisco Ramirez, 18, the rich soil of his new home offers a better life.

An immigrant from rural Michoacan, the high school senior lived with relatives in Mexico while his mother, Maria Ramirez, 44, got her start here as a farm worker. Now she lives with her five children in a neighborhood that is nearly all Latino.

"I want to be a mechanic," Francisco said. "I have better opportunities here. And I'm with my mom."

When UCLA geography professor Yong Kang Xue moved to Southern California 13 months ago, he could have lived anywhere in the region.

He and his wife, Su Liu, settled in Thousand Oaks, a tree-lined community of color-coordinated homes built on old cattle ranches. They bought a $400,000 home on a hill with a view of the Santa Monica Mountains. Their housing tract is called "Treasures."

"Several of my colleagues live here," said Xue, who left Beijing 19 years ago. "They introduced me."

Relocation specialists--armed with maps showing commuting times, earthquake faults and air pollution levels--also often recommend the low-crime, 117,000-resident city to white-collar newcomers who work in West Los Angeles.

"It is the limit of where we can do the commute," Xue said.

Oxnard Is Largest City, With 170,000 Residents

Oxnard, the county's largest city with 170,000 people, had the most new residents in the '90s--about 28,000--despite a loss of nearly 11,000 white residents and nearly 1,000 African Americans. It added about 30,000 Latino residents.

Moorpark, a white-collar suburb a mountain range away from the San Fernando Valley, had the county's fastest growth rate, 23.2%, as it added nearly 6,000 residents. Neighboring Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley grew by nearly 24,000 residents between them.

"There's a very strong difference between the east county and the west county," said Jamshid Damooei, an economics professor at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. "And despite the growing economic base of middle-income Hispanics, the economic gain is mostly in the more affluent east part of the county."

Still nearly three-quarters white in 1980, Ventura County now has a population that is at least 57% white and 31% Latino. And although the county's white population dropped slightly during the '90s, new Latino residents accounted for at least two-thirds of the county's net growth for the decade.

The county's small Asian population grew by at least 23%--but still represented only about 5% of the population. The black population remained stable at about 2%.

Race and ethnicity figures for the 2000 census are reported as ranges because, for the first time, people could report that they belong to more than one racial group. Nearly 4% of county residents, or 29,573 people, said they are multiracial.

Although the Latino population increased in every city, more than half the county's Latinos still live in Oxnard, Santa Paula and Fillmore. Those cities are at least 62% Latino.

By contrast, the suburban east county, nearby Camarillo, Ventura and Ojai are at least two-thirds white.

The county's Asian population surged at both ends of the county--in affluent Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley as well as Oxnard.

The county's overall racial and ethnic shift reflects not only immigration trends but also the fact that local Latinos had children at twice the rate of local whites during the last decade, according to state health reports.

In 1996, Latinos for the first time had more babies than whites did in Ventura County hospitals, a trend that has continued.

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