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Ventura County Divided Along Color Lines, Census Shows

Population: Analysts cite low incomes of many minorities, and lack of affordable housing.

March 31, 2001|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 1990s brought a more diverse population to Ventura County, but a decade of change did little to reduce lingering racial segregation in its cities and neighborhoods, the 2000 census shows.

Of the county's 10 cities, six remained predominantly white and three were largely, and increasingly, Latino.

Viewed another way, the growth of the '90s is a tale of two Ventura counties--one mostly white and upscale and the other mostly Latino and poorer.

"The defining line for segregation in Ventura County is economic," said Karl Lawson, an Oxnard housing official who led the city's census outreach program. "Segregation is based on the color green for money. And in Oxnard, we have less green than Thousand Oaks."

After strong Latino and Asian growth in the 1990s, two of every five county residents are racial or ethnic minorities. Yet, two-thirds of white residents still live in communities that are at least 70% white, and one-third in neighborhoods that are 80% white or more.

Four of the county's five largest cities--Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Ventura and Camarillo--remain between 68% and 78% white. Ojai is 80% white. And several smaller communities are among the most racially isolated in Southern California: The Westlake Lake area is 91% white and Oak Park is 90% white. Oak Park had only one black resident after 21 moved out during the last decade, the census reported.

Conversely, Oxnard, Santa Paula and Fillmore, all traditional ports of entry for poor immigrants, are now at least 61% Latino--twice the county norm--after thousands of farm workers flocked there during the 1990s, and the cities' white populations plummeted. One Oxnard neighborhood is 93% Latino, while several others are at least 80% Latino.

Countywide, about one-third of Latinos live in communities that are at least 70% Latino.

Only Port Hueneme--at 43% white, 36% Latino, 7% Asian and 6% black--reflects a racial mixture that mirrors the region and state as a whole.

Even when city population figures suggest an increased racial mixing, such as in Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, Latinos are often clustered among themselves in clearly defined more affordable neighborhoods. For example, the 2,600-resident Conejo Creek condo tract in Thousand Oaks is largely Latino.

This separation of races persisted even as the county grew by 84,181 residents to 753,197 during the 1990s, and racial minorities accounted for all of that net increase.

"There is still ethnic and racial isolation and segregation in our cities," said Jorge Garcia, a political scientist who is dean of humanities at Cal State Northridge. "The pattern is very persistent, very strong."

Stubborn racial segregation is principally the result of most minorities' inability to afford housing in many areas of the county, Garcia and other analysts said. The census figures point to a wide gap between the county's haves and have-nots.

The gap can be seen in Oxnard, the county's largest city, where only about 20% of the city's 170,000 residents are white. In its poorer central, southern and eastern sections, minorities make up as much as 95% of the population.

Indeed, one way to consider Ventura County's segregation is to imagine Oxnard disappearing. If that happened, the county would lose about 40% of its Latinos, Asians and African Americans. "Oxnard is a gateway community," said Lawson, the Oxnard housing official. "We receive a lot of immigrants. And the older areas of the city simply reflect the economic reality of first-generation immigration."

East County, West County

By contrast, about 85% of residents are white in Oxnard's beach communities near Channel Islands Harbor, where new oceanfront houses cost $1 million or more. There is also a slim white majority--and a substantial number of affluent Latinos and Asians--in northwest Oxnard, where houses costing as much as $500,000 have been built near the River Ridge Golf Course.

The same patterns can be seen to a lesser degree across the county.

All 10 cities showed sharp increases in Latino residents in the last decade. But even as more Latinos settled countywide, they generally landed in clusters in older neighborhoods, census data show.

Meanwhile, thousands of white-collar professionals bought houses in the east county, an easy commute from the San Fernando Valley. Los Angeles professionals--mostly whites and Asians--have moved to these well-scrubbed communities for the low crime rates, good schools and clean air. Dot-com and biotech businesses thrive there, too.

"This equation is basically east county and west county, white and Latino, and what is the opportunity of Latinos to be able to buy properties in Thousand Oaks?" said Jamshid Damooei, an economics professor at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. "When I see housing prices, they indicate we're going to continue to see this separation of races.

"The dividing line is clear, and it's based on income and education," he added. "Even within each city you see the separation."

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