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Once-Sleepy Tustin a Trendsetter? Census Bureau Report Proves It

Population: Rural, then suburban, the city brings census figures to life: It's not only growing, but changing by income and class.


Jeanne and Earl Brown moved into a single-story house in a new subdivision near Tustin in 1957, intending to leave Santa Ana's growing bustle for a quiet spot amid orange groves that seeped perfume when the trees were in bloom.

It was country then, as rural as a Merle Haggard song, with starry skies at night and air that smelled of farm instead of freeway.

That's all gone. The Browns didn't know it, but they were the leading edge of a wave of suburbanization that has forever altered Orange County and other formerly rural areas that surround the city of Los Angeles.

Now the Browns are witnessing another metamorphosis: The urbanization of suburbia, as the quiet neighborhoods that replaced orange groves fill ever more densely with young--and often immigrant--families.

"People who live here now don't remember when it wasn't like this," Jeanne Brown, 78, says as she sits at a heavy oak table in the Tustin Area Historical Society Museum. "I can see the changes, but you can't tell anybody what it was like before, with nothing but orange groves from here to Santa Ana."

The Census Bureau has released 2000 census data tracing the shifting human tide in Southern California. The most striking change since 1990 has been the massive flow of classes and cultures. Middle-class families moved inland in search of cheaper housing, leaving older urban core neighborhoods to new immigrants and the very poor, and coastal regions and hillside developments to the well-to-do.

Although the changes are widespread, few places embody these shifts more than Tustin, which in the '90s underwent a profound shift from predominately white, middle-class suburbia to something more like the rest of the broad sweep of Los Angeles--a dense polyglot mix of class and cultures.

Many of the broad changes that occurred in different parts of Southern California converged here. The population grew, but faster at the high and low ends of the economic scale. And ethnic diversity continued to increase, leaving English-speaking whites a minority in large swaths of the regions.

As Tustin's population grew by a third, to 67,504, the number of white residents fell from 32,136 to 30,264, dropping them to minority status. Most of Tustin's new residents are Latinos, whose numbers have more than doubled to 23,110--and Asians, with a population of 10,194.

At the same time, the number of Tustin residents with bachelor's degrees or higher increased. So did those who never finished high school. Median family income grew 7.5% to $60,092, propelled primarily by gains among the wealthy--families earning more than $150,000 nearly quadrupled to 1,581. Yet, the number of families living in poverty spiked from 532 to 939, or 76.5%.

But like most places, Tustin's history--and its changes--extend far beyond 1990, the benchmark against which most of the 2000 Census results are measured.

It encompasses two histories, actually--the past of the place itself, and the lives of its people.

A half-century ago, before the nation tilted to the Southwest and people tumbled toward California, 1,143 people lived in Tustin--70% of whom were considered rural residents, according to the 1950 census.Only 41 were foreign-born, compared with the 22,521 foreign-born residents counted in the 2000 census. Two residents in 1950 were black; four others were listed as "other races." Latinos were not counted separately, though with only 41 foreign-born residents, the Latino population was likely minuscule as well.

Pat McCoy remembers. He runs McCoy Sheet Metal, where nine workers turn out customized copper roof pieces and other architectural details for million-dollar homes.

It's a far cry from the business his grandfather started in 1928 in a small, wood-frame building on the south side of Tustin's Main Street.

Then, the customers arrived on horseback and were looking, mainly, for metal irrigation systems for their farms and orchards.

McCoy, born in 1940, grew up in the business, sweeping out the shop when he was 12 then working on the floor to learn the trade. He took over from his father in 1976.

"I remember working summers in high school, watching people go up and down the street on horseback," said McCoy, who now lives in Newport Beach but who was born in Santa Ana and attended Tustin schools.

"When I first started working here, there were five or six [citrus] packing houses within a mile of each other. Every one of them is gone."

There have been other, more subtle changes. He hears more languages spoken on the street, and sees fewer middle-class families in Tustin neighborhoods. It's reflected in his own work force.

His father and grandfather hired from the local labor pool of mostly white men; McCoy's staff now includes two Mexican Americans, an African American and a woman--unusual in the male-dominated metalworking industry. Nearly all of them commute from the Inland Empire, priced out of the housing market in the county in which they make their living.

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