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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Tustin Harbinger of Future

June 16, 2002

If you wanted to send a video postcard that illustrates the wave of change that continues to reshape Orange County, set up the cameras along Main Street and Newport Avenue in Tustin. The streets provide an insight into where Southern California has been and where it is going.

The video could open with scratchy black-and-white celluloid memories of half a century ago, when omnipresent orange trees far outnumbered people in Tustin, and the sleepy agricultural town revolved around Main Street's tiny business district. Tustin was home to just 1,143 people in 1950. Fewer than a third lived in what census-takers defined as a city setting; the rest lived a rural life.

Tustin's population has swelled to 67,504, according to the 2000 census, and remaining orange groves are giving way to developers' bulldozers. Main Street, which needs a face-lift, has ceded its center-of-town role to Newport Avenue, a busy artery lined with automobile-friendly strip malls where residents spend their time and money.

Growth isn't the only story line, though, as evident in recent census data. Diversity also is playing a central role in the city's continuing evolution. Tustin's population has soared in recent years, but the number of white residents has slipped, dropping them to minority status. In contrast, the Latino population more than doubled during the last decade, and Tustin now is home to 10,194 Asians.

Tustin's growth also underscores troubling gaps in education and income. The number of residents with a bachelor's degree or higher increased, but so did the number of those who've never finished high school. Both the number of families earning more than $150,000 and the number of households in poverty have increased dramatically in the last decade. That divide also is evident in where people live; the city's old downtown is home largely to immigrants and the poor, while areas closer to the coast and the foothills are reserved for the well-to-do.

Tustin's story should interest residents in neighboring cities because the intricate web being created by rapidly changing demographics underscores changes felt across the county. Tustin's ability to embrace change and turn its increasing diversity into a strength could signal how the rest of the county fares. Community leaders and residents all have a stake in working together to make their community a thriving melting pot in the 21st century.

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