March 8, 2011 | North County Times | Original Article

REGION: Latino community drives growth in county's population

Most North County cities grew more Latino over the past decade, fueling the region's overall population jump, according to the 2010 Census figures released Tuesday.

Six out of the nine cities in North County saw the percentage of Latinos living within their boundaries grow, two remained the same and only one saw a decrease. Overall, the number of Latinos living in the county grew by 240,383 over the past decade, from 750,965 in 2000 to 991,348 in 2010.

In Escondido and Vista, Latinos became the majority group over the past 10 years, according to the census. Latinos accounted for nearly half of the total population in those cities, while whites were 40 percent in Escondido and 41 percent in Vista.

The growth in the Latino community represents about 85 percent of the county's population increase in the past 10 years, from 2,813,833 to 3,095,313. The white, black and American Indian populations dropped over the same time frame by 48,786, 7,877 and 1,155, respectively, according to the census.

The county's growth in the Latino population had been widely predicted by demographers, but the drop in white, black and American Indian populations surprised some.

"We didn't see that coming," said Beth Jarosz, a demographer with the San Diego Association of Governments, the region's chief planning agency.

High housing prices apparently drove many whites and others to seek more affordable homes in Southwest Riverside County in the early- to mid-2000s, Jarosz said.

On the other hand, a combination of high birth rates and immigration probably drove the increase in the number of Latinos, Jarosz said. In 2010, the Latino population was nearly a third of the county's 3 million people, up from about 27 percent in 2000, according to the census.

In North County, the Latino community grew as a percentage of the population in Escondido, Vista, Oceanside, Carlsbad, Poway and Solana Beach, according to the census.

Latinos' share of the population remained the same in Del Mar and San Marcos, 4 percent and 37 percent respectively, and it fell from 15 percent to 14 percent in Encinitas.

Latinos are nearly half the population in Escondido and Vista, or 49 percent and 48 percent respectively. They are 36 percent of the population in Oceanside, 13 percent in Carlsbad and 16 percent in Solana Beach.

The growth in the Latino population has significant policy implications for the region, said Arcela Nunez-Alvarez, director of the National Latino Research Center, a Latino research organization based at Cal State San Marcos.

School leaders and elected officials will have to make sure there are enough resources for educational programs, including English-learner programs in local schools and others that help Latinos improve college entrance and graduation rates, Nunez-Alvarez said.

"I think there are a lot of really important implications on issues of education and political representation," Nunez-Alvarez said. "We will have to pay a lot more attention to the community."

Fernando Soriano, director of the human development department at Cal State San Marcos, said he agreed. Latinos, who tend to be younger as a group, will be a significant segment of the future work force in the region, Soriano said.

"It becomes particularly important that we pay attention to this population, because it represents the economic livelihood of the county," Soriano said.

It is also important that the political leadership in North County become more representative of the region's demographics, Nunez-Alvarez said, especially in cities such as Vista and Escondido.

Though Latinos make up about half of the population in Vista and Escondido, the city councils of those two cities have only one Latino council member each, Nunez-Alvarez said.

Over the past decade, the number of Latinos in Escondido has grown from 51,693 in 2000 to 70,326 in 2010, according to the census. Vista's Latino population grew from 34,990 to 45,380 over the same time period.

"There is a disconnect in the level of representation in cities such as Escondido and Vista," Nunez-Alvarez said.

That disconnect has led to controversial policies often seen among many in the Latino community as "immigrant bashing," Nunez-Alvarez said, such as the Escondido Police Department's driver's license checkpoints.