Research Reports

The Changing Face of the San Fernando Valley

Joel Kotkin & Erika Ozuna


Few places in America over the past quarter century have undergone as profound a change in its ethnic character than the San Fernando Valley. Back in the 1970s, the region was perceived - and rightly so - as a bastion of predominately Anglo, middle class residents living adjacent the most cosmopolitan society of Los Angeles.

Today that reality has drastically changed. Since the 1970s, the Valley has itself become increasingly multi-racial largely as the result of migration of immigrants from such diverse places as Mexico, El Salvador, Iran, Israel, Armenia, Vietnam, Korea, India and China. By 1990, this pattern was already well-formed; a decade later, the evidence is incontrovertible. One-third of the Valley's 1.7 million residents are foreign born1; only half are Anglo, and many themselves recent immigrants.

Indeed today, the Valley is not only as diverse as the rest of Los Angeles, but in some ways more so, with higher rates of Hispanic, Asian and Latino growth, but also less ‘white flight' than the city south of Mulholland. In the process, the Valley has become the epicenter for much of ethnic Southern California.2 Glendale, for example, now boasts the largest concentration of ethnic Armenians outside Armenia itself. The Los Angeles portions of the Valley contain not only the city's most heavily Latino district, but also those that have the largest percentages of mixed race households.3 The Valley today is an ethnic kaleidoscope of a new Los Angeles and new America - melting pot, ‘salad bowl', home to both ethnic mobility and pockets of deep-seated poverty.

Yet, to many from outside the region, and some within, the Valley still remains a prisoner of old stereotypes. Attempts by Valley residents to assert their political will - including that of selfdetermination - often are characterized by media, academic and even political leaders as inherently divisive expressions of exclusionist Anglo sentiments. Two UCLA researchers, for example, recently caricatured the drive for Valley independence as a "class-based, strongly racialized, movement of social separation."4

As the Valley, both the Los Angeles portion and the independent cities, work to achieve a vision for the new century, such characterizations are both unrealistic and totally self-defeating. The Valley today is not a bland homogenized middle class suburb; it is an increasingly cosmopolitan, diverse and racially intermixed region united by a common geography, economy and, to a large extent, middle class aspirations. It is upon these grounds, not notions of racial exclusivity or competition, that residents of the Valley, no matter their background, can best build a new kind of commonwealth that could become a model for 21st Century Southern California.