Long Beach's population has increased by 45,000 since 1980, surging to levels not expected until 1990 and stretching city services already reduced by budget cuts.
"I don't think we're at a point where any major area of city government is buckling or breaking at the strain, . . . but we certainly can feel the pinch throughout the entire system," City Manager James C. Hankla said last week.
Boosted by the continued immigration of mostly large, low-income Latino and Southeast Asian families, the city's population increased 12.5%, from 361,384 seven years ago to about 406,000 this January, say state analysts in a new report based largely on city and school district data.
Growth was particularly rapid in 1985 and 1986, with about 17,900 new residents settling here. That two-year spurt is greater than the city's growth in the entire 20 years before 1980.
"We are moving more quickly than projected, but we still are not projecting a larger (ultimate) population," said Robert Paternoster, city planning director. "The big surge is over. There is going to be a leveling off . . . . And there is a real holding capacity to the city."
Southeast Asian immigration is steadily decreasing, and a new federal law that penalizes employers of illegal aliens is expected to slow the tide of immigrants from Mexico, he said.
The number of city residents should peak at about 450,000 by the year 2000, Paternoster said, repeating a 1986 city estimate. However, in 1984, city planners estimated a population of 426,000 by year 2000.
Even though Long Beach is in the midst of a residential building boom, a majority of the about 6,400 dwellings proposed last year have not yet been constructed, Paternoster said. In fact, the number of occupied dwellings in Long Beach had increased by only 8,000 to 159,538 in the seven years ending last Dec. 31, the state reported.
"The (current) growth is mostly due to change in family size, . . . so it doesn't mean there are that many more cars and that sort of thing," Paternoster said.
The number of people living in the average Long Beach dwelling increased from 2.3 in 1980 to 2.4 by January, 1987, accounting for nearly 40,000 of the additional 45,000 new residents, according to the state Department of Finance.
Most of the immigration has occurred south of Pacific Coast Highway and west of Ximeno Avenue, especially in the central city, northern downtown and the old Eastside, city planners have said.
Its impact is being strongly felt, said city, school and private health officials, who must find ways to provide services for more people with little or no more money.
For example, since unexpectedly low revenues forced sharp midyear cuts, the city will spend $22 million less than its $270-million budget for basic services for the year ending June 30. And an additional $10 million in cuts is necessary for 1987-88, Hankla said.
The city manager points to a 12.8% increase in serious crimes in 1986 as one result of the population boom.
"In some ways your Police Department is your ultimate social service delivery system," he said.
Parks and health clinics are used more, and the city has had to become more vigilant when enforcing building and health codes because dwellings are increasingly crowded, Hankla said.
Earlier this year, city officials said evictions from substandard or illegal dwellings were up sharply, with at least two families displaced each week from garages.
Meanwhile, administrators of private, nonprofit health programs said they are not surprised by the new population figures. They say they have found it impossible to keep up with the needs of a booming and increasingly poor population.
"We have to keep going around creating services out of nothing. And when we get the services going, they're never enough," said Germaine Schwider, administrator of the Westside Neighborhood Clinic, which expects to treat 8,000 low-income patients this year, twice as many as in 1984.
At the same time, Family Service of Long Beach, which provides psychological counseling, has been "overwhelmed by people who want counseling but can't afford anywhere near what it costs," Executive Director Don Westerland said.
City health officials say the patient load at their preventive health clinics increased from 108,000 visits two years ago to 120,000 last fiscal year.
"Anytime you talk to the workers, they're going to say, 'My God, I can't keep my head above water,' " health administrator V. Gale Winting said. But the need for more health care has been increasing steadily since Indochinese immigration began in 1978-79, he said. "They're not breaking down the door."
3,600 Patients a Month
Nor has Los Angeles County's large, new Long Beach Comprehensive Health Center, which helps the needy once they are sick, had a recent dramatic increase in demand for service, according to administrator Edward Lee.
The center sees 3,600 patients a month, up 10% from when it opened a year ago. But, at 22%, the level of Latino patients has remained constant. And Southeast Asian patient levels have increased only modestly, Lee said.
"We've met the needs of people who are coming, but there may be needs by people who aren't coming," Lee said. His 84-member staff includes seven workers who speak fluent Spanish but none who speak Cambodian. Interpreters are on call, Lee said.
Nil Hul, a leader in the estimated 30,000-person local Cambodian community, said language is a barrier. "Very few Cambodians seek service directly from the City of Long Beach, because of the lack of communication," he said.
And Schwider, of the Westside clinic, said that it wasn't until last year that her facility, open since 1975, could afford even a part-time counselor who spoke Spanish. About 75% of the clinic's patients are Latino, she said.
Schools Most Affected
Despite pressure on social service agencies, most administrators say local schools have been hardest hit by Long Beach population growth.
School enrollment has jumped by 9,000 to 65,000 since 1980, as thousands of Latino and Southeast Asian children have entered the Long Beach Unified School District and the percentage of white students has dropped from 52.8% to 37.7%.
Even though many immigrant children have become fluent in English, the number who speak only limited English increased from 13.6% in fall, 1981, to 21.7% five years later, spokesman Richard Van Der Laan said.
And the full impact of growth has not been felt, said Van Der Laan, citing enrollment and birth-rate figures that support projections of at least 1,200 more students each year through 1990.
For example, kindergarten enrollment this year is 5,957, compared to fourth-grade enrollment of 4,893. Birth-rate figures suggest there will be at least 6,700 kindergartners in four years, he said.
Dwelling Occupancy Rates
The new citywide population figures, released by the state last month, came as something of a surprise, said local officials. But both Paternoster and Hankla said the new estimates are probably close to the mark.
Elizabeth Hoag, research manager for the state Department of Finance, said population estimates for all of California's 441 cities are set after comparing year-to-year increases in occupied dwellings, which are determined through checks with utility companies. Vacancy rates are noted.
Researchers check school enrollments to help peg household size. And yearly U.S. Census estimates for each state are used along with 1980 census data to determine trends, Hoag said.
Long Beach's 9,600-person, or 2.4%, increase in 1986 was 161st among the state's 441 cities and 13th of 34 cities with at least 100,000 residents. The state's population increased by 2.3%, to almost 27.3 million.
Long Beach growth has been particularly rapid in the past two years, with an estimated 17,900 new residents. That two-year spurt is greater than the city's growth in the 20 years before 1980.
Year Population 1960 344,153 1970 358,663 1980 361,384 1981 363,600 1982 370,600 1983 376,400 1984 380,800 1985 388,300 1986 396,600 1987 406,200
Figures are based on federal censuses taken at 10-year intervals and, for 1981 through 1987, on yearly state estimates reported on Jan. 1 of each year.