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Perception of Valley Is Out of Date, Study Says : Demographics: The image of the area as white and suburban is not accurate, researchers say. The misconception is a hindrance to needed development, UCLA report contends.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite its growing diversity, the San Fernando Valley is hobbled by its stereotype as a suburban paradise--a perception that stifles appropriate development, clouds political thinking and drives a wedge between rich and poor, according to a UCLA study released Tuesday.

From cultural opportunities to mass transportation, poor residents of the Valley often are shortchanged by city and county governments that devote time and resources to wealthier neighborhoods, the report says.

Authors of the 350-page study, titled “Beyond Suburbia: The Changing Face of the San Fernando Valley,” caution that the Valley’s quality of life is further jeopardized by political leaders who often are out of touch with changes.

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Over the last decade, the Valley has grown 20% to comprise more than a third of Los Angeles’ population. Anglos, comprising three of every four Valley residents a decade ago, now make up 57% of the population. Latinos constitute 32% of the Valley population.

Many of the statistics cited in the report are not new and come from U.S. Census and Los Angeles municipal government. But the report attempts to combine diverse sources to create what it says is often lacking--a unified view of the Valley’s needs and people.

For example, about 11% of the Valley’s residents live in poverty. But many people still think of the Valley as only white and middle class, said Jim Gilbert, one of the report’s authors. “Those things are no longer true, but policy-makers--like the general public--have those ideas in their head and are making policy based on erroneous and outdated information.”

The study suggests that:

* The planning process is held hostage by well-heeled and well-organized groups--including homeowner associations--interested in little beyond their back yards. Furthermore, the city’s community plans, which govern growth in specific areas, are out of date and barely followed. Poor residents and renters often have no voice in deciding what gets built where.

* New housing is built in areas that don’t need it, such as the southwest part of the Valley, and little is constructed in areas that do, such as the northeast. The report criticizes the city’s dependence on private developers to set the pace for building and points out that the Valley has only one public housing development, San Fernando Gardens in Pacoima.

* Transit decisions are made with little regard to where transportation improvements are needed. For instance, less than 6% of the Valley’s residents work Downtown, yet major transit networks such as Metrolink and Metro Rail terminate in the city center. And although half the residents who depend on public transit for transportation live in the northeast Valley, few improvements are planned there.

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“Since the Valley is no longer demographically homogeneous, it more properly should be referred to as ‘the Valleys,’ ” the report reads. “Indeed, one can find palatial estates in the Encino and Chatsworth areas and dilapidated apartment buildings in Van Nuys.”

City Planning Director Con Howe acknowledged that many of the community plans guiding growth in Los Angeles are old, but he added that most are being updated. He discounted the report’s claim that city planners have a 1960s view of the Valley.

“Everything you’ve said are things I’ve heard before,” Howe said. “There are things we need to work on, but I think there is a misconception out there. The question is not whether the Valley is changing and how it’s changing, but what is being done about it.”

The study was researched and written by four students at UCLA’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning. Their work was supervised by UCLA faculty.

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