Ventura County moved away from its traditional role as a bedroom community for Los Angeles during the 1990s, reversing the one-sided flow of commuters by providing a better balance of workers and jobs, new U.S. census data show.
But while eastern Ventura County workers became less dependent on jobs in Los Angeles County -- and thousands more workers flowed into Ventura County from Los Angeles -- the opposite occurred in the west county, where a horde of housing refugees from Santa Barbara County now caravans north each morning.
The new census figures reflect a maturing of Ventura County, which is transforming itself from a suburb into a more balanced and complete urban area, said planning expert William Fulton, president of the Solimar Research Group in Ventura.
"Ventura County is definitely maturing," Fulton said. "It's no longer a suburban county. The trend has been clear since the 1980s. It's become a fairly self-contained county."
Perhaps the greatest sign of this maturity is that fewer Ventura County residents now have to rise early each morning to beat a freeway rush to the San Fernando Valley or to board a Metrolink train to downtown Los Angeles.
During the '90s, the number of Ventura County commuters to L.A. dropped by more than 3,800 workers, while the number of Los Angeles County commuters to Ventura County increased by more than 8,200, according to the census.
Thousand Oaks, in particular, has become a job center for workers from Los Angeles. And Amgen, the largest biomedical firm in the world, has joined Baxter, another large biomedical company, and other high-tech companies along the Ventura Freeway as employment lures.
"You might call it the Amgen phenomenon," Fulton said. "There's a rapidly reversing commute pattern. It's now out of the San Fernando Valley into Thousand Oaks as well. And that will buy the east county several years of livability that otherwise would have gone away quickly."
The better quality of life will come because the cars of commuters heading from Los Angeles into Ventura County flow against bottlenecks on the Ventura Freeway. And the more that jobs grow in Thousand Oaks, the fewer local residents need to drive to Los Angeles.
"There's going to be a permanent flow of traffic from this county into the Valley," Fulton said. "But now that will be counter-balanced by an inflow, because the east county economy is accommodating more jobs."
Since its founding in 1980, Amgen's Thousand Oaks campus has grown from a few employees to 7,650. Baxter has also grown into one of the county's largest private employers. And high-tech companies along the Ventura Freeway corridor have created thousands more jobs in recent years.
Meanwhile, some L.A. County residents who work in these new jobs still live in Los Angeles, where homes are generally cheaper.
During the 1990s, the total number of commuters from Ventura County to Los Angeles County dropped from 72,353 to 68,505, though Ventura County's population grew about 13%. Meanwhile, commuters coming into the county from Los Angeles increased from 23,635 to 31,867.
The flip side of that was what high housing costs in Santa Barbara County were doing to western Ventura County.
As housing prices soared, Santa Barbara workers looked 30 miles south down the freeway to Ventura and Oxnard for homes they could afford. By early 2000, when the census was conducted, 9,009 workers were commuting each day from Ventura County to Santa Barbara, up from 5,594 a decade earlier. After three boom years of home sales, indications are that that number is much higher now.
"The bump in commuters from Santa Barbara is going to be a fact of life in the west county from now on," Fulton said. "When the [housing] price break from Santa Barbara is $300,000 in Ventura and $400,000 in Oxnard, you're just not going to stop that from occurring. The irony is that Ventura and Oxnard have good jobs-housing balance, but now they're providing housing for Santa Barbara."
Overall, the county's jobs-housing balance is improving. Jobs grew 8% during the 1990s, to 301,000, while the work force grew by just 3%, to 345,000, according to an analysis by Fulton's Solimar group.
The vast majority of local workers live and work in Ventura County. The 263,000 people in that category represent 87% of all jobs in the county and 76% of all workers who live here. The percentages are similar to those in 1990, though the portion of county workers employed locally has risen from 74.7% to 76.2%, an improvement of 13,112 workers.
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How job commutes varied in and out of Ventura County between 1990 and 2000, according to new census figures.
Jobs in County
% Change: 8.00
Live / work in county
% Change: 5.20
Commute from L.A.
% Change: 34.80
Commute from Santa Barbara
% Change: -0.60
Commute from elsewhere
% Change: 35.90
% Change: 3.10
Live/work in county
% Change: 5.20
Commute to L.A.
% Change: -5.30
Commute to Santa Barbara
% Change: 61.00
% Change: -32.20
Source: Solimar Research Group