SANTA CLARITA – When Simon Lee considered moving with his family two years ago from their South Pasadena condominium, his eyes marched north for the rolling hills of Saugus. South Korea-born Lee, 35, said he needed a house – daughter Aileen was turning 3 – and safety, schools and space topped his list. He searched throughout the San Gabriel foothills and in the northern San Fernando Valley, but only found the right mix of all three in a new house in the Tesoro Del Valle tract. “I can’t send her to an expensive school,” said Lee, who would have sent his now 5-year-old daughter to private school had they settled in Los Angeles. “The only thing I can provide is a better living for my daughter. It’s not very hard to decide. “It’s kind of easygoing (in Santa Clarita). No noise – only the fires scare me a little bit,” said Lee, whose new neighborhood backs up to brush-covered forest land. Currently, about 24 percent of the valley is Latino, while Asians made up 6.7 percent. The forecast predicts the Latino population could hit 30 percent by 2015, with Asians also seeing more growth relative to whites and blacks. Among the factors: migration and births, the forecast said. Since 2000, the region’s population has increased by 30,000, of which 60 percent are of new arrivals to the area. They’re attracted by relative safety, quality schools and newer housing stock – most area homes were built within the past 30 years, compared with developments from the 1940s and 1950s in Greater Los Angeles. Then there’s steady appreciation. The October median price of a house was $594,500, 17.8 percent higher than the previous October and just $500 more than a month ago, according to the Southland Association of Realtors. Still, experts predict annual gains to fall below double digits next year as prices rise beyond the reach of most average buyers. Lee studied chemical engineering at University of South Carolina in Columbus, where he met his wife, then returned to Korea for several years before settling in 1999 in Los Angeles. He said he first visited the Santa Clarita Valley four years ago, enticed by a real estate postcard touting affordable new homes. “I had never heard of Valencia,” he said. “I came to check it out.” His current three-bedroom home was priced at roughly $200,000, but he hesitated. Two years later, he bought the same house for about twice that. As for local birth rates, in 1990, Latinos made up just under 20 percent, and the figure was close to 5 percent for Asians out of more than 3,100 births. By 2004, it was 30 percent and nearly 10 percent, respectively, from more than 3,600 births, and the rates continue to trend upward, the forecast said. The rates correlate with state trends. A study released last week by the California Budget Project forecast the number of Latino and white residents in the state will become equal by 2010 – about 39 percent each. Asians will be the second fastest-growing group, with a 48 percent increase by 2020, when about 12.7 percent of the state’s population will be of Asian descent. That picture is emerging at local elementary schools. The Newhall School District, which covers both old Newhall and million-dollar subdivisions west of Interstate 5, hit a demographic milestone this year when the percentage of white pupils fell to 49 percent. It was 80 percent white in 1988. Latinos make up 30 percent, though the figure has flattened over the past six years, which some attributed to a housing shortage in Newhall, Superintendent Marc Winger said. Meanwhile, Asians grew to 8 percent, with Koreans the fastest-growing, he said. The newly opened Oak Hills Elementary serving the Stevenson Ranch and Westridge tracts is 30 percent Asian. “They’ll tell you that they and their real estate agents went up to the Web sites and shopped for schools,” Winger said. Sulphur Springs School District in the valley’s developing east side is now 46 percent white and 37 percent Hispanic, with Asians make up roughly 5 percent, excluding Filipinos and Pacific Islanders. “We’ve had room for new houses and growth,” said Kathy Wright, the district’s assistant superintendent for instruction. “(On a recent campus visit) one of the teachers said our demographics have really changed. It’s been slowly changing, but it’s just been brought to her attention. “That’s what we have in California. You can’t be a community that’s so different from what isn’t so different anymore.” With change comes growing pains. “Within both those demographic groups, we have a significant population of English-language learners,” Winger said. “That’s a huge challenge to bring those kids up to speed. The second challenge is less academic and more social – it’s getting to know someone else’s culture.” It’s already occurring outside the schoolyard. Lee, who co-owns a cafe in Brentwood, recently took over a soup and sandwich cafe on Newhall Ranch Road near Valencia High School from a Czech immigrant. It’s tough competing with the ubiquitous Starbucks and fast-food chains blanketing the valley, but he says he’s in it for the long haul. Besides, it beats commuting to the Westside. “The best part – when you close at 6 p.m., you’re home by 6:02 p.m.,” Lee said. “In Brentwood, you close at 6 p.m., you’re home at 7:20 p.m. “I’m looking at opportunity here. If they don’t relocate the jobs or the high school, I think I can get along. I’m pretty optimistic.” Latinos also are strengthening economic ties with the greater community, beyond the service jobs often associated with the group, Zavala said. “I don’t think you can pigeonhole them,” she said. “I know a lot of people who are in housecleaning service and restaurants, sign shops. Some of them are attorneys or are in their own professions. “When you move throughout the area, it really becomes second- and third-generation. The first generation is still very strong and prominent because of the heritage, but as people in the area (grow), they branch out around the valley.” Friction between old and new does emerge. When rumors surfaced last month that San Fernando-based Latino supermarket chain Vallarta is eyeing an abandoned Albertsons on Lyons Avenue and Old Orchard Road in Valencia, some residents banded together in protest, arguing it’s a bad fit. The storefront, which also received inquiries from Buena Park-based Asian grocery chain 99 Ranch Market, remains vacant. “They’re already there,” said John Marquis, director of finance for Vallarta Markets. “That’s just the reality. There is a significant (Latino) population in Santa Clarita – it’s a market that we feel has been underserved, and that’s why we’re looking to put a store out there.” If Vallarta enters the market, it would be the second Latino grocer in the area after Tresierras, which opened its first store in 1981 on San Fernando Road. The chain is building a second 30,000-square-foot market down the street. For Executive President Arturo Tresierras, whose grandparents founded the grocery in 1944 in San Fernando, the future lies beyond their core Latino audience. “It’s not just a Latino thing – it’s an everyone thing. If you look at what we do, we carry Harris Ranch choice beef. That carries no racial denomination. What we see is the non-Latino embracing what is being offered at our traditional Latino store. “Here’s a Mexican item that’s evolved – tamales. They started out as pork or beef. Then we have a demand from non-Latinos for chicken. So now we make chicken. The lines of distinction are beginning to blur.” Lee also is negotiating a balance between life in Santa Clarita and his heritage. “The first time I got here, I would need to go to Koreatown every other week,” he said. “I needed Korean food. I needed Korean groceries.” He now shops in Granada Hills, along Balboa Boulevard. “They have a couple of Korean markets there. Now I don’t need to go to Koreatown for months. The only thing is a haircut. I can get one there for $10 – $15 with tip. Here it’s $25. That’s the only thing I need to set up.” And there are other concessions. “When we go out now, we go to the Elephant Bar,” Lee said. “My daughter likes it.” Eugene Tong, (661) 257-5253 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals The Santa Clarita Valley is still predominantly white, according to several demographic estimates. But more recent arrivals such as Lee are changing the makeup of the region each year. An influx of Asians is notable and attributed to a desire for quality public schools, business opportunities and new homes that fetch more for the money than in some other L.A.-area suburbs. Also, growth in the number of Latinos continues to outpace that of whites and other groups. Dora Zavala, chairwoman of the Hispanic Business Committee of the Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce, said Latinos are becoming more entrenched in the local economy, with many second- and third-generation residents living outside the community’s traditional base of downtown Newhall. “They’re adaptive to the growing community,” she said. “It’s expensive to live out here.” The Santa Clarita Valley is home to 237,471, with a median household income of $79,200. In five years, the population could increase another 31,000, with Latinos and Asians among the fastest-growing segments, according to an annual regional economic outlook prepared by Goleta-based California Economic Forecast.