The City of Santa Barbara’s Latino population has shrunk by a remarkable 24 percent in the last six years, according to new census data from the annual American Community Survey. The number of Latino residents dropped by 9,308 — from 38,780 in 2011 to 29,422 in 2017 — while the city’s white population increased by 9,870. “In other terms, over the course of those six years, it’s four Latinos, or essentially one whole family, moving out of the city every single day,” said Lucas Zucker with CAUSE, the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy. “It’s really, really shocking.”
The figures prove what neighborhood organizers have been saying all along, explained Zucker — that Latinos are increasingly being displaced from Santa Barbara to cities like Lompoc, Santa Maria, and Ventura. “Certainly this [data] reflects the feeling that neighborhoods like the Eastside and Westside are being gentrified,” he said, and it ascribes statistics to the anecdotes of Latino families being evicted from places like the Ivy and Voluntario apartment complexes. The census figures also reveal that the number of commuters has increased by 7,672 since 2011. Median rents jumped from $1,413 to $1,751. Merchants that serve predominantly Latino clientele — such as the El Potrillo Western Wear shop on Milpas Street — are reporting sagging sales, and other business owners are considering uprooting.
Santa Barbara is a clear outlier in this trend of a declining Latino community. All across the Central Coast and throughout most of California’s cities, Latinos are increasing in number. To slow the exodus, regional activists have repeatedly suggested, the city needs to adopt a package of basic tenant protections, including a just-cause eviction ordinance, and tweak its high-density building program to include more affordable workforce housing. Both issues were raised in earnest more than two years ago, but city leaders have made little progress in addressing them. “People are getting really tired of the council not taking action,” Zucker said. “Santa Barbara is in real danger of losing its cultural heritage and what makes it so special.”