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Saturday, August 19, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bellevue diversity outpaces Seattle, county

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Bellevue is continuing to shatter its old reputation as a city made up of largely white, native-born residents.

According to new census estimates this week, Bellevue now has a larger percentage of nonwhite residents than Seattle. Nearly a third of the city's residents are foreign-born, up from a quarter five years ago.

The numbers do not surprise city officials, who have been welcoming an influx of immigrants since at least the 1990s. Bellevue has had the highest percentage of foreign-born residents among major cities in the state since the 2000 census, a title the city shows no signs of giving up.

"It's a hugely diverse place," said Diana Canzoneri, the city's lead demographer. "I think that continues to surprise some people."

The percentage of nonwhite residents jumped from 14 percent in 1990 to 26 percent in 2000 and 32 percent in 2005.

Immigrants from China, India, Russia and Mexico come to Bellevue for everything from Microsoft jobs and manual labor to good schools and parks, city officials said.

Irina Chermeshnyuk moved to the United States 14 years ago from Ukraine and now works as the assistant coordinator of a mini City Hall at Crossroads mall that serves a large immigrant population.

"This is a beautiful city," Chermeshnyuk said. "It's a good place to live."

The numbers released this week — called the American Community Survey — marked the first time the Census Bureau has recorded detailed demographic information for midsize cities outside of the 10-year census, Canzoneri said.

Cities between 65,000 and 250,000 people, such as Bellevue, Everett and Federal Way, will now get detailed census information every year instead of every decade. More information, on income and poverty, will be released later this month.

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The 2005 estimates are based on a much smaller sample than the 10-year census, and they don't include residents in group housing, such as nursing homes and college dorms. The margins of error on Bellevue's race and foreign-born numbers are 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

Even with the caveats, though, the estimates make it clear that Bellevue is growing more diverse every year, Canzoneri said.

About 25 percent of the city's residents identify themselves as Asian, a rise from 17 percent in 2000.

The number of Bellevue residents of East Indian descent more than doubled over the past five years, from 2,881 to 5,909. The number of residents of Chinese descent also increased, from 6,745 to 11,464.

The percentage of foreign-born residents in Bellevue was 13 percent in 1990, 24 percent in 2000 and now stands at 31 percent. Of the foreign-born residents, more than a third entered the United States in the past five years.

The city is still adjusting to the new residents. Several volunteers speaking foreign languages work at the mini City Hall; Russian and Spanish are the most requested. City employees can call an interpreter for any language when speaking to residents, and some mass mailings to residents are written in multiple languages.

Private groups, such as the Eastside Latino Leadership Forum and Eastside Refugee and Immigrant Coalition, have sprung up to help new arrivals connect. The city has opened an office of cultural diversity to help make immigrants feel welcome.

"It's something that our staff has to respond to on a daily basis, and we do respond," said Cheryl Kuhn, the city's head of neighborhood outreach.

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or abach@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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