Census Bureau Acts to Ensure Correct Count for Santa Ana

Times Staff Writer

As part of an effort to get a better count of a sprawling immigrant and minority population that Santa Ana city officials say has been under counted in the past, the U.S. Census Bureau is opening a district office in Santa Ana on April 1 to gear up for the 1990 Census.

The office will be the first of four to be opened in Orange County that will eventually employ about 800 workers who will conduct the mammoth counting task next spring, according to Mike Weiler, assistant regional manager for operations in the Census Bureau’s regional office in Van Nuys.

The opening of the Santa Ana office marks a partnership between city and federal officials, one they hope will ensure that people of every cultural and racial background are included in the count, a concern especially critical in Santa Ana, whose minority population has exploded in recent years.

Santa Ana officials have grumbled for almost 10 years that the city lost out on all sorts of federal and state funds because a large segment of its population went uncounted.

City officials have said they believe the tabulation for Santa Ana was off by about 50,000 people in the last Census, partially because many among the city’s immigrants and Latinos--native and immigrant, including illegal migrants--were suspicious of the process or did not understand the significance of their participation, said Santa Ana City Councilman Miguel A. Pulido said.


“You might say, ‘So what? What difference does it make if you under count?’ The answer is money,” Pulido said. “If you don’t have an accurate count, you have to service people that don’t exist on paper.”

If the city’s population is miscounted in the same proportion as last time, Pulido said, the loss in revenue could be huge, as much as $5 million a year by some city estimates.

“That means $150 to $200 per person per year for the decade of the ‘90s--that’s what’s at stake,” he said. “That’s a lot of money for us.”

Last month, the City Council announced formation of a Better Count Committee which will work with the U.S. Census Bureau to help familiarize the public with the benefits of cooperating with Census workers.

Officials are predicting that with this new effort, the 1990 Census will present a much different picture of the county’s population than that of 10 years ago.

“This whole Orange County area--and of course Santa Ana--has been so impacted with the growing Asian community, with the immigrants from Central and South America, as well as the Mexican immigrants who have been here for some time,” said Martha Gallegos, who was hired in November as the city’s outreach supervisor.

“There’s just been a tremendous growth in the last 10 years,” she said.

Local and federal officials say the experience of the last two federal Census counts has shown them that identifying the groups that don’t participate in the count is not enough. The new challenge is to hire Census workers who are from those groups that were under counted, in order to build trust among those residents, and to seek out those groups on their own turf.

The city, for example, plans to send representatives to community organizations and agencies to spread the word to clients, to such places as centers where mothers go for Women, Infant and Children social services, well-baby programs for low-income mothers and adult education classes that teach English to immigrants applying for legal status.

Also, they will work with elementary and junior high schools to familiarize children with the Census material.

“We’re focusing on that level because many parents do not read, even in their own language,” Gallegos said. “Children are often used to acting as interpreters for their parents to fill out forms, and we’re hoping that by showing the children the forms, telling them what the questions are, how the information will be used, and really stress the confidentiality of it, when the parents receive the forms in the mail, the children will say, ‘Oh yes, we had this in school, we heard about this.’ ”

As Census Day--April 1, 1990--approaches, the city plans to hold a carnival or other type of entertainment event to mark the day and help families “to participate in the Census in a relaxed atmosphere.”

There also are plans to ask churches to mention the Census in their sermons, and for grocery stores to participate by announcing the approach of the Census on their grocery bags.

Gallegos said she eventually will have a staff of five people, including Asians.

“I would say that maybe the Asian population may have been under counted, but mostly it was the Hispanics in Santa Ana,” she said. “One of the biggest reasons is that there is a large population that is here illegally and, of course, may not want to give information, and may not understand it. Or they have fears, fears that maybe the INS is going to see this information . . . or maybe that they have three families living in a single dwelling.”

Santa Ana is the first city in California this year to hire an outreach worker to coordinate the Census task with federal officials, Gallegos said. And because of its high immigrant and ethnic population, Santa Ana has been targeted as one of 50 cities across the nation that the bureau will be working with closely.

Weiler said the opening of the Santa Ana office will culminate months of work by federal and city officials to ensure a better count through cooperation.

Last month, for example, John Reeder Jr., a representative of the U.S. Department of Commerce, came to make a presentation on the Census at an event sponsored by the city and Voces Unidas, a Latino civic organization.

The Census Bureau’s seven other Southland offices are in Long Beach, Panorama City, Ventura, Pasadena, San Diego, Compton and Riverside. Weiler said the 10-county Southern California region eventually will have 30 district offices, but most of those will not open until later this year.

A management team for the Santa Ana office has already been hired and went through training last week, Weiler said. Now they will concentrate on hiring the 140 people who will begin the work of verifying computerized mail lists that will be used for the Census. He said he wants to get the word out that there are jobs to be had and that the bureau is interested in hiring people of all races and backgrounds.

“The vast majority of the people we hire are from the community,” he said. “That does two things: it gives us people knowledgeable about the community. People feel more comfortable working in their own community. And from a cost standpoint, they’re not spending a lot of time driving to work or finding their way around.

“It also gives us a work force that is representative of the people we are going to count,” Weiler said. “For us to do a good job, our work force must be representative of the people we are counting.”