Where did all the people go?
That’s what city officials are asking the federal government following the release of preliminary census figures that show Huntington Beach has 10,000 fewer residents than the state’s Department of Finance credits the city with having.
The City Council this week protested the federal Census Bureau’s preliminary count and ordered the city staff to use all legal ammunition at its disposal to get the figure changed.
“This is going to cost us a lot of money from the state and federal governments,” Councilman Don MacAllister said, since funding levels for government programs are often based on census figures.
The Census Bureau’s preliminary 1990 count shows Huntington Beach with a population of 180,673, contrasted with 170,505 in the 1980 federal census.
The state Department of Finance, however, had earlier this year officially estimated Huntington Beach’s current population at 191,630. “That’s the figure they gave the city in deciding what our share of Proposition M (the transportation-funding initiative) would be,” said Deputy City Administrator Rich Barnard.
Barnard added, “The state figures out current population using a number of indicators.” He said the state, for financial reasons, is not inclined to be overly generous in crediting a community with new residents.
For that reason, said Barnard, the city cannot understand why the federal head count this year shows 10,000 fewer residents than the state’s official estimate. Barnard said one clue, however, may be in the relatively high vacancy rate the federal census gave to Huntington Beach homes. The preliminary census shows that 5.3% of Huntington Beach’s housing was vacant this year, contrasted with 3.9% in the 1980 census.
Barnard and other city officials dispute the 5.3% figure. They say the city has been booming in recent years, not losing population or seeing an increase in empty houses.
More than city pride is at stake in the dispute. If the lower population figure is ruled final by the Census Bureau, Huntington Beach will get substantially less money from the state and federal governments for the next 10 years.
Barnard said Tuesday that so far, the city has not estimated how much money it would lose by being 10,000 people “short” on an official census. “But it would run into millions of dollars over the years,” he said.