My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Posts Tagged ‘California’

ProPublica: How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Note: This piece was originally published by ProPublica and has been republished with their consent and encouragement.

by Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson ProPublica, Dec. 21, 2011, 3:38 p.m.

This spring, a group of California Democrats gathered at a modern, airy office building just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The meeting was House members only 2014 no aides allowed 2014 and the mission was seemingly impossible.

In previous years, the party had used its perennial control of California’s state Legislature to draw district maps that protected Democratic incumbents. But in 2010, California voters put redistricting in the hands of a citizens’ commission where decisions would be guided by public testimony and open debate.

The question facing House Democrats as they met to contemplate the state’s new realities was delicate: How could they influence an avowedly nonpartisan process? Alexis Marks, a House aide who invited members to the meeting, warned the representatives that secrecy was paramount. “Never say anything AT ALL about redistricting 2014 no speculation, no predictions, NOTHING,” Marks wrote in an email. “Anything can come back to haunt you.”

In the weeks that followed, party leaders came up with a plan. Working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee 2014 a national arm of the party that provides money and support to Democratic candidates 2014 members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines,” according to another email.

The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.

When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento.

In one instance, party operatives invented a local group to advocate for the Democrats’ map.

California’s Democratic representatives got much of what they wanted from the 2010 redistricting cycle, especially in the northern part of the state. “Every member of the Northern California Democratic Caucus has a ticket back to DC,” said one enthusiastic memo written as the process was winding down. “This is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated by advocates throughout the region.”

Statewide, Democrats had been expected to gain at most a seat or two as a result of redistricting. But an internal party projection says that the Democrats will likely pick up six or seven seats in a state where the party’s voter registrations have grown only marginally.

“Very little of this is due to demographic shifts,” said Professor Doug Johnson at the Rose Institute in Los Angeles. Republican areas actually had higher growth than Democratic ones. “By the numbers, Republicans should have held at least the same number of seats, but they lost.”

As part of a national look at redistricting, ProPublica reconstructed the Democrats’ stealth success in California, drawing on internal memos, emails, interviews with participants and map analysis. What emerges is a portrait of skilled political professionals armed with modern mapping software and detailed voter information who managed to replicate the results of the smoked-filled rooms of old.

The losers in this once-a-decade reshaping of the electoral map, experts say, were the state’s voters. The intent of the citizens’ commission was to directly link a lawmaker’s political fate to the will of his or her constituents. But as ProPublica’s review makes clear, Democratic incumbents are once again insulated from the will of the electorate.

Democrats acknowledge that they faced a challenge in getting the districts they wanted in densely populated, ethnically diverse Southern California. The citizen commission initially proposed districts that would have endangered the political futures of several Democratic incumbents. Fighting back, some Democrats gathered in Washington and discussed alternatives. These sessions were sometimes heated.

“There was horse-trading throughout the process,” said one senior Democratic aide.

The revised districts were then presented to the commission by plausible-sounding witnesses who had personal ties to Democrats but did not disclose them.

Commissioners declined to discuss the details of specific districts, citing ongoing litigation. But several said in interviews that while they were aware of some attempts to mislead them, they felt they had defused the most egregious attempts.

“When you’ve got so many people reporting to you or making comments to you, some of them are going to be political shills,” said commissioner Stanley Forbes, a farmer and bookstore owner. “We just had to do the best we could in determining what was for real and what wasn’t.”

Democrats acknowledge the meetings described in the emails, but said the gatherings “centered on” informing members about the process. In a statement to ProPublica, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, head of California’s delegation, said that members, “as citizens of the state of California, were well within their rights to make comments and ensure that voices from communities of interest within their neighborhoods were heard by the Commission.”

“The final product voted on by the Commission was entirely out of the hands of the Members,” said Lofgren. “They, like any other Californian, were able to comment but had no control over the process.”

“At no time did the Delegation draw up a statewide map,” Lofgren said. (Read Lofgren’s full statement.)

California’s Republicans were hardly a factor. The national GOP stayed largely on the sidelines, and individual Republicans had limited success influencing the commission.

“Republicans didn’t really do anything,” said Johnson. “They were late to the party, and essentially non-entities in the redistricting process.”

Fed-up voters create a commission

The once-a-decade redistricting process is supposed to ensure that every citizen’s vote counts equally.

In reality, politicians and parties working to advance their own interests often draw lines that make an individual’s vote count less. They create districts dominated by one party or political viewpoint, protecting some candidates (typically incumbents) while dooming others. They can empower a community by grouping its voters in a single district, or disenfranchise it by zigging the lines just so.

Over the decades, few party bosses were better at protecting incumbents than California’s Democrats. No Democratic incumbent has lost a Congressional election in the nation’s most populous state since 2000.

As they drew the lines each decade, California’s party bosses worked in secret. But the oddly shaped districts that emerged from those sessions were visible for all to see. Bruce Cain, a legendary mapmaker who now heads the University of California’s Washington center, once drew an improbable-looking state assembly district that could not be traversed by car. (It crossed several impassable mountains.)

Cain proudly told the story of the district, which was set up for one of the governor’s friends. Cain said he justified the odd shape by saying it pulled together the state’s largest population of endangered condors. “It wasn’t legitimate on any level,” Cain recalled.

The 2010 ballot initiative giving the citizen commission authority over Congressional districts was sold to voters as a game changer. Not surprisingly, it was strenuously opposed by California’s Democrats, who continue to control the Statehouse.

No fewer than 35 Democratic politicians 2014 including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi 2014 and their allies spent a total of $7 million to campaign against the proposition. The effort included mailings from faux community groups that derided the commission’s $1 million annual budget as “bureaucratic waste.” Despite this effort, Californians voted 61 percent to 39 percent to wrest federal redistricting from the hands of state lawmakers.

Immediately, Democrats began organizing to influence the citizen commission. There were numerous opportunities.

According to civics textbooks, the aim of redistricting is to group “communities of interest” so that residents in a city, neighborhood or ethnic group wield political power by voting together. The commission took an expansive view of this concept, ultimately defining a “community of interest” as anything from a neighborhood to workers on the same commute, or even areas sharing “intense beach recreation.”

This gave savvy players an opening to draw up maps that benefited one party or incumbent and then find 2014 or concoct 2014 “communities of interest” that justified them.

Democrats set out to do exactly that.

On March 16, members of the California delegation gathered at Democratic Party offices to discuss how to handle redistricting. They agreed that congressmen from the various regions of California 2014 North, South and Central 2014 would meet separately to “create a plan of action,” according to an email recounting the day’s events by Alexis Marks, the House aide. Among the first tasks, Marks wrote, was determining “how to best organize communities of interest.”

Democrats were already working “BEHIND THE SCENES” to “get info out” about candidates for the job of commission lawyer who were viewed as unfriendly. “I’ll keep you in the loop, but do not broadcast,” Marks wrote.

“The CA delegation has been broken down into regions that will be discussing redistricting at the member level,” read another party email from late March. “Members will be asked to present ideas on both issues” 2014 communities of interest and district lines 2014 “and will be asked to come to some consensus about how to adopt a regional strategy for redistricting.”

Over the next several weeks, California Democrats huddled with Mark Gersh, the party’s top mapmaking guru. Officially, Gersh works with the Foundation for the Future, a nonprofit whose declared goal is “to help Democrats get organized for the fight of the decade; the fight that will determine Democratic fortunes in your state and in Washington, D.C. for years to come: Redistricting!”

The foundation is well funded for this fight. Its supporters include longtime supporters of the Democratic Party: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as well as the American Association for Justice (previously known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America). The foundation was launched in 2006 when Nancy Pelosi’s office worked with both groups to start it.

Neither Gersh nor participants would describe in detail what was discussed at the meetings. But from Marks’ emails and other sources, it is clear that California’s Democrats sat down together to discuss mutually agreeable districts that would protect incumbents.

The value of coordinating efforts to influence the commission cannot be overstated. If each Democrat battled separately for the best district, it was likely that one Congress member’s gain would harm countless colleagues. Creating Congressional districts is a lot like a Rubik’s cube: Each change reshapes the entire puzzle. The Democrats’ plan was to deliver synchronized testimony that would herd the commission toward the desired outcomes. If it worked perfectly, the commissioners might not even know they had been influenced.

Over the summer, Marks sent out more than 100 emails about redistricting, according to multiple recipients of the messages. According to House records, Marks earned $112,537 in 2010 in her post as deputy director of the California Democratic delegation. That makes her a federal employee. But although many of the messages were sent during the work day, a spokesman insisted Marks did so in her after-hours role as a political staffer for Democrats. They were sent from a Gmail account. Lofgren’s office did not make Marks available for comment, citing policy that staffers do not speak on the record. Instead, they pointed to Rep. Lofgren’s statement.

Federal employees are not allowed to do campaign work on government time, or use government resources, according to House ethics rules.

The emails alerted staff and legislators when the commission was scheduled to discuss their districts and they encouraged them to have allies testify to “community of interest” lines that supported their maps.

Marks told members they would be asked to raise money for a legal challenge if things didn’t work out. The delegation, she said, was working with Marc Elias, who heads an organization called the National Democratic Redistricting Trust. (The trust shares a website with The Foundation for The Future.)

Last year the trust persuaded the Federal Election Commission to allow members to raise money for redistricting lawsuits without disclosing how the money was spent, how much was raised, and who had given it.

The commission blinds itself

Back in California, the commission was getting organized. Its first task was to pick commissioners. The ballot initiative excluded virtually anyone who had any previous political experience. Run for office? Worked as a staffer or consultant to a political campaign? Given more than $2,000 to a candidate in any year? “Cohabitated” for more than 30 days in the past year with anyone in the previous categories? You’re barred.

More than 36,000 people applied. The state auditor’s office winnowed the applicants to a group of 60 finalists. Each party was allowed to strike 12 applicants without explanation. Then, the state used Bingo-style bouncing balls in a cage to pick eight commissioners 2014 three Republicans, three Democrats and two people whose registration read “decline to state” (California-speak for independent). The randomly selected commissioners then chose six from the remaining finalists to complete the panel.

The result was a commission that included, among others, a farmer, a homemaker, a sports doctor and an architect. Previous redistrictings had been executed by political pros with intimate knowledge of California’s sprawling political geography. The commissioners had little of that expertise 2014 and one of their first acts was to deprive themselves of the data that might have helped them spot partisan manipulation.

The law creating the commission barred it from considering incumbents’ addresses, and instructed it not to draw districts for partisan reasons.

The commissioners decided to go further, agreeing not to even look at data that would tell them how prospective maps affected the fortunes of Democrats or Republicans. This left the commissioners effectively blind to the sort of influence the Democrats were planning.

One of the mapping consultants working for the commission warned that it would be difficult to competently draft district lines without party data. She was overruled.

The lack of political data was “liberating,” said Forbes, the commissioner. “We had no one to please except ourselves, based on our best judgment.”

“I think,” he said, “we did a pretty good job.”

The commission’s judgments on how to draw lines, Forbes and others said, was based on the testimony from citizens about communities of interest.

“We were provided quite a number of maps from various organizations,” said another commissioner, attorney Jodie Filkins-Webber. If the groups were basing their maps on political data to favor one party, “they certainly did not tell us that.”

“Districts could have been drawn based on voter registration,” Filkins-Webber said, “but we would never have known it.”

The commission received a torrent of advice 2014 a total of 30,000 separate pieces of testimony and documents. Records suggest the commission never developed an effective method for organizing it all. The testimony was kept in a jumble of handwritten notes and computer files. The commissioners were often left to recall testimony by memory.

The difficulties in digesting and weighing the reams of often-conflicting testimony enhanced the value of people or groups who came bearing draft maps.

“Other people offered testimony; we offered solutions,” said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a powerful business group outside Los Angeles that persuaded the commission to adopt its Congressional map for the San Fernando Valley.

How Democrats locked down Northern California

Redistricting is a chess game for people with superb spatial perception. Sometimes, anchoring a single line on a map can make everything fall into place.

According to an internal memo, Democrats recognized early on that they could protect nearly every incumbent in Northern California if they won a few key battles. First, they had to make sure no district crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.Then, they had to draw a new seat that pulled sufficient numbers of Democrats from Contra Costa County into a district that included Republicans from the San Joaquin Valley.

The man with the most to lose was Rep. Jerry McNerney, who represented an octopus-shaped district that had scooped in Democrats from the areas east of San Francisco. McNerney’s prospects seemed particularly dismal. Early in the year, he made The Washington Post’s national list of top 10 likely redistricting victims.

Republicans moved first, attempting to create a district that would keep San Joaquin County whole and pick up conservative territory to the south. But then a previously unknown group calling itself OneSanJoaquin entered the fray.

OneSanJoaquin described itself as a nonprofit, but records show it is not registered as such in any state. It has no identifiable leadership but it does have a Facebook page, called OneSanJoaquin, created by the Google account OneSanJoaquin.

The page was posted in early April, just as the commission began taking testimony. Its entries urged county residents to download maps and deliver pre-packaged testimony.

On the surface, the OneSanJoaquin page seemed to be serving Republicans’ interests. But Democrats were one move ahead and understood that a united valley would inevitably lead to a Democratic-leaning district. (Republicans apparently did not understand that federal voting rights requirements ruled out their proposed district, since it would have interfered with the Latino district to the south. That misconception was encouraged by the maps on the OneSanJoaquin page, which were drawn to make this look possible.)

In fact, the only way to make a district with “one San Joaquin” was to pull in the Democrats in eastern Contra Costa 2014 the far reaches of San Francisco’s Bay-area liberals.

The author of OneSanJoaquin’s maps was not identified on the Facebook page, but ProPublica has learned it was Paul Mitchell, a redistricting consultant hired by McNerney.

Transcripts show that more than a dozen people delivered or sent the canned testimony to the commission, which accepted it without question. There’s no sign that commissioners were aware some of the letters had been downloaded from the mysterious OneSanJoaquin page.

After the commission finished, McNerney announced he was moving to the newly created San Joaquin district to run for re-election. It was a huge improvement for him. In 2010, he barely won his district, beating his opponent by just one point. If the 2010 election were re-run in his new district, he would have won by seven points, according to the Democrats’ internal analysis. (McNerney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)

Summing up the story, an internal Democratic memo said the GOP had been decisively out-maneuvered “Their hope was to create a Republican Congressional seat,” the memo said. “Their plan backfired.”

“McNerney ends up with safer district than before,” Mitchell’s firm tweeted, after McNerney announced his candidacy in his new district. “Wow! How did he do that?”

An under-funded commission

While players attempting to influence the process were well funded, the commission struggled with a lack of time and money. They responded, in part, by reducing citizens’ opportunities for input.

The budget for the whole map drawing undertaking was just over $1 million. At first, the commission had its public hearings transcribed 2014 then the money ran out and they stopped.

The commissioners received $300 per day as compensation and were eligible for reimbursement of travel and out of pocket expenses. Most kept their day jobs at the same time they tried to juggle their roles as commissioners.

It was a grueling schedule, with 35 public hearings taking place over just three months. “I had three days off between” April and August, said Commissioner Filkins-Webber, who maintained her legal practice while serving. “I was working basically on average18 hours a day.”

The commissioners also had to deal with public anger. The Tea Party in California decided to use the hearings as a forum to protest the Voting Rights Act, for instance, and at one hearing got so rowdy that police intervened.

Experts hired by the commission to actually draw the maps were also overworked and underpaid. Half a dozen times the meeting transcripts contain references to map drawers working overnight to prepare maps.

Overwhelmed by the task at hand, the commission decided to essentially shut down public participation halfway through the process. After the first round of drafts, which were widely criticized and abandoned, the commission stopped releasing formal drafts. More importantly, commissioners stopped holding hearings, which meant the next draft was prepared without public input.

The commission moved its meetings to Sacramento, not far from where party bosses had once gathered in secret to set the lines. The commission’s meetings were webcast to the public. But only those with the resources and time could participate.

“You have to ask yourself, who has the money to send people up to Sacramento like that,” said Eugene Lee, voting rights project director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, which was active in organizing grassroots participation in the redistricting process.

“We didn’t have the money to do that. No way.”

The commission released no further drafts. In July, it made public a “draft final.” Voters had two weeks to submit comments before it became final. Most of those comments came from insiders who had been closely watching the Sacramento meetings.

Southern California Democrats also win

For those who could stay engaged, the Sacramento phase of the commission’s work proved rewarding. One politician who benefited was Southern California Congresswoman Judy Chu.

When it appeared that Chu would get an unfavorable district late in the game, a group with ties to the congresswoman went before the commission in Sacramento and convinced the commissioners to draw a favorable map that included her political stronghold, a town called Rosemead. Chu enjoyed broad support in Rosemead, where she was first elected to the school board in 1992 and later served in the state assembly.

The group, which called itself the Asian American Education Institute, worked with Paul Mitchell, the same consultant who helped engineer the triumph of Northern California Democrats.

Records show that crucial last-minute testimony in favor of Chu’s district was delivered by Jennifer Wada, who told commissioners she was representing the institute and the overall Asian-American community. Wada did not mention that she lives and works as a registered lobbyist in Sacramento, 400 miles from the district, or that she grew up in rural Idaho, where most of her family still lives. Wada says she was hired by the institute to “convey their concerns about Asian and Pacific Islander representation” to the commission.

The second witness was Chris Chaffee, who said he was a consultant for the institute and an employee of Redistricting Partners, Mitchell’s firm.

Commissioners accepted this map without asking a basic question: Who, exactly, was the Asian American Education Institute representing?

The group’s tax records show it had no full-time employees. Its website is barebones, and clicking on the “get active” button on the home page leads nowhere, simply returning users to the home page.

There’s another interesting feature of the Web site: the domain name is registered to a man named Bill Wong, a political consultant who has worked on multiple Chu campaigns, as well as her husband’s successful bid for Judy Chu’s old state assembly seat. Chu paid Wong $5,725 for consulting work in 2010, FEC records show. Her husband, Mike Eng, donated $4,500 to the Asian American Education Institute in 2010 and 2011.

The institute, said Wong, “argued to keep communities of interest together. Since Rep. Chu has been a strong advocate for Asian communities, it would make sense for her to represent them.” Wong added that he “discussed redistricting with a number of Asian-American legislators.”

An email obtained by ProPublica shows Amelia Wang, Chu’s chief of staff, telling Chu and Bill Wong about testimony submitted by another Asian group, Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting, which also intervened at the last minute to offer similar maps. In case that didn’t do the trick, Mitchell himself went before the commission, urging the commissioners to accept the maps submitted by the institute (his employer) and the coalition.

And that’s what the commission did, incorporating proposed lines for both groups and drawing a map that included Rosemead in Chu’s new district.

Wang told ProPublica that Chu’s office and the institute “did communicate about keeping communities of interest together, including Rosemead. However, Rep. Chu did not hire Bill Wong for redistricting or to testify on her behalf before the commission.”

“Rep. Chu has represented a united Rosemead city since 2001,” said Wang, “it would have been a tragic mistake to divide it.”

Though the process turned out well for Chu, it didn’t work out so well for the town of South El Monte.

To make room for Rosemead in Chu’s district, South El Monte 2014 85 percent Latino 2014 got bumped into another district across the mountains that is much less Latino, and much more affluent.

The town’s mayor, Luis Aguinaga, say the new lines “don’t make sense.” South El Monte is now split off from sister communities in the San Gabriel Valley 2014 including North El Monte and El Monte.

“We’re always on the same side, always fighting for the same issues,” Aguinaga said. “On this side of the San Gabriel Valley we have a voice. If we’re apart it will be much harder to be heard.”

Other communities lost, too.

Outside Los Angeles, residents of what’s known as Little Saigon begged the commission to undo what they saw as decades of discrimination and put the U.S.’s largest Vietnamese community together in one district. Instead, the community was split in two 2014 a result of testimony by supporters of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, including a former staffer and one of her wedding guests, to get her a safe district. A large section of Little Saigon ended up in a district with Long Beach, a town that is 1 percent Vietnamese.

“Residents who live in Little Saigon share the same needs, but if they’re in two different districts they may not be represented,” said Tri Ta, a City Council member from the area.

“This district is characterized by the Port of Long Beach,” the commission writes in its final report, “one of the world’s busiest seaports and the area’s largest employer.”

“It does not make sense to put the area known as Little Saigon in a district with Long Beach,” Ta said. “The two areas are distinctively different.”

“Congresswoman Sanchez believed strongly throughout the redistricting process that the population growth of the Latino community should be accurately reflected in the newly drawn congressional districts,” said Adrienne Elrod, Sanchez’s Chief of Staff, in a statement, “She’s glad that members of the Orange County community shared her views, and as a result, was pleased to see them take an active role.”

Paul Mitchell, the consultant whose work had such a large impact on the commission’s decisions, said voters benefited from the work done by him and others deeply involved in the process. The commissioners, he said, “knew some of the testimony was being fabricated by outside groups. But what were they to do? They couldn’t create a screen of all testimony and ferret out all the biases.”

The work he did on behalf of his diverse group of clients, he said, “created better maps 2014 regardless of if they came with the additional benefit of helping some local city, union, or incumbent that was the client,” Mitchell said.

“My only regret is that we didn’t do more.”

Corrections: This story originally stated that the Asian population of Long Beach was less than 1 percent. It has been corrected to say that the Vietnamese population of Long Beach is 1 percent. The story also previously stated that Rep. Judy Chu previously served as a state senator. In fact, she served in the state assembly. This story originally stated the commission worked for free, with a small stipend for expenses. It has been corrected to say, the commissioners received $300 per day as compensation and were eligible for reimbursement of travel and out of pocket expenses.

 

Sorry for the radio silence…we’re back.

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

An inside source tells us the people named in this MyTwoCensus piece are still employed by the Census Bureau! (A check on Census.gov confirmed this.)

Census worker details encounter prior to fatal police shooting

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Check out this news from the Appeal-Democrat about a California woman who was shot to death by police after some sort of incident with a Census Bureau employee:

By Rob Young

The fiance of a woman shot to death by Yuba City police is no longer charged with assaulting a U.S. Census Bureau worker.

The worker, Jeannette Sager, gave her deposition Wednesday in Sutter County Superior Court because she will be unable to attend an Aug. 27 preliminary hearing for the fiance, Lionel Craig Patterson, said Deputy District Attorney Cameron King.

Victoria Helen Roger-Vasselin was shot May 20 at her home in the 700 block of Mariner Loop after allegedly pointing a shotgun at police.

Patterson is still charged with assaulting officers with a gun, King said after the hearing.

Sager said Patterson answered the door at Roger-Vasselin’s home, then slammed it, saying “We don’t want any.”

When she rang the bell again, Patterson answered and was more receptive when he realized she was a census worker. But then Roger-Vasselin, smelling strongly of alcohol, appeared behind him and told him not to talk, Sager said.

When Patterson told her it was a census worker, Roger-Vasselin said, “We’re not doing that,” Sager said.

Patterson seemed to become hostile again and said, “Yeah, we’re not doing that,” Sager said. Sager said she apologized for interrupting their evening, explained that it would take only a few minutes to answer the questions, and that she would be sent back later if the answers weren’t provided.

Roger-Vasselin said, “Oh, really,” and pointed a dark-colored gun at her, raising it to near-shoulder level. Patterson took her hand and raised it so the gun was no longer pointing at her, Sager said.

“I was looking at her face. I thought she looked smug,” Sager said.

Sager said she backed away from the door, then ran. As she ran, Patterson yelled, “Do you think you want to come back now?” she said.

“It sounded like he was trying to provoke me in some way,” she said.

Sager said she sat in her car and cried for a couple of minutes before calling her supervisor, then drove to her home a few minutes away. But she decided not to go inside because her mother was there and would be upset by what happened she said.

Instead, Sager said, she drove to the Yuba City Marshalls store, then to Target, but didn’t go inside either store because her supervisors were calling.

A supervisor called police, who had Sager meet two officers at her house. The officers had her look at gun photos on the Internet to try and find one like the one Roger-Vasselin held. They said they were waiting for backup before going to Roger-Vasselin’s house and that Sager might be needed for a “field line-up” if there were an arrest, Sager said.

About 11:30 p.m., two other officers came and said she was needed at the Police Department “because of the way things went down at the house. They didn’t say what,” Sager said.

Patterson’s attorney, Jesse Santana, cross-examined Sager.

Sager told Santana it was still light when she arrived at Roger-Vasselin’s house, although the front porch was dim. She was wearing a U.S. Census Bureau identification card on a lanyard around her neck and was carrying a bag labeled “U.S. Census” in 2-inch letters but wasn’t sure if the label was showing, she said. (more…)

ABC affiliate says Fresno Census Bureau faces discrimination complaints

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — Federal investigators are looking at the Fresno offices of the U.S. Census Bureau after receiving a number of employee complaints.

Investigators with the Commerce Department have been examining Fresno-area operations for the past several months. The complaints range from discrimination and bad management.

Investigators say two Caucasian workers who were let go say Hispanic employees were routinely favored for assignments over older, white workers.

The woman who oversees the Fresno Census offices says the census has been managed professionally and according to agency policies.

Daily Sound Off: Census Bureau refuses to protect employees

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Here’s today’s Daily Sound Off…However, I will say that in my personal dealings with Mr. Le, he has been cordial, respectful, and helpful. I am not sure if it is is his responsibility as a media specialist or the responsibility others in management positions to deal  with these issues:

I am a crew leader in Oakland CA.
To date, crimes have been committed against two of my employees, including assault with a deadly weapon and criminal threats.

As a crew leader, I have had to fight with the Oakland Police Department to ensure that the officers take reports on these crimes and report them to the District Attorney’s Office.

I reported the previous assault to my FOS and to management. To date, no one at the LCO has assisted in helping the harmed enumerator. I also reported the assault that occurred earlier tonight, but I don’t expect the LCO to help me.

This evening, I attempted to reach out to Sonny Le, the regional media specialist for the U.S. Census.  I explained that my enumerators were unsafe and that I needed his assistance in spreading the word to the community that residents must cooperate with the census and refrain from threatening enumerators.

Mr. Le was abrupt, rude, disrespectful and condescending.  He said he “doesn’t answer to me” and, in essence, threatened me with retaliation for daring to speak to him about what is happening to my crew.

Now I understand why the residents of Oakland think it’s OK to physically threaten the enumerators.  The LCO and the Regional Census staff have, through inaction, allowed this conduct to continue.

Here’s Mr. Le’s profile:
http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2010/news/1004/gallery.census_workers/3.html

A Yuba City, CA woman was shot and killed after a Census visit

Friday, May 21st, 2010

The story is tragic and bizarre — after residents pointed a gun at a Census employee, attracting police to the area, a woman refused officers’ demands to lay down a shotgun she was carrying and was shot. It’s sad that an irrational fear of Census takers seems to have fueled gun threats yet again, and it’s even sadder that it had to result in the loss of a life this time. From Appeal-Democrat.com:

Woman shot, killed by Yuba City police

May 21, 2010 11:18:00 AM

A 67-year-old Yuba City woman was shot and killed by officers when she pointed a shotgun at them and refused to put it down, according to Yuba City police.

Victoria Helen Roger-Vasselin was pronounced dead late Thursday at her home at 764 Mariner Loop in an affluent neighborhood on the city’s far south side.
Roger-Vasselin was the sister of the late Thomas E. Mathews, a Yuba County judge and district attorney.

“They shot her dead,” Roger-Vasselin’s distraught son said outside the house Friday morning.

“I think she was just startled” by late visits to her home, he said.

Before he could give his full name, a relative or family friend took him by the arm and led him inside, shutting the door.
Officers went to the Mariner Loop home after receiving a call at 9:04 p.m. about weapons being brandished.

A U.S. Census worker “had been confronted by residents who pointed a firearm at the worker and said they would not answer any questions and closed the door,” said police spokeswoman Shawna Pavey.

When two male officers arrived, 51-year-old Lionel Patterson answered the door, armed with a handgun, police said.

“As officers were dealing with the male, a female approached the door with a shotgun and ignored officers’ orders to release the weapon. As the female advanced on officers, she continued to point the shotgun at officers in a threatening manner and the two officers fired their service weapons, hitting the female,” police said.

Both officers fired their guns, said Pavey, adding she didn’t believe Roger-Vasselin or Patterson fired.

Both officers were uniformed and clearly identifiable as police, Pavey said.

Pavey said toxicology testing after an autopsy Friday morning will determine if alcohol or drugs were factors in the incident.

The officers have been placed on routine administrative leave while the Sutter County District Attorney’s Office investigates the incident.

A neighbor, Bob Dhaliwal, said he was in bed when heard people, including one woman, shouting and yelling, followed by five or six shots. When he came outside, officers with guns drawn had the male suspect on the ground, then took him away in a patrol car, he said.

“All I saw was him being arrested. I assumed he shot somebody,” Dhaliwal said.

Patterson lives at the same address. Pavey and neighbors said it wasn’t clear what the relationship was between him and Roger-Vasselin.

Dhaliwal and other neighbors said they didn’t know Roger-Vasselin well.

“She kept to herself,” Dhaliwal said.

One neighbor, who declined to give her name, described Roger-Vasselin “pleasant but reserved,” almost reclusive.

“She was much more social when she moved first moved in. The economy was better then,” the neighbor said.

Neighbors said they had also received nighttime visits from a female census worker.

Roger-Vasselin owned the house for about three years but rented it for about six months while she worked in Hawaii, returning to Yuba City six to nine months ago, the neighbor said.

When her mother, Lillian Mathews-Crumrine, died in 1998, Roger-Vasselin lived in Kauai, Hawaii.

When the former judge, Thomas E. Mathews, died In 2005, Roger-Vasselin was living in San Francisco. Then 63 and a regional membership executive at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, she was one four employees involved in an age- discrimination lawsuit against the Marriott Corporation.

Problems at California Census offices result in major complaints from female Census Bureau managers

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

In recent days, I have received many complaints from Census Bureau employees about the poor quality of their managers. I encourage people with problems to write up their stories and I will publish them here. The following document does not represent the opinions of Stephen Robert Morse or MyTwoCensus.com, but rather the female manager from California who sent me this piece. Inside you will see her opinions about fraud and abuse by Census Bureau management as well as discriminatory treatment of staff and information about the process of filing complaints:

Three female managers in the Santa Maria, CA, Local Census Office, Los Angeles Region filed EEO complaints against our Area Manager, Araceli Barcelo and Assistant Regional Census Center Manager, Jeff Enos. Enos had been our Area Manager and was promoted to ARCM. Barcelo had been a Regional Tech for Enos and was promoted to Area Manager. Those in our office who filed complaints include the Assistant Manager Administration, the Assistant Manager Technology and me, the Local Census Office Manager.  We filed complaints because Araceli Barcelo and Jeff Enos rehired a man (I won’t name him as he is also part of our complaint and not a manager) who had abused and sexually harassed women in our office.  Both Area Manager Barcelo and ARCM Enos knew about this man’s behavior and never did anything to stop it. The behavior was well documented and ARCM Enos had the documentation.  There was a very volatile incident in our office where this man yelled, made an inappropriate comment and a menacing gesture directed at our AMT.  This happened while we were on a teleconference with Jeff Enos.  This man also “cussed out” Jeff Enos and Enos did nothing.  Later Enos called me and told me to handle the situation with this man because “he did not like to do those types of things”.  The next day, the man resigned while I was writing him up.  Jeff Enos should have disciplined this man.  The Local Census Office Manager does not hire, fire or discipline managers.  That is the responsibility of the Area Manager.

After the three of us, female managers, learned this man had been rehired during a teleconference with Araceli Barcelo, we filed EEO complaints. We filed complaints because management had not dealt with this man’s illegal and abusive behavior, had rehired him and, then, given him a promotion as a Regional Tech in the area Araceli Barcelo supervises.   The women in our office were told this man was to not come to our office.  However, as a Regional Tech, he now had access to our work and all our electronic files.  He could also show up at our door and gain entrance.  We filed because we feared he would harm us.  The statement from management that this man would not come to our office shows they knew he had done something wrong in our office.

This man was originally hired as a Group Quarters Supervisor in one of the Central Valley Offices about three hours from Santa Maria.  To do this, Barcelo needed to have used a fake address, a new geo coding, as office staff can only be hired from the local area.  This man lives in Santa Maria. Staff from our office sees him at the local gym quite regularly.  Barcelo had fired the LCOM and the Assistant Manager of Administration from one of the Central Valley offices for allowing the Administrative Assistant to use a fake address, her sister’s address so she could move with the LCOM to one of the new offices.  Why hasn’t Barcelo been fired for doing the same thing?

Araceli Barcelo with the direction of Jeff Enos has fired numerous managers in her area.  She uses her Regional Techs as spies.   Barcelo uses these spies to get information so Barcelo can build documentation on the managers.  While some of these managers may have been fired for performance issue, the majority have not.  Some of the managers have quit because they couldn’t deal with Barcelo’s harassing behavior, her firing of their staff and taking over the office to put pressure on the LCOM to quit or to find something to use against them.  After one LCOM quit, he contacted his Congressional Rep to complain about all the firings and a delegation from the Congressional Office went to L.A. to meet with James Christy, Regional Director.  However, the firings continue. Some of these managers had been with the 2010 Census since the offices opened in 2008.  The cost of hiring, training, firing, hiring a replacement and retraining is staggering and a huge waste of taxpayer money. But, then again, as many reports have stated, the Census Bureau has wasted enormous amounts of money. Nothing is done about Barcelo and her behavior as they don’t want to disrupt the operations.

If you complain about Barcelo or Enos or anything Barcelo does, you are subjected to retaliation.  All of us who have filed against her have received the brunt of her retaliatory behavior.  Some of us have been fired. I have been harassed by her every day since I complained about her. She calls us and makes snide, abusive and insulting remarks. She treats us like we, in the field offices are the enemies instead of helping us with the operations. She has made her Regional Techs scour everything in our office to build documentation on us. They looked at all our time sheets to find errors and, I was written up for it.  She had one of her Regional Techs, the hatchet man, go through every selection certificate we have handled since the office opened to find mistakes. He is the hatchet man because Barcelo uses him to find things so she can fire. Our Administration Department, by this time, had hired over 2,000 employees and was handling about 300 payroll documents a day.  Given the volume and speed of these transactions, since they are all on strict timelines, there will be mistakes.  Management claimed all offices were being audited.  This was a lie.  Barcelo conducted sham superficial audits of her other offices.  She used another RT to audit the work he had done when he was the Assistant Manager of Administration.  None of the offices in her area or offices reporting to other Area Managers received the depth of review or covered the timeframe audited in our office.  Some of the other offices were not audited. This was pure retaliation on the part of Barcelo and Enos.  Regional Director, James Christy and Deputy Director know about all of this as we have sent our complaints to them.  They turn a “deaf ear” as they don’t want to “disrupt the operations”.  Barcelo continues her abusive retaliatory behavior.

We filed our informal EEO complaints and the EEO Counselor contacted us within a week.  She tried to resolve the complaints but, of course, management refused to settle claiming they had done nothing wrong.  What we sought was to have management deal with this man who they rehired as they should have done originally, to have Barcelo and Enos disciplined for not dealing with this man’s behavior and for rehiring him with full knowledge of his behavior and to have our office moved from the chain of command of Barcelo and Enos as we knew they would retaliate.  Retaliate, they did.

We filed our formal complaints with the Decennial Office of Civil Rights, Kathryn H. Anderson, Deputy Director for Decennial Operations Office of Civil Rights, Washington, DC.  This was several weeks ago. We received notice from DD Anderson that our complaints had been received but, no decision as to whether our complaints had been accepted for processing or whether an investigator would contact us.

Last week, an LCOM from one of the Central Valley Offices called me. This LCOM and another manager from her office had also filed complaints but, were told by an EEO Counselor that the Decennial Office of Civil Rights is delaying processing the formal complaints so the Census Bureau can finish the operations.  None of our complaints have been processed.  This LCOM told me complainants are now filing with the Office of the Inspector General so that someone will do something to stop Barcelo’s behavior.

There is a statutory timeline for agencies to process complaints, 180 days.  When a federal agency/department/bureau stalls processing formal complaints, they can say they won’t be able to investigate the complaint within the 180 day and pass the complaint on to the EEOC.  The Office of Civil Rights, then, never investigates the complaints.  This discourages complainants, they give up or they don’t want to deal with another process, EEOC. This creates what is called a “chilling effect” on complainants.  The “chilling effect” has been used in the past by employers as a way to avoid having to deal with complaints and avoid correcting their illegal practices.  By stalling, the census operations will finish, the responsible management officials will be gone and documents will be destroyed.  And we know the Census Bureau is known for shredding and destroying documents and materials.  Also, by stalling processing and investigation of complaints, the Office of Civil Rights is giving benefit to management.  The OCR is to be an impartial finder of fact.  Giving management a benefit and not giving complainants their statutory rights makes the office biased toward management.  The only “right” the temporary decennial census employees have is civil rights.  Completing the Census does not trump civil rights laws.

By not conducting timely investigations of EEO complaints, the Census Bureau is giving license to managers to continue to engage in discriminatory/harassing and abusive behavior.  The managers see no consequences for their behavior and see EEO as a joke.  Araceli Barcelo has been quoted as saying: “I have so many EEO complaints filed against me but, I still sleep at night.”

Census Bureau Press Release: Second Round of Census Forms Mailed to 40 Million Households…Targeted Mailing Reminds Residents There is Still Time to Return Questionnaires

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

The following is a Census Bureau press release that just came into the inbox:

To reduce the estimated $2.7 billion cost of following up with
households that fail to mail back their 2010 Census questionnaires, the
U.S. Census Bureau has begun mailing second forms to approximately 40
million housing units in areas that had below-average response rates in the
2000 Census.

“Census Bureau and a multitude of private sector research shows that
sending a replacement questionnaire to households can significantly
increase response rates in the end,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves
said. “We estimate that the second mailing could increase America’s mail
participation rate in the 2010 Census by 7 to 10 percentage points, and
doing so would save taxpayers more than $500 million.”

According to the Census Bureau, every percentage point increase in the
national participation rate by mail saves about $85 million. It costs the
government just 42 cents in a postage paid envelope to get a questionnaire
back in the mail, but it costs taxpayers an average of $57 to count a
household that fails to mail it back.

Second questionnaires were mailed last week to every housing unit in
areas that had a mail response rate of 59 percent or less in 2000, or about
24.7 million households. The questionnaires were sent to all households,
regardless of whether they had already returned their 2010 Census form.

In areas that had response rates between 59 and 67 percent — below the
national average of 67 percent — replacement forms will be sent only to
households that have not yet mailed back their completed 2010 Census form.
These 15 million households will receive a second form April 6-10.

Households have until mid-April to mail back their forms before census
takers begin going door to door to residences that failed to respond.

“We understand that people lead busy lives and may not have gotten
around to sending back their forms yet,” Groves said. “The replacement form
gives them a second chance to get counted and help ensure that their
community gets its fair share of political representation and federal funds
over the next 10 years.”

Currently, the national mail participation rate is 60 percent, with some
of the lowest rates in Alaska, California, Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
The latest national and local participation rates can be viewed at
http://2010.census.gov/2010census/take10map.

LA Times: Native-born Californians regain majority status

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Solid article on demographic shifts in Cali from the LA Times (Click HERE for complete article):

By Teresa Watanabe and Hector Becerra

California has long been the ultimate melting pot, with the majority of its population coming from outside the state.

Dust Bowl emigres, Asian railroad workers, high-tech entrepreneurs, Mexican laborers and war refugees from around the globe flocked to California. The majority migrant population filled the state’s myriad labor needs, challenged the schools with a cacophony of new languages and roiled its politics with immigration debates.

But, in a dramatic demographic shift, California’s narrative as the nation’s quintessential immigrant state is giving way to a new reality.

For the first time since the 19th century Gold Rush, California-born residents now make up the majority statewide and in most counties, according to a USC study released Wednesday. And experts predict even Los Angeles — long a mecca for new immigrants — will become majority California-born by the time the 2010 census is completed.

“Home-grown Californians are the anchor of our economic future,” said Dowell Myers, a USC urban planning and demography professor who coauthored the study. “But people are living in the past. They still think we are fighting off hordes of migrants.”

The study showed that California’s share of foreign-born residents grew from 15.1% in 1980 to a peak of 27.4% in 2007. This segment is estimated to decline to 26.6% in 2010.

Los Angeles County shows parallel trends, with foreign-born residents growing from 22.1% of the population in 1980 to 36.2% in 2006. That figure is expected to dip to 35% in 2010.

Meanwhile, the native Californian share of the population is projected to increase from 45.5% in 1980 to 54% in 2010 statewide. In Los Angeles, the homegrown share is expected to rise from 40.8% to 49.4% over the same period.

Myers said the recession and stricter immigration enforcement were probably two key factors driving down California’s foreign-born population, as fewer migrants are coming and more are leaving because they can’t find jobs. But even when the economy recovers, he said he expects the trend to continue because the state’s high housing costs and dramatically lower birthrates in Mexico will continue to suppress migration to California.

Spot.us & MyTwoCensus.com Team Up…

Friday, March 19th, 2010

As an independent journalist, I am aware of how difficult it can be to earn money from reporting, as newspapers and magazines continue to hit new financial lows. Fortunately, sites like Spot.us are using innovative methods to finance journalism. I recently volunteered as a peer review editor to assist journalist Denise Poon who is writing stories about the 2010 Census for Spot.us. The following two stories, about multi-racial reporting and hard-to-count communities in California, are the the products of this collaboration:

The Census on Multiracial IDs

The Census Search for Hard To Count Communities

California relying on nonprofits in 2010 Census

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

In California, nonprofits are expected to play a key role in 2010 Census outreach, but a lack of organizations may hinder efforts in some areas.

New America Media reports that there’s a shortage of nonprofits in some of the state’s poorest areas, which could lead to an undercount in those locations:

“This is a big, big challenge,” said Ted Wang, a census consultant with Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, which is coordinating private sector funding for outreach in California. “Neighborhoods that have the least amount of infrastructure often are the ones that are the most difficult to count.”

San Francisco is a case in point. No county in California has spent anywhere near the city’s $570,000 investment on outreach, according to city officials. San Francisco is also home to 2,879 public charity nonprofits – more per capita than any other county in the state, public records show. But an investigation by New America Media found that despite these achievements, in Bay View-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley, neighborhoods where the response rates to the 2000 Census were lowest and the need for outreach in 2010 is arguably greatest, there are disproportionately few nonprofits and very little capacity to do outreach.

San Francisco hired 13 nonprofits to do $300,000 in census outreach, but none of those organizations are from the Bay View and Visitacion Valley areas. Nonprofits in those neighborhoods were encouraged t0 apply, officials said.

“We were looking for people that knew the population and the population trusted,” said Adrienne Pon, executive director of the city’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs.

City officials hoped to fund a team of nonprofits that were already regularly engaged with the same hard-to-count residents they would be targeting for the census.

But that task was difficult because in San Fransisco and elsewhere, nonprofits tend to cluster in areas with more civic engagement, such as downtown, rather than in poorer areas. That discrepancy could have big census repercussions for California, where nonprofits are expected to play a larger-than-typical role due to the state’s fiscal crisis. California spent nearly $25 million for the 2000 Census, but has cut its allocation for the 2010 Census to less than $2 million. The challenges of location and funding mean that California’s nonprofits have a big task ahead of them to prevent an undercount in the state’s poorest areas.

New state population estimates preview 2010 Census

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

The Census Bureau released new state population estimates today, the last set of such data to be published before the 2010 Census.

The new estimates give a preview of which states might gain — or lose — U.S. House seats and funding as a result of next year’s count. The data is also the first population estimate that fully account for the economic recession.

The winners from this year’s estimates:

  • Texas: Texas gained more people than any other state (478,000) between July 1, 2008, and July 1, 2009, the period covered by the data set.
  • California: The nation’s most populous state with 37 million people, California was second to Texas in the number of people gained — 381,000.
  • Wyoming: Wyoming showed the largest population growth of any state, with a 2.12 percent rise in population in the one-year period.

And the losers:

  • Michigan, Maine and Rhode Island: These were the only three states to show a loss in population for the year. Michigan’s loss was -0.33 percent, Maine’s -0.11 percent and Rhode Island’s -0.03 percent.
  • Florida and Nevada: These states were hit especially hard by the recession. They saw big upticks in population during the early 2000s, but this year experienced a net outflow of residents, meaning more people left the state than moved to it. However, due to births, both states still had an overall population increase.

Overall, the estimates show that fewer people are moving (“domestic migration,” in Bureau speak) — especially to states in the south and west — likely as a result of the poor economy.

USA Today has a fascinating interactive map and chart that compare the new estimates to data from 2000, offering an early look at the changes in congressional representation next year’s Census could bring.

According to their data, states poised to gain House seats include Texas, Georgia, Nevada, Washington, Utah, Arizona, Florida and South Carolina. States likely to lose seats are Ohio, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Louisiana.

A round-up of coverage of the new estimates:

Census Bureau press release: Texas Gains the Most in Population
USA Today: Census reports slow growth in states
New York Times: Recession Cuts Migration to Sun Belt, New Figures Show
Bloomberg: Texas Gains Most People in 2008-09, U.S. Census Says
Washington Post: Census: Weak economy caused dramatic slowdown in magnet states

Texas Gains the Most in Population

Cash Cuts May Cost California Billions

Friday, November 20th, 2009

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

By Marissa Lagos

(11-16) 04:00 PST Sacramento

California has slashed the amount of money it will spend on the 2010 census, a move that experts warn could lead to a flawed count and cost the state billions in federal aid over the next decade.

Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau – which recognized early that states wouldn’t have as much cash on hand – is redoubling its efforts. For example, in 2000, 18 census outreach workers were dedicated to the Bay Area; this year, the bureau assigned 160.

The U.S. government hands out about $400 billion to states and local jurisdictions every year based on population counts made during the nation’s decennial census. The money pays for local hospitals, schools, public housing, highways and unemployment insurance.

While the federal government pays census workers to take counts, states and local governments spend money on census outreach efforts to stress to residents – particularly those who may be wary – the importance of the census.

But because of deep budget cuts in the 2009-10 California spending plan, the state has earmarked less than $2 million for 2010 census outreach, down from nearly $25 million a decade ago. The cut in state census outreach funds is a problem that federal officials said is playing out across the country.

In California, the cut means many counties, which 10 years ago received grants from the state for outreach in addition to using their own money, will get little or no state funding for 2010 census outreach. Some counties struggling with their own fiscal problems also have cut local funding for census outreach.

Undercounts costly

Sonny Le, a spokesman for the U.S. Census Bureau, said outreach is critical to ensure residents fill out the census forms that will be delivered to every home in the United States in March. Many people don’t understand the reason for filling out the form, while others are reticent to share information with the federal government.

Each uncounted resident could result in the loss of $1,000 a year in federal funding for a state, according to the nonprofit Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees.

Ted Wang, a census consultant working for the group, said state and local outreach efforts play a critical role in communicating with populations that historically have been difficult to count.

An undercount also could cost California a congressional seat for the first time in its 150-year history, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said.

In 2000, 70 percent of the U.S. census forms that were sent out in California were returned – though only 58 percent were expected, said Eric Alborg, a spokesman for the California Complete Count Committee, a group formed by the governor in June to oversee the state’s census outreach.

Even with a higher-than-anticipated rate of response, Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar (Los Angeles County), estimated that California lost $2 billion to $3 billion in federal funding over the past decade because some people were not counted.

“If this year is a bad count, how many more billions could we lose?” Fuentes said.

The governor’s office defended the cuts as necessary and pointed out that in 2000 – at the height of the dot-com boom – the state was flush with cash.

‘Hard to count’ groups

“Given the breadth of the recession and the toll on state revenues, we had to make cutbacks in virtually every area,” said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance, who added that state officials recognize the importance of the count. “We’re pleased we are able to commit resources for outreach efforts to reach individuals that are hard to count.”

California is home to 10 of the nation’s 50 counties with the largest “hard to count” populations, which include people of color, young adults, immigrants and low-income residents. Alameda and San Francisco counties are among the 10 counties, topped by Los Angeles County.

People harder to find

Further compounding the challenge is the economic and political climate, experts said. The financial crisis, including the waves of foreclosures, has forced people into homelessness or nontraditional housing, making them hard to find.

Officials said some immigrant populations are expected to be even more wary of the count than usual because of an uptick in immigration raids and anti-immigrant rhetoric in recent years – including an attempt by several Republican U.S. senators to exclude undocumented residents from the count and require respondents to disclose their immigration status. The amendment was defeated, but sponsor David Vitter, R-La., has vowed to raise the issue again.

To make up for the cut in state census funds, the state is working closely with elected, religious, nonprofit, community and educational leaders to develop plans to reach out to residents and get accurate counts via the California Complete Count Committee.

The state is also developing a Web site that will offer tool kits in census outreach to community partners.

Meanwhile, some local jurisdictions are trying to bridge the gap left by state cuts. San Francisco and Santa Clara counties ponied up money in their budgets to fund local efforts. For the first time, San Francisco created a “complete count committee,” which includes community, business, labor and nonprofit leaders to help with outreach.

Still, serious challenges lie ahead, says Adrienne Pon, who is leading San Francisco’s efforts.

“There are no (state) funds this time around, and populations are more dispersed and diverse … (so) we’re trying to be more street smart and direct outreach mobilization efforts,” she said. The largely African American Bayview-Hunters Point “had the lowest rate of return in 2000. We know of eight neighborhoods like that one which we are targeting.”

WSJ: Census Turns To Kids For Help

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Click HERE for full article from the Wall Street Journal

By Miriam Jordan:

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Census Bureau is recruiting a new set of volunteers: kids.

Seeking to ensure strong participation in the decennial population count, especially in so-called hard-to-count neighborhoods, the bureau has decided children are key.

That has led it to settings like Arlene Paynes’s first-grade class at Union Avenue Elementary School in this immigrant enclave on the edge of downtown. Last Thursday, the class gathered to read aloud a story titled “Who Counts?”

They learned about a boy named Joey who helps his grandmother, an Italian immigrant, fill out the Census form that arrives in the mail. The grandmother and grandchild decide that those who “count” in their household are Grandma, Mom, Dad, Joey, little sister Mary — and even Mr. Macintosh, who occupies a spare room “until he finds a job.” The only one who doesn’t count: their cat Clover.

It is always a struggle to get everyone to participate, but the 2010 count is expected to present new challenges. The gloomy economy has forced many people to move or seek temporary residence with friends or family, making them harder to reach. And the U.S. is still absorbing the largest wave of immigrants since the beginning of the 20th century. Many aren’t native English speakers; more than 10 million are here illegally.

The bureau is rolling out initiatives here and in other hard-to-reach tracts. It is running an information campaign in Spanish-language media, sending representatives to operate booths at street fairs and distributing forms in more languages than ever.

Early next year, households nationwide will begin receiving a form with 10 questions. It’s shorter than in the past, according to Census officials, and should take only 10 minutes to complete.

“Making children part of the national conversation,” said Renee Jefferson-Copland, chief of the school program at the Census Bureau, might be one of the most effective tools for reaching many adults.

Feature: Real Stories From The Field…Yet Another Worker Sounds Off

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Here is yet another anonymous Census Bureau employee who wishes to tell his tale (the following does not reflect the opinions of MyTwoCensus or Stephen Robert Morse)…

I was a QC Enumerator for the address validation phase in San Marcos/Escondido CA area.  I used the HHC and was relatively pleased with the results.  One of the things that did trouble me was the absolute accuracy demanded when map-spotting.  For instance, we were practically forbidden to map-spot a mobile home at its mailbox or driveway, but had to go to the front door first, even though most of the front doors were under metal awnings which blocked the satellite. When the front door failed we had to back away until we were at the mailbox or driveway before you picked up the YAH (You-are-here) indicator.  This took about two minutes each time where it should have taken five seconds.  Even separate houses where we could walk down a sidewalk and mark a house in a second, we had to disturb the resident by going to the front door, knock or ring a doorbell, get the dogs barking and wake the child, give them a Confidentiality Notice just tell them to ignore us.  This usually occurred about a week after the original address canvasser had also done it.  This was supposed to instill confidence in Census?

After all that, the first thing they told us when we began the GQV training was that we weren’t going to use the HHC’s.  I immediately thought what a waste of time all that map-spotting was, but the second thing we were told is that we now had to do map-spotting manually! What the hell for?  It would seem to me that a map-spot coordinate is useful to follow a GPS device, but is of limited use to try and follow manually.  But, the government has made expensive computer generated maps that have thousands of map-spots on them.  I thought it would even be more foolish to spend hours trying to place by hand a guessed, at best, pencil map spot on an already crowded map.  I was right, but we spent four hours learning how to do it.  I can’t imagine the expense the Bureau spent on generating progressively detailed map-spotted maps and will now spend to update them with manually estimated map-spots.

I guess my biggest complaint is the seemingly “one size fits all” that creeps into and detracts from all government endeavors.  The training for both phases was excruciatingly boring and rote!  It could have been done in half the time if the trainees weren’t treated like fourth graders and the instructors weren’t forced to read every word from a book. We were told at the beginning of GQV that we would not be doing military or penal quarters, but spent over four hours on how to do it because it was in the “book” and the “book” couldn’t be deviated from. I live in and would canvas southern California yet was subject to long discussions on “black ice” safety and how to approach/avoid “moose” especially during their rutting season!

The questionnaire is a disaster!!  It is a 44 page, die-cut monstrosity that attempts to cover ever scenario that a lister would ever encounter.  The lister must start at its beginning and read it verbatim to whomever they are interviewing.  This requirement became an embarrassing block to a successful interview.  Before we could do solo interviews we had to be observed and “certified” by our crew leader.  For three days, I and my crew leader unsuccessfully tried to complete one interview and each time I was forced to read qualifying questions such as “Is this a drug abuse treatment center?” or “Is this a correctional facility?” I would be stopped by an angry owner and asked to leave.  It was so unbelievable that I finally resigned.  In a total of three days, I logged two hours of billable time, but was expected to standby the phone and wait for the crew leader to call to schedule another certification try.  The last I heard, three of the original class of fourteen were certified and everybody else has left.

The final direction that stuck with me was the homelessness directive. We were told to submit an info form every time we saw an apparent homeless person even if we saw the same person everyday.  When asked why, we were told that homeless people tend to stay in the same area and the census takers would know where to go during the actual Census 2010 (Six months later!).  With logic like that, I look forward to the results!

Kudos Dr. Groves and Secretary Locke

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Last week, we wrote about trouble brewing in California over language issues on questionnaires, but fortunately the problem has been resolved due to the swift and effective action of Census Director Dr. Robert M. Groves and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. The changes that have been made are detailed in the following letter obtained by MyTwoCensus.com:

October 5, 2009

Dear Secretary Locke and Director Groves:

In my September 28 letter to Secretary Locke, I shared my concern about sending an English-only Advance Letter.  I am pleased that a change has been made in policy to incorporate a prominent postscript on how to get language assistance in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian.  This decision will provide Californians the added opportunity to be counted as residents.

I would like to thank you for the prompt change in policy and I look forward to working with each of you to ensure all Californians are counted.

Respectfully,

Ditas Katague
Director, 2010 Census Statewide Outreach



Are 13.5 million bilingual forms enough for America?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

In the below report, the AP discusses the ongoing efforts of the Census Bureau to integrate bilingual measures into the decennial headcount. However, as we wrote yesterday, many government leaders in California feel that these efforts don’t go far enough to reach the millions of Americans who don’t speak English:

LONG BEACH, Calif. — When Teresa Ocampo opens her census questionnaire, she won’t have to worry about navigating another document in English.

The 40-year old housewife who only speaks basic English will be able to fill hers out in Spanish — which is exactly what U.S. officials were banking on when they decided to mail out millions of bilingual questionnaires next year.

For the first time, the decennial census will be distributed in the two languages to 13.5 million households in predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. Latino advocates hope the forms will lead to a more accurate count by winning over the trust of immigrants who are often wary of government and may be even more fearful after the recent surge in immigration raids and deportations.

“If the government is reaching out to you in a language you understand, it helps build trust,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “I think the community has become really sensitive to political developments, and the census is the next step in this movement that we’re seeing of civic engagement in the Latino community.”

Traditionally, experts say, the Census Bureau has undercounted minority and immigrant communities, who are harder to reach because of language barriers and distrust of government.

Latino advocates hope the bilingual forms will help show their strength in numbers to underscore their growing political influence and garner more in federal funds that are determined by population.

Census officials say they designed the bilingual forms after extensive research, using the Canadian census questionnaire as an example. Over a six-year testing period, officials said the forms drew a better response in Spanish-speaking areas.

The bilingual forms will be mailed out to neighborhoods where at least a fifth of households report speaking primarily Spanish and little English, said Adrienne Oneto, assistant division chief for content and outreach at the Census Bureau in Washington. The cost of preparing and mailing the bilingual questionnaires is about $26 million, which is more than it would have cost to send only English forms.

More than a quarter of the forms will be distributed in California from Fresno to the Mexican border, with Los Angeles County topping the list. The Miami and Houston areas will also receive sizable numbers of the questionnaires.

Automatic mailing of the bilingual forms debuts in 2010. In addition to Spanish, census forms will be made available in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian upon request. That’s similar to the 2000 census, when participants could request questionnaires in several languages.

But none of those other languages compares to the proliferation of Spanish. Roughly 34 million people reported speaking Spanish at home in the United States in 2007, more than all the other languages combined except English. Eighty percent of the U.S. population reported speaking only English at home.

The question is whether the bilingual forms will help overcome immigrant fears of federal authorities after seeing friends and family swept up in immigration raids over the last few years. While census data is confidential, many immigrants are wary of any interaction with the government.

“It is a difficult time for immigrants and I could see where there might be concern where being counted might lead to future negative consequences,” said Clara E. Rodriguez, professor of sociology at Fordham University in New York.

There are also concerns that the recession has dried up funding used to encourage people to fill out their census forms.

California, for example, pumped $24.7 million in 2000 into efforts to boost the state’s count but has only $2 million budgeted for the upcoming year, said Ditas Katague, the state’s 2010 census director.

The Census Bureau has worked with Spanish-language TV giant Telemundo to help get the word out. The network’s telenovela “Mas Sabe el Diablo” (The Devil Knows Best) will feature a character who applies to be a census worker.

Adding to the challenge of getting more people to participate is a boycott of the census called by Latino Christian leaders. They want illegal immigrants to abstain from filling out the forms to pressure communities that depend on their numbers to support immigration reform.

Census officials say they don’t expect a backlash from English speakers because those likely to receive bilingual forms are used to hearing the two languages side by side.

Trouble Brewing in California

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

The following is a letter from the state of California’s 2010 Census office to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in Washington. (In other related news, 2010 Census boycotts have kick-started in California):

September 28, 2009

Director Katague Sends Letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Locke on Advance Letter

Director Ditas Katague today sent the following letter to Secretary Gary Locke urging reconsideration of the U.S. Census Bureau’s English-only Advance Letter policy:

September 28, 2009

The Honorable Gary Locke

Secretary of Commerce

U.S. Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Avenue, Northwest

Washington, DC 20230

Dear Secretary Locke:

It has come to my attention that the U.S. Census Bureau has made the policy decision to send the Advance Letter in English-only in March 2010.  The Advance Letter is one of the first official communications coming directly from the U.S. Census Bureau for the decennial census.  By not including any in-language instructions or messages, I believe you are missing a huge opportunity to engage limited or non-proficient English speaking households in preparing them for the arrival of the census questionnaire.

I strongly urge you to reconsider this decision, as this decision risks completely missing the opportunity to communicate with those Hard-to-Count populations in our state.  Hundreds of languages other than English are spoken at home in California.  Based on 2008 American Community Survey (ACS) data, only 19,646,489 out of more than 30 million Californians speak only English .  That leaves millions and millions of California residents that could effectively not receive advance notice of the decennial census.

Lastly, we believe that any investment in sending a multi-lingual Advance Letter to Californians will ultimately serve to increase the Mail Back Response Rate (MRR), which will decrease the amount of Non-Response Follow-Up (NRFU) the Bureau conducts.  This could save valuable time and taxpayer money.

Again, I strongly urge you to reconsider your English-only Advance Letter policy immediately so that operations are not impacted and to ensure all Californians are counted.

Respectfully,

Ditas Katague
Director, 2010 Census Statewide Outreach

Governor’s Office of Planning and Research

cc:     The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

The Honorable Diane Feinstein

The Honorable Barbara Boxer

Robert Groves, U.S. Census Bureau Director

B16001. LANGUAGE SPOKEN AT HOME BY ABILITY TO SPEAK ENGLISH FOR THE POPULATION 5 YEARS AND OVER

Universe:  POPULATION 5 YEARS AND OVER

Data Set: 2008 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates

Los Angeles Times: Census Outreach Is Critical In L.A. County

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Some news from the City of Angels (click HERE for full article) – it’s too bad the LA Times’ new web site looks like it was built for a high school newspaper:

By Teresa Watanabe

With sprawling enclaves of immigrants, crowded housing conditions and pockets of deep poverty, Los Angeles is regarded as the nation’s most difficult county for census-takers to count.

But as they gear up for the decennial census beginning in April, officials are beefing up efforts to reach the region’s far-flung polyglot communities with more community outreach staff and language assistance, including a first-ever bilingual English-Spanish census form.

At a meeting last week in downtown Los Angeles, U.S. census officials met with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, dozens of community activists, nonprofit leaders and state and local government representatives to craft strategies on how to reach the 4.4 million people who live in “hard-to-count” neighborhoods in Los Angeles County.

Census officials give that designation to areas where residents traditionally have low rates of census participation, including immigrants with limited English, African Americans and other minority groups, the poor, the less educated and those who live in crowded housing.

Los Angeles County’s hard-to-count population dwarfs those in all other U.S. counties and is concentrated in the city’s central core, from Sunset Boulevard to Imperial Highway, the Terminal Island area and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

Officials fear funding shortages and mistrust toward the government among many immigrants could result in an undercount with enormous consequences for California: the possible loss of a U.S. congressional seat for the first time in state history and the loss of billions of dollars of federal funding for schools and other services.

Congressional seats and more than $300 billion in federal funding for more than 170 programs are apportioned by population, as determined by the census. By some estimates, each person counted results in $12,000 in federal funds over a decade.

“This is the most important census in California history,” said Ditas Katague, state census director.

Fueling the worries about an undercount next year is a sizable drop in state funding for outreach efforts: $3 million for next year, compared with $24.7 million in 2000.

James T. Christy, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Los Angeles regional director, said the federal government has stepped in with some increased funding. It has expanded the number of Los Angeles community outreach staff to more than 350 people from 50 in 2000 and is offering informational guides in 59 languages, an increase of more than 20%. The new languages include Polish, Russian and Arabic. In addition, Russian has been added to the telephone assistance system, which also operates in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.

Nonprofit organizations have also tried to fill the gap. The California Endowment, which sponsored the census forum, announced last week that it would provide $4 million for statewide outreach, and the California Community Foundation had earlier announced grants of $1.5 million.

But Christy said the financial woes remain worrisome. “Community-based organizations don’t have the funding to tack on a census message,” he said.

Christy also said that next year’s census, the first since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, could be met with suspicion from minorities who may be wary of government intrusion into their lives. He said the Justice Department had assured the bureau that the Patriot Act, which gave law enforcement broader access to personal information for counter-terrorism investigations, could not be used to force the surrender of any census information. The U.S. Supreme Court has also ruled that census information must remain confidential, he said.

“No one can get access to census data,” Christy said. “It is rock solid secure.”

To address such concerns, census officials are expanding their outreach staff and dispatching “complete count” committees made up of local government officials and community members. Committees have been formed by Cambodians, Koreans, Filipinos and Sikhs, among others. Officials are pitching the census as “safe, easy and important,” noting that the form’s 10 questions will not ask for Social Security numbers or legal status.

Cali Gets Boo$t From Endowment

Friday, August 28th, 2009

California’s task of counting all of its citizens just became a wee bit easier. Thanks to the California Endowment, an additional $4 million has been added to the pot of the deficit-stricken state:

LOS ANGELES – (Business Wire) To ensure that every Californian is counted in the 2010 U.S. Census, the state’s largest, private health foundation today announced that it will make $4 million in grants towards a statewide campaign that will promote the importance of participating in the Census, particularly in the large number of “hard to count” communities throughout the state.

“Hard to count” populations are among California’s most vulnerable residents – low-income communities and communities of color.

The federal government makes funding allocations based on population counts from the Census, and for every resident not counted, the state will lose an estimated $11,500 in federal funding over the course of 10 years according to 2009 data from the Brookings Institution.

“At a time when the state is facing declining revenues, it is critical to the people of California that we ensure every resident is counted so we don’t lose out on federal funding essential to the health and well-being of all Californians,” said Robert K. Ross, M.D., president and CEO of The California Endowment.

“If 10 percent of California’s population of 37 million is not counted, the state stands to lose $42.4 billion in federal funding over the next decade,” Ross added.

About one-third of that funding is directly tied to health services, while all of the funding is tied to individual and family well-being which, in turn, is a significant component of health status.

California is home to 10 of the 50 counties in the nation that have been identified as being the hardest to count: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, San Bernardino, Fresno, Riverside, Alameda, Sacramento, Kern and San Francisco. These counties are home to large populations that have been historically underrepresented in the Census, including immigrants, people of color, low-income communities, rural areas and those who live in multi-family housing.