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Countdown in Industry: State Orders Review of Disputed Population Data

March 13, 1986|VICTOR VALLE | Times Staff Writer

INDUSTRY — A state agency has told city officials to determine exactly how many people live in Industry in the wake of allegations by a business organization that the city's population is half of what it has claimed.

The request by the Population Research Unit of the state Department of Finance was triggered by a report released last month by an Industry business group that has criticized the city's financial practices.

A report, prepared by the 100-member Industry Civic Planning Assn., contends that Industry's population had declined to 310 by last December. The city has estimated its population at 707, up from the 1980 census of 663.

"We are concerned about it," said John Malson, a research manager with the state population unit, who met with Industry officials on Feb. 25. "We want to make sure the information they provided us is correct. We rely heavily on cities to provide us that information."

City officials "were somewhat upset" with the request, Malson said, but agreed to "address the issues" raised by the association.

The U.S Census Bureau also has been asked to review procedures used in determining Industry's 1980 population to find out if any mistakes were made in the federal study.

3-Month Investigation

Dan Peterson, Industry Civic Planning Assn. executive director, said his organization's report was based on a three-month investigation that involved comparisons of aerial photos and a house-to-house survey to determine the number of city residents. Comparison of aerial photos taken in 1980 and 1985 showed that the number of homes in the city had dropped by 70, said Peterson, who drafted the report.

Based on observations after at least two visits to each home, Peterson said he estimated that an average of 1.95 people lived in each residence, for a total of 156 people. In addition, the city reported that 154 people were living at El Encanto Convalescent Hospital in Industry last November, a figure that Peterson said had been confirmed by hospital officials. He added those two population figures to arrive at his estimate that 310 people lived in the city last December.

Malson said that during his meeting with city officials last month he asked them to review the conclusions reached by Peterson.

City officials have refused to comment on the association's report or the state research unit's request.

But a March 5th letter from City Manager Chris Rope to Peterson indicates that the city has started to comply with the state research unit's request.

In the letter, Rope asks for Peterson's permission "to purchase copies of those (aerial) photographs" used in the report.

Peterson said in an interview that he has "nothing to hide" from the city, adding that the association will provide the photos to Rope for $750, what it cost the association to purchase the photos from American Aerial Survey, the Covina firm hired by the association to photograph the city.

Peterson said that the inflated population figures mean that Industry residents and businesses will pay $12 million more in taxes this year than they should have to pay.

But state officials said that even if the population is lowered dramatically, it may have little effect.

Under Proposition 4, commonly known as the Gann Initiative, state and local governments are limited in the amount of money they can appropriate to finance government operations. The limits are based on a formula determined by increases or decreases in the percentage change in population and the cost of living.

Profligate Spending

Proposition 4's purpose was to prevent governments from profligately spending any revenue windfalls.

The measure requires cities, counties and the state government to establish an annual limit beyond which they cannot spend. Government entities, including cities like Industry, usually set their tax rates high enough to raise the maximum allowed under the limits, said Elizabeth Hoag, the research unit's manager. The revenues covered by the appropriations limit include property and sales taxes, said Hoag.

But even if Industry's population figures are found to be in error, the city's appropriations limit may not be lowered, Malson said.

If the biggest percentage drop in population came any time before 1985, the appropriations level for 1986 could not drop, Malson said. Because of the way the state Legislature has interpreted Proposition 4, the only time a percentage drop in population could result in a lower appropriations level would be if it occurred in the previous year, he said. The drop must be recorded in the year it actually occurs; otherwise, under the law it would have no effect on the appropriations level for subsequent years.

The only thing the state research unit is obligated to do, he said, is correct the inaccurate population estimates of previous years.

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