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Census Dashes Latino Hopes for Seat on Enlarged Council


COMPTON — Latino leaders said they are disappointed over unexpectedly low population totals reported for the city last week.

The Latino community had hoped that preliminary census data would show a population of more than 100,000, which would result in the expansion of the City Council and give Latinos a better chance of winning a council seat for the first time, leaders said.

Under terms of the Compton City Charter, the five-member council must be expanded to seven members when the city's population reaches 100,000.

However, preliminary census data released last week shows that the population count fell far short of the necessary 100,000. The U.S. Census Bureau put Compton's total population at 86,999, up 7% from the 1980 figure of 81,286.

"That can't be, because, if you look at the school district, it's growing," said veteran Latino activist Joseph Ochoa. "I'm pretty sure we've got to be over 100,000."

Pedro Pallon, a local bakery owner and founding member of the Latino Chamber of Commerce, said: "I was very disappointed. We were counting on 100,000 at least. I think there's been an undercount, definitely."

There is a heavy concentration of Latinos in Compton's northeast corner, as well as along its eastern edge, and Latinos believe that they might be able to mount a winning council campaign from there.

Council members are elected at large, although they are required to be residents of the district from which they are running. Ideally, Latino leaders would like to force a charter change that requires council members to be elected by the residents of a district. For such a change to take place, however, the city voters would have to approve a charter change.

The Census Bureau has not yet announced the racial breakdown in city populations, but there is little doubt that the city's Latino population has mushroomed during the last decade.

Last year, for the first time, Latino youngsters reached a majority in the Compton schools. They represented 50.3% of the enrollment, compared to only about 33% five years ago.

In the city, various estimates from census tracking research firms put the overall Latino population at about 33% to 35%, up about 10% to 12% from 1980.

However, the Compton Unified School District takes in large tracts of county-controlled areas that are not within city boundaries, and the county areas are heavily Latino.

In response to its growing Latino population, Compton has hired some Spanish-speaking workers in order to communicate with all its residents. The Police Department, for example, had to hire Spanish-speaking dispatchers in order to take emergency calls.

Latinos, however, have been agitating for more Latino hiring in the school district and the city and demanding that both adopt affirmative action hiring plans.

Ochoa and Pallon said they had no plans to challenge the census data and will wait to see what action the city itself takes over the lower-than-expected count.

In an ironic twist, the city may use its growing Latino population as evidence when it challenges the federal count. There is no doubt that the Latino population has grown over the last 10 years, Councilwoman Patricia A. Moore said Tuesday.

Maybe, Moore suggested, many Latinos are recent immigrants and were afraid to respond to the census questionnaire.

City officials say they also were stunned by the low census figures and will challenge them. The process is known as the post census local review and gives cities an opportunity to present evidence that the Census Bureau figures are wrong.

"The state Department of Finance has had us up over 93,000 for about three years," city planner Barbara Kilroy said.

Much of the state and federal money, such as gasoline and sales tax revenues, that cities receive is based on population. If Compton cannot prove that it has the 93,000 people attributed to it by the state Department of Finance, then the city could lose some funding, said Jerry Gadt, city planning manager. He is in charge of preparing the city's challenge to the Census Bureau.

Gadt said he is poring over tax records from the county assessor's office in hopes of showing that the number of dwellings in Compton has risen. The household figures, Gadt said, are one measure used to challenge Census Bureau population figures.

City Manager Howard Caldwell said: "I understand they have been undercounting all over the state. We have enough data here to show that they severely undercounted our population (increase) over the 10-year period."

Caldwell said that the city sells water to all the households and that his staff is compiling data to show that the number of households has risen steadily over the last decade. He also said that billings from the city's sanitation contractor will show that the number of households in the city has risen.

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