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Inglewood Census Undercount No Surprise : Demographics: City officials say they urged bureau to alter procedures so that more Latinos and blacks would be surveyed.

June 15, 1991|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the U.S. Census Bureau reported this week that Inglewood led all other cities in the number of residents who were not counted by the national survey, officials in this ethnically mixed suburb could barely contain themselves.

"I told you so," was the common reaction Friday among officials in Inglewood's nine-story City Hall. "I'm not very surprised at all," said Councilman Jose Fernandez, the city's sole Latino elected official. "I feel vindicated. I expected a serious undercount."

Inglewood officials said they knew better than the federal government about the two cities that exist side by side in their town--one found on busy La Brea Avenue, where shops sell paintings of Malcolm X, African statues and college sweat shirts from Spelman and Morehouse, and the other on Arbor Vita Avenue, where bakeries, real estate agencies and groceries all trumpet their services in Spanish.

It is that ethnic mix--50% black and 38% Latino in a city of roughly 110,000--that made Inglewood a daunting challenge to the Census Bureau, city officials said. In the end, Inglewood had a 10.9% undercount, higher than any other city in the country in the bureau's post-enumeration survey released this week. About 13,400 residents were never found.

City authorities said they could not persuade the Census Bureau's bureaucracy to bend despite their appeals for more Spanish-speaking surveyors and telephone operators. Toll-free numbers for Latinos were often busy for days and Spanish-speaking workers were hard to find, officials complained. Latinos led all ethnic groups as the most undercounted by the national survey.

"It was like running up against a brick wall," said Assistant City Manager Norm Cravens. "The Census Bureau is the most bureaucratic of bureaucracies. They won't deviate a bit from procedures and those procedures are flawed."

Assistant Census Director Peter Bounpane said the census strived to reach minorities, although he acknowledged that the bureau's techniques still result in an undercount for blacks and Latinos.

"A city that has a high number of minorities is going to have a high undercount," Bounpane said. "I don't know much about Inglewood, but it does have a minority population in the 80% range and that is going to give it a high undercount. Why it's 10.9%, I don't know."

Inglewood is not alone in its complaints. Large cities across the country have objected to undercounts. A lawsuit filed against the bureau by numerous cities, including Los Angeles, still aims at forcing the bureau to use post-enumeration results to update 1990 census data.

But no other city came close to Inglewood's undercount. The nation's second highest undercount--at 6.5%--came from Moreno Valley. Santa Ana, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., followed with undercounts just above 5%.

Fearing the worst, Inglewood spent $60,000 on census promotions. More than 300,000 promotional mailings were sent out in English and Spanish, 11 citizen assistance centers opened, advertisements were bought in Spanish-language publications and 20,000 pro-census buttons were given to schoolchildren.

Community leaders called Inglewood's undercount a case study of the problems that vex the counting of minorities. The city's Latino population jumped 134% from the 1980 tally, and its 54,900 African-American residents make up one of the county's largest black municipal populations.

Latino activists said that many in their community were afraid of the census--either because they were not citizens or were living in garages or other illegal housing units.

"The Latin people are reluctant to fill out applications," said Jose Morero, a longtime Inglewood travel agent who helped the city with its census promotion. "Some of them are illegal immigrants, but even some legals may be reluctant to give away some of that information."

According to city officials, the Census Bureau surveyors missed hundreds of stable hands who live in dormitories at Hollywood Park race track. The bureau also did not have enough Spanish-speaking workers to reach Latinos living in neighborhoods west of the Forum, officials said.

The paucity of Spanish-speaking workers had a major effect on the count, said Tiburcio Maldonado, who promoted the census for the city at churches and supermarkets in Latino neighborhoods.

"A lot of people didn't know what the census was," Maldonado said, "and there were not many people to explain it to them."

Census workers also said they bogged down navigating several rugged low-income neighborhoods claimed as the turf of such gangs as the Crenshaw Mafia and the Watergate Crips.

Despite the undercount, city officials say that city residents have a tangible sense of the growth of their numbers.

The school district is forced to rent out a church to absorb extra kindergartners each fall and has dozens of portable classrooms filling up playground space. Five of the city's 13 elementary schools have gone to year-round schedules to handle swelling enrollment. A sixth will do so next month.

As developers discovered Inglewood's low-cost real estate in recent years, residents began complaining that the conversion of single-family homes to apartments and condominiums brought an increase in crime and traffic.

The City Council called a temporary halt to multiunit buildings last year, then adopted tighter construction standards to slow the growth. But city officials say it is more people per household--and not more housing units--that is causing the population to rise.

"We have a transition in the population," said Councilman Fernandez, a real estate agent. "We were a white city in the 1960s and then we had African-Americans moving in. A lot of the younger blacks are now moving to more affluent areas. This community remains one of the most affordable areas in the South Bay. And now working Latinos are moving in."

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