Counting Heads

by Mark Scaramella, December 23, 2009

MendoCensus

Asked how many people there were in the Anderson Valley, the late Smokey Blattner would laugh and say, “Well, if you chased everyone out of the hills you might find about half of them.”

It's census time again, time to flush out the hill muffins, beat them out of the bushes, time to venture up those lonely roads behind all those locked gates, time to count noses of a whole lot of people who prefer not to be counted, especially by the government.

Back in 2000, the last census, members of what the Census calls its “complete count” teams mobilized to tally all the people who hadn't mailed in their Census 2000 forms.

These count teams assembled at post offices in Ukiah, Hopland, Boonville, Gualala, Point Arena, Mendocino, Fort Bragg, Covelo, Laytonville, Willits and Potter Valley. Wherever there was a post office the count teams were ready to count! The count teams stood in front of all those post offices passing out forms to those people who would accept them.

The results, such as they were, were subsequently promulgated by the County’s “Complete Count Campaign Coordinator,” Tonya Erickson, a County Public Health staffer in Ukiah then serving as federal enumerator.

The numbers were then published as the numbers although lots of bushes never were beaten. The Census said that some 86,000 souls made their homes in Mendocino County of whom 16.5% had family origins in Mexico; 0.6 were Black; 1.2% Asian-American Indians made up 4.8% of our population while 81% of us were white. 50.3% of all Mendo persons were women, 53.5% of Mendocino village's residents being women, and that's not counting the village's men, the highest percentage of women resident in any one place in the county.

So a lot of people were counted, a lot of people uncounted with those numbers and their extrapolated estimates pretty close to what would appear to be the human reality of vast Mendocino County.

Matt Williamson, Census 2010’s man for Mendo, is a young fellow from Willits. For some very obscure reason known only to the federal drone who dreamed it up, Williamson's official title is “partnership assistant” for Mendocino County. If you didn't know he was employed by the Census you might think he was running a dating service.

The kid didn’t know anything about the mechanics of the 2000 count.

He is, however, the in-charge guy ten years later, and he was the featured speaker at last Wednesday's meeting of the Anderson Valley Community Services District board meeting.

A little more background first:

In July of 2002, David Severn wrote that “by many accounts, throughout the State, over 50% of the farmworkers are undocumented, therefore illegal, and Anderson Valley is certainly no exception.” Severn said he’s convinced that the Census Bureau intentionally excludes undocumented workers from its count.

How did Severn arrive at this conclusion?

First he looked at the number of “Hispanic and Latino of Any Race” the 2000 Census claimed were resident in Anderson Valley: That number was put at 979. But The Valley's total population was estimated at 3,164. 979 out of 3164 is 31%.

Then Severn looked at school records where he found that school enrollment, K-12, was 65% Hispanic.

The Valley is at least 50% Hispanic, Severn concluded.

Severn also noted that official California statistics acknowledge that 50% of the agricultural work force is undocumented. Which is about the same number of uncounted Mexicans in the Anderson Valley that Severn said were uncounted.

You’d think if the Census Bureau wanted a “complete count” of the residents of Anderson Valley they’d make some specific effort to count that previously uncounted population.

But Williamson told the CSD board last week that the Census, while aimed at counting everyone, will count everyone without inquiring as to citizenship status, and none the info on the counted will in any case not be given to anyone outside the Commerce Department. By law.

Skepticism was immediate.

Trustee Diane Paget was not convinced that the law confining census data to the Commerce Department was binding.

Williamson conceded that “of course there will always be those who don't believe the government will follow its own rules.”

Yes, and they probably represent about 90% of Mendocino County's population.

Joanie Clark wondered, “What about Homeland Security? They are a law unto themselves.”

Williamson wisely chose not to enter a general debate on government credibility.

Instead, he retreated to soothing assurances that the Census is important because it is used to allocate federal funding and that the 2010 Census asks only 10 questions, more or less.

Williamson said that the Census Bureau will attempt to enlist schoolkids to lobby their parents to make sure everyone gets counted, and that there will be a “media blitz” (including an expensive televised Superbowl ad) which will attempt to convince people to respond to the survey.

The census is conducted in two phases. First they mail forms to every address they have — not including post office boxes.

And there goes a majority of Mendocino County residents who get their mail at a P.O. box.

The census forms having arrived at the homes of those persons who have street addresses, personal visits to those homes by census takers is the next step.

Which is very difficult in a county with so many people living at remote sites up endless dirt roads behind locked gates, trip wires, packs of feral Dobermans, and aggressive hostility towards government.

Nevertheless, the Census expects that, overall, about two-thirds of the surveys the mail out will be returned. However, in Mendocino County, Williamson explained, because so many people maintain post office boxes, the return rate is expected to be only 59%.

Almost everyone at the meeting was surprised to hear that forms were not mailed to PO Boxes.

Williamson responded that he didn't know why that was but maybe it had something to do with “government takes so long to do anything.”

When Williamson said that “the community” would be setting up “complete count sites” where questions could be answered and forms picked up, another round of skepticism ensued.

This reporter suggested that the Census simply do what it did in 2000 and make the “complete count sites” the local Post Offices, “Just like the IRS does. If it's good enough for the IRS…” I said as Williamson laughed nervously.

In the printed material Williamson handed out one of the “frequently asked questions” was “How does the census bureau count people without a permanent residence?”

Answer: “Census Bureau workers undertake extensive operations to take in-person counts of people living in group quarters, such as college dorm carries, military barracks, nursing homes and shelters as well as those who have been displaced by natural disasters.”

Nothing about immigrants, legal or non-legal.

Census forms are expected to be mailed in March of 2010.

From May to early July census takers will visit households they know did not return questionnaires by mail, some of which are the households of extremely alienated individuals. There are addresses in Anderson Valley where local deputies do not venture unless they have “back-up.” They may go uncounted.

The census process is supposed to be complete by June 18, 2011.

For more information go to www.census2010.gov or call Mr. Williamson at 239-4353.

* * *

In other community services district business, the CSD board approved spending up to $35,000 to purchase a new truck for Fire Chief Colin Wilson; the Chief's present vehicle has become uneconomical to repair. Most of the equipment on the Chief’s old truck will be moved to whatever new or used replacement vehicle is purchased. The old truck will be sold as is to anyone who comes up with the asking price of either $2500 for the partially equipped truck or $1500 for the fully stripped truck.

The Recreation Committee reported that the new local phone directory won’t be available until January.

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