Bell Gardens Population Drops, Officials Suspect Undercount
By EGP Staff Report
Some time last year, Bell Gardens Councilman Daniel Crespo told his colleagues on the city council that he had observed many residents moving out of the city, a remark they lightly brushed aside, noting that city services are still in high demand.
2010 Census data released last week, however, shows that the southeast city, which spans only 2.5 miles, has lost nearly 2,000 residents; a drop of 4.50 percent since 2000. The 2000 data put the total population at 44,054, compared to 44,437 in 2005-2009, and 42,072 in 2010, for a loss over the last decade of 1,982 residents. At least on paper.
Bell Gardens city officials say they are puzzled by the new figures.
“None of us can understand why the numbers dropped by close to 2,000 people when there’s no signs of any of it that we can see, and so it leads me to believe that we were undercounted,” Bell Gardens City Manager Steve Simonian told EGP on Monday.
“I did notice that most of the southeast cities that are heavily Hispanic showed the same drop, which would lead one to believe that there was a tremendous migration of our people to somewhere else and the cities that showed growth were like Beverly Hills and Irvine… I don’t think it’s a true picture of what happened.”
Simonian says some have suggested that because of high unemployment, many immigrants returned to their home countries. “But my understanding is that that job market hasn’t improved there [Mexico] either and with the increased violence… it doesn’t appear to me that that happened either,” he said.
There are zero vacancies in the city, and when there are vacancies, they are quickly filled, not to mention that many residents live in converted garages, and multiple families are sharing one-bedroom apartments or living in other un-permitted conditions, he said.
While local community groups worked hard to encourage Census-participation, Simonian suspects that fear of deportation, or of being discovered living in un-permitted quarters, or some other fear, led to an undercount.
The consequences of the decrease in the population count in Bell Gardens is still to be determined, but Simonian suspects it will have a direct impact on it’s ability to secure grants as it will be obligated to explain why more money is needed when the city’s population has dropped.
Meanwhile, almost across the board in EGP’s coverage areas, the population grew.
Most notably, the unincorporated East Los Angeles area population grew by 2,213 residents, an increase of 1.78 percent in the last decade. It is possible, but not probable, that some residents from Bell Gardens may have moved to East LA, Albert E. Fontenot Jr. of the U. S. Census Bureau in Los Angeles, told EGP.
Vernon, which bills itself as “exclusively industrial,” experienced a 23.08 percent increase in its population, going from 91 to 112 residents between 2000 and 2010.
Commerce also experienced one of the larger margins of growth locally. It went from 12,568 in 2000, to 12,823 residents in 2010, an increase of 1.78 percent.
Montebello’s population expanded by .56 percent in the same period with 350 new residents, and Monterey Park saw an increase of 218 residents, a .36 percent increase over 10 years.
Los Angeles County as a whole grew by 3.1 percent in the past decade, which is far slower than other Southern California counties, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released on March 8. Nonetheless, the county is still one of the most populated in the state with about 9.8 million residents. The city of Los Angeles alone has about 3.8 million residents.
Riverside and San Bernardino counties saw the largest increase in population, with 41 percent and 19.1 percent respectively.
California’s population increased by 10 percent from 33.8 million in 2000 to 37.2 million in 2010, with the Latino population growing more than other groups and now makes up 37.6 percent of the state’s population. The white population dropped by about 40 percent, while the Asian population grew by 12.8 percent and the black population increased by 5.8 percent.
After the 2000 Census, districts were redrawn and legislatives representatives were redistributed—a processes called redistricting and reapportionment—said Fontenot. The changes make it difficult to “compare apples to apples,” he said, explaining that how district lines will change as a result of the new Census numbers is not something they can determine.
It’s hard to tell whether the changes in population will impact the reapportionment of state representatives because California now has a redistricting commission, he said.
While redistricting happens every ten years following the census count, this is the first year that a commission, approved by voters last year, will redraw district lines. In years past, elected officials in the state legislature developed the district map, in a process many criticized as designed to protect the political base of incumbents.
Last year, voters approved the California Congressional Redistricting Initiative that gave a panel of 14 commissioners the authority to change the district boundaries while taking many factors into consideration. The commission is expected to consider continguous communities, called “communities of interest,” with the goal of empowering communities previously split by officials who wants to dilute or concentrate voter support in order to stay in office.
Many political observers have said the new Census numbers could create a shift in the state’s political power in several areas, such as increasing the number of districts away from traditional power centers like Los Angeles and the San Francisco region and coastal areas, to inland territories like the Central Valley and Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange Counties. Observers also see opportunities to increase the number of seats, both in the state and in the Congress, where Latinos and Asians can be elected.
How the new Census numbers may impact redistricting in either the County or city of Los Angeles remains to be seen, as elected officials in each of those two municipalities directly oversee the redistricting process.
Information from City News Service was used in this report.Print This Post
March 17, 2011 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.