Hard to count areas of Santa Barbara County

A map shows the areas in northern Santa Barbara County in red — in Santa Maria and Lompoc — where officials say it will be difficult to be sure all residents are counted in the 2020 census.

A comprehensive plan is being developed to see that every Santa Barbara County resident is counted in the 2020 census, because undercounting the population could lead to cuts in funding and reductions in social services and even cost the county representation at higher levels of government, according to a county staff report.

Because the U.S. Census Bureau only does the official count every 10 years, those potential losses in revenue, programs and representation would plague the county for a full decade, according to the report.

“California came close after the 2010 census to losing a [congressional] representative to another state because of undercounting,” said Dennis Bozanich, deputy county administrative officer.

He noted that every person who is not counted in the 2020 census will cost the county about $2,000 in federal funding every year for 10 years.

In addition, a number of barriers have been thrown up that will make it difficult to get a full count, which is why the County Administrative Office has already started working on the plan Bozanich outlined Tuesday at the County Board of Supervisors meeting.

One of the barriers is the fear generated among immigrants by the Trump administration’s effort to include a question about citizenship on the survey, although Bozanich said that threat has been “largely tamped down” by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“But fear and concern about that question persist in many parts of our community,” he said, later adding, “Some concerns still persist around the privacy and security of the information.”

One of the challenges will be to assure renters the information will remain confidential and will not be shared with their landlords, he said.

Renters in the the downtown core of Santa Maria, Lompoc, the northwest suburbs of Isla Vista and the south side of Santa Barbara are among the areas where getting an accurate count will be difficult.

The county has assembled a steering committee of 92 citizens to develop a strategic plan.

General strategies include maximizing use of technology through social media and utilizing existing networks like social services, schools, libraries, colleges and universities, faith-based and civic groups, first responders and local businesses as well as the Promotores Network.

The 211 Santa Barbara Helpline will be used through call center support, two-way texting and a web resource page, and print, broadcast and Spanish-language media also will be used.

An implementation plan, which will be “very specific and detailed,” is expected to be complete by Oct. 31, Bozanich said.

In addition to the strategies outlined by Bozanich, supervisors advised the staff to take additional steps to assure that everyone is counted.

“People are demonstrably, objectively afraid,” said 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart, adding he does a lot of door-to-door work, and a lot of people aren’t opening their doors like they used to.

“I’m very concerned this is not going to hit the mark because of all these misogynistic policies, he said. “I think we need to do something big and important to address this problem.”

He recommended putting a dedicated bilingual staff person to work with Spanish-speaking residents.

“The financial ramifications of this are important and will last for a decade,” Hart said.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.