Census work group tackling West Marin challenges

07/18/2019

As Marin County continues to ramp up its census outreach efforts, it is specifically targeting West Marin as an area that is difficult to count. 

Last Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors authorized a $120,000 grant to the Canal Alliance to conduct outreach for all of the county’s hard-to-count populations. As part of that outreach, the alliance will appoint a project manager to work alongside West Marin Community Services to address the challenges of getting a complete count in West Marin. 

“I believe this is one of the more important things we’re going to do in the next 12 months,” Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said at the June 9 board meeting. “The hard-to-count areas are difficult to count under most circumstances, and this year, with the citizenship question just hanging there for so long, makes it more difficult.” 

A group of West Marin residents organized by Mr. Rodoni’s office has met three times to discuss the particulars of conducting the census in the rural area. 

Several features make West Marin hard to count, they concluded: seasonal living, accessory dwelling units, remote land, the lack of mail delivery to homes, monolingual Spanish-speaking residents and subpar internet connection—a particular problem for the first census that can be responded to online. 

The decennial census, mandated by the United States Constitution, determines how federal funding is distributed and how congressional districts are drawn. 

“Those who do the counting do not know all of the very hidden areas of West Marin, and we really want them to be counted,” Socorro Romo, the executive director of West Marin Community Services said. That’s why the county is looking for trusted leaders who are in touch with their communities to lead the messaging. 

The San Rafael-based Canal Alliance was given the grant due to their extensive network and understanding of the census’s importance. Now that the West Marin subcommittee has identified potential challenges, their next step is to decide how to address them. They’ve floated door-to-door canvassing, local events, multilingual messaging, murals, banners and making library computers available for people to fill out the form online. 

The census doesn’t start until April 1, 2020, so concerned organizations are still in the planning and educating stage. Motivated outreach will start at the beginning of next year, and will continue until the count ends on Sept. 30. 

The grant comes from $200,000 the county pooled together for census outreach: the state gave $100,000, while the Marin Community Foundation and the county each put in $50,000. “The federal government isn’t throwing a lot of money at this,” said Kristin Drumm, a senior county planner. “The state has stepped up to provide funding for outreach.”