Malibu residents census leery

Malibu residents slamming the door in the face of census takers might well be turning their back on expanded services of the fire department when they need it most, believes Malibu census crew leader, Julie Bongers.

Since March, Bongers’ crew of Census 2000 workers has fanned out from PCH into the hills and canyons gathering information, which helps the community obtain funding for roads, schools, parks, hospitals and public services, such as the fire department.

Bongers said Malibu residents have been frequently unhelpful and think of the census as an intrusion of privacy, not realizing that participating is in their own best interest.

“Long forms have been answered over the intercom and by yelling through thick oak doors,” said Bongers. “In gated communities security guards have been instructed not to help us.”

Census Bureau statistics listed Malibu as one of eight cities in thecounty that did not meet the 1990 mail-back response rate. Census takers are instructed to make contact with each residence three times, by phone and in person.

“Malibu residents that feel they don’t need roads or schools should realize that the fire department matters,” said Bongers. “We have many bad fires; bad car accidents and houses get flooded and washed out. Nobody is excluded.”

A Malibu resident herself, Bonger said she believes the community would also benefit from the funding for more parks. “Whether you are pro or anti-development, parks are necessary places to create community. Just look at Crosscreek and how many people bring their kids there to play,” she said.

Malibu’s terrain also makes it difficult for census takers to get their information. Houses are far apart and neighbors do not know one another. Access to some homes requires driving on rough narrow roads only to find a property completely gated. Some addresses no longer have homes on them since recent fires, which then requires a visit with the fire department to clear the Census Bureau paperwork.

Bongers said that many of the second homes in Malibu are the hardest to get information about. Despite unlisted phone numbers and absentee owners living elsewhere, census takers are required to keep coming back in an attempt to make contact.

“People will just get pestered more. If someone knocks and they just fill out the form, chances are someone will not come knocking again,” said Bonger.

Census takers are hired to work in the cities they live in. Bonger said this policy was to hire people who “speak the language of your neighbors” as well as the practical side of knowing your way around.

This knowledge came in handy when Malibu’s homeless population was counted on March 28th, the same day the entire country, devoted to seeking out the “non-sheltered” population. Bonger believes they got an accurate count.

“We went to where we knew people were living outside; behind Ralphs market, Topanga beach, in the canyons and some of the places they hang out in the daytime,” said Bonger.

Malibu census takers have found residents comfortable with English.

“Many Malibu families have lived in Malibu for a long time. There is no pattern of non-English speakers,” said Bonger.

By law, the Census Bureau can not share answers with other agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Internal Revenue Service, welfare, courts, the police or the military. Bongers said she maintains the oath to privacy in her own mind by not reading the names on the questionnaires she checks over each day as they are turned in by her staff.

In the midst of career changes, Bonger went to work for Census 2000 as a way to make a little extra money. She said her crew is made up of an interesting variety of people in various stages of life including a number of Pepperdine students, an artist, some retired people looking for something to do and someone wanting extra money for fire insurance.

The Malibu Public Library has provided them with a bit of office space and a table to meet.

Census takers are easily recognizable by large badges with the seal of the Census Bureau. The census ends June 10.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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