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Roundtable: The Census Question

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The Supreme Court hears a case challenging a Trump administration change to the 2020 census, the city of Imperial Beach considers a stricter ban on plastic bags, and seniors navigate retirement in California.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 It's a question that might weaken California's political power. Are you a United States citizen? Will the supreme court allow it to be part of the 2020 census? The mayor of Imperial Beach says we're drowning in plastic. Now. He's pushing for an even tougher bag ban and the two extremes of a grain California as the senior homeless population rises, others are writing a real estate wave into retirement. I'm mark Sauer. The KPBS round starts now.

Speaker 1: 00:39 Welcome to our discussion of the week stop stories. I'm mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS roundtable today. KPBS reporter Prius Schreder report her Gustavos Elise of the San Diego Union Tribune associate editor. Jesse Marks a voice of San Diego and investigative reporter. I'm Meetha Sharma of KPBS news. Well, should the 2020 census include a question on citizenship that highly contentious issue, which has great impact on states like California will be decided by the u s supreme court. The high court heard arguments this week with a majority conservative justices appearing to lean toward overruling lower courts and adding the citizenship question, the case being fast tracked with a decision due by June and pre, it's been 70 years since we've had this question on the census all the way back to the 1950 census. Uh, what's the, um, what's the reason that people who were against having this question, what do they say is going to be the problem with it?

Speaker 2: 01:38 Well, there are a number of problems. We have to remember why we do the census in the first place. So one of it is to allocate federal funds. And in this situation it's actually $800 billion that are at stake here. But what people who are against this question are saying is that it's going to unfairly punish states with high immigrant populations like California, Illinois, and New York. Um, many organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union are saying that, uh, this is going to discourage immigrants from participating in the sentences. There's a lot of, um, antigovernment hysteria going on right now and a lot of people don't fully understand how the census works and what the government is going to do with this information. And they're afraid that perhaps, uh, that information could be turned over to the Department of Homeland Security or immigration and customs enforcement. And then they're going to have, you know, federal agents knocking on their door and potentially have a family members deported,

Speaker 1: 02:31 even though the census is, is a supposed to be supposed to be a confidential stuff. I know Julia anonymous, so the argument, uh, for the, the Trump administration where they think it's important to have this

Speaker 2: 02:43 so it gets murky. Yeah. That, that's a little bit confusing. And we were talking about this a upstairs in the news room, but, uh, it was first introduced in late 2017 by attorney general Jeff sessions. And he essentially said that we need this question on the census to enforce section two, the voting rights act, which prohibits discrimination against any citizens voting rights on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. Now exactly why they would need to know, uh, who is a citizen citizen or noncitizen to enforce the voting rights act is a little bit unclear. Um, I've been trying to figure that out all morning, but, uh, it's interesting because president Trump actually tweeted on Wednesday and he said, uh, the American people deserve to know who is in this country. So that's his explanation as to why we need this question.

Speaker 1: 03:30 All right. And I'm going to set up a, just to show a contentious is set up a couple of bites here going forward. We're going to hear from a two in a row here. White House spokesman, Hogan, a Gidley and then California governor Gavin Newsome on two sides of this issue.

Speaker 3: 03:46 Does the president believe, uh, an accurate count how many people live in the US isn't necessary? Absolutely. I mean, he wants to know who's in this country and I think as a sovereign nation, we do we have that right? It's been a question that's been on the census for decades. Uh, but, uh, we'll wait and see how the Supreme Court rules in the census question is one purpose. And that's to under count our diverse communities. It's attended her blue states like California. It will have real consequences, economic consequences and potentially, uh, from a representation perspective we could actually lose a a how seat, uh, in that, uh, process we're doing more than probably any other state to offset the damage that's already been done because I want to acknowledge us regardless of the adjudication of the Supreme Court, the damage has been done

Speaker 1: 04:33 right. And the Constitution itself is pretty clear count everybody at basic police. Yes.

Speaker 2: 04:37 Right, exactly. And as governor and you're some just pointed out, um, these, the census determines the number of seats in the electoral college and the number of Representatives and the House of Representatives. And those numbers are supposed to be based on population, not based on citizens.

Speaker 1: 04:53 Right. And Justin, now you, uh, interviewed the activist researchers in North San Diego County. They try to get people to participate in the census. And what did they say will happen locally at this questions included to really interesting interview is up there.

Speaker 4: 05:05 Yeah. So locally on the ground you've got groups like the National Latino Research Center, which is, which is, uh, hooked up with the San Marcos University, cal state up there. And what they've been arguing is that their communities, which are primarily Latino work and going to continue to be underserved and under counted because as preop pointed out, the census determines an equitable distribution of resources. It also shapes politics from Congress on down, so not just the House of Representatives but also local cities and school districts which are carved up based on districts rather than at large elections at this point in time. So there are about 650 different sunstroke census track tracks between San Diego County and imperial. And about a third of those are considered hard to count about 50 of them just in North County. And so that means that those communities experience a higher level of poverty or they experience a language barriers or they don't have access to certain amenities like the rest of us take for granted, which is Internet access. And governor Newsome's point, larger point about how the damage already done is one that people are talking about up there as well, which is that there's already a large level of mistrust. So when you have this conversation publicly, it might convince some people, even if their data is going to be protected, not to talk and not to trust anyone with a, with a badge who comes to their home.

Speaker 1: 06:12 Right. And it was interesting your story, just going back to the last ex census in 2010 just how few people responded before we had this whole controversy over a citizenship questions.

Speaker 4: 06:22 Right? It's true. It's, it's hard to say exactly how many people didn't participate otherwise this conversation will be meaningless, right? But the Census Bureau estimates that about 78% of households in San Diego County participated in 2000. So that means about one in every five did not. And then in 2010 it actually went down. So it was a 72% participation rate, which is about one in every four households that didn't participate. Um, that's obviously a problem. Uh, it's not clear why it went down, but one possible reason as the governor had suggested is the, uh, the amount of money they dedicated towards the get out. The count efforts, uh, was extremely low. It was only $2 million in 2010 because the state was in the midst of a severe recession, but now it's about a hundred million dollars. So they're investing in this because they think that if rightfully so, that if you under count your populations and you don't give them enough resources or political representation, everybody loses out. So it's worth the investment.

Speaker 1: 07:14 Is it easier this time? I mean, uh, we're in the digital age or are there easy, is it easier for somebody, any household to respond to the census than it has been in years past? They, they can do it. Yeah,

Speaker 4: 07:24 digitally. But again, there's this sense of mistrust around the government and that mistrust is not completely unreasonable. There've been instances in which even the state, not just the Trump administration, has tried to engage in good faith and they have a trade people over it. So like ab 60, a couple of years ago was supposed to give driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, right? And they were all told this is going to be private and confidential and don't worry about it. But now it turns out that federal immigration officials have been using and accessing that data to actually find and arrest immigrants. So that information is showing up in court cases now and again, it's not unreasonable for people to feel betrayed in that process.

Speaker 1: 08:00 Plus, we've had, you know, decades, the Republican, certainly going back to the time of Reagan have, have bashed the government. They're not here to help you. And then we've got the distrust of institutions, Facebook banks, a wells Fargo comes to mind misusing people's information all along. And now you bring on the census question and pretty, you've been covering a city heights for KP Bsu, uh, recently, uh, we have, uh, immigration from Latin America of course, dominates the headlines, but a lot of people in, in city heights and other communities in San Diego County or from all other places around the world. And they may, they may have feel a little wary about this as well, right?

Speaker 2: 08:34 Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I actually just spent the last few days in Little Saigon and I tried to ask people there about the census question. They weren't too familiar with the debate over the citizenship question on the census. Um, but I also have spoken with immigration attorneys who have said that in general, they're just getting a lot, a lot more questions from their clients about how exactly to engage the government. And I think as Jesse said, there's just a lot more sort of trepidation and just, um, there is a little bit of just a dialogue going on with, you know, um, should we trust the government and should we participate in things? What, what do I get out of it? And I think that's what's really difficult to explain to the average resident of San Diego was why should I participate in it? Maybe there's just more to lose than to gain here.

Speaker 5: 09:19 Right. This seems to be a bit of a contradiction between the White House is saying the reason is for asking this question and what the Justice Department is saying. You've had justice department official is saying, no, you know, this question isn't absolutely required to enforce the 1965 voting rights act. How do you, I know you might have a hard time predicting, but, but how do you expect the Supreme Court is going to process that contradiction?

Speaker 2: 09:44 Well, so what's interesting is, and we heard this, um, when they were hearing the different arguments is it doesn't seem like there's going to be a lot of, uh, legal, uh, basically justification and to why they can't put this question on the census. It appears that they can put it on the census, but, uh, is it going to have negative effects? The answer from a lot of people, including seven out of the eight previous directors of the Department of Justice is that it's really not necessary to enforce the voting rights act, but can they legally put it on there? It seems like they followed all the rules. You're supposed to give a two year notice, uh, about adding an additional question before the census actually is disseminated. And they did follow all of those rules as well. So it seems like there might be a little bit of a difficulty in trying to knock it down based on a legal justification.

Speaker 1: 10:34 All right, we'll have to leave it there. There's plenty more to report on. We'd be looking forward to follow ups and of course to see what the Supreme Court rules on. And by June we're going to move on some distressing facts. About 8 million metric tons of plastic are thrown into the ocean annually. The massive patch of plastic between California and Hawaii is the size of Texas. Every minute, the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans. Fish, birds, turtles, sea mammals, all in just plastic all the time. People caused this pollution. People can stop it at certainly the attitude and imperial beach and Gustavo, let's start there. What is this tough new, a proposal here. It wasn't, the ban on plastic bags wasn't enough for the folks. Imperial Beach.

Speaker 6: 11:16 Well, no, it's actually they're expanding an existing ban on styrofoam that they passed a couple of years ago. Oh, this one is to include plastic, not just bags, but straws, stirrers utensils, um, containers that aren't biodegradable. But the one that's getting the most of the focus is the plastic bag ban because IB wants to take it a step further than what the state has already done with their plastic bag band

Speaker 1: 11:39 and remind us what the state's done. And, and of course there's all sorts of communities in San Diego County around the state that, that have, uh, have followed suit.

Speaker 6: 11:47 Yeah. Every city really has their own approach to how they're doing it. But most of them have what, what elected officials in IB called loophole. And anyone who's gone to a grocery store will know that if you give them a dime, they'll give you a plastic bag. So a little thicker than they used to be. They have handles and they're legally described as reusable bags instead of a single use plastic bag. So there's still plastic bags out there. There's just a thicker bag and imperial beach to the mayor. The city council was saying that that's essentially a fake plastic bag ban. Let's do a real one and get rid of plastic bags.

Speaker 1: 12:20 All right. And if we, if we see this come to pass there, an imperial beaches, how was that stack up? Is that the strictest one then and in California?

Speaker 6: 12:27 Well, I think so. I mean, I haven't checked every other city in California, but San Francisco, La, San Diego, Napa, Oakland, they all have the restriction. The not the restriction, the loophole for the thicker bags. I think it's 2.25 mills. It's like one 1000th of an inch. So we would definitely set it apart from, from all the major cities in the state.

Speaker 1: 12:50 In the idea there is that one become, because it's thicker becomes a reusable bag, but eventually it all winds up in the ocean. That seems

Speaker 6: 12:57 right. And we'll based on practice, right. I mean, when I first got the bag, I treated it like any other bag because I didn't know if it was meant to be reusable. It's just another plastic bag. And certainly in imperial beach. Uh, it, they've seen it ended up in their beach and their coastline in their water and they're really worried about the environment down there.

Speaker 1: 13:14 Well and live a different topic. But if the first cousin of this, we've talked a lot about the sewage problems there and the, uh, the cross border problems and dealing with Mexico on it and the, and the difficulties and mirror search to Deanna who's talked about that a lot. Uh, we're gonna hear from him right now and he's going to tell us about why he thinks it's really important to get tougher on plastic.

Speaker 7: 13:34 We're a little ahead of the curve, but this is a statewide issue with the national shows to global issue that we're drowning in plastic and there's, uh, there's mounds and tons of trash in the river valley, but when we go to the Walton beach in under water, it's in our body. It's in our food, probably in the air. We're drowning in plastic. The plastic industry is preparing for these changes. They know it's coming.

Speaker 1: 13:57 All right. Let's talk about the other side of this. Who's a opposed to these, a stricter, tougher rules in imperial beach.

Speaker 6: 14:03 Uh, William Imperial Beach. There was one council men, uh, Robert Patton was, was playing devil's advocate. He was worried about banding everything too much and because it might have a negative impact on the business community there he was specifically worried about small businesses. I know the council got a letter in opposition to the proposed ban from industry groups. I think it was a restaurant industry group. And a thinking is, you know, imperial beach is trying to lure more businesses. We're trying to develop the place a little bit more. We're painting ourselves as a business friendly environment and this might contradict that messaging we want to get out there. Um, the response to that from the rest of the members of the council, I think it was Mark West pointed to, um, uh, a news article. It was on NPR and National Geographic's about scientists finding little tiny particles of plastic in the French Pyrenees, remote mountain in the south of France. So if there's plastic there, there's probably a plastic in imperial beach. And, um, you know, I was saying about an extreme situations calling from extreme measures,

Speaker 1: 15:03 right? Um, the other, uh, question I had, there is a, the next step there, it doesn't sound like there's a ton of opposition, but the staff has to study this and kind of come up with some real specific restrictions.

Speaker 6: 15:15 Bosals right? They have to be careful with the language a little bit. Uh, one of the council members Poloma gear he proposed at the last council meeting, let's just ban it. Let's just do it right now. Let's right plastic bags. That way there's no ambiguity about thickness in anything. The city attorney pushed back a little bit and saying, wait, like that might be too broad because there are carve outs in the way this ordinance is written. For example, there's the thin plastic bags that you put your fruits and vegetables in it, the grocery store or plastic bags that you get your dry cleaning with or your laundry with. So they do have to account for different types of plastic bags. Um, and that's sort of what they're working on now. They're working on the language and it'll go back to the council and there's no reason I don't see it passing through

Speaker 1: 15:58 gear than the sounds. Just, yeah.

Speaker 4: 16:00 So, uh, the, the mirror search to Dina has, has a reputation for not pulling any punches. Right. And so a quote like that doesn't necessarily surprise me. And you brought up a second ago, the sewage problems. I'm an imperial beach. Do you feel like this is not necessarily, it's not necessarily ironic that a city like imperial beach, we'll be pushing this sort of thing, but it's sort of the natural consequence of them having to think about these environmental problems and to take a lead on them.

Speaker 6: 16:20 It was definitely on brand for imperial beach. Right there was the first city to, through the IBW fee over the sewage crisis and other cities doing them. Right. Chula Vista, the state, and they've been on it now Surfrider foundation. So they do have that history of pushing the envelope and searched 18. It does have a history of speaking out and wanting to keep IB different than what he doesn't like about some other coastal cities in California. I think it was last year, he was complaining about lack of this building and coastal communities. He called them wealthy muscle Liam's where the wealthy go to die, you know, so IB, they, they're a fighter. They're, he has a blue collar background. They're really tough on things they believe in and they're willing to put their foot forward and stand up for it or it depends on what other cities do, right. I, I think it depends on what the, how the industry responds to imperial beach and just how practically it works out. Cause the, their band isn't just for businesses, that includes the city, it includes special events within the city or a contractor is doing work with this city. Other cities certainly joined them with the IBW see lawsuit. So I don't see why they wouldn't

Speaker 1: 17:26 following us. All right. We're out of time, but we'll see what happens with a, with IB down there and, and some surveys going forward and how popular reusable bags are and if the public's catching on and, and willing to to back all of this. Well, hard work usually makes all the difference, but sometimes it doesn't. Buying a home at the right time and the right place can be a way of making your own luck, whether they're seniors, her retirement pot of gold, or find themselves destitute in their golden years. Depends on many factors. But in San Diego, in much of California, even those who've worked decades to build lives and nest eggs can find themselves priced out. Such stories are a big part of an 11 parts series running and KPBS and other public broadcasting stations in California right now. And Amit, the start right there. Tell us about the series. What's it about

Speaker 5: 18:13 series that looks at what it's like to age in California through the eyes of 11 people and it explores a vast variety of issues. What it's like to work when you're older, what it's like to look for a job when you're older, what it's like to be homeless when you're older, what it's like to seek caregiving, uh, when you're older and actually give caregiving what it's like to look for transportation and what it's like to pursue your dreams in this time of life. And the idea of it, the purpose of it is the California is getting older. Um, it's the senior citizens are the fastest growing segments of the population. So by 2030, they're going to be 9 million seniors. In 25 years, the population, the senior population is going to double. There will be more seniors living in this state than young children. So the idea is that through this series we hope to show what the state's going to look like even more in the years ahead and what that might do to shape the California dream.

Speaker 1: 19:19 Oh, prepared or unprepared. We are at this point looking ahead, we had a pair of stories in the series this week. Start with a feature on ending up a homeless on the street after a life of work. And Carl Russell.

Speaker 5: 19:29 So I spoke to this gentleman named Carl Russell. He's 71 years old. He's been homeless for a little over three years. He sleeps with his back up against the wall at the San Diego Wellness Center. He sleeps sitting up because he's too afraid of being attacked overnight. He's, he's had a friend who, who had his throat slit, um, and he's had a knee replacement surgery, both knees, hip replacement surgery, both hips. So when it's cold, he's super, super stiff. He uses the aid of a cane to walk around because he doesn't sleep well at night. He ends up taking the bus for at least half the part of the day so he can catch up on his sleep. Sometimes we'll ride over to San Diego State University and sit in the student lounge area because it's a little bit more comfortable. Um, and he spends every single day looking for housing. But the options are few waiting lists for affordable senior housing or super, super long, hundreds of people. But the likelihood that any of these people are going to find a place to live is very low.

Speaker 1: 20:34 We're going to hear from him now and it's exhausting living this way as you've described. So let's hear what the, a little bit from Carl Lewis here.

Speaker 5: 20:42 Why, why are the country broke? They're not rolling. They're not

Speaker 8: 20:48 putting any money in the community. And why is housing so bad? It's a lot on homeless people out here for real and it's serious and they old like me and I don't see, I don't see any help coming may problem. They ain't doing nothing for the city. And why not? The city's got money. This was America's finest city. You can't even linger in Coronado. Barely went to school over there. So why is that any different time? Any of this part of San Diego? I'm still out taxpayer. I work in this country 65 years. Why am I homeless?

Speaker 5: 21:29 So he gets $800 a month in social security. That is all he gets. He worked as a truck driver. He is fighting through the help of a pro bono lawyer to get the pension associated with that. Um, and he says it's particularly galling for him because here he is, he's seeing all these high rises going up with super high priced condos and yet he doesn't have a place to live.

Speaker 4: 21:52 And I think I misspoke. Call Him Carl Lewis. It's Carl restaurant still obviously Gustavo w when he was talking, I was reminded of the comments that council members said about constituents in whether homeless our constituents are not. I mean w I wonder what Carl would say about that. Sure.

Speaker 5: 22:07 Well, he would say they were absolutely constituents and I think all of California senior citizens would say their constituents, you know, Ucl lays elder index looks at the cost of living for senior citizens who are mostly surviving. Many are surviving on just social security alone. And California has a 20% poverty rate. It's the highest in the country among seniors, but they refer to these impoverished seniors as the hidden poor. Right. And, and part of that means that they're not necessarily acknowledged, not just by US society, but by politicians. So when you, when you ask if, if Carl is a constituent, of course he would say he's a constituents. But I don't know that that's the perception

Speaker 4: 22:54 and whose constituents, um, Jessica, go ahead. I just feel like that that's a very important point. And that was a really telling quote that Andrew Bella from KPBS actually God from Console Woman Marino. Because what it suggested is that if a council person is able to say, well, this person doesn't actually own a home or reside in a home in my backyard, then they're not my responsibility. And when asked straight, straight up, whose responsibility are they? She said, I'm not sure. So do you feel like that is part of the part of the thinking of the political class, which prevents them from actually moving forward with any meaningful ideas or any meaningful solutions that might help solve that, solve these problems at Carla's? Right.

Speaker 5: 23:27 Well that's a huge question and that is the question. The political class does not act until they are forced to by the public. So you know, one of the purposes of this project is I know that one of your questions is going to be do we not, you know, what does it say about our society? I don't know that it says something about our society. I mean, I guess the easy answer is, is that it doesn't say anything good about our society, but I think what it says more is, I think the truth is, is that we as a state, we as a country are not adequately addressing or confronting the reality before us. And that reality is does that we're getting older and that's going to have huge consequences for housing, for healthcare and for supportive services. And until, and unless we confront that and we're being forced to confront that on an individual level, there's so many kids you know, who are struggling to provide caregiving. I'm one of them, uh, for their, for their elderly parents with no help at all.

Speaker 1: 24:32 All right. Short time left. I did want to touch on this a, the other more fortunate folks who have equity in the home and the right places.

Speaker 5: 24:38 This couple of Carlos Luis [inaudible] 75, his wife Gurtika veen it's hard to say. They came of age at the perfect time. Gerda as a single mother, uh, bought home a town home at a time, 1985 when buying a home was more attainable for the middle class. So she bought a home for $99,000. She and her husband last year decided that they want to live out in the country. They sell it for half a million dollars. That's not a story that we haven't heard before. It they buy a ranch house in East San Diego County for $610,000. They're living the dream.

Speaker 1: 25:09 Yeah. And what the real quickly, what percentage of the folks are those in the homeless?

Speaker 5: 25:14 Um, well they say the homeless is growing across the states on this group of people that came of age at the right time in real estate wise. And you know, the go viens or the authorities I should say. I'm also came of age at a time when they had access to a pension. They had enough money to put away for retirement and they have, yeah.

Speaker 1: 25:32 All right. We'll look for the rest of the series with the times, a terrific series, and that does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. Like to thank my guests, Priya. Sure. Either of Kpbs News, Gustavos Elise at the San Diego Union Tribune. Jesse Marks a voice of San Diego, and Amit the Sharma also have KPBS PBS news. Reminder. All the stories we discussed today available on our website. KPBS dot. O r. G I'm Mark [inaudible]. Thanks for joining us today. Join us again next week on the round table.

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.