Thursday, July 16, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Recent news accounts of a North Las Vegas survey noted that nearly two-thirds of respondents gave their neighborhoods favorable ratings, and nearly three-fourths said they would recommend living in the fast-growing city of about 200,000.
So now we know that some people in North Las Vegas are happy. But are they feliz?
We don’t really know. The city sent out 1,200 surveys, and 216 were returned. Just two were filled out in Spanish.
And although the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that nearly 40 percent of North Las Vegas’ population is Hispanic — a higher percentage than in Clark County or in any other valley municipality — only 25 percent of survey respondents identified themselves as Hispanic.
This raises the question of how useful the survey will be as a tool for policy. Not very useful, one expert says, adding that the city should work harder to reach more Hispanics. The survey company, National Research Center of Boulder, Colo., says it’s difficult in general to get Hispanics anywhere to answer its questions in writing. And city officials say more Hispanics participated in previous years, but getting those who speak mostly Spanish to complete surveys has always been tough.
The company’s 100-page report is meant to help guide policymakers by adding to their knowledge of what city residents think about a variety of issues, from safety to libraries. This was the fourth survey of North Las Vegas residents since 2004.
The project is a compelling idea, and North Las Vegas isn’t the only city striving to hear the vox populi. National Research Center has canvassed about 300 cities to date.
But this survey underpolled a significant portion of the population. Particularly underrepresented, apparently, were North Las Vegas Hispanics who speak English “less than very well.” Judging by census estimates, that’s true of 42 percent of Hispanics in North Las Vegas. These tend to be more recent immigrants, and such a relatively large population would be important to consider when it comes to providing services.
Damema Mann, director of national citizen surveys at the National Research Center, says Hispanic participation is “generally very low across the country.” Some cities, she says, have tried to address this problem by sending out surveys in English and Spanish, instead of requiring Spanish-speakers to call and ask for surveys in their language, which North Las Vegas did.
Andres Ramirez, vice president of Hispanic programs at NDN, a Washington, D.C., think tank, says the city could have gotten more involved in both designing and executing the survey to target Hispanics.
“There were not enough people paying attention to this community and its importance to the growth of this city,” says Ramirez, who lost a bid to become North Las Vegas’ first Hispanic mayor in 2005.
Because of the low sample size of respondents in general, and the even smaller number of Hispanic participants, Ramirez says, the survey “shouldn’t be used as a viable political tool.”
Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, assistant to the city manager of North Las Vegas, says the city had higher Hispanic participation rates in past years, though the share of Spanish-speakers was low then too. She says the project is only “one piece of our puzzle” when it comes to policy, and that the city makes a lot of face-to-face efforts to engage the Hispanic community, including bilingual neighborhood meetings with city police.
The city has considered expanding the survey’s sample size or conducting it by phone but so far has decided against adding to the nearly $15,000 price tag the project currently carries.
In fact, even that cost may prove a burden in these times, Bailey-Hedgepeth says. “We may not even do this next year.” Instead, she says, the city may go to polling its residents every two years.
In that case, by 2011, we would have results from next year’s full-blown U.S. Census Bureau count — which may show North Las Vegas to be even more Hispanic than we thought.