The face of Mountain View has changed significantly over the last decade, with population growth fast outpacing the rest of California and far more local residents identifying as Asian and mixed-race, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The 2020 census counted a total of 82,376 residents living in Mountain View, a 11.2% increase over 2010 and a growth rate that exceeds the countywide average of 8.7%. Though growing faster than neighbors like Palo Alto (6.5%) and Los Altos (9.1%), the largest growth took place in the South County cities of Gilroy and Morgan Hill.
The limited data release on Thursday shows the racial demographics of Mountain View are shifting quickly, and that white residents no longer make up a majority of an increasingly diverse city. Contrary to the city's overall population growth, the number of people identifying as "white only" in Mountain View declined from 41,468 in 2010 to 34,895 in 2020. The Asian population increased from 19,232 to 28,891 over the same period, largely making up the city's growth over the last decade. Residents identifying as being two or more races also spiked from 3,761 to 9,381.
Latinos and Hispanics now make up the largest ethnic group in the state, but Mountain View's trends are heading in the opposite direction. The number of residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino dropped from 16,071 in 2010 to 14,206 in 2020, according to census data, and now make up 17.2% of the city's population. The number of Black people also declined from 1,629 to 1,227, representing 1.5% of the city.
Housing data collected by the Census Bureau may have been affected by the pandemic, which began around the same time as the launch of the census. The city saw an increase of 3,414 households to a total of 37,295, but vacancy rates were reportedly higher than in 2010. The federal agency is reporting a 7.7% vacancy rate (2,872 units), up from a 5.7% vacancy rate in 2010.
Growth was uneven in Mountain View over the last decade, with some neighborhoods adding hundreds of residents while others saw a decline. The census tract roughly encompassing Old Mountain View west of Bush Street grew by the largest amount at 37.68%, increasing from 2,625 residents to 3,614. The Slater and Whisman neighborhoods -- lumped into the same census tract -- saw the second-largest boost in population, with an increase of over 30% from 4,346 residents to 5,663.
The largest decline was in the Farley neighborhood of Mountain View, wedged between Monta Loma and Rex Manor, where the number of residents decreased from 3,706 to 3,536, census data shows.
The decennial census is a massive collection of demographic information that relies heavily on a high "self-response" rate, in which residents voluntarily reply to letters, mailers and phone calls with information about who lives in each home. Santa Clara County officials worried in March 2020 that the pandemic would suppress response rates and cause a gross undercount, and later pumped money into a door-to-door outreach campaign.
The local spending was seen as a good investment, as census data operates as the backbone for apportioning federal and state funding, most of it for social services like Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers. It's also used to redraw voting districts for congressional seats, and can cause states to gain or lose political power.
The high stakes of an accurate count -- mixed with concerns about the pandemic -- made it all the more alarming to state and local officials when U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a member of the Trump administration, ordered that the census count end early on Sept. 30, rather than the original Oct. 31 deadline. A federal judge later reinstated the Oct. 31 deadline.
The self-response rate in Mountain View was 75.7%, according to the Census Bureau, which is an improvement over 2010 but actually falls below the countywide response rate of 77.7%. The census tract encompassing part of the Cuesta Park neighborhood had the highest self-response rate of 85.4% as of Oct. 28, while the lowest response rates were in the Castro City (64.3%) and San Antonio (67.5%) neighborhoods.
Despite nearly 1 in 3 residents not responding across the state of California, federal officials are boasting a 99.9% "enumerated" rate for the state, suggesting that nearly all residents have been accounted for using means other than self-responses.
Low self-response rates and an overreliance on enumerators tracking down population counts can lead to inaccuracies, according to the Center for Urban Research out of the City University of New York. The group mapped response rates by tract, and warns that tools for filling in the hard-to-reach populations are imprecise.
For example, if a household has not responded after three attempts, enumerators can turn to "proxies" like landlords and neighbors to collect basic information about the household. The group cites Census Bureau data showing 7% of those proxy responses are outright wrong, while 23% didn't yield enough information to be useful. Census workers were also frequently barred from leaving notices that they had visited apartments due to COVID-related restrictions on visitors.
More demographic information is expected to be released by the U.S. Census Bureau later this year.