Albany’s geographic segregation

First, A quick survey of election results

With the elections over, it’s time to take a look at the results. In Albany, the good news is that both the well-qualified African-American female candidates won their elections—Ge’Nell Gary to the city council and Melissa Boyd to the school board. The new city council will consist of three women (two White, one African-American), and two White men. The school board will consist of four women (one African-American, one Latina, and two White), and one African-American man. This may be a first for AUSD—no White males on the school board.

The bad news is that Tod Abbott was not elected to the council. This is a real loss for the city. Tod was among the most qualified candidates to run for council in my memory. Fortunately for both Tod and the city, he is already very involved in civic activities, and I hope for our sake he stays engaged.

The tax measures were a mixed bag. The city passed two out of the three that were on the ballot. Measure CC will increase the transfer tax when a property is sold, and Measure DD adds a user utility tax to our water bills. Measure EE, the special tax for paramedic and ambulance services, failed to achieve the required super-majority and was defeated. The polling for the measures was conducted pre-Covid, so I was prepared for some disappointing results.

Measure BB, the ranked choice voting initiative, won with 73 percent of the votes. Meanwhile at the polls, RCV continued to have a minor effect. There were 23 RCV elections in the Bay area–six in San Francisco, three in San Leandro, nine in Oakland and five in Berkeley. In only one, the District 7 supervisor race in San Francisco, was the eventual winner the not the first-round winner. This is consistent with past experience on RCV–nationally it has only made a difference in about one election in 20. (For my take on RCV, please see my previous post.)

At the federal level, the role of RCV was odder still. RCV is used to elect senators in Maine, but it didn’t matter this time because Republican Susan Collins won a majority in the first round of voting. In Georgia, it’s a good thing that RCV was not used to pick that state’s two senators. If RCV had been used, it’s very likely we would now have two Republican senators from Georgia. Because runoff elections are required, the Democrats get another chance. According to the New York Times, runoff elections were created in the 1960s as racist barriers. But that’s not how it turned out this time.

Exploring Albany through American Community Survey data

When I first came to Albany I lived in University Village (1995-2000). Back then, what remained of the original WWII shipyard housing was still being used to house UC graduate students. Many of those shipyard workers had been African-American. With the help of a UC Berkeley reference librarian who was an expert on census data, I explored the history of University Village. My article still exists in a somewhat garbled form on the Albany Patch website.

A few months ago I began to wonder what census data could tell us about Albany today, and from an unexpected source I found a motherload of information. The United States Census Bureau conducts the national census every decade. It also collects data in between decades through the American Community Survey (ACS). A user-friendly version of the data comes in the form of the Narrative Profiles, 22-page reports which allow you to select national, state, county, city and census tract data. The 22 pages are consistently formatted, making it easy to compare different regions. If you already know what you are looking for, there are more direct ways to search the data. But the narrative profiles allow you to explore the data and make connections that you otherwise might miss.

If you are interested, I have created a download link that includes the narrative profiles for all six Albany census tracts, the cities of Albany and Berkeley, Alameda County, the state of California, the USA, and my spreadsheet summary of what I found. You can download the zip file here. The map below displays the six census tracts that make up the City of Albany, which is shown in pink. The six census tracts are numbered 4201-4206 as you move counter-clockwise from the NE corner.

Map 1: The six Albany census tracts in pink.

Here’s an easy way conceptualize how the census tracts are defined: Draw two vertical lines through the map, one along San Pablo Ave and one along the BART tracks. Next draw a horizontal line along Solano Ave from San Pablo Ave to the eastern city border. Finally, draw a curving line that follows Buchanan Ave from San Pablo Ave to the western border of Albany. These lines divide Albany into the six census tracts. In the graphs that follow, the census tracts will be ordered from left to right by their average household income, as in the table below:

Figure 2: The six Albany census tracts and descriptions, ordered from low- to high-income.

Albany population, households and K-12 enrollment

The first three graphs below display some general population statistics about Albany’s six census tracts. Keep in mind this is data from 2014-18 survey. The 2015-19 survey will be released on Dec. 10. The 2020 census data will become available in the Spring of 2021. The subtitles show the citywide totals:

Graph 1: Population of Albany by six census tracts. City total is 19,758.

In Graph 1 above, note that the most populous census tract is NW-Condos. It contains 24.6 percent of Albany’s population. In addition to the three Pierce St. condo complexes, this tract also includes apartments and a mix of single family homes, from small bungalows to larger houses on Albany Hill.

Graph 2: Number of Albany households by census tract. City total is 7,391.

The largest number of households in Albany is also in the NW-Condos census tract. Graphs 1 and 2 have similar shapes, which indicate the number of persons per household is similar across census tracts. The average number of persons per household in Albany is 2.67. This figure varies from a low of 2.49 in NW-Condos to a high of 2.87 in SE-St. Mary’s.

Graph 3: K-12 enrollment. City total is 3,905.

In Graph 3 above, K-12 enrollment can include students in private schools, although the majority of students are enrolled in Albany public schools. (The 2019-20 enrollment of AUSD is 3,586, according Ed-Data.) Note that the percentage of students from SW-UC Village is only 9.3 percent of the total Albany enrollment. The families of these students are sometimes criticized because UC is exempt from local property taxes. This is not quite true. First of all, UC Village residents pay sales taxes just like any other Albany residents. In addition, the per-student state funding for Village kids is the same as other AUSD students. Finally, the new mixed-use development there does pay local taxes because the land is being used for commercial purposes.

The ethnic composition of Albany’s census tracts

I have ordered the following four graphs, graphs 4-7, in declining order by population of the racial and ethnic groups. Note that In census data the term Hispanic is an ethnic concept, not a racial one. Hispanics can be of any race. Of course, race itself is no longer considered a scientific concept.

Graph 4: White non-Hispanic population. City total is 9,098.

The SE-St. Mary’s census tract is home to the largest White Non-Hispanic population in Albany. In Albany as a whole, 46.0 percent of the population is White Non-Hispanic. This is much higher than the figure for Alameda County (31.8 percent) or California (37.5 percent). But Albany’s percentage is much lower than the United States as a whole (61.1 percent).

Graph 5: Asian/Pacific islander population. City total is 5,994.

In Albany, the Asian/Pacific Islander population is concentrated in the NW-Condos census tract and the two other lower-income tracts (72.8 percent). In Albany as a whole, the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islanders is 30.3 percent, about the same as Alameda County (30.4), but much higher than the state as a whole (14.7 percent) or the nation (5.6 percent).

Graph 6: Hispanic population. City total is 2,501.

Albany has a relatively low Hispanic population (12.7 percent), lower than Alameda County (22.5 percent), California (38.9 percent) or the nation (17.8). There is a fairly large Hispanic population in the SE-St. Mary’s census tract. Otherwise Hispanics are concentrated in the two census tracts west of San Pablo Ave (57.0 percent).

There is a mixture of housing types in all our census tracts. The SW-UC Village tract contains a disproportionate share of younger student families and their children, but it also contains our assisted living center for seniors. All our census tracts border on either San Pablo Ave, Solano Ave, or both. Many apartment buildings are located on our commercial corridors. There are a few large apartments along Solano in the SE-St. Mary’s census tract, but fewer in the NE-AHS tract. This might explain the difference in the Hispanic population of our two highest-income districts. But this is speculation–it is difficult to tell from the data we have.

Graph 7: African-American population. City total is 490.

Albany has a low percentage of African-American residents, at 2.5 percent of the population. This percentage is lower than Alameda County (10.8 percent), California (5.8 percent) or the nation (12.7 percent). Of Albany’s 490 African-American residents, 41.7 percent live in one census tract, N-Plaza to Solano. Albany’s African-American population peaked in WWII when housing was built for shipyard workers at the current location of University Village. This population declined steadily after WWII and continues to fall in the sustained aftermath of the 2008 financial panic, and with the rise of the tech industry and high housing prices in the inner Bay Area.

The racial and ethnic percentage composition of Albany’s census tracts compared to the citywide averages

In the following four graphs, graphs 8-11, I use the same data used in the four graphs above, graphs 4-7, but instead of counting people, I calculate the percentage breakdowns in each census tract and compare them to the citywide average (orange line). This controls for the different sizes of the census tracts, allowing trends to become more apparent. In the graphs below, note how many trends are monotonic or nearly so. That is, they tend to trend either up or down from one side of the city to the other.

Graph 8: The percentage of White non-Hispanic residents in each census tract (blue bars) compared to the citywide average (orange line).

As we move from the census tract that contains University Village to the one that contains St. Mary’s high school, Albany gets progressively more White non-Hispanic. The percentage rises from about one-third of the population west of San Pablo Ave to two-thirds of the population east of the BART tracks.

Graph 9: The percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander residents in each census tract (blue bars) compared to the citywide average (orange line).

As we travel across our census tracts, the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islanders tends to drop, from about 43 percent in NW-Condos to about 16 percent in SE-St. Mary’s.

Graph 10: The percentage of Hispanic residents in each census tract (blue bars) compared to the citywide average (orange line).

As we travel across our census tracts, the percentage of Hispanics declines, but does increase in the highest-income census tract, SE-St. Mary’s. However, it still remains below the citywide average there.

Graph 11: The percentage of Black or African-American residents in each census tract (blue bars) compared to the citywide average (orange line).

The two census tracts between San Pablo Ave and the BART tracts contain above- average percentages of African-American residents, while the other four to the east and west have below-average percentages.

Other related census tract trends

The final four graphs, graphs 12-15, show related information about Albany’s census tracts that is also mostly monotonic as we travel across the city.

Graph 12: Percent foreign-born residents by census tract.

The number of foreign-born residents declines as we move from west to east in Albany, from almost 47 percent west of San Pablo Ave to a little more than 13 percent in the SE-St. Mary’s census tract.

Graph 13: Percent of households in single-family homes by census tract.

The percentage of households living in single-family homes rises as we move from west to east in Albany. The citywide average is 53.8 percent, but it is almost 90 percent east of the BART tracks.

Graph 14: Median household income by census tract.

Graph 14 above shows a monotonic increase in median income. In Albany, as in nearby cities in the East Bay, incomes tend to rise as you travel from west to east, and as altitude increases.

Graph 15: Percent of households with annual incomes greater than $200,000 by census tract.

Graph 15 takes another look at income, this time as the percentage of households with income great than $200,000 annually. The bars tend to rise more steeply than in Graph 14. This is mostly likely because with respect to medians, averages are more affected by outliers–in this case very high incomes. Note that in the SE-St. Mary’s census tract, 35 percent of the households have incomes above $200,000 annually.

Albany is geographically segregated

Many Albany residents like to think of our city as being diverse, and it is–if you only look at the city as a whole. If you zoom down the census tract level, Albany is a geographically segregated city. As we move from west to east, Albany becomes whiter and higher-income, with a higher proportion of native-born residents living in single-family homes. There is nothing unusual about this. You’ll find a similar pattern in Berkeley and Oakland, and in Contra Costa County cities of El Cerrito and Richmond.

To see why I am concerned, see the map below. Currently, All five members of the city council, and three of the five school board members, reside in the two highest-income census tracts in Albany:

Map 2: The approximate location of Albany’s city council and school board members.

Note that five new city council and school board members have been elected and will be seated in December, 2020. I don’t know the exact addresses of the new members, but the net result should be a shift of one or two dots from east of the BART tracks to the census tracts between BART and San Pablo Ave.

Slightly less than 30 percent of Albany residents live in its two highest-income census tracts east of the BART line, yet the majority of city council and school board members live there. This is a problem, especially since the income and ethnic/racial characteristics of the east side and west side of Albany are very different. Albany’s elected officials should be more representative of the city as a whole. I think Albany’s citizens should be concerned about this.

Will our switch to ranked choice voting somehow solve this problem? I doubt it. The reality is that a significant portion of the voters do not follow local government issues closely and the easiest way to get their attention and win their votes is through campaign spending. Campaign expenditures for city council races (and school district parcel taxes) have been growing in recent years, and this puts lower-income candidates and their neighborhood donors at a disadvantage.

The final campaign expenditure reports for the last election are due on February 1, 2021, and can be viewed on the city’s website soon after that date. Although I’ll no longer be on the council then, I’ll review the expenditure reports and post what I discover here. We will have to wait and see how these issues play out over the coming months.