Residents' opinions split among geographic lines, survey shows
Concerns about transit services, population growth more prevalent in southern Palo Alto neighborhoods, new report indicates
Palo Altans generally love their city, but when it comes to specific local services they have plenty of gripes, a recently completed survey indicates.
The Service Efforts and Accomplishments Report, which the Office of the City Auditor released this week, indicates that the nature of gripes often depends on where in town the resident lives.
People who live in the 94303 ZIP code (east of Middlefield Road and generally south of Embarcadero Road) are less likely to complain about the quality of street repair than residents around downtown. But they are more likely to complain about the police coverage.
The survey showed 57 percent of 94303 responders rated street repair "good" or "excellent," compared to 39 percent in other parts of the city. But when asked about the quality of their contact with the Palo Alto Police Department, 63 percent gave the highest two ratings compared to 82 percent in the 94301 and 94304 ZIP codes (downtown and the neighborhoods around Stanford University, respectively) and 83 percent in 94306 (west of Middlefield Road and generally south of Oregon Expressway).
The differences don't stop there.
Downtown residents were much more critical in describing the quality of Palo Alto's storm drainage (67 percent said "good" or "excellent") than counterparts in Midtown and south Palo Alto (80 percent in the 94303 and 76 percent in the 94306). Residents in 94303 and 94306 — which collectively include the entire south Palo Alto and large swaths of central Palo Alto — are more concerned about population growth than those who live downtown or in the foothills. Only 33 percent of the residents in the 94301 and 94304 area codes said population growth is "too fast," compared to 62 percent in the 94303 and 54 percent in the 94306.
In some cases, these differences are logical. Downtown residents were more likely to praise Palo Alto's rail service (70 percent gave it "good" or "excellent") — due to proximity to the city's busiest Caltrain station. The number drops to just below 60 percent when residents in other ZIP codes are asked the same question.
Bus service showed a similar trend, with 58 percent of downtown residents giving it the top two ratings compared to 36 percent in the 94303 and 43 percent in the 94306.
Downtown residents were also more likely to say they feel they're getting the biggest bang for their tax buck from the city. The survey showed 70 percent of respondents in the 94301 and 94304 ZIP codes (which were grouped together) rating the "value of services for the taxes paid to Palo Alto" as "good" or "excellent." The number dipped to 59 percent in 94303 and to 57 percent in 94306.
But when it came to the city's storm drains, downtowners were the most critical, with only 67 percent rating them "good" or "excellent," compared to 80 percent in 94303 and 76 percent in 94306.
The split in public opinion didn't shock Councilman Greg Schmid, who has consistently lobbied his colleagues to pay more attention to the less affluent neighborhoods in south Palo Alto.
Schmid said Tuesday that while he supports getting more data from specific parts of the city, ZIP codes don't tell the whole story.
"There is one critical boundary that tends to divide the community — that's the Oregon-Page Mill or north-south split," Schmid said during the Tuesday night discussion of the SEA report.
The data, when split by ZIP codes, gives the city a "mixed salad that doesn't coincide with that division," because similar neighborhoods in south Palo Alto could have different ZIP codes. He urged Acting City Auditor Michael Edmonds to consider a different way to split up the data in future surveys.
"You ought to pick the one that's most important to Palo Alto and make sure you gather data on the most appropriate split in the city," Schmid said.
The survey also showed many areas of agreement between residents in all four ZIP codes. More than 90 percent of residents in each ZIP code rated "overall quality of life in Palo Alto" as "good" or "excellent," and an overwhelming majority (93 percent in the 94301 and 94304, 99 percent in the 94303 and 89 percent in the 94306) gave the city one of the two highest ratings as a "place to raise children."
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Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.