Nearly 9 of 10 PA residents really like their city

Palo Alto also ranks as top community out of 180 for sense of daytime safety

Nearly nine of 10 Palo Altans rate their city good or excellent, despite some slippage in the "excellent" category, according to an annual survey conducted by the city auditor's office.

The city still remains widely well-regarded by residents and leads the nation in some areas, City Auditor Sharon Erickson told the City Council Monday night.

Palo Alto ranked as the top city out of 180 communities as a place to work, ease of walking and feelings of safety in neighborhoods during the day, Erickson said.

Erickson published the results of the the National Citizen Survey -- sent to 1,200 Palo Alto residents in September 2007 -- as part of the annual Service Efforts and Accomplishments report, which also tracks city spending and other benchmarks.

Just conducting the survey annually places Palo Alto "in the forefront of government accountability," Erickson said.

"We rank among the best managed and best performing cities in the country," Councilman Jack Morton said.

And it would be great if the results of the survey and report reached more people, several council members said, enforcing their recent focus on civic participation, one of their top-four 2008 priorities.

"I wish we could make it required reading for every citizen," Mayor Larry Klein said. Erickson suggested hosting an informal pizza dinner and discussion about the data.

Palo Altans are generally satisfied with life in Palo Alto, with 86 percent rating services "good" or "excellent," Erickson said.

Yet general satisfaction with city government ratings slipped in several categories.

Out of the 437 survey respondents, 23 percent rated the overall quality of local government "excellent," down from 33 percent in 2006.

The margin of error is about 5 percent, Erickson said. Residents were asked to rate city services and other community characteristics as "excellent," "good," "fair" or "poor."

The percentage of survey respondents who said they receive good value for city taxes slipped 7 percent from 2006; the percent pleased with the overall direction of the city dropped 5 percent; residents who believe the city welcomes citizen involvement decreased 5 percent; and the percentage of respondents who feel the city listens to citizens fell 7 percent.

Erickson attributed the drops in satisfaction and trust to critical press coverage and noted they fit in to a consistent two-year cycle of gains and losses, a pattern perhaps related to council elections, she said.

"It's one thing we're keeping an eye on," Erickson said.

Also, in comparison with other cities, Palo Altans trust in government is "pretty astonishing," Erickson said.

Erickson said Monday she remains concerned about utility costs, the low number of hazardous material inspections and the community's satisfaction with street conditions.

Out of the 57 percent of respondents who reported interacting with a city employee during 2007, 79 percent reported having a generally good impression of the employee.

But the survey also found that Palo Altans feel safer in their neighborhoods during the day compared to residents in 180 other communities nationwide: 98 percent of respondents said they feel safe during the day near their homes, up from 94 percent in 2006.

Erickson said she thinks safety levels dropped in 2006 because of a rash of home burglaries during the summer, just before the surveys were distributed.

General government services, not including utilities or refuse, cost each resident $1,518 per year, up from $1,371 in 2006, the report states.

The report also illustrates recent increases in utility costs.

For example, in 2003 the city spent $37.5 million on electricity purchases, an amount that jumped to $62.5 million in 2007. Average monthly bills only increased from $48 to $58 over the same period, however.

Palo Alto customers still pay about $10 less per month on average than Pacific Gas and Electric customers, however, the report states.

Palo Alto residents' average gas bills climbed higher than PG&E in 2007 for the first time since 2003, the report shows. Palo Altans' average monthly bills climbed from $70 in 2006 to $91 in 2007.

Residents are still satisfied with the utilities -- 86 percent rated the electric utility as good or excellent in 2007 and 85 percent reported satisfaction with the gas utility.

Palo Altans remain highly pleased with their public safety departments; The Fire Department received the strong support of 98 percent of survey respondents and 91 percent of respondents rated police services as good or excellent.

The report exceeded 100 pages.

"It provokes more questions than we can ask in one night." Councilman Pat Burt said.

The annual survey costs $8,900, Erickson said.

In other business:

• The council approved a $500,000 project to boost the amount of water available in Foothills Park and along Page Mill Road. In partnership with Los Altos Hills County Fire District, the city will add five fire hydrants along the road.

• Bucking a recent trend to search for additional commission candidates if not many have applied, the City Council agreed to interview all applicants for the Human Relations, Library Advisory, Planning and Transportation commissions and the Storm Drain Committee.

Ray Bacchetti and Ann Ozer applied for two vacancies on the Human Relations Commission.

Karen Dreyfus, Leonardo Hochberg, Robert Redfern-West and Valerie Stinger applied for four positions on the Library Advisory Commission.

Robert Arnold, Susan Fineberg, Charmaine Furman, Corey Levens, Jon Stoumen and Karen Sunback applied for one position on the Planning and Transportation Commission.

Stepheny McGraw and Susan Rosenberg applied for two positions on the Storm Drain Committee.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2008 at 5:57 pm

I thought this was published a few months ago.

However, we received a survey during the summer. It was to be filled in by the adult with the most previous birthday which was my husband. His excellent response was due to the fact that it is me who deals with utility problems, visits the library (to pick up his stuff as well as mine), signs the kids up for classes and camps, spends more time at parks because of kids' sports, etc, etc,. If I had been the most recent birthday, many of these things would have scored much lower.

Like this comment
Posted by Pat
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 11, 2008 at 6:20 pm

Dear Another PA Neighborhood Resident,

I'm not sure that your one survey would have caused the results to be in your words, "much lower." My we think highly of ourselves don't we. It does appear that in the survey of your husband's responsibilities at home however, he failed miserably.

Like this comment
Posted by Love my hubby
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 11, 2008 at 6:27 pm

Pat, how would you know. Maybe her husband works 16 hours a day to pay the mortgage and expenses for 5 kids. My, we're quick to judge, aren't we?

Like this comment
Posted by Ignore-the-Survey-Results
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2008 at 6:37 am

> It was to be filled in by the adult with the most
> previous birthday which was my husband

This is another example of how badly designed this survey is. If it turned out that the "oldest" person in the home more often than not turned out to be the husband, and the wife turned out to be the one that paid the bills (or dealt with the details of running the home), then the person with the least contact with the city government be asked to complete the survey would be the less qualified to answer these questions than the wife.

Having both husband and wife participate would be a better choice, or perhaps the person who feels that they best understand the issues associated with service levels of the city government being evaluated.

This is not a good survey and its results should be taken with a grain of salt (at best).

Like this comment
Posted by Fireman
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2008 at 7:46 am

Just one more web site type job. Just one more Willy-Nilly flag issue, Just one more 3 week time out for Emily, Just one more drop of water in the storm drains that do not work.{The ones you paid to fix} Just on more Enron. Just one more cover up that the Citizens of Palo Alto must accept. Etc,etc,etc.... Just one more City manager to make rich and house at the Citizens loss of services...etc,etc

Like this comment
Posted by terryg
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 15, 2008 at 8:15 am

why do you think it went to the "oldest"? most recent is not the "oldest" - it's whoever had the last birthday. If it was an August survey and you have a March bday and your spouse has a July bday, the July bday fills it out
you're sounding a little paranoid

Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 15, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Worth noting:
Only 437 people responded to the survey, which is about 0.73% of our population (60,000).

86% of respondents rate their city good or excellent, which is 376 people.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 15, 2008 at 12:20 pm

pat, perhaps you can manage to discover a new polling paradigm, where everyone gets polled at once. It might be worth a few bucks. Until then, maybe you can learn to live with what polls say.

My informal poll says that you never agree with any poll, so why do you bother reading them?

Like this comment
Posted by Ignore-the-Survey-Results
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 15, 2008 at 3:10 pm

> paranoid ..

Being paranoid speaks to an unwarranted fear of harm to one's self. As such, this word is inappropriate in the context of a discussion about the poor design of a resident survey on the impression of local government/services quality.

Like this comment
Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Maybe some leaders might be getting a little "PARANOID" That one day someone{citizens} might care enough to do something about what has been going on for too many years...

.73% might be good for you Mike... as long as it is your .73%???

Like this comment
Posted by Adam
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 15, 2008 at 5:43 pm

Only 437 responded out of 60,000. But remember that about 50 to 60% are children and don't deal with the city that much except in the schools. So 437 of (estimated) 22,000 households is 1.9%. Most polls have a lower responding rate than that.

I'm going to recommend that the city spend some more postage and send the survey to at least 15% of the households. The additional cost and analysis would be about $1000 for postage and maybe up to $1500 in additional processing costs.

For all those dissatisfied with any aspect of the city, complain to the council by e-mail. It's cheap. Like the drip drip of a water torture, it will have an impression on the council member whether he/she responds or not.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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