News

Mystery poll queries residents on City Council race

It's a riddle, wrapped in a mystery: A phone survey asking Palo Alto residents about the upcoming City Council election has people speculating as to its purpose -- and funder.

Several residents have contacted the Palo Alto Weekly concerned about the poll, which took place over the weekend and included pointed language, including how important it is that a candidate is "supported" by Santa Clara County Supervisor (and former Palo Alto mayor) Joe Simitian. It also asks how important the person thinks it is to "preserve the character of the neighborhoods" and "increase transparency for city officials." The survey concludes by asking the person's race.

As part of the poll, residents were asked to rate their likeliness to vote for each one of the 12 candidates.

The survey's most controversial question, however, had to do with the perceived divide between current council members and their election challengers, residents said.

The surveyors asked: "Suppose I divide the candidates into two slates -- Slate A and Slate B. Slate A supported Measure D (Maybell) and wants to keep the city going as it has been going and maintaining the current level of city services.

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"Slate B believes the current council is unethical and makes backroom deals with developers and wants pro-residentialists in office. Now as I reread the list of candidates to you, have you changed your mind about any of those running?"

Guesses have abounded as to who is paying for the poll, and why.

One resident thought the surveyor said he was calling from the City of Palo Alto, which didn't sit well with her. But Claudia Keith, the city's chief communications officer, denied the city is behind it.

"That's not something we would be doing," she said. "We wouldn't ask questions like that."

In a follow-up press release Wednesday, the city stated that it contacted the surveying firm, Interview Service of America, to express concern about the confusion. In a letter to the firm, City Attorney Molly Stump wrote: "Any suggestion that the city is conducting candidate polling or advocacy could confuse the public about the city's role in elections and erode confidence in government. ... Should your firm conduct any additional survey work in Palo Alto, we ask that attention be paid to ensuring that no statements are made that could lead survey recipients to conclude that political activity is sponsored by the City of Palo Alto."

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The firm acknowledged to the city that it conducted the survey of 400 registered voters on Sept. 29 but said that the script did not mention the City of Palo Alto.

The city is prohibited by law from using city funds or resources of any type for political activity.

Given the wording about the current council being "unethical," some speculated that a residentialist group is behind it. But Cheryl Lilienstein of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning also denied mounting the survey, as did Sheri Furman of Palo Alto Neighborhoods. Both said their groups don't have the money to hire a polling firm.

Palo Alto Forward, a new group that bills itself as "residents who care about a vision of Palo Alto as a small city, and not a sleepy suburb," also said they weren't the sponsors.

One resident said she asked surveyors to identify the poll sponsor, to which one pollster reportedly said: "EMC."

But a call to 1068 EMC LLC of Palo Alto, a development firm located on East Meadow Circle, only brought another denial. When asked, executive John Mozart checked with his colleagues and said they weren't responsible for it either.

For the record, the Palo Alto Weekly is owned by Embarcadero Media Company -- "EMC" -- but the Weekly didn't sponsor the poll either.

There is, however, a research firm in Oakland, EMC Research, that provides strategic consulting services and is known for its electoral polling.

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Gennady Sheyner contributed to this report.

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Mystery poll queries residents on City Council race

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Oct 1, 2014, 9:55 am
Updated: Wed, Oct 1, 2014, 1:08 pm

It's a riddle, wrapped in a mystery: A phone survey asking Palo Alto residents about the upcoming City Council election has people speculating as to its purpose -- and funder.

Several residents have contacted the Palo Alto Weekly concerned about the poll, which took place over the weekend and included pointed language, including how important it is that a candidate is "supported" by Santa Clara County Supervisor (and former Palo Alto mayor) Joe Simitian. It also asks how important the person thinks it is to "preserve the character of the neighborhoods" and "increase transparency for city officials." The survey concludes by asking the person's race.

As part of the poll, residents were asked to rate their likeliness to vote for each one of the 12 candidates.

The survey's most controversial question, however, had to do with the perceived divide between current council members and their election challengers, residents said.

The surveyors asked: "Suppose I divide the candidates into two slates -- Slate A and Slate B. Slate A supported Measure D (Maybell) and wants to keep the city going as it has been going and maintaining the current level of city services.

"Slate B believes the current council is unethical and makes backroom deals with developers and wants pro-residentialists in office. Now as I reread the list of candidates to you, have you changed your mind about any of those running?"

Guesses have abounded as to who is paying for the poll, and why.

One resident thought the surveyor said he was calling from the City of Palo Alto, which didn't sit well with her. But Claudia Keith, the city's chief communications officer, denied the city is behind it.

"That's not something we would be doing," she said. "We wouldn't ask questions like that."

In a follow-up press release Wednesday, the city stated that it contacted the surveying firm, Interview Service of America, to express concern about the confusion. In a letter to the firm, City Attorney Molly Stump wrote: "Any suggestion that the city is conducting candidate polling or advocacy could confuse the public about the city's role in elections and erode confidence in government. ... Should your firm conduct any additional survey work in Palo Alto, we ask that attention be paid to ensuring that no statements are made that could lead survey recipients to conclude that political activity is sponsored by the City of Palo Alto."

The firm acknowledged to the city that it conducted the survey of 400 registered voters on Sept. 29 but said that the script did not mention the City of Palo Alto.

The city is prohibited by law from using city funds or resources of any type for political activity.

Given the wording about the current council being "unethical," some speculated that a residentialist group is behind it. But Cheryl Lilienstein of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning also denied mounting the survey, as did Sheri Furman of Palo Alto Neighborhoods. Both said their groups don't have the money to hire a polling firm.

Palo Alto Forward, a new group that bills itself as "residents who care about a vision of Palo Alto as a small city, and not a sleepy suburb," also said they weren't the sponsors.

One resident said she asked surveyors to identify the poll sponsor, to which one pollster reportedly said: "EMC."

But a call to 1068 EMC LLC of Palo Alto, a development firm located on East Meadow Circle, only brought another denial. When asked, executive John Mozart checked with his colleagues and said they weren't responsible for it either.

For the record, the Palo Alto Weekly is owned by Embarcadero Media Company -- "EMC" -- but the Weekly didn't sponsor the poll either.

There is, however, a research firm in Oakland, EMC Research, that provides strategic consulting services and is known for its electoral polling.

Gennady Sheyner contributed to this report.

Comments

IGotThatCall
Community Center
on Oct 1, 2014 at 10:36 am
IGotThatCall, Community Center
on Oct 1, 2014 at 10:36 am
1 person likes this

[Post removed.]


isn't it obvious?
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2014 at 10:49 am
isn't it obvious?, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2014 at 10:49 am
1 person likes this

It's not a mystery when it's so obvious.

I detect someone in their 20s, that eliminates any residents.

Somebody thought it would "sound" like a serious resident, and it backfired.

I wouldn't even blame Arrillaga who had a phone poll for 27 University.


Joe
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2014 at 11:02 am
Joe, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2014 at 11:02 am
Like this comment

Well .. with everyone denying being the sponsor, it's unlikely we will ever know what the results of the poll might be.

But, there's no reason that one, or more, of the groups active in this year's election couldn't put together a similar set of questions, and open that poll up to the public. The results of the poll could be displayed dynamically--so that anyone interested in reviewing the questions can see what the pulse of the community might be for one, or more, of the questions in the survey.


Maybe one of these
South of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2014 at 11:47 am
Maybe one of these, South of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2014 at 11:47 am
2 people like this

It is the same company that polled prior to the Maybell vote. So it could be Arrillaga, it could be Stanford, it could be Palo Alto Housing Corp.
There is plenty of money behind these entities. Of course it could be one of the monied candidates.


Dan
Community Center
on Oct 1, 2014 at 12:41 pm
Dan, Community Center
on Oct 1, 2014 at 12:41 pm
2 people like this

[Post removed.]


Unsure
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:01 pm
Unsure, Old Palo Alto
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:01 pm
Like this comment

I didn't get the survey, but I spoke to two friends who did. One question that they mentioned stood out as a possible clue. They said they were asked whether they'd be more likely to support AC Johnston if they knew he was a former naval officer. At the debate last night, Johnston made a strong point of this part of his background. In addition, I saw that it's now part of his literature. I don't recall hearing him talk about that background aspect prior to this poll.
Can anyone who got the poll shed light on whether this question was asked? If so, that's a pretty pointed question about what might resonate on behalf of a specific candidate. If the residentialists were behind the poll, it wouldn't have made much sense to ask about what would help a non-residentialist candidate. Rather, they might ask what would work against that candidate.


Enough!
Charleston Meadows
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:02 pm
Enough!, Charleston Meadows
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:02 pm
3 people like this

Long term residents aren't happy with the direction in which this City is headed. Seems that there is only one demographic City Hall cares about.


Libel should not be tolerated.
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:08 pm
Libel should not be tolerated., Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:08 pm
3 people like this

[Post removed.]


Paula
Midtown
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:18 pm
Paula, Midtown
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:18 pm
1 person likes this

We received 3 separate calls on the night of the survey -- one for each registered voter in the house. I did not participate in the survey but asked who was paying for it. The person said it was the City of Palo Alto. Perhaps that was a lie or perhaps it wasn't. City Hall has done other underhanded things.


Jo Ann
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:20 pm
Jo Ann, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:20 pm
3 people like this

They called me about the survey and as soon as they mentioned the word "slate" to describe non-incumbents I suspected the pollwas paid for by the incumbents and/or their backers.

I was never asked about Johnston's naval service.

I also resented being asked for my full name when simply asking whether I was a homeowner, how long I've lived here and other similar questions would have been more useful.


senor blogger
Palo Verde
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:21 pm
senor blogger, Palo Verde
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:21 pm
1 person likes this

We were contacted by a telephone poll for support of Measure D.
When we expressed our concern, the pollster actually began to argue with us and expressed support for measure D.

We don't answer any telephone polls anymore.


IGotThatCall
Community Center
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:22 pm
IGotThatCall, Community Center
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:22 pm
Like this comment

@Unsure asks:"Can anyone who got the poll shed light on whether this question was asked? "

Yes, that was a question, and you are correct - it stood out as an oddity in an already odd phone call.

[Portion removed.]


mj
Evergreen Park
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:22 pm
mj, Evergreen Park
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:22 pm
3 people like this

Who has enough money in their campaign fund to pay for such a poll in addition to the regular costs to run a campaign?


What?
Greenmeadow
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:30 pm
What?, Greenmeadow
on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:30 pm
1 person likes this

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Wondering Too
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2014 at 3:26 pm
Wondering Too, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2014 at 3:26 pm
1 person likes this

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]


Voter
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 1, 2014 at 4:28 pm
Voter, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 1, 2014 at 4:28 pm
Like this comment

I got this poll. I was trying to make sense of it as it went along. I got the impression that whoever was behind it definitely wanted to make a big deal out of the Maybell fiasco, but then that would apply to all the new candidates. I did hear the Navy question, but the Joe Simitian question really stood out. "Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate if endorsed by Joe Simitian?" The caller was calling from Southern California, she said. (I asked). I did not hear anything to indicate anyone other than people running for city council were behind it.


Margaret Fruth
Registered user
Ventura
on Oct 1, 2014 at 4:37 pm
Margaret Fruth, Ventura
Registered user
on Oct 1, 2014 at 4:37 pm
Like this comment

[Post removed.]


Jo Ann
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 1, 2014 at 10:53 pm
Jo Ann, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 1, 2014 at 10:53 pm
1 person likes this

I forgot to mention that I also got the question about whether Simitian's endorsement mattered to me and it did really stand out.


Resident
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 1, 2014 at 11:52 pm
Resident, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 1, 2014 at 11:52 pm
3 people like this

I got the call and it was at least 15 minutes long, even with my fast answers. Based upon the questions, it's easily someone who is a candidate looking for what people want and then will base their visions upon the answers collected so he can be elected. I asked who was funding and he said he didn't know. I got the Joe Simitian question too. They asked how likely I'd vote for each candidate, and then asked again at the end, with added info on the candidate (such as their career or anything people might identify them by) and asked how likely I'd vote for the candidate based upon the extra info. This phone call solidifies my desire to vote for those who are long-term residents who care, rather than those who want power and have tons of money. I'm voting for Filseth and Kou.

I suggest to anyone who receives this call to not answer the questions. This is akin to cheating to win.


Susan
Greenmeadow
on Oct 2, 2014 at 7:00 am
Susan, Greenmeadow
on Oct 2, 2014 at 7:00 am
1 person likes this

Might the poll be sponsored by Palo Alto Housing Corporation (PAHC)?

The poll design and questions sounds like the one PAHC commissioned before the Maybell Measure D vote.

PAHC has a Political Action Committee (PAC) with a large war chest of funds left over after Measure D. It would benefit PAHC to spend these funds in support of candidates who champion their mission.

During the Maybell Measure D campaign, PAHC mailed out numerous big glossy postcards advocating for their project. The pieces included bullet points with the issues that had been covered in the survey call I had received.

It's also possible that the caller who said that the surveyor was EMC misheard PHC.

Time will tell, but keep an eye open to see who sends out independent mailers in support of candidates that champion PAHC's best interest.


Ellie
College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2014 at 7:23 am
Ellie, College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2014 at 7:23 am
Like this comment

PAHC didn't do this poll. Whoever is doing it is lying - telling people it is a City of PA survey is terrible. Obviously it is neither the city's nor PAHC. Whether it is a professional poller or not, they are liars and should be investigated for trying to manipulate an election.


citizen
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2014 at 7:42 am
citizen, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2014 at 7:42 am
2 people like this

Out of touch people have to rely on polls instead of neighborhood networks.

It sounds like the same pro-development people with their survey prior to the Maybell referendum. Given how that worked out for them (not), it's quite telling that they would try and rely on it again...


Susan
Greenmeadow
on Oct 2, 2014 at 7:43 am
Susan, Greenmeadow
on Oct 2, 2014 at 7:43 am
Like this comment

Ellie,

How do you know that PAHC did not conduct this pole?


All speculation, no facts.
Greenmeadow
on Oct 2, 2014 at 10:36 am
All speculation, no facts., Greenmeadow
on Oct 2, 2014 at 10:36 am
2 people like this

I think all of this speculation is a waste of breath.

What poisonous thread.


Protect Privacy
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2014 at 10:56 am
Protect Privacy, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2014 at 10:56 am
3 people like this

What bothers me is the lack of protection of privacy of our phone numbers. People can buy anything now, and our state and federal representatives are selling us out to the highest bidder.

It's not as important to me WHO paid for the survey as much as HOW they were able to get our private information. As for what information WE give over the telephone, that we can control.

Jerry Brown signed into law a measure to protect teen's privacy. How about the privacy of us adults? If a phone number is not in the phone book, I resent it being handed out for any purpose. It misuses the information.

Congresswoman Eshoo, Joe Simitian ("there ought to be a law") et al: we ought not have to opt out of having our information sold, we should have to opt IN, where fewer people will choose to participate.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2014 at 10:58 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 2, 2014 at 10:58 am
1 person likes this

I don't know what the law is regarding polls or if there are any rules at all governing them and welcome information about that if anyone has some. Somebody knows the answers to all this speculation; I wonder if anyone knows how to find out those answers. It sure is easy these days to think that the trail could lead back to certain people on CC or some at City Hall. I've lived here over 3 decades and I cannot recall a time that trust was as low as it is now.


Brian
Evergreen Park
on Oct 2, 2014 at 11:04 am
Brian, Evergreen Park
on Oct 2, 2014 at 11:04 am
3 people like this

I was contacted for the poll. I specifically asked if they were paid contractors for the city when they said they were conducting a survey for the City of Palo Alto. The surveyor said they were. I declined to answer questions because it smelled fishy. I would never vote for somebody who blatantly lies to get elected. It would be good to know who paid for it so I know who NOT to vote for. Navy service or not.


Jo Ann
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 2, 2014 at 11:05 am
Jo Ann, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 2, 2014 at 11:05 am
4 people like this

Speaking of trust, I invited a friend to join me for tonight's second City Council candidate debate at City Hall and the friend told me it wasn't listed on the city calendar although it is still listed as at 6:30 on the PaloAltoville site.

Could someone please advise. Thanks in advance.


Sheri Furman
Midtown
on Oct 2, 2014 at 12:19 pm
Sheri Furman, Midtown
on Oct 2, 2014 at 12:19 pm
3 people like this

Yes, Palo Alto Neighborhoods is hosting a Council Candidates Forum tonight in Council Chambers from 7-9pm. Doors open at 6:30. The focus will be on issues neighborhoods have identified as important, so the candidates will be asked questions different than the ones at Tuesday's forum.


Jo Ann
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 2, 2014 at 12:46 pm
Jo Ann, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 2, 2014 at 12:46 pm
1 person likes this

Thanks for the quick response, Sheri.

Maybe the city could retain Sheri instead of wasting so much money on that expensive "wayfinder" for the 1st floor of City Hall.


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