SURVEY SAYS ... The Palo Alto City Council will have much to discuss when it convenes on Feb. 2 for its annual retreat. One question that has come up in the past and that is bound to resurface is: Why are people so sour on local government? The newly released National Citizen Survey shows only 46 percent of the residents gave "good" or "excellent" ratings to City Hall when asked about "overall quality of Palo Alto government," down from 52 percent in 2008 and from 49 percent in 2017, according to the survey. And the number of residents who believe that the city is "generally acting in the best interests of the community" slipped to 45 percent (down from 51 percent in the prior year). But even though the "overall quality of life" rating has slipped since between 2017 and 2018 (with the percentage of residents giving the city the top two scores falling from 89 percent to 85 percent), residents had plenty of compliments about city services. Libraries remained incredibly popular in 2018, with 88 percent of locals rating them as "excellent" or "good," an increase of 21 percent since 2008, the year that voters passed Measure B to upgrade the library system. The city's website, once the subject of widespread frustration and ridicule, saw its ratings improve by 10 percent since 2008, with 65 percent giving it the top two grades and 41 percent reporting that they had used it to conduct business or pay bills (up from 21 percent in 2008). Residents gave the city higher scores compared to a decade ago when it came to shopping opportunities, employment opportunities and police services — areas where the city received generally high scores. Residents also indicated that they feel safer in their neighborhoods after dark than they did a decade ago, with 86 percent saying they feel "very" or "somewhat" safe, up from 79 percent in 2008.
SHUTDOWN'S RIPPLE EFFECTS ... The longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history, now surpassing a month, has caused local agencies and organizations to accommodate those affected. On Thursday, Caltrain and SamTrans started giving federal government employees free rides on their systems, as long as they show their employee ID to bus operators and train conductors. The no-cost trips will be offered until the government reopens. "We sympathize with the financial burdens that federal employees are faced with due to this unprecedented situation," Jim Hartnett, general manager and CEO of the San Mateo County Transit District, which manages both services, said in a statement. The Ecunemical Hunger Program in East Palo Alto and Second Harvest Food Bank serving Santa Clara and San Mateo counties also are preparing for a sudden influx in needy clients if funding runs out for government food programs. U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, whose district includes Palo Alto, tweeted on Jan. 17 that she has joined her fellow Democrats who introduced the Immediate Financial Relief for Federal Employees Act, which would assist furloughed employees with interest-free, no-cost loans of up to $6,000.
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