Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 1, 2013

Traffic, housing top list of citizen concerns

New survey shows most Palo Alto residents are generally happy with 'quality of life' in their city

by Gennady Sheyner

Traffic congestion and a dearth of affordable housing continue to frustrate Palo Alto residents, even as most of them continue to give the city rave reviews when it comes to overall quality of life, a new survey shows.

According to the National Citizen Survey 2012, which measures the opinions of residents from about 500 jurisdictions, Palo Alto scored much higher than most comparable cities in the broad "quality of life" categories. Last year, 94 percent of respondents rated the city overall as "excellent" or "good," the two highest ratings, and 95 percent gave the city these ratings as a "place to live."

At the same time, the city continued to score dismal marks when it comes to affordable housing, a thorny subject in a city with little undeveloped land and astronomical property values. Only 29 percent of the respondents gave the city high marks on "variety of housing options" (down from 37 percent in 2010 and 2011) and only 12 percent rated "availability of affordable quality housing" as "good" or "excellent."

Despite these issues, the survey should give City Council members plenty of reasons to smile when they discuss the results Monday night. In most broad categories, including the city's "overall appearance," "cleanliness" and "recreation opportunities," the city scored marks in the 90s well above those of comparable jurisdictions. Public schools received the highest ratings from 92 percent of the respondents (the same as in 2011), and library services received high scores from 88 percent (up from 75 percent in 2008 and 83 percent in 2011).

Residents appear to be particularly happy with city services, with 88 percent rating them "good" or "excellent" (in 2011, 83 percent gave the city the top two ratings) a score that rates Palo Alto "much above" benchmark cities. The city scored particularly well when residents compared its services with those offered by the federal government (which 50 percent rated as "good or excellent"), the state government (41 percent of the residents) and Santa Clara County (60 percent, though this is a major improvement from 45 percent in 2011).

The survey's executive summary notes that "on average, residents gave very favorable ratings to most of local government services," particularly when compared to their counterparts in other cities.

"Of the 31 services for which comparisons were available, 23 were above the benchmark comparison and eight were similar to the benchmark comparison," the survey states.

Traffic congestion, however, remains a sore issue for Palo Alto residents. In the new survey, 51 percent of the respondents gave the city high ratings in the "ease of car travel" category an 11 percent drop from 2011 and a 15 percent drop from 2010. Compared with similar jurisdictions, the rating was below average.

In addition, only 47 percent rated the city's "traffic signal timing" as "good" or "excellent."

The problem may have helped influence the behavior of local commuters. The percentage of people commuting alone by a motorized vehicle dropped from 63 percent in 2011 to 55 percent in 2012, while the percentage of the people who have used a local bus in the prior 12 months has risen from 28 percent in 2011 to 35 percent in 2012. The percentage of commuters relying on the bicycle jumped from 11 percent to 20 percent between 2011 and 2012.

Not surprisingly, road conditions also attracted some criticism, as they had in prior years. Only 42 percent of the residents rated the city as "good" or "excellent" on "street repair," though 80 percent gave Palo Alto the highest two grades for "street cleaning."

The survey and the accompanying Services and Accomplishments Report, which the Office of the City Auditor publishes annually, have come at a time of relative economic prosperity in Palo Alto. The city's fiscal picture has largely stabilized since the Great Recession of late 2008 thanks to concessions from city workers, a reduction of employees at City Hall and rising sales-tax revenues. In the new survey, 67 percent of the respondents rated the city's economic-development services "excellent" or "good," compared to 52 percent in 2011 and 49 percent in 2010.

Residents are also feeling better than in years past about their personal economic future, though these numbers have plenty of room for improvement. In 2012, 22 percent said they expect the next six months would have a "somewhat" or "very" positive impact on their family. This is well above the 12 percent who felt positive about their economic futures in 2011 and the 5 percent who felt that way in 2008.

While 22 percent is hardly a reason to cheer, the survey notes that in Palo Alto "the percent of residents with an optimistic outlook on their household income was more than comparison jurisdictions."

Economic development appears to have factored heavily in residents' feelings about Palo Alto's overall service quality. The new report includes a "key driver analysis," which aims to identify factors that are most related to residents' ratings of overall quality of local services. In 2012, these were: economic development, garbage collection, public-information services, recreation programs or classes and street repair.

The analysis suggests that of these five drivers, street repair may deserve the most attention because it is the only one that is similar to benchmark comparisons. For the other four categories, Palo Alto "was above the benchmark and should continue to ensure high quality performance," the survey states.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by want to bike, a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2013 at 2:59 pm

I would bike to work if the city would fix the Adobe Creek bike path under Hwy 101. I am not going to use San Antonio Road to cross the highway, especially during the winter when rush hour at night. Until then I am going to drive solo and be part of the problem instead of part of the solution.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I often wonder who the people are who are surveyed.

My friends and neighbors do not seem to have the same level of satisfaction with the city as these surveys indicate.


Posted by "Neighbors Helping Neighbors", a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm

MIDTOWN COURT.NEIGHBORS & FRIENDS
"NEIGHBORS HELPING NEIGHBORS"

RE: 2012 1st Annual Food Drive Results & New Activity for 2013, "Monthly Food Collection"

Palo Alto Weekly article, "Catching neighbors who fall through the gap." Dated Friday Jan. 25, 2013
Web Link

Dear Neighbors and Friends,
Well, the economic situation in Palo Alto are not that rosy for too many Palo Alto
Residents. We have discovered that an alarming number of our neighbors can't qualiify for "safety net" program. Because of too low income requirements. These households can not afford basic needs over rent and a little gasoline to get to work.

2012 1ST ANNUAL FOOD DRIVE RESULTS

We did it together, we attained our lofty food goal for our first annual food drive! Through the committed determination of some close neighbors, grocers and other Palo Alto & Mtn View residents we provided the following to 50 "gap households" in Midtown & Palo Alto.
Seven days of groceries; breakfast, lunch, snacks/desserts and dinner.
Plus, we provided our 12 seniors with high iron & folic fortiified foods. After learning that two of those seniors were told by their doctors that they had anemia and needed to add more iron fortified foods to their diets.
In addition, during our 6th week of the food drive two generous residents, gave us money to purchase the dinner meat item of our menu. It was enough money to purchase 4-5lb pork roasts for 18 of our most needy households.
Remember these 50 "neighbors in need" now called our "gap households" are not receiving benefit of 'safety net' programs. Except two seniors. By the 6th of our 8 week food drive, our 50 grew to 65.

NEW ACTIVITY, "Monthly Food Collection"

Many of our core team, volunteers and neighbors asked during the food drive, "how will our neighbors in need (gap households) get food after they eat the weeks worth of groceries we are giving to them?"

All I could say was "let's stay focused on achieving this food goal first." I just didn't have an answer at that point.
Now, we have given careful thought to our next step to help our "neighbors in need" on-going.
Unlike our annual food drive which is an elaborate effort with food collection barrels at Palo Alto retail businesses. March - Aug we will collaborate with schools, groups and organizations for food collection.
Our "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" Volunteers will gather once per month on the first Saturday (March - Aug.) to sort, bag and pass out grocery bags.

The volunteers from schools, groups, backyard gardners/orchards/chickens and organizations will bring food they have collected to our monthly 'Food Collection Site' on the first Sat of the month for our sorters & baggers to prepare to give to "neighbors in need".
2013 FOOD GOALs: SPECIFIC NUTRITIONAL NEEDs
"WISH LIST OF FOODS"

Our new goal and focus will center on a "Wish List of Foods". Besides fulfilling the needs of our "gap households" and nutritional needs of local food closet recipients.

Some will say, it's too lofty to satisfy the food needs of your "gap households" and food closet recipients on-going.
My answer at this time was imortalized in this quote,

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." MARGARET MEAD

If you can spare one hour btwn 10am - 1pm on the first Sat. of the month, you pick a month or commit to several months. Contact us.

If you know of a group or organization who is having or willing to organize a food drive to collect our wish list foods, contact us asap.

Stay tuned, program outline and wish list coming.
A pilot date of Feb. 02 w/El Carmelo School being our first "food drive" to sign up. March 6th will be our formal start date.

Let's change the world one small task, one month and with help from one good soul at a time,

Caryll-Lynn Taylor
"Neighbors Helping Neighbors" Mo. Food Collection Committee Chair
MidtownCourt.Neighbors@gmail.com
650-283-9910


Posted by Bob , a resident of Community Center
on Feb 1, 2013 at 5:09 pm

WHO is concerned about 'affordable housing"? Is it the people who already live here and deal with the traffic? Who pray they can squeeze their children into a school? Or is it those who want to live here on their terms with two cars and multiple children for the school system? I wouldn't mind living in serene Burlingame or Portola Valley. But I can't. WHO fills out these questionnaires? ---and who believes the stastistics??


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