Despite widespread frustration about housing options and traffic congestion, Palo Alto residents generally get good vibes when asked about their quality of life, a new survey coordinated by the Office of City Auditor Harriet Richardson shows.
The National Citizen Survey, which the city released Tuesday afternoon and which Richardson plans to present to the council at its annual retreat Saturday, shows an uptick of positive responses from residents on a wide range of categories, including transit services, new development and the city's recreation facilities. In all three of these categories, the percentage of respondents who gave the city "good" or "excellent" ratings has gone up by more than 5 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to the survey, which has a margin of error of 4 percent.
Much like in years past, Palo Alto continues to receive rave reviews from residents for its overall quality of life (with 89 percent rating it "excellent" or "good") and as a place to live (91 percent) and a place to work (82 percent). In all each case, the percentage is unchanged from the prior year.
In other categories, the trends have been mostly positive. Of the 26 questions where responses fluctuated by more than 5 percent between 2016 and 2017, 22 of them showed more favorable responses than the prior year, while only four showed less favorable responses. This is a far cry from 2016, where 22 questions netted more negative responses than in 2015, while only two received more positive responses.
The new survey shows that more Palo Altans now rank bus or transit services as good or excellent (52 percent, up from 42 percent in 2016). A larger portion of respondents also felt in 2017 that the city treats "all residents fairly" (56 percent, up from 47 percent); and that the community is open and accepting toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (88 percent, up from 79 percent).
Other categories where the city's ratings have gone up include "overall quality of new development" (50 percent, up from 42 percent); overall customer service by city employees (84 percent, up from 77 percent) and the quality of recreation centers or facilities (86 percent, up from 81 percent).
Not all reviews are stellar. Only 45 percent of the respondents gave high ratings to the "overall direction"; while only 49 percent said they have "overall confidence in Palo Alto government." In each case, however, the numbers had gone up by 5 percentage points since 2016.
Even the four questions where there was a decline of more than 5 percent continue to reflect generally positive or neutral feedback. When asked the importance of focusing on "quality of overall natural environment" in the next two years, 79 percent of the respondents offered the highest ratings (down from 84 percent). Also, 76 percent said it would be important for the city to focus on "quality of overall economic health," down from 82 percent. Also, 75 percent said it would be important to focus on overall "built environment," down from 82 percent.
Because these three questions focused on the importance of particular focus, rather than the quality of the city services, they do not reflect a more negative perception among citizenry, the survey notes.
The only other question where the percentage dropped significantly pertained to "quality of services provided by the federal government." Here, the percentage dropped from 46 percent in 2016 to 36 percent in 2017.
But even as residents praise the overall quality of life, they take a much less sanguine view when it comes to housing and transportation, two areas where the city's scores remain dismal. Last year, only 6 percent of the respondents gave the city a high rating or "availability of affordable housing" and 18 percent did so for "variety of housing options." In addition, only 8 percent responded favorably when asked about "cost of living in Palo Alto."
Similarly, transportation remains a topic of widespread dissatisfaction. In the category "ease of travel by public transportation," only 29 percent gave the city positive responses. In the categories of "ease of public parking" and "traffic flow on major streets," the city received good reviews from 32 percent and 33 percent of the respondents, respectively.