In a June 21, 2013 editorial, the Daily Press questions the wisdom of conducting a survey to determine how residents feel about development in Downtown (“Aren’t they listening at City Hall?” June 22-23). The editor wonders why the opinions expressed by those who have attended recent public meetings are not a sufficient gauge of where the community stands.
We are not survey research experts, but we have been observers of and participants in Santa Monica public meetings for many years.
In our experience, those who turn out to address our elected and appointed officials are usually those who feel most strongly about an issue, those whose work and family obligations make it possible to sit through lengthy meetings and, in some cases, those who have been actively encouraged to attend by friends, employers and/or organizations with an interest in the issue. It should come as no surprise that those who are dissatisfied are considerably more likely to express themselves on an issue than those who are not.
Turnouts for recent meetings have been impressive and the views held by those who have taken the trouble to attend must certainly be addressed. Social scientists, however, would caution that the input at a public meeting is from a “self-selected” sample, a circumstance that constitutes a common source of bias. In other words, we cannot be certain that the voices raised are truly representative of the demographically diverse community in which we live. How do opinions on future development choices differ by age and income, among homeowners and renters, between pedestrians and bicyclists, by race and ethnicity? Only competently conducted survey research can provide policy makers with this information.
Critical decisions are pending on acceptable land uses, heights, massing, and transportation modes to implement the principles adopted in the LUCE (Land Use and Circulation Element). Our elected officials should have the best possible information and the widest possible input in reaching decisions. We expect the city to select a reputable pollster whose survey research techniques represent best practices. The results of the survey should be of interest to every community member as well as to our elected and appointed officials.
Judy Abdo, former mayor
Susan McCarthy, former city manager