CITYWIDE — Residents said Santa Monica is an “excellent” place to live and gave city officials positive marks for providing quality services, but remained troubled by traffic, homelessness and a lack of parking, according to survey results released by City Hall last week.
Although City Hall walked away with a 92 percent satisfaction rating, the survey as a whole represented a slip from 2011 numbers, where 94 percent of those surveyed rated the city a “pretty good” or “excellent” place to live, and 74 percent of residents found that City Hall was doing a good job providing basic services compared to 62 percent this year.
The results, posted on City Hall’s website, come from a telephone survey conducted every two years that is meant to assess attitudes about city services.
City officials use the information in the finished report to focus work plans to ensure City Hall is responding to residents’ concerns, said Kate Vernez, deputy city manager of special projects.
“We use this as our report card and barometer to see where we can then refocus our efforts,” Vernez said.
The City Council awarded Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates — also known as FM3 — a $30,495 contract to conduct the survey. The team touched base with 404 randomly selected adults, including 112 on wireless numbers and 61 Latino residents.
Because FM3 used a small sample size and specifically sought out people with Latino surnames, the report says that the 5 percent margin of error “should be relied on with caution.”
Although the perception of how well City Hall is performing may have gone down, problem areas remain more or less unchanged over the previous two years.
Santa Monica residents identified homelessness, traffic and a lack of parking as the top three areas of concern in 2013, with the number of people identifying those issues as important increasing from the 2011 report.
Homelessness stood out as a main area of concern with 32 percent of respondents naming it amongst the top two most important issues facing City Hall. That’s up from 25 percent in 2011, and back in line with 2009 numbers.
The results match with those from the 2013 Homeless Count, which was conducted on Jan. 30 and found a 20 percent increase in street homelessness and 27 percent increase in those sleeping in cars.
City Hall plans to focus on “anchor” homeless, and deploy services to identify and house those who have been on the street the longest, Vernez said.
Roughly 62 percent of Santa Monicans believe the number of homeless is a problem, and 36 percent believe that the problem has gotten worse over the past few years, which resulted in a decline in the perception that City Hall’s policies toward that population were adequate.
Traffic congestion also numbered amongst Santa Monicans’ top issues, and, according to the survey, people believe it’s getting worse.
Approximately 28 percent of residents put traffic congestion as one of their top two issues, an increase from 2011 numbers, and 66 percent of people think that it is worse now than it was just a few years ago.
At the same time, 81 percent of residents believe that City Hall should be doing something about the problem, second only to providing emergency 911 services.
Concern about the lack of parking rose in the ranks this year, with 13 percent volunteering it as the most important problem facing the city. That’s nearly double the 7 percent seen in 2011, and exceeds 2009’s figures as well.
City Hall has put a focus on parking and congestion issues by working to build new parking — like the 750-space Parking Structure 6 currently underway — and by freeing up spaces in the Downtown, Vernez said.
“We want to provide alternatives to give people a choice and encourage and incentivize people to use transportation other than cars,” Vernez said. “(The Exposition Light Rail Line) is going to be a big game-changer in that regard, and so much success of the Expo will be tied to the success of the Big Blue Bus to serve the stations.”
Santa Monicans also called out housing affordability as a main area of concern, rating it a 3.8 out of 5 on average in terms of importance.
When asked directly, 63 percent of respondents said the lack of affordable housing was a serious problem, putting it on par with traffic congestion and homelessness. Residents put City Hall’s responsibility for ensuring affordable housing below things like traffic and emergency response in terms of importance, and they seem split on how well City Hall is accomplishing that goal.
While Santa Monicans stress about traffic flow and homelessness, other issues have dropped off their radar.
Only 15 percent of people name gangs and youth violence as a serious issue. Concern about crime has gone up since 2011; one-fifth of the population puts it at the top of the list.
One of the biggest drops, perhaps, has been anger over Santa Monica Airport.
The 2011 survey showed community distaste for noise coming out of SMO as one of the top five issues. This year, only 1 percent of Santa Monicans reported airport noise as a problem.
That puzzled Thane Roberts, a member of the Ocean Park Association board. The association did its own survey last year which showed the airport as one of the top priorities for the neighborhood, along with increased traffic and development.
John Fairweather, the founder of Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic, also questioned why the report focused its analysis of airport complaints on the 90404 zip code, when the 90405 area slightly to the south experienced more impacts.
“We have seen a dramatic and continuing increase in airport opposition since 2011,” Fairweather said. “I cannot explain why the city results appear to show the opposite.”
Although residents found certain issues distressing, they decided Santa Monica was doing a pretty good job overall.
Emergency services, trash collection and the public libraries all received high marks, as did park and beach maintenance.
Although 55 percent of Santa Monicans reported never taking the Big Blue Bus, City Hall’s efforts to offer public transportation alternatives was also at the top of the list.
Mayor Pam O’Connor took comfort that residents seem content with the most fundamental city services, calling the survey a benchmark.
“Overall, things are going fairly positive, and that’s excellent news,” O’Connor said. “We see where the bumps are and where improvements need to be.”