The results of the 2009 City of Santa Monica Resident Survey are out. Commissioned by the city, it assesses levels of satisfaction with city programs and services and reveals attitudes about city issues.
City residents were interviewed by telephone in English and Spanish in January by Goodwin Simon Victoria Research. Homeless and traffic problems continue to top the list of most pressing issues for Santa Monicans. Scarce affordable housing, lack of parking and growth and development were also mentioned.
Traffic was the top issue according to 32 percent of the residents surveyed this year, up from 18 percent in 2002. I’m hoping the City Council takes note that more and more residents are fed up with the way they are handling traffic congestion. Reconfiguring streets and reducing their ability to carry traffic just exacerbates traffic congestion and fuels even more discontent and outrage.
Santa Monica has some of the worst traffic in California. It’s the number one complaint. Survey says half the residents surveyed in Sunset and Ocean parks call congestion “very serious.” There as elsewhere, City Hall has done as much as possible to turn everyday driving into a traffic nightmare. It’s no surprise that dissatisfaction is highest in neighborhoods where the city’s more egregious traffic jamming efforts have been perpetrated.
Concerns about a related subject — development — are creeping up with 13 percent of residents saying it’s a problem in 2009 compared to just nine percent two years ago.
The survey listed six issues and asked respondents to rank them from “not serious” to “very serious." Traffic congestion was listed as a serious problem by 71 percent of the residents surveyed — up from 57 percent in 2002. Affordability of housing was ranked a serious problem by 68 percent of the survey respondents and the high number of homeless people in the city by 63 percent. Some 43 percent to 45 percent of those surveyed rated each of these issues as “very serious." Parking problems, crime and gangs rounded out the six “hot button” issues.
The lowest satisfaction ratings included enforcement of the city’s building and zoning laws at 37 percent. Dealing with the homeless overall received a 31 percent satisfaction rating, down from 45 percent in 2007. The city’s enforcement of homeless camping in parks and doorways and enforcement of aggressive begging and panhandling received a 35 percent and 32 percent approval rating respectively. Solving problems resulting from vagrants and transients living on our streets is clearly another area where elected politicians need to step it up.
City services received high marks. The public library had an 82 percent satisfaction rating, trash collection and recycling: 78 percent, tree trimming: 74 percent and the Fire Department received 71 percent.
I found it interesting that 71 percent of those surveyed said they have the opportunity to voice their concerns to the city on major community decisions even though the major complaint I hear from citizens is, “City Hall doesn’t listen to us.”
The 2009 survey said 27 percent of those surveyed used the city’s Web site as a source of information and 27 percent mentioned the city’s Seascape newsletter. Real news about city goings-on and politics from independent media sources ranks even lower.
Less than one out of five residents surveyed rely on the two major community newspapers for local news. Only 13 percent on City TV on cable. Nine percent use the Los Angeles Times for information — down from 20 percent four years ago. So, just a small percentage of residents are exposed to real city news, issue analysis and criticism — unavailable from the city’s Web site or Seascape.
That may explain why only 49 percent of the residents were unaware of the city’s many and costly services for the homeless — despite being widely featured in city publicity and our six independent newspaper and online news outlets.
I’ll bet almost all the important issues are not on most residents’ radar. When it comes to elections, with maybe half the electorate informed, it explains how certain politicians get re-elected to office time and time again despite years of flat out refusing to solve problems such as traffic or, as is the case with the school board, a lengthy history of poor oversight and incompetence.
Here, voters make decisions based on mailers and flyers. Those with the most money deliver the most colorful mailers into the mailboxes of voters and win. When a sizable percentage of citizens make decisions derived from advertising and propaganda, the real value of an initiative, cost of a tax or bond proposal or incumbent’s record is misrepresented and obscured — and we all lose.
Santa Monicans need to wake up. An uninformed public is why we have over half-billion dollar city budgets, traffic gridlock, runaway development, high taxes and fees, armies of vagrants sleeping in parks and doorways and no parking.
When not filling out questionnaires, Bill Bauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.