Homeless sleep under the trees at Reed Park on Monday afternoon. The number of homeless people in the city was rated a Òserious problemÓ by 61 percent of people surveyed, down slightly from 63 percent in 2009 and quite a bit from 76 percent reported in 2007. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITYWIDE — Santa Monicans gave an overwhelming thumbs up to the city by the sea, awarding it an A-grade as a good place to live as well as high marks on providing critical city services including emergency response, public safety and environmental responsibility.

The most prevalent concerns held by residents focused on the state budget crisis, traffic congestion and homelessness, although the latter two saw major decreases in response from a previous survey in 2009.

The results, posted on City Hall’s website, come from a biannual telephone survey meant to assess attitudes about city services.

City departments use the information to create budgets that accurately reflect the wants and needs of citizens, said Kate Vernez, assistant to the city manager.

“This survey is one of the tools we use to compare historic information on preferences, views and emerging issues to help us build the budget,” Vernez said. “It’s also the report card of how we’re doing with the community, and shows us areas we need to strengthen.”

Department directors gathered to choose new questions to gather information about current issues, but many were kept identical to previous years to ensure that the data could be compared from survey to survey.

Consultant Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates — also known as FM3 — conducted the survey for $30,495. FM3 contacted 407 Santa Monica residents in both Spanish and English.

Seventy percent of those phone calls were random, with an additional 19 percent generated through voter listings to get cell phone users and the remainder chosen for having Latino surnames to ensure those groups were represented.

The results showed that although the majority of people enjoy living in Santa Monica (a whopping 94 percent), only 74 percent were satisfied with the full package of services provided by City Hall.

To pinpoint “top of mind” issues, a question asking what residents felt were the most important issues facing Santa Monica today was left blank, allowing respondents to fill in their own answers.

Thirty-five percent listed the budget crisis as a top issue, up from only 4 percent in 2009. Traffic and congestion took second place with 24 percent citing it as important. That’s down eight percentage points from the last survey.

Homelessness, coming in third, also took a hit in prevalence, coming down from 31 percent to 22 percent of responses.

Rounding out the top five were airport noise and education, both up to 10 percent of responses from 1 percent in 2009.

Although there have been reductions in the reporting surrounding traffic and homelessness, the results do not equate to residents’ perceptions that City Hall is doing a better job than in the past at combating the issues, according to the report.

Part of the decrease may come from the importance that the budget crisis has taken on for many respondents, the report reads.

In terms of traffic, 64 percent of respondents felt that traffic congestion had worsened in Santa Monica in the last few years, despite the fact that, in the same survey, reducing traffic was considered an important service by 82 percent of those surveyed.

Only 28 percent felt City Hall is doing a good job reining in traffic congestion.

Homelessness numbers were similar.

The number of homeless people in the city was rated a “serious problem” by 61 percent of people, down slightly from 63 percent in 2009 and quite a bit from 76 percent reported in 2007.

Overall concern about the problem of homelessness has dropped, however. Only 24 percent of people felt that the problem has gotten worse in the past two years, compared to 45 percent in 2009.

All of these results are somewhat out of sync with reported figures, considering the large drops in the homeless population seen in the annual Homeless Count conducted by the Human Services Division each January.

The 2007 Homeless Count came up with 999 individuals, with 915 in 2009 and 740 in 2011.

According to the report, however, only 34 percent report that they’re satisfied with the job City Hall is doing to deal with homeless people in Santa Monica.

The declining numbers seen on the streets, and declining phone calls he gets regarding the issue, tell Mayor Richard Bloom that Santa Monica is making progress on its homeless issue.

“I think people care deeply about it, but I think we’ve made significant strides over the past few years, which are starting to show up in the responses we get from residents,” Bloom said.

While residents gave a “need to improve” on those issues, very few had complaints about public safety, particularly gang and youth violence which dropped from people’s radar compared to 2002 numbers.

A nearly unanimous 98 percent of respondents cited Santa Monica as a “safe” place to live, and only 15 percent feel that crime is a serious problem when asked directly, according to the survey. Approximately 77 percent of respondents felt that crime had either gotten better or stayed the same.

Residents also gave high satisfaction ratings to maintenance of city parks, public libraries and eco-friendliness, with 96 percent saying Santa Monica was very or somewhat green.

At the bottom of the list were provision of recreation and sports programs, youth services and enforcing city noise laws.

The results will help inform both staff and the City Council to make sure Santa Monicans’ priorities are getting addressed, Bloom said.

“With all of the issues that we have, there are important things we’re trying to address in the city,” Bloom said. “The bottom line is that the public’s perception of Santa Monica as a great place to live remains very strong. I always feel very grateful able to live in Santa Monica, and I’m pleased my fellow residents feel the same way.”

Public discussion of budgeting efforts, including the “Can You Talk” meetings with city staff and the city manager will be kicking off in May.


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