CITYWIDE — Within the last two weeks, members of the Santa Monica community have received lengthy, anonymous phone calls from polling companies asking their opinions on politics and the Santa Monica Airport, but no one seems to know who is behind the effort.
The phone calls lasted approximately 35 minutes, said one resident who was polled, and include a battery of 30 questions, some with over 11 subcategories.
Questions range from the innocuous — are you a registered voter? — to the particular, asking if the person felt positively or negatively about various elected officials and agencies like the Chamber of Commerce or Airport Commission.
While most of the questions focused on either demographics or local officials, one-third addressed the controversial Santa Monica Airport.
Residents received calls as early as Aug. 19, prior to the Aug. 29 crash involving a student pilot and a Sunset Park home, which further fueled calls to close the airport because of safety concerns.
Interviewers questioned respondents about changes at the airport regarding noise abatement, operations, flight path changes and prohibitions on noisy planes.
The survey even included arguments for or against the airport, and asked residents if they found those statements convincing.
Zina Josephs, a resident of Sunset Park who received a phone call, said that the tone of the questions felt odd.
“You were supposed to give you opinion to changes to SMO over the years, and they asked about noise barriers,” she said. “Well, there are no noise barriers. They talked about flight path changes to avoid sensitive areas. Everything is sensitive.”
Josephs and others who have long fought to curb activities at the airport, particularly flight school operations, said that the survey felt slanted in favor of the airport, and finding out which local politicians were more or less supportive of operations there.
But therein lies the rub. No one knows who is behind the mysterious calls.
Some residents have reported that the caller identified themselves from Insight Research. Others said that their caller IDs said that the call came from Luce Research, a company based in Colorado.
Both could be true, said Lou Davis, vice president of sales and marketing with the firm Market Street Research.
“The firm that’s contracted might not be the firm that’s calling,” Davis said. “It’s probably the name of the call center, while Insight could be the name of the actual firm contracted.”
The Daily Press reached out to Luce Research but did not receive a response.
Jonathan Brown, who works with FM3 Research in Santa Monica, said that Luce Research is a company that acts as a call center, although occasionally does its own projects.
In either case, it makes it more difficult to track the sponsor of a survey when two such firms are used. That’s on top of the strict confidentiality rules to which many firms adhere, Davis said.
According to estimates from research firms, a survey to approximately 400 people that lasts between 8 to 10 minutes could cost between $14,000 and $20,000, depending on the number of open ended questions asked.
Though this survey lasted longer, it’s unclear at this point how many residents received phone calls.
If the survey is politically motivated, the expenditure hasn’t yet appeared on the reporting documents covering Jan. 1 through June 30 for political action committees in Santa Monica nor at the Los Angeles County level.
The next filing period is in January.
In a column by Bill Bauer printed in the Santa Monica Daily Press, City Council member Bob Holbrook hypothesized that perhaps a group in favor of keeping the Santa Monica Airport open was behind the calls.
If so, both Friends of the Santa Monica Airport, a local group, and Airline Owners and Pilots Association, a national group, say they are not responsible for the calls.
City Hall also says that officials have no idea where the calls are coming from, calling it “a mystery.”