Palo Alto, CA - Overall, 89% of the residents participating in this year’s National Citizen Survey rated the overall quality of life in Palo Alto as excellent or good. Continuing a long-term trend, Palo Alto as a place to live rated 91% with an equal percentage ranking their own neighborhoods as excellent or good.
This is the 15th year Palo Alto has participated in the survey, which is conducted by the National Research Center and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), and which gathers resident opinions across a range of community issues, in cities and counties across the United States. The survey focuses on gauging community sentiment on the quality of community and related services, as well as residents’ engagement level within their communities.
“We continue to see residents rate the quality of life at a high level in Palo Alto,” said City Manager James Keene. “Overall, people living in our city feel safe, appreciate the quality of City services, and remain optimistic about raising a family and working here. This survey indicates, as we have seen in recent years, that housing and traffic remain top concerns that impact the experience of living in Palo Alto.”
As in years past, areas where Palo Alto rates particularly high include as a place to raise children (84%), place to work (82%), and the quality of services provided by the city (86%). The availability of affordable housing continues to rank very low (6% as excellent or good) along with land use (40%), quality of new development (50%) and traffic on major streets (33%).
Reflecting a national decline in response rates of household surveys, the response rate among Palo Alto residents has declined gradually since the first National Citizen Survey in 2003, from a high of 51% to this year’s low of 21%.
“While the overall response rate has declined, over the years we have increased the number of surveys from 1,200 to 3,000 to capture responses for more residents, despite the lower response rate,” said City Auditor Harriet Richardson whose office contracts with the National Research Center to conduct the survey. “We were also able to zero in on specific concerns through the additional community survey and open ended questions.”
Trends over Time
While year-to-year shifts in residents’ opinions may not show statistically meaningful differences, there have been several areas that have shown significant shifts over the past decade. Since 2007, areas that improved or declined more than 5 percent include:
- Neighborhood branch libraries: (+29%)
- Use of City’s website to conduct business (at least once a year): (+29%)
- Storm drainage: (+22%)
- Street tree maintenance: (+15%)
- Palo Alto as a place to retire: (-10%)
- Ease of travel by car: (-23%)
- Variety of housing options: (-16%)
- Sense of community: (-14%)
An additional community survey was conducted this year (soliciting responses from a different cohort than the original survey) on 15 different areas of code enforcement concerns. Residents rated only parking (64%) and traffic (75%) as being moderate or major problems with roughly the same numbers rating the two issues as essential for the City to pursue enforcement. The next highest rating was gasoline-powered leaf blowers in residential areas (33%) and failure to comply with zoning regulations (20% rated as moderate/major problem, but 46% viewed as essential to enforce). Only 18% of respondents said they had reported a code violation in the past year, and methods used for reporting varied.
The survey also included questions on the “built environment” with residents generally giving low ratings related to design and compatibility. In terms of addressing housing affordability, 71% strongly or somewhat agreed that Palo Alto should use all of the tools at its disposal to ensure some percentage of new multi-family housing is affordable. Only 28% of residents said that Palo Alto has enough housing and doesn’t need any more.
Finally, the survey asked several open-ended questions including what one change would make Palo Alto residents happier. Housing (amount, affordability/cost of living) topped the list (25%) with traffic concerns (15%) and development other than housing (12%) rounding out the top three. These three issues received the most mention when the same question was asked in 2014.
To read the complete report, click here.