Every two years, the City of Sunnyvale commissions a survey to judge how residents view city services. The latest survey results are now available for all to peruse. And the results are interesting, if not too surprising to those of us who spend a lot of time talking with residents. First, the big one – 94% of residents rank Sunnyvale as an excellent or good place to live. This is the highest such ranking the city has seen since 2002, and up 7% in just the past four years. A couple of quotes from the survey results:
In general, survey respondents demonstrated strong trust in local government. A majority rated the overall direction being taken by the City of Sunnyvale as “good” or “excellent”. This was much higher than the benchmark.
On average, residents gave favorable rating to all local government services. […] Of the 24 services for which comparisons were available, 22 were above the benchmark comparison, two were similar to the benchmark comparison, and none were below.
In general, residents ranked Sunnyvale much higher than other surveyed cities in many areas:
- Value of services for the taxes paid to Sunnyvale
- The overall direction that Sunnyvale is taking (survey record high rating)
- Overall image or reputation of Sunnyvale (survey record high rating)
- Overall impression of city employees (survey record high rating)
- Ease of walking (survey record high rating)
- Street cleaning (survey record high rating)
- Recreation programs (survey record high)
- Recreation facilities (survey record high)
- Public information services (survey record high)
- Animal control (survey record high)
- Services for seniors
- Services for low income people
- General police services
- Sunnyvale as a place to work
- Perception that jobs growth is too slow
- Positive impact of economy on household income
- Openness and acceptance of the community toward people of diverse backgrounds
- Public safety in the downtown after dark
- Opportunities to participate in community matters
- Use of recycling services
- Ease of car travel (new survey question)
- Lack of run down buildings, weed lots, and junk vehicles (new survey question)
- Employment opportunities (new survey question)
Sunnyvale ranked much below average in some categories as well:
- Availability of affordable quality housing (survey record low rating)
- Participation in council or public meetings
- Volunteering (still survey record high)
- Registering to vote (still survey record high)
- Voted in last general election (still survey record high)
- Experiencing housing costs stress
I’ll go into speculation mode now. Some of this is no surprise – jobs, satisfaction with parks & rec, absence of nuisance issues. The negatives really aren’t a surprise either, particularly not the demand for affordable housing. Neither is the lack of civic engagement. Notice that residents ranked Sunnyvale high for opportunities to get involved, but they don’t actually choose to do so. When people have such a high regard for the way that a city is being run, they’re more trusting of government and staff, and less inclined to get involved themselves. Also, the Silicon Valley lifestyle plus the high cost of living makes residents very career-focused and family-focused, and less inclined to volunteering and civic engagement. That’s really a reflection of personal priorities (family and career first), I think, and it’s a characteristic specific to the Silicon Valley ethos.
It will be interesting to see how the voting rankings change if/when we switch to even-year elections.
So what is a surprise here? The high ranking for “ease of car travel” is a bit of a shock, and it goes against what I’ve heard residents say. I can only equate that to “however bad things are here, they’re worse in other cities”. The reaction to crime and public safety was a bit surprising too. Residents expressed clear concern with burglary and property crime, yet they rank public safety and their sense of personal safety very high. That matches my own view, and it reflects a real understanding of the statewide burglary problem. But I expected residents to hold the city directly responsible for the crime surge, and it seems that they don’t, by and large – they understand what’s happening. That’s gratifying.
There are two personal area of disappointment for me. First, the resident perception of street quality is down, and below average. This is disappointing because the actual street quality is approaching a 10-year high. This year, our Pavement Condition Indicator (PCI) will finally reach a rating of “very good” for the first time in many years. We’re doing massive amounts of roadwork, and it’s paid off. But that’s not what residents perceive, and I’d like to understand why resident’s perception doesn’t match reality.
The second was the results for “the job Sunnyvale government does at welcoming citizen involvement”. We ranked above average, with 63% saying we do an excellent or good job of this, which is fine. And it’s trending up, too. But I’ve spent a lot of time engaging with the community, through this blog, my town hall meetings, involvement in the neighborhood associations, and engagement on the various mailing lists. And our City Manager has likewise gotten out there and done a lot more than past CMs have done. So I hoped for better results than we got. It’s an area that we still need to work on.