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Neighborhood Groups Question City Survey Seeking Online Community Opinions


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

Nov. 21, 2017 -- An online survey by the City of Santa Monica seeking community opinion about life, and City services, in the beach city is receiving some dissatisfied input.

The reason? According to an email to the City Council by three neighborhood associations, the survey (at fails to delve into key issues, such as rising property crime, gridlock and development.

“Instead of seeking honest responses about real conditions in our small city, the questionnaire appears bent on reframing public thinking,” said the Monday email from the governing boards for Friends of Sunset Park, Northeast Neighbors and Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition.

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“It asks those surveyed to rate Santa Monica in glowing terms such as ‘caring, inclusive, diverse, thriving, equitable, neighborly, affordable, supportive, innovative, forward thinking,'” they said.

They called the survey, titled “Your City, Your Voice,” a “manipulation, not a measurement of public opinion . . . (that)) should not be used to inform policy-making.”

In response, City Manager Rick Cole expressed much dissatisfaction with the input.

“The neighborhood associations have gone to the trouble of coordinating some sort of convening of their boards (or perhaps the boards have ceded the right of their officers to speak on their behalf),” he said in an email query from the Lookout on Monday.

But they “have not gone to the trouble of simply asking City staff why this survey was conducted and to what use it will be put,” Cole said. “It appears they have simply assumed that because it is called a ‘survey’ that it will be cited as gospel.

“No,” Cole said. ”It is not a comprehensive or scientific survey of resident concerns nor have any representations of that sort been made.  It is an opportunity to hear directly from motivated citizens about some of the issues the City is currently dealing with.”

The city’s many neighborhood associations have been highly critical of city leadership, which they say is increasingly attuned to tourism -- the bedrock of the local economy and a major city revenue -- instead of the residents.

Although Cole and the council repeatedly deny such bias, the City’s expansion of marketing/public relations/communications efforts irks the groups, who have been on the losing end of battles with City Hall against new building and traffic congestion.

The groups said the survey is more public relations than a real effort to understand a day-in-the-life of Santa Monica.

It “begins by telling residents and workers that it's about “what’s important to you personally and how we can make Santa Monica even better,” but what follows is a series of leading questions that appear designed more to shape opinions than to elicit them,” their email said.

“It is notable that the word “homeless" appears more than 24 times, suggesting the data gathered will be used to support new public funding for homeless programs or to support promotion of a new bond measure to address homelessness.

"One is left to wonder why the City chose not to state up front that homelessness is the real topic,” the letter said.

Cole said the City “is not trying to mold public opinion, but to solicit it.

“Reasonable people can always quibble about the phrasing of questions and there are open-ended opportunities in the survey to get direct feedback,” he said.


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