Analysis: Downtown Survey Gives Us a Guide to Fiscal Crisis

Analysis: Downtown Survey Gives Us a Guide to Fiscal CrisisA few weeks ago Vanguard readers were asked to participate in the Davis Downtown’s Fiscal Crisis Survey Data.  You can see the results for yourself by clicking here:

The caveat here is of course is that this is not a random survey.  The poll’s respondents have to volunteer to participate and the questions were not designed by professional pollsters.

Still, there are a number of nice features of the survey, first that they segment out the respondent groups so we can analyze business member responses in isolation from Vanguard reader responses and Enterprise reader responses.

The biggest concern we have is, overall, 80% of those surveyed were aware of the fiscal emergency prior to reading the survey.  At some point, with the raw data, we might want to look at the 71 respondents not aware of the fiscal emergency to see how their answers may have been different.

Vanguard readers were more likely than the general respondent to have awareness of the fiscal emergency, with 89% percent previously aware and only 16 respondents unaware.

Our concern here is that the poll did not tap into the general public, where we suspect far less than a majority is aware of the fiscal crisis.

Despite the general awareness of the issue, only 39% of Vanguard readers and 26% overall could correctly identify the amount of projected revenue brought in by the half-cent sales tax.

While the majority of both groups have already formed an opinion on whether to approve the tax, the vast majority – 95% of Vanguard readers and nearly 94% overall – believe that the June ballot will not fully solve the fiscal emergency.

The poll asks the respondents to rank order the steps the City must take “to bridge the gap between revenue and expenses.”

It is a bit difficult to evaluate the results.  Both groups saw growth of revenues through business and economic development as the most important.  However, Vanguard readers were more likely to support increases to sales and parcel taxes as a critical option.  The results here are a bit muddled because three of the choices are forms of taxation.

The Vanguard order of preference appears to be Growth, Sales Tax, Sales Tax and Parcel Tax, Parcel Tax, and Cut and reduce services.  The biggest difference between the two appears to be that, while Vanguard readers see cut and reduce services as the last priority, the overall group has it as the third option between growth and sales tax.

The poll then asks, “If the city were to cut services to help eliminate the structural deficit, which cuts would you agree to?”

The top three for Vanguard readers was: reduction of benefits, reduction or elimination of other services, and closure of a fire station.  Overall, the top three were: reduction of benefits, staff reductions, reduction or elimination of other services.

The bottom three for Vanguard readers was: closure of parks (bottom), closure of pools and elimination of recreational services.  Overall, the bottom three were same, with parks being the lowest priority for closure of all groups.

Vanguard supporters favored taking action now by an 82-18 percentage margin.  Overall, it was similar by a 74-26 margin, with non-Vanguard readers closer to a 2-1 margin.

Vanguard readers strongly support the parcel tax by a 63.3 to 36.7 margin, while overall it was almost 50-50 meaning that the majority of non-Vanguard readers opposed a fall parcel tax.  The question is whether the Vanguard readers or the business community are more representative of the population.

It is important to note that in neither group is the support above the 2/3rds threshold for passage.

Vanguard readers were far more likely to know about the backlog of unfunded liabilities and street maintenance than business groups.  Nearly 80% of Vanguard readers were aware of the issues.  That number falls to 66 percent of overall respondents, and barely 50% of non-Vanguard readers.

However, when asked, “Should the community sacrifice right now to fully address and budget for road repairs now at a much reduced total cost or pay a much greater total cost by spreading the expense out over a longer time period?”  The answers were nearly identical, with both groups agreeing at more than a 80 percent clip.

There was a greater difference, though, in how that should be funded, with 71% of Vanguard readers but 61% of overall responding supporting an additional tax to fund street repairs.   Non-Vanguard readers were willing to support such a tax, but in the 50% range which took it below the threshold for approval of a parcel tax.

A plurality of Vanguard readers were willing to support a $150 parcel tax, with 32.7% supporting a $50 tax.  Another 24% were willing to go as high as $250.  Overall, 41% supported $50, 31% supported $150, and 19% support $250.

Respondents were asked, “Apart from roads and bike paths, do you think the City has fully accounted and budgeted for all facilities needs including city-owned buildings, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, parking lots, etc.?”

56% of Vanguard readers said no, with another 39% not knowing.  For the overall group, only 44.7% said they know while more than half did not know.

Readers were asked, “Have you considered economic development as a source of additional revenue for our City?”  About 85% in each category said yes.  Over 90% believe “the City should take steps to encourage economic development in our community.”

The question, of course, is which businesses should the city attempt to attract.  The top three for the Vanguard were research and development, business incubators and manufacturing.  Fewer supported additional retail (61 percent) and only 37% support additional restaurants.

There were similar results for the overall group, with research and development leading the way followed by retail (but at a similar rate, 65%) and business incubators.  For both groups, restaurants were the lowest priority.

One question that was decidedly absent was the willingness of the community to support peripheral development.  That will, of course, be a key issue for a business park.

While the sample group is a bit over-representative of the informed and involved population, based on these results we believe a sales tax measure could pass but a parcel tax will be far more problematic.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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