What We Can Learn From the City Survey Results

Davis-city_hallThe city has finally released the telephone survey results from Godbe Research which was conducted from June 11 to June 16, 2014. Godbe surveyed 504 Davis registered voters, with a 20-minute survey conducted in consultation with city staff.

Much has been made out of the polling on the parcel taxes, which continues to inform current and future city strategy on the timing and amount of the city’s parcel tax policy.

However, there is new information that we wish to focus on. The general level of citizen satisfaction remains high, but it has slipped since the city last conducted such a poll back in 2007. In 2007, 93.7% reported that they are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied, and now that level is still high – 84% of respondents, but that represents a decrease of 9.6%. Staff writes, “Although the overall level remains high, the decline is likely due in part to the economic downturn that occurred between surveys.”

From our standpoint, however, we will focus on two specific findings.


First, the source of information has changed and changed rather dramatically. In 2007, the Vanguard was a fledgling website, having just been launched in 2006. The Davis Enterprise represented the source of a large plurality of residents getting their information. 48.8% of residents got their information from the Enterprise compared to 26% for the internet and Davis website, only 2.5% got their information from the Sacramento Bee, and social media was a non-factor, not even asked.

That has changed, as the Davis Enterprise remains the top plurality but their reach has shrunk by nearly one-third, and now only 34.7% people get their source of information from the Enterprise compared to the Internet/Davis website now reaching 29.5%.

While they do not mention the Vanguard by name, the influence of the Vanguard is seen quite clearly here. Readership even over the summer still reached over 4000 unique views during the week for the Vanguard.

Perhaps the interesting factor is that the Sacramento Bee has a larger readership in Davis than the Enterprise, but the Enterprise is where far more people get their news on the city. Social media has not become a large source for city information.

From a city standpoint, one of the more interesting findings is public perception of the most important issues. The long drawn out water process has pushed the issue of water to the top of the list. What is perhaps interesting is that the respondents seem split on the bigger issue that pertains to water, with quality edging out cost by a 17 to 13 percent margin.

In the last year and a half, we have seen two water measures – both of which passed. The first authorized the city to build a surface water plant, ostensibly addressing the water quality issue. The second rescinded the water rates, addressing the water rate issue.

The budget only ranked third on the list at 8.9% which is interesting because the budget and the city’s lack of revenue represent by far the greatest long-term challenge and the next year and a half will see a number of initiatives address the city budget. We have already seen the sales tax, we will also see the parcel tax and perhaps several Measure R votes on innovation parks – Nishi, Mace, and the Davis Innovation Center (Northwest Quadrant).

This dovetails well with our call to arms from the weekend, arguing that the public really lacks the knowledge about the city’s fiscal condition.

The fourth big issue is the lack of affordable housing – an issue that also taps into more traditional growth and development and land use issues.

However, what we have seen in the last seven years is a sea-change in the political landscape in Davis. In 2007, at the time the Vanguard was first starting, we saw traditional issues dominating – growth and development at 34% and lack of affordable housing at 20%.

Those issue have been replaced by water and budgetary concerns.


As we drill down, however, we see that while budget and the economy ranks third with 8.9%, there are other related issues that might push it up on the screen – taxes at 4.2%, economic development at 3.5%, roads at 1%, employee salaries and benefits at 1%. These are not enough to push the issue of the budget and economy over water, but it certainly shows it is a considerable concern.

What isn’t a huge concern is crime and public safety at 2.7%, but that issue was not even on the radar of the public in 2007.

The polling, therefore, shows the emergence of new issues replacing growth and development and housing, which dominated seven years ago, but it also shows again the need for public engagement on the budget issues, which represent again the biggest long-term challenge.

—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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  1. Matt Rexroad

    We all know that public money can’t be used for political purposes. Seems clear.

    The law does allow surveys of this sort to inform elected leaders and city policy.

    What I still don’t get is how it is allowed for surveys only of registered voters. If an elected body wants to know how their city feels they could survey all residents. When they only want to measure the views of registered voters — it tells me that it is really just a political expenditure under the guise of “information gathering”.

    Matt Rexroad

    1. Edgar Wai

      If the 504 samples include people that are not registered voters, would you have a problem if the presentation has a sub graph showing only the responds from registered voters? For the non-registered voter samples, what persons should the city include or exclude?

      * To get the phone numbers of non-registered voters, the city could broadcast the intent to have this kind of survey, and have people register as stakeholders.

  2. Chicolini

    Is there a transcript of the phone survey used by Godbe Research available for review? Also, is there a statistical report associated with this survey that outlines the model and specific reasoning used to arrive at both a sampling size which is .75% of the total population of Davis and 1.3% of the registered voter population of Davis (using 2010 census count), questions and the order in which they they asked, the type of response method utilized, and the margin of error calculated into survey?

  3. citywatch

    Maybe licensed drivers then? “All” would include children and I really don’t think that’s wise, for obvious reasons. But I agree “registered voters” is certainly telling Matt!

  4. Barack Palin

    The Enterprise just doesn’t get it sometimes. Their recent move requiring FB accounts in order to post on their comment section turned away many readers and a resulting downturn in the number of posts. I still read the Enterprise to stay on top of local news and what not, but hey the Vanguard is free even though I personally don’t care for the liberal spin put on many of the articles.

    1. Matt Williams

      BP, now that you have completed your helping your two children move their places of residence, do you think you will have time to start submitting articles about national issues, so that the “off topic” problem can be defused?

      On the subject of submitted articles to broaden the discussion, the Moderator received the following e-mail suggestion from a Vanguard reader and passed it on to the Editorial Board. It is a very good and thoughtful suggestion, but to my thinking the implementation method that the commenter outlines needs work. What I suggest as an alternative is that the descibed kind of story/article submission start by introducing the topic (political dysfunction in the example case) and then follow that introduction with excerpts from the linked article that explore/illuminate the topic (in the example case Francis Fukuyama’s America In Decay) and links the topic and the article to what we are experiencing in Davis.

      We have tried to build the inventory of article submitters. We are reaching out to you to take you up on your offer to submit articles. Dan Carson has stepped to the plate. The school board candidates have stepped up. Tia Will and Jeff Boone have submitted some of the most commented on articles in the Vanguard’s history. This represents an opportunity to build on that.

      Issues surrounding posts are ones that the Vanguard must tackle. A serious lack of focus and civility often occurs at the point where opposing views run out of gas, or are highjacked by someone who is determined to rule the day. It truly reminds me of a poorly run discussion in a classroom. The reason is simple, without a moderator the discussion dissolves into strident repetitions of programed views with the usual dose of overly inflated sidebars and grandstanding that detract more than they add to any type of consensus thinking.

      Agreement and thoughtful commentary will never really find their way into these types of formats. At best these forums point out the need for town hall meetings and discussions where participants have to really consider the people and issues as a dynamic process.

      I do have only this suggestion. Once a month the Vanguard could feature a publication or suggestion for discussion–assigned reading in an online town hall setting. All participants have to use their real, full names if they want to participate and agree to a set of prescribed guidelines. Each online town hall meeting could get generated in a myriad of ways: local concerns, events, proposals in the community. Or, a suggested reading, article, book could serve as a point of discussion. This community concern, article or other piece of writing would generate a discussion with a list of prompts or disscussion starters/topics. Guest moderators could be found in our local schools, the university, or clubs/organizations. My suggestion for this month would be the following:


      1. Frankly

        Again, this quoted comment above is indicative of a couple of points.

        One – some people don’t completely understand the spirit and purpose of a blog. Think of it as a “beautiful mess”. A virtual town hall meeting is something else. And I think the VG might want to explore that as a separate feature. There are other nifty trends in the blogosphere that should also be considered. For example, go to http://www.reddit.com and search for “ask me anything”. Even the President did a session or two (although it was probably his handlers answering the questions).

        Two – I see echos of Virginia Postrel’s “dynamist” versus “stasis” actors in these types of comments, and there is an ideological bent connection too. I think some people are made anxious around self-managing systems and naturally desire more top-down order and control. But often their anxiety is only their lack of understanding of the thing, or their lack of system thinking (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_thinking) about the thing.

        Blogs have evolved in their design to provide collaborative and cooperative self-managing. There is certainly still need for moderation, but features like “like” voting, and “report as abusive” buttons help prevent the need to cede so much authority to a central figure and risk censorship.

        When visiting New York for pleasure I like to stay in hotels close to Times Square. While in the hotel it is quiet and orderly. Everyone knows not to get boisterous and argumentative. Someone stepping outside the bounds of defined behavior requirements will be dealt with by hotel staff, or by law enforcement if needed.

        But step outside the entry and everything is a bit chaotic. There are people coming and going laughing, honking, shouting, arguing, running, walking, driving… business is getting done. Basically, it is a beautiful mess.

        Some people hate that type if thing. They don’t go to New York. And if they do, they generally would stay out of Times Square or other chaotic areas.

        But my advice to them is to try it and they will probably get used to it and learn to like it at least for a visit every now and then. But if they succeed in changing it to satiate their more stasis desires and calm their natural anxieties over a perceived lack of order, it will ruin it for most everyone else.

  5. Edgar Wai

    I think knowing how people are going to vote is beneficial to everyone overall because it reduces or eliminates surprises. Knowing how people feel would let us and the council see the result if there is a vote. This could save time and money, and eliminate arguments like, “I don’t believe that is the majority view, let’s put it on a ballot.”

    I think the city of Davis website can make it possible for people to register as stakeholders, and have them declare their standing on issues or categories ( satisfied, neutral, unsatisfied / Agree, neutral, disagree ). At any time the stakeholder could change their standing, so it is possible to see the trajectory as an issue is being discussed toward a resolution.

    I think an on-going polling system like this would be a stepping stone toward having people assign their monetary contributions to fix specific issues they want to fix. Often times people just disagree on board stroke requirement for everyone to pay for a certain fix. The discussion drags on longer than it should. Just let people who already want to pay for the fix pay and get it fixed. Accountability can be calculated separately.

    An issue pops and requires $10000 to fix. Most people agree that it should be fixed, but don’t know who should pay for it. Ask anyone to sponsor the fix and fix the problem, then continue to discuss who should actually be responsible for the bill. Keep taps on people who had paid so that later on when the people decide who was ultimately responsible and pays, those people can get a refund. And people who are willing to share the risk to “pay first, fix first, collect later” to avoid paralysis should be recognized.

  6. Frankly

    Interesting that taxation has moved up over education funding, and population growth… never too big of a concern… has fallen drastically.

    And I would guess that the drought has had an impact on the water quality and water rates top two (water on the brain)… meaning that budget/economic is probably higher if controlled for it.

    But economic development still down the list is indication of a need for a lot of voter education.

    1. Davis Progressive

      education funding has been relatively solved through the parcel tax and improved economy. so that’s not surprising. the problem here seems to be that the categories are too broad but the question to specific. they need a way to allow people to rank order more general categories.

  7. Anon

    Sorry, but IMO this survey is effectively worthless. To ask “Are you satisfied?” tells us nothing about what the person being asked the question thinks about the city’s fiscal picture. Why not ask “Are you satisfied with the condition of the roads in Davis?”; “Are you aware that the city’s pools need $7million worth of repairs?”, etc.

    1. Frankly

      I think that this point is indicative of the education need and opportunity. The budget is someone else’s problem unless the pain is personal.

      When asked if he was satisfied with life as he was falling from the skyscraper while vigorously flapping his arms, the Davis voter said “yes”.

    2. Edgar Wai

      In the discussion of maintenance cost, I find it unnatural to keep mentioning the big price tag to fix a collection of problems. I think if might be easier to get things done by divide and conquer.

      The city prioritize the fixes and show which issues would be fixed according the amount of money obtained:

      $30K fixes issue A
      $45K fixes issues A and B
      $50K fixes issues A to C
      $70K fixes issues A to D

  8. Davis Progressive

    that being said, a problem i have is that while the enterprise has declining influence, their lack of coverage on the fiscal crisis facing the city and their over-coverage, particularly dunning, on water, has inverted the priorities.

    1. David Greenwald

      Maybe the city wasted money on the survey – although it prevented them from launching a failed parcel tax, so perhaps not. But you know better than to say that the money spent on the survey could have fixed potholes.

  9. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > a 20-minute survey conducted in consultation with city staff.

    Has anyone here taken a TWENTY (20) Minute phone survey?

    Most people I know (both registered and non registered voters) never take ANY surveys and I don’t think that the “average” person will hang on the line for almost a half hour.

  10. Napoleon Pig IV

    It’s good to see that education still rates so low. It would be a terrible thing if the sheep woke up and demanded the best possible education for the best and brightest, the worst and dimmest, and all those in between. That would lead to untenably uppity sheep. We have to be especially wary of that best and brightest minority and take all steps necessary to make sure they are bored and demotivated as much as possible Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that here, despite the best efforts of some really great teachers, because we live under the watchful eye of Great Leaders in the Porcine Pinnacle of Power who will make sure the school administrators are fed before the teachers. Oink.

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