Commentary: A Look at the City Survey – Part One, Housing

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The city conducted a survey recently through EMC Research with the broader subject being satisfaction.  For the most part the city council should be pleased with the survey results – especially looking more narrowly at support for the sales tax renewal.

A key finding according to the consultants, “Voters are overwhelmingly satisfied with the local quality of life in Davis, as well as safety, the City’s image and reputation and many services provided by the City.”

Moreover, “Most voters trust the City’s leaders to solve difficult problems and have confidence.”

As I will argue tomorrow, however, while the city and council should be pleased with the survey results, there is a giant red flag in the disconnect between voter perception of the fiscal issues and reality. That becomes a problem at some point in time – even if it makes it easier somewhat to pass a sales tax.

But that is part two of my analysis.  Part one focuses on the sea change that is the voter/resident perception of the housing issue.

Now I think the wording on the charts distorts the meaning of the polling somewhat.  The issue is not a lack “affordable housing” in the sense of designated, subsidized, big “A” affordable housing.

Rather the concern as the consultants put it is with “housing affordability.”  As they write, “There is significant concern about housing affordability.”

You can see this in the city satisfaction rating, where on the issue of “the affordability of housing” just 3 percent are very satisfied and only 15 percent are even somewhat satisfied, but 29 percent are “somewhat dissatisfied” and half the respondents, 50 percent, are “very dissatisfied.”

We focus on the 31 percent who self-report to an open-ended question that the lack of affordable housing is a problem, but in a way this is so much more telling because it is not just that 79 percent are dissatisfied with the affordability of housing – they aren’t just mildly dissatisfied, they are in the more extreme category.

In a city and in a poll that is overwhelmingly positive for the city, this one stands out.  A net rating of negative 61.  To put this into perspective, the only other net negative is downtown parking and that is a mere net negative of 13.  Moreover, of the 55 percent that are dissatisfied on parking, 30 percent of them are only somewhat dissatisfied.

We can question the knowledge on issues like maintenance of streets which is somewhat surprisingly at a 58-42, a plus 16 split.  But this one is unequivocal and not at all ambiguous.

The consultants break it out a little more.  Housing affordability was by far the top choice in the open ended, “What do you think is the most important issue facing the City of Davis today?”  It wasn’t even close.  Thirty-one percent picked that – again consistent with the steep negative in the dissatisfaction ratings – the next highest was land use at 10 percent and homelessness at 7 percent.

This is also not an artifact of over-representation of one age group that might be more predisposed to have housing concerns.

The breakdown by age shows even the older populations 50-64 and 65 and above are still selecting this issue voluntarily 20 and 23 percent of the time.  While that is far less than the younger populations, it is still twice as much as the next highest populations.

In the poll, 48 percent of those responding are over 50 years of age.

The biggest groups expressing concern are those 18 to 29 and 30 to 39.  As the consultants mention, “Half of voters in their 30s mention housing affordability as the City’s most important issue.”

Bottom line: yes, there is an age factor, but even at the top end of the age spectrum it is 20 to 25 percent of the voters selecting affordability.

The top three issues all relate somewhat to housing and development – lack of affordable housing was cited in an open-ended question by 31 percent. To underscore this, they volunteered the answer from an open-ended question.

Second at 10 percent was growth and development, and 7 percent homeless.

While some questioned the meaning of the first category, I think it becomes clear from other answers that it is not “affordable housing” per se, but rather the affordability of housing that is driving voter concerns.

On the one hand, the second category is probably capturing more of the slow growth population. The third category is a mix for those concerned about helping the homeless and those who frankly want to see them shipped out of town.

Looking at the response over time is somewhat telling. Lack of affordable housing was listed by just 9 percent in 2014. This gives you a clear indication as to why two Measure R projects passed in 2018.

On the other hand, growth and development, if it is indeed a slow growth tendency, fell from the high point of 34 percent in 2007 down to 5 percent by 2014 but up to 10 percent by 2019.

Homelessness wasn’t even on the radar until 2019.

One question that they did not ask was about Measure R.  In some ways, that makes sense, this was a voter satisfaction poll and really aimed at the sales tax.

Still, while we have a loose idea of voters concerns for housing, we don’t know much about policy preferences.

A few points in closing here.

First, in 2018 the voters for the first time passed two housing projects via Measure R.  We see in the data a good reason for that.

Second, the city council has passed a lot of student housing measures – and for good reason, given that shortfall.  They also addressed the need for senior housing (if you believe there was a need – the voters seemed to support it).

A big next step would be perhaps to address family housing – 52 percent of those 30 to 39 expressed concern about housing affordability.  That is prime age for families with young children.

In terms of market rate versus Affordable Housing, we just don’t know from this poll.

What the voters see as the solution, we also don’t know.

How this plays out for Measure R is another interesting question.  On the one hand, the voters see a problem with housing affordability.  On the other hand, two Measure R votes passed.

And finally, there is ARC (Aggie Research Campus) with a workforce housing component – does this result bolster that measure’s chances?

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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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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42 thoughts on “Commentary: A Look at the City Survey – Part One, Housing”

  1. Ron Oertel

    [edited]
    Is there going to be a Part 3 of this series of articles, examining that?  Again, if the Vanguard is going to “interpret” the survey, why exclude this issue?

    http://documents.cityofdavis.org/Media/CityManagersOffice/Documents/PDF/CMO/Press-Releases/2019-07-09-EMC-Research-City-Council-Presentation.pdf

    The survey discussed affordability of housing – nothing more, nothing less.  Any conclusions regarding “family” housing, MRIC, are simply an attempt to distort.  As are any conclusions that “slow growth” people aren’t concerned about “affordability”.

    [edited]

      1. Ron Oertel

        [edited]
        Again, the survey doesn’t discuss what to do (or not do), regarding “affordability”.  However, you and David do. That’s what crosses the line into “advocacy”.

        It could be that the majority of those who cited this as an issue supported more “Affordable” (subsidized) housing. However, unlike you and David, I don’t claim to know this one way or another.

        It may also be the case that a clear majority of those who cite “affordability” also support the city’s slow growth policies.

        Notice how David is now “slipping in” a discussion of “family housing”, as well?  It’s the second time I’ve noticed this, in a Vanguard article:

        “A big next step would be perhaps to address family housing . . .”

        And again, despite several suggestions to do so, David has never addressed the holdup regarding the relatively large Chiles Ranch workforce/family housing development.  Nor has he noted that the Cannery still isn’t even complete.

        I suspect that a reason that David is now turning his sights on family housing is because he wants to ensure that the community is “adjusted” to meet the school district’s needs.  That seems to be one of his primary interests. (Note the lack of support in the survey, regarding additional funding for schools.)

        And again, it does seem odd to interpret the survey, without any interpretation of the reason that the Vanguard owns the worst rating for news sources in the entire survey.

         

      2. Ron Oertel

        What percentage of respondents were in that category?

        How do you conclude that they want to start families?

        How do you make any conclusions regarding what they propose to do (or not do) regarding “affordability”?

        And again, I’m not seeing how survey weaknesses themselves, are addressed.  For example, how were non-respondents reported?  And, who was in that group, and what are their views regarding “affordability”?

        1. Craig Ross

          It looks like 13 percent from the chart in the other article.  How do you conclude they don’t?  More to the point, it is clear that David is extrapolating from the data, he also asks a series of questions at the end, I think some of his interpretations are subjective, but that alone doesn’t make them either invalid or advocacy.  They are simply his opinions on the data.  Perhaps you should provide yours.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Unlike you and David, I’m not making any “additional” conclusions.

          Some examples of David’s advocacy are cited in my 8:05 a.m. comment, below.

          Bill’s comment at 8:07 a.m. below cuts right to the heart of the matter.

          Everything else is pure speculation.

        3. Craig Ross

          You actually are.

          You are concluding that this is advocacy rather than analysis.  You’re arguing again some of David’s speculations which are equally speculators.  This is clearly an article of speculation – it is also clearly labeled as commentary – what is wrong with that?

        4. Ron Oertel

          From above:  “If it’s clearly identified as “speculation”, than there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  But, as is often the case on here, you’re only hearing one possible “explanation”, regarding the results.  And as usual, it’s an argument for more market-rate development.”

          I’m not claiming any of the additional scenarios/conclusions as “fact”.

    1. Craig Ross

      The argument argued that the 30-39 group was most concerned about the affordability of housing, I hardly see the speculation of that result as an attempt to distort.

    2. Ron Oertel

      Is there going to be a Part 3 of this series of articles, examining that?  Again, if the Vanguard is going to “interpret” the survey, why exclude this issue?

      (Since the comment was “moderated”, there’s apparently supposed to be “no mention” of this survey subject.  However, it was briefly allowed, in yesterday’s article.  It has to do with the Vanguard itself, is viewed.)

    3. David Greenwald Post author

      Ron:

      You ask “is there going to be a Part 3”?

      No matter how you want to count things, you’re off here.  On Wednesday, we ran two articles – no commentary on the survey.  One on the sales tax, one on housing and some other findings.

      On Thursday, we ran one analysis/ commentary on housing.  On Friday we will run one analysis/ commentary on fiscal.  It is not my intent to go past that.

      1. Ron Oertel

        David:  “You ask “is there going to be a Part 3”?”

        You’re referring to the first comment (above) that was made in this article, which was “edited/moderated” to remove discussion of that particular survey result.

        Based upon the actions already taken (above), I had already concluded that there wouldn’t be a “Part 3” regarding that particular survey result.

        But, you did briefly and honestly acknowledge that result in Part 1, after it was brought to your attention. Some, but not all of that discussion was subsequently deleted.

  2. Craig Ross

    I would still like to know in what way this piece would be considered “advocacy” – I just don’t see it, for one thing it doesn’t prescribe any course of action.  It simply analyzes the survey results of the voters on the issue of housing.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Here’s one way.  Unless you and the Vanguard can read people’s minds, beyond what they stated in the survey:

      “The issue is not a lack “affordable housing” in the sense of designated, subsidized, big “A” affordable housing.”

      Here’s another way:

      “On the one hand, the second category is probably capturing more of the slow growth population.”

      It’s entirely possible that the “first” category (regarding “affordability”) is also capturing much of what David describes as the “slow growth population”.  One can be “slow growth” and still concerned about “affordability”.

      “Looking at the response over time is somewhat telling. Lack of affordable housing was listed by just 9 percent in 2014. This gives you a clear indication as to why two Measure R projects passed in 2018.”

      Concluding that “affordability” was the reason that these developments were approved is not supported by any evidence.  Regarding Nishi, a more likely reason is that voters understood that UCD was adding students, and that the site was adjacent to UCD.  And even then, it didn’t pass until motor vehicle access was eliminated from Olive.

      A big next step would be perhaps to address family housing . . .”

      This is the second time I’ve observed David mentioning this, in an article.  No mention of the fact that the Cannery is not complete, the delay regarding the large-scale Chiles Ranch workforce housing development, etc.

      David’s advocacy regarding this issue appears to be driven by a desire to “adjust” the community to meet the school district’s needs.  Note the relative lack of support in the survey for more funding for schools.

       

       

      1. Craig Ross

        Hard to address posts like this on my phone.

        I don’t think the Vanguard is trying to read people’s minds.  It is looking at available data and interpreting it.  Is David wrong here?  Could be.  But why not to at what we know and speculate?

        I don’t think anyone who is concerned with the affordability of housing is going to fall into the slow growth category.

        On your next point, I think that people saw a clear need for housing and the question of affordability tapped into that and is reflected in the outcome of those elections.

        I think the case for family housing is clearly adduced from the strong support in the 30-39 category – the people most likely to have families, young children, and the people I have heard most concerned that they can’t buy a house in Davis.

        1. Ron Oertel

          It is looking at available data and interpreting it.  Is David wrong here?  Could be.  But why not to at what we know and speculate?

          If it’s clearly identified as “speculation”, than there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  But, as is often the case on here, you’re only hearing one possible “explanation”, regarding the results.  And as usual, it’s an argument for more market-rate development.

          I don’t think anyone who is concerned with the affordability of housing is going to fall into the slow growth category.

          You’re dead-wrong, here.  For one thing, those primarily concerned about slow-growth are likely concerned about “affordability” being hijacked to support more market-rate development.  (See the Cannery example, below.)

          I think the case for family housing is clearly adduced from the strong support in the 30-39 category – the people most likely to have families, young children, and the people I have heard most concerned that they can’t buy a house in Davis.

          Again, they’re somewhat under-represented in the sample, itself (which skews the results).  But again, the issue is “affordability”.

          The Cannery (which still isn’t complete) was designed as a development that would appeal to families. However, it was reported on here that they ended up advertising directly to home buyers from the Bay Area.  The development also resulted in a very minimal amount of students for DJUSD.

          Many families are now ending up in the new developments in the south part of Woodland (aka, “North, North Davis”). The same area where the “innovation center” with even MORE housing is planned.

          I’m still wondering what the hold-up is, regarding the Chiles Ranch workforce/family housing development.

        2. Craig Ross

          First word in the title “commentary” that means in David’s code language “this is just my opinion” which means “this is speculation on my part” – is it one sided?  Isn’t it supposed to be?  That’s what an OPINION-editorial is supposed to be.

          In terms of the dead wrong – we can argue the point, but I don’t think I am.  I have not seen you or any other slow growther address affordability in a meaningful way other than trying to take away any mechanism for producing affordability.

          All you have to do is tie the trends in the opinion data to the trends in the votes and it is becomes obvious.  You have a high burden to argue otherwise.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Craig:  Personally, I don’t feel a need to “disprove” your claims regarding what others think.

          I’d also point out that there’s a “range” of views, regarding growth, development, Affordable housing, etc.  Even among those you might categorize as “slow growth”.

          I suspect that only the most ardent supporters of development put forth the idea that housing prices will fall as a result of any realistic proposal, in Davis.

          But again, I’d point out that the new housing developments in surrounding communities (Woodland, in particular) are meeting a lot of the market-driven “need”.

          Nothing that Davis does will have any impact on those plans.  Thousands of houses have recently been built in these nearby areas, with thousands more to come.  Which will continue to be built at fast pace, until the next overdue recession hits.

          And again, the construction dust hasn’t even settled in the Cannery, and the Chiles workforce housing development is on the horizon. (And for some reason – has been delayed for about 10 years, now.)

  3. Bill Marshall

    Please understand… the purpose of the survey was to measure the viability of a measure providing for continuation of a tax, that has to be affirmed by voters.

    The rest was to identify “issues” and potentially, “talking points”… wasn’t intended as a plebiscite… 90% confidence level…

    Any one looking to mine definitive, authoritative data, other than support for continuing the local sales tax… well, their ‘reach’ exceeds their grasp (of reality)… big time…

    1. Bill Marshall

      Again, the ‘shot clock’ is not functioning much…

      The survey was/is a “snapshot” (any one who understands photography will understand this)… a limited lens, not even focused on any subject matter other than the issue of the viability of an extension of the local sales tax increment…

      Another factor… many folk can ‘see through’ questions asked, and respond accordingly, as they see fit… a case of where the method/manner of ‘observation’ can affect what is ‘observed’… any one who understands science will understand that.  And in this instance, that includes ‘real’ science, and ‘social science’…

      The survey was a snapshot… nothing more, nothing less… don’t recall seeing any discussion of ‘margin of error’… perhaps I missed that in the narrative here.

      Responses are, indeed, suggestive, but of limited weight, certainly as regards absolute conclusions…

  4. Ron Oertel

    Perhaps the city should have asked if a slight increase in the sales tax rate would be supported.  (Sacramento has a rate that’s a half-percentage point higher, than Davis’ rate.)

    A slight increase in the rate could generate a relatively large amount of revenue, for the city.

    Just an idea.

    1. Matt Williams

      You beat me to it Ron Oertel.

      Matt Williams July 11, 2019 at 11:36 am

      The city conducted a survey recently through EMC Research with the broader subject being satisfaction.  For the most part the city council should be pleased with the survey results – especially looking more narrowly at support for the sales tax renewal.

      Based on the strong Survey results, is it wise for the City to consider going for a renewal at a higher rate than 1.0%?

  5. Ron Glick

    One thing is certain the renewal of Measure R will be closer than the original vote to pass it unless the CC comes up with some changes that address the housing needs of younger voters.

    1. Bill Marshall

      That is a true story!

      Measure R is deeply flawed, as was its predecessor, Measure J… both were meant to give folk too much power over CC and private property rights… it demands incredible specificity to every proposal… so, if out of a bunch of say, 20 specific provisions, if one of them offends someone, that will be a “no” vote… even if the other 19 are fine…

      Measure R/J should just be allowed to sunset… there are other mechanisms to meet the supposed intent… always have been… now, if a project passes the Measure R/J test, the other mechanisms are still used… lawsuits, etc.

      A truism in the political world… if someone is unsure about something, in a yes/no vote, folk tend to vote no… stasis… if Measure R is extended, it should be written along the lines of, “Should the City overturn all of the approvals previously attained?”.

      Ted Puntillo got it right, as far as a “spanking machine”… if you get past staff review, based on ordinances and professional judgement, and then get past all the inputs from ‘commissions’, get past CC review/consideration, and all litigation related to the EIR or other process, Measure R/J vote, you might actually have a project.  Maybe, unless…

  6. Laurie Rollins

    Everytime I read about a survey, I wonder how non-respondents, people who hang up rather than respond, are counted. How many calls have to be made to get the balance of respondents the surveyor needs to make a valid assessment?

     

    1. Bill Marshall

      Good question, Laurie… particularly in the day of so many scammers/phishers have their caller ID have the word “survey” or no caller ID… my experience over the last 8 or so years, is that less than 20% of the ‘survey callers’ are legit.  We get ~ 5 bogus ones/week…

      The rest I leave to professionals in survey techniques…

      With so many scammers, and knowing once you answer, they know the # is real, and sell that info to others, I hope the real survey folk are aware of that, and consider that…

      Oh, “I’m from Microsoft and you have a security breach on your computer… I’m here to fix that… may I get your name and SS #, for verification?”.  My son has always done Apple/Linux… he gets those same calls, too…

      I’d put those scammers/phishers trying to contact us, and ending that, at the top of my list, beyond housing affordability, road condition, etc.  Not a City issue, but so many folk get taken in, particularly seniors… fortunately, we are savvy, but means we also ignore almost all phone calls if we do not recognize the phone #… so, if we were called on this survey, we probably did not answer the phone.

    2. Alan Miller

      How many calls have to be made to get the balance of respondents the surveyor needs to make a valid assessment?

      Trump won the election . . . that’s all you need to know about the accuracy of ‘surveys’ and ‘polls’.  Dewey beats Truman!

  7. Bill Marshall

    Housing, and affordability are clearly issues… but we (any cognizant person) have known that for a long time…

    The question is not exactly is the percentage identifying it (except to note that there are a lot of folk who either deny that, or don’t truly care)… it’s about what we do to address it… not a simple answer, IMHO… will go to priorities, and reasonable responses.

    Quite frankly (although I’m not him), we’re well situated here… as to housing… so, not #1 priority… but my spiritual/ethical sense, as to others, is that we, and the community should be doing more (we have been, either directly, or with financial support to charities/groups who do)… but I don’t pretend to know the answers, and anyone who says there is “one answer” should be taken with multiple grains (maybe even a pound) of salt.

  8. Matt Williams

    The city conducted a survey recently through EMC Research with the broader subject being satisfaction.  For the most part the city council should be pleased with the survey results – especially looking more narrowly at support for the sales tax renewal.

    Based on the strong Survey results, is it wise for the City to consider going for a renewal at a higher rate than 1.0%?

  9. Matt Williams

    A key finding according to the consultants, “Voters are overwhelmingly satisfied with the local quality of life in Davis, as well as safety, the City’s image and reputation and many services provided by the City.”

    I personally believe that fact is one of the serious challenges that anyone who conducts a survey in Davis faces.  Satisfaction in many cases (dare I say most cases) translates as complacency.  When conducting a survey in a complacent sample, it is often hard to see the “edges” of important policy issue alternatives.

    That makes the way the survey asks a question very important.

    Also, some of the survey questions asked the participant to select only one choice.  That kind of binary approach (you can only turn on one switch) obscures important lessons that can be learned from the participants.  For all we know, Climate Change may have been #2 in 80% of the respondents.

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