Survey: Downtown vibrancy, affordable housing top concerns

A majority of Los Altos residents favor a vibrant downtown and consider affordable housing an even more important issue than traffic, a recent formal polling of residents revealed.

The city of Los Altos-initiated “community survey,” conducted by professional surveyors Godbe Research, also reported that residents gave high marks (“very satisfied”) to police services and garbage collection and recycling.

The poll surveyed 446 of 19,637 registered voters Dec. 2-9, via landline, cellphone, email and text. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.59 percent.

“I don’t think Los Altos has done one of these for a number of years now,” said City Manager Chris Jordan.

Los Altos City Council members reviewed the findings during their retreat Saturday.

Among the poll’s findings:

• 62.8 percent of respondents said they are “very satisfied” with their overall quality of life in Los Altos.

• 25.2 percent said their primary reason for choosing to live in the city was the schools, followed by 13.1 percent who said it was the “small-town atmosphere.”

• Affordable housing and traffic topped the list as the two most important issues facing Los Altos, with 28.5 percent citing affordable housing, followed by traffic at 24.4 percent. “Controlling growth” was third at 19.8 percent.

• 82 percent said they were “satisfied” with city of Los Altos services, with 35.2 percent saying they were “very satisfied.”

• 60.4 percent said they were “very satisfied” and 31.4 percent “somewhat satisfied” with police services.

• 66.4 percent were “very satisfied” and 29.8 percent “somewhat satisfied” with their garbage and recycling services.

• 62.5 percent were “very satisfied” and 22.6 percent “somewhat satisfied” with fire protection services.

Vibrancy supported

In the wake of the city’s ongoing Downtown Vision project for planning future development, the poll revealed that respondents wish for a “vibrant” to “extremely vibrant” downtown.

Using a 1 to 7 scale, with 1 “not at all vibrant” and 7 “extremely vibrant,” 24.1 percent registered a 5, 33 percent opted for a 6 and 25.6 percent selected 7, the “extremely vibrant” option.

“What I found interesting, 59 percent not only wanted (downtown) more vibrant – they really wanted it,” Jordan said. “I was surprised it was that high. It reflects a lot of what we’ve seen throughout the Downtown Vision process. … It really confirms that we really need to do something with the downtown.”

The survey threw a proverbial curveball at the argument that downtown Los Altos has a parking problem. Asked about finding available parking in a “reasonable amount of time,” 27.6 percent of respondents said “always” and 46.4 percent said “most of the time.”

Respondents were more divided on the idea of a three-story, aboveground parking structure with residential and/or retail space on an existing downtown parking plaza: 33.2 percent “strongly supported” the idea, 28.2 percent “somewhat” supported it, 20.8 percent “strongly opposed” it and 13.7 percent “somewhat opposed it.” Also regarding parking, 80.1 percent of those polled said they would be willing to park underground; 78.8 percent would be willing to park aboveground.

Traffic safety, land use

The survey uncovered concerns about traffic safety and land use.

“Traffic safety is one that jumps out,” Jordan said. “It’s important, and (residents are) not particularly satisfied with it at this point – it’s something we need to keep working on.”

City Clerk Jon Maginot noted that the traffic division of the police department is currently fully staffed after being understaffed for years, indicating that the city would improve in the traffic area. He said the city’s progress in its master plans for traffic calming and accommodating cyclists and pedestrians also will make a difference.

The topic of managing land use ranked fifth in level of importance and last in level of satisfaction. However, Jordan said the subject matter was too open-ended on the survey, leading to a wide range of interpretations.

“We need to find a way to drill down on it,” he said.

While the poll showed concerns about lack of affordable housing, it also indicated less willingness to build such housing in Los Altos. The poll revealed that approximately 55 percent of respondents favored adding affordable housing in the city.

“It’s important, but the community is split on whether they encourage more housing,” Jordan said. “(Residents) think of it as a regional issue – when they start thinking in their own city, they don’t think the same way.”

Overall satisfaction

Jordan took note of residents’ overall approval rating of city services at more than 80 percent.

“Overall, the council should feel good about things,” he said. “It gives you the validation to move forward.”

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