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National Citizen Survey Shows Palo Alto Still Desirable Place to Live

National Citizen Survey Shows Palo Alto Still Desirable Place to Live

While the quality of life in Palo Alto still receives comparatively high marks as measured by the latest results from the 16th National Citizen Survey, the percentage of specific areas ranked “excellent” or “good” have declined somewhat over the past five years.  These included questions about Palo Alto as a place to live, raise children, work, visit, retire and the quality of neighborhoods.  In 2018, the overall quality of life was rated “excellent” or “good” by 84 percent of the respondents, a five percent decline from 2017.  The ratings for all quality of life questions (Question 1 in the survey) declined from one to five percentage points, except for “Palo Alto as a place to retire,” which declined by 11 percentage points.  For the fourth consecutive year, less than 90 percent of respondents rated the overall quality of life as excellent or good.  Despite that, 78 percent of the respondents said they are likely/somewhat likely to remain in Palo Alto for the next five years.    

The annual survey is conducted by the National Research Center and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), which gathers resident opinions across a range of community issues in cities and counties across the United States.  The survey focuses on gauging community sentiment on the quality of community and related services, as well as residents’ engagement level within their communities.  

“The National Citizen Survey helps to both reaffirm where the City is doing well and highlight areas of focus where resident perceptions have decreased over time,” said City Manager Ed Shikada. “The value of the report is that is provides an overview of a number of the regional challenges that we face – such as affordable housing and traffic – as well as more neighborhood issues such as rates of volunteerism or civic engagement. As a City, we need to work on both ends of the spectrum.” 

While Palo Alto also ranks high in the quality of services provided by the city (82 percent), feeling of safety (91 percent), and natural environment (87 percent), the availability of affordable housing continues to rank very low (5 percent), along with traffic (28 percent) and parking (34 percent).  

“This year’s survey reflects what we’re seeing in terms of citizen sentiment across the region,” said City Auditor Harriet Richardson whose office contracts with the National Research Center to conduct the survey. “While overall, Palo Alto still scores comparatively high in many ‘quality of life’ areas, housing and traffic are clearly having a challenging impact as they are rated quite low.”    

Reflecting a national decline in response rates of household surveys, the response rate among Palo Alto residents has declined gradually since the first National Citizen Survey in 2003, from a high of 51 percent to this year’s low of 21 percent, which is the same as last year’s response rate. 

In an effort to increase the overall number of responses, the City Auditor’s office has increased the number of total surveys sent out to 4,500 households and followed up with reminder letters to complete the survey. A total of 889 households completed the survey both online and through a mailed questionnaire. 

The survey also asked two open-ended questions to capture community sentiment. In response to the question, “As a resident of Palo Alto, what one change could the City make that would make you happier,” the top answers were traffic concerns (20 percent) and housing (18 percent). In response to the question, “As a resident of Palo Alto, what one thing do you believe the City does well and would want to maintain?”, the top two responses were parks and recreation activities (18 percent) and safety services (13 percent). 

Results from the survey are scheduled to be discussed at the City Council’s retreat scheduled for Feb. 2.  To reach the complete report, click on the link here.

Last Updated: January 22, 2019