By KENDRA SITTON
The City of La Mesa recently released its alt-annual community opinion survey. Every two years, True North Research conducts a statistically valid survey to find key issues for residents and rate overall satisfaction with the city. Over 1,200 surveys were completed through various methods online and over the phone. The margin of error was 2.7%.
The respondents matched the age demographics of the city. Age was one of the only demographic questions asked in the survey, which some city council members criticized. Survey respondents were asked if there was a child in their household. There was no ethnicity data gathered although a surname analysis split off people with Asian and Hispanic surnames from everyone else to show how different ethnicities responded to the survey.
Dr. Timothy McLarney presented the findings of this year’s survey at the May 25 City Council meeting. While the survey tackled many topics, there was an extra emphasis on public safety because of the events of May 2020. In addition, more questions were added about homeless issues after a request from Council member Bill Baber in 2019 for further analysis of that subject.
McLarney said there were several opportunity areas for the city to improve: homeless issues, affordable housing, repairing streets, improving public safety and communication. Still, residents were happy with the community of La Mesa as well as the city government. Quality of life measures did dip some from the past, but McLarney said that should be expected following a pandemic and civil unrest.
“Despite going through all that, we find that the vast majority of residents still have a positive view of the community and the city government,” McLarney said.
He also noted that during the beginning of the survey, residents were asked what could be improved and 1 in 5 residents did not have an answer.
“You had about one in five respondents say ‘you know, I can’t think of anything I would want to change about La Mesa.’ When you think about it, that’s probably the best response to expect from this type of question,” he said.
After residents with no answers, homeless issues were the top concern. Road repairs and public safety went up as a concern from past years while affordable housing went down.
There was a slight increase in people dissatisfied with city services but there were still seven residents satisfied to every one resident who said they were dissatisfied.
Overall, 80% of survey takers felt safe in La Mesa. This number was consistent across demographics and neighborhoods. Perceptions of safety did dip slightly after dark.
There were also several questions on the La Mesa Police Department. While overall most La Mesans had a positive perception of the police, that perception went down to less than half of the population when asked whether LMPD held its officers accountable.
Vice Mayor Jack Shu was upset that there was no ethnicity question on the survey because it made the data gathered on police not grapple with how Black people perceive the police since Black residents were lumped into the “other” category. Around 5% of La Mesa’s population is Black.
“When I see this data, to me it’s just not helpful. And in fact, knowing that this survey was taken after the events in the country and here in La Mesa, I’m actually quite upset that we missed the most important ethnic group to measure,” Shu said. “For this city to conduct a survey and not include that is a glaring omission — like Black people don’t count. The whole Black Lives Matter notion and movement was ignored.”
At the end of the meeting, Baber echoed those concerns and suggested that even if it made the survey longer, more demographic questions needed to be asked in the next survey.
“The other thing I thought was missing was that it’s not done by income either,” Baber said. “That’s important too because sometimes we worry our less affluent members of the community don’t get the city services that they deserve or we pay less attention to them.”
Baber said he had been on the council through four of these survey cycles and seen it adjust to the city’s needs over time.
While most areas remained steady or went down from past years, the survey did find that 70% of the population saw traffic as good which was a 5% increase from 2019.
The survey found 30% of the population had interacted with a staff member of the city in the past 12 months and most of those interactions were helpful, professional and responsive.
An area of major struggle over the many years this survey has been conducted is city communications reaching the public.
“This is an area a lot of cities have struggled with over time, I can tell you,” McLarney said. “If you go back 10 years or so, residents were relying on the same sort of handful of information sources when it came to news and events in their community. What’s happened over time is there’s been this explosion of various sources for information that we can turn to and consequently, it’s made the challenge of reaching out to residents that much harder.”
Today, respondents said they preferred to receive city communications and news via email or other digital methods like social media.
To view the full survey, visit www.bit.ly/3vCFpFP.
— Contributing editor Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.