Annual Community Survey 2018: We Love Hearing From You!

Posted by | June 13, 2018 | 1 Issue to Engage | No Comments

We Heard Your Voice and the results are HERE. Nearly 400 subscribers in Northeast Seattle completed our 14-question survey about local issues May 8-10, 2018.

As you may recall, we believe public officials should “conduct official surveys and release results to the public,” as we urged in our Crosscut column entitled, “4 Ideas to Make City Hall Listen.” While our annual survey is not “official,” we hope it advances discussions and clarifies important issues impacting our communities in Northeast Seattle. For our COMMUNITY SURVEY RESULTS, CLICK HERE. For a potentially annoying and definitely subjective summary of the survey, keep reading:

MYSTERIOUS Result: After 6 months of her leading our city, residents are still unsure of Mayor Durkan. When asked “Are you happy with the new Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan” an unusually high 50% said “Don’t Know.”

URGENT Result: One of the most pressing issues is City Hall’s proposal to spend $8 million to repave 35th Avenue NE. As if City Hall officials were literally deaf to the people who elected them, the project is poised to proceed even though only 12% support it, according to this survey (see discussion below about the validity of our survey).  In our view, Mayor Durkan should immediately revamp the project by completing only the crosswalk improvements. This would free up some of these tax dollars to address other urgent crosswalk and sidewalk needs throughout Northeast Seattle (65th Street, View Ridge, Lake City, etc) — and throughout the rest of our city. While Mayor Durkan might have been hoping 35th Avenue would be “too local” of an issue to impact her, a trifecta of forces changes the political calculus:  residents are still forming an opinion about her leadership, the media has recently published several reports of SDOT over-spending, and there is major opposition to the project. 35th Ave is poised to become a memorable litmus test for the Mayor in an area of the city that turns out the vote.

LOPSIDED Result: A whopping 88% of respondents said “real estate developers should be required to provide some parking spaces at their new buildings.” This flies in the face of City Council’s recent 8 to 1 vote to loosen the requirement again. (Thank you, Lisa Herbold, for bravely voting against it.)

You might remember the most lopsided result in our previous surveys: 85% of residents agreed that “real estate developers should be required to pay Impact Fees to help defray the costs of building new schools, fire stations, and sidewalks as the city’s population grows” (See HERE and HERE). Because it has been so clear Seattleites would like to see their Mayor and City Council impose Impact Fees, we decided to ask the parking question instead this year.

It’s important to clear up a false premise repeated by some to confuse the public: if the cost to build housing increases, do rents or home prices increase? No. Prices are set by the maximum the market will bear. In other words, developers do not voluntarily charge lower rent or home prices. When the costs to build increase, developers and investors make less “profit” (their return on equity decreases). The genuine concern then becomes, at what point would a developer not build, therefore negatively impacting supply?  Adding Impact Fees and on-site parking back into the costs to build need to be considered cumulatively, just like City Hall considers the cumulative impact of each property tax that they propose on us. (Ha! kidding about the property taxes; City Hall just piles those taxes onto residents.) Seriously, though, most other Puget Sound and west coast cities require both Impact Fees and on-site parking. Talented developers can cope and can leverage the fact that Seattle is still an extraordinarily desirable place to live, thanks to the hard work and spirit of existing residents. This debate will surely continue!

INTRIGUING Result: Among the qualities people want in their local government leaders, “Accountable” and “Fiscally Responsible” scored by far the highest, while scoring the lowest were “Experienced,” “Creative,” and “Environmentalist.”

For the other 10 survey questions, including “Do you support Environmental Initiative 1631?” and “Should Wallingford and The Ave be removed from the proposed upzones?” and “Should the City Council put Mayor Durkan’s Families and Education Levy on the ballot?”, CLICK HERE.

Thanks to the hundreds who completed the survey. We know it takes time and we are deeply grateful — especially for your thoughtful written comments that added context and passion to your choices.

Validity of the Survey (a.k.a. no good deed goes unpunished): 

  • Significant? The good news is that the survey is statistically significant among the universe of our readership (~7,000 subscribers). According to statistical tools, such as calculator.net, creative research systems, and surveymonkey.com, we exceed the magic number to achieve statistically significant results. The 387 respondents produce a 95% confidence level, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 basis points. In other words (subject to the caveats below), we should be 95% confident that between 83% and 93% of the 7,000 subscribers (5 below and 5 above 88%) believe developers should provide off-street parking. In fact, most city-wide polls survey only 400 people.
  • “Self-Selection”? While 100% of our subscribers are above average and good-looking, we acknowledge that they might not reflect every adult resident of Northeast Seattle. Those who continue to subscribe to 4toExplore are “self-selected” in that they probably share my overarching concerns about the direction City Hall has been taking. Certainly my sense of humor is not sufficient to keep them reading. Moreover, this is not a pure “random sample” of our readership because only people with the time or interest completed it. Of course, even sophisticated, live telephone polls have this problem when many respondents interrupted from their dinner of salmon and coffee slam down their phones on the hapless surveyor.
  • Objective? We acknowledge that it’s difficult to craft surveys with pure objectivity. Opinions of the designer (me, in this case) surely seep into how questions are phrased. I tried to avoid loaded questions liked, “Come on, do you really want this stupid project to proceed?” But even deciding which questions to ask is subjective. We believe, however, that it’s better to try to ask reasonable questions and to listen to your responses, than not to ask at all.

The limitations of community surveys reinforces the point we made earlier: City Hall — with its financial means and public mission — should be the one to conduct and publish surveys for everyone’s benefit.  As we said in our previous issue of 4 to Explore, “a sustainable city is where elected officials listen to their constituents.  ‘Listening’ does not mean public hearings and blog posts to state concerns — listening means materially changing / re-crafting government policies and budgets to address the concerns of residents….”

If you were not able to take this most recent survey, share your kind thoughts by e-mailing Alex@4toExplore.org

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