Los Altos Downtown Construction February Opinion Survey

Written by lalahpolitico

At the December 13, 2011 City Council meeting, Council unanimously chose to proceed with a $25,000 contract with Godbe Research to develop and field a 15-20 minute phone survey of 400 to 500 residents/voters in February. This survey will ask about their opinions on Los Altos downtown construction and future development. About 3/4 of the respondents will be voters and about 1/4 will be resident non-voters. Mayor Val Carpenter and Councilman Megan Satterlee comprise the ad hoc committee which will be working with Godbe.

It is expected that the draft final questionnaire that is being developed will be presented to the council in late January. Presumably the public will find the questionnaire in an upcoming regular Council Meeting Agenda Packet as an attachment.

There were three public speakers who commented. Sue Russell of 744 Los Altos Ave. thought that the survey was premature, because people haven’t had a chance to become more educated about aging and urban planning trends and best practices. Councilman Ron Packard also remarked that the survey was premature because people should see for themselves how the new private projects on First Street turn out. Many of today’s worriers might be pleased in a year or two or perhaps even more opposed.

In a similar vein, Rita Hill of 750 Sunshine Drive, asked that the questionnaire measure respondents’ awareness/knowledge of the 5 downtown projects. The opinion of people who are unaware should not be weighed in the same way as the opinion of those who are. Jerry Medea of 750 Carnation also had cautions on the construction of the questionnaire — it should have questions on the proposed Parking Plazas (those should be a ballot item, not just a survey item), and the wording of the questions should not be “leading” to answers the city might desire.

The Godbe proposal also included 2 options designed to broaden the reach of the sampling. An internet survey for another $4,000+ and a paper survey of high school students for another $5,000+. Mayor Carpenter did not choose to pursue these options.

During the council discussion of this agenda item Ron Packard said a survey such as this was much better than “study groups.” Those were often swayed by developers. He ventured that the 19 year-old master plan might be ready for a renewal. Councilman Fishpaw thought that February was a good time do a survey. Get a reading on opinion now, and then do one away in a year or so. In that way we can see if there are shifting attitudes.

Editorial Comment

A random sample phone survey certainly is better that “study groups,” charettes, and community “visioning” gatherings lead by facilitators — all of which are horribly biased. Those charettes and visioning exercises cost as much or more than $25,000, so thank you Val Carpenter.

However, it’s too bad the city is not including the options designed to better represent young people and the large minority of voters/residents who prefer the internet and avoid the landline phone. I know older Los Altos adults who have no landline phones and only use mobile. Personally, with Caller ID on our landline we never ever pick up a call from a telemarketer or a researcher. I know people who use phone screening technology that only lets the phone ring for a “white list” of contacts.  Research has shown that telephone surveys are biased for all these reasons and more.

About the author


Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past couple of years.