City Council

Los Altos Community Center Master Plan Poll – Not an Opinion Survey

Written by lalahpolitico

The 400 or so phone interviews for the Los Altos Community Center Master Plan “poll” were completed last week.  It wasn’t an opinion poll such as you may have taken for Pew or Gallup.  It was more like an A/B test of various “messages” or “treatments” about the Los Altos Community Center Master Plan.

First Get Subject’s Intitial Vote on the Measure

GRA phoned asking by name for 3 of the 4 voters who live in my household. I was the only one who was available and who actually took the interview.  My adult kids were never home when GRA called. And my husband, a registered voter at this address for the half-dozen years we have been married, was never called.  An acquaintance also took the interview and agrees with my characterization of the questionnaire and interview process as “copy testing.”

The first part of the interview seemed designed to take your “temperature” to see if initially you were a YES or a NO.   The interviewer reads the language of the bond issue as it would appear on the ballot.   It was something like …

“Shall the City of Los Altos for purposes of police … public safety … benefit of youth … benefit of seniors raise $65M  to build a … Center?  All funds going to the city and not the state.”

Followed By Multiple Batches of Messaging/Copy Testing

The “interviewer” then read an “information” sentence and asked if you were now more likely or less likely to vote YES or NO.  For example, one sentence was something like this: “The bond will pay for an evidence room in the new police station, helping to solve crime.”  This “information” sentence was followed immediately with a question: “Are you much more likely, somewhat more likely, somewhat less likely, much more less likely…. to vote YES?”

In my interview session  about 10 to 15  “messages” were tested on me in  4 batches for a total of about 60 discrete messages.  Here are some “copy snippets” that I captured in rough notes…

BATCH ONE messages include…

  • Safety improvements
  • Community pool
  • A library
  • More programs for seniors and you
  • Quality education
  • A SHARED facility to maximize usage
  • Better recreational opportunities


There is zoning for a pool, but no plans for a city bond. The city says, "Go Fundraise."

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Mentioning the pool and library is so misleading, as there is no city funding for these. “Go fundraise.”  The promise of “more programs” will cost the city more operating subsidy each year into the future.  So it’s not just the cost of the bond, it’s the expansion of yearly operating costs.

BATCH TWO messages include…

  • A new Hillview center
  • New classes
  • New tutoring facilities
  • Replace restrooms
  • Replace an outdated police station
  • Conform with modern building codes
  • Be a green LEED building
  • Preserve [sic] (?) or keep the historic Los Altos Orchard
  • A new security facility at police station to safety detain suspects (?) criminals. [Did not use word jail.]  Are there really that many arrests in Los Altos?  Perhaps we could contract with Mountain View for these services.


This batch was the “price” sensitivity test.  The interviewer added the price to the bond measure ballot language: “Shall the City of Los Altos for purposes of police … public safety … benefit of youth … benefit of seniors,  raise $65M  to build a … Center?  All funds going to the city and not the state, assessing  $35 per $100,000 assessed valuation.”

“If the election were today how would vote [on the $35 per $100K], YES or NO. [NO]”

“Suppose the amount were each of the following, how likely are you to vote NO, a probably NO, a definite NO  or Definite Yes, Probably YES.”

  • 41 Dollars
  • 35 Dollars
  • 29 Dollars
  • 23 Dollars
  • 12 Dollars

BATCH FOUR messages include…

  • Building a new jail for the police station
  • Relocating the 8 acre apricot orchard…
  • Replacing the 70-year-old outdated building
  • None of it would go to city salaries
  • Every penny raised would go to Los Altos (not the state)
  • This is a good economic time to act because of below normal construction costs
  • It would all be energy efficient
  • It would cost the average( family) less than  $5 a week
  • It would let the police have an evidence room necessary for prosecution of cases
  • It was planned by an independent committee of 30 citizens
  • It can be completed with 2 years of work

Test the strength of NO on BOND arguments.

The interviewer said something like “You probably will hear various arguments against the bond measure, arguments to vote no.  For each one I read, does it make you more likely to vote NO. Is that very much more likely to vote NO, somewhat more likely to Vote NO, or have no effect?”

“You probably will hear various arguments against the bond measure, arguments to vote no.”

  • We are in a financial crisis
  • We don’t need it
  • It will reduce downtown parking
  • Competing tax measure, like Govenor Brown’s income and sales tax increase
  • Los Altos is not growing
  • Los Altos city staff and commissions are not capable of executing such a large project.


FINALLY, the interviewer reads the text of the bond ballot measure again, and asks one final time how I would vote if the election were held today.  The idea is to see if exposure to the  “treatment” of  the messages changed my opinion over the course of the interview.  Was I cured? Could others be cured by the right messages?

The idea is to see if exposure to the  “treatment” of  the messages changed my opinion over the course of the interview.

Shown is Prior Billboard - New one says Los Altans Building for Tomorrow


EDITORIAL COMMENT: Was this a Poll or a YES on Bond Phone Campaign?

In the past couple months I have personally encountered several dozen people who have reservations about the Community Center Master Plan and Bond Measure.  There are at least 20 different hot buttons of why folks say they won’t vote for it.  Everyone has a different “This bothers me the most.”  Or “If this were different, I might vote for it.”

Some of the citizens are quite offended about the City’s propaganda process – exploiting people’s lack of time to become informed and develop an informed opinion. Personally, I am willing to see these “communications” as part of the job of elected officials and staff.  Some citizen’s have said that with the poll, the brochure, and the 4 new billboards “Los Altans Building For Tomorrow”  that the City has already stepped over the line into campaigning FOR the BOND.

Well,  maybe ethically these FOR the BOND communications are questionable, but they are legal until the August 28 Election is called. That will be either at the regular City Council meeting April 24 when the “poll” results are presented, or no later than the regular City Council meeting May 8.

We don’t see how this message-testing poll can come to  any other finding besides to proceed with the August 28 mail-in election.

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.