Most Signal Hill residents in a survey said they have a favorable view of their city’s government and agreed the city is “going in the right direction,” but respondents also said that city officials need to do a better job of communicating, especially the details of the city budget.
That’s the takeaway from the results of a resident-satisfaction survey that included a random sample of 249 registered Signal Hill voters, who were interviewed by telephone between Nov. 18 and Dec. 8, according to officials. Survey results were released during a City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
The survey was commissioned by the Council at a cost of $17,000 to be conducted by consulting firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) as part of a resident-outreach process in anticipation of updating the City’s five-year Strategic Plan.
Richard Bernard, a partner and senior vice president of FM3, said most of the survey results for Signal Hill were positive and the percentage of residents who have an optimistic view of the city’s direction is “impressive” compared to other nearby cities.
“Your numbers are extremely high relative to other cities,” he said. Bernard added, however, that there will always be some “contrarians.”
“If you’re angry at the City for something, you’re never going to give them good marks, ever,” he said. “Even if you like one thing about it, you don’t want to see it at all.”
According to the results, 75 percent of Signal Hill residents in the survey indicated that they believe the city is “going in the right direction.”
This percentage is higher than results for Long Beach (59 percent), Santa Monica (59 percent), Downey (57 percent) and Los Angeles (53 percent). The only city that was surveyed by FM3 with a higher percentage than Signal Hill is Culver City, where 78 percent of respondents in a 2012 survey indicated the city is heading in a positive direction.
Bernard said, for Signal Hill’s survey results, there is a margin of error of plus or minus 6.3 percent when questions were asked of all respondents and a margin of error of plus or minus 8.9 percent when questions were split between the respondents.
Still, even with the potential for errors, the City’s results rank high, he said.
“Your numbers are so high in a positive direction that even if there’s the margin of error that drops it down … your numbers are still among the best in the county,” Bernard said.
The results also show that nearly half (or 48 percent) of residents in the survey said they believe the quality of life in Signal Hill will get better in the next five years, while 11 percent of respondents fear it will get worse and 8 percent don’t know.
“People, in terms of looking towards the future, have a very positive view of the city,” Bernard said.
When asked an open-ended question of what problem they would like city government to address, 8 percent of respondents said public-safety response and police department issues while 5 percent said business development/economy, crime and traffic congestion.
Only 3 percent of the residents said the most serious issues facing Signal Hill are such concerns as government waste/inefficiency, lack of open space, oil-drilling problems, street/road maintenance and taxes.
Still, Bernard pointed out that most residents indicated they either couldn’t think of anything or their response was too specific.
“There’s no item that really goes to a very high percentage point that I can say to you, this is your problem, you’ve got to deal with it,” he said. “These are all pretty modest kinds of responses.”
Results for what the residents feel is an “extremely serious or very serious problem” indicate that contaminated runoff from toxic chemicals (49 percent) is a higher concern than crime in general (22 percent), the amount people pay in city taxes and fees (20 percent) or the condition of potholes and local streets and roads (13 percent).
“This is unusual,” Bernard said. “A lot of these issues are very prominent in most other cities, but they don’t seem to be a problem here.”
Bernard also said that almost three out of four residents consider it highly important to them, personally, that the Signal Hill Police Department has the funding it needs.
In addition, he said the highest proportion of residents (18 percent) are “happy with the City’s job performance,” but he said 12 percent want better communication with the city.
Bernard also said that residents in the survey generally understand that the State is responsible for cuts to city services and programs, however 46 percent indicated they have no knowledge of whether or not the City is experiencing a budget deficit.
As far as impressions of oil interests, 49 percent agreed that a “local oil company” is a “good corporate neighbor,” which mainly refers to Signal Hill Petroleum.
Bernard said he was “shocked” by the response. “Given the fact that most people are beating up on oil companies for excessive profits, for not caring about the environment and everything, that’s impressive,” he said.
The survey also found that the source of information the Signal Hill residents most rely on is the City Views newsletter, followed by the Press-Telegram, the Signal Tribune, the City’s website, public-access TV and the Long Beach Register.
In terms of city services, 80 percent of the residents who have been in contact with the City said the professionalism, overall customer service and responsiveness of city employees are excellent or good.
City Manager Ken Farfsing called the survey results a “report card” that allows city management to gauge how city staff and the Council are providing services to residents.
“I think we pride ourselves in providing quality services, but you really don’t know how that registers and if people perceive it that way,” he said.
Councilmember Tina Hansen said the positive results show that residents have faith in the current Council and city staff.
“To me, being a longtime councilmember, what I wanted to get out of this is do residents still trust the people sitting up here, and I think the overall answer to that is ‘yes, they trust us, and they trust the direction the city is going; they trust our fiscal accountability,’” she said.
A city staff report noted that the National League of Cities completed a survey in April 2013 that confirmed 37 percent of voters trust local government, only 22 percent feel that way about the State and just 12 percent trust the federal government.
Bernard said he worked with Farfsing along with Elise McCaleb, the City’s economic development manager, to get a sense of issues in Signal Hill, but the survey itself was done independently of any city influence.
“Our job was to be independent,” he said. “I can listen to the City all day, but, at the end of the day, I might have to come back with numbers that aren’t very good, and it would have been just what it was… Luckily, because of what you guys do, it was real good.” ß