MARTINEZ -- Results of a $25,000 National Citizen Survey of "livability" in Martinez provided plenty data, but few surprises. When compared to 500 national jurisdictions and 20 California cities, Martinez residents ranked their city within the national average range in 103 categories, above average in six, and below in 24.
Martinez is an excellent or good place to live, according to 87 percent of those surveyed, and 78 percent rated quality of life the same. The city scored higher in "ease of travel by car, the number of people who walk or use a bicycle, recycle, conserve water and visit a city park."
Questions about "overall appearance, vibrant downtown area, shopping opportunities, businesses and services, overall economic health" caused resident opinion scores to drop.
Residents want city government to focus on the local economy, safety (mostly related to the homeless) and issues involving streets and transportation options, according to NCS senior survey associate Damema Mann's presentation to the City Council at its Dec. 16 meeting.
Perhaps the most useful responses appeared a customized section of the standardized questionnaire sent to 1,400 people. When asked about the best use of the historic train depot, 25 percent of 391 respondents chose "restaurant/retail," 21 percent selected "historic artifacts," 16 percent want "community arts," 14 percent prefer a toy train museum, and 12 percent checked an Historical Society Museum annex. Just a handful mentioned a Joltin' Joe boat display and an Italian heritage museum.
Debbie Zamaria asked the council to imagine arriving by train in Martinez and being encouraged to stop at the museum and get a sense of the city's history before exploring other attractions. Mayor Rob Schroder said he expects use of the historic train depot to be on the council agenda next spring.
Zamaria suggested that the museum idea could be combined with the survey preferences.
"We can work collaboratively ... I know there are expenses," she said.
Another custom question explored new sources of revenue for street and road work. Residents want it, but are not sure they want more local taxes to do pay for it. Sixteen percent agreed to "strongly support" and 34 percent "somewhat support" a tax increase to improve streets. However, 29 percent strongly oppose, and 21 percent somewhat oppose a tax increase for that reason.
Residents were asked if a tax was levied, would they prefer a sales tax or a parcel tax. Most stated no preference, but if forced to choose, the numbers show a sales tax would be more acceptable than a parcel tax, according to Mann's summary of the survey.
Survey results showed the city website and newsletter followed by local media and the social media are residents' primary city-related information sources in Martinez.
The need for economic development, marina improvements, road and transportation options and safety issues (homelessness) were highlighted in written comments, according to Mann.
Vice Mayor Mark Ross expects the survey to be useful.
"This is a good metric on which we can base our future performance," he said.
The 2015 survey is intended to establish a baseline for comparison to results of another survey, every two years. Each is expected to measure public perception of how well city government has addressed issues of concern during the preceding period.
"I think that is a lot of money for the results," Councilwoman Lara Delaney said. "Three percent is all we get ... for what we already know."
Delaney said she heard that some people received the survey twice.
Later, Mann said the survey was not done with an unlimited budget, but results are accurate, a 5 percent margin of error. Residents were sent a notification card, a week later the survey packet was sent, and another packet was sent to individuals who had not responded to the first one.
Assistant City Manager Alan Shear said it is a scientific survey in partnership with the International City/County Management Association. The association and National League of Cities NCS surveys are considered a useful tool for city governments and nonprofits to gauge public preferences in order to make strategic decisions. Members of those organizations may obtain a preferential rate for NCS services, according to Mann.