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Menlo Park survey finds new library a hard sell

Overall satisfaction with quality of life down citywide

Menlo Park's biennial "satisfaction survey" results, and results of a poll to gauge city interest in big-ticket projects, are in. Among the findings: People don't seem overly enthusiastic about a possible bond measure to build new libraries and are less satisfied with the quality of life in Menlo Park than they were two years ago.

The 22-minute two-tiered survey was conducted by the Godbe Research firm between Nov. 29 and Dec. 6, and polled 808 adults in Menlo Park. Data for the survey was collected via a range of methods, including by texting, emailing, landline phone and cellphone.

Library

Survey respondents generally favored improving the city's library system: about 76 percent of respondents said they supported the idea, with 14 percent opposed.

When some respondents were asked more specifically if they'd support a $50 million, 30-year bond measure "to replace the aging Menlo Park and Belle Haven library system with 21st century libraries," 61 percent said they'd definitely or probably support it; such a measure would need a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

The hypothetical measure survey participants were asked about said the new libraries would meet earthquake and fire codes, with space for kids' books and story times, homework centers, computer workstations for software training, up-to-date collections and resources, quiet reading areas and improved senior and disabled access.

The same question was posed to another subset of respondents asking if they'd support an increase in the city's utility users' tax to pay for the new libraries. About 53 percent said they'd definitely or probably support doing so.

Raising the utility users' tax requires only a simple majority of voter approval, so this may be a more promising route for the city to pursue funding for new libraries, a Godbe representative told the City Council last night (Jan. 16).

The researchers also experimented with different information the city might include on a ballot, asking residents whether different details would make them more or less inclined to favor the measure. Details about how a new main library might have two-thirds of its costs funded privately, for instance, or more information about features of an updated Belle Haven Branch Library, tended to be more influential than details about there being more space at a new main library or other uses at a new library like housing and civic facilities.

At the time when the survey was conducted in December, some residents said they felt that some of the questions were leading.

Quality of life

One of the key findings of the study is that overall satisfaction with the quality of life in Menlo Park is down by a statistically significant margin: 73 percent of survey respondents are very or somewhat satisfied with the quality of life in Menlo Park in 2017, compared with 86 percent in 2015.

According to Charles Hester, director of business development for Godbe Research, the decline in overall quality of life isn't unique to Menlo Park. In the firm's work with other Bay Area cities such as San Rafael, Hayward, Los Altos and South San Francisco, it is seeing a decline in respondents' reported quality of life, especially in cities with major regional transportation arteries where increasing traffic has become a part of daily life and housing costs continue to rise.

Also, satisfaction with the job the city is doing to provide services is down to 70 percent from 80 percent in 2015.

Satisfaction with various city services was down from 2015, but generally still positive, according to survey results. The one area that showed improvement since 2015 was "opportunities to attend cultural activities or social events."

Areas in which the city received comparatively high satisfaction marks were library facility and services, police services and park and recreation programs and events.

Parking structure

The survey asked some respondents how they might feel about a downtown parking structure built at various height levels. Generally, a favorable response to the proposal increased the shorter the building.

About 50 percent supported a seven-story, multi-use parking structure; 60 percent supported a five-story, multi-use parking structure; and 75 percent supported a three-story, multi-use parking structure.

About 68 percent of residents also said they were able to find parking downtown in a "reasonable amount of time" either always or most of the time.

Access the survey results and questions on the city's website here.

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