Santa Ana’s effort to inform residents about a community survey that is supposed to be one of the pillars of the city’s five-year strategic plan has produced skewed and unreliable results, according to several activists involved in the effort.
Santa Ana is nearly 80 percent Latino, and more than 80 percent speak a language other than English in the home, according to the most recent U.S. census.
But the survey results show that only 99 surveys were taken in Spanish.
A slide show by Management Partners, the city's consultant on the strategic plan, shows that more than 25 percent of the 903 residents who took the survey hail from the affluent area of the city north of 17th Street.
The survey results also include many city employees. Of the 1,408 total surveys taken, 505 were completed by city employees, according to city spokesman Jose Gonzalez.
“Anybody can see, with the population 80 percent Latino, [the survey results] do not represent Santa Ana,” said Madeline Spencer, an activist with the Santa Ana Collaborative for Responsible Development or SACReD.
The strategic plan is a key element of the so-called sunshine ordinance that the City Council passed last year to reform how the city government operates. SACReD activists, who lobbied hard for the ordinance, say the city so far does not have a legitimate reflection of the community's sentiments.
“I would ask the city, if you could have been much more accessible, much more inclusive, why didn’t you?” said Apolonio Cortes, a city resident and activist with SACReD who speaks only Spanish.
City officials, meanwhile, said the surveys are just one part of an extensive outreach effort. They pointed to the city's utilization of the Santa Ana Unified School District's robocall system, which reached 26,000 parents, and a mobile lab that was dispatched to community events and provided laptops so residents could complete the survey.
But the survey should not be construed as a poll and part of a formula that would form the foundation of the strategic plan, said Planning Director Jay Trevino.
“Quite the contrary,” Trevino said. “It’s not been an effort to poll people; it’s been an effort to listen to them.”
But the activists said the survey is yet another example of an ongoing communication failure between the city and its largest population.
Lost in Translation
The problems with the survey began with its online-only format, activists said. Many working-class Latinos do not have Internet access.
And the Spanish survey was so poorly translated and inaccessible that it appeared to be a Google English-to-Spanish translation, according to several activists. The Spanish survey — supposed to take only 10 minutes — actually took up to 40 minutes to complete, they said.
Voice of OC also received at least one report of survey manipulation. A resident was able to take the survey four times posing as four different ethnicities, the resident said.
Additionally, Cortes said, the line of questioning was structured so that it led the survey taker to conclusions he or she may not have intended.
For example, someone who answered that community safety was a priority was then asked a question to rate safety categories. According to Cortes, that set of questions did not include emphasis on prevention, such as youth programs and open space.
Phillip Lee, a UC Irvine graduate student who is analyzing SACReD’s response to the survey for his qualitative research class, said that the survey was based on one conducted in San Antonio. But because Santa Ana wasn’t willing to provide the resources, it ended up being “watered down.” The city's outreach has been "rather inefficient,” Lee said.
Response to the survey at first was so dismal that the city extended its deadline, activists said.
Activists acknowledged that mobile computer labs dispatched by the city to neighborhoods increased feedback. But, they said, there were problems with that approach as well.
Cortes said that a mobile lab that was scheduled to be at the Templo Calvario church was late, and some 35 residents had to leave without taking the survey.
Trevino emphasized that comments from focus group meetings and community forums will also be considered in creating the plan.
And although the survey takers could be seen as disproportionately city employees and residents from wealthy neighborhoods, the comments aren’t weighted by the number of survey takers from any given group, according to Trevino.
“We’re not trying to rate the inputs,” Trevino said. “We’re not trying to rate which group was more important, which voice was more important.”
As for the resident who took the survey four times under four different demographic identities, the only way the outcome would change is if the stated priorities were different on the different surveys taken, Trevino said.
City Council Satisfied
Councilman David Benavides and Councilwoman Angelica Amezcua said they were satisfied with the city’s level of outreach. Benavides said that there is “a good cross-section” of survey takers.
And while tens of thousands of responses would have been ideal, the 903 responses is adequate, he said. That the number and cross-section of responses wasn’t enough is just par for the course, the usual complaints that come through whenever government does something, he said.
“I feel pretty good that we did a thorough outreach process,” Benavides said. “One of the things we’ve learned is we’re not going to make everybody happy. And that’s OK.”
Councilman Sal Tinajero said that the complaints from SACReD members is a good thing because it will help the city improve its outreach. He also noted that it’s the city’s first attempt at reaching a blue-collar community that has been largely disenfranchised.
“No. 1, we have to rethink how surveys are created and perceived,” Tinajero said. “Second, we still have a ways to go in getting input from our blue-collar population in the city. … I know I’m willing to look at that data and ask, where do we improve and go from here?”
Councilman Roman Reyna said that reaching people is difficult, and that the city is still figuring out methods.
“We could always do more and do better. Across the board, people need to be more engaged,” Reyna said.
Activists said that they are now crafting a set of inserts to the strategic plan that they will promote. They said that their own community feedback penetrates areas of Santa Ana much more heavily than the city’s attempts.
If the city doesn’t accept their proposed additions to the strategic plan, then they won’t accept the document as legitimate, Cortes said.
Benavides said that city leaders would be considering the feedback of community groups, but that includes everybody, not just SACReD.
“The information [SACReD] presents us, it may be something myself and my colleagues take into the creation and finalization of the strategic plan,” Benavides said. “But it’s not limited to this group.”
Spencer said that SACReD has asked for an organizational review process for the strategic plan so that the city could improve on the next go-round.
A draft strategic plan will be up for review the week of Jan. 6, according to a timeline posted on the city’s website. City Council workshops on the plan will also occur early next year.
Trevino said the draft strategic plan will be presented to residents so they can “tell us what they think about it.”
“This is a work in progress. We’re not done. We really care about what the community thinks, so we’re going to keep working with them, and we want them to keep working with us,” Trevino said. “We look forward to the next steps, and we hope they do too.”