Novato residents give city high marks in citizen survey

Novato residents give city high marks in citizen survey By Adrian Rodriguez 23 Mar 2015, 08:00 PM Mount Burdell, one of the highest peaks in Marin County, looms over the northern part of Novato. (Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal) Verlinda Montoya savored the warm Saturday dallying about Grant Avenue with her friend Bruce Bolinger and their dogs Oscar and Pepper after finishing lunch at Marvin’s Restaurant. Montoya, a Novato resident of 24 years and 18-year business owner of Heart of Humanity, a downtown home health agency and nonprofit foundation, enjoys that everything she needs is within a 10 minute radius, she said. “I love Novato,” Montoya said. She’s not alone. Results of a citizen survey published last week revealed growing satisfaction with Novato and the services the city provides. Out of 404 respondents 93 percent rated their quality of life as excellent or good, and 83 percent gave city staff an excellent or good mark on service. Respondents also provided high rankings for quality of life in their neighborhood, Novato as a place to raise children, to work and to retire, each category earning good and excellent ratings. Mayor Jeanne MacLeamy said it’s nice to check the pulse of the community and she is pleased with the survey results. “We have engaged, involved residents,” MacLeamy said. “And the helpful staff and engagement rate — that’s what makes for a healthy community.” The city paid about $30,000 for the survey, which has been conducted every two or three years for the past 20 years or so. San Mateo-based Godbe Research tackled a list of some 21,000 phone numbers and 6,000 emails to collect the random sample. City services were ranked in order of importance and paired with a satisfaction rating, which allows the city officials to gauge where they need to focus their attention. “That creates the gap,” City Manager Michael Frank said. “If people think it’s important but also think you’re not doing enough of it, that’s where you should be spending your money.” From this data, emergency response was ranked most important and the respondents were satisfied with the current services. Other areas where the city is meeting expectations were: having qualified police officers; providing adequate parks and recreation; providing flood protection; and providing senior services and center programs. Improvement areas When it came to street repair, however, it ranked second in importance, but respondents were not satisfied with the current services. Likewise, youth crime prevention and gang intervention, supporting local economy and retaining local businesses were among the areas that respondents said need improvement. Councilwoman Madeline Kellner said city officials are always looking to improve services, the problem is revenue. “We have far more needs than money and that really affects the satisfaction of services,” Kellner said. “People realize it takes resources to provide services, which is really positive to see.” Kellner pointed to various programs and projects that showcase the city’s collaborative efforts to improve focus areas, such as the Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition For Youth, an organization dedicated to reducing youth drug and alcohol use, which helped increase substance use treatment and intervention in the Novato Unified School District, among other accomplishments. When it comes to local business and job opportunities, the North Bay Life Science Alliance led by Chris Stewart, Novato’s economic development manager, has brought more than 200 jobs in the life science industry in the past year. Stewart said there were also about 1,300 jobs in other industries citywide. “It’s encouraging that people ranked the local economic development so high,” Stewart said. “Now it’s a matter of sharing our accomplishments to push our efforts forward.” While city officials work on increasing satisfaction in these areas, they must also find ways to maintain current services. One such effort is the Hill Recreation Area and Margaret Todd Senior Center Master Plan and Design, which city officials authorized at last week’s city council meeting. The planning development for the area comes with a $230,000 price tag, but is looking to improve park amenities, which may include a barbecue area, restrooms, walking/bike paths, outdoor fitness facility, possible bocci ball court and soccer field. “There are lots of recreational opportunities and people have really come to appreciate what Novato has to offer,” MacLeamy said. “They want it to be better than ever.” Farm town to urban And Novato residents have recognized that the city is developing. Cliff Arrambide has lived in Novato for 25 years. He said he has seen the city “grow up.” “It’s changed from a rural farm town to more urban with a variety of restaurants and shops,” Arrambide said. “There are new people moving in and with the influx of people comes property and spending.” Katharine Cameron, who has lived in Novato for four years, said she likes the urban feel with a small town vibe. “There are spring and summer festivals and farmers markets, and there is so much you can do in one day: hike, bike, swim golf,” she said. Overall City Manager Frank said he is satisfied with the community response. “It’s also crystal clear to me that (residents) want to mature or at least maintain the city’s level of service,” Frank said. As for Montoya, she is happy, but as a business woman and longtime resident, she sees room for improvement. “It would be nice to see more traffic, bringing in the different services that allow you to stay local,” she said. “There is a lot of revitalization. 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