Palo Alto Survey Indicates Growing Concerns Over Mental Health, Retirement | News

Ask Palo Alto residents how they feel about their city, and many will praise its abundant nature reserves, job opportunities, and educational offerings.

But after two years of pandemic-related disruption and isolation, a growing number also feel the city is failing them when it comes to providing mental health services, according to the newly released City of Palo Alto Community Survey, an annual gauge of public opinion. .

Of the nearly 400 residents who responded to the survey, only 26% gave the city “good” or “excellent” ratings when asked about the availability of affordable quality mental health care, down from 44% in 2021 and 63% in 2014, the first year this question was asked.

That’s just one of the topics nearly 400 Palo Altan weighed in on when they participated in the poll, which the City Council plans to discuss at its Jan. 23 meeting, five days before its annual meeting to set priorities for 2023.

According to a report by City Manager Ed Shikada, the survey is being used to “gain insights into residents’ perspectives on the community, including local services, public trust, resident participation, and other aspects of the community.”

“Information from the survey is used to support budget, land use and strategic planning, and community communications efforts,” the report said.

Currently, the city’s priority list includes “community health and safety,” which includes mental health support. The survey results underscore the city’s challenges in addressing this topic and suggest that the priority, in relation to mental health, is likely to be maintained and expanded into the coming year.

While the topic of mental health did come up from time to time throughout the year, the council did not take any new steps to directly address the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of local residents. Council member Pat Burt, who served as mayor in 2022, highlighted the issue in his “State of the City” speech last April, when he suggested that the city has entered the “post-trauma” period of the pandemic, a particularly difficult time for local young people.

Many children, she noted, had to be “pretty much at home for the better part of two years.”

“This is a big impact and we as a community need to figure out how we are going to help these kids through as we try to get through this period and recover,” she said.

Many older adults, he added, were also homebound for much of the pandemic and lacked normal opportunities to socialize and make connections, he said. “These two ends of the spectrum in our community are the ones we have challenges with right now that are bigger than we’ve had in a long time,” Burt said.

The topic of mental health has also come up during the recent council race, with newly elected council member Julie Lythcott-Haims listing it as a priority during her campaign and suggesting that the city form a task force including doctors, organizations nonprofits and school administrators to expand youth services.

Deputy Mayor Greer Stone, a high school teacher, said mental health services, especially for youth, should be a “key priority for the city entering 2023.”

“We should take the community survey findings seriously and help inform it what our next steps are,” Stone said. “The data speak for themselves”.

Cultural activities, parking get high marks

The availability of mental health services isn’t the only area where local opinions have changed over the past year. The poll also suggests that many people believe the city can do a better job of involving them in government decision-making.

According to the survey, 46% of respondents gave the city high marks for welcoming resident engagement. It is down from 56% in 2018 and 51% in 2021.

Not all news, however, is gloomy. Just as in the past, the survey shows that the vast majority of Palo Alto residents rate the city high as a place to live (88% rated high), work (79%) and raise children (87% %). A higher proportion of respondents also gave the city positive ratings when it comes to opportunities to participate in cultural, arts and music activities, with 78% rating them as good or excellent, up from 71% in 2021.

In one of the pandemic’s few bright spots, public parking now appears to be less of a concern as more employees are working remotely. In 2017 and 2018, the percentage of surveyed residents who gave the city high marks for ease of public parking was 33% and 32%, respectively. That rose to 59% in 2021 and 67% in 2022, according to the survey.

Schools, meanwhile, continue to score high, with 88% of respondents giving them “good” or “excellent” grades, roughly similar to previous years. At the same time, however, more residents are expressing concern about the availability of affordable quality childcare or preschools. Only 34% gave the city high scores in this category in 2022, down from 44% in 2021.

The survey also shows that while residents generally rate their quality of life high, a growing number no longer see Palo Alto as a great place to retire, with only 46 percent rating it “good” or “excellent.” , down from 52% last year and 68% a decade ago.

Since the city began its surveys in 2003, only one year has it had lower retirement scores: 2018, when only 40% gave the city high marks in the retiree category.

Housing anxiety can play a role. Just as in the past, Palo Alto continues to score poorly on housing availability and affordability, with only 5% of respondents giving the city high marks when asked about “cost of living” and only 6% rate it positively when asked about the “availability of affordable housing”. In both categories, Palo Alto was at the bottom of the list of nearly 300 jurisdictions reviewed by the National Research Center.

And when residents were asked what change the city could make to make them happier, 24% of respondents focused on housing (concerns about road conditions, which were the subject of 14% of respondents , were a distant second). “Build more housing” was a common refrain in the open answer section. One person said he would like to find cheaper rent as a graduate student; another called for “fair housing for all, with dignity”; while another called for “more housing for teachers, firefighters, service personnel, artists and musicians”.

“The current skyscrapers are pretty ugly; maybe something a little nicer?” they added.

The community survey also showed growing demand for city services in 2022, compared to the previous year. Library use has increased, with 72% of respondents reporting using a library in the past year, up from 62% in 2021. Additionally, 47% said they used a recreation center in the 12 months earlier, compared to 39% in 2021.

But even though 45 percent of residents said they attended a city-sponsored event in 2022, up from 30 percent in 2021, fewer people have expressed an interest in shaping city decisions. The percentage of residents who reported having voted in their most recent election, attended a public meeting or watched a public meeting on their screens decreased between 2021 and 2022, according to the survey.

“While residents appreciate city services, civic participation has declined,” the survey concludes.

The survey, run by the Polco company, was conducted between October and December and involved sending 3,600 surveys to randomly selected households in all areas of the city.

According to Polco, 398 people completed and returned surveys, for a response rate of 12%. Of the surveys sent, 7% were returned because the residence was empty or the postal service was unable to deliver the survey.

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