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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities

For San Diego's North County Times

Carlsbad City Council members nearly broke their arms patting themselves on the back after hearing a report on the results of the city's annual public opinion survey at its Feb. 8 meeting. The only council member to give credit where it was due ---- to city employees ---- was Ann Kulchin, who gushed, "This is your report card. As a parent I feel like I'd like to take you all out for an ice cream cone."

Councilman Packard confessed to having been one of the 1,000 residents whose opinions were sampled by telephone. After assuring the council he had identified himself to the caller, he crowed, "I did my very best to skew the numbers as high as I could."

The only slight sprinkle on the evening's parade of self-congratulations came from resident Diane Nygaard, representing the Preserve Calavera group, who reminded the council of the vote on Proposition C nine years ago to use city funds to acquire more open space. No additional natural lands have been acquired since the measure was passed.

Freshman council member Farrah Douglas made open-space acquisition a key part of her successful campaign last year. So it was disappointing to hear her only comment on the public opinion survey. She said it proved Carlsbad was another Lake Wobegon, an imaginary city where all the men are strong, all the women good looking and all the children above average.

Mayor Matt Hall promised to use the survey results to help Carlsbad continue to improve. It's hard to see room for improvement when 92 percent of those surveyed say they're already satisfied.

But if the council is serious about using survey results for city planning, it must look beyond the impressive overall approval rate. Survey responses by ZIP code reveal a tale of two cities, rather than a North County Lake Wobegon.

The lowest median household income of city residents, $59,000, as well as half the city's Latino population, can be found in the 92008 northwest quadrant. The highest median income, $84,000, and only 20 percent of Latinos, live in the 92009 southeast quadrant.

Why are fewer 92008 residents of the Village/downtown (83%) satisfied with city services than those in Calavera/Calavera Hills, Aviara and La Costa/La Costa Canyon/La Costa Oaks (93 to 97 percent)?

Why do residents living in both 92008 and 92009 lead the other ZIP codes in giving the city's "sense of community" a "low" rating (92008: 13 percent; 92009: 16 percent; 92010: 6 percent; 92011: 9 percent)?

Carlsbad can take pride in its remarkable public satisfaction rate overall. But only when the approval rate and sense of community are more equally shared across all neighborhoods, regardless of income and ethnicity, will city officials really have something to crow about.

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