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New Santa Monica 'Wellbeing Index' Shows Sunnier Attitudes with Some Clouds


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

September 18, 2017 -- The City of Santa Monica’s second “Wellbeing Index” indicates the seaside enclave’s populace is happier than it was when first analyzed two years ago, but nonetheless feels stressed financially and disconnected to City Hall decision making.

In a nine-page summary released by the City on Thursday, three-fourths of the residents surveyed for the 2017 index expressed feelings about their lives almost as sunny as the skies above them.

“Santa Monica residents continue being upbeat,” the summary said. “About two-thirds (69 percent) told us they are happy most or all of the time.

“And an overwhelming number (90 percent) say they are never or rarely lonely. Nearly three in four Santa Monica residents (74 percent) say they are optimistic about the future.”

“Four in five (80 percent) say life is worthwhile,” the summary said. “The Wellbeing Index rates that as flourishing."

Overall, residents rated satisfaction with their lives at 7.4 on a scale of one to ten, the summary said.

But paying the bills for housing was a major source of stress, the report said.

Nearly half of Santa Monica residents (47 percent for homeowners, 48 percent for renters) told us they are spending more than 30 percent of income keeping a roof over their heads,” the index researchers said.

“And despite the fact that more than a third (38 per cent) of all multi-family housing stock in Santa Monica is designated for low- or moderate-income residents, one in four Santa Monica residents say they worry about making the rent or mortgage payment every month.

About one in six (16 per cent) worry about losing their job. An almost equal number (17 per cent) say they worry about monthly credit-card payments.

The survey also found only 29 percent of those who responded to the queries of researchers felt “they have influence on decisions in Santa Monica."

Breaking survey answers down by zip code, the researchers from RAND and the New Economics Foundation found more cloudy pictures within the neighborhoods.

This was the case in the Pico area, home to the city’s largest concentration of minorities, most of them Hispanic.

“Residents (in the 90404 zip code) have the lowest life satisfaction in the city, report the least appreciation for community experiences, and have the highest economic worry,” the report said.

Meanwhile, Ocean Park residents had “Santa Monica’s highest stress levels, spend the most time in community and public spaces, and have the highest job satisfaction,” the researchers found.

The City of Santa Monica broke new ground four years ago when it proposed the Wellbeing Project and won $1 million in prize money from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge ("Santa Monica Moves Forward with Well-Being Project," March 14, 2013).

Unlike traditional gauges of how residents regard municipal services -- whether potholes get filled quickly enough, for instance -- the Wellbeing Index tries to delve into how residents feel emotionally, financially and physically.

Although the concept has been criticized as too "touchy-feely" to be regarded as reliable, the City’s approach is meant to align municipal services with such data as a way be more in tune to the community’s real needs.

Anita Chandra, a senior analyst with RAND, said the second wellbeing research was able to dive deeper into the attitudes and issues of specific neighborhoods in hopes of protecting diversity (although the city is mostly white and well off) and addressing “disparities in equities” -- both goals of the City, known for its liberal leanings.

“The City really wants to understand the wellbeing experience on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis and what role city (government) can play,” Chandra said.

She said City leaders want residents to feel welcome and rooted in their communities within Santa Monica, and for young people to stay and establish the next generation.

Other cities through the U.S. -- Pittsburgh, for example -- are paying heed to the Wellbeing Project, she said, although none “are as far down the road” as Santa Monica.

Local governments without Santa Monica’s fiscal wealth -- its current biennial budget is about $1.57 billion -- are particularly challenged, Chandra said.

And the answers will probably sound less contented in cities which do not enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean, sunny days year around and gently swaying palm trees.

“Naturally, sunshine and the ocean influences how people feel,” Chandra said.


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