What price fresh air?

Residents will be surveyed next month to gauge their support for paying up to $40 million, through a bond measure, for the creation of parks, recreational fields and wetlands in Malibu.

The results of the Nov. 14 “baseline” or “benchmark” poll, approved during a special session of the City Council Monday, may determine whether a bond measure is even placed on the ballot in the April 2000 election.

Passage of a bond measure requires 67 percent voter approval, so if the survey shows public support at less than 35 percent, “You should give up,” said Bryan Godbe, who was hired by the city to conduct the poll.

A $30 million bond is “as high as you would want to test” because any higher amount would be “out of passage range,” Godbe said. Mayor Joan House and council members Tom Hasse and Harry Barovsky asked that the survey test public reaction to a $40 million bond.

If approved in the April 2000 election, the bond would be paid by increasing property taxes on homeowners and increasing rent on residents of mobile-home parks.

How much more in taxes homeowners would pay depends on the assessed valuation of a home, said City Manager Harry Peacock, who estimated the average assessed valuation in Malibu to be $500,000. Godbe figured that much over $46 per year per $100,000 assessed valuation “is not happening.” At $46, that would mean an average property tax increase of about $230 per year.

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Residents of mobile-home parks, who do not pay a property tax because they rent, would pay only about $15 per year on a $30 million bond and about $20 per year on a $40 million bond, Peacock estimated.

A working draft of the questions to be asked will be prepared by next week, Godbe pledged. He encouraged councilmembers to send him their suggestions for questions by the end of this week. Hasse already had his questions prepared.

Barovsky wanted the survey to test people’s reaction to the bond measure if they knew that plans were being submitted to commercially develop the Chili Cook off site, as well as a parcel west of City Hall, and that increased development would mean increased traffic congestion.

About 400 people are expected to be surveyed by telephone for 15 minutes at dinnertime, and they would be asked between 75 and 95 questions, Godbe estimated. Councilwoman Carolyn Van Horn suggested that if the poll lasts longer than six to seven minutes, people would become annoyed, so they would more likely give negative responses. Since the issues concern the community, “people are more likely to stay with it than a product survey,” Godbe replied.

Considering the recent economic turmoil, especially in the stock market, House wondered whether people would be less willing to spend money. “It certainly will have an impact,” Godbe said.

The councilmembers expressed concern over the chances of success this time because a survey performed last year showed little support for increasing taxes to pay for public works. Godbe pointed out that there were multiple ballot questions last year, whereas this survey will be more focused. Also, he said, “If the bond measure is preceded by grants or private money, that’s useful.” Besides, he said, “Potholes are not as fun as parks.”

Based on the results of the baseline or benchmark survey, a program to educate the community will be formulated and implemented. With education you can “push support up to a level that can put it on the ballot,” Godbe said.

House suggested “a little education beforehand so people aren’t hit totally cold” by the survey, but Godbe said he would rather “find out where people are without information because you can’t predict what information may or may not work.”

Hasse questioned the legality of an education program sponsored by the city. “This city has to be very careful. What is advocacy versus what is education? The law is vague. I don’t want the city of Malibu to be a test case,” he said. He preferred to see the public educated through an “independent entity separate and apart from the city,” which, he thought, could include councilmembers.

Regardless of its legality, the public’s perception of an education program sponsored by the city would be too damaging, according to Godbe. “The politics would kill you long before the legal problems,” he said.

After education, there would be a “tracking” survey conducted to determine “if, in fact, [education] moved public opinion” Godbe said. Based on his experience, moving the public from 37 percent approval to the required 67 percent would take between 12 and 18 months.

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