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Posted by xaviervir on November 19, 2010

The following article appears in today’s West County Times.  This is the same company, (SRI)  that did our ‘scientific’ survey.  It turns out that these surveys can be made to say anything.  So much for our  ‘scientific survey’.


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Consultant defends Hercules opinion survey as ‘scientific’

By Tom Lochner
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 11/17/2010 05:39:54 PM PST
Updated: 11/18/2010 05:12:02 PM PST

The consultant who did an opinion survey on the Hercules Bayfront project a month before the Nov. 2 election said it offends him that some residents called it a “push poll” designed to build support for city officials and their posture in negotiations with the developer.

Hercules commissioned the poll because officials wanted to be sure they are “in concert” with the entire community before deciding how to move forward with the long-delayed project, said G. Gary Manross, CEO of Strategy Research Institute.

The poll was not related to the election, he said, but to an appearance at the Sept. 14 City Council meeting by developer Jim Anderson of AndersonPacific LLC and a delegation of waterfront-area residents who earlier had blamed the city for stalling the project.

The City Council authorized the poll in closed session Sept. 28, ratifying a contract signed earlier in the day by City Manager Nelson Oliva; afterward, Mayor Kris Valstad announced the council had taken no reportable action.

Oliva went on indefinite medical leave Oct. 8; Charlie Long started as interim City Manager Oct. 18.

Critics said the SRI poll was designed to manipulate respondents into supporting an eminent domain takeover of part of the Hercules Bayfront property for an intermodal transit center, while relegating a mixed-use waterfront development to some uncertain future; City officials said they wanted to proceed expeditiously with both parts of the

development.Jeff Wisniewski, who runs the Hercules-based website Waterfront Watch, branded it a “push poll,” and others joined in denouncing it and its author, SRI.

“They (SRI) specialize in surveying public sentiment and shaping public opinion and election outcomes,” resident Susan Keefe told the council Oct. 12. “This is not so much a research strategy as a marketing strategy.”

Wisniewski, Keefe and others also said the poll aimed to generate support for the two incumbents in the Nov. 2 council election.

Hercules Bayfront is supposed to be a New Urbanism-inspired, mixed-use community of shops, offices, and about 1,400 homes anchored around a combination train station, bus transfer area and ferry terminal. The city and AndersonPacific have squabbled over access to the site and the timing and payment of an environmental report, among other differences; each has accused the other of delaying the project.

“In the process of building consensus, we employ the appropriate scientific tools … We never conduct ‘push polls,’ ” Manross said in an e-mail to Bay Area News Group. “Rather, we design surveys that address the collective perceptions (public opinion) and the perceived needs of specific populations of interest to the ‘Client.'”

The recent poll cost the city $24,500. SRI has worked as a consultant for Hercules for more than a decade, Manross said. In January, the council approved a $36,000 contract with SRI related to a budget stabilization plan and vision.

Manross said he did not talk to the developer in preparing the recent survey because the developer was not the client, but he added that the city is well aware of the developer’s concerns.

The company website boasts that “SRI’s predictions of voting behavior and consumer behavior … routinely turn out to be within 1 percent to 2 percent of actual behavior; and it all begins with securing highly reliable data from respondents.”

Telephone surveyors asked 400 registered Hercules voters what priority — high, medium or not at all — city officials should place on the Bayfront Project. The result: 82 percent considered it a priority. The next question asked whether the city should “hold firm” or pay the developer more than the property is worth, and was prefaced by: “However, the developer is asking for many, many times the appraised value of this property” followed by a statement that city officials consider it “fiscally irresponsible” and “a serious breach of trust with local taxpayers” to pay what the developer wants.

Neither AndersonPacific nor the city have publicly revealed an asking price.

SRI found that 79 percent of respondents wanted the city to hold firm; it also found that 67 percent would support invoking eminent domain to acquire the property for the transit center. The critics said the questions were so loaded that the entire survey is worthless and should be tossed out.

The contract for the survey specified “high and moderate propensity voters” as subjects. But when SRI did the survey, it took its sample from the entire electorate; Manross said it is “not uncommon to adjust the Research Design after the formal agreement is put in place.”

“With respect to the contract stating that we would be limiting the survey to high and moderate voters; that’s true,” Manross said in an e-mail. But after discussions with Hercules officials, “we concluded (for a host of reasons) that it would be better to survey 100 percent of registered voters (vs. limiting the survey to likely voters),” Manross continued.

Other poll questions related to payment for the Environmental Impact Report; whether the city should waive development impact fees; incentives; views of the waterfront; and whether or not the transit center can be built with or without the Bayfront Project. According to the poll, 69 percent said yes, it can be built.

The poll also found a very high level of satisfaction with the quality of life in Hercules and that on the whole, residents trust their city government, Manross said during a presentation at the City Council meeting Nov. 9.

Commenting on the latter point, Edgar Pankey, a principal with Hercules Bayfront LLC who was in the audience at the meeting, quipped, “That didn’t exactly come through in the election, did it?”

On Nov. 2, challengers John Delgado and Myrna de Vera won election by wide margins over incumbents Valstad and Joe Eddy McDonald.

Manross said contented voters are more likely to sit out elections.

Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760.


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