Gettin' Satisfaction in Lake Forest - Part 2

Dr. Jim Gardner
Dr. Jim Gardner

Yesterday we brought up the subject of the city’s biennial Satisfaction survey and we saw that while Lake Forest got a good report, it looks like many other cities get a good report, and it also looks like the language being used is better described as hyperbole rather than research results. This doesn’t imply that the data are fake or falsely reported, but it does raise the issue of how much the data reflects the real opinions of people.

Social scientists have known for a long time that the way you ask a question helps determine the answer. For example, imagine a scenario when you ask the following 2 questions –

  1. Name the top 3 things in the City that you think should be changed?

  2. How satisfied are you with the City’s services?

Now change it around and ask these 2 questions –

  1. How satisfied are you with the City’s services?

  2. If the City could change one thing to make life better now or in the future, what would it be?

In the first scenario you’re likely to have much less satisfaction because (a) you’re required at the start to list 3 negative elements (vs. 1 element in the second scenario) and (b) you’ve asked them to list the negative first (vs. last in the second scenario) and thus people will respond to the second question in light of the first. It’s human nature. Also, Scenario 1 implies things can be changed, while Scenario 2 implies that change is difficult.

Keep this is mind when you look at the responses to the questions. Sometimes the question itself determines the nature of the response.


Below are the responses from residents in 10 cities on the critical question of how they perceive their quality of life, and what they would like to change.



The survey asked -"How would you rate the overall quality of life in the City?" Respondents had the options – Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, and Very Poor. They also had the option to say Not Sure or to refuse to answer the question.

In Lake Forest, 55% of the people said the quality was "excellent”. That’s pretty good since “excellent” is as good as you can get. But 6 of 10 cities did much better. Take a look

  • Indian Wells – 84%

  • Laguna Niguel – 76%

  • Mission Viejo - 70%

  • San Carlos – 67%

  • Aliso Viejo- 63%

  • Thousand Oaks – 61%

  • LAKE FOREST – 55%

  • La Mesa – 41%

  • Beverly Hills – 43%

  • Apple Valley – 17%

Of the 10 cities that reported on this question, Lake Forest came in 7th at 55%. Moreover, we are not a close 7th because some cities are 10% and as much as 53% better.



The survey asked "If the City government could change one thing to make (City’s name) a better place to live now and in the future, what change would you like to see?

Respondents had the option to name anything or to say No changes needed/Everything is OK, Not Sure or to refuse to answer the question. Some said “cannot think of anything”. Here are the results for the percent of people who offered no suggestions by City.

  • Indian Wells – 51%

  • Laguna Niguel – 49%

  • Mission Viejo – 39%

  • Aliso Viejo- 37%

  • LAKE FOREST – 36%

  • San Carlos – 35%

  • La Mesa – 35%

  • Thousand Oaks – 28%

  • Apple Valley – 17%

  • Beverly Hills – 13%

You’ll notice a similarity between the rankings for "excellent" quality of life and the absence of anything to change. In both cases Lake Forest comes in a very respectable middle of the road. Strangely enough Beverly Hills comes out on the bottom in both indicators, which may be a reflection of the high standard of the people who live there rather than a reflection of reality. IOW - If you live in Beverly Hills you may have high expectations which even your toney environment doesn’t meet. Someone transplanted from Laguna Niguel, which consistently gets excellent results, may consider themselves transported to Heaven by living in Beverly Hills, but the BH residents themselves are still looking for more. Without being able to control for expectations, you can see the limits of this type of research.

(BTW – the fact that there is such correspondence between the rating of quality and the listing of things to change is a reflection of the tendency we noted at the outset – having committed to one response, people are likely to respond to subsequent questions which rationalize the original choice. It’s human nature and a weakness in interpreting these types of results)



Across all the things people wanted changed, I only looked at those items that achieved 5% or more of the respondents listed. In Lake Forest we were worried about:

  • Parks - 13%

  • Traffic -11%

  • Infrastructure -6%

  • Public Safety - 5%

IOW – 13% of the respondents in  Lake Forest listed Parks as something they wanted changed (improved).

It turns out our concerns are a reasonable reflection of what everyone else is concerned with. For example, our #2 issue (traffic) was listed as a concern by 5% or more of the residents in 70% of the other cities. Our #1 issue (parks) was listed by 5% or more of the residents of 40% of the other cities. Here’s the complete picture -

  • Traffic – 70%

  • Public Safety – 60%

  • Parks – 40%

  • Infrastructure – 30%

  • Taxes/fees – 30%

So, our big 4 items were also the big 4 items for everyone else. 30% of the cities listed taxes/fees which didn’t rise to the 5% level for Lake Forest.

Our city had 4 items that achieved 5% or more. The average City had slightly more than 3, with a range from 1 (Aliso Viejo) to 5 (Thousand Oaks).

Of all the 33 change items with a rank of 5% or more, only 4 change items achieved a level of 10% or more, and 2 of the 4 came from Lake Forest – 13% for Improving Parks and 11% for Reducing Traffic Congestion. Thus, compared to other cities, a greater proportion of our residents focused on issues, which probably indicates a greater consensus in Lake Forest about what is a problem.



Results for Lake Forest are nothing to be ashamed of, but don’t get out the gold medals and start polishing them which is the impression staff and Council give whenever they quote from the “City’s report card.”

  • In terms of “excellence” in quality of life, we achieved only 55% and 6 of 10 cities did much better than we did.

  • In terms of wanting to change things, 36% of the Lake Forest respondents didn’t list anything, but 4 cities did better than we did. Conversely, 64% of the residents wanted something changed.

  • In terms of peoples’ concerns for specific things to change, half of the major problems identified came from Lake Forest.

  • The same 4 things that troubled Lake Forest residents most also troubled the rest of the cities.

Bear in mind, quality of life is not necessarily a reflection of City services. When people talk about what they like in Lake Forest, some of the major variables identified include (a) weather, (b) location, and (c) people. None of these are provided by the City.

Next time we’ll look at the data on Satisfaction.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Homer March 02, 2014 at 12:51 PM
Yes, thank you Dr. G. I appreciate your research and fact finding. It really helps to give credit where credit is due; or vice versa.
Jim Richert March 02, 2014 at 01:07 PM
I developed customer satisfaction surveys and results reporting for millions of customers of various auto companies. You are right Jim - how you ask a question is vital to getting accurate responses. Also crucial is the need to ask follow up "diagnostic" questions to determine the reasons for the good or bad results and to have the ability to determine how to resolve the problem or issue. Traffic congestion is a good example of a question that needs further analysis as to why - is it traffic light timing, road capacity issues, missing right turn lanes, etc.?
Jim Gardner March 02, 2014 at 01:57 PM
Thanks Homer. It takes a lot of work to do these detailed analyses after the fact. The data is revealing when you look at it more closely.
Jim Gardner March 02, 2014 at 02:00 PM
Hi Jim. You are completely correct. In fact I deal with exactly this subject in my summary article due out in a few days, but I will e-mail to you now. There are many methodological problems with this research. Perhaps you would help the City when they next decide to do a survey, which should be this year.
Tom Cagley March 02, 2014 at 06:59 PM
Do you think JR wants to contribute to the appropriate candidate/campaign in order to get selected? :)


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