To follow is the transmittal letter that will be used in forwarding the survey results to the LaVista Hills organizers and the Together In Atlanta organizers as well as to our governmental officials. The letter provides some analysis of and commentary on the results. Thanks to all who participated. Click the link at the bottom of the letter to view the survey results.
Dear Anne and Mary Kay,
On behalf of the members of the LaVista Park Civic Association (LVPCA) as well as all residents and homeowners of LaVista Park (LVP), we appreciate the opportunity to share with you the results of our recent surveys.
Attached is a .pdf copy of our survey questions and results. Before you read the survey results, and before I add some detail to the results, I’d like to make a couple of observations.
When the good people of Sandy Springs voted to form the City of Sandy Springs out of what was then unincorporated Fulton County, they had, at the end of the day, a simple “yes or no” question: do you want to be in a new city or not? Their schools weren’t changing. A segment of their population was not going to be subject to a sizeable increase in property taxes. And, while there were probably some issues over neighborhood separation, their borders made some sense and merely formalized what had previously been informally but widely recognized. They had a straightforward choice: yes or no. True or False. Same thing with Dunwoody: yes or no to one city. No schools affected. Same thing with Brookhaven. They stepped into the voting booth and voted yes or no to form a new municipality called Brookhaven. Same DeKalb County schools for Brookhaven, as well as borders that were reasonable and set by significant, even if man-made, landmarks.
The questions being put to LVP are different. First of all, while we are all aware of the problems with DeKalb County, few of us were torqued up enough about it to demand a new city. And while some were upset over the DCSB’s failure to create the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, few in LVP were ready to jump into a new city in protest. But many of our neighbors to the east have been motivated to make changes. And different groups of those eastern neighbors want different types of changes…and LVP is caught in the middle. We are not being asked to choose yes or no to one new municipality, rather to choose between saying yes to one new city, or yes to one of two existing cities, or no to any of those municipal choices and yes to maintaining the status quo.
LPV is choosing between FOUR competing plans for local government. And OUR schools HAVE come into play. And, depending on the results, senior LVP residents may face a significant property tax hike. We face jurisdictional separation from a massive office park about to be redeveloped. Now, we are indeed fortunate in that all four government choices are promising to deliver either really good or really improved services. With that as a given, much of our choosing between the four governments is based on what we have to give up rather than what we get.
All that to say, it is not just “yes or no” for us in LVP. It’s complicated. And the results of our survey are complicated. Yes, some choices get more support than others, but none get a majority (50% +1 or more). The one question that did get a majority was the third one. 55.5% of respondents indicated that cityhood initiatives and annexations should be delayed for at least a year or more. However, the eighth question was similar to the third and produced a virtual 50/50 reply.
The second question asked about priorities to consider. Property values, property taxes, and police services were the respondents’ top choices. Permitting activities and park maintenance and improvements were respondents’ bottom priorities.
The fourth and fifth questions were similar, but not identical, and the responses interesting. Our respondents indicated that while they more closely identified with the Cheshire Bridge / Lindbergh corridors in Atlanta, they felt like it was more important to be able to influence the Executive Park / North Druid Hills area, which of course is now in Brookhaven.
Brookhaven was a latecomer to this debate and was brought to the table via annexation requests from Executive Park and Children’s Hospital of Atlanta (CHoA). The seventh question shows our respondents are nearly evenly divided between supporting annexation to Brookhaven, refusing it, and not having yet decided.
The ninth question asked respondents to rank their choices for local government from 1 to 4, with 1 being their favorite. Unincorporated DeKalb received the most first place rankings; Atlanta received the most last place rankings. From a weighted average standpoint, the respondents ranked them as follows: Unincorporated DeKalb, Atlanta, Brookhaven, LaVista Hills. Unincorporated DeKalb got 39.4% of the first place rankings, Atlanta 30.3%, Brookhaven 20.1%, and LaVista Hills 10.2%. If one considers the first AND second place rankings, the order is the same, but they are much more tightly bunched: Unincorporated DeKalb 28.2%, Atlanta 26.6%, Brookhaven 24.5%, and LaVista Hills 20.8%.
The tenth question was similar to the ninth but excluded Unincorporated DeKalb. It asked respondents to rank their choices for local government from 1 to 3, with 1 being their favorite. Atlanta received the most first place rankings and tied LaVista Hills with the most last place rankings. (Yes, Atlanta is polarizing for our survey takers.) From a weighted average standpoint, the respondents ranked them as follows: Atlanta, Brookhaven, and then LaVista Hills. Atlanta got 47.7% of the first place rankings, Brookhaven 29.3%, and LaVista Hills 23%. However, if one considers the first AND second place rankings, the respondents ranked Brookhaven slightly ahead of Atlanta and LaVista Hills.
An additional observation about the tenth question: while Atlanta got almost 48% of the first place rankings, and had the best weighted average, more than 52% of respondents preferred a DeKalb option – a non-Atlanta option.
Why am I looking at first and second place rankings combined in questions nine and ten? Because we have four governmental choices, not two. As described above, ours is a multiple choice test, not a true / false test. And because this exercise is, for LVP anyway, as much about what we can live with – what we have to accept – as it is about what we want. What LVP wants is not really on the menu. So I believe a fair review of these results considers the respondents first choices as well as their second.
The survey results described above are from our second and most recent survey. Our first survey was conducted several weeks ago before the Brookhaven annexation became a reality and before the Druid Hills association approved their resolution for a referendum for annexation into Atlanta, the success of which would separate LVP from its elementary and high schools. Due to those events, the LVPCA board decided to conduct a second survey. Some respondents were not pleased that a second survey was taken. That first survey indicated a strong preference for LaVista Hills. In that survey, LaVista Hills had the best weighted average when ranked against the other three choices. It was preferred by 46.5% of respondents when compared to Atlanta and Brookhaven. And LaVista Hills was an almost 2 to 1 pick over Atlanta. This report would not be complete or fair without mentioning the results of the first survey.
In summary, while I know the LaVista Hills organizers, the Together In Atlanta organizers, and the Governmental Affairs subcommittee would like a simple answer, the question is too complex. There is no majority pick among the respondents. Unincorporated DeKalb was statistically the favorite when four choices were offered. Atlanta was statically the favorite when three choices were offered. But neither enjoyed a majority (50% + 1) and, in the case of the four choices, unincorporated DeKalb was a very narrow pick when first and second rankings were considered. In the case of the three choices, Atlanta actually fell into a tie for second (behind Brookhaven) when first and second rankings were considered.
This summary may leave you with as many questions as answers. If so, welcome to the world created for us by your respective movements. Please contact me and I will try and answer any questions I can. Thanks again for the opportunity to express the varied views of the respondents to the LVPCA surveys.