The Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. (Photo by Strainu/Flickr)

Most of the news was good, some of it was disappointing and very little of it was a surprise, with the 2019 National Community Survey results showing Walnut Creek residents love their downtown, schools, open spaces and general quality of life, and don’t like traffic congestion.

The National Community Survey was carried out in 240 U.S. cities in summer 2019. About 550 Walnut Creek households responded to the survey by the Colorado-based National Resource Center. Walnut Creek respondents said they are also pleased with their local government and city services, but find it difficult to drive around, park, use public transportation, bicycle around the city, or find affordable housing.

City Manager Dan Buckshi gave a presentation on the survey to the Walnut Creek City Council earlier this month.

The survey addressed eight facets of local living: safety, mobility, natural environment, “built” environment, economy, recreation and wellness, education and enrichment, and community engagement.

An ‘excellent’ place to live…

More than 90 percent of those surveyed rated Walnut Creek as an “excellent” or “good” place to live. Also scoring at 90 percent approval or higher on the overall survey were the city’s overall image, its neighborhoods, the city’s overall appearance and as a place to raise children.

Nine out of 10 survey respondents gave positive ratings about their overall safety, the city’s natural environment (cleanliness, air quality, open spaces, preservation) and its overall health and wellness. The economy was also viewed as a strength, as were the city’s educational and other personal enrichment opportunities.

“Ninety-one percent of residents in Walnut Creek believe the quality of life is excellent or good, which is almost unheard of in local government,” Buckshi said. “We are the benchmark in terms of those ratings for other communities.”

K-12 education, special events, cultural/arts/music activities, and adult education all rated between 81 and 88 percent, but childcare opportunities scored only 59 percent.

Walnut Creek’s downtown, once a person is there and has found parking, got great marks from locals. Ninety percent of survey respondents praised Walnut Creek’s vibrant downtown, and 93 percent the city’s shopping opportunities. City parks, recreation centers and programs and special events all scored at 86 percent or higher.

…But don’t try to drive there

Perhaps not surprisingly, scores were generally lower on the “getting there” piece. Survey scores on traffic- and transit-related issues — including traffic flow, travel by car or bicycle, public parking and public transportation — all rated at under 50 percent among those surveyed.

Buckshi said such well-known congestion-related issues are symptomatic of a city people want to visit and where they want to work and live.

“From my perspective, these are great challenges to have — it means Walnut Creek is in demand,” he said. “People want to be here, either to live, to visit, to shop, to dine and to work.”

The downside of prosperity can be high costs, and only 14 percent of survey respondents said Walnut Creek has sufficient affordable housing.

Seventy-three percent of respondents said Walnut Creek is a good place to retire; Buckshi said the high cost of housing kept that number lower than it might have otherwise been. Forty-four percent of those surveyed said Walnut Creek has good housing options.

In local government we trust

Residents surveyed indicated their trust of local government and its various aspects — honesty, working for its residents, getting the most for their taxes — is generally in the mid-60s. While 87 percent of those surveyed said local government provided good services, only 39 percent of those surveyed felt that way about services rendered by the federal government.

This was Walnut Creek’s fourth time being part of the National Community Survey. The city also participated in 2007, 2015 and 2017.

The results are used by city staff to guide resources to “challenging” areas. Only a few areas rated lower in 2019 than in 2017, mostly those involving traffic and affordable housing.

“Apparently our citizens have appreciated that we have served them above and beyond,” Mayor Loella Haskew said.

To see the survey’s results in detail, visit these links to the individual reports:

Dashboard Summary of Findings

Trends Over Time

Community Livability Report