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Music, streets, shopping top Walla Walla wish list

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Street service

Walla Walla residents want more street repairs and services, results from the citizen satisfaction survey show.

Walla Walla’s overall rating in the annual citizen satisfaction survey inched upward from the year before and remains a big step up from other Washington cities with a similar population size.

These results were taken from a small pool of citizens who responded to questions in their utility bill in the fall of 2019. The survey was conducted by Cobalt Community Research.

Members of City Council met with Cobalt Executive Director William SaintAmour earlier this month to hear the results of the 2019 citizen’s satisfaction survey.

Local government management was rated at a score of 70 while similar Washington cities were rated in the mid-50s. Overall satisfaction scored a 65, 10 points above others.

Trustworthiness in leaders is also higher than Washington cities by more than 10 points.

Walla Walla has a relatively low rating for spending money wisely, though it outranked other cities regionally and nationally.

“So 43, 42% of our citizens don’t think we’re doing a good job of spending money, even while we lead trust at 68 this year, that still means 32%, a third of our citizens don’t trust the government. And so there is lot’s of room for improvement.” City Manager Nabiel Shawa said.

Residents also gave feedback on city services.

Rated as highly important, street service had the lowest satisfaction rating, with 24 other city services ahead.

Residents would like to see improvements made in maintenance, pavement and infrastructure, better planning on road construction, road repair and more parking, according to the survey.

“Citizens want better streets; we’re working on it,” Mori Struve, the Public Works manager said.

He referred residents to to see current projects for this year.

The city is now reexamining the Infrastructure Repair and Replacement Plan, a 10-year-old program, to see what they can do to shift more money into streets, said Shawa.

“By no increases on taxes or fees … My hope is that we’re going to be able to shift in a rage of a half a million dollars to residential streets annually,” he said.

The largest shift downwards from last year’s results was shopping opportunities, decreasing five points.

“We talk to Costco, we talk to Target, we talk to these places but the bottom line is they’re going to invest. They’ve only got so many dollars to invest and only enough money for so many new stores to open. And they’re going to go to those areas in the United States that are going to give them the greatest return,” Shawa said.

He said stores look at the population and household income, which Walla Walla is weak on.

He said he will continually ask stores to come to Walla Walla and show that the city is growing.

Other questions that were asked included music events and fireworks.

Responses said 70% of people wanted more music events, 76% want the city to establish music venues, according to the survey.

Shawa said he hopes in the next three to five years, Walla Walla will have music events or a festival that is well established, adding significant revenues and providing another layer of armour protecting its current lead in wine tourism.

A supermajority of residents still want some type of fireworks, he said.

Banning fireworks took 34% of the vote but 23% said they want to allow all fireworks under state law, which permits aerial fireworks. Continuing current fireworks restrictions that prohibit aerial fireworks had the highest support — 38% of people, according to the survey.

Fire services were rated the highest satisfaction of all categories in city services and programs, with police services following closely behind.

“We’re the white hats, when people are hurt or injured or have a fire, we come in and do a pretty good job of helping them save their structure or helping them save their life. We’ve got a great crew, we’ve got a great bunch of people working here and they take that service seriously,” said Fire Chief Bob Yancey.

He said the score is usual for most cities, but he attributes the 9.1 out of 10 satisfaction score to the work they do in the community outside of their typical duties and training with neighboring cities to get to the point where their work is second nature.

Overall the city is increasing in scores from last year and is ahead of other Washington cities, western cities and nationally.

“To see these increasing scores it means that our employees are really doing a good job for our citizens,” Shawa said.

Chloe LeValley can be reached at or 509-526-8326.

Chloe LeValley covers civic engagement in the Walla Walla Valley including city governments, county commissioners and other civic groups. She is a recent graduate from San Francisco State University and came to join our team in October 2019.