Adults and children feel social-emotional connections to their communities. Adults are active and engaged in the civic process, voter participation rates are high, and support services help those most in need. Crime rates are low, businesses and commerce thrive, and communities have safe neighborhoods, recreation areas, and schools. Instances of child abuse are rare, and all children grow up in nurturing and caring environments.
When people feel safe, they are more likely to be active and engaged in their communities. Studies have found that social isolation is associated with increased morbidity and early mortality, and its health risks are on par with the risk from cigarette smoking. High rates of crime can weaken the morale, resiliency, and civic engagement of residents and can lead to blight and disorder, thus attracting more crime and deterring economic development.
- Violent crime is characterized by use of force upon another person or the threat of force; it is measured separately from property crime. In 2014, the violent crime rate decreased by 12% compared to 2013 and 32% over the past 10 years.
- Data on excessive drinking was obtained through Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). A longer study of the data between 2002 and 2012 by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington found that several counties in the Bay Area had the highest rates of “binge” drinking in the state. Santa Clara County had the highest rate and San Mateo County had the second highest rate, followed by San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Alameda Counties (Mercury News)
- Between 2007-2012, San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, Alcohol and Other Drug Services (BHRS AOD) implemented a strategic prevention plan and needs assessment to address underage drinking, binge drinking in adults, and driving under the influence. Prevention goals were met through partnerships with several cities including: East Palo Alto, Redwood City/North Fair Oaks, Half Moon Bay/Coastside, Western Daly City and Pacifica, the Bayshore neighborhood of Daly City, the City of San Mateo, and Pescadero/Southcoast.
While it is important for adults to feel a sense of belonging, it is crucial for children, who depend upon adults to provide them with a safe environment in which to grow and learn. Childhood trauma, including physical and sexual injury, neglect, or lack or supervision, can result in lifelong social impairment and affect academic performance.
- More fifth graders (86%) feel safe at school most or all of the time compared to outside of school (74%).
Civic engagement and safety provide people with a sense of belonging and empowerment. Within a cohesive community, members are actively engaged in the well-being of the group, and they look out for and support one another. This sense of belonging not only strengthens communities, but it also offers health and emotional benefits to its members.
- The percentage of registered voters (among the eligible population) is roughly consistent across all geographic levels, though both registered voters and turnout are higher in the 9-county Bay Area.
Vote by Mail Pilot Program
San Mateo County participated in a pilot program during the 2015 November elections, which automatically gave every voter the option to vote by mail. The pilot program, AB 2028, aimed to increase overall voter turnout, reduce error, and decrease election costs. The number of polling places were reduced for voters preferring to vote in person. The Elections Office estimates the county can save up to half the cost of a traditional election in an all mail election. Sign-up online to vote by mail in San Mateo County.
- Voter participation in non-presidential year elections declined between 2010 and 2014 at every level. This decline is typical for gubernatorial elections involving incumbents.
On March 16, 2015, Oregon created a new policy requiring the DMV to share information about potential voters to the Secretary of State, and automatically registering them to vote. New registered voters will have the option to opt out of voter registration as well. Oregon estimates this will generate 300,000 new registered voters for the state. California Secretary Alex Padilla believes a similar law in California can bring the same results, as seven million eligible voters in the state are not registered as of last year.
- The average number of visits per hour in the California State Library System increased to 77 in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, compared to 74 in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. With this shift, several public libraries in San Mateo County have fallen below the average visits per hour.
- The average number of internet terminals per 1,000 residents has steadily increased over the last five years in the California state library system.
- The number of internet terminals per 1,000 residents basically remained the same in San Mateo County between the 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 fiscal years.
- For the past 15 years, the number of internet terminals tripled in San Mateo County’s library system.
Bridging the Digital Divide
2012 report from the American Library Association found that citizens are using technology in libraries in three ways: utilizing technology infrastructure (such as computer terminals), accessing libraries’ electronic content, and soliciting information staff for help. From 2011-2012, public computer and Wi-Fi use increased by 60%, but nearly two-thirds of libraries reported an insufficient number of computers to meet demand some or all of the time. 62% of libraries reported offering the only free Wi-Fi access in their community.
There are a few local solutions to this digital divide. San Mateo County residents can check out Wi-Fi hotspots and laptop/Wi-Fi hotspot combos for up to 7 days thanks to a state library grant and Mobile Beacon, a nonprofit. For more info, visit the county website. Additionally, the San Francisco chapter of Code for America’s brigade team created LocalFreeWeb, which allows citizens to text a Muni bus stop ID to a phone number, which will return a text message displaying nearby locations where that person can access internet enabled computers.
California State Library, Library Development Services Bureau, retrieved from www.library.ca.gov/lds/librarystats.html.
Voter information for the state and surrounding counties is from the California Secretary of State, accessed at http://vote.sos.ca.gov.
Data on violent crime rates are from the State of California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center, accessed at http://ag.ca.gov.