Descriptive Title: Public meeting attendance by San Francisco and California residents

Geographic Unit of Analysis: County

Public Meeting Attendance by San Francisco and California Residents, 2008-2010
  % of Population Attending Public Meetings in Past Year
  San Francisco California
Total Average 12.2% 8.6%
By Educational Attainment    
Less than a high school diploma 2.6% 2.4%
High school graduates, no college 5.5% 4.6%
Some college or associate degree 9.0% 9.4%
Bachelor's degree or higher 17.7% 15.9%
By Sex    
    Male 11.2% 8.2%
    Female 13.1% 9.0%
By Union Membership    
    Union Member 7.3% 14.7%
    Not Union Member 5.6% 7.0%
By Home Ownership    
    Owns home or family member owns home 11.9% 10.6%
    Renter 12.4% 5.6%
By Age Group    
15-29 3.4% 3.3%
30-44 13.2% 8.8%
45-59 20.4% 11.3%
60-74 13.8% 12.6%
75-90 7.6% 11.1%
By Citizenship Group    
   Native, Born In US 16.0% 10.6%
   Native, Born in PR or US Outlying Area 0.0% 6.2%
   Native, Born Abroad Of US Parent(s) 4.9% 9.6%
   Foreign Born, US Cit By Naturalization 8.6% 6.2%
   Foreign Born, Not a US Citizen 4.2% 3.2%

Why Is This An Indicator Of Health and Sustainability?

  • Group membership and political participation is associated with improved human health outcomes. For example, for one standard deviation increase in group membership in a community, mortality was illustrated to decrease by 83.2 individuals per 100,000.a In another study of neighborhood environment, if political engagement was low, people had 52% higher odds of reporting poor health.Another study highlighted that people who were involved in electoral participation are 22% less likely to report poor/fair health.c
  • Public participation in policy and the political process can have diverse impacts on the social and environmental conditions that affect health.d Examples include community and political organizing to prevent a power plant from openinge and efforts to impose limits on the hog industryf, and increasing access to abortion services.g

Interpretation and Geographic Equity Analysis

This indicator illustrates the percentage of residents in San Francisco and in California generally that have participated in “any public meetings in which there was discussion of community affairs” in the previous year.  On average, attendance at public meetings is roughly 50% higher in San Francisco (12.2%) than in California (8.6%). However, in total, less than one of every eight San Francisco residents, and less than one in every eleven California residents have participated in a public meeting in the previous year, suggesting relatively low engagement with the public political processes.

Data from 2008 to 2010 reveals important disparities in who attends public meetings and who doesn’t based on educational attainment, citizenship status, and age.  Specifically, both in San Francisco and in California, those who received a bachelor’s degree or higher were more than six times as likely to attend a public meeting as those who did not graduate high school.  Those who were born in the United States are three to four times more likely to participate in public meetings as those who are not born in the US and do not have US citizenship.  In both San Francisco and California, women are slightly more likely to participate in public meetings than men and individuals aged 15-29 are two to six times less likely to participate in public meetings than individuals ages 30 and older.   In California generally, homeowners and union members are twice as likely to participate in public meetings as renters and non-union members, however there is much more similarity between the two groups in San Francisco.   In San Francisco, one in five middle-aged adults (45-59 year olds) participated in public meetings, whereas only one in ten adults of the same age group participated in public meetings in California generally. 

Participation in public meetings has important implications on who is informing public decision-making processes.  Historically, low income, immigrant, disabled, and non-white communities have been directly and indirectly excluded from decision-making through various factors including the time, location, language, and accessibility of public meetings.  As illustrated by the data, still today, individuals that are older, have more education, are US citizens, and/or own their homes (which may be one proxy for income/class privilege) are more likely to participate in public meetings than younger, less educated, and foreign born populations. 

At the same time, those communities that have historically lacked access to power in public decision making have been the ones disproportionately impacted by public policies that intentionally or unintentionally promoted discrimination, gentrification, exposure to toxic substances, and divestment from public resources (such as schools and parks).  See for strategies on how to improve and increase public participation in community decision making.


Data is from the US Census Bureau's Current Population Survey.  Due to the limited sample size within each individual state and error associated with annual estimates at the state level, the US Census Bureau recommends analyzing CPS data with multiple year samples.  Therefore SFDPH used a three year sample – 2008, 2009, and 2010 – to complete the analysis.  Data was extracted and manipulated using the Beta Data Ferrett in June 2012.

The Meeting Attendance variable (PES17) is from the September CPS Volunteer Supplement Survey of each year (2008-2010), which asks "Since September 1st, [of previous year], have you attended any public meetings in which there was discussion of community affairs?"  Other key indicators included San Francisco County and California (GESTFIPS = 06 AND GTCO = 075) under "Selectable Geographies"; Educational Attainment recoded in 4 categories (PREEDUCA4); Demographics-Sex (PESEX); Earnings – Union member, y/n (PEERNLAB); Household – own/rent living quarters (HETENURE); Demographics – age topcoded at 85, 90 or 80 (PRTAGE); and Demographics – United States citizenship group (PRCITSHIP).

Individuals who were “Not in the Universe” were excluded from the total population/denominator.  Data is weighted for all variables using "PWSSWGT", the second stage/final weight used for most tabulations, to control for independent estimates for age, race, sex and origin.  More details on weighting are available at: 2010 CPS Voluntary Supplement Data Book:


Data is from the Current Population Survey which represents only a sample of the population, rather than the entire population.  The sample surveyed in San Francisco and California may differ from the “true” population of San Franciscans.  Like other sample surveys, CPS may not have sampled all segments of the population, respondents may have been unable or unwilling to provide correct information, and there may have been errors in data collection and processing. 

The questions asked by CPS allow for some subjective interpretation/classification that may have varied from respondent to respondent.  For example, individuals may have different interpretations of what is a public meeting.  Additionally, the question asks about participation in the past year, but there may be some differences in individuals recall memories over the entire past year. 

Attendance at public meetings is just one method for informing public decision-making.  For example, individuals may be very politically active in organizations, may regularly meet with or contact their elected officials, may be very vocal in media and communications activities, or may be involved in organizing others to inform decision-making.  However, this indicator solely assesses attendance at public meetings.

Relatedly, attendance at public meetings does not necessarily reflect participation in public meetings.  Some public meetings may solely provide opportunities for residents to become more informed about policies, but not offer space or time for residents to express their opinions about those policies.  Even if time is made available for public opinion/statements, participation in public meetings may vary based on various factors like power, education, languages spoken, understanding of the political process, etc.

Data includes the non-institutionalized civilian population, so excludes individuals in institutions such as correctional facilities and nursing homes.  Given their status, institutionalized individuals are unlikely to participate in public meetings held outside of their institution held for the general public.

Data Source

United States Census Bureau’s September 2010 Current Population Survey, Civic Supplement, obtained via Beta DataFerrett in June 2012.

Table created by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Section.

  1. Kreuter MW, Lezin N. 2002. Social Capital Theory: Implications for Community-Based Health Promotion. In Emerging Theories in Health Promotion Practice and Research. Eds. DiClemente RJ, Crosby RA, Kegler MC. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

  2. Cummins S, Stafford M, Macintyre S, Marmot M, Ellaway A. 2005. Neighbourhood environment and its association with self-rated health: evidence from Scotland and England. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 59:207-213.

  3. Kim D, Kawachi I. 2006. A multilevel analysis of key forms of community- and individual-level social capital as predictors of self-rated health in the United States. Journal of Urban Health 83(5):813-26.

  4. Minkler M, Wallerstein N. eds. 2003. Community-Based Participatory Research for Health. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

  5. University of Michigan. Environmental Justice Case Study: San Francisco Energy Company in Bayview/Hunter's Point, CA. Accessed at:

  6. University of Michigan. Environmental Justice Case Study: Hog Farming in North Carolina.

  7. Joffe C, Yanow S. 2005. Advanced practice clinicians as abortion providers: Current developments in the United States. Reproductive Health Matters 12(24 Suppl):198-206.