Lean and Green

Once Kfar Sava was a dull bedroom community, whose biggest attraction was its proximity to Ra'anana. In the past few years, however, Kfar Sava has balanced its budget, improved the local school system and rebranded itself as a "green" city. It has worked - at least to the satisfaction of the local residents, who say they love their hometown. Kfar Sava ranked third in the cities survey conducted by TheMarker and Ha'ir, in conjunction with the Ofir Buchnik accounting firm. The city can take pride in its accomplishments in education and in the development of its new municipal park, but should also be worried by the rising housing density, which is changing the city's character.

The good news

Kfar Sava residents can pat themselves (and their high-school graduates) on the backs: The annual dropout rate at local high schools was just 1.7% over the past two years, compared to an average of 2.7% among the 15 cities surveyed. Eligibility for matriculation certificates is also excellent, averaging 71.6% for the 2003-2006 school years. In addition, Kfar Sava won both national and regional education awards from the Education Ministry in 2008.

These achievements are all the more stellar, considering that City Hall provides only 31.8% of the municipal education budget - lower than the average among the cities surveyed (36%), and despite the higher-than-average number of pupils per class: 28.2, compared to an average of 26.8. The city's youth excel not only in formal education, but also in their work on behalf of their community: A survey conducted by the Geocartographia Institute found that 40% of Kfar Sava youth aged 12-18 volunteer on a regular basis.

Kfar Sava's residents are in a good position socioeconomically, ranking in the 8th level out of 10, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Their social milieu is also rated more equalitarian than the two neighboring cities surveyed: Herzliya and Ra'anana. Its inequality index is 0.46, compared to 0.50 in Herzliya and Ra'anana. Unemployment in Kfar Sava is particularly low, with just 0.78% of the population receiving unemployment benefits, compared to 0.97% in all the cities surveyed. In 2003-2005 residents earned an average of NIS 7,635 per month - more than the average for all the cities surveyed (NIS 6,653), but NIS 2,000 less than the average salaries in neighboring Ra'anana.

Affordable housing is another bright spot: A person earning an average wage would have to work 8.8 years to buy a 100 square-meter apartment in Kfar Sava (as of April 2008), compared to over 12 years for a similar apartment in Herzliya or Ra'anana. According to Levy Yitzhak's apartment price list, an average 100 square-meter apartment in Kfar Sava costs NIS 860,000, compared to NIS 1.2 million in Herzliya or Ra'anana.

Apartment prices in Kfar Sava have also not risen as much in the past three years as in the two neighboring cities, or even in most of the cities surveyed. From 2006 until mid-2008, prices rose just 39%, compared to an average of 43% in all the cities and 58%-79% in Ra'anana and Herzliya. About 56% of the Kfar Sava people interviewed in a Geocartographia survey conducted for TheMarker said they felt apartment prices in their city were high or very high - which is similar to the average found in all cities surveyed, and much lower than the 71% of Herzliyans and 81% of Ra'ananans, who feel apartments in their cities are too pricey.

The bad news

With its relatively quiet, rustic image, Kfar Sava suffers from serious traffic jams at the entry to and exit from the city, and this situation will likely get worse before it gets better, unless the roads are widened before all the planned, new apartments are built. In the greener neighborhood alone, 5,000 housing units are under construction, with occupancy scheduled for 2011. Local residents also complain about the public transportation, which does not service most parts of the city and offers no solution to the traffic jams in the city center. The inconvenient location of the central bus station, in the downtown area, dirties the area and causes noise pollution. Bypassing the traffic jams by bicycle is not even an option, as there is no designated network of bike paths, although City Hall has announced its intentions to build one. Parking is also a worsening problem; residents say it is getting harder and harder to find parking spots in the city center.

The not-so-bad news

As far as balancing the budget goes, since 2003 Kfar Sava's City Hall has shaken off a NIS 150-million deficit, ending 2006 with a surplus of NIS 550,000, which grew to NIS 28.7 million in the city coffers, along with surpluses in the infrastructure development budget. Municipal administrative wage and pension expenditures are also reasonable, amounting to just 15.9% of the city budget (compared to an average of 23.8% in all the locales surveyed).

Still, even though 72.4% of the city's revenues come from independent sources and Kfar Sava is not dependent on government financing, most of the other cities surveyed managed to generate 75.5% of their own revenues. Municipal tax collection is very good, at 92%, but unlike most of the other places in the poll, a sizable chunk of Kfar Sava's revenues comes from municipal property taxes (26% compared to an average of 20% for the other cities.) Only Rishon Letzion gets a higher percentage of its revenues from the local residents. Thus, relative to the other cities, Kfar Sava's residents finance a large share of the services they receive.

About a year ago Kfar Sava began rebranding itself, assisted by Media Link, in a campaign that featured several options: One was "the musical city," while another was the "city of volunteers." Ultimately, the rebranding committee chose "the green city," and City Hall began putting words into action: A newly planned neighborhood was labeled green; all the streetlights were replaced with energy-saving bulbs; and the air conditioners in municipal institutions were hooked up to automatic switches.

Kfar Sava has a relatively high rate of waste recycling, at 18% (but still lower than the legislated 25%); the water quality is good and last year the municipal park residents had been awaiting for years finally opened, giving the city a green "lung." Experts at the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED) even awarded Kfar Sava bonus points for developing green expanses throughout the city, although the maintenance of these spaces was deemed reasonable at best.

Not all green

Despite the rebranding, not everything is green. In the past two years residents of the city's Shalom neighborhood have been battling the city, including in the courts, over the stench caused by a malfunction in the sewer system in the neighborhood's Golda elementary school and the coal-based filter installed there. The filter was removed following protests by the parents and a week-long strike at the school.

In July 2007 Kfar Sava City Hall announced its plans for the green neighborhood in the city's northwest: the first neighborhood to be declared green by the Interior Ministry, based on environmental construction principles. The neighborhood will have no internal roads, in order to cut down on air pollution from cars; there will be no electricity poles, only buried cables; an abundance of pedestrian and bicycle paths will criss-cross the neighborhood; and there will be advanced systems for recycling garbage and waste water.

Even so, in order to build this neighborhood, the city had to rezone natural green areas, destroy agricultural land and orchards, and even uproot a group of cypress trees. In addition, the green neighborhood is being build adjacent to Route 4, which is a source of air pollution; the northern part of the neighborhood will be next to a huge Israel Electric Corporation switching station and will be near high-tension cables. On top of all that, apartment prices in the new neighborhood are expected to be 10% higher than other new apartments in the city.

The IUED assessed the air pollution in Kfar Sava as being quite high, based on monitoring in adjacent cities. A report published by the city's air quality committee, however, states that local air pollution is not excessive, even though there are factories in the area with a potential for polluting the air. City council members have criticized the mayor for not bringing the report's conclusions for discussion by the council.

The environmental information that the city makes available to residents on its Internet sites is incomplete. In the past year, it uprooted and extensively pruned many trees throughout the city, a move that drew harsh criticism.

Despite the positive aspects of new real-estate development projects around Kfar Sava, local residents are afraid these will change the city's rural character. Today, most of the buildings are four stories high, and many of the projects planned for the next few years will add hundreds of apartments in high-rise towers that will alter the skyline.