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Press Release · September 26, 2001

Anxiety About Growth Looms Large In Orange County

Residents Say Development, Housing, Traffic Are Major Problems; But Overall Satisfaction Remains High

Other Key Findings

  • Consumer Confidence – Page 15
    A decline in optimism about the national economy does not appear to have greatly influenced residents’ attitudes about spending: Sixty-three percent say it is a good time to make large purchases, down only seven points from 2000. Orange County’s score of 93 on the five-question consumer confidence index – almost an exact match of the national rating – is down a substantial 19 points from last year but remains in positive territory.
  • Real Estate – Page 17
    Eighty-three percent of homeowners think that buying a home in Orange County is an excellent or good investment, likely a nod to lower interest rates. A surprisingly high number of renters (70%) also think buying a home in the county is a good investment. Like homeowners, renters rate housing as an investment significantly higher than last year.

About the Survey

The Orange County Survey – a collaborative effort of PPIC and the School of Social Ecology at UC Irvine – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. Findings of the current survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,004 adult Orange County residents interviewed from August 20 to August 31, 2001. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%.

Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow and program director at PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Francis Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder and director of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has conducted since 1998. From 1982 to 2000, Dr. Baldassare directed the Orange County Annual Survey for UC Irvine. He is the author of numerous books, including California in the New Millennium: The Changing Social and Political Landscape (University of California Press, 2000).

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to objective, nonpartisan research on economic, social, and political issues that affect the lives of Californians. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.


SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 26, 2001 – In a significant shift from one year ago, Orange County residents cite growth-related issues – not crime or schools – as the most critical problems facing the region, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and UC Irvine. Despite their concern that growth-driven problems such as housing shortages and traffic congestion will negatively affect the area’s future, the overall mood remains positive: Most county residents are very satisfied with the local economy and their quality of life.

When Orange County residents are asked to name the most important issue facing Orange County today, growth-related concerns top the list: Population growth and development (21%), the El Toro Airport controversy (14%), housing issues (13%), and traffic and transportation (12%) are mentioned most often. Only 5 percent think last year’s top issue – crime – is the county’s most important problem today. However, Latinos are significantly more likely than non-Hispanic whites to view crime as the most important issue.

Two in three Orange County residents (65%) think their cities and communities have experienced rapid growth in the past few years. Such perceptions are notably stronger in the South County (73%) than in the North County (62%). Overall, residents are twice as likely to see population growth over the past decade as a bad thing (41%) rather than a good thing (22%). However, Latinos and Asians are less negative than non-Hispanic whites about growth.

Interestingly, all racial and ethnic groups tend to be negative about future population growth in Orange County. Sixty-five percent of residents believe that population increases will make the county a less desirable place to live in the future. Non-Hispanic whites are more likely (73%) than Latinos and Asians (48% each) to feel this way. What negative consequences of population growth worry residents the most? High housing costs (37%) and traffic congestion (31%) are top concerns, while fewer than three in ten residents name any environmental issue as a serious downside to growth. When asked about the benefits of population growth, residents cite an improved job market and economy (41%), increased social diversity (21%), and more state and local tax revenue (15%) as most important.

Public Services, Economy, Quality of Life Get High Marks

“If people are anxious about future growth, it doesn’t appear to be affecting their satisfaction with Orange County today,” said PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “Residents find the county as agreeable a place to live as it was in the early 1980s, when there were about a million fewer people.” Indeed, 67 percent say they are very satisfied with their housing situation, an 11-point increase over 10 years ago. Similarly high numbers (68%) say they are very satisfied with their neighborhoods. Although all racial and ethnic groups express satisfaction with their quality of life, non-Hispanic whites are more likely than Latinos and Asians to say they are very satisfied with their homes and neighborhoods.

Despite the recent economic slowdown, the general outlook among Orange County residents remains positive, with nine out of ten reporting that things are going either very well or somewhat well, and only 10 percent saying things are going badly. Moreover, three in four residents say the county’s economy is in excellent or good shape. Consistent with this upbeat mood, residents give high marks to their county’s main public services – ratings as good as they were 20 years ago. Solid majorities rate as excellent or good their local police protection (82%), local parks and beaches (81%), local freeways, streets, and roads (68%), and local public schools (61%).

The Great Divide? North and South County

Perceptions among residents who live in the northern and southern areas of Orange County are similar when it comes to traffic, housing, and growth but diverge considerably over economic concerns. A majority of residents in the South County (55%) do not believe that a lack of opportunities for well-paying jobs is a problem, while only 39 percent of those in the North County agree. North-South differences also emerge when residents are asked about the causes of problems facing their area. South County residents are more likely to name rapid growth as a major cause of problems in the region (62% to 52%), while North County residents are more likely to say misguided government spending is a major cause of the region’s problems (55% to 44%). Attitudes about adequate funding for roads and other infrastructure needs do not differ between North and South County residents, nor do they differ across age, education, and income groups. Overall, nearly six in 10 Orange County residents believe that their local governments have adequate funding for infrastructure projects.

Residents Rate Local Government, Davis, Bush

The collective mood of satisfaction in Orange County appears to play out in significantly improved ratings of county government performance from one year ago. Forty-three percent of residents believe that their county government is doing an excellent or good job in solving problems, compared to just 29 percent a year ago. Despite this general endorsement, only one in 10 residents thinks that county government pays a lot of attention to what the people think when making policy decisions, while four in 10 believe that local officials pay very little or no attention. In another criticism of local government, 83 percent of residents believe that county officials waste at least some tax dollars, with a significant portion (37%) saying they waste a lot.

While Orange County’s ratings of Governor Gray Davis may reflect the county’s GOP leanings, only a slim majority of Democrats are happy with Davis’ performance, and a majority of independents disapprove. Overall, 53 percent of the county’s residents disapprove of Davis’s performance in office, while 40 percent approve. An even harsher assessment of the governor emerges when residents are asked about his handling of the state’s electricity crisis: Sixty-three percent say they disapprove of his performance. Conversely, President Bush enjoys solid popular support in Orange County. A majority of county residents (57%) approve of his performance as president, while only 36 percent disapprove. Approval ratings of the president are higher in Orange County than in the nation as a whole, where 50 percent approve and 38 percent disapprove of his performance.