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Press Release · March 8, 2001

Cautious Optimism Prevails In Central Valley, But Concerns Loom Large Over Energy, Economy, Growth

Residents See Need for Regional Planning; Digital Divide Widens in Valley, in Contrast to Statewide Trends

Region Lacks Common Vision

Indeed, there are significant regional differences within the Central Valley on many key issues, as there were in 1999, most notably between residents of the North Valley and people who live in the Sacramento area. For example, residents of the North Valley are far more likely than residents in the Sacramento area to see the lack of well-paying jobs as a big problem (60% to 15%), while more Sacramento residents view traffic congestion as a big problem (49% to 16%). Interestingly, Sacramento residents are more likely than North Valley residents to say that the Central Valley is headed in the wrong direction (36% to 28%), even though they are also more likely to rate the region’s economy as excellent or good (69% to 39%). The explanation for this paradox may have to do with attitudes about growth: Sacramento residents view population growth as the most important issue facing the Central Valley, while North Valley residents express greater concern about economic issues, including jobs.

Digital Divide: A Troubling Trend

While Latinos in the state as a whole have narrowed the digital divide between themselves and non-Hispanic whites, Latinos in the Central Valley appear to have fallen further behind: A 15-point gap in Internet use in November 1999 has grown to a 28-point gap today. While the number of Latinos in the Central Valley who say they currently use the Internet (35%) is similar to the 38 percent who reported using the Internet in November 1999, the number of non-Hispanic whites reporting Internet use has increased considerably – from 53 percent in 1999 to 63 percent today.

Other Key Findings

  • Funding for public services – Page 1
    Residents are equally divided about whether their local government has adequate funding for local services: Forty-seven percent say the funding is adequate, but 45 percent think it is not.

  • Latino optimism – Page 12
    Although they are less likely than Central Valley residents as a whole to rate the economy as excellent or good (42% to 49%), Latinos are more likely to say that things are headed in the right direction (70% to 59%).

  • Involvement in faith-based institutions – Page 21
    Six in ten residents say they are at least somewhat active in a church or other religious institution, with 23 percent saying they are “very involved.”

  • Local and regional news – Page 22
    Residents are tuned in to news about local government and regional issues. Seventy-two percent say they follow news about their local government very or fairly closely, and 78 percent say the same about news relating to issues facing the Central Valley.

      About the Survey

      The Central Valley Survey – an ongoing collaborative effort of the Public Policy Institute of California and the Great Valley Center – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. The purpose of this survey is to provide a comprehensive, advocacy-free study of the political, social, and economic attitudes and public policy preferences of Central Valley residents.

      Findings of the current survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,006 adult residents in the 18-county Central Valley region, interviewed from February 5 to February 15, 2001. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. For additional information on survey methodology, see page 25.

      Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow and program director at PPIC. He is founder and director of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has conducted since 1998. For over two decades, he has directed surveys for the University of California, Irvine, and major state news organizations. Dr. Baldassare 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. The Great Valley Center is a private, nonprofit organization promoting the economic, social, and environmental well-being of California’s Central Valley.

    • SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 8, 2001 – Despite concerns about job opportunities and quality of life, residents of California’s Central Valley remain guardedly optimistic about the region and its prospects, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and the Great Valley Center. But consistent with statewide trends, Central Valley residents are also less confident about the economy and more anxious about energy issues than they were in 1999.

      The large-scale public opinion survey of the 18-county Central Valley region found that three in four residents rate their community as an excellent (25%) or good (50%) place to live, ratings very similar to those in PPIC’s first survey of the region in November 1999. And although the gap has closed somewhat since 1999, Central Valley residents today remain much more likely to say that the region is headed in the right direction rather than in the wrong direction (59% to 32%). Solid majorities say the quality of local public services they receive is also excellent or good, including local freeways, streets, and roads (58%), parks and other recreational facilities (65%), and public schools (58%). Forty-nine percent rate the region’s economy as excellent (7%) or good (42%) – compared to 55 percent in 1999 – while 37 percent say it is fair and 13 percent describe it as poor.

      Most residents (56%) expect that job opportunities and economic conditions will improve over the next ten years and that, overall, the Central Valley will be, if not a better place to live, about the same as it is now. Sixteen percent say the region will be a better place to live, 28 percent expect it to be worse, and 54 percent think it will be about the same. In November 1999, residents were evenly divided when asked if the Central Valley would be a better place (37%) or worse place (33%) to live in the future, while only one in four (26%) thought it would stay the same.

      “Central Valley residents generally appear satisfied with their communities and are optimistic that one of the region’s most pressing problems – a lack of job opportunities – will improve in the future,” said PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “However, they also believe that such improvements will come at a cost to their quality of life: Problems associated with growth and development create big worries today and cloud an otherwise rosy view of what’s ahead.”

      Indeed, along with the economy, Central Valley residents find growth-related issues at the heart of the region’s problems. When asked to name the most important issue facing the region, residents say population growth (15%) and the electricity crisis (15%), followed by jobs and the economy (13%) and water (8%). Economic and growth-related concerns again top the list when residents are asked about a number of local problems: Strong majorities say that the lack of opportunities for well-paying jobs (73%), the loss of farmlands (67%), air pollution (64%), population growth and development (63%), traffic congestion (63%), and the availability of affordable housing (59%) are all at least somewhat of a problem in their region. More than half of Central Valley residents feel that environmental conditions – such as air pollution and water quality – pose a serious threat to their own health and well-being.

      Looking ahead to 2010, concern about growth and development persists. Seventy-five percent of residents say they expect that the population of the Central Valley will have grown rapidly and that the quality of the natural environment will have deteriorated. Sixty-eight percent also believe that the gap between the rich and poor will have grown a decade from now.

      Large majorities support a series of proposals for solving problems in their region – from farmland protection (88%) and wetland preservation (81%) to public transit expansion (84%) and freeway construction (75%). But they have their limits: Although there is widespread concern about the energy crisis, a solid majority (61%) say they oppose relaxing the air quality standards that regulate power plants and, if new power plants are built in their area, prefer cleaner hydroelectric power (50%) to other types, including natural gas (25%), nuclear (12%), and coal (2%). Despite their interest in hydroelectric power, residents also say that the most important priority for the water supply in the Central Valley should be farms and agriculture (40%) rather than any other use, including environmental protection (27%) or residential use (25%).

      Residents Want Better Government, Regional Planning

      When asked to rate five possible causes of their regional problems, government spending money on the wrong things was named as a major cause by the largest percentage of Central Valley residents (58%), followed by the lack of effective regional planning (47%) and too much growth in the wrong places (46%). And although most residents think well of their communities and local public services, far fewer give positive ratings to their local governments. When asked to rate the performance of county and city government in solving problems, only four in ten gave their local governments excellent or good ratings. In fact, residents are more likely to say they trust the state government (29%) to solve the important issues facing the Central Valley than county (26%) or city (21%) government.

      Although residents are less than impressed with the performance of their local governments and view them as a cause of many problems, they still see a role for government in solving problems associated with growth. Indeed, a solid majority of residents (56%) favor a regional approach to growth and land use development in the Central Valley, where local governments would work together to develop a plan for dealing with population growth and land use development. Most residents (84%) also like the idea of government, business, and citizens’ groups working together to tackle the region’s problems.

      “People in the Central Valley expect that government, with help from private sources, can do a better job of planning for the region’s future,” said Carol Whiteside, President of the Great Valley Center. “This can best be accomplished by bringing the Valley’s diverse interests together to address our common basket of concerns.”