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Press Release · April 25, 2002

Central Valley Residents Feeling Effects Of Region’s Growth

Rising Concern About Traffic, Air Pollution, Resources; But Residents Remain Upbeat About Their Quality of Life

Other Key Findings

  • State Budget Deficit – Page 16
    When asked to prioritize state spending given the current budget shortfall, Central Valley residents overwhelmingly choose K-12 education (52%), followed by health and welfare (21%). Their preferred method of balancing the budget? Fifty-five percent say they prefer to reduce spending rather than raise taxes (9%), while 29 percent prefer a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.
  • Digital Divide – Page 17
    The Central Valley no longer lags behind the rest of the state in computer and Internet use. Seventy-five percent of Central Valley residents today use computers at home, at work, or at school, compared to 78 percent of Californians. However, a large digital divide still exists in the region between non-Hispanic whites and Latinos in Internet use (71% to 54%) and computer ownership (77% to 55%).
  • Health care – Page 18
    Eighty-five percent of Central Valley residents have health insurance, and 75 percent say they are generally satisfied with the quality of health care they receive. Fewer (61%) are satisfied with their health care costs. Latinos, residents earning less than $40,000 per year, and those with no college education are less likely to say they are insured or are satisfied with the quality and cost of care.
  • Civic and religious life – Page 20-21
    Compared to 2001, residents are slightly less likely today (down from 60% to 54%) to be very or somewhat involved in religious groups and are also less likely to be involved in neighborhood groups (64% to 57%) or volunteer groups (58% to 52%). Over half (53%) say their charitable giving has remained the same in recent years, while 32 percent say it has increased.
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. Previous PPIC surveys of the Central Valley were conducted in 1999 and 2001.

Findings of the current survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,004 adult residents in the 18-county Central Valley region, interviewed from April 1 to April 8, 2002. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. For additional information on survey methodology, see page 23.

Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow at PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder and director of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has conducted since 1998. 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, April 25, 2002 – The realities of rapid population growth and development in California’s Central Valley have hit home for many residents, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and the Great Valley Center. And while they continue to be positive about their communities and local amenities, Central Valley residents are less optimistic today about the region’s overall direction and economic conditions.

The large-scale public opinion survey of the 18-county Central Valley region found that growth and growth-related issues top the list when residents are asked to name the most important issues facing the region. Indeed, four of the top five issues mentioned were related to growth and development: Population growth (17%), pollution (14%), water supply and quality (11%), jobs and the economy (10%), and the loss of farmlands (8%) are seen as the region’s most pressing issues. Between 1999 and 2002, worry grew considerably about population growth (from 8% to 17%) and pollution (10% to 14%).

“The practical consequences of being one of California’s fastest growing regions are capturing the attention of Central Valley residents,” said PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “While they see these issues as being region-wide concerns, residents are also feeling the effects of growth and development in their own areas.”

Since 1999, there has been a significant increase in the number of residents who rate the loss of farmland (23% to 38%), traffic congestion (23% to 33%), population growth and urban development (21% to 29%), and air pollution (28% to 35%) as big problems in their part of the Valley. Compared to 2001, more residents today also see the availability of affordable housing as a big problem (26% to 30%) in their community.

As concerns have escalated about the pace and consequences of change in the Central Valley, residents have become less certain about the direction of their region and its economy. While more than half (55%) of all residents say that things are generally headed in the right direction in the Central Valley, that number has declined from 63 percent in 1999 and 59 percent in 2001. Fewer residents today (45%) than in 1999 (55%) rate the region’s economy as excellent or good. And 42 percent see the lack of opportunities for well-paying jobs as a big problem in their part of the Central Valley today, up from 35 percent in 2001. Fifty-three percent of Central Valley Latinos say the lack of good jobs is a big problem.

Quality of Life Still An Attraction, Local Government a Frustration

Despite their concerns about the economy, consumer confidence appears to be increasing among residents of the Central Valley. Thirty-four percent report being financially better off today than a year ago, compared to 22 percent in December 2001. And growth-driven changes fail to dim their enthusiasm for their local communities: 76 percent of Central Valley residents rate their communities as excellent or good places to live. Consistent with these high community ratings, most residents continue to give excellent or good ratings to local services and amenities, including police (72%), parks and recreation facilities (68%), public schools (58%), and streets and roads (52%).

“People in the Valley still like their communities, but they do sense some of the regional issues we are facing,” said Carol Whiteside, President of the Great Valley Center. “As our common challenges take center stage, we may have a chance to build consensus around real solutions.”

However, Central Valley residents appear to have little faith in the ability of county and city government to solve problems facing their communities; only four in ten give their local governments excellent or good ratings. In fact, residents remain more likely to say they trust the state government (33%) than county (28%) or city (16%) government to solve the important issues facing the Central Valley. Although residents are less than impressed with their local governments, they still see a role for government in solving problems associated with growth. Indeed, a solid majority of residents (69%) favor a regional approach to growth and land use development in the Central Valley.

Strong Feelings About Environment and Resource Issues

Pollution: Central Valley residents are increasingly concerned about the effect of environmental conditions, including air and water pollution, on their health and well-being: 64 percent believe the threat is somewhat or very serious, up from 55 percent in 2001. Eighty-three percent of residents consider air pollution a problem in the Central Valley today, with 39 percent now calling it a big problem, compared to 31 percent in 2001.

Water: Consistent with their worries about pollution, half (51%) of all Central Valley residents say water quality is at least somewhat of a problem, while one in five sees it as a big problem. Interestingly, fewer residents see water supply as a concern today, with 37 percent citing it as at least somewhat of a problem. However, the majority of residents (51%) predict that the water supply available in their part of the Central Valley will be inadequate to meet their area’s needs over the next decade. They are divided about a solution to the looming shortage: 46 percent favor encouraging conservation and reallocating the existing water supply, while 41 percent support building new dams and reservoirs.

Electricity: Although it doesn’t rank as a top issue for most people in the Central Valley, 79 percent see the cost, supply, and demand for electricity as at least somewhat of a problem. However, residents today are even more unwilling (73%) than they were one year ago (61%) to relax air quality standards that regulate power plants in order to increase energy supply. A slight majority (51%) – and 57 percent of Latinos – also say they would oppose the idea of bringing nuclear power to the Central Valley. There is consensus across the region about one proposed solution: 57 percent of residents think it would be a good idea for local governments to form municipal power authorities to replace private electric companies.

Little Unity: Sub-Regions Distinct

Although there is a good deal of consensus about common problems and solutions across the Central Valley as a whole, there are significant differences within the region on many key issues. While Sacramento Metro and North San Joaquin residents say population growth is the most important issue facing the region (25% and 23%, respectively), North Valley residents cite water supply and quality (24%) and South San Joaquin residents say pollution (19%) is the most important problem. Sacramento Metro residents (24%) are far less likely than North Valley and North San Joaquin residents (56% each) to see the lack of opportunities for well-paying jobs as a big problem in their part of the Central Valley. But they are more likely than residents from other sub-regions to view traffic congestion as a big problem.