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Press Release · November 13, 2001

Economy, Security Raise Fears But Fail To Dampen Outlook

Many Californians Worried About Their Safety; Despite Weak Economy, Strong Support for Local Slow Growth Measures and State Bonds

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 13, 2001 – The rapidly slowing economy and a growing sense of concern about personal safety have reshuffled the priorities of many Californians, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. However, residents refuse to let today’s uncertain climate dampen their overall outlook. In fact, Californians are more positive in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy about the state’s prospects than they were just three months ago.

Today, Californians rate the economy as the most important issue facing the state (18%), followed by terrorism and security issues (14%), the electricity crisis (13%), and education (12%). In contrast, only 5 percent of residents in July rated the economy as the most pressing problem, while 56 percent named electricity and 9 percent education. Fifty-nine percent of residents now say they expect the state to face bad times financially in the next year, up from 50 percent in July and 38 percent in January. And while Californians appear less concerned than the nation as a whole about security issues, four in 10 residents also say that the recent terrorist attacks on America have shaken their personal sense of safety and security a great deal (15%) or fair amount (27%).

Despite their worries, Californians are much more likely to have a positive outlook overall about the state than they did just three months ago: 60 percent of residents now say that the state is headed in the right direction – similar to survey responses during the strongest years of economic growth – compared to 44 percent in July. “Californians are facing some profound new concerns at the moment, but these circumstances do not appear to have fundamentally shaken their confidence,” says PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “If anything, confidence in government – both at the state and national levels – has been strengthened.”

Indeed, support for Governor Gray Davis has increased substantially: 54 percent of Californians say they approve of the way he is handling his job, compared to 44 percent in July. Davis receives even higher marks for his handling of terrorism and security issues in the state: 62 percent of state residents approve, including 51 percent of Republicans. While Davis has received a bump since July, President George W. Bush’s ratings have soared: 80 percent of Californians say they approve of his performance as president, compared to 47 percent three months ago. And 83 percent of residents say they approve of the way Bush is handling the issue of terrorism, including 77 percent of Democrats.

Have Terrorism, Economic Woes Changed Attitudes About Public Spaces, Land Use?

The majority of Californians say that recent terrorist attacks have not made them worry about their safety in urban settings and public places, including high rise buildings (51%), downtown areas of large cities (53%), mass transit (55%), and suburban stores and malls (68%). However, four in ten residents do say they have some concerns about being in such places, and nearly one in five say they now worry “a lot” about their safety in high rise buildings (22%), large downtown centers (19%), and on mass transit (18%).

The state’s weak economy does not appear to have dampened interest in larger growth and land use issues. Fifty-five percent of residents say they would vote for a local initiative that would slow the pace of development in their community, even if it meant less economic growth – similar to survey responses in more prosperous times. Most Californians also say they will be thinking about growth and land use issues when they cast their ballots in 2002. Eighty-nine percent say that candidates’ positions on these issues are “very” (40%) or “somewhat” (49%) important in statewide races, and 91 percent say growth and land use issues are important when it comes to local races.

Californians are also inclined to support a March 2002 proposition that would provide state bond funds for open space, parks, and other land use projects. Seventy-four percent say they would vote yes on this $2.6 billion state bond measure. Two in three say they support another March 2002 proposition that would dedicate the state’s gasoline sales tax to transportation projects.

“Californians are clearly thinking about the consequences of growth and land use decisions for their quality of life,” says Paul Brest, President of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. “The key is to create more opportunities for participation in the decisionmaking process, especially at the local level.” Today, many Californians say they know little (34%) or nothing (13%) about the approval process for local growth and land use decisions in their community.

More Key Findings on Land Use, Growth

  • Coastal Concerns – Page 11
    Nearly four in 10 residents see growth and development along the California coast as a “big” problem, and three in 10 (32%) see it as somewhat of a problem.

  • Water: Farmland First – Page 13
    Forty-two percent of Californians say that maintaining the water supply for farms and agriculture should be the most important priority for future water planning, while fewer cite protecting wildlife habitats and natural areas (31%) and providing water for new homes and development (20%).

  • Open Space, Closed Wallets – Page 16
    While they favor using taxpayer money to buy undeveloped land to keep it free from commercial and residential development (55%), residents oppose paying higher local taxes to do so (56%).

About the Survey

The survey on land use is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. It is the second in a four-year, multisurvey series on growth, land use, and the environment being produced in collaboration with The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, and The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The purpose of this series is to inform policymakers, encourage discussion, and raise public awareness about the critical growth, development, and environmental challenges facing the state. Findings of the current survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,002 California adult residents interviewed from October 22 to October 31, 2001. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. For more information on survey methodology, see page 23.

Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow and program director at PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances 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 Californians. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.