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Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · October 4, 2002

Most Californians Say Homeland Security A Problem, Support Tax Increase To Improve Local Readiness

Level Of Concern Over Terrorism Varies By City Size; Public Confident In Ability Of Government To Respond/Prevent Attack

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 4, 2002 – More Californians may be willing to raise their local sales tax to support homeland security efforts than city officials believe, according to a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

The new report, based on a survey of residents and city officials, found that although 64 percent of officials doubt their city’s populace would back a tax increase, a slim majority (52%) of residents say they would agree to higher taxes to improve terrorism preparedness in police, fire, and public health agencies.

Although public support is not overwhelming, the inconsistency between residents’ attitudes and officials’ perceptions may be worth further attention by local leaders, says PPIC Research Director Mark Baldassare, who co-authored the report with Christopher Hoene, Research Manager for the National League of Cities, and Jonathan Cohen, PPIC Survey Research Manager. “California cities are facing tough financial times, and it is important that officials have a realistic understanding of the priorities and concerns of their residents.”

Thirty-one percent of local officials say they are less able to meet financial needs since September 11, and 39 percent say public safety and security spending has increased since that time. Not surprisingly, in the context of fiscal strain and pessimism about a tax increase, city officials are counting on federal and state funding to address terrorism readiness. According to the report, Coping with Homeland Security in California: Surveys of City Officials and State Residents, officials say that their city’s top priorities for federal and state funding should be emergency personnel training (65%), purchasing emergency equipment (63%), threat prevention and detection efforts (54%), and personnel support (53%).

Big City Blues: Large Cities Feel More Vulnerable

Perceptions about the threat of terrorism vary widely across large and small cities – concern grows substantially with city population size. While all cities are most concerned about the same types of attacks – cyber-terrorism (40%), biological (38%), and chemical (35%) – officials in small cities are not as anxious as their big-city counterparts. In cities of 100,000 people or more, majorities or near-majorities of city officials are either very or moderately concerned about cyber-terrorism (65%), biological (49%), and chemical (51%) threats. Far fewer officials say the same in cities with populations of less than 10,000 (cyber-terrorism-20%, biological-24%, and chemical-21%).

“It is important for state and federal officials to recognize that cities feel the threat of terrorism to different degrees, depending largely on the size of their population, their location, and their proximity to at-risk facilities and well-known landmarks,” says Hoene. As with city officials, some residents – especially urban dwellers, Latinos, and lower income and less educated residents – feel far more vulnerable than others.

Intergovernmental Cooperation High; Public Confidence in Leaders, Agencies Strong

Both residents and officials appear satisfied with the way governments at all levels have responded to homeland security since September 11. Most city officials rate as high or very high the level of collaboration among local governments (50%) and within their own city agencies (77%). Officials also report that their cities have increased cooperation with other cities (77%), county government (77%), state government (70%), and the federal government (56%) since the September 11 attacks.

For their part, most Californians (55%) have confidence in federal agencies to prevent further attacks, and most approve of the president’s (70%) and governor’s (62%) performance on terrorism. Perhaps even more important, solid majorities of the state’s residents express confidence in the terrorism readiness of their local fire (90%), police (74%), and public health (69%) agencies.

More key findings

  • Likely terrorist targets – pages 6, 12
    California residents believe that power plants and water supplies (37%) and airports and airplanes (17%) are the most likely targets for a terrorist attack. Officials name water supplies (81%), government buildings (73%), transportation infrastructure (63%), and schools and universities (60%) as top targets.
  • Support for new federal department – page 18
    Sixty percent of Californians favor a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security.
  • Non-terrorist issues worry cities most – page 4
    Officials say the most crucial issues facing their cities are non-terrorism-related public safety (64%), the economy (47%), and infrastructure (38%). Significantly fewer (25%) rank terrorism prevention and preparedness among their top issues.
  • Bay Area more concerned about terror – page 4
    The San Francisco Bay Area was the only state region in which officials ranked terrorism among their three most important issues.

About the Survey

This report presents the findings of a city officials survey conducted by the National League of Cities in July and August 2002 and of a PPIC Statewide Survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California in August 2000. The California portion of the National League of Cities survey was funded by PPIC and co-sponsored by the California League of Cities and the California State Association of Counties.

The findings of the city officials survey are based on a direct mail and fax survey of city managers in all 478 cities in California, of which 317 responded (66%).

PPIC Statewide Survey findings in this report are based on a telephone survey of 2,014 California adult residents interviewed from August 14 to August 21, 2002. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%.

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or state and federal legislation nor does it endorse or support any political parties or candidates for public office.