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Press Release · November 14, 2002

Not My Problem: Californians See But Don’t Feel Pain Of Growth-Related Challenges Facing State

Little Consensus About Solutions, Government's Role in Managing Growth;

Infrastructure: I Support It When I See It

Although only 22 percent of Californians say they know a lot about the term “infrastructure,” residents are clear about their priorities for state projects: Consistent with recent statewide surveys that place education at the top of residents’ concerns, 48 percent say that school facilities should be the top infrastructure priority, followed by surface transportation (23%), water systems (16%), sewer systems (5%), and airports (3%). However, residents are divided about infrastructure funding, given the state budget crunch: 44 percent support continuing funding at current levels, while 43 percent favor a reduction. Republicans (58%) are more likely than Democrats (42%) to advocate maintaining funding levels. How do Californians think the state should pay for infrastructure improvements? Forty-two percent support setting aside a percentage of the state budget, while fewer prefer issuing state bonds (18%), using only surplus budget funds (12%), increasing user fees (10%), and increasing taxes (8%). Consistent with the stronger support for a set-aside, 56 percent say they would support a measure like ACA 11 – a constitutional amendment currently scheduled for the 2004 ballot – that would create a state infrastructure fund using money set aside from the general fund.

When asked specifically about surface transportation, residents are divided about the types of projects that should receive priority, with a greater number supporting funding for freeways and highways (36%) than public transit systems (31%), local streets and roads (24%), and walkways and bicycle paths (7%). Although majorities say they would support ballot measures to extend the existing local sales tax for transportation projects (58%) and increase the local sales tax for transportation projects by one-half cent (57%), public support falls short of the two-thirds supermajority required for local tax extensions or increases. In fact, 69 percent of Californians say the two-thirds supermajority requirement is a good thing, and only 49 percent would support reducing the requirement to a 55 percent majority.

Inequality Across Neighborhoods: Low-Income, Minority Communities Lose

No matter where they live, Californians have strong opinions on community equity issues: Most believe that low-income and minority neighborhoods have greater development needs yet receive fewer resources than more affluent communities. Seventy-one percent say that low-income communities are more likely than other neighborhoods in their region to have school facilities (71%) and roads and other transportation infrastructure (64%) that are in need of repair. Despite the need, strong majorities also say that less affluent neighborhoods receive fewer government resources aimed at revitalizing residential and commercial areas (61%) and are less likely to have new housing and commercial development (68%). Although there is consensus across the racial/ethnic and income spectrums on these issues, whites and those earning over $80,000 annually are less likely than Latinos and those with household incomes under $40,000 to perceive a problem.

About the survey

This land use survey is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. It is the fourth in a four-year, multisurvey series on growth, land use, and the environment, 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 2,010 California adult residents interviewed from October 17 to October 28, 2002. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2% and for the 993 likely voters is +/- 3%. For more information on survey methodology, see page 19.

Dr. Mark Baldassare is Research Director at PPIC, where he also 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. His most recent book, A California State of Mind: The Conflicted Voter in a Changing World, is available at

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy through objective, nonpartisan research on the economic, social, and political issues that affect Californians. 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.

 SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 14, 2002 – Californians recognize the challenges facing this fast-growing state – from too much traffic congestion to too little affordable housing – but most do not experience these troubles in their everyday lives, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and the Hewlett, Irvine, and Packard Foundations. The result? Residents are deeply ambivalent about their own part – as well as their government’s role – in creating solutions.

The survey of 2,010 Californians finds that most residents believe quality of life is at serious risk in their region of the state. Strong majorities say traffic congestion (81%), housing affordability (69%), population growth and development (63%), air pollution (60%), and the opportunity for well-paying jobs (59%) are at least somewhat of a problem in their area. The level of concern varies by region: Los Angeles County (61%) and San Francisco Bay Area (59%) residents are more likely than residents of other regions to view traffic as a big problem, while residents of the Central Valley and other Southern California counties (31% each) are more inclined than others to see the availability of jobs as a big problem. Nearly one in four Los Angeles (38%) and Central Valley (37%) residents say air pollution is a big concern in their region, and 59 percent of people living in the Bay Area say affordable housing is a big problem. Surprisingly, 67 percent of residents statewide say that the availability of recreational parks and open space is not a problem in their region.

Driving Alone (And Liking It)

Although they have macro-level concerns about the consequences of growth and development in their regions, Californians are generally satisfied with their own circumstances, from their housing and neighborhood to their commute. Sixty-two percent say they are very satisfied with the house or apartment they currently live in, and 29 percent are somewhat satisfied. Homeowners and those who live in single-family detached houses (96% each) are more likely than renters (82%) and apartment dwellers (77%) to be very or somewhat satisfied with their housing. Indeed, the American dream remains strong in California: While 65 percent say they currently live in a single-family detached home, 86 percent of state residents say they would prefer to live in one.

Most residents are also pleased with their surroundings: 89 percent say they are very (57%) or somewhat (32%) satisfied with the neighborhood they live in. Safety (37%), followed by living space (20%) and schools (16%), are what matter most to residents in choosing a house and community.

And contrary to popular belief, most Californians – including suburban and urban dwellers – are pleased with their commute to work: 82 percent say they are very (54%) or somewhat (28%) satisfied with their commute. The vast majority of employed residents (75%) say they drive alone to work, while 11 percent carpool, 6 percent ride public transportation, and 5 percent walk or bicycle. These numbers vary little across regions, although Bay Area residents are less likely than residents in other regions to carpool (6%) and more likely to use public transit (12%).

“Californians prize their freedom and this is reflected in the state’s ‘driving alone’ culture,” says PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “But it is remarkable that residents are so content with their quality of life, at the same time as they perceive looming regional problems. This disconnect creates a challenging policy environment for state and local leaders.”

No Common Vision for Solutions to Growth-Related Problems

Indeed, there is little consensus about how to handle regional challenges: Support is divided between slowing the pace of growth and development (22%), greater coordination between local governments (19%), improving local land use planning (18%), and more public funds (15%), while 16 percent believe that only better economic conditions will lessen the problems. Residents are also less than convinced about making personal lifestyle changes, even if those actions might reduce regional congestion or sprawl:

  • While 49 percent of Californians say they would choose to live in a small home with a small backyard if it means a short commute to work, 47 percent would choose to live in a large home with a large backyard, even if it means a longer ride to work. Bay Area (56%) and Los Angeles (51%) residents are more likely than others to choose the small home/short commute option.

  • Half (50%) of state residents would choose to live in a residential-only neighborhood, even if it means driving to stores, schools, and other services, while 47% would prefer a mixed-use neighborhood within walking distance of such amenities. Residents of the Central Valley (54%) and other Southern California counties (52%) are more likely than others to choose a residential-only neighborhood, and Latinos (52%) are more likely than non-Hispanic whites (43%) to prefer mixed-use neighborhoods.

  • Two-thirds (66%) of Californians – and majorities across all regions – say they prefer to live in a low-density neighborhood where they would have to drive their car to travel locally, while only 31 percent would choose a high-density neighborhood where it was convenient to use public transit to travel locally.

State residents are no more united when asked where new development in their region should occur: 50 percent say local governments should steer growth to already developed areas in their region in order to preserve open space and encourage the use of public transit, but 44 percent support allowing growth in undeveloped areas to avoid high density and traffic congestion. In an interesting contradiction – created perhaps by low levels of confidence in government – most residents support local governments working together to develop a common plan for regional land use and development (74%) at the same time as they say that voters, not local elected officials, should be making local land use decisions (77%).

Although relatively few residents say they have attended citizens’ meetings (31%), public hearings (27%), or have written local public officials (18%) about land use or development issues, nearly half (47%) have voted at the ballot box, and 41 percent have signed a petition on local land use issues. “The level of citizen awareness and involvement in local ballot-box planning is encouraging,” says Mary Bitterman, President of The James Irvine Foundation. “Now, we need to help create more opportunities for local leaders and residents to work together on these issues of common concern.”