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Press Release · December 5, 2002

On The Outside Looking In: Latinos Share Less In County’s Bounty But Are More Optimistic About Future

Despite Strong Support for Great Park, Few Residents Plan To Use It; Orange County's Economic Picture Brighter Than Nation's

Can Local Taxes Help Solve Regional Problems?

As in 2001, county residents appear very concerned about a number of growth-related issues: About half see traffic (56%) and housing affordability (48%) as big problems in their region. However, when asked what types of infrastructure projects they think should have top priority for public funds, residents overwhelmingly choose school facilities (45%) over surface transportation (27%), water (13%) or sewer (7%) systems, or airports (5%). When asked to prioritize funding for a range of surface transportation projects, more county residents choose freeways and highways (39%), with fewer selecting light rail (21%), local streets and roads (16%), public bus systems (14%), and carpool lanes (7%).

Despite their concerns, a majority of residents (53%) say their local government has adequate funding for the infrastructure projects that are needed to prepare the region for future growth. As a result, there is strong support (71%) for the two-thirds majority requirement for passing local transportation taxes or extensions. And although most residents (68%) are satisfied with the way Measure M tax revenues are being used for transportation projects in the county, only 62 percent of registered voters say they would support an extension of the half-cent sales tax. Thus the extension would fail to meet the two-thirds threshold for passage.

Other Key Findings

  • Quality of Life – Page 6
    When it comes to quality of life in Orange County, nine in 10 residents (89%) say that things are going very (32%) or somewhat (57%) well. County residents are more satisfied than residents of the San Francisco Bay Area or Los Angeles with their quality of life.
  • Local Public Services – Page 3
    Most Orange County residents give excellent or good ratings to their local police protection (83%), local parks, beaches and other recreational facilities (82%), local freeways, streets, and roads (66%), and local public schools (63%). Latinos are less likely than whites to give police protection high ratings (76% to 86%) but more likely to express satisfaction with public schools (72% to 60%).
  • Local Government Ratings – Page 4
    Fifty-eight percent of residents rate the performance of their city government as excellent or good. Similar to one year ago, 42 percent of residents say their county government is doing an excellent or good job. Attitudes about local government efficiency and responsiveness have also changed little: 81 percent say the county government wastes at least some of the taxpayer’s money, and only 12 percent say that county officials pay a lot of attention to what people think when making policy decisions.
  • Ratings for President Bush, Governor Davis – Page 19-20
    Sixty-eight percent of county residents say they approve of the job President George W. Bush is doing overall, and 57 percent approve of his performance on economic issues. Governor Gray Davis receives harsher grades: Only one-third of residents approve of his job performance overall (33%) or on economic issues (34%). Latinos are more likely than whites to approve of Davis overall (53% to 25%) and with respect to economic issues (53% to 27%).

About the Survey

The Special Survey of Orange County – a collaborative effort of PPIC and the School of Social Ecology at UC Irvine – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. This is the second in an annual series of PPIC surveys of Orange County. Findings of the current survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,007 adult Orange County residents, interviewed from November 6 to November 14, 2002. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. For more information on survey methodology, see page 21.

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. From 1982 to 2000, Dr. Baldassare directed the Orange County Annual Survey for UC Irvine. 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, December 5, 2002 – Orange County’s Latino and white residents hold starkly different visions of the region’s prosperity, priorities, and politics, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and UC Irvine. But despite their present anxiety about economic opportunities, Latinos remain more optimistic than the region as a whole about their own personal outlook and the county’s future.

Like most Californians (61%), a majority of Orange County residents (59%) believe the state is divided into economic groups – haves and have-nots. While Orange County residents (65%) are more likely than Californians overall (60%) to say they are haves, Latinos in Orange County (51%) are more likely than Latinos in the state (47%) to view themselves as have-nots. The difference between racial/ethnic groups in Orange County is striking: 75 percent of whites say they are haves, compared to 39 percent of Latinos. On a host of related issues, the gap between Latinos and whites is yawning:

  • Job Security: Latinos (48%) are twice as likely as whites (23%) to be concerned that they or someone in their family will lose their job in the next year. Thirty percent of residents overall express at least some concern about job loss.
  • Personal Finances: 32 percent of Latinos, compared to 23 percent of whites, say they worry about money very often. Overall, 26 percent of residents worry about money very often.
  • Household Finances: Latinos are more than twice as likely as whites (23% to 10%) to say their household income is not enough to meet their bills and obligations; whites are twice as likely as Latinos (44% to 22%) to say they have enough household income to be able to save or buy extras. On the whole, 38 percent of residents say they have more than enough income, 49 percent just enough, and 23 percent not enough.
  • Home and Community: Latinos are less likely than whites to be very satisfied with their housing situation (52% to 71%) and with their neighborhood (53% to 72%). Most county residents say they are very satisfied with their home (65%) and neighborhood (66%).

Vastly different perspectives lead to different priorities: When Orange County residents are asked to name the most important issue facing Orange County today, population growth and development (20%), traffic and transportation (16%), and housing (12%) are mentioned most often. However, while whites are more likely than Latinos to mention growth (25% to 8%), Latinos are more likely than whites to mention jobs and the economy (13% to 6%) and crime and gangs (12% to 3%).

“The gap we see between white and Latino perceptions in Orange County is greater than in the rest of the state, and this is a cause for concern,” says PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “But consistent with statewide trends, Latinos in the county also look to the future with great optimism – more so than any other group.” Indeed, Latinos (43%) are more likely than whites (29%) or residents overall (33%) to think the county will be a better place to live in the future. They are also more likely than whites to say they will be better off a year from now than they are today (55% to 44%).

Great Park: If You Build It, Will They Come?

Measure A on the March 2002 ballot sparked a debate that caught the attention of most county residents: 71 percent say they know either a lot (25%) or a little (46%) about the Great Park plan. And residents still appear to like what they hear: 65 percent favor the plan, including majorities in the Northern (62%) and Southern (75%) parts of the county. A strong majority (71%) also supports setting aside some of the residential development included in the Great Park plan for affordable housing.

But while residents may appreciate the concept of the Great Park, few think they will use it on a regular basis. Currently, only 13 percent say they will use the park often for recreational purposes, while 44 percent say they will use it sometimes (30%) or rarely (14%), and 39 percent do not expect to use the park at all. Residents of the South County (54%), where the park would be located, are more likely than North County residents (38%) to say they will use the park at least sometimes.

Perhaps because many residents do not anticipate using the park facilities on a regular basis, support for funding the Great Park project with local tax dollars is split. Currently, 49 percent say they favor funding the project with local tax dollars, while 44 percent oppose the idea. South County residents (58%) are more likely than North County residents (45%) to favor putting local tax dollars toward the project.

Again, there are strong racial/ethnic differences on this public policy issue. While Latinos are less likely than whites to have heard about the Great Park plan (44% to 81%), they are more likely to support the plan when they are read a description of it (71% to 62%). Latinos (81%) also favor including affordable housing in the plan to a greater extent than whites (67%), and they are more likely to say they intend to use the park at least sometimes (50% to 38%). Finally, Latinos (58%) are also far more likely than whites (45%) to support using tax dollars to help fund the project.

Economic Forecast Worse, But Beats Nation

Orange County’s score of 90 on the five-question consumer confidence index – considerably higher than the national rating of 81 – is down 3 points from last year and 22 points from 2000. Today, 50 percent of county residents say their financial situation is better than a year ago, compared to 55 percent in 2001. As was true last year, residents’ gloomy view of the national economy has not influenced their attitudes about spending: 61 percent of residents (compared to 63% in 2001) say it is a good time to make large purchases.

Overall ratings of the Orange County economy are also less glowing than one year ago. Today, 58 percent of residents rate the local economy as either excellent or good – a 16-point decline from 2001. One-quarter of residents also say their region is in a serious (5%) or moderate (20%) recession, while another 12 percent say it is in a mild recession. However, Orange County residents are far less negative than residents of any other region in California or of the state as a whole. Indeed, nearly 40 percent of Californians think their region is in a serious to moderate recession. Why is Orange County the most optimistic place in California? Perhaps it is the real estate market: Large majorities of homeowners (82%) and renters (73%), South County (82%) and North County (77%) residents, as well as Latinos (81%) and whites (79%) consider buying a home in Orange County an excellent or good investment.