SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 16, 2005 — Residents of Los Angeles County are increasingly disturbed by a host of local problems – from traffic to race relations – and express growing pessimism about the future of the county and their own long-term prospects in the region, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
PPIC’s third annual survey of Los Angeles County finds residents stunningly unhappy with some key indicators of quality of life: Large majorities say traffic congestion on freeways and major roads (74%) and the availability of affordable housing (64%) are big problems in the county today, up markedly from two years ago (67% traffic, 54% affordable housing). However, more residents today than one year ago give the county’s economy excellent or good ratings (32% to 25%), which may help to explain their more positive overall attitude: A majority say things are going very well (10%) or somewhat well (51%) in the county, while just over one in three believes things are going very badly (13%) or somewhat badly (24%).
Majorities of residents still rate police protection (57%) and the quality of parks, beaches, and recreation facilities (58%) as excellent or good, but their assessments have fallen considerably from their perch one year ago (67% police protection, 63% parks, beaches, and recreation). And residents are far less charitable in their rating of other public services: Only one-third give excellent or good ratings to streets and roads (32% today, 51% in 2004) and public schools (36% today, 43% in 2004). In contrast, large majorities of residents in neighboring Orange County give excellent or good ratings to police protection (83%), recreational facilities (84%), streets and roads (64%), and public schools (64%).
Los Angeles County residents are no more optimistic when they imagine the future of their region. In fact, they are more likely to believe that Los Angeles County will be a worse place (37%) rather than a better place (24%) to live in twenty years, with 35 percent anticipating that quality of life in the county will stay the same. In 2003, 32 percent of residents said the county would be a better place to live in the future. Whites (22%) and blacks (23%) are less likely than Latinos and Asians (26% each) to say the county will be a better place to live two decades from now.
One consequence of this negative outlook? Fully one-third of county residents (33%) expect to leave Los Angeles County in the next five years. The number of residents who plan to leave has grown dramatically: A similar survey question in 2003 found that 17 percent of residents did not see themselves living in the county in five years. Blacks (41%) are far more likely than whites (30%), Latinos (34%), and Asians (25%) to see themselves leaving the county.
L.A. City Voters Divided, Distrustful
Residents in the city of Los Angeles share the pessimism about their area’s future prospects. “More L.A. city residents say they plan to leave the county than voted in last week’s mayoral race (35% to 26%),” says PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “It seems they plan to vote with their feet.”
Indeed, candidates in the mayoral runoff race face an electorate that has little faith in their city leaders and that is deeply divided on key issues. Only one in three residents (34%) – and 28 percent of likely voters – say they trust their city government to do what is right just about always or most of the time, with Central City residents (41%) expressing the most trust and San Fernando residents (29%) the least. Only 30 percent say their mayor and city council do an excellent or good job of solving problems in the city. Currently, 48 percent of L.A. city likely voters disapprove and 42 percent approve of the way Mayor James Hahn is performing his duties. And the proposal by former mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg to divide the Los Angeles Unified School District is supported by a slim majority of the city’s adults (51%) and 58 percent of likely voters. Strong majorities of whites (63%) and Asians (64%) back this proposal, while blacks (42%) and Latinos (41%) are far less supportive.
Support for New Taxes Falls Short
County wide, residents are also decidedly negative about the performance of local government. Only one in three county residents (36%) gives their local mayor and city council either excellent or good ratings. And only one in five (21%) says the Board of Supervisors is doing an excellent or good job solving county problems. Blacks (12%) and whites (16%) are less likely than Latinos (28%) and Asians (27%) to give excellent or good reviews to elected county officials.
“L.A. County residents are finding little to like and even less to trust when it comes to local government,” says Baldassare. “So even if they see big problems that need fixing, they are unwilling to raise their taxes to help fund a solution.” Case in point: Crime and gangs remain the top issue facing the county (21%), followed by education (17%) and traffic (10%). But are residents willing to pay higher taxes to address these pressing problems? Public support falls well short of the two-thirds threshold required to pass a local tax increase. A slight majority of adults (54%) and likely voters (52%) say they would support a half-cent sales tax increase to provide more funds for local police. Residents are evenly split (48% each) over whether or not to increase property taxes to benefit local schools, but likely voters are opposed (57%). And only 47 percent of residents and likely voters say they would vote yes on a ballot measure that would raise the local sales tax by one-half cent for local transportation projects.
Racial/Ethnic Tensions Rise, Differences Persist
Given the vast differences in attitudes among racial and ethnic groups in L.A. County and a recent high-profile controversy involving the LAPD, it is not surprising that many residents express growing concern about the state of race relations in the region. A majority of residents (58%) believe race relations are not so good (41%) or poor (17%) in the county today, compared to the 53 percent who held this view in 2003. Blacks (70%) are more negative than Latinos (64%), whites (52%), or Asians (36%).
Blacks also register more concern about some of the social manifestations of racial tension: 50 percent of all residents – but only 21 percent of blacks – say police in their community treat all racial and ethnic groups fairly almost always or most of the time. And although 60 percent of county residents say that immigrants are a benefit to the region because of their hard work and job skills, blacks are less likely to share this perspective: 40 percent view immigrants as a benefit and 46 percent consider them a burden. However, when it comes to the issue of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, blacks (68%), whites (71%), and Asians (63%) are united in their opposition, while Latinos (80%) are overwhelmingly supportive. Overall, county residents are evenly divided over this proposal (48% favor, 48% oppose); not surprisingly, noncitizens favor the idea.
Stark differences between racial and ethnic groups also exist in their political and civic behavior. Whites and blacks are more likely than Latinos and Asians to have given money to a political cause, to have worked as a political or community volunteer, and to have initiated contact with an elected official or their staff.
Facing L.A.’s Future…Together?
On a hopeful note, many county residents (61%) believe that race relations will improve in the next two decades; 30 percent expect a turn for the worse. Optimists also outnumber pessimists in expectations for public schools (51% improve, 40% get worse), but residents are evenly divided about what the future holds for the region’s economy and prospects for job opportunities (47% improve, 45% get worse). When it comes to traffic and the environment, future expectations take a turn for the worse: More than three in four county residents (77%) expect traffic conditions to worsen and 65 percent say the quality of the natural environment will deteriorate.
Not surprisingly given these findings, transportation ties education (18% each) as the most important priority for L.A. County over the next 20 years. But although they agree that transportation should be a top priority in the coming years, county residents are conflicted about funding priorities for related projects: Freeways and highways (25%), light rail (22%), and the subway system (18%) receive the most support, followed by the public bus system (12%), local streets and roads (10%), and carpool lanes (6%). Sixty-three percent of residents say light rail will be very important for the county in coming decades.
More Key Findings
- Educational, Environmental Equity — Pages 5 and 6
Majorities of county residents say low-income and minority neighborhoods are more likely than other neighborhoods to have school facilities that are in need of repair and replacement (77%) and say school districts in these communities should receive more public funds even if it means less money for other districts (60%). County residents also believe such neighborhoods are less likely to have their fair share of well-maintained parks and recreation facilities (64%) and are more likely to house toxic waste and polluting facilities (56%).
- Carpool Lanes: Yes — Page 18
Although county residents rank carpool lanes as their lowest funding priority when it comes to transportation projects, 70 percent favor expanding the use of carpool and bus lanes on freeways.
- Airport and Port Expansion: No — Page 18
When asked to weigh the environmental tradeoffs, 65 percent of county residents oppose the expansion of LAX and 61 percent oppose the expansion of the Port of Los Angeles.
About the Survey
The Special Survey of Los Angeles County — a collaborative effort of PPIC and the School of Policy, Planning, and Development at the University of Southern California — is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey, supported in part through a grant from the California Community Foundation. This is the third in an annual series of PPIC surveys of Los Angeles County. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,003 Los Angeles County adult residents interviewed between February 24 and March 7, 2005. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. For more information on survey methodology, see page 19.
Mark Baldassare is research director at PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998. His book, A California State of Mind: The Conflicted Voter in a Changing World, is available at www.ppic.org.
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 on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.