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Press Release · July 19, 2000

Special Survey Of San Diego County; Concerns About Growth Loom Large In San Diego

Residents See Government as Major Part of Problem, But Optimism About Region’s Future Reigns

SAN FRANCISCO, California, July 19, 2000 – San Diegans have seen the future and it looks like L.A. Residents say traffic, housing, and a host of other growth-related worries threaten the county and government is failing to meet the challenge, according to a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California and San Diego Dialogue. At the same time, residents express surprising optimism about the region’s ability to overcome its troubles and say they won’t head for greener pastures anytime soon.

The large-scale public opinion survey of 2,000 San Diego County residents reveals a nearly unanimous (93%) expectation that the county’s population will grow in the next ten years, with eight in ten residents saying it will grow rapidly. Strikingly, only 18 percent believe the county will be a better place to live in 2010, while 38 percent say it will be worse. San Diegans are more likely than Californians as a whole to believe that their region will experience rapid growth in the next ten years (82% to 59%) and are less likely to say that it will be a better place to live a decade from now (18% to 28%).

Given this concern, San Diegans are quick to find growth-related issues at the heart of the county’s problems. When asked to name the single biggest problem facing their part of San Diego, residents say traffic (29%), followed by crime (15%) and population growth and development (13%). Growth-related concerns again top the list when residents are asked to rank a number of local problems. Three in four say that traffic (78%) and the lack of affordable housing (74%) are serious problems in their part of the county, and more than half (58%) say that pollution is a serious problem. Three other issues – immigration (57%), local taxes (54%), and homelessness and poverty (51%) – are also seen as big problems by a majority of residents. Residents in the north county are more likely than those in other regions to see traffic, development, lack of parks, and population increases as serious problems, while people in the South Bay are more concerned than other county residents about pollution.

“The effects of San Diego’s tremendous growth are hitting home for many residents,” said PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “And with the county’s population projected to increase by 1 million residents in the next 20 years, it’s not surprising that there is uncertainty and some doubt about what the future will hold.”

Government Viewed as Ineffective, Corrupt

While growth may be the key problem, government is a central cause, according to San Diegans. When asked about a number of potential reasons for the region’s problems, residents cite “the government spending money on the wrong things” more than any other reason (75%), followed by too fast growth (63%), ineffective government (61%), poor quality schools in inner-city neighborhoods (61%), and too much growth in the wrong places (60%). Majorities also view other government-related issues – including excessive regulations driving up the cost of housing (59%), government allocation of state and local taxes (58%), greed and corruption in government (56%), and overdevelopment resulting from insufficient government regulations (51%) – as major causes of their area’s problems.

San Diegans’ profound distrust of government surfaces again when residents are asked to rate proposed solutions to the region’s problems. The highest level of support is found for reducing corruption in government (89%), followed closely by building a superior transit system (85%), investing more money in public schools (85%), and reforming local government so that it serves the interests of the entire community (84%). Ironically, solid majorities also support strengthening the powers of local government so that it can deal with problems more effectively (70%) and making it easier for local governments to raise money by reforming the property tax system (55%). However, residents make it clear that they intend to control the purse strings: only 46 percent say they support making it easier for local governments to raise money by requiring a simple majority rather than a two-thirds vote to pass local taxes. While South Bay residents are most likely to think that reducing corruption in government is a good idea (92%), they are also the most likely to support strengthening local government (80%), reforming the property tax system (68%), and requiring only a simple majority vote to pass local taxes (56%).

“Residents are relatively scathing in their assessment of government in San Diego County,” said Baldassare. “However, they also understand that local officials have a key role to play in solving the region’s problems and are willing to provide at least some of the fiscal tools that governments need. There is a significant opportunity here.”

Glass Half Full

Indeed, despite the perils of a growth-filled future, San Diego residents find much promise in their region. Two in three residents say that the county is headed in the right direction, and only about one in four say that things are going in the wrong direction. Similarly, most (84%) say that the quality of life in San Diego County is going either “very well” (24%) or “somewhat well” (60%), while relatively few think that the quality of life in their county is going badly (15%).

Although most San Diegans expect rapid growth and few expect conditions to improve, two in three residents still intend to live in San Diego County a decade from now. Sixty-four percent say they see themselves living in the county in 2010, while 30 percent say they will call another county home. Not coincidentally, the majority of residents also believe that solutions to the problems facing their part of San Diego are within reach: Fifty-nine percent say they are optimistic that local problems will be solved, with South Bay residents even more hopeful than most (64%).

“Many difficult choices lie ahead for San Diegans, their elected leaders, and their community organizations as we confront the challenges presented by population growth and our unique geographic situation,” said Chuck Nathanson, Executive Director of San Diego Dialogue. “But the level of optimism and commitment to the county that this survey reveals is remarkably powerful and encouraging.”

Interestingly, Latinos hold an even more optimistic view of the county and its future than adult residents generally. They are more likely to believe that the problems facing their area of the county will be solved (71% to 59%), to say that things are generally headed in the right direction (73% to 66%), and to think that the quality of life in the county is going very well or somewhat well (91% to 84%). Latinos are also more likely to think that the county will be a better place to live in 2010 (31%) than a worse place (25%). Despite their overall optimism, younger residents (ages 18 to 34) are the least likely to say they see themselves living in the county ten years from now (55%).

About the Survey

The Special Survey of San Diego County – a collaborative effort of the Public Policy Institute of California and San Diego Dialogue – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. The survey offers the first comprehensive, advocacy-free study of the perceptions, attitudes, and public policy preferences of San Diego residents. It provides baseline in formation for a one-year citizen engagement and dialogue project in the county, organized by San Diego Dialogue in partnership with Leadership Learning Network, Inc. (chaired by Dan Yankelovich) and funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,000 San Diego County adult residents interviewed from June 12 to June 18, 2000. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. For additional information on survey methodology, see page 21.

Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow at PPIC. He is founder and director of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has conducted since 1998. For over two decades, he has conducted surveys for the University of California, Irvine, and major news organizations, including the Orange County Edition of the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, KCAL-TV, and KRON-TV. 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 the lives of Californians. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.