SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 29, 2004 — Amid booming population growth – and the severe problems it can bring – Central Valley residents genuinely like their local communities and are optimistic about the area’s future, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), in collaboration with the Great Valley Center. This upbeat attitude creates quite a paradox, considering that many residents also voice serious and growing concern about vital regional issues such as air pollution, school quality, affordable housing, lack of job opportunities, and traffic congestion.
A full three-fourths (75%) of Valley residents say their local community or city is a good or excellent place to live. “The enthusiasm residents have for their communities is striking because so many (71%) perceive that their local area has grown rapidly over the past five years,” says PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “Bursts of growth and development tend to arouse negative feelings among people who live in an area, so it’s quite remarkable that most Valley residents believe life has either improved or stayed the same, but not grown worse.” In fact, over half (53%) of residents believe that things in the Central Valley are headed in the right direction, while less than a third (32%) say things are moving in the wrong direction. Moreover, a plurality of residents (42%) believe the Central Valley will be a better place to live in the future, outnumbering those who believe it will be a worse place (27%).
When turning to the state’s biggest trouble spot – the economy – Central Valley denizens may have a gloomier outlook than in the past, but even on this issue, there appears to be some optimism in some parts of the region. Today, 38 percent of all residents rate the local economy as good or excellent, down from 55 percent in 1999. However, in the Sacramento Metro area, positive economic ratings have risen in the past year – from 39 percent to 45 percent. “That’s particularly surprising for Sacramento, given the recent and expected state government layoffs,” says Baldassare. Similarly, residents in the South San Joaquin area also give the economy slightly higher marks today than they did a year ago (33% to 37%).
The Devil’s in the Details – Bright Outlook Dims on Closer Inspection
Underlying the overall optimism, however, are distinctly negative feelings toward many of the region’s public services and facilities – and a belief that local problems are growing worse. Since 1999, concern over traffic congestion has nearly doubled from 23 percent to 44 percent. Air pollution – viewed as the Valley’s most important issue – is now considered a big problem by 45 percent of the population, up from 28 percent in 1999. Furthermore, residents express increasing dissatisfaction with the lack of affordable housing: Positive ratings have fallen from 37 percent to 19 percent since 1999.
There has also been a decline in confidence – sometimes dramatic – in the region’s public services and infrastructure: The percentage of residents who give high ratings to their local streets and roads has dropped 14 points, from 58 percent to 44 percent, in the past five years. Positive school ratings have declined from 59 percent to 54 percent since 1999.
Happy? Depends on Who… and Where
Adding to the mixed picture, distinct differences emerge along racial and ethnic lines. For example, Latinos (59%) are much less likely than whites (83%) to rate their community as good or excellent. The disparities extend to many public services as well. Whites (72%) give much higher ratings to local police protection and parks and recreational facilities than Latinos do (58% police protection, 56% parks). Furthermore, only one-quarter (25%) of Latinos say they are very satisfied with the availability of colleges and universities in the region, compared to over one-third (37%) of all residents. “The divide between Latinos and whites on these issues likely comes from persisting social and economic differences,” says Baldassare. “Satisfaction with higher education and recreational facilities tends to increase among residents who own their own homes, and have higher incomes and more education.”
One of the greatest and perhaps most troubling differences is the growing disparity in computer and Internet use between whites and Latinos. In 1999, the gap between frequent Latino and white Internet users was 19 points (21% Latinos, 40% whites); today it has climbed to 34 points (25% Latinos, 59% whites). Frequent Internet use among all Valley residents has risen from 37 percent to 50 percent since 1999. In another comparison, the rate of computer ownership among Latinos remains virtually the same as it was five years ago (34%), while the number of all Central Valley homes that have a computer has risen from 55 percent to 62 percent since 1999.
The Central Valley’s regions also diverge sharply from each other on a number of issues. On the whole, there is greater community satisfaction in the north than in the south: North Valley (84%) and Sacramento Metro (81%), compared to North San Joaquin (71%) and South San Joaquin (70%). However, optimism about the future of the region is greater in the far south than the far north: Only 33 percent of North Valley residents say the Valley will be a better place to live in the future, compared to 47 percent of South San Joaquin residents. But what about specific quality of life issues? Northern residents are far less likely to say air pollution is a big problem (17% North Valley to 62% South San Joaquin), and many more residents of Sacramento Metro (63%) are troubled by traffic congestion than are residents of the less urban North Valley (29%), North San Joaquin (49%), and South San Joaquin (27%).
Religion and Politics?
Central Valley residents are more likely than Californians as a whole to say religion is a very important part of their lives (53% to 45%). But within the region, differences surface along ethnic and political lines. For example, 56 percent of Latinos say they attended a religious service in the past week, compared to just 38 percent of whites. Furthermore, 62 percent of Latinos say that religion is personally very important to them, while fewer than half of whites (48%) say the same. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to attend religious services (50% to 39%), and to say that religion plays an important role in their lives (60% to 49%). Nearly half of the Valley’s Republican Christians (47%) consider themselves to be “born-again” or evangelical Christians.
As has been the case over time, Central Valley residents continue to lean toward the conservative side of the political spectrum – but with a few twists. A plurality (42%) consider themselves to be conservative, while 29 percent each say they are either liberal or moderate. On fundamental issues such as big versus small government, the numbers track ideological bents: Forty-three percent favor smaller government with fewer services, while 48 percent favor larger government with more services – as many moderates agree with liberals on this issue. While Latinos tend to favor bigger government, they may not be weighing in as much: Only 46 percent say they have a great or fair amount of interest in politics, compared to 75 percent of whites.
More Key Findings
- Schools Rule — Page 8
Out of a list of infrastructure projects, residents pick schools (49%) as the top priority, far more than the next most popular choice – surface transportation (18%). Moreover, 51 percent of likely voters say they would support an increase in their property taxes to provide more funds for local schools.
- Agriculture Prevails — Page 10
More residents (38%) think the top priority of future water policy should be farms and agriculture, as opposed to homes and residents (30%).
- Get Me Out of Traffic! — Page 9
A majority (64%) of the relatively conservative Central Valley population would be willing to increase their local sales tax to pay for transportation projects. Generally, streets and roads (25%) and freeways and highways (23%) take priority over light rail (15%) or bus systems (12%).
- The Air They Breathe — Page 11
Sixty-eight percent of residents would support tougher federal standards on air pollution… but the number falls to 44 percent if those regulations would hurt local economies.
About the Survey
The Central Valley Survey – an ongoing collaborative effort of the Public Policy Institute of California and the Great Valley Center – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. The purpose of this survey is to provide a comprehensive, advocacy-free study of the political, social, and economic attitudes and public policy preferences of Central Valley residents. Previous PPIC surveys of the Central Valley were conducted in 1999, 2001, 2002, and 2003. Findings of the current survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,005 adult residents in the 19-county Central Valley region, interviewed between April 12 and April 20, 2004. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for subgroups is larger. For more information on 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 most recent 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.