A new statewide opinion poll commissioned by the Assembly Office of Research and a conservation group has found widespread public support for increasing the budget of the embattled California Coastal Commission as well as the commission's role in protecting the coastal environment.
The results of the California Poll, made public Wednesday, renewed the debate surrounding Gov. George Deukmejian's cuts of the commission budget this year and underscores the likelihood that environmental issues may prominently figure in next year's gubernatorial campaign.
Conducted by the Mervin Field Institute from Nov. 18 to Dec. 2 for the Assembly office and the League for Coastal Protection, an environmental lobbying group, the poll found in questioning 1,005 respondents statewide that 33% favored restoring the commission budget to pre-1983 levels, 31% called for increases above the pre-1983 budget levels, 22% called for holding the budget at current levels, and 5% called for cuts. Another 10% said they had no opinion. The figures add up to more than 100% because of rounding.
Deukmejian cut the commission budget this fiscal year by 20%, to $6.4 million, from the previous fiscal year.
Issues Also Queried
Participants were also asked what were the important issues with which the commission should deal. Ninety-three percent placed a high degree of importance on preventing toxic waste discharges into the ocean, 81% approved preserving the coast's scenic qualities, 77% called it extremely important for preserving the wetlands, 72% called for protecting sensitive coastal areas from offshore oil and gas development, 66% cited providing public access to the beaches and 57% backed controlling coastal residential and commercial development.
When asked whether the 1972 Coastal Act was a good or bad law, 45% said it was good, 41% hadn't heard of it, 7% said it was both good and bad and 7% said it was bad.
The poll results were made public by some members of the commission, which was meeting in Los Angeles.
"I think this is a resounding show of public support for the California Coastal Commission," Commissioner Marshall Grossman said. "I hope the governor will be more forthcoming now that he knows the will of the people. The governor has decimated the budget of the commission, its staff and its ability to function."
Governor's Race Cited
Commissioner Duane Garrett said: "A large percentage of the public views (coastal protection) as a critical issue and I think this poll shows that (Los Angeles Mayor Tom) Bradley could beat Deukmejian on that ground." Bradley is expected to seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year and Deukmejian is widely presumed to be preparing for a reelection campaign.
Pollster Mervin Field, in an interview, took a more cautious interpretation of his poll findings.
"What we found was the public attaches a very high degree of importance" to environmental issues, he said. Field added, however, that public support for coastal protection issues does not necessarily indicate how it thinks the coast should be protected--either through the state commission, which Deukmejian wants to abolish, or through local governmental controls.
"That issue is not yet addressed." Field said.
Last August, a group of environmentalists alarmed by Deukmejian's budget cuts said they hoped that a showing of public support for the commission would cause Deukmejian to reverse himself on the issue. They also said any poll results would assist them in laying down strategy for rallying political support for the commission.
Walter McGuire, founder and president of the San Francisco-based Center for the Study of Law and Politics, said his group's sampling of 80 "opinion leaders" in the state, including politicians, developers, environmentalists and reporters and editors, found "very strong support" for the broad goals of the Coastal Protection Act and the commission.
Times staff writer Judy Pasternak also contributed to this story.