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Stress Test Raises Pomona's Pulse : Study Amuses Some, but Mayor Says It Hurts City's Image

December 29, 1985|PAT BRENNAN | Times Staff Writer

POMONA — A study that labeled image-conscious Pomona the nation's second most stressful city has angered some civic leaders and distressed the mayor so much that his first reaction was to threaten to sue the Washington-based group responsible.

"I thought we were doing a great job," Pomona Mayor G. Stanton Selby said. "Then I hear from our friends in Washington that we're not. I'd like to jar them a bit."

Called the "Urban Stress Test," the study is based on government statistics in 11 social and economic areas, including crime, crowding, sudden jumps or declines in population, birth rates among teen-agers and air pollution. Researchers forZero Population Growth Inc., a nonprofit group devoted to reducing population through public awareness, used the data to rate 184 American cities on a 5-point scale.

Miami was ranked as the most stressful, with a 4.6 rating, followed by Pomona with a 4.5. Fargo, N.D., with a 1.8 rating, was ranked as the least stressful.

The study has enraged some in Pomona and amused others. Mayor Selby, for example, was disturbed enough by the study to engage in a terse exchange of letters with Zero Population Growth a few days after results of the "stress test" were released.

Selby wrote that he could not believe the result, and chided Zero Population Growth for relying on aging government data--some of it six years old--instead of talking to residents about their city.

The organization's executive director, Susan Weber, said such random interviews would have no validity in a truly scientific assessment of urban problems.

"What we were trying to find out wasn't what people think about their town, but to find out if it's doing OK," said Weber, whose group advocates a voluntary limit of two children per family.

One city employee found humor--and profit--in Pomona's lofty stress rating. Frank Homstad, of the city's community relations bureau has designed a T-shirt that says "Urban Stress Survivor" on the front and sports a large "2" on the back.

Homstad said he has had nearly 70 requests from city employees for the shirts, which he is selling for $7.50 each.

But Weber said such reactions suggest that the stress study results were largely misinterpreted.

"We were talking about population stress on the community as a whole, not individual stress levels," she said. "It's like going to the doctor. Like checking the body of a city, reading its vital signs."

She said the study was the group's most ambitious statistical survey, requiring three researchers to sift through piles of federal statistics for several months. The three examined many areas that they believed placed strains on urban populations, but several were ultimately rejected because data was sketchy or incomplete, Weber said.

After the 11 categories were selected, cities were assigned points in each area. The point scale, Weber said, was designed to make it easier for the public to understand the study. Such factors as sudden jumps or drops in population, high teen-age birth rates or widespread unemployment pushed cities higher on the scale.

Reactions from officials in other California cities that received high stress ratings--among them Los Angeles, Long Beach and Santa Ana--ranged from the verbal equivalent of a yawn to outright chuckles.

"I was born about 200 miles west of the place considered the least stressful," said Long Beach Mayor Ernie Kell, whose city received a 4.0 rating.

Kell said he used to travel to low-rated Fargo from his hometown of Minot. "And I can tell you they have far more stress than we have here," he said. "Just getting through a winter there is stressful enough."

In Los Angeles, labeled the fourth most stressful city in the nation, Mayor Tom Bradley was unavailable for comment. An aide, Tom Houston, said Bradley was much too busy to answer questions from reporters about the stress test. "He's been out of town and I've got 15 people waiting outside his office and he has appointments scheduled all day," Houston said.

Houston added that he doubted that Angelenos would begin a mass migration to Fargo because of the study.

In Santa Ana, there was little stress evident in the official reaction to the study.

"Should I take my Valium now?" Santa Ana Mayor Daniel E. Griset replied when asked about the survey. He then dismissed the study, which gave his city a 4.0 rating, as "a superficial effort to describe urban living as less attractive than rural living."

Attack on Urban Blight

But in Pomona, the study seems to have been taken more seriously. For the past year, the city has been engaged in a large-scale public relations effort to dispel the image of urban blight Pomona that has acquired over the last two decades. Ten major redevelopment projects have been outlined by the city. One, a shopping center, has been completed, and two of the projects are under construction.

Private developments, both large and small, are so numerous that it is difficult to drive along major city streets without happening across one or more of them.

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