Fourteen years after electing Tom Bradley as its first black mayor, Los Angeles remains divided along ethnic lines into two large classes who worry about different problems and disagree on such major issues as crime and traffic, a new Los Angeles Times Poll has found.
This split, which hints that Los Angeles politics could become polarized along racial lines, is also reflected in the unincorporated areas and smaller cities of the giant county that surrounds Los Angeles.
Throughout the city and the county, whites said they worry as much about traffic congestion and the environment as they do about crime. Whites, both Republicans and Democrats, said by a 2-1 margin that they want development slowed down even if it means fewer jobs.
But in less well-off minority neighborhoods, where the other half of Los Angeles society lives, complaints about crime dominated when residents were asked to list their biggest problems. Traffic was seldom mentioned.
Slow growth was rejected 2 to 1 by both blacks and Latinos, the sharpest split of any issue between whites and ethnic minorities.
Of all the issues touched on by the poll, the growth controversy carries the most potential for disrupting the era of racial harmony symbolized by Bradley's election in 1973 and his three, relatively easy, reelection victories.
Bradley was first elected in a new joining of black voters with liberal whites in the Westside and the San Fernando Valley. But the poll found that the recent clamoring for curbs on development, which many believe was the key to this month's election upset of City Council President Pat Russell, is largely a white phenomenon unpopular among blacks and Latinos. Results from that election support this, because Russell, who was labeled a strong pro-growth advocate, did best in black areas of her district.
For a county that spills over several mountain ranges from the ocean to the desert, such divergent attitudes on major issues are not unexpected. But more than geography, the poll reflects the different views of people with enough money to live comfortably and those for whom life is more of a struggle. And in the Los Angeles of 1987, as in earlier years, ethnic background is still the best indicator of social class.
Erosion of Quality
People from both classes agreed, however, that the quality of life in Los Angeles has, if anything, gotten worse in the last 15 years.
The poll, which asked 2,055 residents of Los Angeles County for their views, was conducted by telephone between June 13 and June 17. Of those, 923 responses came from residents of the City of Los Angeles. I. A. Lewis, director of the Times poll, said the sample has a margin of error of 3 percentage points in either direction for the county and 5 points for the city.
The poll found that, on nearly all issues, people who live in unincorporated parts of the county or in the county's other cities have a rosier view of life than residents of Los Angeles.
These county residents believe their crime problem to be less severe, hold the Sheriff's Department in higher regard than city residents do the Los Angeles Police Department, and have more confidence in routine public services such as street cleaning and firefighting.
Views on Safety
For instance, 61% of the county respondents said they feel safe walking in their neighborhoods at night while 36% feel unsafe. But in the City of Los Angeles, residents said they feel unsafe by a margin of 54% to 42%.
Whether they live in the city or outside, it was color and ethnic background that most shaped how residents feel about life in Los Angeles. Middle-income blacks felt better about life than low-income blacks, but still took a different view from whites on growth and the impact of crime. Even middle-class blacks said that traffic paled by comparison to crime as a problem in their lives.
While only 32% of whites said crime was their biggest problem, 61% of blacks and 43% of Latinos listed crime at the top.
Whites also said they feel safer walking the streets and using the parks, and were more satisfied with the job being done by law enforcement and the county's top police officials, Sheriff Sherman Block and Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates. Whites also expressed somewhat more confidence than minorities that routine public services, such as street cleaning and trash collecting, will be provided by government.
This dissatisfaction among minorities extends even to the question of whether residents should separate household garbage to help city recycling plans, which in turn would reduce the need to find more landfills.
Although the idea is embraced citywide by a 2-1 margin, it enjoys less support among minorities. When asked if it was reasonable for the city to ask residents to separate their garbage, 67% of whites said yes. Latinos answered 61% yes and blacks 53%.