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'Unprecedented Gloominess' Reigns : Slow Growth Is Favored in Orange County Survey

December 11, 1987|JEFFREY A. PERLMAN | Times Urban Affairs Writer

Angry and cynical about congestion, Orange County residents favor a slow-growth ballot measure by as much as a 4-1 margin and are generally pessimistic about the county's future, according to the 1987 Orange County Annual Survey.

The poll, conducted by UC Irvine's Public Policy Research Organization, shows that 54% of those questioned believe that the quality of life in the county is declining. At the same time, however, the number of people who say they are "very happy" with their personal lives has jumped from 34% in 1982 to 44% this year.

The key to understanding that paradox, says survey director Mark Baldassare, is the wide gap between the reality of suburban sprawl and the small-town dream cherished by so many Orange County residents.

"Confidence in Orange County's future has never been lower," according to Baldassare, a professor of social ecology at UC Irvine. "The results show an unprecedented gloominess."

For the first time since the poll began in 1982, a majority--51%--of those questioned favor construction of new freeways even though they don't believe that--or anything else--will reduce congestion, Baldassare said.

A special section of the poll devoted to charitable giving shows that Orange County residents talk a good game but don't deliver.

The survey, released Thursday at UC Irvine, shows that issues such as crime and immigration pale when compared to growth and traffic in the minds of county residents. Seventy-two percent of those questioned ranked traffic and growth as the county's worst problems compared to 46% in 1985.

The poll, paid for by mostly corporate sponsors and subscribers, was based on telephone interviews of 1,010 people in September.

Surprised by the intensity of the slow-growth sentiment, Baldassare predicted that it will be "very difficult to shake. . . . Politicians will have to be very careful. They are at high risk. . . . These issues (growth and traffic) will be central in the campaigns next year for local offices."

Orange County Supervisor Don R. Roth said he was astounded by the size of the majority favoring a slow-growth measure. "It's hard for me to believe that people will vote to lose their jobs," he observed.

Developer Jim McCormack said he will put together a list of areas for his firm to avoid, based on slow-growth sentiment. But Diane Gaynor, public relations manager for the Santa Margarita Co., developer of the Rancho Santa Margarita planned community in the south county, said, "We're going to be here for a long time."

Russ Burkett of San Juan Capistrano, a leader of the effort to qualify a slow-growth measure for the June, 1988, ballot in each of the county's cities and its unincorporated area, said the cynicism shown in the survey results did not surprise him.

In gathering signatures for his initiative effort, Burkett said, he has heard a lot of people say: "You're too late. The damage is already done, and this place is ruined."

Among other survey findings:

- Only 37% of the county's residents are "very happy" with the county as it is today; 50% say things are going "somewhat well," and 13% say they're going "somewhat or very badly."

- 81% would prefer to live in single-family, detached homes, but only 49% actually do so.

- 47% say they prefer living in a small community, and only 15% want to live in a suburban region.

- 54% say the county will be a worse place to live in the future; 20% predict no change, and 26% believe life will be better.

- Those questioned in the survey opposed a complete ban on local growth and development by a 2-1 margin, but 78% said they favor a slow-growth measure tied to traffic standards in the cities where they live; 74% said they favor such a slow-growth measure for the county, and 68% favor measures for both the county and cities where they live. In the south county, however, 42% favor a total ban on growth.

- At the same time, respondents said they believe that a countywide slow-growth initiative would not help reduce freeway traffic. But 53% said they believe that such an initiative would have a positive effect on job opportunities, and 40% said it would help the housing market.

- The number of respondents who have to commute 20 minutes or more to work has grown from 36% in 1982 to 43% in 1987. Eighty-one percent of the respondents believe few will car-pool or utilize flexible work schedules; 74% say new freeways mean more traffic, and 58% say traffic will only get worse because there are no solutions.

- Mortgage payments have climbed 10% in a year to a median of $686; rental payments have increased 3% to a median of $640.

- The median household donation to charity last year was $262, or 0.6% of median household income, compared to 2.4% for the average U.S. household.

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