LONG BEACH — Crime and drugs--a deadly combination threatening a community in the midst of a redevelopment renaissance--are viewed by voters as the two biggest problems facing the city, according to a Los Angeles Times Poll.
The growing scourge of gang warfare also ranked high on the list, indicating that personal safety issues are foremost in the minds of poll respondents. In combatting crime, the Police Department won particularly high marks.
"I get an overwhelming response from the community that they are happy with their cops," said Police Chief Lawrence L. Binkley when told the poll's findings. "The cops really are great. They work very hard. That's no reflection on me. They were that way before I got here (a year ago)."
The poll also found:
Overbuilding, in which neighborhoods are choked by what many regard as runaway development, was listed third among voters' concerns, just ahead of gang activity. By a two-to-one margin, voters endorse the notion of restricting further growth in an effort to protect the quality of life. Blacks and Latino voters, however, favor continued growth that would would foster a healthy business climate and create new jobs.
While the influx of immigration into Long Beach ranked low as a concern, one out of three voters feel the Asian and Latino life styles have worsened the city environment.
Reform of campaign financing is favored by a large segment of voters who were aware of the issue. Two out of five said they do not know enough to state an opinion.
The Times Poll, conducted under the direction of I. A. Lewis, was taken last Sunday from a scientific sampling of 621 Long Beach residents. Of those, 339 respondents said they are registered voters who will probably or certainly cast ballots in the June 7 election when Councilwoman Jan Hall faces Mayor Ernie Kell in a runoff to become full-time elected mayor.
The Times reported Thursday that likely voters sampled in the poll favor Kell over Hall by 63% to 29% with 8% undecided. Those results were based on a projected 40% turnout, which is typical for municipal elections held in conjunction with a presidential primary. All results have a margin of error of plus or minus 5%.
When voters were asked to choose what they considered to be the city's two biggest problems from a list of nine issues, crime and drugs easily emerged as the strongest concerns. The two problems were chosen by voters no matter their race, age or years of residence.
Better than two out of five voters listed crime or drugs as major problems, double the number of responses for the next closest concern, overbuilding.
"I remember 30 years ago, I was able to walk the streets at night. Not anymore," said Ivan McDaniel, 83, a retired Veterans Administration manager who cited crime as a problem when polled.
Police Chief Binkley said he thinks the concern about crime, drugs and gangs in Long Beach reflects a nationwide trend.
Though concern is soaring, the crime rate in Long Beach itself is falling. It has steadily declined in major categories that include manslaughter, robbery, forcible rape, burglary, theft and arson for 15 months through the end of March, the most recent statistics, said police Lt. William Swanson. The frequency of major crimes dropped 9% alone in 1987 over 1986.
Exceptions were a slight increase in the murder rate and bigger rises in aggravated assault and auto theft, he said.
Binkley said heroin and cocaine use remains rampant in the city. Narcotics enforcement has been tripled, but drug use in some areas is so extensive that at least 50 heroin addicts were arrested every week during nine months of last year.
A special 11-member Gang Unit was recently created, Binkley said, but the department is still "not as sophisticated as we should be" in identifying gang-related crime.
Overall, voters think the Police Department is doing a good job by 69% to 13%, the poll found. Eighteen percent did not express an opinion on the department's performance.
White and black voters lauded police in equal proportions. Poll expert Lewis said that blacks usually are more critical of police. Latino voters were even stronger in support. Four out of five say they are impressed with the department.
More than one out of five voters responding to the poll cite overbuilding as a major problem. However, more than half the blacks and Latinos questioned oppose limits on growth.
"I think they spent, in general, too much money downtown and (the city government) forgot about the other neighborhoods," said engineering aide Barry Novodvorsky, 33, who was polled. "(The City) Council was too shortsighted to realize how builders were destroying neighborhoods."
While 55% of the voters favor controls on growth, the poll found that an even higher number--67%--support the redevelopment of downtown Long Beach.
The finding is "a vote of confidence in the redevelopment agency but shows that growth, as an issue, is politically potent," pollster Lewis said.