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The Quality of Life in L.A. : A Times Poll Special Report

April 02, 1989|KEVIN RODERICK | Kevin Roderick is a Times staff writer.

Los Angeles County, 1943, population 3.1 million and growing: Life magazine reports that "almost everybody who lives in Los Angeles believes that someday it will be the largest city in the world."

Los Angeles County, 1989, population 8.5 million and growing: Nearly half of Los Angeles residents say they have considered moving away in the past year.

The Times Poll, conducted between Feb. 11 and Feb 14, surveyed 2,046 Los Angeles County and city residents who were randomly selected and interviewed by telephone. A poll sample of this size has a possible error of 3% in either direction. Some interviews were conducted in Spanish. Ethnic breakdowns cannot list Asian respondents as a separate group because of the sample size. The Los Angeles residents whose profiles begin on Page 12 were selected for more in-depth interviews from among those surveyed for the Times Poll, which was directed by I. A. Lewis.

LIFE MAGAZINE'S SPIN on sunny, funny Los Angeles in the '40s was America's view for decades. Blessed with "a monotonous supply of sunshine," the area was "irresistibly attractive to hordes of people." It overflowed with young men who hitched rides here from Ohio and Indiana and found good jobs nailing up houses or assembling airplanes or writing movies, and sent home for their sweethearts and kinfolk.

Streetcars went everywhere. Why, you could ride from Santa Monica to Riverside and back on a pleasant Sunday. Houses were cheap. Winter was a rumor except on days when winds scattered the haze to reveal snow-frosted mountains. Crime seemed to occur on screen more often than on sidewalks.

Los Angeles was a phenomenon, and not just for white people. Many blacks--including the man who would serve as mayor of Los Angeles longer than anyone--found refuge from Southern segregation. Unlike much of the country, the culture also made a place for those whose ancestors lived in Mexico or around the Pacific, even if it didn't always welcome them. "Mister, this is dreamland," Life concluded.

But today, nearly half a century later, for many the dream is fading fast, the Times Poll has found. As the population grows, life is turning more frantic, more pressured, more dangerous in and around the No. 2 American city, heart of the largest metropolitan area on the Pacific outside of Asia. Los Angeles has become more sophisticated, more worldly, and people say it offers more entertainment and economic opportunities than in the '40s, or even the '70s. But, the poll found, people have become resentful of the price.

It seems this is no longer the cheerful paradise Life described. Six of every 10 people interviewed for the poll said they believe that the quality of life in Los Angeles has changed for the worse in the past 15 years. Only 17% of Los Angeles County residents said things have improved. Three-fourths said Los Angeles is a worse place to bring up children. Only 5% said it has become a better place for children. Nearly half--48%--of the 2,046 Los Angeles County residents interviewed by telephone said they had considered moving away in the past year--to San Diego, Ventura, Orange County, Northern California, even out of state. (But the dissatisfaction has not translated to political ferment. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley appears headed for easy reelection to a record fifth term next week; there have been no changes in the County Board of Supervisors since 1980, and likewise there has been no rush to unseat other local city officials around the Los Angeles area.)

THE GOOD NEWS

Sun and Money: The poll did find abundant optimism and plenty that people still like about life in Los Angeles. A little more than half said "things are going well"--though only 6% said things are going "very well." To find just what people do like about Los Angeles, the interviewers read people a list of good qualities about Los Angeles, then asked which they endorsed.

Not too surprising, perhaps, the poll found that today's Los Angeles residents are pleased with the same attractions that drew earlier generations of immigrants here--climate and economic opportunities.

But the answers tended to depend on people's income and where they live. On the Westside of Los Angeles, in the more affluent coastal communities such as Brentwood, Pacific Palisades and Venice, 66% said climate is L.A.'s biggest attraction. A third of Westsiders also praised L.A.'s "cultural diversity," while only 20% said it is the financial opportunities that make life in L.A. desirable.

In the San Gabriel Valley, far from the ocean, the motivations were similar but with a different shading. Climate was still ranked first, but by just 48% of the people. More inland residents mentioned opportunities--34%--than on the Westside. Only 25% in the San Gabriel Valley, a racially mixed area reaching from Pasadena to Pomona, said cultural diversity is one of the things they like best about living here.

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