San Gabriel Valley residents favor aggressive measures to solve the region's trash and pollution problems, even if they have to pay for them, a new survey shows.
A study released last week by Claremont McKenna College's Rose Institute for State and Local Government shows that 40% of residents surveyed favored a proposal for trains to haul garbage to the desert.
The random phone survey of 800 households in 32 cities, from Alhambra to Pomona, showed that concern for the environment is much stronger than researchers had expected, according to public opinion pollster Mark Baldassare, who helped with the study and announced the results along with Rose Institute officials during a Baldwin Park news conference.
The poll showed that San Gabriel Valley residents of all socioeconomic, educational and ethnic backgrounds are "willing to make efforts that I can't imagine that people in the 1960s or 1970s would have made," Baldassare said.
For example, 55% said they were willing to set up their own compost system to deal with yard clippings. Also, nine out of 10 said they would recycle paper, glass and metal from their residences, and four out of five favored penalties for those who refuse to recycle.
More than half said air pollution is the most pressing problem faced by the San Gabriel Valley. Twelve percent said waste disposal is most important; 10% responded "other"; 7% said they were unsure; 6% said pollution in general, and 5% indicated water pollution.
In a separate question on ground water contamination, 31% strongly agreed that it is a major threat in the San Gabriel Valley, another 43% somewhat agreed, 17% didn't know or didn't answer, 8% disagreed, 1% strongly disagreed.
Rose Institute senior researcher Alan Heslop interpreted these results by saying: "Seventy-plus percent think there is a major threat in the form of ground water pollution. You have an issue here that is going to have a lot of life to it and perhaps a lot of fury for some time to come."
He linked concern over the region's widespread ground water pollution to the fact that only 20% of those surveyed said they favor disposing of their trash in local landfills, which some environmentalists and politicians say represents a threat to drinking water supplies. About 28% favored trash incineration.
Politicians and pollsters alike said they were amazed at the high percentage favoring the rail plan over the use of local landfills or trash incineration. Tom Harvey, the La Verne mayor pro tem who heads the solid waste committee of the San Gabriel Valley Assn. of Cities, said "the study is an excellent endorsement of what we are doing."
Local, regional and county officials have been working with two major trash disposal companies on separate proposals that call for hauling Los Angeles County trash to remote desert sites in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The results also pleased Gary E. Kovall, senior vice president of the Eagle Mountain Project of the Mine Reclamation Corp., which is planning the Riverside County waste-by-rail venture. "I believe this shows people will pay a premium for environmental protection," he said.
Of those who favored the rail plan, 54% said they would pay an extra $20 monthly to meet additional disposal costs for the trash trains. Thirty-two percent said they favored paying only an additional $5 to $10 beyond their monthly cost, which now averages $8 to $12 throughout the region.
Harvey estimated the rail project would cost about $6 a month extra per household.
Another surprise to researchers and area politicians was that respondents in the survey seemed unafraid of having trash transfer stations located in their cities.
Some 85% indicated they would be willing to have such a facility in or near their city. Harvey said, "This supports the notion that it's not as volatile a political issue as we thought."
The study was funded by Claremont McKenna through an endowment to the Rose Institute, and officials pointed out that no money for the research was provided by the waste hauling industry. The statistical margin for error for the survey was plus or minus three percentage points.
Rose Institute officials also plan to survey residents of San Bernardino and Riverside counties about their attitudes toward accepting trash from the San Gabriel Valley and the rest of Los Angeles County.