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THE TIMES POLL : Ripple Effect of Crisis Feared in Orange County : Many not directly hurt by the bankruptcy foresee ill effects on business prospects, schools and services. Three-quarters believe quality of life will suffer to some extent.

January 29, 1995|J.R. MOEHRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even Orange County residents still untouched by last month's fiscal temblor are bracing for aftershocks, a new Times Orange County poll of 600 adults shows.

Nearly half said they worry that the county's bankruptcy filing and its aftermath will hurt them or a family member, with 17% calling themselves "very worried," according to the poll, conducted between Jan. 20 and Monday.

"I have a student in the Huntington Beach Union High School District," said Norman Kendall, a sales consultant in Fountain Valley who was among those surveyed. "I suspect that ripple effect will be felt at school districts in terms of ancillary services . . . like libraries, maintenance people, janitors, security. Security is a big deal for me."

As the county moves to fully comprehend one of its greatest and still unfolding crises, residents say they foresee personal consequences at home, in their communities and in their children's schools.

In all, 74% said they believe the quality of life in Orange County will be hurt at least somewhat.

Many concur with Kathreen Jaramillo of San Clemente, 46, who lost a job she loved and now must indefinitely delay the purchase of a new Ford truck and a visit with her parents in Phoenix.

"It shouldn't have happened," said Jaramillo, a substitute teacher in the Aliso Niguel school system until the county declared bankruptcy Dec. 6. "It's stupid. All these brilliant people that are behind those desks, that get all that money, it just shouldn't have happened."

The poll appears to show a perception lengthening like a late-day shadow: Few will totally elude the disaster's reach.

County bankruptcy attorney Bruce Bennett recently said that the bankruptcy will cost every Orange County resident $800. Many are beginning to feel the repercussions from the crisis, from shoppers canceling car purchases to timid renters reconsidering home-buying plans.

Kendall, 47, said he worried about the reach of the crisis when he read that there could be fewer lifeguards this summer at beaches his family likes to frequent.

"Talk about your trickle-down effect!" he said. "What if (the bankruptcy) increases response time in the water. . . . If I'm that guy, I'm going to be \o7 affected\f7 ."

At Aliso Niguel High School, where Jaramillo was a substitute teacher, she and the teen-agers have felt the bankruptcy in a very personal way. Like many other districts, Aliso Niguel has money frozen in the county's depleted investment pool, so cost-cutting officials quickly slashed substitute positions.

There once were seven campus supervisors at the high school--teachers who counseled students, maintained order and kept an eye out for drugs. Now there are four--far too few for a student population of 2,200, said Jaramillo, who substituted for the supervisors.

But the poll also shows that residents fear long-term, less tangible damage: 17% of those surveyed said they have seriously considered pulling their children from the financially hamstrung public school systems; 25% of those earning $50,000 or more said they have considered such a move. And nearly a third of adults with children in public schools said they have thought about pulling up stakes and abandoning Orange County altogether.

In a Times Orange County poll conducted the week the county declared bankruptcy, 83% of residents said they were not considering leaving Orange County. But that number slipped to 75% in the new poll.

"We have neighbors who say, 'Hey, we're really considering moving elsewhere,' " said Don Lee, a 44-year-old Orange resident who worries about the future of the architecture firm he owns.

Lee said he and his friends were feeling tentative about Orange County before the crisis. Natural disasters and overcrowding already had them pondering greener pastures.

"This is kind of a last straw," he said.

"I've considered moving," said Lupe Marino, 49, a San Clemente resident who now worries about her chances of breaking into the public school system as an administrator, despite a master's degree and fluency in two languages.

Marino said that she also notices friends putting the brakes on their financial schemes.

"They're not buying their new cars," she said, "they're not traveling as extensively as they have, they're not investing a great deal in a diverse portfolio as they used to. Basically, they're watching out for their pennies."

Lee was among the 22% of those surveyed who have read or heard about cutbacks in services that could directly affect them.

His 8-year-old son is enrolled in the Orange school system, which has money frozen by the bankruptcy. Lee reads the newspaper and envisions his son facing larger classes, fewer field trips and less attentive teachers.

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