Orange County's 15-month-old bankruptcy continues to plague residents, with a third of the voters complaining that the crisis has greatly diminished the quality of life in the county and has directly affected them or members of their families, according to a new Times Orange County Poll.
Residents also remain angry at their local leaders. More than 40% of voters say the Board of Supervisors has done a poor job in handling the financial collapse.
"I would have thought that by now the residents would be more forgiving and forgetting, but they are not," said Mark Baldassare, who conducted the poll for The Times. "They are still very concerned and still very upset, especially with the Board of Supervisors."
Supervisors Roger R. Stanton and William G. Steiner--who were in office at the time of the Dec. 6, 1994, bankruptcy declaration and still remain on the board--took the brunt of the voters' wrath.
About two-thirds want Stanton and Steiner to resign before their terms expire, while nearly 80% oppose using public funds to pay their legal bills as they defend themselves against charges that they failed to properly oversee the county's finances and investments. The poll of 600 registered voters was conducted March 1-4 and has a 4% margin of error.
"Should we pay their bills? Hell no," said Dick Balmer, a 55-year-old truck driver from Anaheim. "They're making enough money. They wanted to be in office. I didn't ask them to be in there."
After they were charged by the Orange County Grand Jury with "willful misconduct" in office three months ago, the other three members of the Board of Supervisors voted to pay for Steiner and Stanton's legal defense. Their attorneys' bills eventually could exceed hundreds of thousands of dollars, county officials have said.
Although they have rejected calls for their resignations, both men have said they will not seek reelection when their terms end. Stanton's term expires at the end of this year, and Steiner's expires December 1998.
While the supervisors are viewed with disdain, voters think more highly of Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi, whose office is prosecuting the supervisors and continuing with its investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing by others involved in the bankruptcy.
According to the poll, one in three voters gives Capizzi good grades for his handling of the bankruptcy-related prosecutions and investigations. Only 13% say he is doing a poor job.
"I think he has to do this. He's correct in investigating this. He has a responsibility to find out as much as he can so people know there is no cover-up and to make sure that this doesn't happen again," said Sheila Marcus, 56, of Fountain Valley.
Marcus said she also believes that Capizzi did the right thing by getting the grand jury to charge the two supervisors with misconduct in office, rather than criminal violations.
"I don't think [their actions] were criminal," she said. "Should they have kept a better eye on things? Yes. They showed bad judgment and poor oversight, but that is not criminal behavior."
The poll shows that time has done little to assuage the high degree of fear and angst caused by the nation's largest-ever municipal bankruptcy. In fact, in some cases, residents appear to be getting more upset than they were when it was first discovered that former Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert L. Citron's risky investments had plunged $1.64 billion in value, prompting the county to file for bankruptcy.
"The worst part of the fiscal crisis appears to be over, but residents are still really mad that it happened at all," said Baldassare, a UC Irvine professor of urban planning.
He added that as the county continues to grapple with the crisis, there has been a growing realization among county residents of the calamity's adverse effects--and an increasing tendency to blame the bankruptcy for any number of ills.
"People are attributing a variety of shortcomings in their lives to the investment fund losses," he said. "There's a growing recognition that this problem is not going to go away any time soon."
Mindy Glatstein, a 45-year-old homemaker and student from Placentia, said the bankruptcy's impact isn't confined to monetary or fiscal matters.
"It's not the loss of money as much as the emotional roller coaster we went through." said Glatstein, who has three children in the public schools system. "There's a real loss of trust more than anything else."
And the supervisors have done little to restore her faith in government, she said.
"I think they've been cowardly," Glatstein said. "I don't think anybody took a real strong stand to help the situation or take blame. There was a lot of finger pointing. I think that was wrong.
"It's tremendously disappointing," she added, "when you realize that your supervisors weren't exercising their fiduciary responsibility."
But the supervisors aren't the only ones deserving of blame, she said.