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Save the California Dream

April 25, 1999

Less than a decade after national newsmagazines and social commentators declared the California dream dead, a majority of Californians rate the state as being among the "best places to live." Even more express no desire to settle anywhere else. That is a considerable contrast to 1992, when fewer than a third of the respondents in a Field poll considered the state top-notch.

Does this mean California is getting better? That's hard to believe, given the grumbling these days about the quality of the public schools, traffic congestion, sprawling growth and other problems that plague a state that has more than doubled in population since the 1960s. Some would argue that the rising numbers are merely a reflection of a revitalized California economy.

Californians' feelings about this as a place to live began to decline in the late 1980s, says poll director Mark DiCamillo. The economy began sinking in 1990 and by 1992, only 2% of those polled described the economy as good and only 30% ranked California among the best places to live. During the early and middle 1990s, California also suffered devastating earthquakes, floods, fires, crime, urban riots and fierce public debate over the influx of immigrants. But as the economy rebounded so did the belief this was a good place to live. Even so, the slim majority of 52% who say so now remains far below the 70%-plus rating the state got during the 1960s and 1970s.

Coincidentally, The Los Angeles Times Poll found last fall that 53% of Californians believed things were going well in the state. And a poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California early this year showed that 63% believed that in five years they would be living in the same county.

Californians' attitudes are influenced by their tenure in the state. People here since the 1960s recall when the state had quality public schools, an expanding higher education system, the nation's best parks and a new and growing network of freeways; these people tend to have a lower opinion of the present. But even today, with the excessive growth, congestion and the decay of public services, newcomers often consider California a better place to live than where they came from.

There is growing concern by many state leaders, however, that the economy and quality of life in California will decline dramatically if the state does not move quickly to fix the schools and repair an array of public works.

The California Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce are among those promoting a $90-billion public works program over the next quarter-century--schools, college and university facilities, highways, public transit systems, water facilities and more. This is an investment for a better California.

If our goal is to build a brighter future, we must urgently pursue these improvements with the energy and finances needed to do the job. Anything less will deny future generations a California dream worth dreaming.

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