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Most Angelenos Optimistic About City, Poll Finds

Survey: Facing a possible civic breakup, residents express much hope for the future of their hometown.

July 07, 2002|DAVID FERRELL and DAREN BRISCOE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Traffic is worse than ever. Street crime and gang violence have been compounded for years by ever-unfolding police scandals. For a turbulent decade--through riots and O.J. and myriad lesser issues--it often seemed Los Angeles was falling apart. Now the fracture might finally come: a vote in November that would cleave north and south at the Cahuenga Pass.

Terry Beggs has seen it all since moving here in the late 1960s.

Fed up? Ready to move?

Not this die-hard Angeleno.

"It's absolutely not perfect ... but it's going well," Beggs, 58, said of life in his Woodland Hills neighborhood and Los Angeles as a whole. "It could be terribly worse. I have high hopes for the place, that things will keep going well and kids will grow up in a better community."

Beggs' outlook might seem surprisingly optimistic, but he is far from alone, according to a Los Angeles Times poll whose results were released last week. Against the darker backdrop of international terrorism, wars, corporate collapses, a lingering economic slowdown and other global problems, Los Angeles emerges in a light that might even be called rosy.

Sixty-three percent of poll respondents said things are going well, or even very well, in the city, compared with 31% who think the city is faring badly or very badly. (Six percent were not sure.) The level of approval was even greater when people considered their own neighborhoods. Three residents out of four said, yes, they like the way things are going up and down the street.

Asians (83%) and whites (82%) expressed the highest level of neighborhood satisfaction, but opinions also were strongly favorable among Latinos (73%) and African Americans (65%) and in central-city communities long plagued by poverty and social ills.

The numbers are particularly striking when compared to Times polls of past years. The percentage of people saying they are pleased with the city today is twice as high as during some periods in the mid-1990s, even though, as South Los Angeles resident William Nelson said, much of the city still needs fixing.

"I'm pretty satisfied with the way things are right now, but I think, overall, nothing's changed," said Nelson, 65, an African American who moved here in 1960. The Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon were "a wake-up call," he said. "You start looking at things a little different."

Los Angeles was spared those horrors and has experienced none of the devastation of Afghanistan's Tora Bora or the suicide mass murders of Jerusalem. It's been 10 years since L.A. was torn apart by rioting. It's easy to be lulled by the calm, to see the sun and palm trees and feel a little upbeat, even if it's still possible to witness moments of violence or feel the strain of racial mistrust.

Nelson lives near Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards and rarely goes out after dark. His 21-year-old son, who is living at home, walked to the street a month ago and encountered some youths flashing gang signs. When he failed to respond, the apparent gang members fired shots, putting a bullet hole in his car, Nelson said.

The incident leaves Nelson unsure how to gauge his own neighborhood. It's been "pretty stable," he said, but there are "little things like that. It can be an aberration. It never happened before."

Nelson, like others, feels a sense of well-being that is tempered by concerns that seem to persist forever. He decries the "lack of economic opportunities for black kids. There's no new enterprises growing up in the community that are black-oriented ... no real black presence in terms of shops." Yet he has also seen some easing of tensions between black patrons and Korean merchants--two groups that clashed tragically during the 1992 riots.

"Over time, they've gotten to know each other a little bit," Nelson said.

Meanwhile, the Latino population has grown sharply, complicating the racial dynamics. The resentments and occasional conflicts are leavened with lessons to be learned.

"You look at the work ethic of the different minorities, you kind of sharpen your own program a little bit," he said.

Such ambiguities frame much of life in so vast and diverse a metropolis. Romilio Lima, 40, is a Latino who lives near Koreatown. He also expressed a high level of approval for how things are going, but he does not paint a glossy picture of paradise. Crime and gang violence remain significant concerns. The Los Angeles Police Department has performed well despite the Rampart corruption scandal, Lima said, but he criticized citizens for not being adequately involved.

Lima worries about the schools and frets that the proposed secession of the Valley could cost the city needed tax dollars. Race relations are still not very good, especially between Latinos and African Americans, he said.

"A lot of people don't want to learn English," he said.

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