Orange County residents consider smog a serious problem but have strong opinions on just how far they'll go to clean it up, according to a poll released Thursday.
A majority of those polled oppose punitive measures designed to reduce use of their automobiles, such as parking fees or car registration fees based on miles traveled. But they do favor technological fixes such as alternative fuel cars and improved rail service.
The telephone survey of 800 registered voters, conducted in April, was sponsored by a consortium of local government officials, transit agencies and private businesses, including the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Orange County League of California Cities and the Orange County Transportation Authority.
The purpose of the survey was to help elected officials and businesses formulate a political strategy to change the South Coast Air Quality Management District's 20-year anti-smog plan for Southern California. The sweeping plan includes hundreds of proposals to clean up the air, such as mandatory ridesharing and an end to free parking. Many of the proposals have triggered strong opposition among elected officials in Orange County.
County Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez said Thursday that the public's tolerance must be considered when imposing anti-smog rules, or such efforts are destined to fail. Vasquez said he hopes to use the poll results to build a coalition of public and private interests to fashion workable regulations and transportation systems.
The results of the poll, conducted by J. Moore Methods, a Sacramento-based firm, were in line with the findings of UC Irvine's Orange County annual surveys over the past few years. But county officials say the latest poll is the first comprehensive attempt to monitor the views of residents on a large number of specific clean-air measures.
Those polled gave their highest marks to workplace incentives for car-pooling and alternative work styles such as staggered work hours and telecommuting. Fifty-eight percent considered employer car-pool incentives to be "very important."
Not surprisingly, the lowest marks went to measures that cost money, such as fees on parking at workplaces and shopping areas, new fuel taxes and fees for driving during rush hours. An overwhelming three-quarters of those polled said fees for workplace parking were "not too important" in the fight against air pollution.
"Orange County citizens want to retain freedom of mobility. They don't want to be told when and where they can drive," Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly said.
Two-thirds of those surveyed said they considered electric cars a very important method of controlling smog, while three-quarters said cleaner-burning fuels are very important. Seventy-two percent thought tougher smog check programs were very or somewhat important.
"There is an appetite to embrace that technology, and it shows people are willing to pay more to pollute less," Vasquez said.
Residents also favor expanding commuter rail service, with 58% calling it very important and 25% calling it somewhat important. But they were less approving of additional bus service or shuttle buses. Vasquez said the survey shows that Orange County must design mass transit that is "reasonable, affordable, dependable and accessible."
"It is quite apparent that the task and challenge of building transportation facilities will be relatively easy compared to the task of convincing motorists they should use different modes of transportation," Vasquez said.
Sixty percent of those polled considered air pollution a "very important" issue and 28% said it was "somewhat important." On the other hand, other social and economic issues, such as jobs, gang violence, taxes, education and immigration ranked higher among their concerns.
AQMD spokeswoman Claudia Keith said technological solutions such as electric cars may be most popular, but to clean up air in the nation's most polluted area, the measures must encompass much more, including an effort to end solo commutes.
"We cannot give up the notion of ride-sharing. The burden has to be shared," she said. "It has to be a whole pie. There is no one solution."
Keith added however that measures to alter behavior can be made less painful to the public. One way, she said, is to focus on incentives instead of fines and fees.
"You can't abandon measures because they are unpopular, but you can take a different approach," she said. "Instead of penalizing companies for not meeting rideshare goals, you can provide incentives to those who do. I think you will see a shift toward that approach."
The Way to Clean Air
Orange County voters favor technological solutions rather than changing their driving habits as the way to achieve cleaner air.
High-Tech Solution Improvements in automobile pollution technology and the mass transit system are seen as far more likely to reduce smog than are reduced vehicle use and improved roads.
Very Somewhat Not too No likely likely likely opinion Improving vehicle 71% 19% 8% 2% pollution technology Improving mass 63 23 13 1 transit system Reducing vehicle use 44 28 27 1 Improving highway 41 34 24 1 and road systems
Most Effective Pollution Reduction Providing incentives for workers to form car pools and expanding existing commuter rail service are seen as more effective ways to reduce air pollution than some alternatives.
Very Somewhat Not too effective effective effective Incentives for 58% 30% 11% worker car pools Expanding existing 58 25 15 commuter rail service Vehicle registration fee 21 27 50 based on miles driven Fees for driving 17 21 65 during rush hour Workplace parking fees 9 15 75
Note: Some totals do not add to 100% due to rounding.
Source: Orange County Air Quality Survey