Crime has surpassed the economy and traffic as the most serious concern of local residents, a new poll shows, reflecting the fading perception of Orange County as a suburban paradise immune to urban ills.
It was the first time in the 12-year history of UC Irvine’s Orange County Annual Survey that crime topped the list of the county’s most important public-policy problems.
According to the findings released Monday, people in Orange County are far more concerned that they or someone close to them will be the victim of a violent crime than they are about any other single issue affecting their quality of life.
“The fact that crime came out on top was really a surprise since not so long ago we had much more mundane problems,” said Cheryl Katz, co-director of the survey and a research associate at UC Irvine. “It’s a very dramatic situation in what used to be a pretty sleepy place.”
This year, 29% of those surveyed cited crime as the most worrisome problem in the county--up 12 points from last year. Regardless of what region they lived in, most people said they felt that crime was on the rise in their neighborhoods, followed by anxieties over jobs and the economy (20%), immigration (19%), traffic (11%), schools (10%), growth (7%) and housing (4%).
The survey, conducted by Mark Baldassare, a professor in UCI’s School of Social Ecology, and Katz, was released on the eve of an unprecedented meeting of law enforcement officials, educators and others to discuss ways of combatting gang violence.
Based on a telephone poll of 1,007 adults, the survey attempts to track shifts in attitudes and population characteristics of county residents. It also studies their perceptions about economic, social and political issues using a computer-generated sample of random telephone numbers from across the county. The margin of error is plus or minus 3%.
The survey was funded by contributions from 28 public agencies, private foundations and corporations.
According to the findings, 28% of the respondents said they or someone in their immediate family had been a victim of a crime in their neighborhood in the past year, compared to 18% 10 years ago. People between the ages of 18 and 34 were more likely to have been crime victims (37%) compared to middle-aged people (21%) and those 55 and older (24%).
However, those statistics do not take into account residents who may have been victims of a crime within the county but were outside their own neighborhood when the attack occurred.
The survey also did not specifically ask residents whether their fears about crime would cause them to modify their behavior. However, Katz said she believes people will eventually start to change their lifestyles.
“I think people will be more cautious about what parts of the county they go to and will be generally more fearful,” she said.
However, Katz said, the fact that crime emerged as the top priority in this year’s survey does not mean that people are any less concerned about other issues.
A 6% drop in the numbers of people who listed the economy as their major worry merely shows that Orange County residents are having a hard time picking out the single greatest public policy problem in a county besieged with troubles, Katz said.
“It’s not even a sizable drop,” she said, referring to the change in the percentage between this year and last. “It’s just that people have been so focused on the crime problem.”
According to the survey, 36% of the respondents said that they were worried that they or someone in their family would lose their job in the next year; 19% said they “worried a lot.” People earning less than $36,000 a year (46%) were the most concerned; those earning $80,000 or more (22%) were the least worried.
“It’s a sizable number who are worried that they or a family member will lose their job,” Katz said. “Even people who haven’t lost jobs feel threatened and insecure.”
On the issue of immigration, twice as many people (20%) as last year cited it as the county’s biggest problem, putting it in a virtual tie with jobs and the economy and reflecting tensions over the county’s changing ethnic makeup. The rapid increase comes at a time when many state and federal officials are calling for tougher laws and beefed-up border patrols to ferret out illegal immigrants--and even limits on legal immigration.
“That ties into people’s fears of the economy and the strain of adapting to a multicultural environment,” Katz said. “It shows the increasingly complex nature of Orange County. It used to be a one-problem town.”
Perhaps reflecting these concerns, nearly 40% of the respondents said they believe the quality of life in Orange County is deteriorating. More than a third said they think things will only get worse.
O.C. ANNUAL SURVEY
Growing Fear of Crime
For the first time in more than a decade, crime has emerged as the No. 1 concern among Orange County residents. However, that does not mean that people are any less worried about jobs and the economy.
* Most important public policy problem in Orange County: Crime: 29% Jobs, economy: 20% Immigration: 19% Traffic: 11% Schools: 10% Growth: 7% Housing: 4% *
In the past year, have you or anyone in your immediate family been the victim of a crime--such as a burglary, auto theft, assault or robbery--in your neighborhood? Yes: 28% No: 72% *
Would you say that it is safe to go out walking at night where you live? Yes: 64% No: 36% *
QUALITY OF LIFE
How do you think things are going as far as quality of life is concerned? (Shown is the percent saying “very well.”) ’87: 37% ’93: 8% *
Two years from now, what do you think the economy in Orange County will be like compared to today?
1992 1993 Better 46% 41% Same 33% 33% Worse 16% 23% Don’t know 5% 3%
How much do you worry that you or someone in your family will lose their job in the next year? A lot: 19% Somewhat: 17% A little: 18% Not at all: 40% Already lost: 6% Source: 1993 Orange County Annual Survey, UCI
Economy Still Worrisome for O.C.
Seven in 10 adults rate the local economy as no better than fair, and one in five worries a lot that a family member will be out of work within a year. Meanwhile, charitable giving has increased slightly despite a still sluggish economy. A look at these issues as well as what Orange County residents think about the environment, transportation, city growth and housing.
Quality of Life
How do you think things are going as far as quality of life is concerned?
1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 Very well 37% 35% 28% 22% 11% 8% 8% Somewhat well 50% 50% 49% 53% 55% 52% 52% Somewhat badly 10% 12% 18% 19% 27% 33% 32% Very badly 3% 3% 5% 6% 7% 7% 8%
How would you rate the economy in Orange County today? Excellent: 2% Good: 18% Fair: 49% Poor: 30% Don’t know: 1% *
How satisfied are you with your own financial situation? Very satisfied: 14% Somewhat satisfied: 52% Somewhat dissatisfied: 22% Very dissatisfied: 11% Don’t know: 1% *
Environment and Transportation
How serious a threat do you think environmental problems, such as air and water pollution, are to your well-being and health today? Very serious: 43% Somewhat serious: 35% Not too serious: 21% Don’t know: 1% *
How do you usually commute to work? Drive alone: 78% Car-pool: 12% Employer van-pool: Less than 1% Public transit: 2% Other: 8% Charity
How much money did you give to charities last year?
1992 1993 Nothing 23% 16% $1 to $100 22% 20% $101 to $250 18% 16% $251 to $500 15% 17% $501 to $999 6% 8% $1,000 or more 16% 23%
City Growth and Housing
In the last three years, do you think the population in your city or community has been: Growing rapidly: 41% Growing slowly: 21% Staying about the same: 30% Losing population: 6% Don’t know: 2% *
Do you think that government regulations in your city or community aimed at controlling growth are: Too strict: 11% About right: 44% Not strict enough: 45% *
Do you think that buying a home today in Orange County is an excellent, good, fair or poor investment? Excellent: 16% Good: 41% Fair: 25% Poor: 16% Don’t know: 2% *
What is your monthly rental payment? Under $500: 17% $501 to $750: 34% $751 to $1,000: 30% $1,001 to $1,500: 15% $1,501 or more: 4% *
What is your monthly mortgage payment, not including taxes and insurance? Nothing: 17% $500 or less: 10% $501 to $750: 10% $751 to $1,000: 17% $1,001 to $1,500: 25% $1,501 to $2,000: 12% $2,001 or more: 9% Source: 1993 Orange County Annual Survey, UCI