Most Residents Express Worry, Anger in Poll


A week after staggering investment losses compelled Orange County to file for bankruptcy, a new Times Orange County poll shows that most residents are frightened about the potential impact of the crisis and angrily blame government officials as well as Wall Street firms for the financial collapse.

The vast majority of county residents say they are worried about the disastrous turn of events, with three in 10 describing themselves as “very worried” about the consequences for schools, government, the economy and the county’s image. An even greater proportion are angry about the actions of county officials that preceded the debacle, with 40% saying they are “very angry.”

The poll shows that the public already is parceling out blame for the crisis. Across all demographic and political groups, residents point the finger at former Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert L. Citron, the County Board of Supervisors, Wall Street companies that brokered the county’s investments and local governmental agencies that invested in Citron’s failed bond portfolio.


County residents also do not have much faith that government will solve the problem. Only one in 10 say they have a “great deal” of confidence in the Board of Supervisors. Four in 10 have some trust, whereas about half have very little or no confidence in the county’s elected leadership.

Most upset and worried are people with children in public schools that might be hurt financially by the crisis. The poll found that people with school-age children are more likely to give county officials poor grades for their performance during the financial crisis. They also are more likely to have little or no faith in the supervisors.

“No, I can’t say I am very optimistic, because this whole mess has been brought on by all these people in the first place. They are the ones responsible,” said respondent Karen Lee Williams, 33, an aerospace worker from Huntington Beach. “I will remember this on Election Day. Both my husband and I vote.”

The Times Orange County poll, conducted by Mark Baldassare & Associates, is the first assessment of how local residents view the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history and its consequences. The random telephone survey--conducted Friday, Saturday and Sunday--questioned 600 Orange County adults.

“People are fearful of the implications the financial collapse will have on their lives, and they are angry at local officials. They are not just focusing their anger at Bob Citron,” said pollster Baldassare. “They feel many public officials and private entities are responsible for this.”

According to the poll, 68% are worried about the situation, and 75% are angry at local county officials who apparently did not heed official warnings about Citron’s management of the county’s gigantic bond portfolio, which has suffered an estimated $2-billion loss. (About a year before the collapse, county Auditor-Controller Steven E. Lewis issued an audit criticizing the treasurer for making risky investments and violating government codes governing the fund.)


When asked who is most responsible, 21% specifically named Citron and 16% named the Board of Supervisors. About 4% pointed to the companies that sold the investments, 2% cited County Administrative Officer Ernie Schneider, and 1% accused the cities and local agencies that invested in the pool.

Another 42%--the largest group--blame “all of the above” individuals and institutions for the crisis, which has shaken the municipal bond market and prompted calls from Sacramento to Washington for tighter oversight of municipal investing practices.

“I just can’t imagine with all these people involved, they let it go on for this long,” said poll respondent Robert Peters, 67, of Orange, a retired marketing representative. “Surely other people in the treasurer’s department and county should have known about it and could have done something. I don’t blame it on just one guy.”

Parents with children in the local public schools are the most disturbed. Seventy-one percent are worried, with 35% “very worried” about the impact the financial crisis will have on education. Eighty percent expressed anger at the actions of local officials that led to the crisis, with 43% saying they are “very angry.”

Under state law, school districts across the county had no choice but to invest their funds--hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth--in Citron’s bond portfolio, which has plunged $1.5 billion to $2 billion in value as interest rates have climbed. Four county districts went further, borrowing tens of millions of dollars to invest in the fund in hopes of boosting their interest income.

“I’d like to smack Citron in the face. There are going to be a lot of people suffering because of this,” said Lisalyn Jones, 32, of Stanton, who has two daughters in public school.


According to the poll, seven in 10 respondents expect county services and programs to be reduced in the wake of the financial debacle, with 30% saying they will be cut back “a lot.” Six in 10 anticipate that their city services will be reduced at least somewhat, with 17% fearing a greater cutback.

A similar six in 10 expect that programs in their local school districts will have to be reduced at least somewhat, with 22% predicting services will be trimmed “a lot.” State and local education officials came to a tentative agreement with the county Monday to keep school funds in an account separate from the county treasury. But administrators in individual districts said they remain worried about making payroll and paying bills.

Many residents expect to be personally affected by the county’s fiscal collapse. Four in 10 are worried that they will be hurt financially as a result of the crisis, with 16% describing themselves as “very worried.”

Pamela Green, 37, a Laguna Hills interior designer, suspects the financial crisis will have far-ranging impact that might hurt her business.

“I’m definitely very, very disappointed,” she said. “I have two clients that work for Caltrans. If they can’t work on the freeway and they can’t keep ordering, that may have an effect. . . . The arrogance of somebody to play like that with other people’s money. It’s amazing to think about.”

Baldassare said the findings show that worries about losses go far beyond employees of governmental agencies and are especially prevalent among those who are less well-off. Fifty percent of those with incomes below $50,000 describe themselves as worried, with 24% being “very worried.”


Altogether, one in six residents say they or a member of their family receive a salary, contract or some form of payment from a local government entity that is caught up in the crisis. There are no differences by income or other demographics.

Beyond the personal impact, most residents are expecting a blow to the county’s economy and image as a result of the financial crisis.

About 70% expect negative impacts on the county’s job opportunities and economy, with 32% anticipating a very negative effect. A total of 75% expect the county’s image and prestige to be hurt, with 38% anticipating a very negative effect.

“I am worried about the county and my position in the county,” said Patty Bernard, 50, of Fullerton, a stockbroker. “I’m more worried than anything about what’s going to become of us.”

Only one in five residents rate the county supervisors as having done an “excellent” or “good” job in handling the county’s financial crisis so far, and one in three rate their work as “fair” and another one in three grade them “poor.”

Republicans and Democrats take a similarly dim view of the capability of the county’s elected leaders. About half in both groups say they have little or no confidence in the supervisors’ ability to resolve the crisis.


Half of local residents would ask the state for money to help the county out of its financial troubles, with 25% strongly favoring such a bailout. Democrats and Republicans are equally in favor of asking for state help.

Seventeen percent support raising local taxes to help make up for funds lost in the investment dive, and two in three are “strongly opposed” to any new assessments or fees.

On a brighter note, most residents do not see the effects of the investment fund crisis lasting far into the future. And few at this point are ready to leave the county.

Four in 10 think that five years from now, the county will be much the same as it was before the bankruptcy, and three in 10 believe things will be better; only 24% say it will be a worse place to live.

Younger people, however, are considerably more negative--three in 10 of those under 35 think the county will be a worse place, compared to 18% of people 55 and older.

One in six residents say the crisis has made them consider moving out of the county; 7% say they are seriously thinking about it. Among people with children in school, nearly a quarter have thought about moving, with 10% considering it seriously. Only 14% of households without children in school are thinking about moving away.


“I don’t think it’ll take several years to get over this. It’s something we can pull ourselves out of,” said stockbroker Bernard. “We’re a pretty wealthy county--or at least we were. But we’ll be back.”

Times staff writer Alicia DiRado contributed to this story.

* BANKRUPTCY COVERAGE: Related Orange County stories inside. A24-A25, D1


How the Poll Was Conducted

The Times’ Orange County poll was conducted by Mark Baldassare & Associates. The telephone survey of 600 adult Orange County residents was done Dec. 9-11 on weekday nights and weekend days, using a computer-generated random sample of telephone numbers. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 4% at the 95% confidence level. That means it is 95% certain that the results are within 4 percentage points of what they would be if every adult resident in the county were interviewed. For subgroups, the margin of error would be higher. All respondents were guaranteed anonymity; however, some of those polled agreed to be re-interviewed for this story.


Bond Fiasco Fallout

After a week of revelations concerning Orange County’s investment troubles and its bankruptcy filing, residents are both anxious and angry, according to the Times Orange County Poll. They blame everyone involved for the crisis. And they are certain this episode will tarnish the county’s image.

In general, how worried are you about these events? Very worried: 28% Somewhat worried: 40% Not too worried: 18% Not at all worried: 13% Don’t know: 1% ***

Who do you think is most to blame for the Orange County financial crisis?

Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert L. Citron: 21% Board of Supervisors: 16% Companies that sold the investments: 4% County Administrative Officer Ernie Schneider: 2% Schools and local government investors: 1% All of the above: 42% Other: 2% No one: 4% Don’t know: 8% ***

How do you feel about the actions of local officials that led to the financial crisis? Very angry: 39% Somewhat angry: 36% Not too angry: 10% Not at all angry: 11% Don’t know: 4% ***


Do you think that Orange County’s financial crisis will have a positive or a negative effect on the county’s image and prestige, or no effect? Very negative: 38% Somewhat negative: 37% No effect: 15% Very positive: 4% Somewhat positive: 4% Don’t know: 2% Source: Times Orange County Poll