Southland Found Near Failing in Most Categories

Times Staff Writer

When a regional planning agency released its annual report card for Southern California on Thursday, one local official joked that, if a teenager brought home similar grades from school, most parents would take away the kid's car keys until the grades improved.

The report card for 2001 from the Southern California Assn. of Governments concluded that the region is getting near-failing grades in housing, transportation and education and only a passing grade in the category of improving the income level of workers in the area. The only good grades came in employment, air quality and safety.

"It's not a good report card this year," said Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge, a SCAG board member. "It's a challenge for all of us who care about Southern California."

Several officials placed part of the blame for the region's housing shortage, troubled education system and gridlocked freeways on huge population growth in the last decade, particularly an influx of immigrants.

"This gives us an insight to the things we need to work on," said SCAG Chairman Hal Bernson, who is also a Los Angeles city councilman.

The six counties that constitute the region -- Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura -- have a population of 17 million, making Southern California the second most populous region in the nation.

But the annual SCAG report concluded that Southern California falls far below most other metropolitan areas in such categories as housing, education, home ownership and poverty levels.

In presenting the report, Bernson and other regional leaders suggested that many of Southern California's problems could be addressed with an increase in state and federal funding and additional legislative authority to execute local solutions.

"I believe this really is a call to action for the governor, Legislature and the president," said Brea Mayor Bev Perry.

Although the report focused on data generated in 2001, it took until last month to compile detailed census figures, create the charts and graphs and approve the release of the 103-page report.

With projections of continued population growth in the region over the next 20 years, SCAG dropped the region's grade for housing from a C-minus in 2000 to a D-plus in 2001. The number of the region's residents in crowded housing -- defined as more than one person per room -- stands at 20%, nearly twice the proportion of most major metropolitan areas in the nation, according to the report.

The freeways in Southern California have been ranked as the most congested in the nation for more than 15 years. Still, studies show that the percentage of commuters driving alone to work has remained about the same, 72%, according to the study. SCAG gave the region a D grade on mobility for the fourth year in a row.

In education, the region also received a D grade for the fourth straight year. Figures for 2001 were not available, but in 2000, 73% of the population older than 25 had high school diplomas or higher education. That put Southern California behind every other major metropolitan area in the nation, according to the study.

The good news came in the categories of employment, air quality and safety. But even though those grades were passing, they dropped slightly in 2001. The air quality grade -- a B-minus in 2001, down from a B in 2000 -- dropped because emission reductions have not remained consistent, according to the report.

Although the region's crime rate has dropped over the last decade, the rate has climbed in the last three years, according to the report. The SCAG grade for safety dropped from B-plus in 2000 to a B in 2001.

During the 1990s, the region lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs, including many high-paying aerospace jobs.

Since 1990, the unemployment rate in Southern California has been consistently higher than in the nation. SCAG gave the region a B grade for employment, down from a B-plus in 2000, according to the report.

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