Poll Analysis: Los Angeles Ready to Break Up School District, But Not City

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     As residents of the city of Los Angeles prepare to elect a new mayor for the largest city in the state, they are still feeling more positive than not about the direction things are going, according to the latest Los Angeles Times poll. In a Times Poll survey of the state about a month ago, Californians overall felt just the opposite. More expressed pessimism than optimism about the direction of the state, largely due to concerns over the energy crisis. Electricity shortage problems such as rolling blackouts and threats of higher prices have not impacted Angelenos, whose energy is supplied by a publicly-owned utility company.
     Mayor Richard Riordan and Police Chief Bernard Parks' job approvals have dropped since measured last yearómonths marked by LAPD scandal and the installation of a federal watchdog over city police activities.ÝResidents, however, generally remain confident in the integrity of the majority of police officers, blaming problems on the illegal activities of a few.
     Still, city residents feel generally positive, if not overwhelmingly so, about their outgoing two-term mayor Richard Riordan, are not ready to break up the city although they support breakup of the school district, and remain mainly concerned about traditional L.A. issuesócrime, education, and traffic.

     Mayor Riordan
     Richard Riordan has kept a low profile during the latter portion of his two-term tenure as the mayor, and it shows. More than a third of city residents said they donít know enough about the job heís done to express an opinion. Among those who do know, Riordan receives only lukewarm reviews. The mayorís positive job rating among all residents has slipped below 50%ódown 11 points from when measured by a Times poll last year, lower at 46% than it has been in about five years. Another 20% disapprove, which remains relatively unchanged since it was last measured.
     The mayor is, however, more popular among the voters who elected himó53% of all registered voters and a respectable 62% of voters considered most likely to turn out in the upcoming mayoral election approve of the job heís done over the last eight years.
     Still, just under half of residents (and 50% of voters) give the mayor a grade of average for how his tenure in office will be remembered by history. Just 7% overall rated him as an outstanding mayor, about a quarter said he was above average, and another one in ten said heíd be remembered as below average, or poor.
     As for Riordanís legacy, 44% said the mayor had no impact at all, that Los Angeles is neither better nor worse off because of Riordanís policies as mayor. Still, those who think heís had an impact see it as a positive one. Over a third said Riordan has left the city better than he found it and only nine percent said worse.
     The mayor gets slightly higher marks for the efforts heís made toward improving race relations in the city. Just over half of all residents rate his work in that regard as excellent or good while three in 10 rated progress as not so good or poor. Latinos (61%) are quite a bit more likely to give Riordan high marks for improvement in race relations than either their white (49%) or black (42%) fellow residents. (Note: Asian respondents were interviewed as a part of this Los Angeles city survey and are included in the overall figures, but are not of sufficient number to break out as an individual group.)
     Fifty-seven percent of residents overall and 60% of registered voters think the next mayor should point the city in a new direction rather than continuing the policies of Richard Riordan.
     As underwhelming as are the cityís farewell ratings of its outgoing mayor, the city council fares even worse. For one thing, council members have an even lower profile than the mayoró49% indicated they hadnít heard enough about the job the council has done, or werenít sure what to sayóonly 26% said they approvedónearly the same proportion (25%) who say they disapprove. Among registered voters, disapproval edges approval slightlyó31% to 27%.

     Chief Parks and the LAPD
     Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks' approval rating has taken the biggest hit, down 13 percentage points from when it was measured one year ago. As many residents now disapprove of his job as approve of it (37% approve, 37% disapprove, with 26% not aware or undecided), compared to 50% approval to 29% disapproval in April 2000.ÝHis current approval rating is the lowest found for any recent police chief since Daryl Gates (who was measured by the Times Poll as hitting bottom at 13% approval just before resigning and actually stepping down.)
     While Parksí approval rating has hit an all-time low point citywide, 58% of black residents gave the chief a thumbs-up, 24 percentage points higher than either whites or Latinos.
     The survey shows that the public, seemingly willing to pin the blame on departmental leadership, has not lost confidence in the rank and file.ÝThe LAPD's overall job rating is up six points from a year ago at 40% approval, even though slightly moreó45%ódisapprove of police performance. Also, the survey found most residents still think of cops as honest and hardworking. Nearly three-quarters agreed (and a majority agreed strongly) with the statement ìmost Los Angeles police officers are hardworking and honest and should not be held responsible for the illegal actions of a few.î
     Support of the police reaches its zenith among whites, 84% of whom agreed, drops to 74% among blacks, and then to 63% among Latinos, a still sizeable majority among the three groups.
     The survey also found general approval of federal oversight of the police department in the wake of the Rampart scandalsóa majority (55%) agree with supporters of the consent decree that federal watchdogs will prevent another Rampart-like problem. A quarter agree with opponents who are concerned that it will only serve to further lower police morale and interfere with the ability of officers to do their jobs.

     State of the City
     While city residents are slightly gloomier in their general outlook for Los Angeles than they were just about a year ago, still, 45% still indicated they believe things in the city are generally going in the right direction, compared with 36% who say the city is seriously off on the wrong track. This is down from the more optimistic 53% right direction to 29% wrong track measured by a Times Poll in March 1999.
     However, the muted optimism among city residents is a bit more dramatic when viewed against the gloom found among all Californians by a Times Poll one month ago. In that survey (January 2001) state pessimists outranked optimists by 47% to 38%. Much of the angst among Californians could be attributed to energy issues such as the high price of natural gas, the electricity shortage, and high gasoline prices. Those problems do not even register on the scale for L.A city residents who have been insulated from the shocks of the electricity shortage by the non-deregulated and publicly-owned Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
     In keeping with the generally optimistic theme, just under a third of Angelenos say the quality of their lives has gotten better over the last five years, up slightly from when last measured at 28% in June of 1999. White residents are most inclined to say the quality of their life is worse than it used to be, while black residents, and especially Latinos, are most inclined to say it has gotten better.
     Two-thirds of Los Angeles residents said they think it is very or somewhat likely that the city will face recession in the coming year, but there is evidence that most Angelenos are not feeling any sort of financial pinch right now. Two-thirds said their own personal finances are very or fairly secure. Even more dramatically, 77% said they feel the cityís economy is doing very or fairly well compared to 18% who said fairly or very badly. These figures are almost identical to those measured just under a year ago, in March 2000.
     Crime issues (including gangs, drugs, violence and graffiti) have always been a top concern in Los Angeles, and those categories again received top mentionó56% mentioned crime as one of the two most important problems facing the city today. Education is second at 20%, followed by traffic and road congestion at 15%.
     While crime was the top mention in all areas, it was by far the dominant concern in South L.A., cited by 66% of those residents and led by the sub-categories of gangs and drugs. In comparison, education was mentioned by only 14% of south-city residents. Latinos worry most about crimeónearly seven in 10 cited those issues, compared to 56% of blacks and 43% of whites.
     Education, second highest overall, was of greatest concern to the San Fernando Valley (29%), while whites (28%) tended to mention the problem slightly more often than blacks (21%) and twice as often as Latinos (12%).
     Whites (24%) were three times as likely to cite traffic as one of their main concerns as were blacks (8%) or Latinos (8%). Traffic is a much greater concern for Westside residents (29%) than for Valley residents (17%) or those in the southern (7%) and central (13%) portions of the city.

     Race Relations
     The general state of race relations in the heterogeneous city received mixed reviews at best. The divide, not surprisingly, falls along racial fault lines. Hardly anyone (5%) says race relations in the city are excellent but over a third (36%) said things are good, the same proportion who said not so good. Almost one in five (18%) rated relations among the races as poor. Whites were quite a bit more likely to respond that things are excellent or good (46%) than were either blacks (34%) or Latinos (37%).
     Even though these ratings are nothing to write home about, they are dramatically higher than the 80% who told a Times Poll that race relations were not good or poor in post-riot Los Angeles of 1993.
     Even wider cracks appeared along color lines when respondents were asked if the government has paid too much attention to minorities, just the right amount, or too little. About three times as many whites (14%) as either blacks (5%) or Latinos (4%) said too much. More than twice as many blacks and Latinos (about two thirds of those groups) as whites (three in ten) said not enough attention has been paid to their needs.
     And Angelenos are somewhat split over whether the growing immigrant population is good or bad for the cityóabout three in 10 said good, about four in 10 said bad, and one in five said immigration has had no effect on the city either way. A majority of black respondents responded negatively to the question, perhaps a reflection of tensions caused by an influx of immigrants into traditionally black neighborhoods. Among Latinos, the numbers are splitó35% good to 34% bad with 24% saying immigration has had no effect.

     Education ranks as one of the cityís top concerns and just over half (51%) rated the quality of education provided by local public schools as inadequate or very poor. This figure climbs to seven in ten among black residents.
     There is a great deal of support for breaking up the school district into more manageable portions. Nearly three in five in the city overall favor decentralization of the school district, and about one-quarter oppose it. Blacks however, perhaps fearing even more isolation for already beleaguered area schools, are less enthusiastic about a district break-upó43% are in favor of creating smaller local districts and 37% oppose it.
     Education also comes up in the top four complaints (after street maintenance, police and infrastructure concerns) among the 46% of registered voters who say their areas are being shortchanged in terms of attention and services from city government.

     The survey found only mixed support at best for the three secessionist movements underway at this time. Most voters said theyíd heard or read about the issue, and 44% said theyíd heard a great deal or a good amount about it. Thirty-nine percent said they generally support the concept of communities breaking away to form their own cities, while 46% opposed it and 15% werenít sure.
     The level of public support for the longest-running breakaway movementóin the San Fernando Valleyóhas declined since it was last measured by the Times Poll in March 1999. Even among Valley voters, support for secession in their own area has dropped to just over half (52%) from the 60% found in a Times Poll of April, 1999. Among all city voters, support is even lower. Just over one third said theyíd favor letting the Valley secede, a drop from 47% two years ago. A secession vote would have to pass city-wide in order to succeed.
     Still, support of Valley secession is relatively high compared to other more recent secession efforts. Grass-roots attempts to gain support for recreating independent cities from the regions of Hollywood and San Pedro (which were annexed by the city in 1913 and 1909 respectively) find little public approbation for their labors. Even residents of those areas do not support the idea of their own areas achieving independent cityhood, the survey shows.
     Among city registered voters overall, only 31% favor Hollywood secession, while 47% oppose it and 22% arenít sure. Similarly, only 26% of Angeleno voters favor the idea of tiny San Pedro forming its own city vs. 42% who oppose it and 32% who arenít sure. San Pedro accounts for about 4% of the cityís population.
     The call to arms among many proponents of secession is that these areas are not getting value in city services for tax money rendered. However, city voters overall are not convinced of the validity of this claim. When voters citywide were asked, for example, if they agree that ìSan Fernando Valley residents pay more money in city taxes and fees than they get back out in the form of city servicesî they were splitó33% agreed, 30% disagreed and 37% werenít sure.

     How the Poll Was Conducted
     The Times Poll contacted 1,570 residents in the city of Los Angeles, including 1,014 registered voters, by telephone Feb. 24 through March 1, 2001. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the city of Los Angeles. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample and for registered voter is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Asians were interviewed as part of the overall sample, but there were not enough to break out as a separate subgroup.