Residents of the city of Los Angeles are quite sanguine about how the city is doing, their personal finances and the well-being of the city's economy, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll. They are giving high marks to Mayor Riordan and the Los Angeles Police Department. Although nearly half of the residents approve of the job the new police chief, Bernie Parks, is doing, more than two out of five are still getting to know him. How the Poll Was Conducted
However, with all these positive feelings about the city, an ominous cloud known as San Fernando Valley secession hangs over the city. As you know, Valley VOTE (Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment) gathered enough authenticated signatures of Valley residents to put in motion a committee to examine the possibility of divorcing the Valley from the city. If and when it goes on the ballot, all city residents will vote on the measure. In order for the measure to win it has to have a majority vote in all of the city, plus a majority vote in the San Fernando Valley. Compared to a Times poll taken about three years ago, more Valley residents want to secede from the city of Los Angeles this time around. Some of the reasons they feel this way are that they feel their part of the city is being shortchanged from getting city government attention and services and they overwhelmingly believe they are being overtaxed.
Good Feelings About the City
More than half of the city residents think things in the city of Los Angeles are going in the right direction, while 29% say the city is off on the wrong track. This is a dramatic turnaround from five years ago when the Times asked the same question. In June '94, only 22% thought the city was heading in the right direction, while a huge 63% felt L.A. was off on the wrong track. L.A. has seen good economic times lately: more jobs, less unemployment and a general overall good feeling has taken over the city.
Four out of five city residents say Los Angeles' economy is doing well these days, compared to only 14% who say it is going badly. This feeling goes across all disparate demographic groups. And seven out of 10 residents also feel that their own personal finances is very or fairly secure, while 29% say their finances are fairly or very shaky. The more affluent the residents, the more they feel secure about their personal finances. Virtually all (92%) who have household incomes of more than $60K feel secure, compared to 78% of those households earning between $40K and $60K; 61% of those households earning between $20K and $40K; and even 52% of those household with incomes less than $20K feel secure in their personal finances.
When people are feeling good about where they live, about themselves and are feeling less stressed about the economy, the problems once thought important to them about their life in the city or problems facing them change. Problems that were especially masked by the bad economy and crime of a few years ago, have now taken center stage. Crime has been on the decline for a couple of years and the poll shows people's fear or perception about crime is also declining. For instance, in a June '96 Times poll, 67% of city residents mentioned some form of crime as an important problem facing the city, while the current poll has it dropping sharply to 51%. The mention of economic problems also dropped dramatically since the earlier poll (19% to 7%). Education which is now the centerpiece for new governor, Gray Davis' administration, and for the city, has increased from 8% in the last poll to 17% in this poll.
Mayor Riordan is still popular overall in the city. Almost three in five (57%) of city residents approve of the job the mayor is doing, while 13% disapprove and 30% are undecided. These are similar results from an April '97 poll when he received a 54% positive rating and 26% negative rating. However, he is doing much better among blacks in this poll than he garnered in the '97 poll. In the current survey, 37% of blacks approve of his handling his job, 22% disapprove with 41% not aware or no opinion. In the earlier poll, 22% of blacks approved, while a resounding 63% disapproved. He does very well among whites (63% to 15%) and Latinos (55% to 10%). Riordan also does much better among the more affluent: 45% of those with income less than $20K, 54% of those earning $20K-$40K, 65% of those earning $40K-$60K and 71% of those earning more than $60K. He is thought of highly on the Westside (64%), SFV (63%), Central L.A. (55%) and by a plurality in Southern L.A. (45%).
The City Council, however, is another story. Surprisingly, nearly half of the residents in the city don't have an opinion about this body. But of those who do hold a view, 28% give them a positive job approval rating and 26% a negative rating.
Yet, this is in sharp contrast to opinions about the new Chief of Police Bernie Parks. Parks has been in office about a year and in that time he has garnered a 47% job approval rating, while just getting a 10% negative rating. Forty-three percent don't have an opinion to offer. He is well liked more by blacks (58%-12%) than whites (49%-10%) and Latinos (45%-10%). He is also somewhat more liked by Westside residents (52%-10%) than San Fernando Valley residents (49%-10%), Southern L.A. residents (48%-7%) and Central L.A. inhabitants (43%-12%). But, the Los Angeles Police Department has strong marks from city residents. Almost two-thirds (64%) of city dwellers approve of the job the police are doing, while 24% disapprove. In a January '97 Times poll, the positive ratings were virtually the same (63%), but the negative ratings show a seven point decline from 31% to the current 24%.
San Fernando Valley Secession
San Fernando Valley secession has been a controversial issue for many years. One of the reasons for the current charter reform has to do with trying to placate the Valley and to stop the secession movement. Mayor Riordan believed once the Valley residents experienced the changes in the new city charter they would be more responsive and see the value of staying as part of the city. So far, it hasn't placated the activists in slowing down their drive to move Valley secession along. This poll shows strong feelings in the Valley about the desire to secede from the city of Los Angeles.
Nearly three out of five Valley dwellers see themselves paying more money in city taxes and fees than they get back out in the form of city services. Also, nearly half of the SFV residents believe that when it comes to getting attention and services from city government, they are being shortchanged, while 41% think they are getting what they should and a mere 4% think they are getting more than they should. This opinion is held only by residents in one other area of the citySouthern L.A. Nearly three out of five residents (56%) in the southern part of the city feel their area is being shortchanged. The Westside residents (46%) and residents in Central L.A. (44%) believe they are getting what they should in terms of attention and services from the city.
So, with this feeling that they are being taken for granted, Valley residents are more resolved about seceding from the city than they were in a Times poll taken in June '96. Today, a full 60% of the Valley voters want secession and 30% don't. This is in contrast to the earlier poll in which 50% of Valley voters were in favor of secession, and 36% were opposed.
Citywide, forty-seven percent of voters favor SFV secession, while 39% oppose it and 14% don't know. As mentioned earlier, there has to be a majority vote in the city for this to pass and if the election were being held today, it would be too close to call. The voters on the Westside of the city and Central L.A. are split in their decision about secession (43%-43% and 42%-43% respectively), while voters in Southern L.A. are somewhat more inclined to oppose the Valley splitting from the city, 36%-45%.
When dividing the Valley by east and west, 58% of the East Valley voters and 63% of the West Valley voters favor secession. Slightly more whites than Latinos in the SFV favor secession (57% for whites and 48% for Latinos). The differences of opinion may be caused by the Latino leadership. They have been opposed to SFV secession because they feel that would weaken the Latino power base, thereby weakening its voice within city government.
When city residents were asked why they favor secession, 22% say it would make a more efficient/smaller government, 17% mention that the SFV is big enough for independence and 15% cite more local control over government. The Valley residents mention smaller government (33%), more local control over government (18%) and SFV residents should get a fair return for taxes paid (18%).
When city residents were asked why they oppose secession, 16% say there would be a loss of tax revenue, 10% say city works fine the way it is and 10% say it would result in higher costs all around. The Valley dwellers mention loss of tax revenue (14%), higher costs all around (13%) and won't have money to pay for education/schools (9%).
Three in 10 (31%) of all city residents believe the divorcing of the city would have a negative impact on the city, 19% think it would have a positive impact and 35% think it will have no effect. Interestingly, 30% of the Valley residents think it would have a negative impact compared to just 19% who say it would have a positive impact. And it is more surprising that among Valley voters, more believe there would be a negative impact on the city. Thirty-eight percent of Valley voters say it would have a negative impact, while the same 19% as overall Valleyites say it would have a positive impact. If city voters favor secession, 31% say it will have a positive impact, 19% negative and 40% no effect. If city voters oppose secession, 8% say it will have a positive impact, 60% negative and 24% no effect.
The Times Poll contacted 1,221 citywide residents in Los Angeles, including 854 registered voters, by telephone March 20 through 27. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample and for registered voters is plus or minus three percentage points. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the city. 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. 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. Surveys 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.