We're just soooo happy to be Orange

PETER BUFFA

Are you happy? I am. And there are a lot more than two of us,

according to the 23rd annual survey of Orange County attitudes by the

Public Policy Institute of California and UC Irvine.

The survey describes Orange County residents -- that's us -- as

"overwhelmingly upbeat about the county's quality of life." At the

risk of sounding like USA Today, 90% of us said things are going

well.

Wow. That's not "upbeat." That's darn near euphoric.

Eighty-four percent of us said Orange County's parks and beaches

are excellent, and 64% described our schools, freeways and roads as

good to excellent.

Worried about the economy? Your neighbors aren't. Sixty-nine

percent of them rate the economy as good to excellent. Here's a

stunner: 98% of Orange County homeowners say they are satisfied with

their homes, and 80% say they are very satisfied.

Ninety-eight percent? That's way past upbeat, well beyond euphoric

and fast approaching giddy. Maybe it's something in the water.

Is it possible that only 2% of us who own homes are unhappy with

their habitation? I guess so. If it's in the news, it must be true.

I suspect most of that exuberance is a result of how much anyone

who has owned a home around here for any length of time has seen the

piggy bank grow.

But it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops in the housing file.

There is a dark cloud on the horizon, a bad moon rising, a shadow on

the land. Most of us are mighty worried about the cost of housing and

the effect it has on traffic, as people are pushed farther and

farther away from their workplace to find a house.

Fifty-four percent of renters and 42% of homeowners said it's

either "not very likely" or "not at all likely" that they could find

a pad they like and can afford in Orange County. In other words:

Continue to avoid the Riverside Freeway at all costs.

And housing is one area where we are out-of-sync with the state.

Ninety-eight percent of us may love our homes and where they sit, but

in a separate survey in November, an incredible 24% of Californians

said they are considering moving because of the astronomical housing

prices.

True, you can definitely get a lot more house for your money in

Reno or El Paso. The only problem is you then have to live in Reno or

El Paso.

The price of housing notwithstanding, the Golden State is

obviously where most people want to be and where the elite meet to

eat.

Shall I ruin your day with some numbers? Be glad to. The

population of California today is about 38 million people. That's a

lot. That number has grown 20% in the last 10 years, and has tripled

in the last 50 years.

Wait. Don't get depressed yet. My favorite number is that there

are 295,000,000 people in these great United States, which means one

out of every eight people in the country lives, well, right here.

I wish the 25% of Californians who are thinking about moving out

would get on with it, because the state's population is growing by

about 600,000 a year, which is equal to the entire population of

Vermont, except they have more syrup. At this rate, the population of

California will reach 54,000,000 by 2025 -- remember when that seemed

far away? -- which is the equivalent of moving everyone in the

greater New York area to California. Feel better? I knew you would.

Let's move on to another of your favorite subjects -- politics.

According to the survey, not only did Orange County voters say George

W. Bush should remain large and in charge, but they said it really

loud -- 60% for Bush versus 39% for Kerry.

And most of us like Arnold, a lot, with 68% rating the

Governator's performance as good to excellent, which is 7% higher

than his statewide numbers.

There is one area where Orange County and the rest of California

part ways, though. Sixty-eight percent of us say the state is on

course, on target, moving in the right direction -- compared to 44%

of Californians statewide. I'm telling you, we are just a happy

bunch.

In fact, government in general comes out of the survey smelling

like an orange blossom. Just under half of us rated the performance

of county government as good to excellent. Remember the Orange County

bankruptcy? Your neighbors don't. Eighty-one percent of us knew

little to nothing about Bob Citron's folly. And don't think that has

anything to do with all the new arrivals. A stunning 64% of us who

have lived at the same address 20 years or more were unaware of the

1994 bankruptcy. You could have knocked me over with a reverse

derivative.

So what does it all mean? I have no idea. All of us may not be

loving life, but most of us are liking it, a lot, which, according to

the deep thinkers who conducted the survey, is true to form for an

affluent area like ours.

But the eyebrow-raiser was the warm and fuzzy feelings about

government in general and the county government in particular,

especially so close to the 10th anniversary of the county's big

kaboom.

"I think that's the major thing that's really a surprise," said

Ron Huff, dean of UC Irvine's School of Social Ecology.

Well, Ron, life is full of surprises, and that is just one more.

I'm happy we're happy. And that's enough to make anyone happy. Can

you feel the love? I can.

I gotta go.

* PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs

Sundays. He may be reached by e-mail at ptrb4@aol.com.

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