One third of Santa Barbara and Ventura county residents say the lack of affordable housing and soaring gas prices are the two most important issues affecting quality of life in the area, a recent UCSB social science study found.

The 3rd annual Central Coast Study, released on Tuesday, found that 29 percent of area residents say that the high price of fuel is putting a significant financial strain on their households and daily lives; in addition, 19 percent say that the rising cost of living in the area is doing the same.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,000 residents in both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties about their attitudes on a number of different problems affecting quality of life in the region, including immigration, the economy, and health care. The study, conducted by UCSB’s Social Science Research Center, is an annual large-scale opinion poll gauging public perceptions of life on the Central Coast. The survey took into account respondents’ income level and race; however, white and Latino were the only races indicated in the results and little variation was observed between the two.

The focus of this year’s survey questions were different than those of previous years, with a substantially larger number of questions concerning perceptions of economic downturn and financial hardship on the South Coast dominating the study.

According to the survey, 27 percent of Central Coast residents feel they are worse off economically than they were the previous year. That number is three times what was reported in 2006.

However, the survey also found that satisfaction with the overall quality of life is higher with Central Coast residents than with Americans in general, with 71 percent of survey respondents reporting they were very content with their lives, compared to 58 percent of Americans who reported similarly in a 2007 Harris Poll. However, only 59 percent of local residents with an annual salary of $35,000 or less indicated such satisfaction, compared with 80 percent of respondents making $80,000 per year or more.

Besides rising gas prices and diminishing possibilities for affordable housing, respondents also indicated that the lack of reasonably priced health care was the next most important issue affecting quality of life in the area, with 22 percent of respondents from Santa Barbara County and 24 percent from Ventura County reporting that they had had to put off some sort of medical or dental treatment during the past year because they were unable to afford the cost.

Traffic congestion, crime, and declining home values were also cited as concerns affecting the survey respondent’s lifestyles, but high levels of satisfaction were reported for issues like public life, as 73 percent of residents reported being satisfied with their neighborhoods and 68 percent were satisfied with their personal safety.

The survey also attempted to gauge local perceptions of political issues like immigration and U.S. public policy.

Seventy-two percent of Santa Barbara County residents and 71 percent of respondents from Ventura County indicated they favored finding an easier way to allow undocumented workers in the U.S. to become legal citizens; however, only 56 percent of subjects identifying themselves as Republicans favored such a measure, compared with 75 percent of local Democrats.

The Central Coast residents who participated in the study also indicated that the top priority of the federal government should be the economy, with a 21 percent majority, followed by the environment, health care, national security, and public education.


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