Californians want a single-family home, says survey

By Jim Wasserman The Associated Press
Tuesday November 13, 2001

SACRAMENTO — For all of California’s congested humanity, its residents still prefer, even more than most Americans, a house and back yard in the suburbs. 

More than half its city dwellers also yearn for small-town life. 

While 71 percent of people nationally prefer the traditional single-family home, 84 percent of Californians consider it the ideal, says a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California. And 65 percent of Californians already live in one compared to 60 percent nationally. 

The overwhelming preference for a single-family home came as a dramatic surprise to researchers who called it a “recipe for sprawl.” 

“The combination of the types of housing and communities that most people want is very much in line with the type of suburbanization we’ve seen for the last 50 years,” said PPIC pollster Mark Baldassare. 

But real estate agents said it’s no shock to them. 

“No, not at all,” said Linda Pennington of Garland Realty in suburban Corona, Calif., where the population tripled in 10 years. “They like the single-story ranch-style house.” 

The survey, the first major statewide look at housing, growth and development issues, shows that two-thirds of the state’s residents would not choose to live in multistory, multifamily housing, even if it means they can walk to shops, school and mass transit. Central Valley residents, accustomed to homes on larger lots, preferred it least. 

The results, from 20-minute conversations last month with 2,002 Californians, also reveals that higher-density, transit-oriented aspects of “smart growth” have yet to catch on with the masses. 

“The preference for a single-family home is so strong, and the desire to live in smaller communities is so strong that it’s fairly hard for those promoting more compact development to appeal to a large and broad audience of Californians,” said Baldassare. 

Indeed, despite millions of dollars spent by foundations and activists to promote fewer cars, higher buildings and a more urban lifestyle, only 34 percent of Californians are familiar with the term “smart growth.” 

Likewise, only 38 percent know about the term “sprawl.” 

“Many of these terms that are used with regularity by the planners and policy makers, like smart growth and sprawl are not even on the radar screen,” Baldassare said. 

The fewest number of people recognizing the word “sprawl” — 29 percent — was in metropolitan Los Angeles, which spreads 16 million people across 35,000 square miles in five counties and 177 cities. 

The poll interviewed 2,002 adult California residents in English or Spanish from Oct. 22 to Oct. 31. The margin of error for survey was plus or minus 2 percentage points. The PPIC is a private, nonprofit research organization based in San Francisco. 

Commissioning the survey are the James Irvine, William and Flora Hewlett and David and Lucille Packard foundations. All sponsor smart growth tactics with money from companies that spawned much of California’s suburban growth. Representatives of all three are meeting Tuesday to discuss the results. 

The Hewlett Foundation gave $70 million in 1995 to create the PPIC. 

On the Net:www.ppic.org