Power Shortage Not Real, Most Californians Say

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Power Shortage Not Real, Most Californians Say

Times Poll: The energy market was manipulated to boost sellers' profits, 86% say. Davis gets low marks but Bush fares even worse.

By JENIFER WARREN, Times Staff Writer

Despite disruptive blackouts and record increases in their utility bills, most Californians remain unconvinced that the state suffers from a shortage of energy, a Los Angeles Times poll has found.

Instead, more than five out of six Californians believe power companies have manipulated the electricity market to boost their profits, the poll shows.

And although nearly all respondents agree that the state's energy crisis is a serious problem, they express little faith that their leaders can solve it.

Nearly half of all Californians give Gov. Gray Davis low marks for his handling of the crisis, suggesting his efforts to stabilize power prices and lock up megawatts under long-term contracts have not wowed a wary public. In a February Times polosing your chickens, you don't wait until they're all gone to fix the door."

Californians are even less enamored with Washington's performance, however. When asked which politician is more ably responding to the energy mess, Davis wins hands down over President Bush, enjoying almost four times as much support.

Spawned by the state's failed experiment with deregulating its electricity market, the energy crisis has sucked billions out of the public treasury and dwarfed all other problems confronting California this year.

The poll's findings suggest it is also fueling a simmering uneasiness among Californians about the state's fiscal health. Though nearly two-thirds of those surveyed believe the state's economy is doing well, that is down sharply from the 81% who expressed confidence in a January Times poll.

Respondents also predict gloomier times, with seven in 10 saying they believe a recession is likely in California in the next year. The energy crisis was most often cited as the likely culprit.

"There's a definite softening of public confidence in the economy," said Susan Pinkus, director of the Times Poll. "Part of that clearly is coming from people's anxieties about energy."

The Times Poll interviewed 1,541 Californians over four days beginning Saturday. It found that respondents are paying keen attention to the energy crisis, with 83% saying they closely follow news about the problem.

Apparently, they are troubled by what they see. More than six in 10 name the energy crisis--including high utility rates--as the No. 1 problem facing the state, overshadowing more traditional concerns such as education and crime.

And, in a bit of news sure to disappoint lawmakers and the governor, about half see no recent improvement in the situation.

"This electricity mess is out of hand, and all I see are people passing the blame around," said Dorothy Head of Baldwin Hills. "It seems like things are just standing still."

Regardless of such frustrations--and despite enduring skepticism about whether the shortage is real--nearly all Californians say they are taking steps to conserve energy.

Turning off lights was the most commonly cited conservation measure, one practiced by two out of three respondents. Four in 10 said they are using less heat or air-conditioning.

A smaller but substantial number--13%--say they have taken the expensive step of replacing old appliances with more eff however, entered the market, giving each considerable influence over price--and leading to skyrocketing costs that have prompted PG&E to file for bankruptcy, nearly forced Edison to do the same and forced the state to step in temporarily as an energy buyer.

The botchedar power plants--only about one in 10 respondents is opposed. A surprising six in 10 even said they would permit a plant to be built in their own community, defying the "not-in-my-backyard" mentality that often dooms such proposals.

Another surprising result: Californians are about evenly split over building new nuclear power plants. That's a dramatic change from February, when respondents were solidly opposed to the idea, by a margin of 60% to 33%.

"California has been closing nuclear plants instead of building new ones and that's how we've gotten into this crunch," Callabresi said. "I know a lot of physicists and engineers, and they believe nuclear is the solution."

Californians also are less worried about the easing of emission controls at heavily polluting plants this summer. In February, those surveyed were solidly opposed to the idea by more than 2 to 1. Now, however, only about half of Californians oppose the move, with 41% in favor.

* * * The Times Poll margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Jill Darling Richardson, associate director of the Times Poll, contributed to this report. * * *

Manipulating the Market?

Agree or disagree: Independent power companies have manipulated the electricity market in California in order to make a higher profit.

* * * Agree strongly: 74%

Agree but not strongly: 12%

Disagree but not strongly: 3%

Disagree strongly: 4%

Don't know: 7%

* * * Source: L.A. Times Poll

-- PHO (owennos@bigfoot.com), June 28, 2001


1. If the major source of news for those polled was the La La Times, SF Comical or similar "news" papers, the results are pretty much as would be expected.

2. The objective of many polls is not to probe beliefs but to influence them.

3.The prostitute press has demonized nuclear power at every opportunity.

4. Those happy, carefree yuppies aren't going to realize there is a recession (or depression) until they are standing in line to get their unemployment!

-- Warren Ketler (wrkttl@earthlink.net), June 28, 2001.

and replies by brainwashed dittomonkies like Walter are as predictable as the sunshining.

-- (walteris@bor.ing), June 28, 2001.

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