Water, jobs, growth among SLO County residents' biggest concerns, survey says

Employment, rapid growth, water quality and supply, and the cost of living all topped a list of concerns for San Luis Obispo County residents surveyed as part of a report released Tuesday.

The 348-page tome, “Vital Signs — Understanding San Luis Obispo County,” is intended to provide an in-depth look at the quality of life in San Luis Obispo County and help guide the work of many local nonprofit organizations, according to a news release from the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation.

“It’s not surprising that water is a huge concern,” said Janice Fong Wolf, the foundation’s director of grants and programs.

The report notes that six out of 19 communities in 2012 signaled their water demand exceeded supply or their water delivery system had reached its capacity.

Added Fong Wolf, “We find this to be an invaluable report because it tracks trend data over time and lets us know areas that we’re getting better in and where we need to have improvement to guide our work.”

More than 1,100 county residents were surveyed by phone about their views on basic needs, health, the economy, public safety, education and other issues. Several hundred Spanish-speakers and homeless individuals were also surveyed in face-to-face interviews.

The report — the sixth completed since 1999 — was spearheaded by Action for Healthy Communities, a collaborative of public agencies and private organizations.

Among the highlights:

  • Thirty-nine percent of residents surveyed said they felt economically better off this year when compared to last year; in 2010, only 28 percent of residents said they felt better off compared to the previous year. However, 15 percent said they went without some basic needs. In face-to-face interviews, 35 percent of Spanish-speaking respondents went without health care; 18 percent went without food and 10 percent went without utilities.
  • About 61 percent of residents said they used more than one-third of their income to pay for housing.
  • Thirty-three percent of residents said they are “very concerned” about school safety. In a separate survey, 85 percent of fifth-grade students said they felt safe all or most of the time during the 2009-11 school years.
  • Nearly 80 percent of residents reported feeling very safe in their neighborhood this year — a similar result to the 2006 survey. However, only 37 percent of Spanish-speaking respondents and 33 percent of homeless individuals said they felt “very safe.”
  • About 48 percent of San Luis Obispo County adults were considered overweight or obese in 2011-12. However, Fong Wolf said, the obesity rate has leveled off in recent years, and the report shows that more parents are reporting their children ate the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
  • The annual average unemployment rate in the county jumped to 8.1 percent, compared to 4 percent in 2006. Meanwhile, the high school graduation rate rose 2 percent from 2009-10 to 88 percent in 2011-12, beating the state’s overall average of 79 percent.
  • The report can be downloaded at www.actionslo.org or http://www.cfsloco.org/community_needs.php.