Abandoned coastal development, San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico, 2009. Cody Duncan

By Justin Berton, Chronicle Staff Writer
18 March 2011

Californians are bummed out.

The Golden State's residents rated their quality of life at its lowest mark in almost 20 years, citing the economic downturn and stagnant personal finances, according to a joint UC Berkeley and Field Poll.

"Residents are reconsidering the image of the Golden State and showing more ambivalence toward it," said Jack Citrin, a Berkeley political science professor who co-wrote the report. "The changes going on - socially, culturally, economic - have made people here less Pollyannaish about the reality of life here."

The poll, based on a telephone survey of 898 registered voters in February, showed that only 39 percent considered the state "one of the best places to live," compared with the glory days of 1985, when 78 percent gave the state the highest rating.

Abandoned Riverstone housing development in the central valley town of Merced, California, 2008. In Merced, frames of houses in the Riverstone development have bleached in the sun for more than a year. In 2008, three-fourths of existing-home sales in Merced County are foreclosures. Jim Wilson / The New York Times

Californians' self-assessment has gradually declined since then, with occasional spurts of optimism, until the appraisal rock-bottomed in 1992 at the tail end of a national recession.

Jon Christensen, the executive director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, said while the poll reflected personal financial woes. Californians are also bothered by a dysfunctional state government mired in a budget crisis.

"The state's dysfunction as a whole feeds into this worry that this is far from one of the best places to live," Christensen said. "One would think that a criterion for someone to say, 'This is one of the best places to live,' is that it's well governed."

At risk is the concept of California - land of world-class universities, beautiful open landscapes, perpetual job growth, and opportunities for immigrants, Christensen said. …

Field poll: Quality of life plunges in California

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