On the whole, Contra Costa voters are the most optimistic they've been in three years but the number masks deep geographic divisions, the latest Contra Costa Poll reveals.

Nearly half of 600 likely voters surveyed indicated Contra Costa County is going in the right direction, up 6 percentage points from 2010. The high water mark was 60 percent in 2005.

The warm feelings soar to 62 percent among those polled in the San Ramon Valley and Lamorinda, while just 38 and 43 percent of voters in the west and east, respectively, gave the county favorable marks.

"This number reflects how people feel about how things are going, and not every community in the county is seeing the benefits of an improving economy," said Richmond native and political consultant Eric Zell.

The Contra Costa Poll is a public service funded by Shell, Tesoro and Phillips 66 oil refineries. The results will be released Monday ¿at a Contra Costa Council luncheon in Concord.

Oakland-based EMC Research Inc. and pollster Alex Evans conducted the telephone survey of 600 likely voters on Feb. 4-10. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Among the survey's other findings:

  • Countywide, education quality is the county's most critical problem except for East Contra Costa, where crime, public safety and unemployment topped schools.

  • Even in the Democratic county, nearly two-thirds of those polled say Democratic legislators should be cautious with their two-thirds voting majorities in the Assembly and Senate.


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  • Majorities in all regions would pay more taxes for high quality public services but the percentage falls short of the two-thirds voter approval required for most tax hikes.

  • Two-thirds or more voters would direct new tax dollars into education. But 51 percent of Lamorinda voters would also put money into roads, double the percentage for the rest of the county.

  • 65 percent oppose a utility users tax to help pay for county services, which the oil refineries like to hear.

  • Three-quarters would vote no on a countywide sales tax to pay county employee pension debts.

  • Slightly more voters favor spending extra state revenue to pay down California's debt over putting more cash into schools, law enforcement or other programs.

    The pollster also asked likely voters about Proposition 13, California's famous 1978 tax reform initiative.

    Nearly half of those surveyed didn't know much or anything about Prop. 13, which suggests a growing number of voters may be too young to remember the 35-year-old initiative by its number alone.

    After it was explained, a majority favored its provisions such as the two-thirds voting threshold for most new taxes. Their high opinion held up even after pro and con arguments were presented.

    The results illustrate how difficult it will be to pass any of the handful of voter threshold reduction bills in the Legislature, Zell said.

    Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com, politicswithlisav.blogspot.com or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.