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20130918_PK_SAN QUENTIN_0037.JPGCalifornians narrowly favor Gov. Jerry Brown's new prison plan but remain anxious about the consequences of prison reform, a new Public Policy Institute of California poll finds.

When asked about the recent deal between Brown and legislative leaders, 52 percent of adults and likely voters gave their approval. The recently signed plan will spend $315 million more on prisons while asking for a three-year extension on lowering inmate numbers. Federal judges just granted the state a brief extension.

But when reflecting on the strategy of shifting lower-level inmates from state prisons to county jails, 57 percent of adults and 61 percent of likely voters said they were "not too confident" or "not at all confident" that local governments have the capacity to absorb new inmates under what's known as "realignment." In addition, more than three-quarters of the respondents -- 78 percent of adults and 77 percent of likely voters -- were either "very" or "somewhat" concerned about early prisoner releases.

The poll also gauged residents' opinions on many other issues ranging from violence to health care to marijuana.

Violence and street crime: A slim majority of likely voters, 52 percent, said violence and street crime are "not much of an issue" in their community. In addition, 55 percent of likely voters said their local government was doing enough to reduce crime, while 39 percent of them said it wasn't.

State of the state: Californians remain pessimistic about the overall trajectory of their state, with pluralities of adults and voters saying that the state is headed in the wrong direction (48 percent and 54 percent, respectively). But Californians were divided on whether the next 12 months will bring good or bad financial news. Among adults surveyed, 46 percent predicted good times and 44 percent braced for bad times. Those numbers flipped for likely voters, with 46 percent anticipating bad times and 44 percent saying good. Democrats were far more likely to see financial prosperity ahead (60 percent) than Republicans (27 percent).

Jerry Brown and California Legislature: Respondents are still down on the Legislature -- only 32 percent of likely voters approve of the job it's doing while 57 percent of them turn thumbs down. But the governor gets higher numbers, with ratings among likely voters of 49 percent approval and 39 percent disapproval. A deeper look reveals a partisan divide that parallels Democratic dominance of the Legislature. More than half of Democrats back the Legislature (51 percent) and approve of the work their particular state legislators are doing (55 percent). For Republicans, those numbers plummet to 14 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Independents are a little more approving, at 29 percent and 39 percent. Not surprisingly, 60 percent of Republicans disapprove of how the governor is doing.

Marijuana: For the first time, a majority of voters -- 52 percent -- favored legalizing marijuana. That number rises sharply among likely voters, with 60 percent embracing legalization. And resounding majorities in both groups want the federal government to back off states that have passed laws allowing marijuana use.

Education: A vast majority of respondents -- 72 percent of adults and 75 percent of public school parents -- backed a budget that would send more money to schools, with additional funding boosts for districts with high concentrations of disadvantaged students. And people are reasonably optimistic about how districts will spend that money, with a plurality saying they are "somewhat confident" districts will take advantage of new-found flexibility to spend the money prudently.

Fracking: After months of contentious debate this year and the defection of some key environmental groups, the Legislature passed -- and the governor signed -- a bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. That legislative push mirrors a high level of public concern, with 53 percent of both likely voters and adults oppose increased fracking in California, and a wide margin of respondents called for state regulation of fracking (56 percent of adults, 61 percent of likely voters).

Water: While more than half of Californians believe that water supply will be somewhat or very inadequate to accommodate demand in the next 10 years, respondents split on whether the best solution is building new water storage systems or focusing on water efficiency. Central Valley residents prized efficiency over construction; the opposite held true in the Inland Empire. A plurality of likely voters, 44 percent, favored paying for water projects via state bonds rather than through heightened taxes or user fees. That response takes on additional significance as lawmakers work to craft a twice-deferred water bond measure for the 2014 ballot.

Health care: With Covered California, the state's new health insurance exchange, days away from open enrollment, a majority of adults (53 percent) backed the federal health care law, buoyed by strong Democratic support. But Californians don't think the law will do much. Pluralities of both adults and likely voters said the law would not make much difference in their lives. And among likely voters who thought the law would be significant, more people think they will be worse off (34 percent) than better off (22 percent).

Same-sex marriage and abortion: Large majorities of Californians also support same-sex marriage (64 percent of likely voters) and reject laws restricting abortion access (70 percent of adults, including a whopping 64 percent of Republicans).

PHOTO: A guard tower looks over the yard at San Quentin State Prison on Sept. 18, 2013 in San Rafael. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.


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