HOLIDAY — About 70 percent of Pasco residents say the county has a good quality of life, according to a recent survey.
Not bad, right? Especially considering the titanic economic struggles of the past few years.
Dig a little deeper into the numbers. Folks in east and central Pasco are actually sunnier than the countywide average, with nearly 80 percent reporting a good quality of life. Only 56 percent of their west Pasco neighbors agree.
Another question: Is Pasco a good place to raise children? Sure, according to three-quarters of people living in the east and central parts of the county. Along the coast, the figure is 41 percent.
"There isn't much to do for the kids," said Joseph McLain, 34, who rents a home in Holiday's Bonita Village neighborhood with his sister and their grandmother. For years now, younger families have been moving into west Pasco's modest homes that for decades were occupied nearly exclusively with retirees from points north.
"It wasn't fixed to accommodate the younger generation," said McLain, who used to work in construction and had a landscaping business. Now he works a couple of days a week in telemarketing and does odd jobs to pay the bills.
The statistics are from the National Citizen Survey, which in February mailed detailed questionnaires to a representative sample of Pasco households. Just more than 300 families returned the survey, for a 5 percent margin of error. Smaller sample sizes for specific areas of the county mean those figures have an 11 percent error margin.
But many questions have large enough differences that show a clear divide between east and west.
"Those are significant shifts," said Richard Gehring, Pasco's growth management director. "You look at the numbers and it's like, 'Wow, you've got a significant problem here you've got to solve.' "
Gehring said his staff will include some of the survey's results in a west Pasco redevelopment plan he will submit to commissioners in the fall. It will include short- and long-term strategies for different areas along coastal Pasco.
Some questions the plan will look at: How to improve the look and feel of U.S. 19? How to promote green space in the Anclote area? How to redevelop an area such as Hudson and encourage pedestrians in downtown New Port Richey?
Here's another statistic: About six of every 10 residents in central and east Pasco praise the overall appearance of the county. Just a third of west Pasco folk share that view.
"If you drive down 19 and take a good ride down, you'll see a lot of vacant buildings," said County Commissioner Jack Mariano of Hudson. "You've got people that are probably lower income along the coast. They're feeling that struggle, that pinch, where they don't have that free extra money."
Mariano has been a major proponent of SunWest Harbourtowne, a proposed 2,500 home luxury development in Aripeka that he sees as a key to revitalizing northwest Pasco. But a nearby channel has been bogged down in environmental concerns, and the project is likely years away from construction.
Back in Bonita Village, a couple of streets from McLain, is Bob Liseno, 65. He's a former snowbird from Massachusetts who moved down for good six years ago. He acknowledges that newer construction in Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel looks more spiffy than west Pasco's strip malls that are showing their age.
"They've got nicer property over there," Liseno said. "Maybe they look down their noses at us. I prefer being over here because you're by the gulf and you've got the breeze."
Like many others across the country and in Tampa Bay, the neighborhood has its issues. "This county, it's a shame with all the drugs," he said.
Liseno recalled a neighbor who recently traded "a beautiful car for 20 of the blues." He was referring to Oxycodone. A dealer was selling the pain pills for $20 apiece, or $400. Liseno estimated the car was worth at least $6,000.
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Christine Foreman is a ray of hope amid all the dour news. In March, the owner of Hammer Time Fitness moved out of her small studio and opened a 2,000-square-foot training center in downtown New Port Richey.
The city "has good bones," she said, a solid foundation. She points to the Gulf of Mexico and Sims Park along the Cotee River. With a little redevelopment work, she thinks the city could be the next Dunedin.
"To me, I think this area has the potential to turn around," she said. "The natural beauty alone on our side is just priceless."
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.