NEARLY half of Los Angeles residents approve of Mayor Richard Riordan's handling of his first four months in office, a Los Angeles Times poll has found. His first major appraisal since he took office July 1 shows favorable ratings across all city areas and ethnic groups.
Conducted Oct. 22-24, just after verdicts came down in the Reginald Denny case, the poll shows that the popularity of new Police Chief Willie Williams is increasing. It also shows that the Los Angeles Police Department's (LAPD) approval rating has risen since the March 1991 Rodney King beating and last year's riots.
``Riordan is off to a good start,'' said John Brennan, the poll director. ``His support at this point is very broad, but it's embryonic.'' Forty-five percent of 1,279 adult respondents said they approved of the mayor's performance; 17 percent did not. Thirty-eight percent were undecided.
In the million-strong suburb of San Fernando Valley, Mr. Riordan's rating was even higher: 58 percent approving and 14 percent disapproving. Observers said these tabulations fit with election results in which Riordan beat challenger Michael Woo by a 53 percent citywide vote, including 70 percent from the valley.
Riordan's 2-to-1 favorable impression contrasts sharply with that of former Mayor Tom Bradley, who left office after 20 years with more people disapproving of him. But other observers noted that Riordan has not been tested on a high-profile, controversial issue that might polarize opinion. Without such an issue, results can be interpreted as not having done anything particularly notable or as not having made any grave mistakes.
The LAPD's ratings are even higher than Riordan's, with 72 percent approving Chief Williams's performance since taking over in the summer of 1992. Taken in tandem with Riordan's figures, results show that the administration's stress on building up the police force is in keeping with public concerns. The percentage of Angelenos who rate crime as the city's most important problem has doubled from 27 percent a year ago to 50 percent, the highest in 2 1/2 years.
Poll results show it is clear that Riordan's strongest support comes from Anglos, Republicans, and Valley residents and is weaker in Latino and black areas. But Mr. Brennan said Riordan has done well with blacks - 40 percent approving and 19 percent disapproving - who heavily supported Mr. Woo in the election.