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Legislative Analyst Gets Testy With Calif. Redevelopment Assoc.

I'm sure that by now plenty of people would be willing to kill redevelopment just to put an end to the ping-pong match of debate that has surrounded the governor's budget proposal. While all very civil and often enlightening, it's a debate that has relied on a handful of studies against redevelopment (most prominently Michael Dardia's 1998 PPIC study, "Subsidizing Redevelopment in California") and a single study in favor of redevelopment (the California Redevelopment Association's 2009 study, based on earlier work by the private firm Time Structures [doc]).

Beyond that, there's enough anecdotal evidence -- pro and con -- to give anyone whiplash.

Things got interesting last week, though, when Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor put the smackdown on the CRA's study. I'm not sure if the average redevelopment official has the phrase "oh, snap!" in his vocabulary, but it would do well here. Taylor's letter expressed a degree of indignation not normally seen in official discourse.  

Taylor's letter [pdf], which responds to an earlier CRA response [pdf] to previous criticism (again, watch our for whiplash), alleges the following three flaws in the CRA's study: 

- The CRA assured the LAO that its study encompassed projects that redevelopment agencies were substantially involved with, so as to distinguish the effects of redevelopment apart from general economic trends or other, private development activities in the studied project areas. Taylor, however, notes that the study focused on projects that redevelopment agencies were "involved with" and then points out that the researchers themselves did not define "involved with" nor did they "take any steps to review these data for consistency or accuracy." In other words, Taylor says that the CRA's study cannot distinguish between true redevelopment projects and projects that just happen to be in the neighborhood.  

His point: If you don't ask people for exactly the information you want, you're almost guaranteed not to get it. 

-The CRA study, which attributes the creation of over 300,000 jobs to redevelopment activities, seems to assume that developers and public entities would not invest in projects in the absence of redevelopment. Taylor notes that this is pure speculation on CRA's part. 

In fact, this inabilty for anyone -- LAO, CRA, or anyone else -- to construct a counterfactual all but condemns the debate to the realm of emotion and anecdote. Given that we are dealing with thousands of individual decisions on the part of both agencies and developers, no one will ever know what would have happened in the absence of redevelopment. If nothing else, we'll get a heck of a data set if the governor's proposal succeeds.  Social scientists, keep those spreadsheets ready.

-The CRA's claim of 300,000 jobs discounts the notion that tax money spent in other ways might have generated jobs. While Taylor does not claim that these funds would have the same job-creating impact that the CRA study claims, he does note that it's unlikely that they would have zero impact. Therefore, he implies that the 300,000 net jobs created is wildly inflated. 

Taylor's letter ends on perhaps the snarkiest note: he presents a bibliography of 12 studies that, he claims, supports his assertions and the LAO's overall position of skepticism of redevelopment. You can bet, however, that there are 400 or so cities in California that have plenty to say about those studies.

Whose serve is it now? 

--Josh Stephens