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Dueling Polls Muddle Redevelopment Debate

With apologies to Sir Isaac Newton, we may finally find out what happens when an irresistible force runs headlong into an immovable object. 

In this case, the irresistible force is Gov. Jerry Brown while the immovable object is redevelopment and the 400-odd localities that are trying to save their agencies and the thousands of planned projects under their purview. The latest example of the remarkable symmetry (read: stalemate) between the two sides is a curiously sanguine poll released today by Probolsky Research -- presumably on behalf of the California Redevelopment Association and other redevelopment supporters -- contending that 59% of Californians think that redevelopment is "a good idea."  

The poll included a follow-up question to the naysayers, asking them if they thought redevelopment funds were "put to good use." When presented with types of activities that RDAs do, such as promote affordable housing or repurpose military bases -- many respondents changed their minds, deciding that redevelopment is a "good idea."

Sixty-three percent of respondents said that redevelopment agencies should continue operating. 

Finally, 64% responded in the negative to what was clearly the survey's most leading question: "it is estimated that 300,000 Californian jobs will disappear....does knowing this make you more or less likely to eliminate local redevelopment agencies?"  

First, it should be noted that the 300,00 figure that the CRA and others have been citing is not without its critics. Second, while the elimination of redevelopment under Brown's plan would halt future redevelopment projects, I have yet to see any credible suggestions that the jobs already created by redevelopment -- however many there may be -- will "disappear." Businesses in redevelopment areas do not get tax benefits or any other incentives. They simply exist. And, with or without an active redevelopment agency, they are scarcely more likely to "disappear" than are the buildings that house them. 

Now, all of these numbers don't exist in a vacuum. And, as has become customary since Jan. 10, there are some powerful numbers to contradict Problosky's findings. In January, the Public Policy Institute released its own poll contending, well, the exact opposite.

The PPIC found that 66% of adults and 63% of likely voters do support the governor's plan to redirect local revenues, including those that will come from the elimination of redevelopment. So that's a pretty big swing: from over 60% in favor of elimination to over 60% opposed to it. Granted, the CRA has been doing a massive public relations campaign, so it's likely that any poll taken today would reflect the sentiments of a more informed electorate. Even so, any PR campaign capable of not only reaching 1/3 of a population but also changing their minds would qualify as just short of a miracle. (If this was true, CRA should rent itself out to people with real public image problems, like Charlie Sheen or BP.) 

But these numbers suggest that Californians are either mightily capricious, that one poll is grossly flawed -- or that no one really knows how anyone feels about redevelopment. But by now we all know what it feels like to get beaten over the head with a $24 billion deficit: it's no fun.

--Josh Stephens

CP&DR at California APA Conference October 1-4

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