Checking the Fact Checkers

Occasionally I read something from a person for whom I have a little respect and I am utterly disappointed. Edward Gately’s Republic article Friday left me with that feeling. I’m doubly disappointed that it was labeled as a ‘fact check,’ and closed with a conclusion that isn’t founded on facts.

To rebut City Council candidate Cindy Hill’s concerns about the impact of the recent apartment approval/construction boom on real estate values and traffic, Gately reached out to a paid shill, and a city employee who has a long history of promoting such projects as a consultant.

Elliot Pollack, referenced in the article (which I have reproduced below) testified as a paid expert witness for the city council and Mayor Lane in a lawsuit seeking to block millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies and relief to the Professional Golfers Association. Pollack was also contracted by the liquor industry to perform a ‘study’ of the economic impact on the city of the bar district, which was widely panned by knowledgeable critics and by then-City Treasurer David Smith.

Paul Basha was a city transportation engineer who went out into the private sector to promote development projects, and came back through the revolving door to work for the city as transportation director.

Even if Gately didn’t already know this, he should have checked their backgrounds and provided this as–at the very least–parenthetical information for readers to consider.

And beyond that fundamental bit of journalism, the information they provided should have been subjected to at least SOME scrutiny, if not just the smell test.

Pollack’s statement, “Someone who lives in an apartment is not likely to look at a house as an alternative,” and the ‘reasoning’ which follows completely ignores the most fundamental considerations of all: affordability notwithstanding ability to qualify for a home loan. Apartments are, many times, just plain cheaper than ownership, and that’s a powerful motivating factor.

In a comment that is laughable when juxtaposed with other information published in the  very same Arizona Republic recently, Pollack says that, “…the millennium generation is participating less in new-home buying than older generations…” Talk about a carefully parsed statement!

“New-home buying” is a very narrow segment of the housing market, especially in Scottsdale where there is very little “new” home construction due to build-out and the value of remaining undeveloped land.

“Participating less,” means…what? They are ‘buying less?’ Or they are ‘less interested’ in buying?

And compare that statement to a recent article by Catherine Reagor (also on AZCentral) on study results from Demand Institute that more than 80% of Millennials (age 20-34) want to own their own homes.

Paul Basha’s statement is just ridiculous:

Therefore, we do not factually know if the apartments will generate more traffic than the previous land uses.

Since most of the apartments under construction or approved for construction are being built on vacant or essentially vacant land…well, it’s just a stupid thing to say. No way to sugar-coat that sentiment.

And Gately’s self-contradictory conclusion is equally silly:

…it’s true that it’s too early to tell whether height and density will increase traffic congestion, but traffic volumes overall are down in Scottsdale…

The finding: ★ Mostly untrue

Which is it? If “true” that it’s too early to tell, then how can it be “mostly untrue?” And the fact that traffic volumes are down could easily be (and probably is) due to the stagnation of the economy or any number of variables NOT discussed, more so than any of the variables which WERE discussed in the article.

Here’s Gately’s article:

Fact check: Apartment claim mostly untrue

Too soon to assess impact on city

EDWARD GATELY | THE REPUBLIC | i AZCENTRAL.COM

WHO SAID IT: Cindy Hill.

TITLE: Scottsdale City Council candidate.

THE COMMENT: “More apartments and condos in Scottsdale? We are seriously killing our housing market for our Realtors and bringing in unrelenting traffic nightmares with height, density and assemblage. This is the incumbents plan and vision for Scottsdale.”

THE FORUM: Hill’s website, electcindyhill.wordpress.com.

WHAT WE’RE LOOKING AT: Whether the proliferation of multifamily housing is hurting the city’s single-family home market, and whether height and density are creating more traffic congestion across the city.

ANALYSIS: Scottsdale-based economist Elliott Pollack, who tracks real estate trends in Valley cities, has said multifamily development could leave the city with more units than tenants, and it’s the city’s job to determine whether there’s real demand and what “you want the city to look like.”

However, he said the proliferation of apartments and condominiums is not hurting the city’s single-family housing market.

“The overriding reason is that they are different markets,” Pollack said. “Someone who lives in an apartment is not likely to look at a house as an alternative. He or she is there because he or she doesn’t want to be tied down to a mortgage at the present time or may not be able to qualify. Those who buy a condo are choosing a lifestyle and, perhaps, don’t want to deal with a pool or a lawn or a maintenance person. They might also enjoy the lock-and-leave lifestyle that many condos offer. It is all about consumer choice.”

In addition, the millennium generation is participating much less in new-home buying than older generations for a variety of reasons, he said. The majority continue to prefer the flexibility of renting despite the long-term financial downside to their choice, he said.

Paul Basha, the city’s transportation director, said most of the multifamily developments approved in Scottsdale in the past five years have not yet been constructed and occupied. “Therefore, we do not factually know if the apartments will generate more traffic than the previous land uses,” he said. However, as reported during the Feb. 11 City Council study session on transportation, traffic v olumes in Scottsdale have been declining in recent years, Basha said. “Our post-freeway peak traffic volume was 4.16 million vehicles per day in 2006,” he said. “Our 2012 traffic volume was 3.78 million vehicles per day, equaling a 9 percent reduction. Our traffic volumes have reduced more than our population.”

BOTTOM LINE: The single-family home market has proved sluggish this year while most new apartments and condominiums have yet to be completed and ready for occupancy. In addition, those who rent apartments are not likely interested in purchasing homes, so the impact on the market is not likely to be significant. Hill’s comment might well have been suggesting what the city might be like in the future, and it’s true that it’s too early to tell whether height and density will increase traffic congestion, but traffic volumes overall are down in Scottsdale.

Source: Elliott D. Pollack; Scottsdale Transportation Department.

AZ Fact Check

The finding: ★ Mostly untrue

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7 Comments

  1. The Republic has NO journalistic integrity or objectivity. Their so-called fact checks have bent over backwards to manufacture facts to back up the incumbents and ignored their flat out lies about issues. Meanwhile when they fact check Littlefield and Hill, they bend even further the other way to make the truth look suspect. I guess the days of reporting without an agenda are a thing of the past.

  2. Sorry Mr Hill but the comments of whom I assume is your wife have no basis of fact. They may be true, but they are her opinion.

    It is quite possible that many that live in Scottsdale dont share Ms Hills opinion. While John presented an opinion that many may share, neither of you provided any “facts” to dispute what was written.

    Wether you like or dislike Mr Pollack, I am quite sure he is well respected in his field. If you dont agree, present some facts to dispute, not just opinions.

    1. Tom,

      As I said in reply to your comments on the AZ Central article:

      1) I provided the link to a Republic article which was at least as authoritative as Gately’s citations and exactly contradicted his conclusion.

      2) “The article was based on opinions.” Opinions are not facts.

      3) What evidence do you have that Pollack is ‘respected in his field?’

      4) There are rafts of evidence to support the assertion that–all other things being equal–higher density housing creates more traffic than lower density housing. Google is your friend. And since you don’t seem content to take my word for it, you should do your own research. Just like you should do your own research on the assertions in and conclusions of Gately’s article…which you seem to have taken as gospel while you challenge my refutations. Though even you say that you believe they will create more traffic!

      5) What evidence do you have that “the apartments in downtown Scottsdale will be quite expensive,” and what is your definition of “quite expensive?” Why do you think they will be priced at anything but a market rate that will ultimately seek its own level based on demand?

      6) As I have said ad nauseum, neither I nor any community advocate (or other critical consumers of information) have ever stated a goal as ludicrous as stopping growth. On the other hand, folks like you seem content to repeat that lie and ignore our efforts to get the city to follow our General Plan, ratified by the voters so as to be the organic law of our city (along with the city charter), to manage growth for the benefit of the CURRENT residents of the city.

  3. this proliferation of apartments is alarming…the impact on nearby schools that are already underfunded is scary. The area that is growing filled by big boxes at Granite Reef and Indian School will make an already too busy roads new parking lots for the poor souls traveling them…bah humbug

  4. Here is one big issue – Lack of communication by the developers. Now if the developers would get out of the shell and reach out to the entire community, they could get the buy in of the community at large. But do they do that? NO.

    At the end of this I will provide a link to a PDF I found by a simple Google search. I did that to make it easy for people to read, but what follows are some of my observations of what the city is doing wrong in trying to ‘sell’ me as a citizen of Scottsdale.

    I have found MANY articles that the city could use to sooth the community at large with colorful graphics and charts. Any one of those could show everything and anything to help sell this. They don’t do that, instead at the last McDowell Revitalization public meeting the presenters fumbled and made statements that put more doubt in my mind than reassurances. Here are some examples.

    Infrastructure was NOT upgraded: The city did not have any upgrades done for the increased demands on the infrastructure for the high density residential building. Yes, the city converted commercial property into high density residential and did NOTHING to upgrade the infrastructure. So no accommodations were made to the sanitation, water, transportation, etc. The city officials admitted the infrastructure is the same vintage as the surrounding homes. That is from the 1950’s in most cases! How many people have invested in renovating their homes of that vintage? How many have placed a totally different demand on it?

    So, I guess we, the citizens of Scottsdale, get to play the game of will the infrastructure take the additional load placed on it. The developer has not upgraded it, and has not set aside funds for its upgrade, and the city has not made that a requirement. So who is going to pay for it when it fails? Want to guess who? The tax payers! Does that give you a good feeling?

    Community integration: We have this incredible bicycle path system that is being upgraded to further link our city parks, but these new developments are off limits. Why you ask? They are gated communities. So the paths can NOT be on their properties. So the new developments are excluded from our wonderful community, but we can’t integrate with them, but they get to use our resources.
    Why Mr. Richard, I can hear it now, why use the words ‘us’ and ‘them’? Well my home is not gated, but their community is. You want a gated community, go further north. Why start to develop gated communities down here in South Scottsdale? That is the great vision of the developers? That will make the ‘Field of Dreams’ come true?

    Field of Dreams mentality of the city: The city employees made this statement – ‘The communities number one priority was an investment in commercial development’ so what did the city council approve? What did the city employees talk about all night about? High density residential. Why? The ‘Field of Dreams’ mentality. They stated that ‘more people are needed to live on the McDowell corridor to bring business back.’

    So when did everyone up and leave the McDowell corridor? Was there a pandemic or great plague? Did the news miss this great migration? I still live here, so do my parents, so do my neighbors. Where are all these empty homes? Oh the empty car dealerships? Those are people now?

    What the city employees are not saying, until you get them to really talking, is the change in demographics they want. They want the ‘Millennials.’ Yes, Scottsdale, McDowell Corridor is just to ‘old’ for business to come back to. The car dealerships left, so for business to return they need younger people to move in. That means apartments to the city officials.

    Yes, apparently the city employees don’t understand that younger people want homes, they just want apartments. So they are just going to build these big gated communities of apartments. On the community commons, they will have businesses. That is what they said. How nice!

    Why do they say that? That is how the city employees sell this to me, a resident? Should I go on about the light rail that the ‘Millennials’ want? Yes, that generation wants that. The transportation director was trying to ‘understand that desire and trying to sell them on buses.’ Yes, they want light rail, but they will take the bus. Yes, sir I want a steak, but I will take the burger. Really? You’re desired demographic is going to take your compromise now?

    I have written too much now, but understand this, the city and the developers do not do the simple research I just did. I could sell you the development if it was done PROPERLY, but it is not done that way. The city council is given sweetheart deals and they don’t have the public’s interest at heart. The city employees have no idea what they are approving. This newspaper article is a JOKE. I know more than either one of these ‘experts’ and I earn ZERO dollars, I am just a citizen who cares about my city.

    I guess it takes more people to speak up and care about the city to get change going. I am not done asking questions, and I will be at all future meetings. My name is Edmond Richard, I am a very concerned citizen of Scottsdale.

    Here is the link:
    http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/jchs.harvard.edu/files/rr07-4_obrinsky_stein.pdf

  5. I laugh when I read those “fact checks.” It is so obvious that the Republic is taking sides as they blatantly represent the developers. I’m insulted that as a subscriber they think I am ignorant enough to believe the nonsense.

    I have subscribed to the Republic since 1989. That relationship will be ending as soon as my current subscription runs out this month. With the upcoming 15% cutback of employees coming soon it looks like I am not the only one saying Sayonara.

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