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Slow-Growth Bid Could Cost Jobs--Hypothetically

December 11, 1987|MICHAEL FLAGG | Times Staff Writer

If the slow-growth movement in Orange County resulted in a 10% cutback in construction, nearly 9,000 jobs could be lost within a year, according to a report released Thursday by the Center for Economic Research at Chapman College.

The report was the first step in an effort that began last month, when the Board of Supervisors voted to pay the center $10,000 to study the economic impact of a slow-growth measure proposed for the June ballot.

The projection released Thursday was hypothetical, according to center director Essie Adibi, because no one knows yet to what extent--if at all--the proposed ballot measure actually would reduce construction in the county.

Ron Novello, director of administration for the county's Environmental Management Agency, said the formula used by the center to arrive at its hypothetical findings would be the basis for testing several construction cutback scenarios within the next few weeks. The county wants to know the potential impact on employment of construction cutbacks ranging from 10% to 75%, he said.

The proposed ballot measure would link development with traffic congestion and would permit future building only if provisions were made for alleviating any traffic problems a particular project might cause. The measure would also condition growth on the availability of parks and on public-safety services.

Actual Impact Uncertain

The measure's actual impact on construction is uncertain because no one knows how much of the county might be involved. That depends to an extent on whether backers of the initiative can gather enough signatures of registered voters to qualify it for the ballots in the county's unincorporated areas and all of its cities.

The extent of the impact also would depend on whether construction projects the county has already approved would be affected by the initiative.

The Chapman research center's 10% hypothetical was announced Thursday as part of the college's 10th annual economic forecast.

Under that hypothetical, researchers calculated that most of the jobs lost would be in construction--with a drop of 5.6%, or 3,000 jobs, in the county's construction work force. But manufacturers of durable goods would also lose 1,400 jobs, or 1.5% of the work force, in a ripple effect, according to researchers. The service industries would lose 1,200 jobs, and retailing would lose 1,000.

Government, transportation, wholesale trade and manufacturers of non-durable goods would lose fewer jobs, according to the calculations.

But those behind the slow-growth measure are skeptical about some of the assumptions underlying the report.

"For a study like this to be valuable, you would have to look at what happens if we continue to do nothing about growth in the county," said Belinda Blacketer, who spoke on behalf of the initiative at the economic forecast forum at which the hypothetical was unveiled. "The county's going to go into the tank if we don't do anything about growth."

The center's research project, scheduled for completion next month, will also look at the impact of a construction slowdown on personal income, housing prices and retail sales.

Adibi said the center is trying to avoid the sometimes-heated politics of the growth issue.

"The intent of this study is not really to evaluate all the different alternatives," he said Thursday. "We hope this study will make (voters) able to assess this initiative more realistically."

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