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CRITICAL HABITAT CRITICS: When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under legal pressure from the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, listed the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl as an endangered species, there was no shortage of dire predictions.

None was so dire as the study prepared by Elliott D. Pollack, a Scottsdale developer and economic forecaster who prognosticated that designating critical habitat for the pygmy owl would result in an 80 percent drop in property values, millions of dollars in lost tax revenue, thousands of lost jobs and a billion-dollar hit to the local economy.

Well, it's a year later--and guess what? The growth machine is still chugging right along.

A study prepared by Bruce McKenney on behalf of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection shows that in the year since the listing of critical habitat:

· High-density housing starts have increased by more than 34 percent;

· 93 percent of the housing starts have been high-density (three to four housing units per acre);

· The number of acres developed for high-density increased by more than 43 percent;

· Vacant land values have increased by more than 18 percent;

· Vacant land sales have remained steady despite the critical habitat listing.

Those stats are particularly interesting, given that Pollack had predicted that in the first year following designation of critical habitat, 800 fewer acres would be plowed for high-density development.

This isn't the first analysis to take issue with Pollack's report. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials also commissioned a study, which found numerous flaws in Pollack's reasoning, including:

· The report wasn't based on existing zoning, but assumed that all undeveloped private land had a value equal to land zoned for high-density development;

· The report estimated gross tax revenue loss without including future costs of serving all those new houses once residents moved in;

· The report didn't consider the possibility that if construction couldn't occur in pygmy owl habitat, it might move elsewhere in the metro valley.

We don't know how much SAHBA paid for Pollack's study, but we hope they had a money-back guarantee.

And don't forget: Pollack wrote an often-referenced study predicting a similar doomsday should Prop 202, the Citizens Growth Management Initiative, pass on November 7. Gee, wonder if he exaggerated in that one?

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