Community Impact Reports (a.k.a. CIR's)

What is a Community Impact Report?
* Excerpted from the report the “Limits of Prosperity: Growth, Inequality, and Poverty in the North Bay” by Nari Rhee and Dan Acland and published by New Economy, Working Solutions (NEWS). For more information please go to:

When policy makers decide to invest public dollars in a development project, they usually do so in the belief that their investment will boost the local economy, enrich tax coffers and improve the local quality of life.

But these decisions sometimes backfire or have less than stellar results. A publicly-subsidized superstore, for example, may result in other stores being driven out of business, a glut of low-wage/low benefits jobs and-their counterparts-an increased demand for subsidized housing and welfare programs. Similarly, policy makers might decide to make a construction loan to developers of a sports stadium only to find, once the stadium is built, that ticket sales and sponsorships do not meet the level necessary to trigger repayment of the debt.

Several cities throughout California have begun to utilize Community Impact Reporting, a new development review tool designed to more systematically and accurately predict and measure the costs and benefits of proposed public/private partnerships and subsidies.

The need for a tool like this is particularly acute in California, where local jurisdictions are severely limited in the amount of money they can raise and must rely on sales tax dollars for most of their General Fund activities. Any project that holds the promise of generating significant sales tax dollars understandably holds a natural, and sometimes blinding, attraction for policy makers.

The Community Impact Report’s organization and scope grow out of the local jurisdiction’s police powers and the “right to know” precedents that began to be set in the 1980s as the public began to demand more accountability in the development process. Like an Environmental Impact Report, a CIR is an advisory document, designed to provide information but not to dictate to policy-makers. The CIR has benefits for both developers and interested community members-providing information and a forum to citizens and alerting developers to community concerns early on in the process.

The report studies numerous areas, all in an effort to make accurate predictions about a proposed project’s costs and benefits to a community.

First, is the proposed project economically viable and will it be profitable to the local community? Will the business succeed and contribute to the tax base as hoped? Will that contribution be offset by losses elsewhere? Second, what kinds of jobs will the business create? Low wage jobs increase strain on workers and their families and, in turn, on schools and public services. When public dollars go toward subsidizing low-wage employment, it is important to measure the true costs and to note which community members and institutions will be paying those costs. Additionally, the reports asks if the project will contribute to the need for affordable housing, and at what income level the need will be most acute. This is a hugely important question in the North Bay, where exorbitant land costs contribute to the fact that most cities fail to meet even the affordable housing targets given to them by the State (targets which most experts agree are inadequate to meet housing needs). The report also looks at whether the project will create a need for additional community services and benefits-childcare, parks, road improvements-and the benefits the project will provide. CIRS also measure the Smart Growth attributes of a proposed project.

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