El Toro Airport Watch No. 49

Once again, experian corp. studied housing prices around the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Once again, the Anaheim-based "information-services firm" concluded the impending airport wasn't crushing property values. And once again--for the third time in a year--the Times OC publicized the study.The Jan. 28 Times story ran on the front page under a headline that might have been written by airport backer and multibazillionaire developer George Argyros: "Home Values Rise Near El Toro Base." The better headline: "Firm Makes Dubious Claim That Airport Blight Raises Home Prices."

According to Experian, property within seven miles of the base appreciated 4.1 percent in the past six months, while housing values for the rest of the county only rose 2.4 percent. The last two Experian studies showed property values are virtually stable.

The Experian report is, in fact, highly questionable, and the Times story offered no explanation for the jump in values. In fact, the Times quoted Nima Nattagh--the Experian market analyst who conducted the study--as saying: "Has the proposed airport had an impact on housing values? No--so far."

But the Times did explain that Experian "said it undertook the study independently and was not influenced by any outside groups." In fact, as the Weekly documented last September, at least two senior Experian executives sit on advisory boards at Chapman University (whose president, James Doti, is one of El Toro's biggest fans). Their colleagues on those boards include pro-airport developers Argyros, Doy Henley and Gary Hunt. None of that appeared in the Times story, which also failed to disclose that, according to the California Real Estate Appraisal board, Nattagh is not a licensed real-estate appraiser.

Two-thirds into the piece, the Times demolished its own story--and flatly contradicted the headline over it--by quoting licensed real-estate appraiser Randall Bell. He said Experian's methodology "implies something that cannot be mathematically implied. I don't know if it's a useful expenditure of time or resources.

"No surprise there. Bell told the Weekly airplanes don't affect housing prices until they, well, start flying over the neighborhood.Buried at the end of the story, the Times cited a study of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's expansion. According to that report, the airport sapped 14 percent from property values within a range of five miles. The reason: increased noise, pollution and traffic--exactly what South Countians fear the El Toro airport will bring to their neighborhoods.If that wasn't enough to bury the Experian study, the Times quoted a Lake Forest real-estate agent who said disclosing the airport's potential to prospective buyers was negatively impacting sales. All of that leads us to ask: If the Times found such stellar evidence that Experian conducted a flawed study, why did it legitimize the results with a front-page story?


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