Image: falseStatement: “We laid off 17 percent of the workforce in San Diego,” Mayor Jerry Sanders said during a March 23 appearance on the PBS television program, The Charlie Rose Show.

Determination: False

Analysis: Mayor Jerry Sanders sat down with Charlie Rose and five mayors two weeks ago to talk about the cash crunch facing big cities across the country and touted a proposal to replace San Diego’s employee pensions with a 401(k)-style plan for new workers. Sanders and City Councilman Kevin Faulconer have come to an agreement with Councilman Carl DeMaio, the Lincoln Club and San Diego Taxpayers Association to jointly sponsor a ballot initiative that would make this change in 2012.

On the television program, Sanders had the stage and a chance to pitch his proposal to a national audience. The mayor said it would help balance San Diego’s budget over time. He emphasized that other options had already been attempted to fix the city’s structural deficit. He highlighted Proposition D, the failed November ballot measure to increase the city’s sales tax by half a cent, which he supported.

“We got killed,” he told Rose and the other mayors. “That’s even after we laid off 17 percent of the workforce in San Diego.”

Yes, the ballot measure got walloped, but Sanders’ second assertion was wrong. The city hasn’t laid off that many people or even reduced the workforce by that many positions in recent years.

Since 2007, the city has laid off 38 classified employees, less than 1 percent of its entire workforce.

Rather than forcing people out of their jobs, the city has typically waited for workers to leave and then eliminated those vacant slots when budget time comes around. The city didn’t lay off any police officers last year to save money, for example, but did reduce the size of the force by cutting vacant positions and leaving others unfilled.

Overall, the city has reduced its entire workforce by the equivalent of 1,194 full-time positions in the last four years, or about 10 percent of the entire workforce in 2007. That’s still less than what Sanders said.

When asked if Sanders was mistaken on The Charlie Rose Show, his office acknowledged the error. Spokeswoman Rachel Laing wrote in an email:

He used “layoff” and “reduction” interchangeably, which is incorrect. Obviously, this wasn’t intentional. The mayor has openly stated many times that he’s pleased that the reduction of the city’s workforce has come through attrition and the elimination of vacant positions rather than putting people out of work.

The mayor falsely exaggerated layoffs in a press release last year as he pushed (successfully) to outsource some of the city’s information technology functions. On The Charlie Rose Show, he again exaggerated past layoffs, but this time bolstered support for his 401(k)-style plan.

Eliminating a vacant position, simply a line-item in the budget, and terminating an employee, a person with financial commitments like a family and a mortgage, are different management decisions, and we’ve tried to explain that time and time again.

Local government officials and others have repeatedly used the word “layoffs” to cast past decisions as more drastic.

In this case, it’s unclear where Sanders got the 17 percent number. It doesn’t appear in annual budgets and Sanders’ office hasn’t provided a clear explanation after we requested it more than a week ago.

Since much less than 17 percent of the city’s workforce has been laid off in recent years — 38 classified employees since 2007 — Sanders’ statement was False.

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