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Gather now, all adjudicators, magistrates and umpires of truth. Who should receive the San Diego Fact Check’s infamous award for Whopper of the Year?
The contenders are 15 claims we determined this year to be false, including six we rated Huckster Propaganda. The winner receives no trophy or prize money — only notoriety.
We identified the contenders by focusing on public officials, who should be held to a higher standard than the general public. We weighed the egregiousness of a false claim by assessing how much it misrepresented reality, how much it could impact debate and how much the subject knew about it.
To help us further narrow the list, browse the 15 false claims below and share your feedback. Which factual blunder do you think stands out above the rest? Explain your rationale in the comments section of this post, through social media or in an email to email@example.com.
After the New Year, we’ll post the finalists and invite your feedback once again. Then, a few days later, we’ll announce our choice for Whopper of the Year and explain the consensus among you, the readers. (Here are last year’s finalists and the top whopper.)
So, without further adieu, here’s the list of San Diego’s top whoppers for 2011, links to our analyses and a brief description of the surrounding context. The claims are listed chronologically and separated by rating category.
• “Either party can reopen in future years for those articles pertaining to Health and Welfare and Wages,” said a San Diego Unified School District financial disclosure, signed March 1, 2010 by Superintendent Bill Kowba and former Chief Financial Officer James Masias. | Labor groups can actually refuse to bargain. The contract, and the district’s attempts to renegotiate it, is central to the district’s ongoing financial problems.
• “I believe it’s been about two weeks,” Frank Alessi, executive vice president of the Centre City Development Corp., said Oct. 12, 2010, on when he first learned about a push to get the state Legislature to extend his agency’s life. | Alessi secretly discussed the push six weeks earlier. The extension happened suddenly and circumvented a promised public discussion about siphoning billions of dollars in tax money for redevelopment.
• “Our little project area downtown — 1,500 acres — has generated as many affordable housing units in this city as the entire [Los Angeles] project areas combined,” Jeff Graham, vice president of redevelopment for the Centre City Development Corp., said at a Jan. 12 panel. | L.A. actually generated more than four times as many. As the governor pushed to kill or severely curtail redevelopment, proponents highlighted public benefits like affordable housing.
• “Take a peek at the Mayor’s 5 Year Outlook: For every $1 more the city will collect in tax revenues in next 5 years, 77 cents of it will immediately be diverted to the pension system,” City Councilman Carl DeMaio wrote on his Facebook page Feb. 9. | DeMaio overstated pension costs by $23.5 million. Cutting pension costs is a major theme of DeMaio’s political career and now his campaign for mayor.
• “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. | Actually less than 1 percent. Before a national audience, Sanders aimed to show that a city once called “Enron by the Sea” was making painful cuts.
• “We’ve cut them each year, and they are responsible in arts and culture for about 20,000 jobs. There’s a multi-ripple impact on that,” Mayor Jerry Sanders said in a press conference revealing his proposed 2012 budget on April 14. | Mayor twice increased the arts budget. Sanders had been asked why he proposed cutting libraries and not the arts.
• “We don’t have any training for our lifeguards,” City Councilman David Alvarez said in a June 6 discussion about the budget on KPBS. | Lifeguards still trained, just not as often. Alvarez had pushed to increase funding for lifeguard training.
• “It’s 7,000 cars a day that are interacting with literally hundreds of thousands of pedestrians,” Mayor Jerry Sanders said of activity at Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama on Fox 5’s Morning Show, July 18. | Traffic study found at most 12,200 pedestrians. Removing cars from the plaza has been one of Sanders’ big agenda items as his tenure winds down.
• “It takes six days of waiting before you can get into L.A. or Long Beach,” Congressman Bob Filner said Aug. 30 in an interview with NBC 7 San Diego, referring to how long ships wait before docking in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. | Maybe that long during a 2004 crisis, but not since. Filner made the claim to bolster his mayoral campaign push to expand the port and create jobs.
Huckster Propaganda Statements:
• “I think you, the collective media, have made it all about elected officials,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said in an April interview about the focus of her Public Integrity Unit. | Dumanis made elected officials a primary focus when announcing the unit to much fanfare in 2007. But since then, the unit has prosecuted just three elected officials.
• “During the civil rights movement I worked for Ralph Abernathy and went to jail over the rights of the minority,” County Supervisor Bill Horn said June 28 at a public board meeting. | Didn’t go to jail. Didn’t work for civil rights leader. Alleged witnesses not dead, as his spokesman claimed. Horn cited the experience to repel accusations of him and his colleagues being racist during a heated debate over political redistricting.
• “I’ve gone to the last 10 State of the City addresses; I think I’ve heard Mexico mentioned in one of them,” Congressman Bob Filner said in a Q&A published Aug. 17 by San Diego CityBeat. | Had he gone, he would’ve heard Mexico more. Filner made the claim to criticize Mayor Jerry Sanders and elevate his own campaign for mayor.
• “You have to understand, [Diann Shipione’s] testimony took place at a public hearing on the problems with the pension system. The city manager was proposing certain solutions that really weren’t that great. But it was at a public hearing. This was not hidden at all,” former Mayor Dick Murphy, said in an interview Oct. 5. | The meeting, which Murphy presided over, wasn’t about the pension system’s problems. Shipione’s comments sparked attention to the city’s pension problems, throwing City Hall into eventual political and financial turmoil.
• “It’s not appropriate for people to come to us and be upset. We didn’t even know what the criteria was, we didn’t even tell the staff which direction we wanted,” Shelia Jackson, a member of the San Diego Unified school board told a capacity crowd at a Nov. 1 meeting. | Jackson and her colleagues approved the criteria. Avoiding tough decisions has been a major component of the district’s ongoing financial problems.
• “No general fund,” Steve Cushman, a local power broker for the Convention Center expansion, said Nov. 29 about the project’s financing plan. | Actually $105 million. By making the claim, Cushman dodged a heated debate about using public money to pay for big buildings while core services are being cut.
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