Statement: “Over 95 percent of our businesses are small businesses,” City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner said Dec. 13.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: Last month, the City Council created a committee to focus on jobs, business regulation and the local economy.

The next day, Lightner appeared on Fox 5’s Morning Show to promote the new committee and her new role as its leader. Echoing frustration aired recently by other local politicians, she said the city needed to make it easier for businesses to succeed in San Diego.

“We hope to provide a very strong venue for businesses in the city of San Diego to come and tell us what is hindering their development,” Lightner said. “We want to get out of the way.”

She said she specifically supported helping San Diego’s small businesses because they drive the local economy. And to support that argument, Lightner cited a statistic: “Over 95 percent of our businesses are small businesses.”

We decided to Fact Check the statistic since Lightner used it to justify the committee’s focus on small businesses. If San Diego doesn’t have nearly that many small businesses, the spotlight of legislative reform may be misplaced.

To check her claim, we turned to the City Treasurer’s Office, which defines a small business and tracks how many exist in the city.

The city divides fees for business licensing into two categories — small and large. Businesses with 12 or fewer employees pay $34 annually while those with 13 or more employees pay $125 plus $5 per employee.

Because the treasurer collects these different fees each year, it’s able to track how many small businesses exist. Last year, about 94 percent of the city’s 97,000 businesses paid the small business fee — close to Lightner’s mark.

The treasurer reported a similar number of small businesses in each of the previous three years, too, but in no year did the percentage exceed 95 percent as Lightner claimed. It ranged between 93 and 94 percent.

Still, we didn’t hold the slight discrepancy too much against Lightner. One percentage point doesn’t take away from the broader point she was making, so we rated the claim Mostly True.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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