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Statement: “Our first week in office we had to cut $200 million from the budget,” City Councilwoman Marti Emerald said at a Dec. 3 swearing-in ceremony.

Determination: False

Analysis: At a swearing-in ceremony last week, San Diego’s new and re-elected leaders hailed an end to the city’s recent financial woes.

They recalled past cuts and suggested ways to reinvest in the community.

District 9 Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who was first elected in 2008, said city officials and staffers should be commended for what they endured in the past four years.

She also briefly spotlighted a tough budget decision she claimed she and three other new council members made during their first week in office: whether to cut $200 million from the budget.

As the city refocuses its priorities, we decided to check Emerald’s claim because it’s easy to forget the details behind big deficits the city faced just a few years ago. Emerald’s claim provided an opportunity to take a closer look at past city cuts.

New councilmembers Emerald, Todd Gloria, Sherri Lightner and Carl DeMaio took office in December 2008.

City documents and news stories from the time confirm there were heated budget discussions taking place.

In a November 2008 report, then-Mayor Jerry Sanders projected $224.8 million in budget deficits over the next five years. That included more than $40 million in necessary cuts before the end of the budget year.

A month later, former Voice of San Diego reporter Rani Gupta wrote about the City Council vote on Sanders’ proposed budget and a deal reached with then-Councilwoman Donna Frye:

Most new members of the San Diego City Council sided with the four continuing members to give final approval to a compromise deal worked out last week to address the city’s $43 million midyear budget gap.

Before she cast her vote to make the requested cuts, Emerald emphasized that the city would continue to face deficits and needed to make plans to address them.

The city’s financial picture had worsened by fall 2009. The mayor projected a $179 million shortfall for the upcoming budget year.

As our Liam Dillon noted at the time, this was the largest budget gap in San Diego history. The City Council ultimately voted 7-1 to close the shortfall with layoffs, temporary reductions to on-duty fire crews and other deep cuts.

The City Council later voted to close an additional $7.8 million shortfall.

In all, the city had to adjust its budget by at least $186.8 million to balance its books during the 2009-2010 budget year, and to avoid a larger shortfall the next year.

But that was the year after Emerald joined the City Council — not in her first week in office — so we’re giving the councilwoman a “false” rating.

Through a spokeswoman, the councilwoman admitted to VOSD that she misspoke during the speech and meant to say she faced that decision in her first year in office.

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

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

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Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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