San Diego, we bring you the worst of the worst.

We fact-checked dozens of bold claims this year and the topics were far-ranging, they included crime spikes, extra pay for scooter-riding meter maids and more.

We reviewed those fact checks and selected the most wild and crazy claims, including one that turned out to be true.

Here are our picks for the top fact checks of 2012. Do you agree with our choices? Is there one you think belongs on the list that didn’t make it? Please let us know in the comments section.

The Biggest Whopper

Photo by Sam Hodgson

“Poway has done nothing different than every other district in the state of California,” John Collins, Poway Unified School District superintendent told Investigative Newsource in early November.

This year, our Will Carless spent months writing about Poway’s controversial deal to borrow $105 million. The arrangement will eventually cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion because the school district won’t start repaying its loan for 20 years.

Public officials, bond attorneys and taxpayer advocates panned the district’s decision and the state attorney general’s office warned the district its bond deal was illegal.

And yet Collins claimed Poway’s bond deal wasn’t all that unusual.

That doozy earned Collins our worst fact check rating — Huckster Propaganda — and now, he gets our award for the Biggest Whopper of 2012.

The Quirkiest Claim

Courtesy photo

“It took an act of Congress just to hold a sailboat race in San Diego,” Rep. Brian Bilbray said during a March 14 candidates’ debate on KPBS.

Sailboat races rarely come up in conversations about bipartisanship but Bilbray changed that with a claim back in March.

Bilbray, who will soon leave office, emphasized his record of bipartisanship by noting that he worked with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to allow the America’s Cup World Series to go on in San Diego in November 2011.

The problem was the legislation that allowed the race came after the event — and it wasn’t sponsored by Bilbray.

Former Voice of San Diego reporter Keegan Kyle found that Bilbray did introduce a bill to exempt 60 boats from the federal maritime law to allow the race to go as planned but it never made it past committee. And the race did indeed go on before lawmakers approved another piece of legislation to allow it.

Bilbray may not be able to credibly claim that his bipartisan efforts allowed a sailboat race to go on but he does get some recognition for making the Quirkiest Claim of the Year.

Most Shockingly True

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Kainoa Hartrum, a 12-year-old student in Julie Garcia’s seventh grade pre-algebra class at Innovation Middle School, uses an iPad to work on a math problem.

“Anyone can buy an iPad for $399 but the school board is paying $2,500 apiece,” according to a much-circulated October press release from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association waged a campaign against San Diego Unified School District’s $2.8 billion bond, Proposition Z, this fall.

The taxpayer group captured the most attention when it claimed the district will spend decades paying off iPads purchased with an earlier bond, though the technology will be out of date in a few years.

Our fact check revealed a surprising result: The group’s estimate of $2,500 per iPad was actually too low.

That’s because the district used capital appreciation bonds, which allow officials to delay debt payments for up to 20 years. The result is higher payments once the bills come due.

So the district’s first set of iPads, purchased using a 40-year bond, will cost 7.6 times the original amount per iPad, or $4,077 each. The second round of iPads, which were purchased with a more conservative bond, came out to about $2,731 each.

Lani Lutar, the taxpayer group’s president, said the association came up with a different result because they based the initial cost per iPad on a number cited in a U-T San Diego story, and a district spokesman admitted the cost per device ended up being higher than originally planned.

We ended up giving the taxpayer’s group a “mostly true” rating, and now we’re calling it the Most Shockingly True claim of the 2012.

The Dirtiest Declaration

“Councilmember Sherri Lightner voted to hand government employee unions $28 million in bonuses,” blared mailers distributed by Ray Ellis, Lightner’s opponent in the District 1 City Council election. The same claim appeared on a mailer affiliated with the Lincoln Club of San Diego County.

Ellis aimed to unseat Lightner and as we noted, there were plenty of jabs between the contenders.

But two pro-Ellis campaign mailers were especially dirty.

One claimed Lightner voted to give city staffers $28 million “just for doing their jobs” while the other said the money had gone to “City Hall unions.”

The payments referenced in the ads were part of an incentive program that rewarded city water and wastewater employees for finding work-related efficiencies between the 2004 and 2008 fiscal years.

A key fact was missing from the mailers: Lightner wasn’t even on the City Council when it voted to approve the bonuses.

Tying Lightner to a program she never approved was especially slimy, so we’re dubbing it this year’s Dirtiest Declaration.

The Most Repeated Lie

Photo by Sam Hodgson

“Very clear that we’re not going to use our general fund monies to subsidize an expansion at this point,” said former San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio on the Convention Center expansion in a February interview.

“This expansion will be done by private investment from the hoteliers,” DeMaio said at an April debate.

As we noted during the mayoral campaign, DeMaio almost universally opposes tax hikes and rate increases but that didn’t stop him from supporting the Convention Center financing plan for more than a year.

That’s surprising because the city projects it will need to pull about $3.5 million from the operating fund annually to bolster the waterfront facility, and no private investors have committed to the project. A hotel-room tax increase and a Unified Port of San Diego contribution will cover most of the costs.

Still, DeMaio repeatedly claimed that only hoteliers, not taxpayers, will foot the bill for the expansion.

Our Liam Dillon detailed why that’s not true in two separate fact checks this year. DeMaio received two Huckster Propaganda ratings and a false rating on a claim about a cap on the city’s financial contribution to the expansion.

These weren’t our first false ratings on claims about the Convention Center expansion.

We fact-checked a similar claim by Steve Cushman, former Mayor Jerry Sanders’ Convention Center point man, last December.

Cushman, a former port commissioner, claimed no general funds would be used to prop up the expansion. He also received a Huckster Propaganda rating, which means it’s reasonable to suspect that he knew what he was saying was incorrect.

Not just any statement earns that label. Only eight claims met that bar this year, and there were just a half-dozen last year.

And DeMaio continued to mislead San Diegans about Convention Center funding even after we called his bluff. For that reason, he’ll be recognized for spreading the Most Repeated Lie of 2012.

It is worth noting, however, that DeMaio has since changed his views on financing for the Convention Center expansion. Last month, he voted against the latest proposal in part because of concerns about the annual $3.5 million set to come from the city’s day-to-day fund.

The Baron of Bold Statements

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Mayor Bob Filner’s bold vision for San Diego helped propel him to the mayor’s office but it also led us to fact check him more than any other person this year.

Sometimes Filner’s claims turn out to be true, as was the case with a recent statement about Rancho Bernardo’s fire station, and others about legislation he’s sponsored.

We’ve also uncovered a few fabrications.

Filner earned our worst rating for backpedaling on his support of a plan to borrow money to pay off the city’s pension debt, and we called him out for a misleading statement about his 2007 run-in with an airport baggage clerk.

In all, we fact-checked Filner or supporters of his mayoral campaign nearly 20 times in 2012. That makes him this year’s Baron of Bold Statements.

And his November victory ensures we’ll be paying close attention to what he says for the next four years.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at 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 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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