Fact Check: Is the Library a Jobs Machine?

Fact Check

Fact Check: Is the Library a Jobs Machine?

Statement: “There’s been 1,000 people at work
today,” City Councilman Todd Gloria said Dec. 29, referring to the
number of jobs created by the construction of the city’s new
Central Library. Determination: False.

 

Image: falseStatement: “There’s been 1,000 people at work today,” City Councilman Todd Gloria said Dec. 29, referring to the number of jobs created by the construction of the city’s new Central Library.

Determination: False

Analysis: Gloria appeared on KPBS before the New Year to talk about redevelopment’s death and urged state lawmakers to restore the longtime government subsidy program.

Echoing a common argument by redevelopment supporters, Gloria said the program is vital to economic growth and job creation. He touted past projects in North Park, City Heights and the Gaslamp Quarter, and pointed to ongoing projects downtown that involve redevelopment funding.

“Look at our skyline today in downtown,” Gloria said on KPBS. “Where the cranes are, whether it’s the World Trade Center, creating our homeless services center, or our Central Library, where I understand there’s been 1,000 people at work today. Where there’s economic activity, those are redevelopment dollars there. Those are jobs, economic activity that we need so desperately in our city right now.”

Gloria’s description of people building the city’s new Central Library attracted my attention because I’ve walked by the downtown construction site and found it hard to believe 1,000 people had been working on any one day.

The councilman cited the number to bolster his argument for restoring redevelopment agencies. About half of the library’s funding came from the city’s downtown redevelopment agency. If the construction project isn’t employing as many people as Gloria said, he may have inflated its impact on job creation.

I contacted Beth Binger, a publicist for Turner Construction, which is overseeing the project. She said the number of people working at the construction site each day is far below Gloria’s estimate.

Between 161 and 172 people normally work each day, Binger said. As more subcontractors become involved in the project, the number is expected to peak around 220. So even at the most, the number of workers will be more than four times below Gloria’s description.

On Friday, the councilman’s spokeswoman Katie Keach said he meant to describe the total number of jobs over the life of the project, not on any given day.

Now that claim would’ve had some footing. Before breaking ground, the San Diego Public Library Foundation predicted the project would employ 1,055 different people over nearly three years of construction. (That number does not include people who will work at the new library once it’s finished; the new library will replace the existing downtown building.)

We rated Gloria’s statement False since nothing in the surrounding context of the KPBS interview hinted that he was referring to the total number of jobs. He used very specific language and described 1,000 people working that day.

Because that many people weren’t working, his statement was inaccurate.

It might seem like a small nuance, but the number of people working throughout a project and the number of people working at one point in a project is a big difference to workers’ income and financial stability. Putting food on the table for an entire year means a lot more than a few months.

Gloria didn’t dispute our numbers, but did disagree with our rating.

“We still think it’s ridiculous,” Keach wrote Friday. “I’m not convinced anyone listening would’ve wondered whether that was for a single day or over the course of the project. Again, given the context of the conversation, he was speaking about jobs associated with that project, which was correct.”

You can listen to the KPBS interview here and decide for yourself. Gloria’s statement comes shortly after the 10-minute mark.

Lastly, if you follow Gloria on Twitter, you may have noticed he posted a seemingly out of the blue tweet on Jan. 6. He wrote:

[Did you know?]: The New Central Library project is projected to generate 1,055 construction-related jobs. More facts at http://bit.ly/yQ1881.

Gloria didn’t explain why he made the announcement, but I have a good guess. It was in response to this Fact Check. Less than an hour earlier, I told Gloria’s office that the councilman would be receiving a False rating.

After Gloria posted the tweet, I circled back to Binger at Turner Construction and asked about the Public Library Foundation’s 1,055 jobs estimate. She connected me with Carmen Vann, the project’s senior manager, who explained why the number is likely a slight overestimate.

Vann said all construction workers must attend a safety program. It doesn’t matter if they work on the library for a couple days or an entire year. So far, Vann said 780 different people have attended the program and up to 150 more may attend before the end of the project.

Using that metric, Vann estimates the project will employ a maximum 930 people over its lifetime — more than one hundred fewer jobs than the San Diego Public Library Foundation predicted.

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

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

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