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By Roz Rogoff

Lies, Distortions, and Fallacies

Uploaded: Apr 14, 2011

Seth Adams, Director of Land Programs for Save Mount Diablo, read a letter at the April 13 City Council meeting, about the reasons why Measure W was defeated. At one point he told the Council, "Now you can complain the No on Measure W campaign was biased or untruthful or funded by outsiders,"

I expected Adam's next phrase in that sentence to answer the complaints and prove they were false. Instead Adams changed the subject, "but the fact remains that you and whatever supporters your plan might have, had every advantage in participating in the democratic process. . . . They didn't. There was no support for your plan."

Now that's a classic Red Herring fallacy, which is to change the subject to avoid answering the question. By not answering the complaints, Adams as much as admitted the No on Measure W campaign lied and distorted the facts. Maybe that's why the Yes side didn't have more supporters, because No on Measure W was recruiting supporters with lies, distortions, and scare tactics.

When the No on Measure W signs started popping up around the city, those of us who supported Measure W didn't pay much attention. We knew the truth. The 2002 General Plan received 78% of the vote. The only opponent to that one was Curt Kinney. We thought voters would see through the nonsense spouted by No on Measure W.

We didn't know or expect the large sums of money and time the Greenbelt Alliance and Save Mount Diablo were investing in a local measure for a City's General Plan.

The contributions on the 460 forms for No on Measure W listed about $17,000 from 25 San Ramon residents and another $500 from unlisted contributors of less than $100 each. Residents of neighboring cities, e.g. Danville, Walnut Creek, or Pleasanton, contributed about $15,000, while the Sierra Club, Save Mount Diablo, and Greenbelt Alliance contributed almost $86,000.

Based on this information the Yes campaign published statistics showing most of the support for No on Measure W coming from outside sources. The No campaign countered this claim by mailing out a card with photos of 11 San Ramon residents and Dorothy Burt from Tassajara Valley, attesting that they were residents against Measure W. Those 11 were about half of the San Ramon residents who contributed to No on Measure W as of October 16, 2011 according to the 460 forms I obtained from the City Clerk's office.

As of mid-October the Yes on Measure W campaign had at least 11 supporters and $3200 in contributions, but we were not out recruiting. Our Yes campaign wasn't trying to raise money or create a political base the way the No campaign was. We just wanted voters to know the truth.

In an email dated October 17, 2010 Donna Kerger described her communication with a woman who was on the verge of contributing to the No campaign. "She was shocked to see how they had lied to her. She had gone to someone's house about W and said she was surprised because the gentleman doing all the talking was from Walnut Creek and he did ask for donations at the end. She said she was glad she didn't write a check now because she feels they were deceitful in their claims."

Seth Adams and other professional fundraisers from Save Mount Diablo and the Greenbelt Alliance, were spearheading No on Measure W, and entering their hours, mileage, and copying costs as contributions to the campaign. According to the 460 forms from October 1, 2010 to the end of the year, the Greenbelt Alliance contributed $4,422 in staff hours, mileage, and copying expenses. Save Mount Diablo contributed $3,813 in staff hours, mileage, and copying. The totals for the year are considerably higher, but I'm just going with the three months from October 1 to the end of the year for this story.

Frankly I didn't care much for Measure W, but I don't like lies and scare tactics and felt it was necessary to rebut them. That was the primary goal of the group of insiders supporting Measure W. We were criticized as "insiders," which some opponents saw as being in cahoots with the City Council or developers. I was attacked with ad hominem fallacies as "a wonkish shill for developers." I don't even know what that means.

But perhaps that explains why Measure W went down to such a lopsided defeat. It was a combination of negative advertising, fallacies, and scare tactics aided by a strong anti-government sentiment among voters last year.

Adams goes on to say in his letter to the City Council, "Our poll showed 69% opposition. San Ramon residents rejected Measure W by 72%. That's a landslide by any measure." It's also an argument from popularity fallacy to claim that because a lot of people buy your story that makes it true.

I could apply that same fallacy to the defeat of Proposition 21, the $18 license fee to support state parks, which was defeated 57% to 43%. Should I conclude from this that residents of California don't want to keep state parks open?

Save Mount Diablo contributed $75,000 to Yes on Proposition 21. The Yes campaign raised almost $7M, but was defeated by three automobile manufacturing organizations who contributed less than $75K total.

The automobile manufacturer's coalition called Prop 21 a car tax and told voters the state would grab the money before it could get to the parks. This resonated with voters, who didn't trust the state to keep its hands off the money.

San Ramon voters were cynical too after scandals in Bell, Hercules, and Herb Moniz's salary; so when No on Measure W came out swinging, voters were easily persuaded to believe the worst of our City Government.

Our City Council did a crummy job of putting Measure W on the ballot. The wording in the Measure was deceptive, and I said so. I thought the Planning Commission and Council should have put the Tassajara Valley portion into a separate measure. The dumbest thing the Council did was not allowing rebuttal arguments in the voter pamphlet. I still don't get why they thought that was a good idea.

The attitudes and behavior of our city leaders didn't help either. Speakers from the environmental organizations were treated rudely and without respect at the Public Hearings, which only added to the Council's bad image.

Conversely Save Mount Diablo and the Greenbelt Alliance came in with their environmental halos on saying, "We're here to save Tassajara Valley from big bad developers," and that's what voters wanted to believe last year.

The facts are that there were no developers poised to plop 4200 homes into Tassajara Valley, and Seth Adams knew that. So I hope people pay attention to the facts in this year's election and not whatever fallacies are thrown around by either side.