City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

May 25, 2012
Business group issues misleading campaign ad against Pannell

A campaign ad attacking Sacramento councilwoman Bonnie Pannell exaggerates crime and unemployment figures for Pannell's south Sacramento district, a Bee analysis has found.

A mailer that arrived at homes in recent days claimed that District 8 - which Pannell has represented for 14 years - has the "worst crime area in Sacramento." It also said that 52 percent "of your district (is) out of work."

The ad was funded by the Better Sacramento Political Action Committee - a group of business owners and developers that is supporting Pannell's opponent, former NAACP branch Betty Williams. The group is closely aligned with Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is also campaigning for Williams to unseat Pannell.

Suspecting the data cited in the mail piece might be a little off, I had my colleague Phillip Reese, The Bee's numbers guru, crunch some data for me. He found that while unemployment and crime are serious concerns in District 8, the figures presented in the mailer are overstated.

The mailer calls District 8 "The Worst Crime Area in Sacramento." But that's not true. Last year, the district had nine murders, four fewer than District 2, which covers North Sacramento, according to figures kept by the Sacramento Police Department.

Cops took roughly 6,500 crime reports in District 8 last year. Only two council districts had fewer reports, meaning there were actually five districts with more reported crimes.

Police answered 36,000 calls for service in the area, which again was fewer than all but two districts. Police were nearly twice as likely to take crime reports and answer calls for service in District 2, which includes North Sacramento, and District 4, which includes downtown and Land Park, than in District 8.

David Townsend, a political consultant who has done informal advising for Better Sacramento, said the crime statement was based on an online police department map of serious crime. That map does show a high density of serious crime throughout Pannell's district, especially along Mack Road.

"We believe our numbers are solid based on our analysis," Townsend said. "Even if they don't line up with someone else's numbers, (Pannell) voted to cut cops when there is high crime in her district."

Pannell - as another mailer notes - was one of six council members who last year voted to lay off police officers.

As for employment numbers, the mail piece also stated that "52 percent of your district is out of work." Townsend that number was taken from 2010 census figures that he said showed 52 percent of adults over the age of 18 are not working.

However, the unemployment rate in District 8 was really about 15 percent between 2006 and 2010, significantly higher than the citywide rate of 10 percent but much lower than 52 percent, according to those same census figures.

The flyer apparently counts adults who are not in the labor force as "out of work." But there are large numbers of adults not in the labor force everywhere who legitimately don't want work - retirees and young adults right out of high school, for instance. In District 8, about 37 percent of adults are not in the labor force, compared to 35 percent of adults citywide.

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About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at


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