The "bizarrely inaccurate" stories, as city manager Kevin Duggan described them, portrayed Mountain View as having "forced" Home Depot to pay money towards accommodations for day workers. The false stories (none of which ran in the Voice) gained traction nationally, helping to stir up the already contentious immigration debate.
The confusion seems to have started with a late-June story by the Associated Press that ran in dozens of newspapers. The article, which concerned the immigration bill that recently failed in the U.S. Senate, stated in its third paragraph that Mountain View was one of several American cities that have "forced Home Depot to build facilities for day laborers on-site or elsewhere, hire security staff and offer bathrooms in order to get the permits necessary for its operations."
Duggan said he was befuddled by the story, because the city has yet to make any decision on Home Depot's application for the Sears site at San Antonio Center. When the issue was last discussed at a study session in March, the council didn't take a position on how it should mitigate the presence of day workers outside.
"How much confusion could be generated about a thoroughly simple topic?" Duggan asked. "We had radio stations calling, TV stations calling. We have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to clarify misinformation about this topic."
The Voice also received e-mails from people misled by the stories, who were angry over what they'd heard: That the city was requiring Home Depot to help pay for the Day Worker Center.
As late as last Thursday, the "non-story," as city officials put it, continued to be reported by media outlets such as San Francisco radio station KCBS, which posted a story on its Web site that read, "The unofficial report is that Home Depot would give $250,000 to the city of Mountain View to help with labor issues."
The false story was given a boost by the San Jose Mercury News, which ran a story last Tuesday — picked up from its sister paper, the Palo Alto Daily News — headlined "Home Depot gives city cash."
That story was also based on false information, but this time Home Depot itself was guilty. With little explanation, the paper quoted an e-mail from Home Depot spokesperson Kathryn Gallagher that read, "We have contributed the $250,000 to the city to work toward a solution in regards to day labor issues."
Gallagher told the Voice last week that she "misspoke about it."
"I had actually said we had given the money and we hadn't," she said. "It was one of the many solutions discussed."
Although the original story began with the Associated Press, those reporters apparently received their information from U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., a player in the immigration debate. On Tuesday, Isakson's office repeated the false information to the Voice — Mountain View is among 16 cities requiring or requesting day worker accommodations — and even listed six requirements the city has supposedly forced on the retail giant, including the creation of an on-site day worker center and a $250,000 donation.
When confronted about the incorrect information, Isakson's spokesperson, Sheridan Watson, passed the blame to Home Depot — the original source, she said.
"That would be an issue to take up with Home Depot then," Watson said.
Last March, six options for dealing with day workers at the site were discussed in a council study session. One of them would have required Home Depot to pay $250,000 towards the Day Worker Center, but the council has yet to take a position on the subject.
At the time, Home Depot's Greg George told the council that $250,000 would be an unprecedented requirement.
"In our opinion, that's extremely aggressive," he said.
Gallagher said earlier this week that it's "safe to say" that is still the opinion of Home Depot.