June 1, 2018: San Diego Free Press: Documents Suggest Favoritism on San Diego County Property Tax Appeals by Assessor’s Office.
It pays to have friends in high places, especially when it comes time to appeal property tax assessments in San Diego County, according to documents released via the California Public Records Act and provided to the San Diego Free Press. These documents, along with a careful analysis of campaign finance records and personal financial disclosures, suggest favoritism has been a factor in reducing the tax burdens of those with connections to County Assessor Ernest Dronenburg.
A major local corporation, along with a longtime campaign contributor’s family, were among the beneficiaries, thanks to a seeming lack of interest in challenging appeals by the agency responsible for such matters. Because there was no push-back by the County, the assessment appeals process was effectively manipulated, paving the way for significant reductions in property values for Qualcomm, the largest property taxpayer in San Diego County.
May 23, 2018: San Diego CityBeat: CityBeat's Election Endorsements.
In case you missed it, we wrote a feature on ethics attorney Matt Strabone, who’s running to unseat longtime incumbent Assessor Ernest Dronenburg. The latter is banking on voter indifference to his multiple controversies (anti-gay marriage, campaign finance violations, reckless spending, etc.). Don’t be indifferent, as this race will be decided in this election. Matt Strabone is ready for the job and will be a valuable public servant in this important office that’s in charge of property taxes, property value assessments and more.
May 9, 2018: Voice of San Diego: Thousands of San Diegans Are Overpaying Their Property Taxes (op-ed).
I want to give 150,000 more homeowners in San Diego County a property tax break. That’s one reason why I’m running for San Diego County assessor-recorder-clerk.
Right now, around 150,000 homeowners aren’t getting all of the exemptions they deserve and are actually overpaying their property taxes. These folks are missing out on the Homeowner’s Exemption, which provides a $7,000 reduction on the taxable value of your home simply by filling out a one-page form and sending it to the county assessor.
I’m going to fix this problem through better outreach. One thing I’ll do is hold public workshops in every community across the county once I’m elected to make sure that you get this exemption and any other tax breaks you deserve.
We deserve a government that works for us, that’s transparent and accountable, that provides excellent service and that saves San Diegans money.
May 9, 2018: San Diego CityBeat: CityWeek: A visit from Sessions, Prop. 68 and accessing Assessor Dronenburg.
HAM OF THE WEEK. Wouldn’t it be great if every time we did something unethical, we could just tell the local media something like whoops, my bad? That seems to be the continuing logic of County Assessor-Recorder-Clerk (and Carl Fredricksen look-alike) Ernest Dronenburg, who seems to be basically counting on voter ignorance or disinterest in his primary race despite the fact that since he’s been in office he’s a.) attempted to block gay marriages back in 2013; b.) spent $90,000 of taxpayer dollars on sometimes dubious trips; c.) bought stock in a real estate developer a few months after being sworn in as the person in charge of setting property taxes, and, most recently; d.) failed to disclose a $5,000 contribution from the GOP (the office is technically non-partisan).
May 2, 2018: Times of San Diego: Matt Strabone reports outraising incumbent in Assessor's race.
Matt Strabone, a candidate for San Diego Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk, said he has outraised incumbent Ernest Dronenburg with a total of over $100,000 on hand a month before the June 5 primary.
Strabone, an attorney who is seeking his first elected office, said he has outraised Dronenburg by $22,000 over the course of the campaign and is carrying less campaign debt.
“I am so proud of the support our campaign has earned from all across San Diego County. Raising over $100,000 in contributions in a campaign for Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk as the challenger is a significant achievement that speaks to the traction we have gained with voters all across San Diego County.”
April 25, 2018: San Diego Union-Tribune: State regulators launch probe into Dronenburg allegation.
State elections regulators have opened a formal investigation into San Diego County Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk Ernest Dronenburg’s handling of a $5,000 donation to his re-election campaign.
April 16, 2018: San Diego Union-Tribune: County assessor invested in companies that own and manage properties under his jurisdiction.
Many assessors in California have policies on how to value an official’s personal property such as a house — for instance, handing the job off to counterparts in other counties to avoid a conflict of interest. But investments like those Dronenburg has in companies with real estate holdings are a gray area.
Matthew Strabone, the San Diego lawyer challenging Dronenburg on the June 5 ballot, said it is not appropriate for an elected assessor to buy and sell shares in companies that own property subject to their assessment. “My opponent can have a directly beneficial impact on these companies and he stands to benefit himself from that potentially beneficial impact,” he said. “This is the very definition of a conflict of interest.”
Strabone said assessors should be prohibited from investing in companies that own property within their jurisdiction. “Sometimes holding public office requires sacrifice, and this is a reasonable and necessary sacrifice for the County Assessor/Recorder/Clerk to make,” he said.
April 10, 2018: San Diego Union-Tribune: Candidate for assessor-recorder-county clerk accuses incumbent of violating disclosure rules.
Matthew Strabone filed a sworn complaint accusing Dronenburg of accepting $5,000 from the Republican Party of San Diego County on April 4 and failing to disclose the contribution within 24 hours as required by state law.
“I am deeply disappointed in my opponent’s callous disregard for campaign disclosure laws and the underlying purpose behind them: to ensure that our elections are conducted in a fair and transparent way,” Strabone said.
March 7, 2018: San Diego CityBeat (cover story): Matt Strabone Really Cares.
“Now I know what you’re all thinking, and it’s always the first question I get,” Strabone begins telling the crowd before pausing. “What does the San Diego County Assessor-Recorder-Clerk actually do?”
“It’s one thing to list out that the office has three primary roles, but people still need you to connect the dots,” Strabone says. “When I go up to folks and tell them that there are 150,000 homeowners in San Diego County who are not getting the property tax exemption that they should be getting and that those people are paying extra money on property tax every year, that gets their attention.”
“Anything I can do to improve customer service and outreach, I will do it,” he tells the people gathered in the condo complex. “I know that this isn’t the most high-profile office in the world, but it does touch the lives of literally every person in the county and that’s why it’s so important to me.”
February 22, 2018: San Diego Free Press: Keeping the Stupid in Politics, San Diego Style.
Incumbent Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk Ernest Dronenburg has been hitting the road and living the high life on the taxpayer dime. He’s spent $90,000 on 161 mostly in-state trips since 2012...
The incumbent Dronenberg favors high-end hotels and often switches lodging locations during a trip, apparently as part of a strategy to run-up rewards points with hotel chains and airlines.
Needless to say, Dronenberg’s opponent in the winner-take-all June primary, Matt Strabone, released a statement on the exposé, saying in part:
“Ernie Dronenburg is a career politician who’s long since lost touch with voters, and this is just another example. San Diego deserves a County Assessor who puts the people of San Diego County first and focuses on the duties of the office, not one who spends his workdays schmoozing in wine country and 4-star ski resorts on the taxpayers’ dime. If elected, I’ll spend that time here in San Diego County showing homeowners how to save their tax money instead of using it to pad a Hyatt rewards points account.”