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California lawmaker Smyth demands Noguez resignation; ‘Public trust is gone’

By Brian Hews

California State Assemblyman Cam Smyth said it is time for Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez to hang it up.

California State Assemblyman Cam Smyth said it is time for Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez to hang it up.

One of California’s most influential lawmakers has demanded the resignation of Los Angeles County Assessor John R. Noguez.
Santa Clarita area Assemblyman Cameron Smyth told Los Cerritos Community Newspaper on Wednesday that Noguez needs to step down immediately “for the good of all taxpayers in Los Angeles County.”
Smyth, the chair of the powerful Assembly Local Government Committee, has known Noguez for more than a decade on a “personal and professional” basis said that he is “beyond disappointed.”
“Calling for John to resign is not something I take lightly. Let’s face it, he can’t do the job anymore. The public trust is gone,” Smyth said.
The lawmaker said that the scandal has been a focal point of both private and open conversations between elected members of the Assembly and Senate. “Everyone is talking about this in Sacramento, and each and every new revelation is more and more jarring,” Smyth said.
He called the arrest of Noguez political alley Scott Schenter, a former county property appraisal specialist “stunning.”
“It is scary to think just how deep this investigation is going to go,” Smyth said.
“Even if Mr. Noguez did nothing wrong, as he claims, he has clearly lost control of his office,” he said.
“For something of this magnitude to be happening under his nose, without drawing any suspicion, raises serious questions about his performance and the ethical standards he set for his office,” he said.
Smyth recently introduced Assembly Bill 2210, which would require the assessor to notify the governing body if the assessed valuation of property decreases by more than three percent within 30 days of the request for the estimate.
AB 2210 further requires that within 15 days of notifying the governing body of this decrease, the assessor notify the Department of Finance, the board of supervisors, the governing boards of the cities within the county, and all affected school districts.
“This isn’t just a matter of a handful of wealthy campaign contributors getting special treatment,” said Smyth. “We’re talking about slashing the values of hundreds of homes, and eliminating tens of millions of dollars from county tax rolls. That has a ripple effect that decimates budgets for school districts, district hospitals, and anyone who relies on property tax revenue.”
Smyth said he is going to take a “wait and see” stance on how the LA County Board of Supervisors handle the situation. “There is only so much that the Board can do, but sooner or later they are going to have to step in and take control,” Smyth said.
He did say that a “care taker” can be appointed to fill the position on a temporary basis, but admitted the entire situation “is beyond staggering.”
“It is scary the depth of this matter. I am afraid goes beyond just the Assessor’s office,” Smyth concluded. “This is just another black eye for elected officials.”
Smyth said he voted for Noguez in 2010, but said “my position has changed since then.”

  • Bob Byrne says:

    As a person who has spent his professional life in the property tax arena, I too am beyond disappointed in what has been reported to have taken place in the Los Angeles County Assessor’s office. In the ten years that I worked in the office, under Phil Watson and Alex Pope, and the subsequent thirty years I have represented tax payers in California, I have never heard of any staff member of any Assessor’s office in the state doing anything like Scott Schenter has alegedly done. This really needs to be looked at for what it is — a one of a kind deal and dealt with accordingly.
    The Assessment Appeals process allows the taxpayer, or the taxpayers representative, to present evidence to the Assessor prior to a formal hearing in an effort to determine a fair market valuation for the property in question. If the appraiser for the county and the taxpayer can agree on a value a stipulation is entered into. This stipulation must be reviewed and approved by several levels of management in the Assesor’s office. The county appraiser’s must provide evidence to management that a reduction is warrented. The stipulation which has been signed by the taxpayer is then signed by the assessor’s staff. The signed stipulation is presented to the Assessment Appeals Board for approval. The approval of the board typically takes just a few minutes.
    This is a completely different senario than what has been reported to have been happening lately where the appraiser does not feel that there is a case for a reduction and he is being told that a reduction must be made for political reasons.
    My fear is that there is a witch hunt mentality going on now. This may cause the rank and file appraisers with the assessor’s office to cease looking at property evidence objectively to arrive at a fair value and cling to defending the existing value, even though they know it is high, because they do not want to see their name in the paper. As a result, appeal cases will have to be argued before the board instead of through the stipulation process. Many properties in Los Angeles are complex in nature. A full hearing can take one, two, or more days to complete. In California, tax appeal cases must be heard within two years of filing the appeal unless the taxpayer agrees to an extension. Usually, the only reason a taxpayer would agree to an extension is if he believes that with a little more time he and the Assessor would be able to stipulate to a value. If this were off the table, there is no reason for the taxpayer to agree to an extension beyond the two year statute of limitations time frame. The county will need to set up several additonal appeal boards to get though this process in a timely manner.
    I have been in this profession over 40 years on both sides of the table. My impression is that about 95% of the county appraisers are good honest professionals who act in an ethical manner, and who just want to arrive at the proper value. Five percent want to defend the roll at any cost, no matter what the evidence shows. The same can be said about the taxpayer representatives. The vast majority are ethical advocates for the taxpayer. A small minority are not and should be treated by the Assessor’s Office and Appeals Board accordingly. The system will work best when the taxpayer, or his representative, is allowed to present evidence to the assessor on why his property is overassessed, the county appraiser is allowed to objectively review this information along with any internal information the assessor has, and make a fair determination of value without any regard to politics.
    As to making the assessor’s position appointed by the Board of Supervisors rather than elected — the problem with that is that the assessor would no longer be an independent party. He would become an extenstion of the Board of Supervisors. There could then be some pressure to keep the roll values high. If the county were to go in this direction, all parties would have to be committed to working in an ethical, transparent manner to protect the taxpayer.