The normally sleepy race for Los Angeles County assessor has become contentious this year, pitting a 25-year veteran of the department in a runoff against a longtime member of the appeals board.
The assessor is a nonpartisan office charged with a key role — figuring out the value of property in the county, which helps determine how much owners pay in property taxes.
The race became competitive this year after Assessor Rick Auerbach announced his retirement. His appointed replacement, Robert Quon, also plans to retire.
With the position up for grabs, John R. Noguez, who worked his way up from a student intern to deputy assessor, has assembled the largest war chest. Noguez, 45, has raised more than $640,000 — which includes $20,000 he has spent in loans to his campaign — and is the anointed favorite of Auerbach and four of the five Los Angeles County supervisors. He is also mayor of Huntington Park, population 64,000, just west of Bell.
His opponent is Monterey Park businessman John Y. Wong, 61, who has spent 15 years reviewing decisions made by the assessor as a member of the appeals board, serving five one-year terms as chairman in the past decade. Endorsed by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, Wong, who once ran an almond cookie company and frozen burrito business, has loaned himself more than half of the $37,000 his campaign has raised.
Noguez was the top vote-getter in the June primary, winning about 28% of the vote in a field of 13 candidates. Wong came in second with about 13% of the vote.
The candidates offer a sharp contrast in style. Wong, interviewed at a favorite diner in Monterey Park, said he would do more to make the assessor's computer system easy to understand.
"If you are a taxpayer and you want to find out about your property, you'll go to the computer screen and you won't understand a thing," said Wong, a licensed real estate broker who has a degree in business administration from Cal State LA..
He criticized Noguez for never graduating from college, lacking experience managing large organizations, and for Huntington Park having the sixth-highest property tax rate in the county.
Interviewed at his public relations firm's offices in downtown L.A., Noguez said that unlike Wong, he has extensive experience assessing property values, as well as the political connections that can help him lobby Sacramento. Among his goals: advocating the return of a program cut in 2008 in which poor senior citizens can postpone payments on property taxes until after their deaths.
"I can hit the ground running, where my opponent does not have that," Noguez said.
Noguez said he left Cal State L.A. three classes shy of a degree,but added that he has since earned general and advanced appraisal credentials. He said he is proud of the work he's done in Huntington Park, citing his efforts to help the city raise its meager reserve fund from $1.5 million to $8 million by lowering council salaries and travel costs while boosting city permit fees.