By Jess Winans
Uptowner reflects on his upcoming run for County Assessor
[Editor’s note: San Diego Uptown News, or its parent company San Diego Community News Network, does not endorse candidates. This feature article’s intent is to highlight an Uptown resident and his connection to our community. For more information about incumbent Ernest Dronenburg and his campaign for the position, visit voteforernie.com.]
On June 5, North Park resident and Democrat Matt Strabone will be challenging two-term incumbent San Diego County Assessor/Recorder/Clerk Ernest Dronenburg for his position. This run is part of the statewide direct primary election.
“I think it’s OK to demand more from our county governments,” Strabone said. “I think we could do a lot better, especially in this office. In pretty much every way, this office serves the people of San Diego County.”
Strabone, originally from Queens, New York, moved to California to study law at University of Southern California after obtaining his bachelor’s degree from University of Rochester. When his father became ill with paraplegia, Strabone moved to San Diego to be closer to his family. He settled in North Park three years ago where he currently holds a private practice as an ethics attorney.
Since beginning his practice, Strabone has provided ethical advice to nonprofit organizations as well as elected officials nationwide, including former President Barack Obama.
The County Assessor/Recorder/Clerk’s office determines property tax amounts, stewards public land records and issues marriage licenses and death certificates.
“I like to say instead, that [the position’s] real purpose is to support us in some of the most important moments of our lives,” Strabone said. “Whether we’re getting married, having children or buying a home, among other things.”
In preparation for this election season, San Diego Uptown News sat down with Strabone to discuss his background, Uptown connection, and intended plans for San Diego County.
Jess Winans (JW): Is this your first time running for political office?
Matt Strabone (MS): This is really the first foray. I’ve given advice to elected officials as an ethics attorney and I wanted to run for this office in particular because of two reasons.
One, I have worked with a lot of county clerk/recorder/assessor offices across the country and I have a sense of what good leadership in one looks like. It occurred to me that we are lacking in our leadership in the one here, and I thought I could do a better job.
The other [reason] is in November 2016, when the election turned out the way it did, it occurred to me that I needed to do something more than just vote and occasionally complain on social media about our politics. I thought I’d do something a little more active.
JW: What inspired you to pursue ethics and nonprofit law?
MS: Ethics and nonprofit law has always interested me intellectually. I like giving charities and nonprofits advice and the better advice I give them, the more they are able to focus on their charitable mission. They don’t have to worry about the operational stuff, the tax stuff in particular, that I can advise them on and that makes me feel good.
The ethics stuff, I suppose I’ve always thought that anyone who puts themselves forward to hold public office should have the best possible ethical standards. Public officials have asked me for advice on that front and I’m very happy to give it to them.
JW: Why are you running for County Assessor?
MS: I believe I can do a better job than the incumbent. For instance, right now approximately 150,000 homeowners in San Diego County are overpaying on their property tax. This happens because they neglect a simple one-page form that the County Assessor has where they just confirm that they live in the home they live in. The reason they don’t fill out this form is because they don’t know about it, and they don’t know about it because the County Assessor doesn’t tell them it exists.
That’s why public outreach is one of the lynch-pins of my strategy to improve how this office works. I want to hold workshops across the county to let people know about this exemption and others. I want to be able to help people get every property tax exemption they are eligible for and make their lives a little bit easier.
Public records should be as easily and cheaply available to everyone as possible. Unfortunately, my opponent has charged $2 per page to access many of these documents that belong to the public and I think that’s wrong. Very few of them are available online which I also think is wrong. So, one thing I’m going to do is digitize the public land records and make unregistered copies of them available for free online.
Another reason why I’m running is four years ago, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality was the law of the land. My opponent attempted to deny marriage licenses to same sex couples and he kind of ignored the rule of law and injected his own ideological views into the office. I think this office has no place for that and we need someone who will respect the rule of law.
JW: Which initiative is your priority?
MS: The outreach about the property tax rates. I think it’s kind of ridiculous that we have 150,000 homeowners overpaying in San Diego County and that’s money that they are wrongfully handing over and that’s something we have to fix — we have to do that.
JW: How would North Park residents benefit from your election into this position?
MS: Well, I mean certainly the 150,000 homeowners I want to give an additional property tax [break] to would benefit. North Park is an area of single-family homes and condominiums and I imagine it would go a long way there.
North Park is one of the communities I’d want to hold a workshop with, and I look forward to partnering with the North Park Community Association, where I am currently a board member for public workshops.
There, we get together and help people by doing community cleanups, holding forums about community issues like homelessness, and acting as an advocate for all things North Park.
For more information about Strabone or his campaign, visit votestrabone.com.
— Jess Winans is the editorial assistant of San Diego Community News Network, the parent company of San Diego Uptown News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.