In November, 1971, I and two others were called into the chief appraiser’s office. We’d just completed our 3-month probation period, the look-see time where we could be dismissed without cause or for any cause. We were new hired appraisers for the California, Santa County, Assessor.
The chief appraiser was a World War 2 military vet, as many of the appraisers in the office were. In the war, he was a captain of a destroyer and retained a military bearing. We stood at attention before his desk. He looked up and eyed us from his upholstered swivel chair, rose slowly, moved up close, scanned us up and down and looked directly into our eyes. It was as if he was again reviewing new sailors aboard his ship.
Satisfied, he stepped back and said.
“Welcome aboard. You’re on the gravy train. Don’t fuck it up! You’re dismissed”
We filed out. My repressed smile broke open once past his office door.
I was on the gravy train, an employment pinnacle, on a high mesa, far above other work place deserts.
It was the best job I ever had. I wasn’t going to fuck it up.
None knew of the train wreck coming.
A California County assessor’s responsibility was, inventory all real property in the county, estimate its market value, apply tax rates and collect the taxes. It was the money machine which fed the cities, schools, police, fire departments, special districts, even the assessor’s office.
Inventory started with mapping. California has an ingenious assessor map book system with parcel identification like a social security number. The first 3 digits identify a map book, the second 2, the map book page and the last 3, the induvial parcel. The map books put every inch of county land on the tax rolls.
Tax rates are determined by politics. There are the big 3, county, cities, schools plus a myriad slew of others reaching into the taxpayer’s pockets, fire, library, erosion, park, etc. Allocating tax rates against parcel values is a clerical task simplified by the map book system.
Collecting property taxes is straight forward too. Annually, on the March 1st lien date, index cards go out, one for each parcel’s owner of record address. On it is the assessor’s current year assessed value for the land and improvements. In June, a follow up letter explains what it means and the amounts to be paid. If the taxes due aren’t paid, the County Sherriff sells the parcel after five years. You pay your taxes or they take your property, the assessor always wins and never loses.
The assessor’s appraisal section is where the action is. It’s 80 appraisers were the assessor’s largest employment group. They estimated parcels market values as of March 1st, the lien date. They determined how much property taxes you paid.
The appraisal office was divided into 5 geographic districts, plus a 6th special district. The latter estimated market values of big things nobody, including the appraisers, knew what they were worth, like Lockheed Aircraft and Missile complex.
The 5 geographic districts included a supervisor, 2 senior appraisers and residential appraisers. There was also a secretary who distributed phone messages, typed an occasional letter but mostly kept everyone up on office gossip.
After the chief appraiser’s admonishment, I was assigned as a residential appraiser to District 5. It covered flat areas of San Jose and the hill cities of Saratoga, Monte Sereno and Lost Gatos. The flat areas were mostly middle-class residential subdivisions. The hill cities housed the county’s rich. The residential appraisers were responsible for 3 map book which totaled about 3,500 residence parcels.
Initially, the 3 map books assigned to me covered San Jose flat land, mostly residential subdivisions developed in the 1950’s and 60’s, a middle-income area. New improvements were limited to infills and additions to existing improvements to which I was tipped off by building permits.
One of the building permit carbon copies went to the assessor’s office. The appraiser then “picked-up” the new improvements by adding their value to the tax rolls.
The assessor’s office also received confidential sales data. Each time a property transferred ownership, revenue stamps were paid based on the amount of sale. This information was forwarded to the assessor’s office for annual market value re-evaluation. For residential subdivisions this was easy, just check what the same models sold for.
The first time I estimated market value of a parcel was a new house. I struggled over what was its fair and equitable market value based on lot size, location and improvements versus sales data in the map book.
I concluded at $40,000. The combined tax rate was around 3% of market value. For the homeowner, it meant, an annual tax of $1,200. The power of determining what was fair and equitable possessed me. I liked it.
Appraisers annually reviewed market values for the parcels in their map book as of the March 1st lien date. Computer books for each map book listed the prior year’s market value estimate in black print. With my pen, actually a red pencil, I could scribble under the printed numbers my market value estimates for the new year.
The new red number meant an increase or decrease in property taxes. Other than a possible property owner’s appeal, no one questioned my red pencil. It was a power trip, part of the gravy train, the chief appraiser referenced when welcoming me aboard.
In a few years, I’d change a value from $160,000 to $900,000, and an annual tax of about $5,000 to $27,000 without the homeowner changing anything on a property I never even saw. That was fair and equitable power.
The work load was an even better car on the gravy train. It was the caboose where employees relax. There were so many holidays, I occasionally went to work, found a great parking space and then realized at the locked Courthouse entry door, it was another holiday we got. I learned Admission Day was sacred because it was the day California joined the Union. With lots of Italians in the County, Columbus Day was also off. With 12 sick days a year, 2, then 3, then 4 and eventually 5 annual weeks of vacation as seniority advanced, the number of work days challenged teachers. We even got our birthdays off.
Petty power trip and the light work load, however, were not the engine driving the gravy train. The thick cream was signing out. Signing out was necessary for addition “pick-ups” and to ensure appraisal improvement records were accurate.
Conveniently, the sign out sheet was at the front office desk, away from the eyes of supervisors. We wrote our time out, the map book destination and disappeared. Once a month we reported the miles driven and got a mileage reimbursement check.
That was gravy. Unfortunately, while not fucking it up, I screwed it up. In my glee at discovering this, I told the wife. Thereafter, the reimbursement mileage check perk plopped into the maw of the household budget and disappeared.
The more gravy I discovered, the more paranoid I became. Initially, it was worrying the assessor would realize he could do just as well with half his personnel.
During our forty-five-minute morning coffee breaks, we updated office gossip, solved the world’s problems, and told jokes. One morning, I confided my concern of layoffs. A former World War 2 veteran who drove a tank for General Patton, straightened me out.
“Jim, do you know when Santa Clara became a county?”
“I suppose around the time the forty-niners stole California from Mexico.”
“That’s right, 1850, when California became a state. Since then there’s never been an employee laid off.”
I still worried about being fired. Like others, I abused the sign out perk.
Another ex- World War 2 appraiser who served on an oil tanker explained about Bob, the canary. Bob was a total screw up. When not signed out he spent his time on the office phone either screaming at his ex-wife or conspiring with his divorce attorney.
“Jim, as long as Bob’s here, we’re all safe.”
I kept an eye on Bob the canary. He wasn’t fired. I felt secure.
The gravy train, however, began to chug up a steep hill.
The Vietnam War was ending but he US was losing. The billions spent by LBJ for guns and butter were coming home to roost. The dollar went from wavering to quaking. A nickel no longer bought a candy bar. Soon, neither did a dime, then not even a quarter.
The average home sales price in Santa Clara County crept up from around $20,000 in the 1960’s and exploded upward in the 1970’s. In 1973, my wife and I bought a 1,450 square foot, 3-bedroom, 2-bath, house in Santa Clara at an insane overpriced $30,000. 2 months later a similar house across the street sold for $36,000.
In Santa Clara County, it was a triple whammy. Not only did the dollar decline but Silicon Valley blossomed. Every month, thousands moved in to make electronic chips in plants which sprung up like mushrooms in former orchards. Land for development became scarce. In 5-years our home tripled in market value to $90,000.
The natural tendency for an elected assessor is to keep market value estimates low and be re-elected. The appraisers agree because when values are increased homeowners vent their ire on appraisers. No one wanted us to do too good a job. That was the secret fuel of the gravy train.
The state of California, however, re-apportioned school funding based on assessor’s market value compliance. Annually the state invaded every assessor’s office to ensure its market value estimates had some relationship to reality. We were between the rocks of the California State Board of Equalization, skyrocketing values, existing tax rates, and taxpayers.
Taxes means money. More brilliant mind hours are spent on money than any other human endeavor if sex is excluded. People think more about how to avoid losing their money than grubbing for it.
Fixed tax rates, applied to the assessor’s rapidly increased values drastically upped taxes paid. A home valued at $30,000 in 1973 adjusted to $90,000 in 1978, increased taxes from $900 to $2,700. Property taxes increased much faster than the dollar shrank.
The solution was to reduce tax rates but politicians never did that. Instead they went on a spending binge. New schools were built with carpets in the classrooms and civil service employees were promised Cadillac pensions. County government built a huge monstrosity building to house itself, including the assessor’s office.
During the time real estate values leaped up insanely, I’d shifted from appraising San Jose flat lander, middle-income, subdivision houses to custom homes in the hills of Saratoga, Monte Sereno and Los Gatos, houses of the rich.
The hill country homes previously were assigned to a former World War 2 POW. He’d bailed out of a B-17 over Belgium, was captured by villagers, was going to be hung by them but was saved by the village priest who convinced them to turn him over to the Germans.
He spent 2-years in a POW camp until a Russian soldier on a horse showed up. The German guards had disappeared in the night. The Russian, with a young girl tied on his saddle and wrist watches covering both arms, waved to the prisoners, said they were free and galloped off.
I asked him what it was like in the prison camp. He replied.
“Did you ever see the TV program Hogan’s Heroes?”
“Couple of times.”
“It wasn’t like that. I’ve seen men killed by dogs.”
He was terrified of dogs. The rich in the hills had dogs, big dogs to protect their property. Over and over, appraisal cards in his map books had written on them, “Bad Dog”! Attached was a building permit for an addition not picked-up.
Not afraid of dogs, I got spray dog repellant from the office supply cabinet and went hunting for Fido. Dogs, however, sense when you don’t fear them. I couldn’t find a dog to gas. Once, entering an open gated area, I strode to the front door to do a pick-up. 2 Dobermans came from the rear, tails not wagging, ears down, growling. I screamed, “Get in the house!”, bent down, picked up a stick and advanced with my dog spray can in the other hand to give them a taste of hot pepper in the eyes.
Confused, they cowered and trotted to the back yard. I left my card at the door, with “Please Call” written on the back. The owner called the next day. Instead of worrying about what value I might place on his addition improvements, he was distraught his dogs let me place my card on the front door.
My first hill country task was cleaning up bad dog pick-ups. The former POW, however, was retiring. His computer printed market value estimates lacked red pencil marks. I went on a red pencil rampage.
When one gets away with something, it becomes an assumed privilege. The hill country owners were unhappy skipped additions were picked-up but understood their luck had run out. The red pencil marks updating their values, however, could not be forgiven. They considered taxes an IQ test. If they paid what schmucks paid it was a personal insult.
With bad dog pick-ups and updated market value estimates, my fair and equitable estimates were often appealed. With hill country home owners land parcels varying by size and view, their custom homes unique, proving market value before the Appeals Board was more difficult than in a flat land subdivision.
The power of the red pencil, however, surged within. I drove the hill roads, existing values shown on the computer printout and scribbled down red numbers. I’d see a 6,000 square foot house on 3 acres with tennis court and swim pool at an assessed value less that a nice track house in the flats and avenge the middle class. My red pencil left a trail of assessed value devastation as I drove. Often the value were doubled.
Despite my reign of terror, I still retained empathy for homeowners. I was one but a flatlander in a subdivision. Once I drove past a small house on a quarter acre. It was a former servant’s quarters, segregated from a large estate parcel. Its existing appraised market value was $20,000. With my red pencil, I tripled it to $60,000, well below what a flat lander would pay for it. I’d gladly sell my house and buy it for more.
On the March 1st lien date, the cards went out. The owner called the guilty one in the office. I answered.
“Hi, this is Jim Brown. How can I help you?”
“Help me? You’re killing me!”
“Well I hope that’s an exaggeration.”
“It’s not! I can’t pay the taxes! I’m an old woman. If you don’t lower the value, I’ll just have to turn the oven gas on.”
“Well, you can sell it for more than I put on it and move to the flats and have money left over. No need to gas yourself”
“What will I do with the kiddies?”
“Kiddies? How can you have kiddies if you’re an old woman?”
“Not kiddies, kitties! People come up from the Valley and dump their unwanted cats off. They think rich people up here will feed them. They don’t. The rich are stingy and cruel. Eventually the kitties come to me. I’m the only one who will feed them.”
Hmmm… how many kitties are you going to gas?”
“There’s at least 28, they don’t all sleep here, some come in the morning when I feed them.”
“Hmmm…., let me check a minute.”
I went to my senior appraiser.
“Ray, can we be human in this job?”
“Sometimes that’s best Jim.”
I went back to the phone.
“Can you live with $30,000? Your taxes would be around $900 instead of $1,800.”
“Oh, yes, yes, if you lower it to $30,000, I can scrip up $900 and still live here!”.
“And not gas the kitties”?
“No, no, I won’t gas the kitties! I’ll pray for you!”
“How about a Hail Mary.”
“I’ll do a rosery for you.”
No, a Hail Mary’s fine.”
“I’ll make a novena!”
I don’t know if she did a novena but it doesn’t matter.
What matters is, I was human despite my red pencil. On her appraisal card I wrote.
“Strong cat urine smell permeates house impacting value.”
I bent regulations to be fair and equitable. The wealthy, however, didn’t see it that way. To them taxes were for little people and the kitty feeders. They took me to the appeals board, once even to tax court.
Due to my appeal backlog, I was nick named Crusader Rabbit, the appraiser who generated more property tax appeals than anyone in the County’s history.
While I stood out, the entire office was awash in appeals and taxpayer ire. The gravy train was chugging slower and slower, the strain more and more evident as it climbed the increased home prices hill. Although appraisers kept value increases limited, skyrocketing home values and the State Board of Equalization boxed us into sharpening red pencils.
The result was, after March 1st, mobs would besiege the appraisal office demanding their values be changed back. The constant refrain was.
“We didn’t make any improvements!”.
Our pat response was that’s just the value of the house due to increases in home prices.”
It didn’t placate them.
At times a loud mouth would get into a roar, tear and soon the crowd would be shouting agreement. Occasionally a sheriff deputy would be called to dampen down the crowd’s passion. We appraisers didn’t blame them, we blamed the politicians but that was barking up a deaf tree.
Worst, our sign out time was crimped. To answer the front desk mobs, each district was assigned a duty day where we stayed in to explain to those at the counter how they were getting screwed over. A telephone boiler room was also set up. Another day was assigned to answer boiler room phone calls. The phones didn’t ring. Instead, they had lights attached to them. As soon as a phone was set in its cradle, the light lite up, the caller always irate.
With 2 in office duty days, we were getting close to a 40-hour work week. As the gravy train creeped up, it was over heating.
Strange circumstances do happen. In March 1977, one began for me. The appraisal cards went out with the March 1st assessed values. It was my district’s duty day in the phone boiler room. I was flipping incoming calls of tax payer anguish. Finished with one, I set the phone in its cradle. The light lite up. I picked up the phone and parroted our standard opening.
“Hello, this is Jim Brown of the Santa Clara County Assessor’s Office. How can I help you?”
“This is Doctor Head. I want to talk to the asshole who appraised parcel 503-29-126.”
Map book 503 was Jack’s, a fellow District 5 appraiser. He was on the phone next to me. I looked up the parcel number’s value as I motioned Jack to cut his call short. The 1976 number was $160,000. Jack’s 1977 red number was $220,000.
“Sir, you’re in luck. That asshole is sitting next to me. He’s on the phone but I’ll get him off.”
I knew we were not liked by tax payers. I knew they used worse terms to describe us but not directly. They knew we had the red pencil. Doctor Head was brave and bold.
As Jack hung up, I handed him the phone and said.
“It’s a Doctor Head. Really upset, called you an asshole. I checked the numbers, $160,000 versus $220,000, parcel 503-29-126.”
While I attempted and failed to placate other callers, Jack stayed on the phone with Doctor Head. It was lunch time when he hung up. Eating my homemade egg salad sandwich while he ate a cafeteria hamburger, I asked.
“What’d you do with the guy who called you an asshole?”
“I lowered it back to what it was.”
“What? It’s a mansion on 28 acres! In Saratoga!”
“Well he bought it from Stanford University for $160,000 in the 1960’s. Stanford got it as a gift, didn’t know what to do with it. It’s a castle, shipped over from France. Thick stone walls, can’t even run wires or pipes through the walls. Huge, but functionally obsolete. Acreage can’t be subdivided. Who knows what it’s worth, so I lowered it back down.”
“Well we know it’s worth a lot more than the $160,000 he paid for it 10 years ago. What’s it look like?”
“Never seen it, long drive, locked gate. All I have is an old appraisal card.”
So that was that, not what I would have done but I didn’t second guess others value estimates. I had enough appeals without interfering with the work of others.
Each year the District supervisor shifted one map book away and added a different map book to the appraisers. I lost part of Los Gatos and gained more Saratoga hill country, including Doctor Head’s parcel.
Jack was the conscientious type and most everything looked good in map book 503 when I cruised by in my red truck. The only issue was skyrocketing home values versus existing assessor’s market value estimates, the common county appraisal problem.
Because of the phone boiler room conversation with Doctor Head and Jack’s capitulation, I was curious about the castle on the hill. The appraisal card was fascinating. It was from Normandy, France shipped stone by stone to be reconstructed in Saratoga. Rumor was, a Mr. Pike did this in the 1920’s, his wealth from oil wells. He or his estate had given it to Stanford University. Stanford held a few seminars there then sold it to Doctor Head, a tire baron heir who owned lots of Santa Clara County real estate. He was reported to be restoring the property into an art showplace. A San Jose State University professor, he was a doctor of English literature, not medicine.
The appraisal card indicated a12,000 square foot, 22 room, dwelling, a 1,500 square foot guest house, a large pool and lots of smaller improvements, including tennis court. The appraisal card was out of date and I couldn’t find anyone in the office who’d seen the improvements. The appraisal card showed it had a slate roof. Roofs were my fetish, copper, mission clay and slate.
I drove to1464 Pike Road. Like Jack said, there was a big closed wrought iron gate. I left my appraisal card with a, “Please Call” on the back. There was no response. Every time I signed out to map book 503, I left another card but never heard from Doctor Head.
I gave up. My wrath, however, leaped up. When it was time to re-appraise for the 1978, March 1st lien date, I searched for the highest price ever paid for a residence in the County. It was $500,000 but that didn’t slake my wrath thirst. I called the San Mateo County Assessor’s office and was sent data on their highest sale at $950,000. It wasn’t even a castle and on only 10 acres.
To be fair and equitable, I dropped my value estimate to $900,000.
Again, the appraisal cards went out. Again, the howls of tax payers were heard. As prices escalated ever faster, the crowds grew ever bigger and more upset. One had to squeeze through the lobby throngs to get off the elevator. I was constantly called to the front desk to explain the red pencil entries.
A standard taxpayer complaint was.
“Why is there an increase when we did no improvements”.
In defense, I kept Doctor Head’s computer print-out and my red entry in map book 503 handy. I’d flip to it as a reference to show how a value went from $160,000 to $900,000 when no improvement change occurred.
Meanwhile, from the phone boiler room, I received phone messages for parcel 503-29-126. The first was, “Please call Dr. Head at-----.” Then I got one with an exclamation mark, then 2, then 3.
Meh, he never called me after I left all of those cards at his gate. When I got a phone message with every thing written in bold and lots of exclamation marks, I was going to call, call after my counter duty day. I’d make arrangements for a property inspection, I told myself.
On my duty day, however, the counter was again chaotic, the crowd on the verge of revolt. I tried to be sympathetic but what could I or the other appraisers do. We were between the hard rock of the California State Board of Equalization and Silicon Valley’s skyrocketing home values.
To ease their pain, I’d show them the value change of Doctor Head’s parcel compared to their increase, knowing another’s worse hurt eases one’s own lesser hurt. With an elderly couple at the counter, demanding to know why their value had increased by $5,000 when they’d made no improvements, I flipped to Doctor Head’s red pencil entry.
“See this parcel? The owner did no improvement change either but his value was increased by $740,000! You wouldn’t want to be him, would you?
As they backed away in fear agreement, terrified of my red pencil god potential, the next irate tax payer approached.
“That’s my property! I’m Doctor Head!”
“Oh, Doctor Head, I’ve been meaning to call you, but as you see it’s a bit chaotic here.”
“I bet you have! I don’t believe you! I have my attorney here, a professional real estate broker and my personal research assistant!”
“Good, I’m sure we can talk this out. I want to work with you but whatever we do, I want it to be in front of my supervisor.”
I led the four of them through the forest of partitions to my supervisor’s office, an expanded partition area next to a window, the office perk of climbing up to his position.
My supervisor’s name was Will but behind his back we nicknamed him nervous Willie. He was an appraisal office lifer but without the job security of having World War 2 military service. Like me, he was the paranoid type. He feared one of his appraiser chickens would screw up so bad he wouldn’t make it to retirement. His fear wasn’t groundless. District 5 included the office canary, Bob. There was also me, Crusader Rabbit.
I dragged chairs in Will’s partition area for the confrontation. While doing so I noticed Paul, Doctor Head’s personal research assistant was wearing nylons.
Once all were seated the attorney handed me a completed appeals application with their concluded market value estimate of $160,000.
Doctor Head did the talking. He knew from his other substantial real estate holdings, appraisers were loath to go to the appeals board. It meant a lot of preparation work and of course the fear factor of presenting their case and being crossed examined. In addition, with appraisal values usually below sales prices, the appeals board was stymied into typically agreeing with the assessor’s office. If there as an inch of uncertainty, they palavered to the tax payer and berated the appraiser.
As he prepared to brow beat me, I took the appeal application and checked it to make sure they’d made no clerical errors.
“This looks properly filled out. I’ll submit it for you.”
“No, my attorney will file it. We had this trouble last year but I called and the appraiser was understanding and we worked it out. He was reasonable but your number is beyond the pale of reason.”
“That was Jack, very reasonable guy. Perhaps we can come to a reasonable agreement but I’m telling you up front $160,000 is not reasonable.”
“I see you’re not reasonable. That’s why I’m appealing and my broker has sales data to document you are wrong.”
“I think going to the Appeals Board is the best way to do this. Let’s let the them decide what your property’s worth. I have a sale at $950,000 of a smaller property on 10 acres but it’s in San Mateo County.”
“San Mateo! You will never win an appeal with a sale in San Mateo. I have property up there, it’s a different world.”
“You’re right but we’ll have to see. My nickname in the office is Crusader Rabbit. I’ve handled more property tax appeals than any ever has in the County. I’d love to present your property to the appeals board. The first thing we need to do is arrange for my inspection.”
“Inspection? Why do you need to inspect it? It’s all there on the appraisal card.”
“Well Doctor Head, you have many issues on this property including functional obsolescence. I’m sure you will bring these up in appeal. Perhaps after my inspection, I’ll agree with you and you don’t need to appeal.”
“If I appeal you are going to insist on an inspection?”
“Of course, how can I testify if I haven’t seen the property?”
“What if I don’t allow your inspection?”
“I’d love that. The Appeals Board never changes an appraiser’s value when the property owner doesn’t let the appraiser see the property. It’ called denied entry.”
“Let me consult with my attorney.”
“Okay, Will and I’ll leave you here to talk.”
They chatted a bit then signaled for us.
Doctor Head said.
“I think we can come to an agreement if you’re reasonable. I agree the $160,000 value needs to be adjusted.”
“Okay, give me $100,000 for the guest house.”
“That’s almost the total now!”
“I got lots of sales of 1,500 square foot houses in Saratoga over $100,000.”
“If I agree, how much for the obsolete old castle?”
“I’m going to give you a break on the castle, let’s do the land first.”
“$200,000, for 28 acres, I got sales for that.”
“And the house?”
“Let’s do the odds and ends before the castle. Say $25,000 for the pool, another $25,000 for the tennis court and yard stuff.”
“Now you’re up to $350,000”
“Yeah, that just leaves the 12,000 square foot castle with the morning, afternoon and evening dressing rooms off the master bedroom. How about $25 a square foot, say, $300,000?”
“How about $100,000 considering the stone walls and functional obsolescence?”
“Not reasonable. I’ll go down to $250,000 or about $20 a square foot.”
“How about $150,000?”
“Actually, I’d love to see the slate roof. Less than $250,000 and I stop being reasonable and get to see the roof.”
“That’s a total of $600,000!”
“That’s right. It’s a drop of $300,000 from my fair and equitable value estimate. Is it appeal time or agree time? That okay with you Will?”
“I’ll let you and Doctor Head settle it.”
“How about $200,000 due to obsolete stone walls?”
“I’ve never even seen a castle. It’s $250,000 for the castle, last offer. Turn it upside down and think of the drop in assessed value from $900,000 to $.600,000, a drop of $300,000. You can ask My Supervisor, I’ve never agreed to such a drastic drop in assessed value.”
“I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this. It means annual taxes of about $18,000 plus.”
“That’s about right, in the ball park if you agree.”
He looked at his supporters, they looked stone faced.
“Not quite Doctor Head. I admire you and I want to make a deal but there’s one small catch.”
“Catch? Well, what’s the catch?”
“You can’t call me an asshole.”
Doctor Head, smiled, jumped up, shook my hand and proclaimed.
He and his entourage strode out. Will exclaimed once they were gone.
“That’s the weirdest appraisal I’ve ever seen.”
“I suspect once in the elevator he’s going to call me worse than asshole.
The Saratoga school kids can get carpets in their classrooms. Maybe the city will get a new patrol car. The $440,000 value increase is a windfall of over $13,000 a year. The city doesn’t have a clue who got that for them. The County got their money’s worth out of me today. Who knows how it would gone in appeal? I’d of love to have seen that slate roof.”
In November, 1978, the gravy train crested the hill, raced down steeply out of control and went off the tracks.
After years of political stupidity, Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Gann, southern California elderly gentlemen, proposed Proposition 13, a law they devised specifically to benefit them. Despite the standard barrage against property tax reform by politicians, it passed overwhelmingly. The taxpayers had been rendered insane with endless tax increase ire. Government leaders had failed them.
Proposition 13 rolled all of the assessor’s values back to 1975, installed a 1% tax rate and limited value increases by a maximum of 2% annually unless the property changed ownership. On an ownership change the value was adjusted to current market value or sales price.
Doctor Head’s value was rolled back to $160,000.
The Santa Clara house I sold is now worth over a million dollars. If I hadn’t sold it, annual taxes would be around $500 currently. If it sells the taxes would increase to over $10,000, that’s Proposition 13.
Like before, I have no clue what Doctor Head’s castle is worth today. It houses the largest privately-owned art collection in the western United States and has been magnificently restored and added to. Its current assessor’s value, almost 45 years later, is $307,606. Annual taxes are around $3,500.
Doctor Head still rules from his castle on the hill. I’m sure, based on the taxes he pays, he considers his IQ up there with the best. I think he’s correct. I liked him when I met him in his appeal. He is a patron of the arts. Taxes are for the little people and kitty feeders.
After, the election which wrought Proposition 13, I left the gravy train wreckage. I heard from those who stayed the best job became a horrible place to work. I moved on to other mesa pinnacles and to some ruts too.
Author Notes: I get on and off the gravy train of the best job I've ever had.