Santa Ana City Council candidate Miguel “Mike” Gonzalez has for years obtained a property tax reduction by claiming that his primary residence is in Fountain Valley, raising questions about his true residency status, candidacy and voting record.
Gonzalez is challenging incumbent Sal Tinajero for the Ward 6 council seat. Under the city's municipal code, an office holder must live within the ward -- which includes swaths of west and southwest Santa Ana – in order to run for the seat.
Yet while Gonzalez claimed on nomination papers under penalty of perjury that his residence is at 2021 S. Fairview St. in Santa Ana, that’s not what he claims on other records.
In every fiscal year since 2005, Gonzalez has received a $7,000 assessed value reduction on his property tax bill for a house in Fountain Valley, according to property tax bills and other records filed with the county assessor’s office.
The perk, known as a homeowner’s exemption, can only be claimed if the home is Gonzalez’s primary residence.
From the state Board of Equalization's website:
To qualify for the exemption, a dwelling must be the person's true, fixed and permanent home and principal establishment to which he/she, whenever absent, intends to return.
If a taxpayer changes his primary residence, he or she must notify the assessor’s office by Dec. 10 so the exemption isn’t included in the next year’s assessment, according to an email from Venus Stromberg, an information officer with the state Board of Equalization. Failure to do so can mean a tax penalty that is 25 percent of the exemption, she wrote.
The records also call into question Gonzalez’s voter registration and his past candidacy for the Santa Ana Unified School District Board of Education.
Since 2005 -- all years Gonzalez has claimed the homeowner’s tax exemption – the candidate was registered to vote at Santa Ana addresses, records with the county registrar of voters show. In January he changed his voting address to another Santa Ana location, according to the records. And just last June, he changed it to the Fairview home.
Under state law, a person can only legally vote from his or her "domicile," which is defined in terms very similar to criteria the Board of Equalization uses.
State elections code section 349(b) reads:
The domicile of a person is that place in which his or her habitation is fixed, wherein the person has the intention of remaining, and to which, whenever he or she is absent, the person has the intention of returning. At a given time, a person may have only one domicile.
Gonzalez has voted 11 times since 2005 in Santa Ana, the records show.
In 2008, Gonzalez also ran unsuccessfully for the school district board. Tinajero and Mayor Miguel Pulido, among others, endorsed him for that race.
In an interview, Gonzalez acknowledged taking the property tax exemption for his Fountain Valley home, but refused to explain the discrepancy, saying that he’d been warned about the coming phone call from a reporter. He insisted that he has lived in Santa Ana for 25 years.
“Yeah you’re right... I don’t want to hurt myself by saying something I shouldn’t be saying,” Gonzalez said. “A good friend of mine who's a lawyer just told me not to answer you and those questions.”
Gonzalez -- owner of an Anaheim-based security company called Santa Ana Security Services and the El Mexicanisimo nightclub on First St. -- said that he for years lived in a house at 710 S. Nakoma Dr., but sold it when the economy tanked.
“That’s all I can tell you,” Gonzalez said.
Local blogger Art Pedroza wrote a post in defense of Gonzalez’s residency and indicated that, while Gonzalez has a home in Fountain Valley, it’s just so his children can attend school in a better education district.
“So if the Gonzalez family has a home in Fountain Valley so their daughters can attend the good schools in that community, what voter would blame them for that?” Pedroza wrote. “As long as Gonzalez can prove that he also has a home in Santa Ana that he lives in it a majority of the time, he should have no problems. And he says he has that proof.”
Law enforcement authorities have recently taken action against voter fraud and filing false candidacy papers.
Earlier this month, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas accused county assessor Webster Guillory of filing false nomination papers and charged him with three felonies. Rackauckas claims that Guillory signed a statement attesting to circulating the papers and collecting nomination signatures, when it fact he didn’t.
Also, former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon this summer pleaded guilty to voter fraud and perjury charges for lying about where he and his wife lived when he ran for council in 2007 and 2009.