More on Bordonaro’s special favors

April 11, 2010

Tom Bordonaro

(Editor’s Note: This is the third and last in a series about San Luis Obispo County Assessor and Republican politico Tom Bordonaro.)

By KAREN VELIE

While San Luis Obispo County Assessor Tom Bordonaro says he is not guilty of any misuse of his office or showing favoritism to political friends, critics are pointing to specific instances where he used his office to cut property taxes for friends and promote his political agenda.

Critics also accuse Bordonaro of using his non-partisan San Luis Obispo County assessor position to do favors for businesses and political powerhouses. Bordonaro has been involved in promoting many local political candidates while claiming to have the ability, due to his many connections, to push issues through county government.

“He is not concerned with doing the work of the people,” said a high-ranking assessor staffer who asked to remain unnamed for fear of being fired by Bordonaro. “He is using his office to stay politically involved.”

As an example of his influence, critics say, local businessmen with commercial interests regularly donate to Bordonaro’s political action committee (PAC).

Last year, H. D. Perrett, the Nipomo landowner who has battled to have his 4,700-acre Suey Ranch removed from San Luis Obispo County and annexed to Santa Barbara County, donated $2,000 to Bordonaro’s PAC.

The San Luis Obispo supervisors recently rejected an attempt to move the ranch into Santa Barbara County despite Bordonaro’s claim that he could influence the supervisors to agree on issues he is supporting.

These critics contend that Bordonaro has repeatedly asked his staff to reassess the property of his political allies and business contacts at rates below those of their neighbors at a cost of lost revenue to public schools at a time dozens of local teachers are receiving pink slips.

In 2006, a member of the Atascadero City Council, who openly announced he planned to vote to approve rezoning land for a Wal-Mart store in that town, purchased a home on more than an acre in the city. During the same year, Bordonaro founded the Central Coast Taxpayers Association, a group primarily focused on promoting the Wal-Mart store in Atascadero.

Even though Councilman Jerry Clay paid only $260,000 for his newly acquired Atascadero property, assessor staff found evidence the property was sold below market value and increased the assessed value to approximately $375,000.

Clay objected and Bordonaro intervened, making sure the assessment was lowered, sources said. Currently, the property is assessed at approximately $330,000, assessor records indicate.

About ten years ago, Kelly Gearhart, a former North County developer with a reputation for asking government officials for favors, approached Bordonaro’s predecessor and asked that the county assessor reduce his property taxes without making him go through the proper procedures.

“Kelly Gearhart asked me to lower the assessments on some of his properties,” former San Luis Obispo County Assessor Dick Frank told CalCoastNews.

“I told him he could file an assessment appeal. He got upset and said he didn’t want to go through the appeals process.”

Frank said Gearhart argued that going through the standard written request procedure was not the way he did things.

Nevertheless, Frank denied Gearhart’s request.

While Gearhart and Frank never spoke again, the North County developer would brag of his direct line to Bordonaro, a ranking Atascadero official told CalCoastNews.

About five years ago, Bordonaro bragged that he and Gearhart went to Sacramento for a fundraiser with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The pair was seated at the head table with the governor and received photographs of themselves with him.

Seats at the governor’s table required a donation of between $50,000 and $100,000. Some county employees are questioning who paid for the excursion.

At about the same time, critics say Bordonaro directed his staff to do favors for Gearhart, including pushing the developer to the top of the list when processing subdivisions.

Gearhart, along with Jay Miller of Hurst Financial Inc., has been the subject of a criminal investigation by the FBI for a range of alleged illegal acts, including racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud.

Some county employees also question why Bordonaro, who is currently the chair of the Republican party in San Luis Obispo County, is reportedly promoting a property tax exemption for his longtime acquaintance and current 4th District County Supervisor candidate Michael Zimmerman, a Republican.

County assessors, such as Bordonaro with a staff of more than 80 people, generally do not get involved in singular homeowner assessor appeals.

As the result of a recent inheritance, Zimmerman is paying more than $13,000 a year in property taxes on 292 acres of land his family owns in Arroyo Grande. If his tax-exempt status is approved, his property tax bill would be eliminated.

Zimmerman met with Bordonaro in his office to discuss what requirements he needs to meet in order to obtain tax-free status for the property, Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said he plans to build a religious retreat on the land through a charity dubbed God’s Country of Arroyo Grande, which was founded in the 1980s. After he gets his property tax exemption, Zimmerman said he plans to start seeking donations to construct a religious retreat.

“I met with Tom and a staff member,” Zimmerman said. “I have been involved with the Republican Party so I have known Tom for some time.”

Generally, only the portion of land where the retreat is located would be tax exempt and the landowner would still be required to pay taxes on the remaining acreage. For example, a church with a 100-acre parcel, would only have a tax except status on the acreage used for religious services.

In addition to concerns that Bordonaro is providing tax breaks to his friends, some critics question the accuracy of Bordonaro’s travel expenditures.

While a student at California Polytechnic State University, Bordonaro, who majored in agricultural business, was in an auto accident on U.S Highway 101 between San Luis Obispo and Santa Margarita in which he suffered a cervical spinal injury in 1978.

The accident left Bordonaro paralyzed and he uses a motorized wheelchair to get around.

Because of his disability, the county pays for the cost of a room and meals for a companion to accompany Bordonaro on work-related travel outside of San Luis Obispo County.

At a time when many of the county’s elected officials have refrained from billing the county for travel because of budget woes, a check of Bordonaro’s travel records show inconsistencies with the county’s very specific travel requirements.

On Feb. 18, 2009, Bordonaro attended a California Assessor Association Legislative Committee meeting in Sacramento that lasted from 9:30 a.m. until 12 noon. Attendees had the option of then attending a meet-and-greet session with state lawmakers from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Policies allow employees to bill the county for meals and hotel rooms that occur during permitted travel times. The hotel was five hours from Bordonaro’s home in Paso Robles and as such, he was not permitted to charge the county for further hotel rooms or meals after that time.

Under county travel rules, Bordonaro should have left immediately at 3 p.m. in order to make it home by 8 p.m., which is permissible for reimbursement.

Bordonaro billed the county for two rooms on both Feb. 17, 2009 and Feb. 18, 2009.

And more than 24 hours after the last meeting ended, on Feb. 19 at 4 p.m., Bordonaro took a companion to dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack in Sacramento. On the $54 bill which was reimbursed by the county, Bordonaro noted that he had a flat tire.

However, he failed to mention that he had not left Sacramento because he had checked into a Hyatt Regency in the state capital where he spent the next four days attending the 2009 state Republican Convention.

He charged the remaining nights of lodging and the rest of his meals to “Friends of Tom Bordonaro,” his political action committee.

Since Bordonaro first ran for office in 2002, he has kept his PAC active and uses some of the proceeds to donate to such entities as the Lincoln Club of San Luis Obispo County, the Republican Party of San Luis Obispo County and political contenders, such as former county supervisor candidate Debbie Arnold.

His contributors include Monsanto, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Patrick Hedges, Wal-Mart promoter Maury Frauman, county supervisor Khatcho Achadjian, county District Attorney Gerald T. Shea, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians at $5,000 a donation, SLO sheriff’s spokesman Rob Bryn and state Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield), according to Bordonaro’s campaign disclosure statements.

Achadjian is currently seeking the GOP nomination to succeed state Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) in Sacramento and Hedges is stepping down as sheriff.

In 2009 he received $24,741 in contributions. He reported $47,893 in total expenditures and more than $12,000 in unpaid bills.

In addition, the Bordonaro household receives a portion of every donation made to Achadjian’s run for the Assembly. According to his last recording with Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Achadjian’s PAC has paid more than $9,000 to Bordonaro’s wife, Martha Bordonaro, a mother of four young children and a practicing chiropractor, for running his fundraisers.

Assessor positions are non-partisan. Assessors like Joseph Holland in Santa Barbara County who ran for office in 2002 with promises to conduct the office with integrity and to insure that it is not used for political purposes, which did occur recently in San Bernardino County.

An investigation started by the San Bernardino supervisors ultimately resulted in the arrests of the assessor and four of his staffers for blatant misuse of the office and accepting bribes.

Another example of a favor for a Bordonaro friend was reported by CalCoastNews in a previous article. The girlfriend of Bordonaro’s banker recently sold a bed-and-breakfast in Paso Robles for an amount similar to a home she purchased in Templeton.

The homeowner requested a Proposition 60 transfer, a measure approved by voters in 1986 which allows a property owner to transfer a property tax amount from a current residence to a new residence of equal or lower value. If a property also has a commercial concern, the value of the business is subtracted from the sales amount as part of the computation.

Staff members in Bordonaro’s office originally rejected the Proposition 60 transfer for the girlfriend because it did not qualify, according to a strict formula normally applied for this special tax exemption.

Critics claim Bordonaro responded by asking subordinates to remove approximately $200,000 from the new home’s assessed value for four acres of hobby grapes, a practice not normally allowed because hobby grapes have little commercial value. This deal equates to a total saving of more than $7,000 per year for his banker’s friend.

Nevertheless, shortly after Bordonaro became assessor, he signed a memo that he would not become personally involved in wine grape assessments because of a perceived conflict of interest and provided the document to County Counsel.

A group of commercial wine grape land owners, which included Bordonaro’s father, had requested in writing that the Bordonaro’s office lower commercial grape vine assessments throughout the county.

In a request for a retraction to CalCoastNews for some statements made in a previous article, a county counsel attorney reportedly helped the assessor write his justification for approving the Proposition 60 transfer.

County Counsel attorneys provide legal services to county departments in a manner that is supposed to “promote excellence in the delivery of government services to the public,” according to their mission statement.

“Your statement is false,” said Bordonaro in his retraction request. “The property owner sold her home, not a bed-and-breakfast. The home had one bedroom in a partially converted barn.”

However, sale sheets advertising the property as a bed and breakfast are still available on line and also reportedly in the assessor’s file. Information about the Creekside Bed and Breakfast in Paso Robles can also be located through a number of lodging web-sites.

Note: After Tom Bordonaro was elected to the state assembly, his partner in AAA Plus Business Services took sole ownership of the Paso Robles tax preparation service.

The cost of running the Assessor’s Office has increased by more than 40 percent, from $5,768,270 to $8,207,665 over a five-year period, while staffing has remained relatively constant.


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42 Comments

  1. bobfromsanluis says:

    Since I was out of town when Tom appeared on the Dave Congalton Show, I had to listen to the podcast of that segment, and I listened again to part three, with George Ramos and Karen from Cal Coast News. Tom really sounds arrogant, and I noticed a certain amount of bravado that sounded very much like Kelly Gearhart did. On the segment with George and Karen, a caller suggested that they contact their sources and tell them that they (Cal Coast News) are going to present all the evidence they have collected to the next Grand Jury that is to be impaneled in June so that a proper investigation can happen. I hope that George and Karen will do this even though that is not what their job is to do; their reporting is very good and they have not had a major story ever “blow up” due to false allegations or faulty facts, but the oversight function of the media isn’t to prosecute; hopefully if they do present evidence to the Grand Jury, there will be action taken, I just don’t hold out a lot of hope that the Grand Jury can or will do a thorough job of investigating and/or prosecuting.

    (3) 11 Total Votes - 7 up - 4 down
  2. Nancy says:

    The fact is that Tom is accustomed to saying whatever sounds good at the moment and counts on the fact that people will take his word for it. He has already lied about the Bed and Breakfast and when he was confronted with it, he simply made up another lie that sounded good at the moment. I’m not surprised at all that he called for a GJ investigation after the call came in from Mike Brennler because Tom knows that someone will more than likely do just that. Tom was saying what sounded good figuring that no one can touch him anyway. I suspect the day’s of Tom distorting the facts while disarming people with his delightfully personality are coming to a end. Most politicians would balk at the idea of running a foundation that receives large contributions, of which those monies are subject to paying a family member for so called services. It isn’t a far reach to perceive that it would be very easy to place an unethical envelope in Tom’s pocket by means of a contribution to his foundation that his wife collects fees from, literally 1000’s of $$$ of fees from. Most politicians would balk at the idea of taking junkets to Hawaii with their overseers like the BOE but not Tom. Like i said, I think his days are numbered.

    (6) 16 Total Votes - 11 up - 5 down
  3. Paperboys says:

    This story seems a little anti-climactic. After the first two stories, I thought this one would be a knockout punch, but seems more like a swing and a miss or maybe just a glancing blow?
    Bordo won’t be run out of town on a rail because of this article.
    On Congalton, he did say that he’s asked the Grand Jury to investigate these allegations. So either he has nothing to hide at all or his ego is so huge that he thinks he’s untouchable.
    If it’s the latter, and the GJ does find corruption, it would follow a familiar pattern for people in power where their arrogance leads to their eventual downfall.
    Bordo should shut up and let this pass. Inviting a full-blown GJ inquiry into his actions? Well, you just never know where that might lead.

    (2) 6 Total Votes - 4 up - 2 down
    • bobfromsanluis says:

      In reference to the Grand Jury, reread the very bottom of this comment thread with a comment by R. Hodin concerning the Grand Jury and how “toothless” the Grand Jury actually is. I haven’t had a chance to catch the podcast of Tom on Dave’s show, but my feeling about Tom calling for a Grand Jury investigation of himself and/or his actions is a combination of his contempt for the investigative process, both by Karen and the potential investigation by a “toothless” Grand Jury, and his apparent feeling of being “above it all” thinking that no one will find any incidence of him doing anything wrong or immoral or illegal, since he is so intrenched in the local “good ‘ole boy” network (which is exactly what happened to Kelly Gearhart). But I do agree that we never know exactly where an investigation might lead.

      (3) 7 Total Votes - 5 up - 2 down
  4. Cindy says:

    I sure hope Karen goes back on Congalton because like Kelly Gearhart, I heard Bordonaro tell some outright lies on the show. The bed and breakfast was not and is not being torn down, I was there just the other day. It’s a beautiful hospitality venue and a place that I would recommend to my friends. Likewise he knows that it was illegal to meet with his good friend Ashburn and discuss issues that he is not allowed to discuss on the tax payers dime, he can make it all sound pretty but it still isn’t legal to charge us for it, and that’s why he eliminated that fact on his expense report. He also tried to denigrate the reporting on this site by saying that Karen was wrong about his salary and tried to make the reporter sound so incompetent as to not even get something right that is a matter of public record. He failed to note that the reporter quoted his “salary and benefits” which is 200K, so she did report accurately (nice try Tom). I could go on about how he claimed she never contacted him for his side of the story but I think it’s better if they get on Congalton and let her expose all the lies he told us. BTW, he never did answer the question about his bankers girlfriend and the little deal he gave her but rather attempted to obfuscate the issue by making up a story about the bed and breakfast being torn down, again, nice try Tommy.

    (5) 13 Total Votes - 9 up - 4 down
  5. PaulJones says:

    I listened to Tom on the Dave Congalton Show this evening. Now that Karen has presented her findings and Tom has responded I think there is an awful lot let hanging. I did not find Tom credible in all of responses. I believe they should do a show together where the dialog is spontaneous and direct. According to Tom , Karen has just about everything wrong, we’ve all heard that one many times before.

    (12) 16 Total Votes - 14 up - 2 down
  6. willie says:

    There is some evidence Bordonaro, his wife and friends fudge a little (small in their sense of valuation).
    How would Bordonaro address the public if subordinates were caught doing the same things he was doing!

    This must really irritate Bordonaro to have a new press investigate him.
    Bordonaro bought this debate on himself by not being more responsive to a news representative.
    Public media is the only advocate and safeguard the ordinary citizen has.

    I could care less how this debate comes out.
    Karen is fully “entitled” and “fully expected” to investigate.
    I don’t care how high in rank a person is, “likes it or not”, the press is the public’s only oversight!
    I would be very disappointed if she did not investigate!
    Whether anyone likes it or not, the investigation is NOT a waste of time!

    (13) 17 Total Votes - 15 up - 2 down
  7. Karen Velie says:

    I will be on the Dave Congalton KVEC radio show at 5 p.m. to discuss this issue. Turn your radio to 920 AM or listen live at http://www.920kvec.com.

    (6) 14 Total Votes - 10 up - 4 down
  8. bobfromsanluis says:

    Cindy: I spoke to the person that I thought would make a good write-in candidate for the Assessor’s office; the sad reality is that it would require more money to get enough exposure to mount an effective campaign, regardless of how guilty Mr. Bordonaro appears to be. The person I spoke to also informed me that he had too much to deal with at this time to make another attempt at political office, but he had spoken to someone else who is not only interested, but apparently well qualified as well. The best scenario apparently is to have a recall mounted on the day after the election, and as that gathers steam, anyone who would want to replace Mr. Bordonaro would then come forth and file papers to run for the office. After some thought about it, it does make more sense for that approach, since the field for candidates would be wide open, and the recall petition itself would be focusing on the allegations of misdeeds, improprieties, and potential law breaking that is alleged to have happened by these series of articles here on Cal Coast News. And I will definitely be listening today when Karen will be the Dave Congalton Show on KVEC 920 am at five o’clock.

    (4) 10 Total Votes - 7 up - 3 down
    • Cindy says:

      Well Bob, upon reading your first few lines I felt a mounting sense of disappointment however I think you are correct in your suggested approach. I do believe that a write in Candidate would “attract” a good deal of media attention if for no other reason than the circumstances that brought them into the arena at such a late date. To launch a recall will be an effort I could do without but that effort in of itself will also garner media attention and that’s what will be required to realize a successful endeavor. I know it’s “doable” and I am in possession of some helpful tools and data bases. Keep us all posted when the time to organize a committee approaches which is probably just about now. Elections are only 6 months away and we should be ready to hit the pavement running on November 13th.

      (3) 9 Total Votes - 6 up - 3 down
    • PaulJones says:

      I’ll offer my services to the Committee, I also have so associates that will assist.

      (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
  9. Spectator says:

    Why do you not look at Lois Capps? So far all there is to this is speculation. Of course, politicians look to help their contributors. Look at Obama with Acorn. You want slime, start at the top. At the same time look at Barney Frank and Chris Dodd. The whole political system stinks: the problem is that friends try and help each other. In the meantime come up with something solid, not rumor. I think you are taking Bordonaro apart because he is a Republican, and not a socialist progressive.

    (-12) 52 Total Votes - 20 up - 32 down
    • bobfromsanluis says:

      What an idiotic comment; again, there is no equivalency, either these allegations are true and Mr. Bordonaro is guilty as hell of corruption, abuse of position and power, and some sort of collusion with the Board of Equalization and he should be removed from office and sent to jail, or for the first time ever, Karen and Cal Coast News has the story all wrong and she will pay for her mistake (it hasn’t happened yet, remember Kelly Gearhart?) If you have some allegations concerning Lois Capps and you can present as a compelling of a case as Karen has done here with our county Assessor, I say go for it. If you don’t have any facts to back up your claims, then simply sit down and shut up, let the grown ups take care of business.

      (14) 36 Total Votes - 25 up - 11 down
      • Black_Copter_Pilot says:

        Maybe Bordonaro deserves the “innocent until proven guilty’ treatment that the constitution guarantees. Last time I checked, allegations on a blog was not considered a conviction nor is it proof of anything.

        This place has reduced itself to being a circle jerk for left.

        (-11) 29 Total Votes - 9 up - 20 down
        • utube says:

          so how did you or your benefit-why would you continue to shelter and protect fraudelent corporate political favoritism? Business as usual in your circle?

          (2) 8 Total Votes - 5 up - 3 down
        • bobfromsanluis says:

          “Maybe Bordonaro deserves the “innocent until proven guilty’ treatment …” Um, you mean, “presumed innocent until proven guilty”? The “presumed innocent” is usually applied to those that had actual charges filed against them. The problem we have here in this county is that there is no “one” who will file the charges that need to filed. We have, in effect, a Republican circle jerk of each person in a position of power protecting those others in position of power; recent examples that have illuminated here on Cal Coast News is the hijinks by the Chiefs of Police of Paso Robles and Atascadero, City Council member in Atascadero, the “supposed” sheriff, Pat Hedges hiring an underSheriff that makes over $750 k per year so that the Sheriff, who makes over $200k can not have to show up for work, and so on and so on …. If Tom Bordonaro wanted to appear to be innocent, perhaps he should not have engaged in behavior that leaves even the slightest lingering doubt about whether or not he is misusing his position of power for the benefit of himself, his family, his friends and fellow Republicans, has caused his department to balloon up the operating costs by some 40%, and our county is still struggling with budget concerns, exacerbated perhaps by some of the apparent sweetheart deals on appraisals coming out of the assessor’s office, and possibly engaged in politics while he is supposed to be conducting the business of the county.

          (0) 8 Total Votes - 4 up - 4 down
        • BeenThereDoneThat says:

          BCP. I for one am no where near the left. Quite conservative. Yet I would be a hypocrite not to listen to some of this. There are some potential questions that could be answered. Yes innocent till proven guilty but that also doesn’t mean people can’t ask questions? I for one don’t want that either. That would be Totalitarianism wouldn’t it?? I don’t think we want that either.

          Karen has listed some points. If Tom has nothing to hid then answer them and in case your responce is he doesn’t have to, well if he was a private citizen I would agree but he is an elected official and it does seem that Karen has done her homework and has some questions that should be addressed.

          (5) 5 Total Votes - 5 up - 0 down
    • asthecrowphlies says:

      spectator don’t take any of that socialist water from the socialist fire department when your house is on fire and you want really really small anti-socolist government but keep our hands off your SS check and your Medicare and your VA (100% socialist ) benefits . oh ! of course , don’t call the socialist police for ANY REASON .

      (3) 5 Total Votes - 4 up - 1 down

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