After nearly 20 years as Monterey County Assessor/Clerk-Recorder, Steve Vagnini will not be seeking re-election in 2022. He has worked in the office for 35 years, and was elected to five four-year terms, for the first time in 2001.
In the years since, he oversaw a major technological shift in both the offices of Assessor and Clerk-Recorder, with digitization of records and the addition of a public-facing GIS (geographical information systems) map.
The Clerk-Recorder's Office is responsible for recording events like births, deaths and marriages, processing fictitious business name statements, filing oaths of office and maintaining property records.
The Assessor's Office is responsible for determining the value of all real property in Monterey County and determining when to adjust property taxes based on various tax laws. In general, as a result of Prop. 13, passed by voters in 1978, taxes are reassessed when a property changes ownership or is remodeled.
"Prop. 13 changed everything in California," Vagnini says. "That's been the most significant change in tax law."
In his 19 years in the elected seat, Vagnini has seen the county's assessed property value more than double, from roughly $30 billion to $74 billion. He also held the position during an unprecedented decrease in property values during the Great Recession, when his staff removed $6 billion in value from about 35,000 properties.
It's for reasons like that, Vagnini says, that it's important for the job of assessor to be elected, rather than appointed—a $6 billion decrease in assessed property value translated to about a $60 million decrease in tax revenue to government agencies, but the assessor is accountable directly to the voters, rather than to officials on other government agencies facing a decrease in funds.
"You don't want to be beholden to an elected Board of Supervisors, or to anyone other than the voters. You want it to be independent," Vagnini says.
Besides that, the job is elected in all California counties, as enshrined in the California Constitution.
Vagnini is endorsing Assistant Assessor Marina Camacho as his successor, and she plans to file papers for her candidacy on Jan. 7. Camacho has worked in the office for 32 years, almost as long as her outgoing boss, and served in a large number of roles.
"I want to continue the legacy of providing the best customer service to property owners and to the public in general," Camacho says, "and to continue to be fair, equitable and honest to the public that we serve."
Camacho, who lives in Salinas, started in the office in an entry-level role in 1989. "I tell people that I grew up in the Monterey County Assessor's Office," she says jokingly, "and I feel like i really have."
Vagnini notes there are a few politically charged elections for assessor—such as Match.com founder Gary Kremen running in Santa Clara County—but it's a technical role that generally attracts insiders.
"[Camacho] has such great understanding of taxation code and change-of-ownership laws," he says. "And she's worked her way up to be a great supervisor. She's mentored a lot of young employees in the office."
The Assessor/Clerk-Recorder oversees a staff of 53 in the Assessor's Office and 17 in the Clerk-Recorder's Office.
Vagnini says that while he's not seeking re-election, he does not plan to retire entirely. He's long been involved in the local music scene promoting concerts and events with his SLV Management company, and he's the founder of the local chapter of Guitars Not Guns, and currently serves as national chair on the nonprofit's board.
He plans to focus more on his music and nonprofit work in the coming years. "I will not be retiring from everything," he says.
He plans to finish out his current term, which ends on Dec. 31, 2022.