Ernie Dronenburg is something of a San Diego legend. Referred to affectionately by the editor’s 88-year-old dad as “good ‘ol Ernie Dronenburg, the guy with the bow tie” it seems like he’s been serving in San Diego politics since Cabrillo landed. In reality, it was in 1978 that Ernie won his first of FIVE consecutive terms on the Equalization Board. The what? Yep, that’s what many voters say too. But Ernie toiled away minding the taxpayers’ money until he was termed out in 1998. Then he was appointed to the San Diego County Board of Education, serving through 2005. Based on his long public service and strong 20-year record as a property assessor, Ernie won a race for Assessor/Recorder/Clerk of San Diego County and was dubbed “the county’s chief paper shuffler” and has served in that capacity ever since.
Most people say they got a lucky break at some point. Tell us about yours.
Running for office in June of 1978 was a lucky break. That was the year of the property tax rebellion. Property taxes were unpredictable, skyrocketing, and some folks were selling their homes due to their property taxes. There was an anti-tax wave, and I was lucky to ride that wave to victory.
You’ve been a public servant for a long time. Which accomplishment are you proudest of?
Two great things happened in California in 1978. First, Proposition 13 was passed and second, I was elected for the first time. Subsequent to being elected to the California State Board of Equalization (BOE), I spent a significant amount of time writing the rules and regulations taking Proposition 13 from a two-page ballot proposition to the laws we have today. During my time at the BOE, I came to see first-hand the power of government against the individual taxpayer. To protect taxpayers from the scales of justice favoring government, as Chairman of the BOE I authored and led the passage of the California Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights in 1988. Institutionalizing the protection of taxpayers has been my proudest accomplishment. I continue that work today as the San Diego County Assessor. I’m proud to have established the first Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate office in the County of San Diego.
Which American from history do you identify with most and why?
President Ronald Reagan was a great American I identify with. Politically we think a lot alike and we were both college cheerleaders (although I am a proud SDSU alumni).
What cause is nearest and dearest to your heart and what action are you taking on it?
Helping people is near and dear to my heart. Through my service on the Salvation Army Board of Directors we serve the entire County of San Diego.
Tell us about your artistic talent(s).
In school my professors wanted me to become an artist, but I enjoyed engineering and drawing. I drew the plans for five houses and the addition to my current home.
Who would you want to have play you in your biopic?
Steve McQueen the “king of cool.” I think he would look great in a bowtie.
Who is your favorite artist — any medium – and why?
If you were a competitive eater, which food would be your specialty?
Rolled tacos and guacamole. I love Mexican food and have avocado trees on my flower farm.
Favorite cuisine and where do you get it?
My wife is an exceptional cook. My favorite cuisine is whatever Marilyn makes. She actually is just now publishing her first cookbook called “Cypress Hill Farms Cookbook.” [ed—no relation, I’m sure, to Cali’s dopest hip-hop group] They are recipes for easy, yet impressive entertaining. I had the pleasure of testing all the recipes!
Favorite sport and tell us about your favorite moment.
My favorite sport is baseball. While I played rugby at SDSU and am a skilled unicyclist, I have very fond memories of my time as a bat boy for the then-minor league San Diego Padres at Westgate Park in Mission Valley. While that was my fondest sports memory as a member of the team, I actually topped that experience — thanks to Diana Puetz and the San Diego Padres — in 2018. They honored me with throwing the first pitch at a 2018 home game.
What item would you like to buy if it went up for auction and you had the money to afford it?
Picked up sailing in my 40’s and really enjoy time on the boat with my friends and family. Probably would buy a Beneteau Oceanis 35.1, the Rolls Royce of sailing yachts, to sail Catalina and throughout the Baja region.
What’s the best professional advice you’ve received and who gave it to you?
When I arrived in Sacramento, Kirk West, the then President of Cal-Tax and past California Chamber of Commerce President, gave me the best advice that helped me through my political career. Kirk said, “you can judge how well you are doing by knowing who is against you as well as who is for you.”
What advice do you have for young people starting out?
Know who you are and always try to improve with the help of others.
What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?
I would have said “playing for the Padres,” but they can’t afford me after signing Manny Machado. I’ll be working my flower farm and helping people where possible.
Name a living person you admire. Why do you admire them?
Marilyn my wife. She is consistent and loves everyone.
What would you change about yourself?
Two inches taller and 30 pounds lighter.