Oral Histories

Interview of Philip E. Watson

Los Angeles County assessor who played an important role in promoting and popularizing the issue of property tax limitation in California.
Tax Reform and Professionalizing the Los Angeles County Assessor's Office
Interviews not in a series, part one
Politics and Government
Biographical Note:
Los Angeles County assessor who played an important role in promoting and popularizing the issue of property tax limitation in California.
Smith, Richard Candida and Edgington, Steven
Watson, Philip E.
Persons Present:
Tapes I-II: Watson and Edgington; Tapes III-VIII: Watson and Smith.
Place Conducted:
Tapes I-II: Watson's home in West Covina,California; Tapes III-VIII: Watson's home in Rancho Mirage, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Steven Edgington, Researcher/Editor, California State University, Fullerton, Oral History Program. B.A., history; M.A., social science, California State University, Fullerton.The interview was conducted by Richard Candida Smith, Principal Editor, Oral History Program, UCLA. B.A., theater arts, UCLA.
Processing of Interview:
Smith edited Tapes I and II as part of his preparation for continuing the interview. Carey Southall, editorial assistant, edited Tapes III through VIII. The editors checked the transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings, edited for punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified names. Words and phrases inserted by the editors are in brackets.Watson reviewed the transcript prior to his death and made minor corrections for accuracy or clarity. Nancy B. Watson provided invaluable assistance in the final preparation of the transcript.Edgington and Smith prepared the table of contents.Smith prepared the biographical summary and interview history. Richard Martinez, editorial assistant, prepared the index.
12.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Family background; American Legion as political organization; assessor John R. Quinn as personal influence; political involvement prior to Watson's election as county assessor; helps write policy statement on property assessment; lobbies in Sacramento for policy revision; William P. Rempel; Quinn's 1958 assessor race; Quinn's retirement; the power of Asa Call; rift in Ronald W. Reagan-Taft Schreiber relationship; Watson presents his ideas on tax limitation to Reagan; attempts at tax-reform legislation; establishing new assessment ratios; county assessors charged with bribery; scandal results in Assembly Bill 80; provisions and effects of AB 80; election of Reagan as governor; generating ballot Proposition 9 (November 1968); "property-related services" versus "people-related services"; Howard Jarvis; Reagan's Proposition 1A (November 1968); support and opposition to Proposition 9; origins of Proposition 14 (November 1972); ties between California Taxpayers Association and the Reagan administration; preliminary analysis of Proposition 14; support of and opposition to Proposition 14; Jarvis's 1972 initiative; Reagan's Proposition 1A (June 1973); analysis of Proposition 13 (June 1978) election victory; indictment ends political career; role of Paul Gann; a nomadic childhood; living with grandparents; Franklin D. Roosevelt's election; moving to Alton, Illinois; a deeply fundamentalist religious community; conflict between older ethnic groups and newer immigrants; Watson's problems in high school; grandfather Watson in Kentucky; Watson's mother joins her husband in California; Watson's first marriage; moves to California with wife and son; enlists in the army air corps; campaigning and running in the black community; flying B-17s in World War II on coastal patrol and air-sea rescue missions; enrolls in UCLA; the political influence of the American Legion; how being a Mason helped him politically; Watson faces hostility from assessor's office staff after winning the election; staff rebellion; reorganization of assessor's office; demoting the head of veterans' exemptions; high calibre of Los Angeles County Assessor's office staff; meeting with Asa Call during 1962 election campaign; Russell Wolden's bribery attempt; meeting with Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, Sr.; James R. Vine replaces John Keith; changing procedures for valuing oil company property; the oil companies appeal to Sacramento for legislation to overturn Watson's new procedures; state legislature requires Watson to provide local government agencies with estimates; reasons for tripling of property tax rate in the 1960s; limiting property taxes to pay for property-related services; Proposition 9; reasons for oil company opposition to Proposition 9; reasons for Proposition 13's success; changing assessment practices for airlines; relationship with the state board of equalization after AB 80; more on Watson's fights with Wolden in the County Assessors Association; the International Association of Assessing Officers; zoning laws and property-value assessment; relations with the city of Los Angeles; establishing the independence of the assessor's office from the board of supervisors; Supervisor Warren Dorn's proposal to make the assessor an appointed position; Baxter Ward's victory over Dorn; Watson tries to make peace between Ward and other elected officials; the Reagan assessment case; taxes and fiscal responsibility; impact of the civil rights movement on the assessor's office; Internal Revenue Service investigation of Watson's tax returns; the 1966 criminal indictment; political motivation behind the case; California Taxpayers Association; Paul Gann.