SAN MARINO — Even as San Marino voters were defeating efforts to tax property owners for school improvements Tuesday, supporters were talking about trying again.
But Ben Austin, who led opposition to Measure H, said he is ready for another fight.
Measure H, which would have levied a parcel tax of up to $145 a year for four years for the San Marino Unified School District, was approved by 60.5% of the voters. But it needed 66.7% for passage.
The unofficial vote was 2,894 for the measure and 1,889 against. On a day when the turnout in most county elections was only about 10%, an estimated 50% of San Marino's 9,900 voters cast ballots.
Proponents called the Measure H vote "a near miss" and opponents proclaimed "a clear victory."
"We beat 'em," Austin said. "We got the message to the people. But the ink wasn't hardly dry on the colossal defeat and they're talking about another election."
"The vote was so close that there is little doubt in my mind that (we can raise) the two-thirds needed for passage," said school board President Lois Ukropina.
Austin called it "the most exciting election in the entire United States, in which a few people single-handedly beat the whole power structure in the city of San Marino."
It was a second victory for Austin, an anti-tax crusader who in 1982 led a surprise defeat of a proposed city tax for police and fire services. San Marino voters have approved two other special parcel taxes for city services since passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.
The parcel tax would have raised about $700,000 a year for four years, the amount that Supt. David Brown estimated would be needed to prevent cutting programs.
"I guess our best option is to go back and try again," Brown said. In the meantime, he said, the number of district employees may be reduced to cut expenses.
Measure H was supported by the Board of Education, the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce. Several dozen residents, led by Suzanne Crowell and Paul Crowley, put in an estimated 1,000 hours telephoning potential voters and walking precincts to urge approval of the measure, she said.
About 60 of the measure's supporters waited anxiously for several hours Tuesday night in the school district board room, only to learn at midnight that their efforts had failed.
Until then, spirits were high. Like longtime members of a club, they joked, snacked and played cards. They kept a respectful distance from a couple of school board candidates who dropped in to check election results, and a decidedly cool distance from Kevin Forbes, the only candidate who opposed Measure H. (Forbes was not elected.)
Lack of State Funds
Supporters said they favored the tax because San Marino schools do not get enough state financing to continue operating without making major cuts in several programs. They contend that the district is deprived of compensatory funding that goes to many other districts that have a high number of minority students and low-income families.
Proponents of the special tax also say the excellence of San Marino schools accounts for property values that are higher than in neighboring cities.
In his fight against the measure, Austin published a 10-page pamphlet that he called a "newspaper" and said it was delivered to every San Marino school district resident at a cost of about $1,000.
Another attempt for a parcel tax, he said, "will force me to make my newspaper a regular feature in San Marino, and that's what I'm going to do. That seems to be the only way we can get the information to the people."