SAN MARINO — All four candidates for San Marino's two open City Council seats say they are running independently as "politically and fiscally conservative" candidates in a city in which taxes are the only campaign issue. They also are the first to admit that they represent two distinct factions in the April 8 election.
In a small city that is long on civic pride but short on funds, candidates Suzanne Crowell, 47, and Paul Crowley, 57, are widely known for their community and youth work, much of which has involved promoting special taxes to pay for police and fire services and education. Last year they headed Citizens for San Marino Schools, a group that tried unsuccessfully to persuade voters to pass a parcel tax aimed at augmenting school district funds.
Fought Special Assessments
The other candidates, Philip Reynolds Heckendorn and Edwards Huntington Metcalf, have both fought special assessments but have not been as active in community affairs.
Heckendorn, 46, who says "I'm absolutely anonymous" among voters, is a lawyer and certified public accountant who has a suit pending against the city. That suit, filed in 1983, asserts that San Marino is violating Proposition 13 by imposing special taxes based on property values for police and fire services under a measure passed in 1983 that both Crowell and Crowley supported. The suit is awaiting action by the state Supreme Court.
Metcalf, 74, is the grandson of San Marino pioneer Henry E. Huntington and is a past president of the San Marino Taxpayers' Assn., a group that for many years challenged city and school spending practices. Metcalf, who has not been active in the community for several years, concedes that "I don't know the number of people I used to."
All four candidates said they decided to seek council seats only after two incumbents said they would not seek reelection. Lynn P. Reitnouer has been on the council for 10 years and Howard Privett is completing his first four-year term.
Opposed Official English
The four also were unanimous in their opposition to a recent proposal asking that English be declared the city's official language, saying it is not an issue.
But the candidates agree that the need for money to pay for city services is an issue among San Marino's 13,500 residents, of whom 8,451 are registered to vote.
Since Proposition 13 went into effect in 1978, activists in this upper-income bedroom community of single-family homes have tried repeatedly to get voters to approve special taxes for services that would otherwise suffer cutbacks. Voters have approved ballot measures for paramedic, police and fire services, but rejected a measure last year that would have provided money for schools. That measure will appear again on the June ballot.
Crowell and Crowley, who say they are not running as a team, both said that they favor prudent government spending but that San Marino will lose its "special qualities" if residents do not provide more money for services.
'Willing to Pay More'
"We spent more on our houses in order to live here and get what we wanted in an orderly, well run city with good fire and police," Crowell said. "It amounts to being willing to pay more to get this. I'm interested in cost-effectiveness, but preserving high-quality standards is of the utmost importance."
Crowell, who is listed on the ballot as a civic volunteer, is a 20-year resident of San Marino with a long record of PTA and youth club leadership. Two years ago she led a community effort to paint San Marino High School, and she says that the 330 volunteers she helped to enlist saved San Marino Unified School District $120,000.
"Running for office was kind of a next logical step," Crowell said. "I don't know all the answers, but I'm not afraid to stick my neck out and ask questions. That's the talent I could bring to the city."
Crowell said she will conduct a modest campaign. Reitnouer and Privett are on her campaign committee.
Crowley, who is a five-year member of the Planning Commission and past president of San Marino's influential civic organization, the City Club, said he decided to seek a council seat because "no one else stepped forward." It was "pure coincidence," Crowley said, that his good friend and frequent committee partner, Crowell, had made the same decision.
Crowley is generally opposed to special assessments, he said, "but I'm supportive of them if they're critical to the city."
Crowley is president and owner of an engineering firm that specializes in power plant and water treatment equipment.
Heckendorn and Metcalf also say they are not running as a team.
"I'm running because I think city government is looking at some financial trouble in coming years and I don't think people on the council want to recognize it," Heckendorn said.
"I don't know the answers, but I don't think special assessments are going to be available forever and the city has no alternative plans."