SAN MARINO — A special tax that voters overwhelmingly approved three years ago to pay for police, fire and paramedic services faces a crucial test in Tuesday's election as opponents mount last-minute assaults against its renewal.
Measure EE has wide support from civic leaders and local organizations, but these same backers have failed in two recent attempts to muster the necessary two-thirds vote for a special tax for local schools.
This measure, which also requires two-thirds approval of the city's 8,932 registered voters, asks for a yes or no vote on continuing to levy a tax for paramedic services and police and fire protection.
It would combine two separate taxes that were approved in 1983, extending the tax for four years beginning in July, 1987. The measure was placed on the ballot by the City Council.
Proponents claim that the only way San Marino can maintain its desired level of public safety is to continue collecting about $1.5 million a year through a tax that pays for about 40% of police and fire costs and almost all of the paramedic budget.
Opponents say the city does not need such costly services.
A majority of San Marino voters have consistently supported special taxes for their quiet, affluent residential community after it suffered a severe loss of city and school funds under Proposition 13.
But despite all-out efforts by hundreds of residents, the school taxes narrowly missed getting the necessary two-thirds vote.
Now supporters, calling themselves Citizens for San Marino, have $14,000 in contributions from about 400 donors. Their low-key campaign consists of sending letters and flyers to every household, emphasizing that voters are not being asked to enact a new tax but to continue existing taxes to pay for current services.
The taxes are scaled according to property size and, combined, range from about $200 to $600 annually.
"We intend to just let the facts and figures speak for themselves," said Bernard LeSage, chairman of Citizens for San Marino. "We decided not to bother people again by going door-to-door as we did in 1983. I'm comfortable that we will pass it."
Opponents Ben Austin and Kevin Forbes, who fought the school tax measures, each plan a last-minute blitz against Measure EE.
Acting independently, each said he plans to mail a low-cost newsletter this weekend. Both contend that public safety personnel and costs in San Marino are excessive.
"We're going to beat 'em, beat 'em, beat 'em," said Austin, whose anti-tax newsletter, San Marino Conscience, has been distributed before three other tax elections. Austin wrote the argument against Measure EE on the Nov. 4 ballot.
A retiree who devotes much of his time to anti-tax crusading and a self-styled independent candidate for President in 1988, Austin said that by mailing his newsletter the weekend before each election, "I'm giving them (opponents) as little time as possible to refute what's in it."
The newest edition, he said, will list police and fire salaries that he calls "obscene."
Austin said that although his paper's views are his own and he operates independently, donors who do not want to be identified have given him about $1,000.
Forbes, whose flyer accuses the city of "wasteful spending" with "fat pensions and huge salaries," said voters will receive it in the mail Saturday or Monday. He said he has received about $200 from supporters and is bearing the rest of the $500 cost himself.
Forbes is a recent graduate of San Marino High School who attends Pasadena City College and works for an import firm. He said Citizens Against Unfair Taxation, a group of teen-agers he organized two years ago, now has three members, including him.
No Chance for Rebuttal
The San Marino Tribune, which has supported San Marino's special taxes, is published on Thursdays, giving Measure EE proponents no chance to use it for responding to Austin's newsletter before Tuesday's election.
LeSage said his large Citizens for San Marino committee "does not plan any kind of response" to the last-minute opposition.
While some civic leaders say Austin and Forbes did not have enough clout to have been a factor in the defeat of the two school tax measures in the past year, City Manager Allen B. Stephenson said he thinks that their opposition may influence some people, especially those on fixed incomes.
Stephenson called Austin's ballot arguments "only about half honest" but said they could appeal to people "who don't understand the city's needs."
'Disregard for the Truth'
Another critic who accuses Austin of having "a disregard for the truth" is Mary Snaer, president of the San Marino school board.
She and her husband, William, have filed a libel suit against Austin for statements in his newsletter that went to voters just before last June's school tax election.
Austin said he hopes an apology to the Snaers in the next San Marino Conscience will settle the suit.