HERMOSA BEACH — Voters here will decide three local issues Tuesday: whether an additional tax should be levied on property owners to pay for safety services, whether voters should control zoning changes for 15 designated open-space areas and whether voter approval should be required to reduce the minimum lot size in residential zones.
Proposition P would impose a levy of $52 a year for four years to help pay for police, fire and paramedic services. The $482,000 that would be generated annually would be used to add six sworn officers to the 33-member police force and a clerk to the Fire Department.
The Fire Department has 18 firefighters, nine of whom are also classified as paramedics. Two of those paramedic classifications would have to be eliminated if Proposition P fails, City Manager Gregory Meyer said.
The City Council unanimously supports Proposition P, but many city officials doubt the measure's success because a two-thirds majority is required for passage. Last year in California, 72% of tax initiatives failed, Moore said.
"I like to be an optimist, but I have to be a realist. I don't see it passing," said Wally Moore, president of the Hermosa Beach Police Officers Assn. and administrative assistant to Public Safety Director Steve Wisniewski.
City officials also said the measure could be hurt by the fact that many residents are under the mistaken impression that all city property taxes are returned to Hermosa Beach. Moore said that the city gets back only 24.7 cents of each property-tax dollar, which supplies only about half of the $3.6 million that is needed for public safety. The remainder of the revenue from city property taxes is shared by the county, the school district and other agencies.
But Moore thinks that the biggest problem for the initiative is that people "haven't noticed any loss of service yet."
Moore said that the number of positions for sworn police officers has dropped to 33 from 42 in 1984. The department contends that 42 officers are needed.
"Our biggest asset in Hermosa Beach is our biggest liability, and that's the beach," Moore said. "We get 6.5 million visitors annually and we have to police them. The people who want to picture Hermosa Beach as a sleepy little residential community don't see the problems we have. . . .
"I'm afraid for the officers' safety out there. Things can go to hell pretty damn quick in police work."
Moore said that staffing problems are complicated by the fact that Hermosa Beach pays police officers $2,100 to $2,625 a month, the third-lowest rate among South Bay cities. As a result, he said, the department often hires novices who need training. While that keeps expenses for salaries down, he said, the department must spend about $50,000 each to train new officers who do not actually serve the department during the three-month training period.
The measure allows the council to cancel or reduce the tax if the revenue is not needed to keep 39 sworn police positions and 19 Fire Department positions, including nine paramedic classifications, Moore said.
The $52 would be collected in equal installments on Feb. 1 and Nov. 1, beginning in November, 1987.
Moore contends that it would be unnecessary to ask voters to renew the tax in four years because revenue from the tax and from planned commercial development would stabilize the budget.
Roger Creighton, a frequent critic of the council, said that he is not convinced that the public safety tax is needed. He said that Wisniewski, who recently took over as public safety director, needs time to analyze resources and needs to determine if added manpower is necessary.
Proposition O on the ballot would prohibit the rezoning of 15 areas designated as open space without voter approval.
The designated areas are Ingleside Park, Moondust Park, 8th and Valley Park, Ardmore Avenue at 5th Street Park, Valley Park, South Park, Greenwood Park, Fort Lots-of-Fun Park, Seaview Park, Clark Stadium Recreation Center, the Hermosa View, Prospect Heights, Hermosa Valley, North and South school sites.
Voters approved a similar initiative in 1984 that protected all but the first four sites.
Council members Etta Simpson, Jim Rosenberger and June Williams support Proposition O, but Mayor Tony DeBellis and Mayor Pro Tem John Cioffi oppose it, saying that they do not think district-owned school properties should be included.
"I don't know that it's showing good political faith" to put the initiative on the ballot without the district's consent, Cioffi said. "I think it lays the city open, certainly, for more dissention and possibly legal action from the school district--which they have threatened."
But Simpson said that the school properties already have been zoned as open space and taxpayers have a lot of money invested in them.
Cioffi also opposes Proposition O because, he said, council members are elected to make decisions and should not turn to the voters to make every tough decision.