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Altadena, South Pasadena Library Districts Seek Tax Hike : Referendum: Backers say they have the support but need to get voters to the polls. Required two-thirds' approval is an obstacle.

May 26, 1994|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Less than two weeks before Election Day, proponents of library taxes in Altadena and South Pasadena say they have vocal and moral support--but they need to convert that into votes.

"In order to win this election, we must just get out the vote June 7," said Jan Wetzel, 66, chairman of Committee to Protect our Library, at a carnival-like rally on South Pasadena Library's lawn last weekend attended by more than 150 library supporters.

Wetzel said his main concern is the two-thirds' approval required for passage. "We need two positive votes for every one negative vote."

Wendy Soltes, a consultant hired by the Save Our Altadena Library committee, said telephone surveys show residents 12 to 1 in support of a library tax. "We've now got to make sure they all vote," she said.

Altadena's Proposition A would cost an extra $29 a year for a single-family homeowner, $20 for an apartment owner and $59 to $79 for a commercial unit. That would add up to $430,000 to restore the library to 1991 service levels.

South Pasadena's Proposition L would raise $219,500 a year to maintain library services by charging homeowners $29 to $48 a year, based on square footage. Apartment owners would pay $12 per unit and businesses $24 to $96.

Both communities' taxes would stay in effect for five years. Low-income homeowners would be exempt.

Wetzel said the campaign in South Pasadena has raised $14,000 and recruited a volunteer army of precinct walkers. In the last week, more than 350 lawn signs were placed at strategic sites throughout the 24,000-resident community.

Most city leaders have endorsed the measure; the council put it on the ballot. Also supporting the tax is Bristol Farms, a food market that is among the city's larger businesses. More than 6,000 absentee ballots have been mailed out.

Proponents are spreading the message that South Pasadena Library will lose $80,000 of its $987,000 budget if voters reject the measure. The library would close three days a week; it is now open daily. In addition, 14 part-timers would be laid off and all special programs canceled. "We'd be down to the basics," said City Librarian Mary Lou Wigley.

The South Pasadena Taxpayers Assn. opposes the measure because it would collect revenue only from property owners.

Bob Cook, association spokesman, said the group would have preferred a 1% utility tax increase on the ballot. The association in recent weeks has attacked the measure in newspaper advertisements highlighting the librarian's salary and high cost per resident compared to other cities.

The city has the money for library services but spends it on other items, the association said. The group pointed to the city's costly lobbying against the Long Beach Freeway extension. More than $112,000 in pay raises, the group noted, had been given to City Hall management.

Even without the association opposition, a school improvement tax failed twice in the 1980s.

In Altadena, the library tax faces no formal opposition and has the added advantage of Soltes, a hired consultant. The campaign has reaped the benefit, banking $35,000. Soltes will be paid $6,000 to $8,000, depending on the amount eventually raised.

The campaign has sent absentee ballots to half the 24,000 registered voters and has invested in state-of-the-art mailers and cable television commercials.

Proponents said they have wide-ranging endorsements, from conservative County Supervisor Michael Antonovich to the Altadena chapter of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People.

"Antonovich's endorsement shows that saving the Altadena library goes beyond routine politics and political philosophies," said Reynolds Cafferata, campaign chairman.

However, in 1983 a similar measure in the library district failed. The committee has also fallen short of its goal of a $55,000 campaign chest.

Altadena librarian Bill Tema said the library's budget in the last two years has decreased from $1.4 million to $882,360. Library officials have used the library reserves during the past few years to delay cuts. Since October, the library has closed on Sundays and Tuesday nights.

If the measure fails, the main library would close two of six days it is now open. The branch library would be open two days instead of five. Said Tema: "We simply can't afford to lose."

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