Despite accusations of racism and bad judgment, a young San Marino resident who failed to get the City Council to declare English the city's official language last week said he will pursue his controversial quest by petitioning for a ballot measure.
"We'll get the voters to decide, even if it means calling a special election," Kevin Forbes said after council members and several outraged citizens denounced his proposal, which he acknowledged is aimed at San Marino's growing Asian population.
In three separate motions made by Councilman Howard Privett Wednesday night, the council rejected Forbes' proposal, denied his request that the issue be placed on the June 3 ballot, and expressed the council's "appreciation for the significant contributions of non-English-speaking residents of San Marino."
An overflow crowd, television equipment and leaders of English-language drives in neighboring cities created what Mayor Benjamin Hammon called "a circus environment" uncharacteristic of San Marino's usually sedate council meetings.
Forbes, a 19-year-old tax crusader who lost a bid for a school board seat in November, asked the council to approve a resolution that would have been symbolic only, simply confirming the use of English in government business.
'Overrun by Foreigners'
However, Forbes said when he introduced it, "people from all over the world bring their children here for a free education. We are being overrun by foreigners.
"Do we want San Marino to look like Monterey Park and Alhambra?" he asked, referring to other San Gabriel Valley cities in which the Asian population has increased sharply in recent years. San Marino's population of about 13,500 is 14% Asian. Monterey Park, Alhambra and Arcadia all have rejected recent proposals to have English declared their official language.
Forbes' remarks were followed by an emotional outburst by Frank Arcuri, leader of an unsuccessful drive to make English the official language of Monterey Park.
With red boxing gloves draped over his shoulders to symbolize his crusade, Arcuri stormed, "This is our America! This is our city! I see the flag!"
Mayor Hammon answered with: "One more outburst and you'll have to leave--even if it's involuntary on your part."
"We've had heated debates, but I have never seen a meeting quite like this," Hammon said later. He said he had never witnessed a council meeting attended by "so many people from outside the city wishing to make statements on an issue within the city."
Premise Called Inaccurate
Hammon called Forbes' resolution "pretty innocuous," but added, "his introductory remarks were not. They were ill-founded and the whole premise was inaccurate."
Hammon and other council members also denounced Forbes for informing the news media of his resolution before giving them copies of it.
"Any time I learn first from the Los Angeles Times, before you sought any of us, I become critical," Privett told Forbes before the vote. "I commend you to use better judgment. You probably owe the Chinese and others an apology."
Forbes answered that the English-language resolution "will save San Marino. Otherwise, racism and violence will come. I don't think we can afford to keep our heads in the sand. I give you two options--approve the resolution or put it on the June ballot. Or I will do it on my own."
City Clerk Stephanie Swarner said it is too late for Forbes to get an initiative on the June 3 ballot. He will need to gather about 900 signatures, comprising at least 10% of San Marino's 8,941 registered voters, to qualify the measure for the next regular election, which is on Nov. 4.
Hopes for Special Election
Forbes said that rather than wait for the November election, he will try to get the 1,300 signatures needed to call a special election. Swarner said that a special election would cost San Marino $10,000 to $15,000.
The majority of about 10 speakers, both Asian and Caucasian, condemned Forbes' resolution.
Councilwoman Rosemary Simmons, Lois Matthews, president of the San Marino Schools Foundation, and Suzanne Crowell, co-chairwoman of a community drive to paint San Marino High School and of an unsuccessful effort to pass a special tax to support schools, commended Asian residents for their contributions to civic and school programs.
Paul Mu, past president of the San Marino Chinese Club and a member of the city's Human Relations Commission, said the resolution "doesn't offer anything constructive and it can only create resentment. I am very saddened to see it introduced."
Francis Hong, a member of the Monterey Park Human Relations Commission, said the English-language drive in his city "was like hell. It pitched groups against each other. Why do we have to suddenly be thrust in the forefront to defend ourselves?"
Some Immigrants Called Lazy
Among those supporting the resolution was Steven Ling, a San Marino resident who said, "As an Asian, I think making English official is a solution to problems in some of our schools. Some immigrants are a little lazy and don't want to learn English."
Richard Carlblom, who led a drive for official English that was recently rejected by the Arcadia City Council, said he formerly lived in San Marino and "now there is antagonism here. San Marino is a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live here."
The council, with Andrew Hallum abstaining and Lynn Reitnour absent, voted 3 to 0 to reject Forbes' request that English be made the city's official language. Hallum spoke favorably of an effort by former U.S. Sen. S.I. Hayakawa to have English declared the official language in the state and the United States, "because nowhere is it in black and white."
He then joined the three council members in denying Forbes' request for a ballot measure, and in thanking San Marino's minority citizens for their contributions. The latter vote came after Privett said, "We must attempt to undo the damage that I believe has been done here."
Forbes' Second Language
Throughout the debate, Forbes reminded opponents that English is his second language, saying he learned Spanish first. His mother is from Chile.
In an interview after the meeting, Forbes said, "I'm not going to apologize to anyone. Why should I apologize just because my opinion conflicts with others' opinions?"
Rejecting his proposals, Forbes said, "means the council doesn't want to represent the people."
Forbes first got involved in local government last year as the only school board candidate to oppose a special tax for funding schools. He lost, and so did the tax measure, which is being revived by the San Marino School Board and will be on the June 3 ballot. Forbes has formed Citizens Against Unfair Taxation, whose nucleus is composed of about half a dozen recent San Marino classmates who helped him draft the resolution for official English.
Forbes said he has become concerned about what he sees as an increase in minority businesses along San Marino's small business district on Huntington Drive. He predicted "a separation, a side that's Chinese and a side that's Caucasian."