SAN GABRIEL VALLEY ELECTIONS : San Marino: 2 Factions, 4 Candidates

Times Staff Writer

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.

'Pure Coincidence'

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."

Heckendorn's lawsuit says that the police and fire revenue measures passed in 1983 violated Proposition 13, which prohibits special taxes that are levied on the basis of property values.

Divided Into Zones

After voters turned down a previous proposal for a flat-rate assessment for police and fire services, proponents of the special tax drew up a plan under which San Marino was divided into seven zones with differing tax rates. The zones were based on lot sizes, which Heckendorn claims are an indication of property values, because owners of larger lots pay higher fees than those with smaller parcels.

"The city thinks it circumvented (Proposition 13 requirements), and I don't think so," Heckendorn said.

The suit asks for an injunction enjoining the city from continuing to collect the tax, but would not require retroactive reimbursement, Heckendorn said. After a Los Angeles Superior Court judge rejected Heckendorn's claim in 1983, he appealed and won. The city then took the case to the California Supreme Court.

"It's been there about a year," Heckendorn said. "They (Supreme Court justices) will do it when they see fit."

Opposed School Tax

Heckendorn opposed the measure on last November's ballot that would have created a special tax for schools, but said, "that is not an issue here. We're concerned with police and fire, health, keeping San Marino the type of place it is."

In his campaign, Heckendorn said, "I doubt I will spend more than $1,000 for at least one mailing. This is not what you call a high-power, glamorous thing."

Metcalf described himself as "a rancher, business executive and property manager . . . who has retired three times." He still lives in the house he built in 1936. He said he decided to seek a council seat when he ran across a letter he wrote in 1971 to the San Marino council, citing the city's problems.

"The same problems are still there," he said. "They still haven't divulged complete finances of the city. People can't find out all of the city's assets. There are a lot of liabilities they don't address. We are faced with a big financial situation that becomes more stringent."

His campaign, he said, "is not high key at all. We will have people who are friendly talking to others--word of mouth."

CANDIDATE CONCERNS

Desire for an orderly, well run city with good fire and police services.

A contention that San Marino is violating Proposition 13 by imposing special taxes based on property values for police and fire services.

Fear that San Marino will lose its "special qualities" if residents do not provide more money for services.

A belief that city government is failing to recognize financial troubles that may surface in coming years.

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