San Marino voters decided to continue with the public safety parcel tax — branded this year as Measure SM — in this week’s municipal election. Meanwhile, two incumbent city councilmen both appeared to have kept their posts.
With only mailed ballots needing to be counted as of The Outlook’s press deadline, 1,346 residents or 73.11% had voted in favor of retaining the parcel tax and 495 had voted against. For passage, the tax required a two-thirds approval by voters, which it comfortably achieved.
“I’m relieved,” said Calvin Lo, a co-chair of the committee advocating for the tax this year. “This says something about San Marino residents. They’ve made their choices and they know what’s important.”
The committee also was co-chaired by Chinese Club of San Marino President Shawn Chou, longtime resident Marilyn Peck and former City Councilwoman Rosemary Simmons, who served as San Marino’s first female mayor.
The tax generates about $3.4 million annually and is earmarked for use by the police and fire departments, including jointly managed emergency operations. Advocates for the renewal of the tax, which has been in place since 1980, extol the premium level of service from the city’s first responders that it affords. For example, all of the city’s firefighters are certified paramedics and the department maintains the staffing to send six responders out to calls, the vast majority of which have been shown to be medical emergencies.
Opponents decry the tax as waste and a method for the city to pad its coffers, often pointing out the healthy reserve funding that exists at the end of every fiscal year. The city added around $4 million to fund reserves at the end of last fiscal year, some of which was dedicated to capital improvements.
Lo, addressing the reserve, said having a dedicated funding source for first responders allows the city the freedom to invest in other areas. In particular, the city in 2018 began a policy of sending a certain amount of fund balances to a capital improvement fund, which targets streets and infrastructure.
“With a healthy reserve and financial management, we’re able to provide premium services to our residents,” Lo said. “We’re able to maintain the current level of services.”
This tax’s renewal maintains a trend in recent elections. In 2015, 2,195 voters (73.88%) chose to renew the tax, and in 2011, 1,794 voters (73.37%) renewed it.
Although the tax has historically been a four-year measure, it will run through 2025 this time around because of the city’s alignment with the county’s electoral schedule. The state Senate mandated years ago that local elections consolidate with statewide schedules if they failed to reach a certain voter turnout during their “off” scheduling.
Barring a write-in upset, City Councilmen Steven Huang and Steve Talt will likewise serve through 2025 as part of that consolidation. Both appeared as of press time to have secured their second terms on the City Council, with Talt receiving 1,349 votes and Huang, who is presently serving as mayor, getting 1,292.
The two were unopposed on ballots this year, but resident Andrew Ko filed paperwork to be a viable write-in candidate after the ballot filing deadline. The county registrar had not diplayed write-in votes on its website, lavote.net, as of press time.
Reached by phone, Ko said he awaited the county’s report of write-in tallies this week. Being one of the principal voices against the public safety parcel tax, he also bemoaned its renewal, and specifically questioned the wisdom of City Council members who endorsed an advertisement that he felt suggested the city would have to lay off personnel if the tax wasn’t renewed.
“I can’t think of any City Council with a million-dollar surplus without the tax would then lay off all but one fireman and all but one policeman, because then they’re not doing their duty as city councilmen to serve the residents of the city,” Ko said. “You would cut out something else. There are a lot of low-hanging fruit that will add up to significant amounts, and they really don’t care because it’s not their money.”