In 1957, when my wife, Jean, and I were married, we took up residence in Downey. Why? Location. Her teaching job was in Whittier and I (with help from the GI Bill) was attending law school and working in downtown L.A.
For $65 per month we found a nice, tiny apartment near Lakewood and Telegraph. We had no idea it would later become part of famous “North Downey.”
By 1960 I had graduated from school and with the help of a Cal-Vet loan, we purchased our present home for $23,000. We then started a family of six children, and began working and volunteering around town like crazy. The City Council needed some adjustment, the YMCA needed some volunteers, our church and schools needed help, service clubs needed active members, etc. We wanted to make a difference in our selected community. Did we have prior experience doing this? No.
I was an only child with a single mother (whose first language was Spanish) and grew up near L.A. City Hall. Jean came from Minnesota from a working class family. The demographics of our neighborhood have changed in the last 25 years. Our current neighbors (Greek and Salvadorian) are our friends. However, my main worry is whether Downey’s new residents will exert the needed effort to maintain our wonderful city.
Now, the real story of Downey. Here are some of the features:
1.) City Government: Downey, starting in the late 50’s, adopted a city manager form of government with a 5-person city council. The city manager is like the CEO. We generally have been fortunate to have a series of some excellent ones (including the current one, Gilbert Livas), and council members who have advised but not unduly interfered with his competent direction. As a result we have a city which is financially sound. This is a “charter city” with a good charter (like a constitution) which assures that we are a “full service” city with our own fire, police, public works, recreation, etc. services.
2.) Schools: We have a quality Downey Unified School District which draws many young families to Downey. It has had a series of top superintendents and Board of Trustees.
3.) Churches: Churches of many denominations, which minister to their parishioners, many of whom contribute their time to benefit the community.
4.) YMCA: The YMCA has helped hundreds of vulnerable children during crucial youth years.
5.) Service Clubs: All of which have a number of capable members who contribute hours of talented service throughout the city.
6.) Businesses: The city has available many helpful businesses and professional services easily accessible to all residents.
7.) People: People who, over the years, have contributed talented time and effort to better the community. Many now have moved away or died.
Downey is not a “Latino” city -- it is a city comprised of people, a majority of whom now are Latino. However, the race or color should be irrelevant. People with talent to offer should get involved and contribute help where needed.
The city of Bell is a sample of bad involvement -- the city management was involved in an effort to benefit themselves. The three-vote majority on our council is fragile. If the wrong type of people are elected to the council and consider the position not as volunteers but as a vehicle to get rich, Downey could crater.
So far, so good. Get involved, people of talent (regardless of race). The city needs you!