Mayor feels good about Downey's circumstances

DOWNEY - With several development projects already in mid-construction or preparing to break ground, Mayor Mario Guerra delivered a steady dose of confidence and optimism in his State of the City address last week. Guerra took a mostly positive tone as he spoke before a capacity audience at Rio Hondo Event Center on Friday. The event is sponsored annually by the Downey Chamber of Commerce, and usually includes the city's mayor as featured speaker. Using a PowerPoint slide, Guerra used charts, figures and statistics as he spoke about Downey's current fiscal state. He summarized the city's $138 million annual budget, of which nearly $48 million is allocated to the police and fire departments. The city continues to be conservative with its money while investing in public safety, Guerra said. City Hall currently has 197 full-time employees, down from a high of 209 in 1990, while the Downey Police Department today employs 264 full-timers, up from 241 in 1990, according to the slide. Crimes against persons, a statistical category that encompasses murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults, dropped nearly 13 percent in the last year, Guerra said. But property crimes, particularly vehicle thefts, have risen 2.7 percent. "That's more a sign of the times. With Rio Hondo [Event Center] and Downey Landing, there's more places to steal cars," Guerra said. A chaplain with the Downey Police Department, he heavily praised local law enforcement and their efforts to combat graffiti. Last year, 148 arrests were made for graffiti-related crimes that totaled more than $22,000 in property damage, Guerra said. More than 3,300 instances of graffiti were inputted into the police department's graffiti tracking system, which records and categorizes the vandalism, helping detectives make arrests. "They will not win, they can not win," Guerra said of taggers. "We don't tolerate graffiti in Downey." Guerra also updated the audience on a few key pieces of development. The Discovery Sports Complex - Downey's first new park in more than 30 years - should open in "three to four months;" the adjacent Columbia Memorial Space Center "will probably be opening up in August;" and the anticipated BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse at Stonewood Center will open by July 1. When it opens, the recently-approved Porto's Bakery will bring 2,000 people downtown daily, Guerra said. A Fresh & Easy Market is moving forward in its plan to occupy the former Albertson's supermarket. The Coca-Cola plant on Lakewood Boulevard is planning a $100 million expansion for late 2010, according to Guerra. Already the largest bottling facility in the world, the plant will add three new production lines, he said. Speaking about the fallout from last year's boil-water order, Guerra said he visited numerous restaurants and "asked for 10 things the city could do - short of writing a check" to help in their recovery. "Not a single restaurant called me back," Guerra said. In response, the city will host a "Dine in Downey" promotion May 1-16, where residents will be encouraged to eat out locally. Wrapping up, Guerra ran through some of his and the City Council's remaining goals, which include the establishment of a volunteer citizens patrol to work alongside Downey police; creating a youth commission that will speak on behalf of Downey adolescents; consolidating the city's transit yards to create more park space; and improving public communication, partly through the expansion of the city's website.********** Published: March 27, 2009 - Volume 7 - Issue 49