DOWNEY -- Just five months after winning election to the Downey city council, Councilman Sean Ashton hosted his first town hall meeting Wednesday night, sharing mostly positive news about the city's direction but also fielding several complaints about Downey's subpar residential streets. The public meeting took place inside the auditorium of the Barbara J. Riley Community and Senior Center.
About 50 people in attendance listened to a slideshow presentation that listed several positives for Downey, including 13 new hires at the fire department and a recent investment in two new fire engines and an ambulance.
"I'm really happy with the services our fire department provides," said Ashton, a school teacher who was elected to office last November. "I feel strongly we need to keep Downey services here in Downey."
Ashton also shared details on the police department's expansion of a canine program, and said the city recently purchased 50 body-worn cameras that will be issued to Downey police officers. Twenty police officers are already equipped with the cameras, so essentially all police officers will be equipped with cameras soon, Ashton said.
The city's neighborhood watch program continues to expand, Ashton said. The councilman said the program is personal to him because his home was burglarized four years ago, but the culprit was arrested after a neighbor spotted the break-in and called 911.
Ashton's presentation also included updates on new street signs throughout the city (better designed and longer-lasting, he said); public works projects; efforts to cut down on electricity costs at city facilities and City Hall; water conservation efforts; and economic developments such as Vallarte supermarket and the Promenade.
One new announcement Ashton revealed is that residents will be able to pay their water bills online starting in May. There will be no fee for residential customers.
The presentation also included remarks by Ben Ovando of Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, who offered details on a $418 million renovation project the hospital is just now beginning. Work is expected to be complete by 2020.
The town hall meeting included a chance for public comment, and residents were quick to criticize the city for dilapidated residential streets. One resident, who did not provide her name but said she lives on Cole Street, said her street has fallen into such disrepair "it's like riding the bumper cars at Disneyland."
"We just want to have a new slurry coating," said the woman, who brought photo evidence for the city officials in attendance. "We feel it's about time you listen to us."
Councilman Roger Brossmer said he sympathized with the woman and other residents whose streets are in similar conditions, but with limited funds, there is no easy answer.
"Your street, my street, several streets are beyond slurry seal," Brossmer said, referring to an asphalt compound that is used to enhance the life of residential roadways. "Fixing the streets is a priority, but we don't have the dollars. I know it's not the answer you want to hear."
"Public safety has always been our number one priority, quality of life is number two," added Mayor Luis Marquez. "All five council members and staff are working hard to find a solution."
As the state grapples with a record-breaking drought, residents also lodged concerns that the Downey municipal code prohibits them from replacing their lawns with artificial turf. Ashton said the City Council will consider loosening those restrictions.
Other concerns brought up by residents included a lack of handicapped-accessible city parks; lack of sidewalks on thoroughfare streets (one example was Brookshire Avenue between Cherokee and Florence); depreciation of the Rives Mansion; lack of assisted-listening devices at city facilities; and filthy motels on Firestone Boulevard.