Public works director John Oskoui is on top of things

DOWNEY - John Oskoui, who came aboard last July as Public Works director, has among other things brought loads of experience as a private consultant serving municipalities and school districts, and thus a large degree of clarity, to his position. Because of this, his command of public works issues is palpable.In briefly reviewing the basic functions of the department, Oskoui described the utilities division as including the production and distribution of water and maintenance of the city's wells, as well as monitoring the sewer and storm water drainage system. The maintenance division takes care of street maintenance (this includes tree trimming and tree removals); irrigation, landscaping and parks maintenance; anti-graffiti program; and maintenance of vehicles and equipment (except fire engines, "which are contracted out"). The third main task of public works is engineering, he said, and this covers capital improvement programs, surveying, street access, traffic control, parking enforcement, etc. The fourth division is Public Works administration, and this includes development engineering (environmental, traffic, public works projects design construction, management and inspection, as well as administration of solid waste contracts, recycling programs and Keep Downey Beautiful). Practically extempore, he is able to match funding with projects, as well as rattle off construction timetables with scarcely a peek at his log book-another sign of his seeming mastery of the job. For example, he said the department has just finished the Paramount Boulevard pavement reconstruction project from Brookmill Road to Alameda Street, while work on Downey Avenue between 5th Street and Gallatin Road just started and should be finished by June. Meanwhile, he said they are now working on the design of the Bellflower Boulevard and Stewart and Gray Road fiber optic communication and traffic signal project which will improve traffic flow and safety in the area. Also, work on school signs and markings will start soon. Starting next week, he said, work will begin on the design of a pedestrian countdown heads traffic system aimed at enhancing pedestrian safety. The city-wide residential street resurfacing project has just been awarded, he said, adding, "We're also finishing the design for road rehab work between Old River School Road and Nash Avenue." But the most important project is the widening of Lakewood Boulevard with a budget of $5.4 million and a completion date this July, he said. The project includes installation of new water mains and new recycled lines. Funding on all the above comes from a combination of federal, state and local monies, he said. "We're also looking at the city's water rates," he said. "As you know, we enjoy one of the best waters in the region. We get our water directly from the ground up to tap. We haven't changed our rates for 15 years. The costs of producing water (utilities, equipment, etc., costs) have gone up. At least we should be able to capture these costs, but we haven't. We should have something on this by May." A native of Tehran, Iran, Oskoui took his bachelor's in civil engineering at the University of North Carolina (Charlotte), and his master's in structural engineering at Cal State Fullerton. He is a registered civil engineer in the state of California. His wife has a Ph. D. in psychology and teaches clinical psychology at Saddleback College. One daughter is poised to graduate at UCLA with a master's in international studies while the younger one is transitioning from middle school to high school. "I have a very rewarding job," Oskoui said. "Dealing with professional, well-qualified people here is a pleasure. Working in an environment like this is a joy." He also said that two years ago, he decided to be not only practical but cut down on pollution while contributing towards a better quality of life - by driving a Prius, which gives him 47 miles to the gallon. This knowledge puts him in a good mood as he commutes daily to and from his home in Rancho Santa Margarita. "We talk about going green here in Downey. I might as well practice what I preach," he said. He finds the city well-organized. Basically, he said, "our job is to channel challenges into opportunity."

********** Published: January 27, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 41