Thoughts from the mayor

Hi family and friends and Downey residents. Many of you have been asking when I would give another update regarding Downey happenings. There have been so many good things happening that it has been hard to have the time to write. But I am always excited to share our good fortune to live in Downey.Let's see, in no particular order: Downtown Downey: We are on our way to a downtown specific plan and hopefully many new things. By a 4 to 1 council vote we picked a great firm to do our specific plan and EIR (environmental impact report). With Porto's coming on Downey Avenue and Firestone Boulevard early next year we will be seeing thousands of people coming into our downtown daily. Great coup for Downey to have them coming into our city. With their proven track record and great reputation many other cities wanted them bad, but they wisely chose Downey, ha. We are also working on redevelopment of the old Avenue Theatre and Verizon buildings. Our city bought the properties with housing money so some form of housing must be there by law. Some have been asking about saving the Avenue Theatre for old movies and as a cultural center, but unfortunately it is not feasible from an economic standpoint nor from a business standpoint. If somebody wants to form a charitable group or trust and buy it and restore it like they did in Fullerton, I would be all for it. Unfortunately, the Fullerton Theatre has not turned out the way they had hoped. That does not mean that we cannot incorporate some entertainment venue for small gatherings or shows or community activities, but the Avenue is not the proper building for this. We have been discussing this for some time now. We are so blessed to have a beautiful Downey Theatre just a few hundred yards away. Our council is exploring ways to fully utilize it to its full potential. I wonder why there was no interest for the past six years regarding the Avenue and now that our city is finally trying to improve and upgrade our downtown this is an issue? I share the nostalgic view of the Avenue Theatre but it really is not historic in any way, and it is falling down. It would need extensive renovation. We do not have the money nor expertise to see a profitable operation that will not drain large amounts of city funds. We have 115,000 people in our city that we take into consideration in every decision. If somebody wants to they are welcome to buy the buildings and try to run it. We just cannot afford this and it doesn't make sense for our city. We have been meeting with most of the property owners, restaurants and stakeholders in our downtown and the feedback we have gotten to preliminary thoughts have been very positive. I was surprised at a recent council meeting when it was mentioned that we were going too fast. It seems we have been talking about doing something for downtown for 30 years and nothing seems to get done. If anything, I feel we are not going fast enough. I ran on this issue almost three years ago and we have been talking for over two years about it. The planning firm we hired will also be able to take into account the public's views and wants and that's all I have asked. We all want what is best for our city overall. The council has been talking about this for over a year and we voted unanimously to purchase the Avenue and Verizon building using housing funds… in open council meetings. We have also had several group discussions… openly. I am excited that we at least started the process to have a specific plan that will work for our city for years to come. It is good to note that many businesses are actively looking to come into our downtown. There will be a new downtown barbecue opening soon and a new bar and grill will also be coming into this area. The specific plan should be completed within six months. Green Task Force: I am so excited about this task force. It is the opportunity to change our city for years to come in a very positive way. We have several experts on the committee, from Southern California Edison, Coca-Cola, The Gas Company, CalMet, DUSD, and the Central Municipal Water Board. The purpose is to recommend realistic short and long-term policies and programs to our city council that encourage practices to protect our environment and our citizens' health, to educate our public regarding pros and cons of each recommendation, and to make sure our city is operating as ecologically friendly as possible. We have had two Green Task Force meetings at Coke's facilities (and several sub-committee meetings also). They have been a great corporate sponsor in our city and they are really stepping up to the plate on so many issues. The Green Task Force has two sub-committees, Education and Conservation/Sustainability. They are meeting regularly and will make their findings and reports back to the entire Green Task Force monthly. Speaking of Coke: They will be doing a $100 million expansion at our Downey plant late next year. We are very excited because it shows confidence in our city in so many ways. They are currently the largest bottling facility in the world and they will be growing. We are very happy to be working with them to make our city better. By the way, Dasani water is basically Downey tap water and when you drink a Coke or Diet Coke you are drinking mostly Downey water, right from our wells below us. Enjoy, we have great water and we love Coke being in our city. Budget: People keep asking me about our finances. Yes, we are suffering as others, but not as much. We have been blessed with a conservative perspective from our staff and councils. This has allowed us to put money away in good times to be able to draw upon in times like these. We anticipate a $2 million shortfall from tax and sales revenues under the current budget. But the good news is that we can draw from our large reserve fund to make sure we keep our services that our citizens demand and expect. Somebody mentioned recently whether the city has a golden goose. My answer to them is yes. Our golden goose has been our great staff and councils that have been fiscally conservative for many years. We have been able to save for days like these. Just in the past two years (and many before) we have been able to put a large amount of cash away to be able to keep the services we all expect and deserve knowing these days were coming. I was proud to vote and have input for those budgets and I am very pleased with the new budget we will vote on at our next council meeting on June 23. We currently have a hiring freeze in all departments except public safety which is Police and Fire. Our new budget will have a deficit but small in relative terms to our $148 million total budget (up from $ 138,000,000 last year but most of the increase is in federally funded projects). Our new budget will also include more than $45 million in capital projects that do not come from our general funds. This new budget will also provide funding for our new Columbia Learning Center and Discovery Sports Complex. We will be taking about $3 million from our reserves to be able to keep our staff levels and services where they are, but our frozen positions and their salaries are included as part of this number so our deficit reduces every day that we do not fill these positions. Police: I am happy to report that we currently have 123 sworn officers. This is the highest number of sworn officers in the history of our department. We have had openings for many years that we would not fill just for the sake of filling unless they were the type of officers we demand and expect in Downey. We have approximately 200-plus employees total in PD and almost 90 in our fine fire department. We are very proud of our independence of having our own local police and fire. It has served us well and you get what you pay for. Through the end of April crime is down in Downey again by 15% in all categories. This comes after another reduction in crime last year of 12.7% in bodily crimes. Fantastic numbers which gives us the safety and protection we all deserve and expect. Our fire department continues to be a source of pride for us also. Economic development: Everyone always asks me, What's coming to town? What are we working on? Well, I am happy to be able to say that despite the economy we have been very fortunate to have some exciting things happening. Our staff has done a great job in searching and pro-actively looking for our wants and needs. This is also an area I get involved with a lot. Coming to Downey are Kohl's in the fall, BJ's Brewhouse (July), Porto's Bakery (early next year), Bob's Big Boy (August), Fresh & Easy (late fall), and Kaiser Permanente and their 3,500 new jobs in Downey (Sept. 15). There is also a new bar and grill along with a barbecue coming to our downtown shortly. We have many other things in the works that I cannot mention at this time. But stay tuned, pretty exciting things. We recently attended the International Conference of Shopping Centers. This event is a way for us to show retailers and developers that we are open to discuss ventures in our fine city and to promote the benefits of Downey. It is well attended and our message is well received. I am happy that we are doing this and happy with the reception we received in several meetings. We have already benefited from this and it will continue to pay huge dividends for us in the future. Columbia Learning Center and Discovery Sports Complex: Columbia should be opening in late October. What an exciting thing for our city. We will not only be able to reflect on our legacy of space exploration and the history that Downey has played in it, but also on discovering space and math and sciences for our youth from all over Southern California. Yes, we were once called "Home of Apollo" and rightfully so. Many of you know that Apollo and the space shuttles were mostly built right here in Downey. In fact, we own the original, full-scale model of the space shuttle. When we were in Washington, D.C. just a few weeks ago, we had a meeting with NASA who not only helped make the Colombia Learning Center a reality but is also very happy to continue to work with us on it. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Apollo we can be very proud of the part that we have played on behalf of our country. Things that you have asked me about: Yes, I love being mayor. I love being able to make someone smile just by showing up. What a thrill it is. And yes, I love meeting and interacting with our citizens and staff. Nothing makes my day more fun than being able to talk to kids at schools and other city events. Being mayor is pretty cool, even when you get yelled at by people when things go wrong at times or when people distort the facts to try to make their points. I love talking to groups about our great city. We are and should be very proud. I have attended all 41 Neighborhood Watch groups and I have also attended over 90 events so far this year representing Downey. Yes, my eye is getting better. Not there yet completely, but I hope soon it will come back totally. I now need to wear glasses so it is a big adjustment, but I only wear them half the time. Thanks for your concerns. July 4th park opening and fireworks display at Discovery Sports Complex: It is going to be great. Our council by a vote of 4 to 1 approved hosting a day for our city and citizens to celebrate not only the opening of the first new park in Downey in over 35 years but also the celebration of the greatest country in the world. Our staff is doing a great job in getting this coordinated. Don't worry, we are working very hard to secure sponsorships to offset the cost. We already have many of our local service organizations coming to help out as they usually do. I understand the concerns about the funds, but it seems that this year it is more important since so many families will not be able to afford fireworks. I think this is going to be awesome. I also feel that the benefits are numerous, especially from a safety standpoint. This could save a fire or an injury from happening and in these tough times families can take advantage of this celebration display if they cannot afford to spend money on safe and sane fireworks. I have had many positive e-mails and calls from residents who are excited also. I look forward to seeing you all there. I hope this is not too long but I hope it gives you an idea of some of the happenings in our great city. I love it here and I hope you do too. As always I welcome your thoughts and comments and look forward to hearing from you. All my best…God Bless…

********** Published: June 19, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 9