DOWNEY - Treasure Island Park stands to receive a $600,000 makeover - complete with security lighting and pirate-themed playground - after unanimous approval by the City Council on Tuesday.Council members have long sought to upgrade the park, a narrow strip of green space located at 9300 Bluff Rd. adjacent to the Rio Hondo River. Their plans gained greater urgency two years ago when 20-year-old Downey resident Francisco Josue Iniguez was gunned down on Cleargrove Drive and his assailants escaped into the park's darkness. The project calls for installation of a granite walking trail that will connect to the Rio Hondo River bike path, drought-tolerant turf and landscaping, irrigation and lighting improvements, new benches, picnic tables, barbecues and trash cans, and a pirate-themed playground with swings and rubber surfacing. Much of the project will be funded with a $400,000 state water conservation grant awarded to Downey after the city agreed to set aside open space for future river restoration projects. The city also agreed to install "nature interpretive and watershed education signage" and reduce its use of fertilizers and pesticides, according to a city staff report. The remainder of the project will be financed with matching grant monies, revenue from the water and recycling funds, and $70,000 from the city's general fund, said assistant city manager John Oskoui. Councilman Mario Guerra on Tuesday balked at dipping into the city's general fund for a park upgrade. "When we're laying off people, this doesn't seem right," Guerra said. "This is where I have issues." Guerra recommended revising the project to decrease Downey's general fund commitment, but city manager assistant Shannon DeLong said doing so could jeopardize the city's grant allocation. Councilman Luis Marquez said the city owed it to the northwest Downey community to improve its park. "It's a commitment we made to the Treasure Island community," Marquez said. "And this could come in below budget. I'm comfortable moving this forward. I don't want to risk losing this grant." No timetable was given for the project's completion. Digital billboard The Downey City Council cautiously approved preliminary plans Tuesday for a digital billboard along the 5 Freeway in north Downey. The proposed two-sided electronic billboard measures 1,344 square feet and will be located on MTA property at 7878 Telegraph Rd. The Planning Commission still needs to sign off on land entitlements before the City Council can consider a final agreement. But Downey would receive 25 percent of the sign's annual revenue or $80,000, whichever is greater, according to a preliminary report. Based on conservative market rates, city officials expect to pull in between $100,000 and $125,000 each year. In response to concerns from Councilman David Gafin of "light pollution or light intrusion" affecting nearby homes on Rives Avenue, community development director Brian Saeki said the city can require the billboard company to dim the sign's wattage at predetermined times. A full report of the billboard's potential impacts on the community will be made available before the council votes on a final contract, Saeki said. In addition to creating a new stream of revenue for the city, Councilman Luis Marquez said Downey could utilize the billboard to post community announcements, such as street closures or for the Street Faire. "A project that generates revenues I'm supportive of," Marquez said. "There's no value we can place on the welfare of our residents," Gafin answered back. Digital billboards have grown in popularity in recent years, particularly in Los Angeles and West Los Angeles. Ambulance billing The city of Downey stands to generate $737,000 in new annual revenue by outsourcing its ambulance billing, fire chief Lonnie Croom said in a report to the City Council on Tuesday. Council members unanimously approved the agreement with Wittman Enterprises which will take over ambulance billing and receivables from the city's finance department. Last year, Downey collected about $1.5 million in ambulance transportation fees. Wittman Enterprises, however, projected it could have collected $2.3 million, an increase of $878,000 annually. Wittman's fee is 5.9 percent of revenue it collects. In addition to the cash infusion, city employees will be spared from the growing complexity of medical billing. Medical transportation billing requires certified and trained employees who are able to track and locate patients and submit bills electronically to Medicare, Medi-Cal and insurance companies. Florence Avenue The City Council awarded a $1.1 million contract to All American Asphalt on Tuesday to improve parts of Florence Avenue near the 605 Freeway. The contract calls for pavement rehabilitation at Florence Avenue and the 605 and 5 Freeway on-and-off ramps; at the Florence intersections with Little Lake and Studebaker roads; and Fairford Avenue between Florence and Dollison Drive. Construction is slated to begin in early April should take about two months, city officials said. Work will be done at night to minimize traffic delays. The street improvements are part of a larger project between Downey and the Gateway Cities Council of Governments dating back to 2000, which sought to improve intersections heavily traveled by trucks and big rigs. The first phase of the project was completed in 2008 with improvements to Florence Avenue and Paramount Boulevard. Space center shading The city of Downey will use $75,000 in county park grant funds to install a shade structure in the Columbia Memorial Space Center's amphitheatre and picnic area. The shade will measure 40 feet by 40 feet and be pentagonal in shape. It will be supported by five steel posts standing 10 to 12 feet high. The shades will be high-density polyethylene fabric proven to withstand extremely harsh climate conditions, city officials said in a staff report. The shade structure is estimated to cost $75,000, financed by a County of Los Angeles Proposition A Regional Park and Open Space District grant, which awarded Downey $150,000. The city plans to use the remaining $75,000 to install a fence around the space center's perimeter.
********** Published: March 01, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 46