Vasquez has learning curve ahead of him

It's easy to speak in generalities, not so easy to lay out the specifics or the particulars of a goal or a plan.But this is what usually happens when a candidate for political office proclaims his agenda. And lets it go at that. During his campaign, eventual District 4 winner Fernando Vasquez was quoted as espousing three main goals for the city, namely, "expand our public safety, be tough on gangs and illegal street vendors, and promote economic development." Fine. But he, like so many candidates before him-or even after they've been voted into office-didn't say how he's going to reach them, or at least trace its outline. Realistically, he wouldn't be able to do anything about them, either, even if he tried. At least not right away. That's because Vasquez, with or without any personal baggage he may have, has to work harmoniously with soon-to-be colleagues, council members David Gafin, Mario Guerra, Luis Marquez, and Roger Brossmer, each of them with different personalities, each of them unique--in temperament, experience, outlook, approach, speech. It's just the nature of the beast. Notwithstanding his track record with the Planning Commission or in the business world, if Vasquez thinks he can husband a pet item or project along in an expeditious manner, or in a manner he's accustomed to, he has another thing coming. Thus his impact, at least in the short-term, will almost practically be nil. It was just a year ago that Downey's incumbent city council, after a series of intensive meetings, hammered out a list of 49 priorities meant to channel the city's latest policy formulation. Noticing duplications, the city council, with the active participation of staff, pared these down to seven. Most certainly a heightened focus on public safety (the appointment of 10 new police officers), including greater measures against criminal activity (through the use of advanced technology, etc.), and an intensified program of economic development, are at the list's very core. The matter doesn't end here. Gafin, for instance, insists that cost considerations, time frames, etc., be attached to each of the priorities, which include better code enforcement, improved grants application process, and a more proactive public information strategy. Vasquez will thus have to learn new ways of, as he is fond of saying, "getting things done" if he is to be effective in the council. Let's hope, for everybody's sake, that he proves effective in his new role. Whatever its faults, the election process just experienced was pure democracy in action. It was not as exciting as the national or state contests but it had its surprises. And if anyone wants to complain about the outcome, consider this: the total number of voters who actually cast votes for the three candidates (Vasquez, Saab, and Sears) was 6,005; the total number of registered voters for District 4 was 13,984-do the math. These are challenging times for Downey. Revenue streams are not as swift as they used to be due to diminished tax receipts. Lots lie vacant because of business closures. Recourse to hiring and promotion freezes as well as other austerity measures has had to be made to keep the city functioning well. This is not meant to sound so dire: because it has practiced fiscal restraint, Downey has not suffered severe dislocations as some nearby cities have. Because of the economic slowdown, "this is actually a time when we can concentrate on planning for the future," says city manager Gerald Caton. Indeed, he says, purposeful planning done a decade or two prior is bearing fruit now: the Columbia Memorial Space Center, the Downey Landing, Kaiser Permanente, the Krikorian Theatre, the Verizon and Avenue Theatre buildings, etc.-planning for these has been years in the making, he says. BJ's Restaurant and Porto's Bakery are of course of more recent vintage. The city has kept its allure even as further redevelopment efforts specifically aimed at downtown and the property where Downey Studios now stand are proceeding dead ahead. There is ample room for optimism in the future. As Caton says, the recession will end sooner or later, and better times are inevitable: "The city can move forward then." The city's glories are intact: the Downey Theatre, the Civic Light Opera, the Downey Symphony, the Rio Hondo Golf Course, its many churches, the Downey Unified School District, the Columbia Memorial Space Center, its own police and fire, its two fine hospitals, etc. Caton says he considers himself particularly fortunate in his more than 20 years of service as city manager because the city council members he's worked with have all been motivated by one thing: their innate love for the city. "That's why," he says, "they serve with basically no pay."

********** Published: November 4, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 29