Vasquez takes over as Downey mayor; announces plan for 'smart 911' system

DOWNEY – Despite a bit of controversy that still hangs in the air over the future of Downey’s Mayor Pro Tem position, it was a smooth transition for outgoing Mayor Alex Saab and incoming Mayor Fernando Vasquez last week.

The mayoral position in Downey annually transitions every December, with each mayor serving a single-year term. This year’s mayoral transition occurred last Thursday, Dec. 15.

The transition ceremony began with some words from 2016 Mayor Saab.

“This year was particularly special because we celebrated our 60th anniversary,” said Saab. “It really gives you an opportunity to reflect on where we were the last 60 years, and where we want to be the next 60 years.”

Saab went on to highlight many of what he felt were the city’s accomplishments from the last year. 

Saab put the spotlight on the city’s work within the medical field, which included the continued development and improvement of Rancho Los Amigos’s campus.

“We have three incredible hospitals: Rancho, PIH Downey, and Kaiser. That makes us a medical hub in this area, and because of that we always want to be ahead of that curve and to really provide those incentives, those opportunities to come and get medical related jobs…”

Saab also took note of the Columbia Memorial Space Center’s recent achievement to provide free admission to DUSD students, which Saab aggressively advocated for during his term as mayor.

“We’ve seen probably over 30% increase as a result, and we’ve also seen a bustle there, really thanks to the leadership of Ben Dickow,” said Saab. “Really an enormous amount of activity there, and most importantly a greater exposure of the sciences to our kids.”

Saab also commented that he was most proud of the re-inclusion of sports activities and programs for those with special needs at Apollo Park.

“It’s been phenomenal, filled with volunteers, and we couldn’t be more proud as a community, and that’s something that touches all of our hearts,” said Saab.

Saab also discussed public safety. 

“You know last year we lost Ricky Galvez, and …that was one of the most tragic events here in our city. We saw the worst in humanity when it happened, but we also saw the best in humanity; we saw a community come together…,” said Saab. “What distinguishes our city from others is really our independence – our dependence on our own police department, fire department, and our own school district."

Saab’s comments on public safety revolved around the implication of the Police Civilian Volunteer Program, the Park Ranger Program, and the approval of 25 new license plate readers.

Saab also touched on increased public access to city hall, and the expansion of business within the city, including the Downey Promenade. 

Along with being presented with the traditional gavel and scrapbook that is given to outgoing Downey mayors, Saab was also honored by LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, the offices of U.S. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard and Senator Tony Mendoza, Assembly member Cristina Garcia, the Cerritos College Board of Trustees, Downey Unified School District, Downey Chamber of Commerce, Downey Rose Float Association, and several of the surrounding cities.

Mayor Vasquez Lays out Goals for 2017

Shortly after being sworn in, new Mayor Fernando Vasquez gave his first mayoral address, using the opportunity to lay out a few ambitious goals for the coming year.

Vasquez quickly tackled public safety in his address. 

“Let me make one thing very clear here today: Downey is because of our local police and fire department, and we will continue to have our local police and fire department as long as I am mayor in the city,” said Vasquez. 

Vasquez announced several police and emergency response upgrades, including unveiling an intriguing “Smart 911” system, which residents will be able to sign up for within the next year. 

“You will be able to register who your healthcare plan is, who your local doctor is, what medications you are taking…,” said Vasquez. “When our local fire department is responding to the scene, the more information they have available to them allows us to be able to troubleshoot things more accurately…When we get to a scene we already know which hospital to transport a patient to as contracted with their healthcare insurance. It allows us also to be able to bill more accurately, and help respond more efficiently.”

Vasquez also spent a fair amount of time speaking on park improvements, including the addition of a futbal court to Furman Park. 

With the new court also comes potential new programming.

“Rather than having kids just running around chasing a soccer ball, we’re going to introduce them to soccer, and part of that is we’re also going to get them coached,” said Vasquez. “One of the neat things about this is its twofold. We’re going to reach out to all the local high schools – public and private – in the community…what we’re going to do is get local students and local soccer players who want to get a coaching license, class F which is the introduction level... You have local students, local high schools public and private that are going to get their coaching license, then get the opportunity to implement that with the local fourth and fifth graders.”

The ambitious eight-week program will also include a skill assessment, with standout players being linked to a professional soccer academy. 

Vasquez also spent time speaking on the Ride and Stride event, which he plans to expand with a health care component.