When communities rally behind education, everyone wins

By Beatriz Gutierrez

When it comes to education there are a multitude of factors at play in delivering a quality educational experience to our children. As the new Executive Director of the Soleil Academy Charter School in Lynwood, I know community support of our students is paramount to their academic success.

Our kids are challenged with external forces more than ever before including family matters, peer and social issues, technology usage and personal development taking their focus away from their studies.

Therefore, it is important for students to have a support mechanism to steer them back onto the pathway to graduation and a fulfilling academic career.

Communities that value education help establish safer neighborhoods and are better informed and better-connected as citizens. High performing schools also add value to area properties making the community more desirable to live-in, attracting new businesses and community members.

In fact, a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California indicates that California voters rank education as a top priority in this year’s governor’s race. This makes it clear that Californians have education as a top-of-mind issue.

To keep our promise of a better future to our kids, we must invest, in a personal manner, to help motivate their learning process – whether through volunteering at a local school, serving on a school committee or board, or donating in-kind services or supplies to a teacher or classroom – every little bit helps students in their efforts.

Our goal as teachers, administrators, family and community members should be to have every child graduate from high school - a 100 percent graduation rate. This is ambitious and not without its challenges. How we can support this goal is through daily actions that show kids what hard-work, diligence and determination can do to improve their lives.

As an educator with over 10-years of service in the classroom and as an administrator, I have chosen to engage students directly, so they can reach their full potential academically and in their personal goals.

As a former Lynwood Unified School District student myself, it always made me happy to see parents assisting the teaching staff and administrators in the classroom, volunteering at school functions and serving as mentors. As an administrator of a newly opened community public school, I encourage parents and members of the community to learn more about Soleil Academy and every other school in the area to see how you can become a driving force for positive change in a young person’s life.

As we rally together we can create bonds of support bringing knowledge to our students and making education a primary focus – creating a win-win for all.

Beatriz Gutierrez is an educator who attended the Lynwood Unified School District as a child and later was accepted to become a Corps Member with Teach for America and a Fellow with Building Excellent Schools. She currently serves as the executive director of the Soleil Academy Charter, a public school open to all students.
 

Letter to the Editor: No to Frine Medrano

Dear Editor: 

As we approach the June 5 primary election, here are some things for my neighbors in Downey and District 58 to consider:

If you support the recent gas tax /price increases, then you should vote for Frine Medrano.

If you support the recent car tab/registration fee increases, then you should vote for Frine Medrano.

If you support the early release of criminals back into our neighborhoods, then you should vote for Frine Medrano.

If you support more homeless camps and homeless people wandering our streets, then you should vote for Frine Medrano.

If you support more increases in our income taxes, then you should vote for Frine Medrano.

If you support the elimination of Proposition 13 (the only thing keeping our property tax rate somewhat reasonable), then you should vote for Frine Medrano.

If you support more government control of your life, then you should vote for Frine Medrano.

If you support our tax dollars, intended for road repairs, diverted to other projects (bullet train), then you should vote for Frine Medrano.

If you support the values of former Senator Tony Mendoza, then you should vote for Frine Medrano.

This is the second time that Ms. Medrano has run for a political position in the last couple of years. In a recent Downey Patriot article dated April 19, 2018, Ms. Medrano implies Councilman Rick Rodriguez only won the 2016 City Council election because Downey’s Third District is a “conservative” district.  Whether the Third District is, or isn’t, a conservative district isn’t the reason that Mr. Rodriguez won the election. 

Mayor Pro Tem Rodriguez won the election because he was a good candidate, he knows and cares about Downey and offered common sense, effective solutions to the concerns we face in this city.  And thankfully Mr. Rodriguez was elected because he has turned out to be an outstanding councilman. 

I live in the neighboring city district, District 2, but every time I call Mr. Rodriquez, he answers the phone and does his best to address any concern that I bring to him.

Yes, Ms. Medrano, as a resident of Downey, I would say that not only have you lost touch with District 3, I would say that you’ve lost touch with the entire city of Downey, having spent several years in Sacramento working for a representative from a different district. 

Ron Boren
Downey

Letter to the Editor: Problems in Downey

Dear Editor:

The traffic on Florence and Haledon is terrible between the hours of 7:30 am until about 8:30 am. People are so inconsiderate that they do not allow traffic to go onto Florence from Haledon. The gridlock is awful.

Maybe the city should consider a "Keep Clear" on this intersection since no one can get by on these hours of the morning. It apparently works on Florence and Arrington.

Also, the traffic on Lakewood and Gallatin is terrible in the later hours of the day. People continue to make a left turn into the driveway into the Ralph's market, which is illegal. The people going into McDonald's also cut across the double double lines making a left just because they don't want to wait.

We need a solution to this problem. Maybe a police officer issuing tickets, or just a cement divider like you have put everywhere else. 

The landscaping on Lakewood Blvd between Florence and Mueller is out of control. The residents who own those homes do not realize that their bushes are hanging over to the sidewalk. Some residents have their fences falling down which is dangerous since people walk through that street. Maybe code enforcement should notify these residents so they can resolve the issues. 

We attend the gym at the Downey Landing, LA Fitness, and behind Pier 1 Import there is a water valve that has been leaking for over a month. Someone needs to correct that problem, since there is still a water storage.

M. Contreras
Downey

Letter to the Editor: Airing of grievances

Dear Editor: 

Two things that are very disturbing: 

The news media’s sensationalism of cutting into my regular programming to show car chases is very irritating and should not be allowed. 

And I will not vote for any politician who fills my voicemail with their ads. This is very rude. 

Lee Woodfin
Downey

 

Letter to the Editor: No to Tony Mendoza

Dear Editor:

Once again this is the time when we begin receiving the onslaught of political flyers and robocall phone messages seeking our support for candidates running for office. This week, I received many of those flyers, one of which was from Tony Mendoza for State Senate.

Many of us in the public are aware that Mr. Mendoza recently resigned his seat while under investigation for sexual harassment, prior to the conclusion of the investigation -- an interesting move for someone who vociferously proclaimed his innocence.

His resignation was soon followed by a leave of absence from our Assemblymember, Cristina Garcia, who is also facing similar charges. This left residents like me with no elected representation in Sacramento.

Mr. Mendoza’s flyer asks that I “re-elect” him. Well, he is not my senator; right now I have no senator, and I choose not to vote for him.

I have been a Democrat since I first voted in 1970 but I would rather vote for a Republican than see him return to office. I truly hope that voters in in 32nd Senate District will elect a candidate that won’t embarrass and abandon us.

Bruce McDaniel
Downey

Letter to the Editor: City Council's inaction

Dear Editor: 

When I spoke April 24 at the Downey City Council meeting to urge the council to speak up and oppose Kaiser Permanente's plans to eliminate 61 jobs in Downey, I expected the council to support us. 

Instead, no councilmember said anything. In fact, I didn't know how any of them felt until reading Councilmember Fernando Vasquez's quote in the paper ("Healthcare Workers Bring Kaiser Protest to City Hall," 4/26/18) when he described the layoffs as "a private matter" that he "hoped both parties could work it out."

Talk about a failure of leadership. There's all kinds of things the City Council can do to protect these jobs. They can speak out, they can hold hearings and they can pass a resolution putting the city on record against outsourcing.

The City Council claims it wants to attract jobs to the city but then acts like there's nothing they can do when jobs are threatened. It doesn't make sense.

Gabriel Montoya
Downey

 

Letter to the Editor: Ugly development in Downey

Dear Editor:

I, too, share frustration with the City of Downey's (lack of) planning. Everywhere I go, I can point to "developments" and "projects", both large and small, which have at least one essential flaw.

In many cases, the developments either fail to create opportunities, or actually "develop" Downey in the wrong direction. Here are several examples:

The KB development on Paramount. This an eyesore in the making. It is stylistically bleak, intrudes on the sidewalk, has no greenspace, and creates traffic, water, school, and other demands on city services and infrastructure. How could it have been done better? Well, it could have been required to have a reasonable setback so that a "green screen" could be planted to help protect the owners from noise and pollution from Paramount Boulevard and cool down the dwellings so that the residents don't need to use so much electricity, and it could have included more amenities such as a playground and a walkway and common space, but thinking outside of the box: A 117-townhome development - which could mean as many as 500 residents - should be a candidate for mixed-use planning.

What would be so terrible about making space for a coffee shop, a small restaurant, convenience store, and a community garden and greenspace for the residents? Yes, it would have reduced the amount of money that KB could have sold as residences, but it would also have reduced the number of cars being driven to and from the complex for those "quick trips" which are - inconveniently- out of walking distance for the residents, and it would have reduced the amount of traffic on Paramount. 

By the way, doesn't Downey have a traffic mitigation plan? If it does, I fail to see it in action. Anywhere. Also, not having driven through the complex, I don't know whether there is space set aside for guest parking, but all well-planned complexes have spaces for guest parking, and this is especially important in Downey, where parking is such a problem. 

The "Village Walk" development. Yes, this is prettier than the horror on Paramount, its sidewalks and landscaping invite a few walks, but I don't see any provision whatsoever for guest parking. Did the development company and the City of Downey imagine that people living here have no friends or family who might, on occasion, like to visit? There should be at least 10% extra parking spaces. 

The recently developed retail space. The city's financial reports find that city revenues are highly concentrated in retail and services. But economic projections indicate that retail space is overbuilt, and malls across the region are hollowing out as big-box stores like Sears and Macy's implode. It looks as if Downey is committed to following a downward trend.

I know that Downey did try to diversify this space by wooing Tesla Motors (it may be a blessing in disguise that we didn't become one of their locations) but the question still remains: How can we develop Downey in a more balanced fashion, one which doesn't depend on retail and "development" to generate revenues?

Well, some cities have large entertainment complexes, others have microbreweries or hot sauces. In our case, we have the historic NASA facilities. It's great that we have a museum about those efforts, but what about something forward-looking? The site includes the old office buildings- has anyone thought of developing this into a nascent community college? 

The "pedestrian-friendly" lights along Lakewood Boulevard. I know it was the fashion to install lights over sidewalks, and not just for streets, but has anyone looked at the miles and miles of Lakewood Boulevard where this lighting was installed? Nobody walks there. There is no place to walk from, or to. It was a waste of money and effort.

"Bike routes" with no bike lanes.

The continued destruction of historic homes, and the allowance of oversized McMansions on split lots, which morph the character of our neighborhoods from family-friendly homes to statements of wealth. If Downey were on a mission to crush any charm that the city might have had out of existence, they're doing a fine job. Ultimately, the less desirable a city, the lower the property values. 

And finally, the lack of parks - noted by a recent LA County study - which deserves a whole letter of its own. 

What these examples point to is a lack of overall vision for our city. There doesn't seem to be any recognition that the city, its residents, and finances, will still be living thirty years hence with the consequences of decisions made today.

Frankly, I don't know what's driving these haphazard decisions. Is it the pressure of coming up with a balanced City budget each year? Are these developments shining bright dollar signs into the eyes of the planners and City Council? Is the city too financially strapped to avail themselves of a good city architect, and too insular to consult with urban planners who will take traffic mitigation, urban heat, economic forecasts, population growth, and other long-term factors into account? 

I may be wrong, but I'm sensing a growing frustration with the traffic, ugliness, and irritations that the City of Downey increasingly presents to its residents. In the meantime, you might find this TED Talk amusing, but please be aware that it includes some profanities. 

Joan Niertit
Downey

Letter to the Editor: Thank you, Downey

Dear Editor: 

I read all the political stories in the Opinion section, the angry resident complaining about someone else, the "they should do this" stories people write, but I wanted to take a moment and thank the City of Downey. 

I was born in Downey over 50 years ago, grew up in one house on Guatemala Avenue, next to the riverbed where me and my brothers would ride mini-bikes, catch snakes, catfish, pollywogs, you name it. I attended Maude Price, Griffiths and graduated in '86 from Warren High. 

I bought my first house in Downey and both of my children were born there as well. I got to experience Downey as my hometown. A great place to grow up, to learn, to experience community and a city that had it all for me growing up. 

All of my neighbors were (and still are) great people. They were our friends and could be counted on day in and day out. All of my teachers were wonderful educators; Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Reagle, Mrs. Drawbond, Mrs. Miles, Mrs. Sullivan, Mr. Soulter, Mrs. Huey, Principal Cosgrove, Mrs. Morris, Ms. Lavornia, Coach Cunningham, and on and on into high school, with my favorite being Mrs. Lords. Wonderful people that took the time to educate, guide and shape the lives of the young people coming through their classes.

Business owners from Russell's Bike Shop where I got my first bike, A's BBQ at Florence and Paramount, Pina Pizza, Beyrooty's Burger Bar, Marmac's, John Riley's Swimming Pool / Dive Shop where I learned to swim, Downey Archery Lanes where I spent countless hours racing my slot car, Dr. St. George who kept my teeth straight, all were/are outstanding to deal with and treated me with kindness and respect. 

The parks were great as well. I spent a lot of time at Furman Park with friends and family. At Treasure Island Park playing on the ship and at Wilderness Park with the museum and live bee hive in the wall.

Due to work and life itself, I no longer live in Downey but still follow the happenings and consider it my hometown. Wonderful memories of people and places that shaped my life in a positive way, and for that Downey, I thank you.

Troy Henshaw
Orange County

 

Letter to the Editor: Ways to improve the Promenade

Dear Editor: 

I like the idea of the Downey Promenade, but I take issue with its design. As Lawrence Christon pointed out, it is an eyesore and does not belong in Downey. It does not even meet the definition of what the word promenade means: a paved public walk, typically one along a waterfront at a resort.

This could still be fixed before it is too late.

What the planners should have envisioned was something maybe like Downtown Disney, or even the Irvine Spectrum. In both of these cases, you get out of your car and have to walk to your destinations. While you are walking, you have the opportunity to see performances, window shop, get ice cream and maybe coffee, sit on benches, meet up with friends before going to dine. It is a much more aesthetically pleasing environment than the sprawling shopping center we have today.

Another Idea that could still be implemented is to look at another project from Irvine, that is also used in San Jose. In Irvine, it is across the street from the Spectrum, called Irvine Village, in San Jose it is called Santa Ana Row. This is a mixed-use area, the ground floors are shopping, restaurants, bars, the upper floors are luxury apartment homes and condos.

The main point to both of these examples is that the shopping experience is combined with a feeling of getting out to meet people, and walk around, not pull into one parking spot, then get back in my car to go to another store, then do the same again, and that is what our current "promenade" is.

There is still time to fix this, there is still empty space along Bellflower Boulevard to create a parking structure, and start to tear out the current parking lots to build in Promenades, so that people park once and then walk around.

The mixed-use examples can also be built on those parking lots too, and that would help with housing issues in Downey, as well as making a nice place to shop and live.

Let us stop using viable spaces in Downey to build more urban sprawl, instead let us think ahead and build nice things that draw people outside of Downey to us to spend their money. We are circled by all the major freeway systems, that makes Downey a fantastic place to live and work, just stop building ugly projects.

Chris Angulo-Bertram
Downey

Letter to the Editor: Elected vs. appointed

Dear Editor:

A History and Government teacher for most of her career, my wife taught some very important lessons to thousands of students, including me, that are pertinent to recent articles in this newspaper.  

In the city of Downey, City Council members are elected. Planning commissioners are appointed, and serve at the pleasure of the elected official. When the elected official chooses to appoint another commissioner, the former appointed commissioner thanks the elected official for the opportunity to serve.  

If an appointed official wants to have a stronger voice, that person has the choice to run for office and become an elected official.  It is just as simple as that.

Hal Nelson
Downey

 

Where there's smoke, there's only more smoke

I’m sure I’m not alone in trying to figure out just what former planning commissioner Jim Rodriguez was trying to get at in his two lengthy, tortured and virtually impenetrable letters that ran in the Patriot March 19th and 20th.


Basically it seems that, in his view, he was booted off the commission after six years of service because other commissioners and city staff didn’t want to hear any more from him about “greater transparency and engagement” with the people of Downey, which he claims he was urging and they were resisting.     


Except for one reference, Rodriguez doesn’t offer any more transparency and engagement himself about what he thinks we should know. Nor does councilman Alex Saab, who appointed Rodriguez, then dismissed him, and then complained in yet another letter to the editor about Rodriguez’ attacks on his credibility and character, which Rodriguez didn’t do in those letters. Unless he did them verbally, behind the scenes. Without public transparency and engagement.


A beef like this is fairly normal in city politics, and it’s normal too for the principals to want to keep it as private as they can, if only to maintain the decorum of leadership (and avoid a lawsuit). But you have to wonder if there’s smoke here, beyond the clunky language of bureaucratese.


Is Rodriguez an obnoxious figure, difficult to deal with (he and I have never spoken or met)? Does he have thwarted political ambitions? Has the planning commission, as he implies, cut itself off from public review and accountability? In a city whose civic leaders continually trumpet the interests of business, has the commission unquestioningly adopted those interests without examining how they affect the larger life of the city?  They are, after all, supposed to be planners.


If Rodriguez himself had been specific on the issues he challenged, we’d all have a clearer picture of what’s going on with the commission, and of course Downey’s future. He did specify one, however: the KB townhouse complex billed as Centerpointe.

 The new Centerpointe housing development in Downey.

The new Centerpointe housing development in Downey.


For anyone unfamiliar with that residential development, it’s the largest of its kind in Downey and stretches from 5th to 7th on the east side of Paramount and across Parrot Street. KB’s street signage advertises those new homes at $500,000, which is about standard in a hot real estate market whose value rose 8.1% in 2017 alone. (KB’s website indicates purchase prices beginning at $602,472.) 


The overall look of the site, however, suggests the depressing monotony of a low-income housing project. Far from complete, it’s already an eyesore. The boxy townhouses resemble massive cargo crates. There are few design amenities, like balconies, trees, fountains, sculpture, benches, interior walkways winding through rolling lawns, any kind of sizable greenspace. Except for a small “tot lot” still under construction, there’s no place for kids to play. The Paramount Boulevard frontage takes up so much space that two people would have trouble passing each other on the sidewalk. The three-story height suggests, at least by code, multiple family dwelling, which promises overcrowding. 


In short, it’s a slum waiting to happen.


And no one has even mentioned the health hazards of living next to one of the busiest traffic avenues in Downey, which is located in one of the most air-polluted regions in Southern California, hemmed in by four freeways, three of which carry over 20,000 cars and trucks a day, according to a recent Los Angeles Times report, and lies directly under the incoming flight path of LAX, the second-largest airport in the country.


The city can’t do anything about its location, but it can consider this:


Traffic and aircraft noise, gasoline and diesel emissions, congestion and other stresses of urban life have been the subject of numerous international studies that have shown them to cause heart and pulmonary disorders, sleep disorders, shortened life spans, higher rates of premature birth and fetal impairment, anxiety, neurological disorders, higher rates of autism and cognitive decline.


I seriously doubt the City of Downey pays any attention to these reports. Its lengthy and detailed study, called “2014-2021 Housing Element” limits its environmental topics to seismic events, fires and floods.


As a footnote to all this, I asked Roger Brossmer, when he was still a councilman, if the city and planning commission ever took into account those urban studies on the physical and psychological effects of noise and pollution. “No,” he replied. “We never knew about them.”


Subsequently, I’ve reported on them in the Patriot and in an appearance before the city council. I could tell by their blank stares that this issue was dead on arrival. There’s no evidence or official comment since that suggests any current city official even thinks of them.


Jim Rodriguez apparently hasn’t considered them either. What he has done, according to his March 20 account, was question whether the planning commission hadn’t rushed the KB plan through as it was presented and approved by, as he quotes, “…an outside professional and renowned architectural firm, in addition to staff reviews.” Rodriguez writes, “A few relatively straightforward changes to the KB development plan could have made a significant difference, including greater setbacks and more defined architecture and design…We were stopped in our tracks…”


The initials KB represent Kaufman & Broad, one of the largest real estate developers in the country. Eli Broad has been one of the wealthiest Los Angeles figures of the past fifty years, active in philanthropy, politics and culture. Is it unreasonable to wonder how much power KB can exert on a small city like Downey?


One housing development doesn’t make or break a city of over 113,000 people. But it’s symptomatic of the well-intended but often spasmodic and short-sighted choices the city has been making over the past ten years or so, as it lurches toward its future. 


Another installment will follow this one next week.

Letter to the Editor: Faith in Christ

Dear Editor: 

Re: “People in Glass Churches Shouldn’t Throw Stones,” Letters to the Editor, 3/22/18

First, let me just state that I think there are people who just simply like to stir the pot, get people fired up and then sit back and watch it stew or blow up. I think that was what his intention was when Roy Anthony Shabla wrote that letter. Covering all these multiple issues. The facts are skewed, twisted, or have no truth to them. Or maybe it's just a lack of education. 

The United States of America was founded by Christ-believing men, mostly Protestant. We now have many religions here but most of us believe in God. We have come a long way since the founding of our country, and we still have a lot further to go. 

I don't want my taxpayer dollars paying for people’s gender changes. That's just something I think is a personal choice, an elective, not a necessity to survive. The expense should be covered by the individual. And as long as we are on that subject, let them wait until they're grown to make a choice like that. 

And child marriage and pedophilia..how is that moot? I don't even know what religion promotes that, that's just bogus.

On the subject of abortion being in the Old Testament portion in Numbers 5 of the Bible, the key there is Old Testament: Old teaching, prior to Jesus Christ, so not New Testament, new teaching. 

Christian terrorist groups? I went to the FBI's website to check and other than the KKK, which is an extremist group and not mainstream Christian, most of those groups appear to be other than Christian. There are always going to be extremists/eccentric in any religious group but they are not the norm or mainstream.

To make a blanket statement like the Christian God is not a God of love or charity? Our God "is" love. We were created in His image, man, then woman from man. And that is how we reproduce by one man and one woman, otherwise we would not be here.

Because God is love, it is through faith in Him that we are saved by grace, and He shows us mercy and charity daily by not taking us all out in one fell swoop like I know He is able to. But if He does,  I know where I am going. 

I follow Jesus Christ, I am a Christian. Like my parents and grandparents were as many generations before me.

Patricia Waters
Downey

 

Letter to the Editor: Councilman responds to former planning commissioner's comments

Dear Editor: 

Recent comments by former Planning Commissioner Jim Rodriguez against my character and against the staff of the City of Downey are very disappointing.  As I explained to Jim Rodriguez, no elected official or Planning Commissioner owns the seat in which he or she was entrusted to sit. 

When elected, I vowed to always do what is best for the citizens of Downey and will continue to do so at any costs, even if it means being attacked unfairly. I personally told him on numerous occasions, in no unequivocal terms, that my exact reason for asking him to step down after 6 years was simply to allow another good citizen of Downey to have the opportunity to serve our fine city. This is not uncommon and is, in fact, healthy to avoid nepotism and complacency. 

Unfortunately, in response, Jim Rodriguez has chosen to attack my credibility and character by disparaging me and allowing others around him to do so. I will not stoop to the level of attacking an individual in response because the citizens of Downey deserve better and it does not set a good example for my three young children and those in our community. Rather, I will follow the advice recently said which is “when they go low, we go high.” 

I would like to thank Mr. Jim Rodriguez for serving on the Planning Commission. I would also like to thank all the other Commissioners, as well as our City Hall staff, who work hard for our residents. The evidence speaks for itself; Downey has seen unprecedented growth with a balanced budget five years in a row, a healthy reserve with a new policy to ensure future safeguards, a robust local economy, an increase from a strong “A” rating to an excellent “AA” bond rating and we have received the prestigious GFOA Budget Award for four consecutive years for our transparency and efficiency in local government. 

Are we perfect? We are not. However, pouting and demeaning others, when clearly we are all collectively making efforts to improve our City, is counterproductive and contrary to our commitment to being a “Character Counts” community.

If, as Jim Rodriguez says, I am too “nice” and respectful of others, then I am guilty as charged.  I will continue to treat others with respect and work diligently for our residents as we move our City forward.  
 
Alex Saab
Downey City Council Member

 

A look into Downey’s (not so independent) independent Planning Commission

By Jim Rodriguez

An independent planning commission is essential for a balance of power between people and government. This entity represents a semi-judicial body, responsible for decisions on many complex land issues. Each of the five councilpersons selects one planning commissioner (PC) to act as a voice and final check on the cities’ process of developing and improving land use.

I have had the honor to sit as a commissioner for the last six years for Councilman Alex Saab’s district 5. In my experience, having five Downey citizens' input is critical to establish an “of the people” balance.   

This kind of citizen input can make the oversight process cumbersome. Although decisions by experienced staff and officials can be made more efficiently, without this outside input, the necessary checks and balances would be sacrificed.  Loss of independence leads to the five-person planning commission acting simply as a rubber stamp without thoughtful scrutiny of the requests brought before them, compromising citizen input. 

The learning curve for an effective planning commission is steep. Fortunately, California offers an annual Planning Commissioner Academy, typically attended by thousands. The academy teaches and encourages planning commissioners to maintain their independence, ask tough questions, challenge staff, think critically, and commit to a thorough review of projects to uncover solutions through compromise with applicants and city staff.

There is strong pressure to go along with staff’s recommendation without counterbalancing it with your own independent review, study, and thought. By resisting this pressure, cities can reap the benefit of improved development, staff motivation, and quality of work. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this goal is shared by our city staff. 

Our city has encountered both challenge and success. We have seen inspiring new developments, as well as improved standards, including better radius ingress and egress curbing, improved business signage, and a more vibrant downtown reflective of conservative values put toward progressive ends. (ie., no to go-go dancers and marijuana, and increased hookah lounge restrictions).  

The KB Homes townhouse development is a valuable housing opportunity for our city. However, it has also been a great example of an opportunity sold short. Considering the vastness of the development, I requested an early study session. The written petition was denied. Per the city’s response: “...the design, elevations, and site plan has been peer-reviewed by an outside professional and renowned architectural firm, in addition to staff reviews. Thus a study session wouldn’t be required.” 

A few relatively straightforward changes to the KB development could have made a significant difference, including greater setbacks and more defined architecture and design (patios, balconies, greater articulation, etc.). The planning commission vote was close, 3-2, with myself and Pat Owens voting for additional improvements and changes.

But who were we to even dare ask for a study session, when the project had already received a thumbs up from a “professional and renowned architectural firm” as well as the many “staff reviews”?  We were stopped in our tracks…and so, too, our community.  

During the first four years of my six-year tenure, we were unable to make significant progress toward increased citizen awareness and engagement. But the last two years have been different; Pat Owens and, later, Dr. Steven Dominguez (selected by councilmen Sean Ashton and Rick Rodriguez), two courageous voices and independent thinkers, undeterred by outside influence, were added. With these two commissioner appointments, progress began to accelerate.

However, they, too, have been hindered. When first coming on board, they promptly looked into attending the planning commission academy as a means of readying themselves for the prodigious task before them. Although they made no request for transportation or hotel costs, the seminar entry fee request was denied. Only after appealing to the city council was the request granted. When asked if they could pay for their own city logo shirt and obtain business cards, they were also denied.

As an academy attendee, I was embarrassed for them -- they could not even share their business cards with others. To not even allow a planning commissioner to have a business card seems very petty and oppressive to me.     

In the beginning of last year, many of you might remember when the planning commission was presented with the Marriot Springfield Hotel project. During our discussion period, the then mayor, Fernando Vazquez, was visibly frustrated with the commission’s questions and analysis. He later even came out publicly to share his frustration with our process, calling it grueling and nitpicking.

This, I believe, is a form of undue influence, to attempt to reduce the commission’s independence by exerting pressure for passivity. That kind of public display of frustration during the hearing, by a legislative body, who potentially will have a decision making say, borders on violations of its own. 

Still, the sentinel efforts continued with this now more educated and inspired group. Among recent efforts, a stand against the increased use of lot splits was taken. Both initiatives were denied by the commission. 

The commission also worked diligently toward the goal of increasing citizen awareness and engagement. Last year, as chairman, I was able to get citizen awareness on the agenda. After a 10-month battle, to illustrate the challenge of even securing the opportunity to discuss this in an open hearing, I was called into a private meeting and scolded for asking the City Attorney to clarify if the chairman has the right to place an item on the agenda. The response called for staff and the chairman to come to a consensus, yet we were unclear on the next steps should this consensus be challenged or unachieved altogether.

Arising from this frustration, I was called into a meeting with my councilman, Alex Saab, the city attorney, and the director of community development. In no uncertain terms, I was told to extinguish my pursuit.  

The commission finally had the open-meeting discussion on Oct. 4, 2017. During the two-hour exchange, the commission unanimously directed the staff (and they agreed) to post the following four items on Facebook for community discussion and return to the commission in 6-9 weeks for possible action.
 
The topics items were:

1. Increase resident-notification radius from 500’ to 1000’.
2. Place advertisement in the Downey Patriot for bigger projects. 
3. Provide billboard-style notification and information on future project sites. 
4. Provide an interactive Facebook page where citizen comments could be legally included in the formal public hearing. 

No posting was ever made by staff. To our collective dismay, the commission’s efforts were once again stifled. No posting and no call to the chairman as to why. Four months later, we were asked to approve minutes that stated a completely different set of events than actually occurred.

Instead of the clear direction and acceptance to post the four items on Facebook for community discussion over 6-9 weeks with return to the Planning Commission, the minutes presented to us for approval (moved to the 3/7/18 meeting) stated that staff was to “consider options” (video available on-line).

Shortly thereafter, my councilman, Alex Saab, notified me that he felt it would be best to “give another person an opportunity to serve” my remaining two years -- a move rarely, if ever, done, especially mid-term. In my opinion, the new commission’s majority was getting dangerously close to making effective changes. 

I’m sure an appropriate selection will be made to get the city back to its standard business practices and token planning commission oversight, without the "unnecessary" distraction of my and others desire to have meaningful community awareness and engagement. A step backward. A loss for our city. A move toward mediocrity and status quo. 

A group of civic-minded citizens committing countless hours to make the city better should not be met with such resistance. 

It has been an honor to serve on the Planning Commission and dutifully stand for what is right and best for our community. My goals included maintaining ethics, honesty, and action orientation, regardless of personal time, cost, and outside pressures.

I hope these comments will be met with positive change, rather than continued obstruction and inaction. As a community, we need to work together, with true transparency, to achieve goals of excellence. 

I continue to love Downey. Anyone who knows me, knows my dedication and passion to our city. I write this not to sow discord, but rather to inspire engagement for those who follow with the open, ongoing citizen support this wonderful city has always afforded. 
 

Letter to the Editor: Planning commissioner responds to removal

Dear Editor:

I’ve been asked to address Councilman Alex Saab’s choice to make a change in the planning commission, mid term, in order to give others an opportunity to serve. I intend to do this with two letters. This being the first, simply sharing my beliefs about the motives. The second being more descriptive. 

I want to be clear. I don’t have a problem with leaving the commission, and I’m not lobbying to keep that position. I understand that I serve at the pleasure of the council. I have a problem with what’s going on in the city, and my councilmen not supporting our efforts of transparency, but condoning the city staff’s repression of citizen awareness and engagement.

Why would the city try and stop this effort? I believe that if our efforts were successful,  they feel it might become too disruptive to their process. It’s true that greater community involvement might take more time and effort. Democracy is not always the most efficient, but it’s critical for an effective democracy. 

Anyone who knows Alex, knows he’s a very nice person and I consider him a friend. I believe that, although he has remained mostly silent and unsupportive of our efforts toward an independent planning commission and a more aware and engaged community, his heart and intentions are in the right place. The challenges and pressures of city politics can be overwhelming. The signs are there. From the awkward attempts to prevent Sean Ashton’s mayoral bid, to not supporting the efforts of the commission for increased community awareness and involvement. This pressure is especially difficult for someone like Alex, who wants to do the right thing and remain nice.

I believe those pressures and struggles may have taken its toll on him. I feel for him, knowing that he began his term with the goals of high levels of passion for transparency and community engagement.  He has done, and will continue to do, great things for the community.

In this instance, however, I believe he has fallen short. And that’s ok. We all do. It’s a difficult and thankless job. It’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen to stay away from the political city council arena. 

Power, politics, ethics, friends. Nothing new here. It’s human nature. As old as time. We all know that. (Et tu, Brute?)

Hopefully we can all grow in wisdom and come away from this with more wisdom while maintaining love and respect for each other knowing that we are just human. We need to move forward and keep all of this in perspective by knowing what’s really important, especially today, Sunday,  and this season. That although we all at times fall short, me included, and we all have our own weaknesses and strengths, that our true strength comes from God and His sacrifice and His gift of forgiveness through grace.  

I feel compelled to share these feelings. Remaining silent would only serve to condone and make me complicit. I don’t meet the status quo, rubber stamp mold that I believe they want. I believe we are here to do our best, and to pursue truth, transparency and accountability even when faced with challenging circumstances.

Jim Rodriguez
Downey

Letter to the Editor: People in glass churches shouldn't throw stones

Dear Editor:
 
It is important to remember that America is not a Christian nation and is not governed by Christian values.  Attempts by Christians to legislate their beliefs have resulted in lawsuits costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars.Christianity is neither a fiscally responsible nor sustainable lifestyle choice.
 
The Christian god promoted malignant philosophies to which his followers adhere and recent studies have shown that the greatest terrorist threat in America is Christianity.  Many Christian organizations remain on National Security watch lists.  And more are being added.
 
Christians themselves seem intent on removing equal rights legislation which was hard-won throughout the twentieth century.Blacks, women, and homosexuals continue to struggle because of long-held Christian values.The ridiculous blockage of transgender rights is a great drain on America.
 
The fine line between child marriage and pedophilia is moot in the Christian world:both practices remain strong in the church even to its highest leaders.The fish stinks from the head down.
 
And abortion: How many anti-abortion, Christian, Republican congressmen are found forcing their mistresses to have an abortion?  (The same question can be asked of anti-gay, Christian, Republican congressmen found with male prostitutes or underage boys and drugs.)
 
People in glass churches should not throw stones.
 
What Christians seem to miss in their study of the Bible is that their god supported and prescribed abortions.   Several passages of the Bible, most notably Numbers 5 which contains a recipe to cause an abortion, are easily overlooked by Christians. So are the “judge not lest ye be judged” passages.
 
The Downey Patriot’s Letters to the Editor regarding an abortion clinic in our city are as self-righteous and lacking compassion as Christian issues in the national news. The last letter is devoid of empathy while relishing the number of family members of the clinic’s owner, his extended family, friends, and crew members who died in a plane crash on the way to a vacation. The Christian god is not a god of love or charity.
 
If, as Carl Vesper suggests, Downey needs to recognize and rid itself of the evil among us, let it begin with the churches.
 
Roy Anthony Shabla
Downey

 

Letter to the Editor: Assault rifles

Dear Editor:

In an attempt to help us understand the term “assault rifle,” a recent (3/15/2018) letter to the editor points us to the dictionary’s definition for “assault.” This carries an unfortunate consequence. Any rifle used in an assault becomes an assault rifle.

Using this logic, the Winchester 1873 lever action rifle – the one that “won the West” – is an assault rifle. By some accounts, the Sioux used it rather effectively in their assault on General Custard, whose forces, unfortunately, did not have it at their disposal. Does this or other instances of this venerable rifle’s use in “Wild West” assaults land it on assault weapons lists? Nope.

Curiously, the M1 Garand, which won many a battle for American soldiers – presumably involving an assault or two – during World War II does not qualify it for the “ban it now!” list either. Never mind the M1 Garand’s round packs a bigger punch than the much-maligned AR-15’s. (Note: “AR” stands for “ArmaLite,” not “Assault Rifle.”)

We could go on. We could itemize the numerous instances of modern semi-automatic rifles, of the “ranch, farm, and hunting” varieties, that do not make the “ban it now!” list. Many of these shoot the same exact bullet an AR-15 (or name your offending rifle) shoots, at more or less the same fire rate.

To further see the nonsense in the “assault rifle” definition, look no further than the incoherent, uninformed convolutions California law has dreamed up to rid us of the purported menace. Instead of getting rid of the AR-15 altogether, lawmakers have lavished us with a host of hoop-jumping “features” we must avoid. These include a pistol grip, a flash hider, a telescoping (or collapsing) stock, and a forward vertical grip. You modify your AR-15 to avoid or disable these, and you are legal – even if the resulting concoction packs the same firepower. Get a tiny detail wrong, and you become a felon, which then strips you of your Second Amendment rights. It almost sounds like a trap for the law-abiding, rather than the criminal who by definition will little care to comply.

The ten round magazine limit, applying to both pistols and rifles, further demonstrates the incoherence. Law-abiding citizens can no longer purchase these “high capacity” magazines, putting their safety at risk should they come face to face with an armed criminal who bypasses the limitation. But if that doesn’t convince you enough, did you know that the Parkland, Florida shooter used ten round magazines with his AR-15? Why? Because they fit better in his duffel bag. Perhaps we should ban those too (and the bag, while we’re at it).

Which brings us to the final logical consequence. If you truly want to ban “assault rifles” you will need to ban all rifles. If so, please do not waste your time and ours by nibbling at the edges. Pass Go, don’t collect $200, and proceed directly to a constitutional amendment.

On the other hand, if we truly want to solve the tragic mass shooting phenomenon, we would be well advised to use an engineering maxim. Look for root cause. Look hard, and never, ever confuse or conflate symptoms with the disease.

Eduardo Suastegui
Downey