City Council orders 2014 election for charter amendment

Downey voters will decide June 3, 2014 whether it wants to change the city charter and give the city council the authority to disband Downey's police and fire departments and potentially contract with L.A. County. Council members ordered the vote Tuesday after the Downey Firemen's Association collected more than 12,000 petition signatures earlier this year, forcing the election.

The election will cost about $136,000, officials said.

According to city clerk Adria Jimenez, election code regulations stipulate that a charter amendment must be voted on "at an established statewide general, statewide primary or regularly scheduled municipal election date..."

The city has no regularly scheduled election this year.

Representatives of the Downey fire union initially urged the council to hold the election this November, when council members had considered holding a special election to raise the city's utility users tax. But that special election is not expected to happen, said city attorney Yvette Abich Garcia.

Meanwhile, fire union officials also asked the council to reconsider its decision not to commission a comprehensive study of contracting with the L.A. County Fire District.

"I work at Fire Station 3 at Paramount and Florence. There are Downey citizens in my fire district that live closer to L.A. County Fire Station 39 who will not get that engine or paramedic squad when their life depends on it," said Dan Rasmussen, a Downey fire captain. "Even more important, when there are multiple calls in my district, the next available first-in-Downey units are even further away.

"The regional approach gets the closest unit to your emergency, to you, in the fastest amount of time. Bottom line."

Mayor Mario Guerra, however, said contracting with L.A. County would mean fewer firefighters on active duty in Downey.

A city staff report also claimed that losing the Downey Fire Department could have negative effects on the local economy.

"While very difficult to quantify with statistical data, our existing business community, as well as perspective businesses and developers, place a significant value on our in-house public safety services," reads a report to the City Council prepared by Jimenez, community development director Brian Saeki and fire chief Lonnie Croom.

"Generally speaking, the business community appreciates the fact that there is local control and accountability, it produces quicker response times and if a business needs to deal with a public safety issue, it can be accomplished at City Hall."

The report adds that Saeki contacted local real estate professionals "who have all said that Downey's public safety services has helped to maintain higher than average median home values."