Mayor Mario Guerra spoke glowingly of Downey during his annual State of the City address Wednesday, spending much of the presentation highlighting his "Healthy Downey" initiative while also emphasizing the city's comparatively strong financial footing. Guerra, who has lost 54 pounds since becoming mayor in December, detailed the programs and initiatives underway designed to get Downey residents healthier, including "Walking Wednesdays" with the mayor and strategic partnerships with local healthcare and social service organizations.
In fact, everyone in attendance at Wednesday's address, held in a banquet hall at the Rio Hondo Event Center, received a free jump rope emblazoned with the "Healthy Downey" logo.
Regarding the city's finances, Guerra said property taxes are up 5% and sales taxes increased 9%. More than 8,000 jobs were added in Downey over the last four years, the mayor said.
Council members passed a $140 million balanced budget last year, Guerra pointed out, although the city laid off more than half a dozen workers and required other employees to take unpaid days off.
Guerra turned defensive when the topic turned to his upcoming delegation trip to Ireland, where he will represent Downey at a sister cities event. Council members Roger Brossmer and Luis Marquez voted against the trip due to its cost.
Guerra, a partner at a Woodland Hills based insurance brokerage, said he can afford to pay the approximate $1,100 airfare to Ireland but feels the city should cover the expenses "out of principal" because he will be on official duty as mayor.
Meanwhile, Guerra heaped heavy praise on Downey's locally-controlled police and fire departments. Despite recent reports of violent homicides at local bars and restaurants, statistics show that crime is on the decline here, Guerra said.
He called AB 109, the state's early release program for prisoners, "the biggest challenge we have as a region."
The Downey Fire Department is among "the most elite departments in California," the mayor said, but cautioned about a "lion's roar" that looms next year as residents prepare to head to the polls for a proposed charter amendment that would allow the city council to contract its police and fire services.
Guerra's presentation also highlighted many of the economic development projects that have contributed to Downey's economic success, including Porto's Bakery, the Downey Gateway food court, and local art groups.
A $4.5 million renovation of Firestone Boulevard, between Brookshire Avenue and Old River School Road, will get underway this year, and an overhauled Treasure Island Park opens in June, Guerra said.
The mayor hinted that changes could be coming to the Columbia Memorial Space Center, saying the center has been successful in educating young children but "it hasn't been successful in sustaining itself."
The luncheon was a fundraiser for the Downey Chamber of Commerce.