City Council to keep funding Stay Gallery

DOWNEY – On a 5-0 vote, the City Council on Tuesday agreed to pay the rent on a downtown art gallery for an additional three years. Located at 11140 Downey Ave., Stay Gallery is an art gallery and community space that regularly hosts art exhibits, poetry nights, yoga classes, live acoustic performances, and other events.

It is operated by the non-profit Downey Art Vibe and opened in 2012, after the council agreed it would subsidize its $2,000 monthly rent for two years to help the gallery get off its feet.

The rent is paid out of the city’s Art in Public Places fund, which is financed by developers as a way to increase public art.

The two years expired this month but Downey Art Vibe requested an additional three years of funding as the gallery struggled to become fiscally solvent after investing thousands of dollars in its infrastructure.

Valentin Flores, executive director of Downey Art Vibe, said it would take another 2-3 years before the gallery can begin to qualify for grants and endowments to fund its operations.

“We’re not economically sustainable, yet we’ve never been stronger,” said Flores.

“If we’re back in three years (asking for additional funding), I think there is a glitch in our operations,” he added.

Council members praised the gallery for hosting dozens of exhibits and drawing thousands of people to downtown. The gallery has also worked closely with the Downey Unified School District, introducing art programs for students of all ages at a time when arts funding is being slashed by the state.

“I see them as a cultural hub not only for downtown but the entire city,” said Councilman Roger Brossmer. “I think we have something very special there.”

“We all say we support the arts. I think this is one of those things where we put our money where out mouth is,” added Councilman Alex Saab. “I think they’re a big piece of the puzzle.”

Downey Art Vibe’s request for extended funding received support from several community leaders, including DUSD superintendent Dr. John Garcia, former mayor Kirk Cartozian and Andrew Wahlquist, head of the Downey Arts Coalition.

“[I] truly believe that the partnership between DUSD and Downey Art Vibe (Stay Gallery) has significantly contributed to our community,” Garcia wrote in a letter to council members. “I fully support the extended funding request of Stay Gallery and the continuing expansion of Downey Art Vibe.”

“How Stay Gallery has promoted and given a voice to local artists and performers is clear,” wrote Wahlquist in a letter of support. “Even while maintaining a high standard of quality, they have found and displayed artists from our immediate community who crave the opportunity to share their work. They have also been an important economic driver to the downtown area, setting the standard for a high-class well-designed space, and inspiring others to up their game in their businesses.”

Even journalist Lawrence Christon, an early critic of Stay Gallery, complimented the gallery’s work over the past two years.

“I was skeptical at first but changed my mind after seeing how hard they work,” Christon told the city council Tuesday. “The city should be proud to have a relationship with an arts organization. There is nothing wrong with that.”

Downey Art Vibe has close ties to the city, as it was hired last year to consult on a new branding effort titled “Discover Downey.”

In other action, the City Council:

•Rescheduled for Aug. 26 a public hearing involving the Wet Bar, located at 8832 Imperial Hwy.

The Wet Bar is appealing the Planning Commission’s denial of a live entertainment permit, which would have allowed it to host DJs, karaoke and mariachi bands, much to the dismay of local property owners.

Last May, dozens of residents protested the Wet Bar’s application for a live entertainment permit, complaining of loud noise and drunk, rowdy customers. Planning commissioners voted 3-2 against the permit.

•Approved a $60,000 contract with Tierra West Advisors for consulting services related to development projects, including The Promenade at Downey;

•Approved a three-year lease with Plaza De La Raza Child Development Services for two office suites located inside the Barbara J. Riley Community and Senior Center.

Plaza De La Raza has rented the office suites since 1991 on a month-to-month basis, offering Head Start preschool for low-income Downey children. Under the new lease agreement, Plaza De La Raza will pay Downey $2,363 per month (double its previous rent) for 2,626 sq. ft. of combined office space.

•Awarded a $204,000 contract to Sully-Miller Contract Company for street improvements on Muller Street, between Pangborn and Lesterford avenues.

•Approved plans for a walking trail at Apollo Park. The $300,000 project is being funded by a county grant and construction is expected to begin in October.

•Approved employment contracts with several bargaining units, including the Downey Public Safety Auxiliary Association (approximately 43 employees in non-sworn public safety roles such as code enforcement and dispatchers), the Downey City Employees’ Association – Maintenance Unit (about 47 employees assigned to maintenance, utilities and transit operations), and the Downey City Employees’ Association – Miscellaneous Unit (approximately 70 full-time workers that perform administrative, technical, supervisory and professional duties).

The new contracts include 2 percent across-the-board pay raises.

•Approved nominal pay raises for 27 employees, including top positions such as the city attorney and assistant city manager.

The proposal from Irma Youssefieh, director of human resources, provides eligible workers with 2 percent salary increases effective April 1, 2014, with another 1 percent hike July 1, 2015 (except for the police and fire chiefs).

In a staff report, Youssefieh said the salary raises are appropriate after the city reached agreement on new labor contracts with other employee groups.

The salary raises would cover executive management (assistant city manager, city attorney, city clerk, community development director, parks and recreation director, public works director and finance director); middle management (assistant to the city manager, building official, city planner, computer system manager, deputy director of public works, human resources director, emergency preparedness director, executive director of Columbia Memorial Space Center, finance manager, management analyst, principal accountant, principal civil engineer, recreation manager, senior accountant, senior civil engineer, senior human resources analyst, senior management analyst, social services manager, superintendent of physical services, superintendent of water and sanitation, and system/network engineer); and confidential/exempt workers (public information coordinator, chief deputy city clerk, deputy city clerk and secretary to the City Council).

•Approved a 2.5 percent salary raise for City Manager Gilbert Livas, bringing his annual base salary to $225,500, with an additional 2 percent raise Dec. 31, bringing his salary to $229,900.



Published: Aug. 14, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 18