State of the City address brims with optimism

DOWNEY – Mayor Fernando Vasquez painted an optimistic outlook on Downey’s future Thursday, saying local tax revenue continues to climb with several economic development projects still on the horizon. Vasquez made the comments during the Downey Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City function. This year’s event was held at the Rio Hondo Event Center and attracted nearly 300 residents and business leaders.

According to Vasquez, sales tax revenue is up 11.6 percent over the previous fiscal year. Revenue from property taxes, transient occupancy taxes (charged by hotels and motels), and the utility users tax also are on the upswing.

Downey enjoys an “excellent” credit rating, the mayor said, including an A2 rating from Moody’s, signifying Downey as credit-worthy and at low risk of default. Last September, Downey also received an A+ rating from Standard & Poor’s.

Vasquez said the city is making progress in reducing the amount in healthcare costs paid to current and former employees. The city’s obligations have been reduced by $1.6 million since 2012, Vasquez said.

Also helping the city’s coffers is a rebounding housing market. The average single-family home in Downey is selling for $407,000 and most homes stay on the market for 75 days or less. The mayor also used his presentation to discuss the upcoming charter amendment Downey citizens will vote on June 3. If passed, Measure B would allow the City Council to contract fire and police services – presumably to L.A. County – without voter approval.

Contracting with L.A. County for fire protection would result in a reduction of service, including six fewer firefighters on active duty in Downey at any given time, Vasquez asserted. “If we were to contract with L.A. County, we would get less fire personnel -- bottom line,” Vasquez added. “Our community has never been better protected.”

Regarding the Downey Police Department, Vasquez said overall crime in Downey is down 7 percent compared to last year.

The police department recently hired four new officers and added seven police officer recruits. Under Police Chief Carl Charles, the force has also expanded its bicycle patrol and established a canine unit with three police canines.

Officers will also be equipped with body-worn cameras, accessible by top police brass. The cameras will be gradually rolled out this year.

On the economic redevelopment front, Vasquez didn’t make any bombshell announcements. Plans are still a go for the giant Promenade at Downey development, which will include big box stores, specialty shops, restaurants, a gym (possibly a 24 Hour Fitness, the mayor let slip), a hotel, and medical and office space.

Dunkin’ Donuts, which announced a West Coast expansion last year, is expected to open in the former Arby’s building across from Stonewood Center.

Vasquez’s presentation also included a recap of his Stay Fit campaign, which picked up where Councilman Mario Guerra’s Healthy Downey crusade left off. Through partnerships with local stakeholders, Vasquez is leading an effort to “create a healthier Downey.”

Much of the mayor’s address was also spent on road construction projects, notably work on Firestone Boulevard (between Brookshire Avenue and Old River School Road); Lakewood Boulevard (between Florence Avenue and Gallatin Road); and the 5 Freeway.

Work has already begun on Firestone and the freeway. Construction on Lakewood is expected to get underway this summer.