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Opinion: Knock knock, who’s there?; Downey’s City Council is ‘messed up, man’

Downey City Hall

By: Lawrence Christon

This op-ed, while meeting editorial standards, reflects the views of the author and not that of Downey Latino News. 

To look at what’s happening with the Downey City Council at the moment, or what’s not happening, is to recall the street phase: “That’s messed up, man.”

One seat is occupied by a temporary appointee, Donald E. La Plante, representing District Two. Claudia Frometa has just been re-elected to represent District Four. Mario Trujillo is councilman at-large, for the fictional District Five. The infamous Catherine Alvarez, facing recall because she ran for the seat without divulging her criminal record, represents District Three. Mayor Blanca Pacheco, whose mind was on winning a runoff for state assembly, was in Sacramento instead of attending the last city council meeting on Nov. 10. Alvarez left that meeting half-way through, saying she didn’t feel well. This is not unusual. She often alludes to a mysterious malady that keeps her from functioning, without specifying what it is. The interim City Manager, Mark Scott, commutes from Fresno.

By February of next year, four of the six names you’ve just read (two for certain) may be gone.

What’s left? A skeleton crew that still can’t restrain the lunatic outbursts of obscenities by Armando Herman and other wackos that have fouled the air of every council meeting for the last three years or more, despite its new public control policy of issuing number cards to speakers beforehand—free speech by hall pass.

Still, the meetings are, as they have been for as long as I can remember, characterized by the general consensus that it’s always fair weather in Downey, aided in no small part by strong police and fire departments and a triple-A municipal bond rating.

But commentary is highly selective and often questionable. Frometa recently announced a laudable five-point program to fight the fentanyl abuse that’s raging in general circulation. At the November 10th meeting of the city council, she cited an LAPD report of a 377% increase in Fentanyl pill seizure but doesn’t include how much of it is in Downey, when exactitude is what we need.

Trujillo proudly told the public that the Downey Police Department has 16 Federal Aviation Administration approved crime-fighting and surveillance drones, without addressing the question that’s on everyone’s mind when it comes to military-grade technology utilized by the city: what else do they have? How many armored vehicles, machine guns, whiz-bang explosives and other urban warfare weapons do they have to bolster their arsenal? The timid Downey Patriot failed to ask the similar questions in its puff piece on Police Chief Leslie Murray earlier this year.

Trujillo also issued the curious statement that he had driven through Downey recently and saw only one rider aboard a Downey LINK bus, leading to the conclusion that the entire service, which goes through every district in the city, is probably useless. La Plante later echoed the sentiment, adding air pollution and fuel consumption as other nails in Downey LINK’s impending coffin.

Fortunately, a Downey LINK report will soon be available in which it will state its case for justifying an approximate $3.3 million annual budget. Downey LINK claims it carries 60,000 passengers a year, which can be broken down into 5,000 a month, which is roughly 250 a day, all of whom, no doubt, would resent La Plante’s characterization of themselves as a phantom “no one.” The name Uber was mentioned as an alternative. Does anyone really think that the city is going to pay for daily Uber rides for 250 people rather than run a transit system that has the potential to transport many more? And how does that lessen our carbon footprint?

If this is an example of our city leaders’ rigorously scientific approach to its problem-solving—driving along and seeing one person on a bus and assuming that the service is failing—you can understand the level of thinking up there on the dais, and why we’re in trouble when it comes to needing a city council endowed  with a broad social perspective. Has anyone thought to wonder that the Downey LINK, in addition to Dial-A-Ride, might be a factor in connecting Downey with itself? The buses pass through every neighborhood in the city. They afford people views of what Downey’s architecture looks like in its different sections, what other people drive, how well they take care of their properties. If the famous urban malady of Los Angeles has been its alienating sprawl, a functional transit system is a good way to help ameliorate the condition.

The kind of commentary we hear, and the actions the council has been taking over the past decade, do nothing to dispel the notion that despite its obligatory home team cheer, the city and its citizenry have been growing further and further apart. Trujillo and Alvarez have yet to explain why they kicked Gilbert Livas out of the city manager’s office, despite widespread protest and anger, when Livas, who by many accounts was nothing but an honorable, effective and loyal public servant who loved Downey and served it well. 

Official decisions large and small are made without public input, like spending two years closing and reopening the Downey City Library.

La Plante and Trujillo discount the notion, as some claim, that the city is in a crisis state. I agree. Most things work. The city functions as it should. It’s still, with relatively few exceptions, a pretty civil place. But there are disquieting trends in motion. And when you look at who’s occupying the room at the top, it appears there’s hardly anyone there.

Lawrence Christon is a former award-winning staff writer for The Los Angeles Times. He was born and raised in New York City, and served honorably in the United States Marine Corps. He has lived in Downey for decades.