Downey Latino News sent questions about a variety of issues to the candidates running in the special election to replace recalled Councilmember Catherine Alvarez in Downey City Council District 3 on Nov. 7. The introduction below was collected from independent reporting, news coverage, and their responses and websites. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity. Lengths of residency in Downey and the district were self-reported by the candidates and have not been independently verified.
Ernesto Valle says he’s “old school.” The 16-year resident of Downey and District 3 admits he’s not an expert in city government, but he argues his traditional values and outsider status will make him a good councilmember.
“I don’t owe anyone any favors,” Valle said in a phone interview about his lack of institutional backing. “My vote is not for sale, I will be the voice for the residents of District 3.”
Along with support for hiring more police officers and opposing homeless shelters in Downey, positions largely shared by his opponents, Valle is also running on increased investment in the city’s parks and more fiscal transparency at city hall.
Valle has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Mount Saint Mary’s University and is currently an insurance agent with Farmers Insurance. Valle is a former market executive with Bank of America and previously served as the president of the Northwest Downey Little League but stepped down in May to run for city council.
Why are you running?
As the only candidate, not to receive funds from any special interest group, and the only candidate to have children in DUSD, I am running because I want to take Downey back to what it once was. I want a Safe City, where families feel comfortable walking to the park, shopping at Stonewood or experiencing the nightlife of Downtown Downey. I’ve been living in Downey for 16 years, my youngest is 3 years old and I want to make sure I create a pathway for her and the rest of our youth for prosperity and to be good community members. I have no aspirations of becoming a Congressman, or Assemblyman, and feel we are at a crossroads in our City. Either we stand up and steer the ship back on course, or we do nothing and let the ship sink. I’m a fighter and will do everything possible to take our City Back!
What is the biggest problem facing Downey and how do you plan to address it if elected?
From living in Downey and talking to Residents, the biggest problem is the high increase in crime. I stated a detailed plan in July, and believe I’ve been the only candidate to do so. Every candidate just says we need more cops, but no one says how or anything else. For me, number one is, we have to empower our Police, have their backs and as a larger community have to get rid of Gascon and any Councilmembers that support his policies. Second, we need to retain and recruit Police Officers. I had previously stated that I believe in community policing. We have several Police Officers that live in Downey, but work for other departments outside of Downey. We currently have a shortage of Officers, we are not paying OT from what I was told and Pensions are not competitive to attract trained Officers to Downey. How do we pay for this? Well, what happened to the funds from Measure S? Measure S increased our taxes to pay for our Officers, where’s the money? Believe me, I will be looking into that if elected.
Once fully staffed, I would get a small task force of undercover cops to be placed at our higher crime traffic area. I would also place dummy cop cars there as a deterrent to criminals, as they would not know when and where undercover cops are. In addition, I would have at least one police substation in high business districts or even in downtown for quicker response times and more of a police presence. We would also need more patrol around the island at critical times as that point of entrance from Bell Gardens has become a hotbed.
Lastly, as a community, we have to revitalize Neighborhood Crime watch. We are stronger together, and can help reduce crime. An active community, in Partnership with our Police Force, is unstoppable!
Many of the candidates in this cycle have referenced “family values” in interviews and in campaign literature. How would you define “family values” and how does it relate to being a member of the city council?
Family values to me, means being a role model to your Family and Leading by example. I’m “old school”, and I’m raising my kids with traditional values. My kids say “mande” when I call them, my son will shake your hand with a firm grip, and we look at people in the eyes when we are talking to them. Our values include honesty, integrity, hard work, [and] loyalty. How do my family values relate to being a Councilmember? My values go hand in hand with what should be required of a Councilmember. As the only candidate that has not received any money from special interest groups and [the] only candidate that did not seek any endorsements from any current or past councilmember[s] because I did not want to owe anyone any “favors” and I will only answer to the residents of Downey and District 3. I purposely have done podcast[s] and have answered any and all questions so that the people have a clear understanding of what I stand for. I will be a role model for our youth and set a good example and make sure I work my butt off for our residents. If elected, I will be the voice of our Residents and District 3 will finally have a seat at the table.
The average monthly rent for an apartment in Downey is $2,225, up 23% from January 2021, according to the apartment search website rentcafe.com. Multiple cities in South East Los Angeles County have recently placed caps on annual rent increases beyond the hard cap of 10%–5% plus inflation or 10%, whichever is lower–passed by the state in 2019. Bell Gardens set a cap of 50% of inflation or 4%, whichever is less; Maywood’s maximum rent increase is 4%; Cudahy’s cap is the change in inflation or 3%, whichever is less.
Do you support a cap on annual rent increases in Downey beyond the state cap?
No. A lot of our Residents are impacted by high rents. In contrast, Landlords are also impacted by the higher cost of goods, services and highly increased insurance premiums. What I said back in July, was why don’t we focus on trying to get these Renters to become Homeowners. When Renters have more skin in the game, properties are better maintained, there’s a bigger sense of Pride in the Community and guess what, crime goes down. While at Bank of America, I was a big supporter of the Neighborhood Advantage Program that helped first-time home buyers with their down payment. I want to work with our local banks, credit unions and government agencies to help families become homeowners! In addition, we can purchase properties as a City that might be going into foreclosure, fix it up and sell it at cost to a Downey Resident wanting to be a 1st time home buyer. That way, it kills 2 birds with 1 stone. We have less vacant properties, which can be a safe haven for transients and increased crime, and make a dream come true for our residents!
What are other solutions to prevent renters from being priced out of the city due to rising rents?
One of my ideas that has really hit home with our residents, is bringing in Trade Schools. As you know, College is not for everyone. Trade Schools would offer our Youth an opportunity to get a career that pay[s] extremely well. In addition, our Downey Residents, that don’t have a good paying job, can benefit from learning a new trade that could give them a larger income, possibly better benefits and help with the high costs of living in California. Also, guess what? If people are making more money, if our youth are making more money, crime goes down. Our youth would be less incline to cut corners and would resist temptation if they are making good money earning an honest living.
In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64, which legalized the use of recreational cannabis by adults 21 and over, by 14%. In Downey, the margin was much slimmer. Voters in this city passed Proposition 64 by only 2% (51% in favor, 49% opposed). While legalizing personal use statewide, the law allows local governments to ban cannabis storefronts through permitting and zoning and current members of the city council have signaled their opposition to commercial cannabis.
Do you support a voter referendum on permitting cannabis storefronts in Downey?
No. To be perfectly clear, I am against having a Dispensary or Cannabis storefronts in Downey. The sad part is, as I stated in the debate, we are so worried about Cannabis Storefronts or Dispensaries, that we are turning a blind eye to the fact that weed is now in Downey! My son, who goes to Griffiths Middle School, informed me that kids are vaping and smoking weed out in the open! After I said that, a week later, there was a raid on a Weed Storefront that was operating illegally near our High School for years! We have a weed problem now and we have to get in front of it. I said I would be the voice of our Residents and we Live in a Democratic Republic, so if our Residents, bring it to the table for a vote, without influence of special interests, then I would listen to our Residents. If my vote would be the determining factor, I would vote no. Now what happens if Bell Gardens or nearby cities, allow for that? Again, we would have to get in front of the issue now.
Cities like Los Angeles and Long Beach have city auditors or controllers–independent positions that regularly conduct performance and financial audits aimed at guaranteeing effective and accountable government. Do you support the creation of a city auditor in Downey?
Yes. Hell Yes! As I referred to previously, we voted on and Measure S. Where are the funds that were promised for our Police? Where are the $400,000 that were set aside for lights at Furman Park. I’ve been asking for 3 years and still no answer. We definitely need a city auditor to create more transparency as to where our Dollars are actually being spent on.
What reforms do you support to increase the transparent and effective use of city funds?
Well, number one, have a City Auditor. I think we need to do a better job as a Council to make the budget more visible to our residents and to ensure that we inform the residents as to where the money is being spent. We also need to make sure that we give notice to our Residents, minimum one month prior to using funds for a purpose other than what it was intended for and voted on by the people.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 66% of Downey residents 5 years old and over live in a household where a language other than English is spoken. Currently, members of the public who attend city council meetings and are in need of translation must make a request 48 hours in advance. While city staff is able to provide impromptu assistance to community members who wish to deliver public comments, there is no designated translator at city council meetings.
Would you support employing a designated translator for city council meetings?
Undecided. I’m not sure that based on the number of residents that need that service, it would be an effective use of our City’s funds. The good news is that I speak fluent Spanish and would be happy to translate to anyone that would need help with translation.
Downey LINK, a bus line that covers the entire city, traveled over 102,000 miles and had 75,000 boardings in the fiscal year 2022-2023, according to the City Manager’s office. In June, Downey LINK reinstituted a 50 cent fare upon boarding after suspending fares for three years due to the pandemic. Many transit advocates support transitioning towards fare-free transit systems, thereby increasing usage and easing the burden for economically vulnerable passengers who often make up a large percentage of users.
Would you support increased funding for Downey LINK in order to facilitate a fare-free transit system?
Undecided. I would need more data to make a more informed decision.
According to the 2023 homeless count released by the Los Angeles County Homeless Service Authority, service planning area 7–which includes Downey and dozens of surrounding communities–saw a 36% increase in the number of unhoused residents from last year, an increase of 1,730 people. Countywide, the number of people experiencing homelessness in shelter was similar to last year, but the number of unsheltered individuals rose by 14%. Currently, no homeless shelters are located within the City of Downey, and the county-run Hondo Center of Healing is the only interim housing within the city with 80 beds and wraparound services.
Would you support developing housing for unhoused individuals within the City of Downey?
No. I will start off with my definition of insanity. Insanity to me is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. In CA, we keep throwing money at building shelters, and for 20 years, obviously that is not the answer. Look at how well that went for San Francisco during COVID. While at Bank of America, I would take my team, roughly 55 Managers, and help at the Women’s Shelter in Los Angeles. From my understanding even back then, the Shelter was only being occupied at roughly 15%. Our homeless do not want to seek refuge at shelters because they want to live how they want to live. They have mental issues or are drug addicts and do not want to follow the rules of the shelter. That’s why it’s so important to me to focus on our youth. We need to be proactive versus reactive. It’s a lot easier to fight homelessness before it happens, as opposed to resolving it once someone has been on the streets for some time. If elected, I propose that we initiate a small task force. Again, starting by empowering our officers to enforce the law. That’s why it’s so important for our City to Lead the way and not follow crazy Gasconian policies of no bail, or not prosecuting trespassing. Next, we determine if the individual is down on his down on his luck, has a mental issue or drug addiction. We have resources set up to help if they are willing to get the help. Once clean, we can ask our business owners to give them a temporary job as a dishwasher, parking attendant, whatever, while they learn a trade at our Trade School I was proposing. If they do, we can discuss giving them a business tax break. Again, creating a prosperous pathway for our youth and our residents is key to a long-term solution. Let’s remove the Band-Aid, and look at resolving the issue long-term.
Should the police department budget increase, decrease, or stay the same?
Increase. Already answered it in previous questions
Should the fire department budget increase, decrease, or stay the same?
Undecided. I would need more data to make an informed decision
Which city department or program is most in need of increased funding, and why?
Our Police Department, no doubt.