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‘Not the role of local government’: Dorothy Pemberton, candidate for District 3

Dorothy Pemberton, candidate for District 3

Joe Brizzolara

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. 

Dorothy Pemberton says “it’s not the role of local government to interfere and dictate how much something should cost” when asked for solutions to prevent renters from being priced out of Downey. Pemberton, like her opponents in this race, opposes stricter caps on annual rent increases for apartments. 

“If you start to put a cap on everything, what’s the first thing that’s going to stop? It’s going to be the living conditions,” Pemberton said on Talking Downey, a podcast hosted by Pemberton supporter and former Mayor Mario Guerra as well as Downey Patriot Editor-in-Chief Eric Pierce. “We want to keep Downey looking the way it is… (Downey is) clean and safe (which) helps with the property values.”

The lifelong Downey resident (and 37-year resident of District 3) cut her teeth in local politics as a campaign co-chair for the successful recall of District 3 Councilmember Catherine Alvarez which resulted in Alvarez’s ouster earlier this year. Pemberton and other recallers charged that Alvarez’s misdemeanor convictions for petty theft in 2013 and welfare fraud in 2014, among other complaints of dereliction of duties and poor character, made her unfit for office, but Alvarez shot back that it was her support for rent caps that guaranteed backing–including an influx of campaign cash–from the city’s real estate community of which Pemberton is a member. 

Along with being a real estate agent and part-time substitute teacher for the Downey Unified School District, Pemberton has been a longtime volunteer in various nonprofit groups in the city including Soroptimist International, and as the former chairwoman and current member of the Downey Family YMCA. She is a current member of the Public Works Committee and previously a member of the Measure S Oversight Committee. Pemberton received a Bachelor’s degree, teaching credential, and a Master’s degree from California State University, Long Beach.

Why are you running?

I am running for city council because I believe Character still Counts. Credibility and honest representation is something residents in District 3 have not had for the past three years and I want to bring that back, unifying the community.

What is the biggest problem facing Downey and how do you plan to address it if elected?

The biggest problem residents are facing is crime and homelessness. Most of the issues with crime are related to the current policies in place but with more officers, we can try to combat some of our criminal issues. Regarding homelessness, we need to use all the resources available to get them off the streets and into shelters and programs that will help make them not dependent on the street.

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” is putting the interest[s] of families first over any other decision that some may argue could be beneficial for the city such as the opening of an adult facility across the street from Downey High School. Allowing any business to open will certainly generate sales tax revenue but does not put family values first.

The average monthly rent for an apartment in Downey is $2,225, up 23% from January 2021, according to the apartment search website 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. I do not support additional rent control. We already have rent control at the State level and adding more rent control over what is already required negatively impacts the quality of life of those tenants because the landlord loses incentives to continue to improve the property.

What are other solutions to prevent renters from being priced out of the city due to rising rents?

Rents are an agreement between two private parties, the landlord and the tenant. It’s not the role of local government to interfere and dictate how much something should cost.

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. It’s been proven in other cities that Cannabis storefronts bring an additional wave of crime and insecurity.

Editor’s note: studies linking cannabis storefronts with an increase in crime have been varied. A 2019 study by University of Colorado, Denver researchers found an association between marijuana dispensaries and increases in rates of crime and disorder, while a 2012 study by University of California, Los Angeles researchers found there was no association between the density of medical marijuana dispensaries and either violent or property crime rates. When asked, Pemberton campaign manager Hans Fritz declined to provide sources for this claim. 

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. Sure. I support anything that maintains a high level of transparency and is fiscally responsible.

What reforms do you support to increase the transparent and effective use of city funds? 

Keeping departments accountable is critical. I would like to see monthly year-to-date budget reports of every department from our finance Director so we can see areas that are over budget and those that are under budget.

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?

Yes. The City of Downey already employs a translator.

Editor’s note: the City of Downey does not employ a designated translator, according to a representative with the City Clerk’s office. A translator can be made available only upon request. 

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 like to explore alternative green options for public transportation that take into consideration fees and usability.

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. Not in Downey. Other cities like Norwalk have tried this concept and it doesn’t work. Their homeless population on the streets tripled since the creation of the homeless housing.

Editor’s note: the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in Norwalk nearly doubled, not tripled, from 168 to 311 from 2020 to 2022, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Pemberton campaign manager Hans Fritz was sent questions regarding the figure and evidence establishing a link between an increase in the unhoused population and the establishment of a temporary shelter in that city but declined to respond.

Should the police department budget increase, decrease, or stay the same?

Increase. Yes. As a 10-year member of Gangs Out of Downey and graduating from the Downey Police Citizen’s Academy, I will support our local police with what they need to keep our community safe.

Should the fire department budget increase, decrease, or stay the same?

Increase. Yes. I support our Downey Fire Department in keeping our community safe.

Which city department or program is most in need of increased funding, and why? 

Code Enforcement. We need to hire more officers to go out in the field and be proactive rather than reactionary. Residents should not have to call in problems. An authorized street vendor’s code violations should be addressed by the officers like they used to 10 and 20 years ago. I also want to see what the funding is for the animal shelters. I’m hearing staff does not have enough help and pets are not being able to be adopted, but rather euthanized.