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“The solution is not to provide more shelter.”: Horacio Ortiz, candidate for District 1

Hoarcio Ortiz, candidate for District 1

Joe Brizzolara

Downey Latino News sent questions about a variety of issues to the candidates running in the special election to replace former Mayor Blanca Pacheco, elected to the state Assembly last year, in Downey City Council District 1. 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. 

Horacio Ortiz says “the solution is not to provide more shelter” when asked whether Downey should develop more housing for unhoused individuals. His position contrasts sharply with some of his high-profile endorsers including Congressperson Robert Garcia (D-Downey) and County Supervisor Janice Hahn.

“While most of the coverage of homeless and housing projects has been about the pushback they’ve received from communities, here in Long Beach, you’re leading the way in building these homes and getting support of your neighbors,” Hahn said in her 2018 State of the County address while Garcia was still mayor of Long Beach. 

Between 2020 and today, Long Beach jumped its total of interim beds for the unhoused from 60 to 520, according to city officials as reported by the Long Beach Post. Hahn referred to Long Beach as a “model for the rest of the county to follow” in the same address, but Ortiz doesn’t support similar action in Downey. 

“We serve different communities with different needs,” Ortiz said in a phone interview about his break with Hahn on creating more homeless housing. “We’re not always going to agree.” 

A scion of a notable Mexican restaurant family in Southern California, Ortiz’s extended family cumulatively owns 15 restaurants. Ortiz’s father owns three of those restaurants, one of which he opened with his son–El Pescador Bar and Grill Montebello–when Horacio Jr., a co-owner, was 24 years old.    

Ortiz’s first foray into politics outside of student government was campaigning for Mayor Pro Tem Mario Trujillo in 2020. Trujillo would go on to appoint Ortiz to the Planning Commission, a body on which he currently serves. Ortiz also hosted a fundraiser for Garcia in 2022 and later attended the congressperson’s inaugural earlier this year in Washington D.C.

Ortiz supports increased housing production and an increased police budget along with opposing caps on annual rent increases for apartments and a voter referendum on commercial cannabis in Downey. The lifelong resident of Downey (and 3-year resident of District 1) received a degree in Political Science and Government from the University of California, San Diego.

Why are you running?

I have seen Downey evolve throughout the years. Many say it is not the same Downey as it once was. More so as a Planning Commissioner Chair I have seen a great divide within our own council that has halted true meaningful progress in our city. Moments in time compels one to act and I want to be part of this change. 

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

Public Safety and Homelessness. We first need to hire more police officers to fill the vacancies. A Downey Police substation in South Downey will increase visibility and patrolling in the area. [The} homeless [poulation] that want[s] help should be paired with existing programs by a Homeless Coordinator. For those that refuse help, we will enforce anti-camping laws and eliminate RV parking for long periods of time.

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? 

I have a tracking record of putting family values first. As a Planning Commissioner, I was the only one that voted NO for Ojos Locos. Growing up in a big family with my dad having 11 brothers we always felt and continue to feel united. I want to be a council member for all families and unite our community bringing values that truly reflect the character of a public servant to the community. 

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 am a renter. I understand rents are high and it’s difficult to cover rent some times for many families but unfortunately additional rent control is not the answer. It will not help renters, instead it will lower their quality of life. If we look at other cities that have adopted additional rent control on top of the existing rent control by the State of California, properties begin to deteriorate and soon the neighborhood looks worn down and crime rises. I do not support additional rent control. 

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

As Chair of the Planning Commission, I am the only candidate with experience on this subject. I was closely involved in approving several new housing developments in the City of Downey. We’re required by the State of California to build another 6,000 new homes. I am the candidate experienced enough to help streamline these projects. By increasing housing supply, tenants will have more options and landlords will have to lower the rent prices to compete for good tenants.

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. I will not allow any of the 3 P’s (Pawn, Porn or Pot shops) in Downey. There are plenty of legal cannabis dispensaries within driving distance. We do not need another one in Downey.

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. I will always advocate for a high level of transparency in city government. I plan to discuss this issue with the City Manager and explore this and alternative options to improve transparency.

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

I will always advocate for a high level of transparency in city government. I plan to discuss this issue with the City Manager and explore this and alternative options to improve transparency.

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. It’s important that everyone has a fair chance to communicate their concerns with the city staff and their elected officials. I believe the City of Downey already employs a translator that is available 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 am willing to explore all available options to make sure everyone regardless of socioeconomic status can get to their destination.

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 be tough on enforcing anti-camping laws. Saying “Yes” to get help and off the streets will be the only option available. Furthermore, RV parking will be limited or restricted on most major streets in District 1. For example, Norwalk homeless population tripled after building housing for the unhouse[d]. The solution is not to provide more shelter. We must provide more services that helps them get off the streets and into the road to recovery.

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. Ortiz Campaign Manager Hans Fritz was sent questions regarding the figure and evidence establishing a link between an increase of the unhoused population and the establishment of a temporary shelter in that city. Responses were not received as of press time. 

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

Increase. I stand by the Downey Police Department. I will make sure they have the resources they need to keep our community safe.

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

Increase. I stand by the Downey Fire Department. I will make sure they have the resources they need to keep our community safe.

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

The City Planning department. We need to dramatically improve the way appointments and applications are processed. Getting permits to renovate your home or business in Downey should be easy, fast and affordable.