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.
Elvira Meraz says “we need to keep Downey safe!”
The 16-year Downey resident (and 12-year resident of District 1) speaks with urgency concerning a “surge in crime,” calling for more police officers and the formation of neighborhood watch groups.
“Elevating our police department’s funding is imperative for safeguarding our community,” Meraz said, echoing both of her opponents’ calls for more police funding.
A real estate broker for the last 6 years, Meraz is a member of the Downey Association of Realtors (DAOR). Meraz, like the DAOR and her opponents, opposes stricter caps on rent increases. When asked for solutions to prevent renters from being priced out of Downey, Meraz says she supports “policy that enables landlords to maintain a fair return on their investment while also ensuring housing affordability for tenants.”
Meraz has received the endorsement of Mayor Claudia Frometa, interim Councilmember Timothy Horn, and former Mayor Kirk Cartozian. She is currently president of the Ward Elementary Parent Teachers Association and a member of Downey Los Amigos Kiwanis.
Why are you running?
I am seeking a position on the Downey City Council because I hold a deep commitment to our community. As a married mother of four, I believe it’s vital to have dedicated representation in District 1. For the past 12 years, my husband and I have lovingly nurtured our family, placing our children at the heart of our cherished family values. As the PTA President and an active member of the School Site Council at Ward Elementary, I possess a proven track record of leadership within our public schools and various other organizations.
My aim is to extend my leadership throughout our community, ensuring that Downey remains a secure and family-oriented city. I take pride in having established two small businesses within Downey, and if elected, I will steadfastly uphold my core values while being a constant advocate for our residents.
I am bilingual, which allows me to assist the growing Hispanic population in Downey. For more information, please visit my website at elvirafordowney.com.
What is the biggest problem facing Downey and how do you plan to address it if elected?
The rising crime rate in Downey poses the most significant challenge we face. It’s imperative that we unite to address this issue. Residents must actively participate in the electoral process, selecting candidates with the right values, ethics, and morals. Together, we must unwaveringly support law enforcement in Downey. Our city’s convenient freeway access is a draw for many, but it also provides criminals with a quick entry and exit. As residents, we must actively participate in neighborhood watch programs, or, if none are in place, we must take the initiative to establish them. We must build connections with our neighbors, exchange contact information, and maintain constant vigilance as crucial steps to guarantee our collective safety.
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?
As a child, my parents taught me the profound significance of respect, honesty, and empathy. These family values have shaped the person I am today, and I hold it as my duty to instill these values to my own children. Embracing family life and assuming the role of a parent extends the reach of these family values beyond our home and into the heart of our community. This responsibility grants me a distinctive point of view in representing my community, for not everyone in the race is fortunate enough to experience the privilege of being a parent. The roots of community service lie right at our doorstep, and I am deeply convinced that the family values of respect, honesty, and empathy form the foundation needed of any individual aspiring to be a trusted public servant.
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?
What are other solutions to prevent renters from being priced out of the city due to rising rents?
Navigating this question demands a balanced perspective, one that acknowledges the challenges faced by both renters and landlords.
As a long-time renter and now a homeowner and landlord, I feel I am uniquely qualified to be an honest and empathetic mediator on this difficult issue. Establishing public policy that enables landlords to maintain a fair return on their investment while also ensuring housing affordability for tenants is a crucial component in addressing the challenging issue of escalating rents. As your councilwoman I will seek input from both developers and renters to carefully design any potential solution to avoid unintended consequences, such as discouraging new construction or reducing the quality of existing rental units. Effective implementation and ongoing evaluation of any policy are essential to ensure that any policy strikes the right balance between protecting renters and maintaining a healthy rental market.
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?
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?
What reforms do you support to increase the transparent and effective use of city funds?
Maintaining a solid financial foundation is a testament to Downey’s fiscal responsibility. With a recent budget surplus of $3.1 million and a general fund reserve totaling $33,748,000, our city stands on stable ground. This surplus not only alleviates immediate financial stress but also allows for strategic, forward-thinking investments in critical areas like public safety. I believe this strong financial position demonstrates the city’s commitment to good governance and transparency, something I wholeheartedly support.
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?
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?
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?
Should the police department budget increase, decrease, or stay the same?
Should the fire department budget increase, decrease, or stay the same?
Which city department or program is most in need of increased funding, and why?
We need to keep Downey safe! Elevating our police department’s funding is imperative for safeguarding our community amidst the surge in crime. This increased funding should be earmarked for innovative programs aimed at bolstering recruitment and retention efforts for our city’s police force. It’s worth emphasizing that code enforcement also plays a pivotal role in our city. While the Downey Police shoulders much responsibility for upholding our city’s laws, we must not overlook critical concerns that are connected to code violations. Some of these being — issues like RVs lining Woodruff Ave, extended occupation of residential streets by vehicles, and a disregard for pedestrian safety through littering. By seeking these additional resources towards code enforcement, we can alleviate the strain on our police force, enabling them to maintain their vigilance in the face of escalating crime rates within our city.