DOWNEY — Securing money for walls to mute freeway noise and new laws to allow cities to protect children from being exposed to adult publications are two priority tasks Downey has assigned its newly hired Sacramento lobbyist.
The Downey City Council unanimously approved a legislative work program for lobbyist Joe A. Gonsalves--the city's first lobbyist--at its Tuesday night meeting. Gonsalves, who runs a lobbying business with his son, Anthony, started working for Downey on April 1 on a $2,000-a-month retainer.
The work schedule includes proposals for legislation the city favors or opposes. The City Council has assigned top priority to obtaining state money for sound walls along the Santa Ana Freeway.
Downey and Norwalk jointly hired a consultant in December to design a half-mile sound wall that will run along the freeway from Florence Avenue in Downey to the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks in Norwalk. The 1,200 feet in Downey of the so-called Dollison Drive sound wall--so named because it would protect residents living on that street--is the last unshielded section of freeway in the city, said City Engineer Harald Henriksen. He said it would cost cost $300,000 to construct the wall.
But the Dollison wall is far down on the state Department of Transportation's list of 200 pending sound wall projects, and it would take about 10 years before the agency could fund it, Caltrans spokesman Sapish Chander said. Legislation authored by Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk) to provide funding for the project is pending in Sacramento.
Calls for Taller Wall
Meanwhile, more than 20 residents at the council meeting called on city officials to start working to heighten the existing sound wall on the south side of the Santa Ana Freeway from Downey's western border to the San Gabriel River Freeway.
The noise on the residential side of the sound wall, which was built in 1972, exceeds the 67-decibel level required by Caltrans before sound wall construction is approved, said William A. Ralph, director of public works.
"The noise is so bad there if someone were to break into your house you wouldn't even hear it," said Steven Pendleton, who lives on the 9100 block of Eglise Avenue near the Santa Ana Freeway.
Raising the wall is also on Caltrans' list of projects, but residents have been told it could take 15 years to get to the job, said Hazel Scotto, a former Downey city councilwoman and a spokeswoman for the residents. The council said the project would be one of Gonsalves' tasks and urged residents to start a letter-writing campaign.
More Restrictions Sought
The City Council also wants Gonsalves to push legislation that would give cities the right to further restrict the sale of adult publications to protect children.
In February, a coalition of church and civic groups presented a petition of more than 2,500 signatures calling for vending machines containing adult tabloids to be removed from Downey streets.
The publications, which can be purchased from machines in more than a dozen locations throughout the city, contain brief stories but mostly advertisements for massage parlors, escort services and telephone services offering sexually explicit messages. Nude women are pictured in many of the ads.
The City Council considered a proposal to prohibit all newspaper vending machines from public property as a way to control the ones offering adult publications. But the proposal was dropped after City Atty. Carl Newton advised that it could violate First Amendment rights protecting freedom of the press.
The City Council decided to support Assembly Bill 711, which would allow a city or county to pass an ordinance prohibiting the display of material which is harmful to minors in any place where minors may be present and able to view the material.
Harmful Material Banned
Currently, the city may only require that materials on public display be free of written material describing sexual acts, and pictures of sexual acts and genitals, Newton said. Under state law, it is illegal to distribute harmful material to a minor.
Downey also will ask Gonsalves to push enactment of a law that would prevent a city's redevelopment agency from subsidizing auto dealer projects in which a dealer moves from another city. The city receives about $3.1 million in tax revenue from the dealers--some of which have been courted by other cities--said Lee Powell, director of administrative services.
In February, the City Council balked at paying Gonsalves $2,500 a month to represent the city after some members questioned whether the expense would justify the benefits. The council approved a counteroffer of $2,000 a month, which was accepted by Gonsalves.
"Financial issues sometimes need someone pushing in Sacramento," said Councilman Randall R. Barb, who had questioned whether a lobbyist was a wise investment.
Previously, Downey relied on local legislators, the League of California Cities and the Independent Cities Assn. to advocate its position in Sacramento, said Scot Yotsuya, assistant to the city manager. But the interests of cities do not always coincide and Downey needed individual attention, city officials argued.
Gonsalves also represents Bell, Bellflower, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Cudahy, Hawaiian Gardens, La Mirada, Lakewood, Paramount, Rosemead and other cities.